The Phenomenology of Mind, by G. W. F. Hegel

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The Law of the Heart, and the Frenzy
Of Self-Conceit

Translator’s comments: The following section is an analysis of the mood of moral Sentimentalism. It is a mood of all times and appears in many forms; but about Hegel’s time it became prominent in the Romantic school and was frankly adopted as a practical attitude by certain of its representatives. Perhaps one of the most remarkable historic examples of sentimentalism was Rousseau, to whom so much in the romantic movement may be traced. In the literature of Hegel’s time, and indeed in all literature, no more perfect type of sentimentalism can be found than Goethe’s Werther. With such instances as these in our minds the succeeding analysis requires neither explanation nor comment.

The Law of the Heart, and the Frenzy
Of Self-Conceit

NECESSITY is for this new mode of consciousness what in truth self-consciousness finds necessity in its own case to be. In its new attitude self-consciousness regards itself as the necessary element. It knows that it has the universal, the law, immediately within itself, a law which, because of this characteristic of being immediately within consciousness as it is for itself, is called the Law of the Heart. This mode or attitude of consciousness is for itself, qua individual, essential reality as the former mode similarly was; but in the present case it is richer by the characteristic that this self-existence is taken as necessary or universal.

The law, therefore, which is primarily the law proper of self-consciousness, or a “heart” which however has in it a law, is the purpose which the self proceeds to realize. It remains to be seen whether its realization corresponds to its notion, and whether it will therein come to find this its law to be the essential ultimate fact.

Opposed to this “heart” stands a reality. For in the “heart” the law is in the first place merely for itself; it is not yet actualized, and thus, too, is something other than what the notion is. This other is thereby characterized as a reality which is the antithesis of what is to be realized, and consequently is the contradiction of the law and the individual. This reality is thus on the one hand a law by which the particular individuality is crushed and oppressed, a violent ordinance of the world which contradicts the law of the heart, and, on the other hand, a humanity suffering under that ordinance — a humanity which does not follow the law of tile heart, but is subjected to an alien necessity.

‘This reality, appearing in opposition to the present mode of consciousness is, as is evident, nothing but the foregoing diremption of individuality and its truth, a relation of gruesome necessity, under which the former is crushed. We, who trace the process, see the preceding movement, therefore, as in opposition to the new form, because the latter has essentially arisen from it, and the moment whence the new form comes is necessary for it. The new mode, however, looks on that moment as something simply met with, since it has no consciousness of its origin, and takes its real essence to consist rather in being independent, in being for itself, or negatively disposed toward this positive, implicit, immanent content.

The aim and object of this individuality is thus to cancel and transcend this necessity which contradicts the law of the heart, as also to do away with the suffering thereby arising. There is in consequence no longer here the frivolity of the former mode, which merely wanted private and particular pleasure; it is the earnestness of a high purpose, which seeks its pleasure in displaying the m excellence of its own true nature, and in bringing about the welfare of mankind. What it realizes is itself the law, and its pleasure is at the same time universal, a pleasure which all hearts feel. To it both are inseparable; its pleasure is what conforms to the law and the realization of the law of all mankind affords it its particular pleasure. For within its own self individuality and necessity are immediately and directly one; the law is a law of the heart. Individuality is not yet removed from its place; and the unity of both has not been brought about by means of the development of individuality, has not yet been established by discipline. The realization of the immediate undisciplined nature passes for a display of excellence and for bringing about the well-being of mankind.

The law, again, which is opposed to the law of the heart is divided from the heart, and exists on its own account. Mankind, which is bound to it, does not live in the blissful unity of the law with the heart, but either lives in dismal separation and suffering, or at least in deprivation of the enjoyment of itself in obeying the law, and without the consciousness of its own excellence in overstepping it. Because that all-dominating divine and human ordinance is divided from the heart it is regarded by the latter as a delusion, which ought to lose what it still possesses, namely, power and actuality. It may, indeed, in its content agree by chance with the law of the heart, and then the latter can acquiesce in it. But, for the heart, it is not the bare conformity to law as such which constitutes the essential fact (Wesen), but the consciousness of itself which the “heart” thereby obtains, the fact that it has therein found self-satisfaction. Where the content of universal necessity, however, does not agree with the heart, necessity is, as regards its content also, nothing in itself, and must give way before the law of the heart.

