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

a

The Ethical World: Law Human and Divine:
Man and Woman

Translator’s comments: The first step in the analysis of spirit is to take spirit as a realized actual social order, immediately given as a historical fact, and present directly to the minds of the individuals composing it. This is social life as an established routine of human adjustments, where the natural characteristics and constitution of its moral individuals are absorbed and built into the single substance of the living social whole. It is spirit as an objectively embodied whole of essentially spiritual individuals, without any consciousness of opposition to one another or to the whole, and with an absolute unbroken sense of their own security and fulfilment within the substance of social mind. It is spirit at the level of naive acquiescence in the law and order of conventional life.

But such a self-complete type of experience has various levels of realization. It cannot exist except through the union of opposing elements; and the central principle of all experience, self-consciousness, which assumes here such a concrete form, has abundant material on which to exercise its function of creating and uniting distinctions. The first level is determined by the fact that the substance of social life is constituted out of the quasi-natural phenomena of human genus and species, of race and nationality, on the one hand, and the purely natural element of specialized individual sex on the other. These two aspects go together; the sex-relations of individuals maintain race and nationality, the nation lives in and through its sexually distinct individuals. The social order as an order is realized and maintained in the medium of these elements. The fact that this order is an order of universal mind gives it a permanence, an inviolability, an absoluteness, which are inseparable from it, so inseparable that the order is looked on as having its roots in the Absolute Mind, and as deriving its authority from it. The social order on this aspect consists of a divinely established and divinely sanctioned régime; the gods are the guardians of the city, of the hearth and the home. On the other hand the expression of this order varies, and is enunciated from time to time in the history of a community. The order in this sense is made by man; the law of the social order thus becomes a human law, determined by human conditions and human ends; it is a round of conventions and customs. These two forms of order are inseparable in the life of a community, and they subsist together and side beside at this level of social consciousness. They may lead to conflict in the life of the individual in the community, and have to be reconciled by force or otherwise; and they become associated and connected with the fundamental differences of individuality above referred to.

The analysis of this level of social life constituted as above furnishes the argument of the following section. With Hegel’s treatment of the relationships holding between Husband and Wife, Parents and Children, Brothers and Sisters should be read Aristotle’s discussion of social fellowship in Eth. Nicom. Bks. VIII, IX.

The Ethical World: Law Human and Divine:
Man and Woman

THE simple substance of spirit, being consciousness, divides itself into parts. In other words, just as consciousness of abstract sensuous existence passes over into perception, so does immediate certainty of real ethical existence; and just as for sense-perception bare “being” becomes a “thing” with many properties, so for ethical perception a given act becomes a reality involving many ethical relations. For the former, again, the unnecessary plurality of properties concentrates itself into the form of an essential opposition between individual and universal; and still more for the latter, which is consciousness purified and substantial, the plurality of ethical moments is reduced to and assumes a twofold form, that of a law of individuality and a law of universality. Each of these areas or “masses” of the substance remains, however, spirit in its entirety. If in sense-perception “things” have no other substantial reality than the two determinations of individual and universal, these determinations express, in the present instance, merely the superficial opposition of both sides to one another.

Individuality, in the case of the subject (Wesen) we are here considering, has the significance of self-consciousness in general, not of any particular consciousness we care to take. The ethical substance is, thus, in this determination actual concrete substance, Absolute Spirit realized in the plurality of distinct consciousnesses definitely existing. It [this spirit] is the community (Gemeinwesen) which, as we entered the stage of the practical embodiment of reason in general, came before us as the absolute and ultimate reality, and which here comes objectively before itself in its true nature as a conscious ethical reality (Wesen), and as the essential reality for that mode of consciousness we are now dealing with. it is spirit which is for itself, since it maintains itself by being reflected in the minds of the component individuals; and which is in itself or substance, since it preserves them within itself. Qua actual substance, that spirit is a Nation (Volk); qua concrete consciousness, it is the Citizens of the nation. This consciousness has its essential being in simple spirit, and is certain of itself in the actual realization of this spirit, in the entire nation; it has its truth there directly, not therefore in something unreal, but in a spirit which exists and makes itself felt.

This spirit can be named Human Law, because it has its being essentially in the form of self-conscious actuality. In the form of universality, that spirit is the law known to everybody, familiar and recognized, and is the everyday Customary Convention (Sitte); in the form of particularity it is the concrete certainty of itself in any and every individual; and the certainty of itself as a single individuality is that spirit in the form of Government. Its true and complete nature is seen in its authoritative validity openly and unmistakably manifested, an existence which takes the form of unconstrained independent objective fact, and is immediately apprehended with conscious certainty in this form.

Over against this power and publicity of the ethical secular human order there appears, however, another power, the Divine Law. For the ethical power of the state, being the movement of self-conscious action, finds its opposition in the simple immediate essential being of the ethical order; qua actual concrete universality, it is a force exerted against the independence of the individual; and, qua actuality in general, it finds inherent in that essential being something other than the power of the state.

