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

c

Virtue and the Course of the World

Translator’s comments: The mood of moral sentimentalism is reduced to confusion and contradiction: but the subjective individualism in which it is rooted is not yet eradicated. Individualism now takes refuge in another attitude which claims to do greater justice to the inherent universality of rational self-realization, but yet clings to its particular individuality as an inalienable possession. It now tries to make the realization of universal purposes in the shape of the Good depend solely on its own activity, the objective sphere in which the good is to be carried out being regarded as at once external to its ends, opposing its activity, and yet requiring these ends to be carried out in order to have any moral significance. Individualism looks on the good as its private perquisite, and makes a personal merit and glory out of its action in carrying out the good. This external realm is the “Course of the World” which in itself is thought to contain no goodness, and which only gets a value if the good is realized in it. The world’s course is thus to owe its goodness to the efforts of the individual. A struggle ensues, for the situation is contradictory; and the issue of the struggle goes to prove that the individual is not the fons etorigo boni, that goodness does not await his efforts, and that in fact the course of the world is at heart good; the soul of the world is righteous.

The attitude analysed here is that of abstract moral idealism, the mood of moral strenuousness, the mood that constantly seeks the improvement and perfectibility of mankind. It is found in many forms, but particularly wherever there is any strong enmity between the “ideal” life and the “life of the world”.

Virtue and the Course of the World

IN the first mode of active reason, self-consciousness felt it was pure individuality; and over against this stood empty universality. In the second the two factors in the antithesis had each both the moments within them, both law and individuality; but the one factor, the “heart”’, was their immediate unity, the other their opposition. Here, in the relation of virtue and the course of the world, both members are each severally unity and antithesis of the moments, are each a process, but in an opposite direction, of law and individuality inter se. For the virtuous consciousness law is the essential element, and individuality the one to be superseded and cancelled both in the case of its own conscious life, as well as in that of the course of the world. In the former case the private individuality claimed by any one has to be brought under the discipline and control of the universal, the inherently good and true.(1) It remains there, however, still a personal consciousness. True cultivation and discipline consist solely(2) in the surrender of the entire personality, as a way of making sure that in point of fact individual peculiarities are no longer asserted and insisted on. In this individual surrender, individuality, as it is found in the world’s process, is at the same time annihilated; for individuality is also a simple moment common to both.

In the course of the world individuality adopts a position the reverse of what it is in the case of the virtuous consciousness, viz. that of making itself the essential factor, and subordinating to itself the inherently good and true. Further, the course of the world, too, does not mean for virtue merely a universal thus overturned and perverted through individuality; absolute law and order form likewise a common moment: a moment, however, not present in the world’s course in the sense of an existing actual fact for consciousness, but as the inmost essence of the process. That regulative order, therefore, has not, properly speaking, to be first produced by virtue, for production means, qua action, a consciousness of individuality, and individuality has, on the contrary, to be superseded. By thus cancelling individuality, however, the inherent nature of the world’s process merely gets room, as it were, to enter real existence independently on its own account (an und für sich selbst).

The general content of the actual course of the world has already made itself known. Looked at more closely, it is again nothing else than the two proceeding movements of self-consciousness. From them have come virtue’s shape and mould, for since they originate it, virtue has them before it; its aim, however, is to supersede its source and origin, and realize itself, or be “for itself”, become objectively explicit. The way of the world is thus, from one point of view, particular individuality seeking its pleasure and enjoyment, finding itself overthrown in doing so, and as a result satisfying the demands of the universal. But this satisfaction, like the rest of the moments of this relationship, is a perverted state and process of the universal. The real fact is merely the particular pleasure and enjoyment, while the universal is opposed to it — a necessity which is only the empty shape of universality, a merely negative reaction, the form of an act without any content.