The individual, then, fulfils, carries out the law of his heart. This law becomes a universal ordinance, and pleasure becomes a reality which, as it stand, conforms to law. But in this realization, the law has, in point of fact, escaped the individual; and thus there arises immediately only that relation which ought to be cancelled. The law of the heart ceases through its very realization to be a law of the heart. For it thereby takes on the form of actually “being”, and is now universal power, which holds this particular “heart” to be a matter of indifference; so that the individual, in establishing his own ordinance, no longer finds it to be his own. By realizing his law be consequently brings about, not his law, but — since the realization is inherently and implicitly his own, but explicitly alien and external — merely this: he gets involved and entangled in the actual ordinance, and, indeed, entangled in it, not merely as something alien to himself but as a hostile, overpowering dominion. By his act he takes his place in, or rather as, the general element of existent actuality; and his act is, even in his own regard, intended to have the value of a universal ordinance. But thereby be has let himself get detached from his own self; qua universality be lives, grows on his own account, and purifies himself of individuality. The individual who will only recognize universality, in the form of his own immediate self-subsistence (Fürsichseyn) does not, therefore, recognize himself in this liberated and independent universality, while all the same he belongs to it, because the latter is his doing. This doing thus has the reverse significance; it contradicts the universal ordinance. For the individual’s act is intended to be that of his individual heart, and not independent universal reality; and at the same time he has, in fact, recognized and acknowledged this latter, for the act has the import of setting up his essential nature as free and independent reality, that is to say, of recognizing reality to be his own essential being.

The individual has, by the very principle of his action, determined the more special manner in which actual universality, to which he has leagued himself, gets turned against him. His act, qua actuality, belongs to the universal; its content, however, is his own individuality, which wants to preserve itself as this particular individuality in opposition to universality. It is not any specific law whose establishment is in question; on the contrary, the immediate unity of the individual heart with universality is the idea-raised to the dignity of a law and claiming to be valid — that every heart must recognize its own self in what is universal law. But only the heart of this individual has established its reality in his act, which, in his view, expresses his self-existence (Fürsichseyn) or his pleasure. The act is intended to stand immediately for what is universal; that is to say, it is in truth something particular, and has merely the form of universality: his particular content is, as such, to pass for universal. Hence others find in this content not the law of their heart fulfilled, but rather that of some one else; and precisely in accordance with the universal law, that each is to find his own heart in what is law, they turn against that reality which he set up, just as he on his side turned against theirs. The individual therefore finds, as at first merely the rigid law, so now the hearts of men themselves opposed to his excellent intentions, and to be detested and detestable.

Because this type of consciousness finds universality in the first place merely as immediate, and knows necessity as necessity of the heart, the nature of actualization and effective activity is to it unknown. This consciousness is unaware that effective realization involves objective existence, and is in its truth the inherently universal in which the particular life of consciousness, which commits itself to it in order to have being in the sense of this immediate individual life, is really submerged. Instead of obtaining this particular life of its own in that objective existence, it thus becomes estranged from itself. But that in which it does not know itself is no longer dead necessity, but necessity animated by universal individuality. It took this divine and human ordinance, which it found authoritative, to be a dead reality, wherein not only its own self — which claims the position of a particular individual, insists on being a particular “heart” with a life of its own and opposed to the universal — but those as well who were subject to this reality had no consciousness of themselves. Now, however, it finds that reality animated by the consciousness of all, and a law for all hearts. It learns through experience that the reality in question is an ordinance infused and endowed with life, and learns this, indeed, just by the fact that it actualizes the law of its own heart. For this means nothing else than that individuality becomes its own object in the form of universality, without however recognizing itself therein.

Thus, then, what the experience of this mode of self-consciousness reveals as the truth, contradicts what this mode takes itself to be. What, however, it takes itself to be has for it the form of absolute universality; and what is immediately one with consciousness of self is the law of the heart. At the same time the stable living ordinance is likewise its own true nature and work; it produces nothing else but that; the latter is in equally immediate union with self-consciousness. In this way self-consciousness here has the characteristic of belonging to a twofold antithetic essence; it is inherently contradictory and torn to distraction in its inmost being. The law of “this individual heart” is alone that wherein self-consciousness recognizes itself; but the universal and accepted ordinance has by actualizing that law become for self-consciousness likewise its own essential nature and its own reality. What thus contradicts itself within its consciousness has for it in both cases the character of essence, and of being its own reality.

In that it gives expression to this moment of its own conscious destruction, and thereby expresses the result of its experience, it shows itself to be this inner perversion of itself, to be consciousness gone crazy, its own essence being immediately not essence, its reality immediately unreality.

The madness here cannot be taken to mean that in general something unessential is regarded as essential, something unreal as real, so that what for one is essential or actual might not be so for another, and thus the consciousness of real and of unreal, or of essential and unessential, would fall apart. If something in point of fact is real and essential for consciousness in general, but for me is not so, then, in being conscious of its nothingness, I have, since I am consciousness in general, at the same time the consciousness of its reality; and since they both are fixed and rooted within me, this is a union which is madness in general. In this state, however, there is only an object deranged for consciousness — not consciousness as such within itself and for itself. But in the result of the process of experience, which has here come about, consciousness is in its law aware of its self as this individual reality; and at the same time, since precisely this same essential facts this same reality, is estranged from it, it is qua self-consciousness, qua absolute realty — aware of its unreality. In other words, both aspects are held by it in their contradiction to be directly its essence, which is thus in its utmost being distracted.