The other moment of the world’s course is individuality, which wants to be a law independently and on its own account, and under the influence of this conceit upsets the established regular order. The universal law no doubt manages to hold its own against this sort of conceit, and no longer appears in the form of an empty opposite over against consciousness, does not play the role of a lifeless necessity, but is a necessity operating within the conscious life itself. But in the sense in which it is a reality existing in a conscious state of absolute contradiction, it is madness; while in the sense in which it is an objective reality it is simply utter perversion. The universal, then, in both aspects proves to be the might that moves them; but the way this might exists in fact is merely in the form of universal perversion.

It is from virtue that the universal is now to receive its true reality, by cancelling individuality, the principle of perversion. Virtue’s purpose is by this means to transmute again the perverted world’s process, and bring out its true inner nature. This true being is in the world-process merely in the form of its implicit inherent nature; it is not yet actual; and hence virtue merely believes it. Virtue proceeds to raise this faith to sight, without, however, enjoying the fruit of its labour and sacrifice. For so far as it is individuality, it is the active carrying-on of the contest which it wages with the world’s process. Its purpose and true nature, however, lie in conquering the reality of the world’s process; and the existence of the good thereby effectuated carries with it the cessation of its action, i.e. of the consciousness of individuality.

How this struggle itself will come off, what virtue finds out in the course of it, whether, by the sacrifice which virtue takes upon itself to undergo, the world’s process succumbs while virtue triumphs — all this must be decided from the nature of the living weapons the combatants carry. For the weapons are nothing else than the essential being of the combatants themselves, a being which only makes its appearance for them both reciprocally. What their weapons are is in this way already evident from what is inherently implied in this struggle.

The universal is an authentic element for the virtuous consciousness as a matter of belief; it is “implicitly” or “inherently” true; not yet an actual, but an abstract universality. It plays the rôle of purpose in the case of this consciousness itself, and of inner principle in that of the course of the world. It is also precisely in this character of inner principle that the universal manifests itself in the case of virtue, from the point of view of the world process; for virtue as yet only “wills” to carry out the good, and does not in the first instance claim reality for it. This characteristic can also be looked at in this way: the good, in that it comes on the scene in the struggle with the world process, thereby manifests itself in the form of what is for another, as something which is not self-contained (an und für sich selbst), for otherwise it would not want to win its own truth by vanquishing its opposites. By having its being only when it is for another, is meant the same as was shown in the opposite way of looking at it, viz. that it is to begin with an abstraction which only attains reality in a relation, and has no reality of itself as it stands.

The good or universal as it appears here, is, then, what is called Gifts, Capacities, Powers. It is a mode or form of spiritual life, where the spiritual life is presented as a universal, which requires the principle of individuality to give it life and movement, and in individuality finds its realization. This universal is applied well by the principle of individuality so far as this principle dwells in the consciousness of virtue, and misused by it as far as it is in the world’s process — a passive instrument, which is regulated and directed by the hand of free individuality and is quite indifferent to the use it is put to, and can be misused for the production of a reality which means its ruin: a lifeless material deprived of any independence of its own — a material that can be formed in this way or that, or even to its own destruction.

Since this universal is at the beck and call equally of the virtuous consciousness as well as of the course of the world, it is not apparent whether with this equipment virtue will get the better of vice. The weapons are the same — these capacities and powers. Virtue has, it is true, carefully ensconced its belief in the original unity of its purpose and the essential nature of the world process, and the reserve thus placed in ambush is intended to fall on the rear of the enemy during the fight, and bring that purpose essentially (an sich) to fulfilment: so that thereby the knight of virtue finds as a matter of fact that his part in waging this warfare is, properly speaking, a mere sham-fight, which he cannot take seriously because he puts all his strength and confidence in the good being self-sufficient and real per se, i.e. in the good bringing about its own fulfilment — a sham-fight which he dare not even allow to become serious. For what he turns against the enemy, and finds turned against himself, and what, both in his own case and as regards his enemy as well, he runs the risk of getting wasted and damaged in the struggle, is not the good itself; he fights to keep and carry that out: what is exposed to the hazard of the contest is merely gifts and capacities that are indifferent to the issue. But these, in point of fact, are nothing else than just that universal from which individuality has been eliminated, and which is to be conserved and actualized by the struggle.

This universal, however, is at the same time directly realized and ipso facto made actual by the very notion of the contest; it is the inherent essential nature, the “universal”, and its actualization means merely that it is at the same time for an other. The two aspects mentioned above, in each of which it became an abstraction, are no longer separated; it is in and through the struggle that the good is simultaneously established in both forms.

The virtuous consciousness, however, enters into conflict with the way of the world as if this were a factor opposed to the good. What the conflict brings to light is the universal, not merely as an abstract universal, but as one animated by individuality, and existing for an other, in other words the universal in the sense of the actually real good. Wherever virtue comes to grips with the world’s process, it always hits upon places where goodness is found to exist; the good, as the inherent nature of the world’s process, is inseparably interwoven with all the manifestations of it, with all the ways in which the world’s process makes its appearance, and where it is real the good has its own existence too. Virtue thus finds the world’s process invulnerable. All the moments which virtue was to jeopardize in itself when dealing with the world’s process, all the moments which it was to sacrifice — these are just so many ways in which goodness exists, and consequently are inviolable relations. The conflict can, therefore, only be an oscillation between conserving and sacrificing; or rather there can be no place for either sacrificing one’s own or doing harm to what comes from elsewhere. Virtue is not merely like the combatant whose sole concern in the fight is to keep his sword polished; but it has even started the fight simply to preserve its weapons. And not merely is it unable to use its own weapons, but it must also preserve intact those of its enemy, and protect them against its own attack, seeing they are all noble parts of the good, on behalf of which it entered the field of battle.

This enemy, on the other hand, has as its essential element not the inherent universal, but individuality. Its force is thus the negative principle before which nothing stands, nothing is absolutely sacred, but which can risk and endure the loss of everything and anything. In so doing it feels victory to be assured, as much from its very nature as by the contradiction in which its opponent gets entangled. What is to virtue implicit and inherent is taken merely as an explicit objective fact in the case of the world’s process. The latter is detached from every moment which virtue finds fixed and to which it is fast secured. The world process has such a moment under its power and has consequently in its control the tethered knight of virtue bound thereto, by the fact that this moment is held to be merely one which the world’s process can as readily cancel as let be. This knight of valour cannot work himself loose from it as he might from a cloak thrown round him, and get free by leaving it behind; for it is to him the essential element which he cannot give up.

Finally, as to the ambush out of which the inherent good is cunningly and craftily to fall on the rear of the world process, this hope is vain and foolish from its very nature. The world process is the mind sure of itself and ever on the alert, that can never be got at from behind, but fronts breast-forward every quarter; for it consists in this that everything is an objective element for it, everything stands before it. But when the inherent goodness is for its enemy, then it finds itself in the struggle we have seen; so far, however, as it is not for its enemy, but subsists in itself, it is the passive instrument of gifts and capacities, material without reality. If represented as object, it would be a dormant consciousness, remaining in the background, no one knows where.

Virtue is thus overpowered by the world process, because the abstract unreal essence is in fact virtue’s own purpose, and because its action as regards reality rests on distinctions that are solely a matter of words. Virtue wanted to consist in the fact of bringing about the realization of goodness through sacrificing individuality; but the aspect of reality is itself nothing else than the aspect of individuality. The good was meant to be what is implicit and inherent, and opposed to what is; but the implicit and inherent, taken in its real truth, is simply being itself. The implicitly inherent element is primarily the abstraction of essence as against actual reality: but the abstraction is just what is not true, but a distinction merely for consciousness; this means, however, it is itself what is called actual, for the actual is what essentially is for an other — or it is being. But the consciousness of virtue rests on this distinction of implicitness and explicit being, a distinction without any true validity.

The world process was supposed to be the perversion of the good, because it took individuality for its principle. But this latter is the principle of actual reality, for it is just that mode of consciousness by which what is implicit and inherent is for an other as well. The world process transmutes and perverts the unchangeable, but does so in fact by transforming it out of the nothingness of abstraction into the being of reality.