The heartthrob for the welfare of mankind passes therefore into the rage of frantic self-conceit, into the fury of consciousness to preserve itself from destruction; and to do so by casting out of its life the perversion which it really is, and by straining to regard and to express that perversion as something else. The universal ordinance and law it, therefore, now speaks of as an utter distortion of the law of its heart and of its happiness, a perversion invented by fanatical priests, by riotous, revelling despots and their minions, who seek to indemnify themselves for their own degradation by degrading and oppressing in their turn — a distortion practised to the nameless misery of deluded mankind.

Consciousness in this its frenzy proclaims individuality to be deranging, mad, and perverted, but this is an alien and accidental individuality. It is the heart, however, or the particular consciousness immediately seeking to be universal, that is thus raving and perverted, and the outcome of its action is merely that this contradiction comes to its consciousness. For the truth in its view is the law of its heart, something merely intended, which has not stood the test of time as the permanent ordinance has done, but rather is overthrown, as time indeed discloses. This its law ought to have reality: herein the law qua reality, qua valid ordinance, is for it purpose and essential nature; but that reality, that very law as valid ordinance, is at once and at the same time for it nothingness and void.

Similarly its own reality, itself as individual consciousness, is in its view the essential truth. Its purpose, however, is to establish that particularity as existent. It thus in the first instance rather takes its self qua not —individual to be the truly real; or its self is purpose in the sense of law, and hence precisely a universality, which its self is held to be as object for its consciousness. This its notion comes by its own act to be its object. Its (individual) self is thus discovered to be unreal, and unreality it finds out to be its reality. It is thus not an accidental and alien individuality, but just this particular “heart”, which is in every respect inherently perverted and perverting.

Since, however, the directly universal individuality is that which is perverted and perverting, this universal ordinance, being the law of all hearts, and so of the perverted consciousness, is no less itself in its very nature the perverted element, as indeed raging frenzy declared. On the one hand this ordinance proves itself to be a law for all hearts, by the resistance which the law of one heart meets with from other individuals. The accepted and established laws are defended against the law of a single individual because they are not empty necessity, unconscious and dead, but are spiritual substance and universality, in which those in whom this spiritual substance is realized live as individuals, and are conscious of their own selves. Hence, even when they complain of this ordinance, as if it went contrary to their own inmost law, and maintain in opposition to it the claims of the “heart”, in point of fact they inwardly cling to it as being their essential nature; and if they are deprived of this ordinance, or put themselves outside the range of its influence, they lose everything. Since, then, it is precisely in this that the reality and power of public ordinance consist, the latter appears as the essence, self-identical and everywhere alive, and individuality appears as its form.

On the other hand, however, this ordinance is the sphere of perversion. For in that this ordinance is the law of all hearts, in that all individuals are immediately this universal, it is a reality which is only that of self-existing individuality, i.e. of the heart. When consciousness therefore sets up the law of its heart, it finds itself resisted by others because it conflicts with the equally individual laws of their heart; and the latter in opposing it are doing nothing else but setting up in their turn and making valid their own law. The universal here presented, therefore, is only a universal resistance and struggle of all against one another, in which each makes good his own individuality, but at the same time does not come off successfully, because each individuality meets with the same opposition, and each is reciprocally dissipated by the others. What appears as public ordinance is thus this state of war of each against all, in which every one for himself wrests what he can, executes even-handed justice upon the individual lives of others, and establishes his own individual existence, which in its turn vanishes at the hands of others. We have here the Course of the World, the mere semblance of a constant regular trend, which is only a pretence of universality, and whose content is rather the meaningless insubstantial sport of setting up individual beings as fixed and stable, and then dissipating them.

If we put both sides of the universal ordinance over against one another and consider them, we see that this later universality has for its content restless individuality, which regards opinion or mere individualism as law, the real as unreal, and the unreal as real. That universality is, however, at the same time the side of realization of the ordinance, for to it belongs the independent self-existence (Fürsichseyn) of individuality. The other side is the universal in the sense of stable passive essence; but, for that very reason, the universal is only something inner, which is not indeed absolutely non-existent, but still not an actual reality and can itself only become actual by cancelling the individuality, that has presumed to claim actuality. This type of consciousness, which becomes aware of itself in the law; which finds itself in what is inherently true and good not as mere individual, but only as essentially real; and which knows individuality to be what is perverted and perverting, and hence feels bound to surrender and sacrifice individualism of consciousness-this type of consciousness is Virtue.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38