The course of the world is, then, victorious over what, in opposition to it, constitutes virtue; it is victorious over that which took an unreal abstraction to be the essential reality. But it is not victorious over something real, but over the production of distinctions that are no distinctions, over this pompous talk about the best for mankind and the oppression of humanity, about sacrifice for goodness’ sake and the misuse of gifts. Imaginary idealities and purposes of that sort fall on the ear as idle phrases, which exalt the heart and leave the reason a blank, which edify but build up nothing that endures: declamations whose only definite announcement is that the individual who professes to act for such noble ends and indulges in such fine phrases holds himself for a fine creature: a swollen enlargement which gives itself and others a mighty size of a head, but big from inflation with emptiness.

Virtue in the olden time had its secure and determinate significance, for it found the fullness of its content and its solid basis in the substantial life of the nation, and had for its purpose and end a concrete good that existed and lay at its hand: it was also for that reason not directed against actual reality as a general perversity, and not turned against a world process. The virtue above considered, however, is removed from that substantial life, and is outside it, a virtue with no essential being, a virtue merely in idea and in words, and one that is deprived of all that content.

The vacuousness of this rhetorical eloquence in conflict with the world’s process would be at once discovered if it were to be stated what all its eloquent phrases amount to. They are therefore assumed to be familiar and well-understood. The request to say what, then, this “well-known” is would be either met by a new swell of phrases, or in reply there would be an appeal to the “heart” which “inwardly” tells what they mean — which is tantamount to an admission of inability to say what the meaning is.

The fatuousness of that style of eloquence seems, too, in a quasi-unconscious manner to have got the length of being an acknowledged certainty for the cultivated minds of our time, since all interest in the whole mass of those rhetorical spread-eagle phrases has disappeared — a loss of interest which is betrayed in the sheer wearisomeness they produce.

The result, then, arising from this opposition, consists in the fact that consciousness lets the idea of an inherent good, which yet has no actual reality, slip from it like a mere cloak. Consciousness has learned in the course of its struggle that the world’s process is not so bad as it looked; for the reality of the world’s process is that of the universal. With the discovery of this it is seen that there is no way of producing the good through the sacrifice of individuality, the means for doing so have gone; for individuality is precisely the explicit actualization of what is implicitly and inherently real (i.e. the universal); and the perversion ceases to be looked at as a perversion of goodness, for it is just the transmuting of the good, qua bare purpose, into actual reality. The movement of individuality is the reality of the universal.

In point of fact, however, what as world process stood opposed to the consciousness of the inherently and implicitly real, has likewise been vanquished and has disappeared with the attainment of the above result. The self-existence of individuality was there in opposition to the inner essential nature, the universal, and made its appearance as a reality cut off from the inherent implicit nature. Since, however, it has come out that reality is in undivided unity with the universal, the self-existence of the world’s process proves not to be more than an aspect, just as the inherent nature (Ansich) of virtue is merely an aspect too (Ansicht). The individuality of the world’s process may doubtless think it acts merely for itself or selfishly; it is better than it thinks; its action is at the same time one that is universal and with an inherent being of its own. If it acts selfishly, it does not know what it is doing; and if it insists that all men act selfishly, it merely asserts that all men are unaware as to what action is. If it acts for itself, this is just the explicit bringing into reality of what is at first implicit and inherent. The purpose of its self-existence, of its “being for itself”, which it fancies opposed to the inherent nature — its futile ingenuity and cunning, as also its fine-spun explanations which so knowingly demonstrate the existence of selfishness everywhere — all these have as much vanished as the purpose of the inherent element and its rhetoric.

Thus, then, the effort, the struggle, the activity of individuality is inherently an end in itself; the use of powers, the play of their outward manifestations — that is what gives them life: otherwise they would be lifeless, potential, and merely implicit (Ansich). The inherent implicit nature is not an abstract universal without existence and never carried into effect; it is itself immediately this actual present and this living actuality of the process of individuality.

 

1. Here the individual’s own universal nature (his own good and true) has to control his private feelings and desires.

2. Here, by contrast with (1), the only real discipline is to subdue the entire personality to the “course of the world” (i.e., the good and true in it.)

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