We mentioned before that each of the opposite ways in which the ethical substance exists contains that substance in its entirety, and contains all moments of its contents. If, then, the community is that substance in the form of self-consciously realized action, the other side has the form of immediate or directly existent substance. The latter is thus, on the one band, the inner principle (Begriff) or universal possibility of the ethical order in general, but, on the other hand, contains within it also the moment of self-consciousness. This moment which expresses the ethical order in this element of immediacy or mere being, which, in other words, is an immediate consciousness of self (both as regards its essence and its particular thisness) in an other”— and hence, is a natural ethical community — this is the Family. The family, as the inner indwelling principle of sociality operating in an unconscious way, stands opposed to its own actuality when explicitly conscious; as the basis of the actuality of a nation, it stands in contrast to the nation itself; as the immediate ethical existence, it stands over against the ethical order which shapes and preserves itself by work for universal ends; the Penates of the family stand in contrast to the universal spirit.

Although the ethical existence of the family has the character of immediacy, it is within itself an ethical entity, but not so far as it is the natural relation of its component members, or so far as their connexion is one immediately holding between individual concrete beings. For the ethical element is intrinsically universal and this relation established by nature is essentially just as much a spiritual fact, and is only ethical by being spiritual. Let us see wherein its peculiar ethical character consists.

In the first place, because the ethical element is the intrinsically universal element, the ethical relation between the members of the family is not that of sentiment or the relationship of love. The ethical element in this case seems bound to be placed in the relation of the individual member of the family to the entire family as the real substance, so that the purpose of his action and the content of his actuality are taken from this substance, are derived solely from the family life. But the conscious purpose which dominates the action of this whole, so far as that purpose concerns that whole, is itself the individual member. The procuring and maintaining of power and wealth turn, in part, merely on needs and wants, and are a matter that has to do with desire; in part, they become in their higher object something which is merely of mediate significance. This object does not fall within the family itself, but concerns what is truly universal, the community; it acts rather in a negative way on the family, and consists in setting the individual outside the family, in subduing his merely natural existence and his mere particularity and so drawing him on towards virtue, towards living in and for the universal. The positive purpose peculiar to the family is the individual as such. Now in order that this relationship may be ethical, neither the individual who does an act, nor he to whom the act refers must show any trace of contingency such as obtains in rendering some particular help or service. The content of the ethical act must be substantial in character, or must be entire and universal; hence it can only stand in relation to the entire individual, to the individual qua universal. And this, again, must not be taken as if it were merely in idea that an act of service furthered his entire happiness, whereas the service, taken as an immediate or concrete act, only does something particular in regard to him. Nor must we think that the ethical act, like a process of education, really takes him as its object, and, dealing with him as a whole, in a series of efforts, produces him as a kind of work; for there, apart from the purpose, which operates in a negative way on the family, the real act has merely a limited content. Finally, just as little should we take it that the service rendered is a help in time of need, by which in truth the entire individual is saved; for such help is itself an entirely casual act, the occasion of which is an ordinary actuality which can as well be as not be. The act, then, which embraces the entire existence of the blood relation does not concern the citizen, for he does not belong to the family, nor does it deal with one who is going to be a citizen and so will cease to have the significance of a mere particular individual: it has as its object and content this specific individual belonging to the family, takes him as a universal being, divested of his sensuous, or particular reality. The act no longer concerns the living but the dead, one who has passed through the long sequence of his broken and diversified existence and gathered up his being into its one completed embodiment, who has lifted himself out of the unrest of a life of chance and change into the peace of simple universality. Because it is only as citizen that he is real and substantial, the individual, when not a citizen, and belonging to the family, is merely unreal insubstantial shadow.

This condition of universality, which the individual as such reaches, is mere being, death; it is the immediate issue of the process of nature, and is not the action of a conscious mind. The duty of the member of a family is on that account to attach this aspect too, in order that this last phase of being also (this universal being), may not belong to nature alone, and remain something irrational, but may be something actually done, and the right of consciousness be asserted in it. Or rather the significance of the act is that, because in truth the peace and universality of a self-conscious being does not belong to nature, the apparent claim which nature has made to act in this way may be given up and the truth reinstated.

What nature did in the individual’s case concerns the aspect in which his process of becoming universal is manifested as the movement of an existent. It takes effect no doubt within the ethical community, and has this in view as its purpose: death is the fulfilment and highest task which the individual as such undertakes on its behalf. But so far as he is essentially a particular individual, it is an accident that his death was connected directly with his labour for the universal whole, and was the outcome of his toil; partly because, if it was so, it is the natural course of the negativity of the individual qua existent, in which consciousness does not return into itself and become self-conscious; or, again, because, since the process of the existent consists in becoming cancelled and transcended and attaining the stage of independent self-existence, death is the aspect of diremption, where the self-existence, which is obtained, is something other than that being which entered on the process.

Because the ethical order is spirit in its immediate truth, those aspects into which its conscious life breaks up fall also into this form of immediacy; and the individual’s particularity passes over into this abstract negativity, which, being in itself without consolation or reconcilement, must receive them essentially through a concrete and external act.

Blood-relationship therefore supplements the abstract natural process by adding to it the process of consciousness, by interrupting the work of nature, and rescuing the blood-relation from destruction; or better, because destruction, the passing into mere being, is necessary, it takes upon itself the act of destruction.

Through this it comes about that the universal being, the sphere of death, is also something which has returned into itself, something self-existent; the powerless bare particular unity is raised to universal individuality. The dead individual, by his having detached and liberated his being from his action or his negative unity, is an empty particular, merely existing passively for some other, at the mercy of every lower irrational organic agency, and the [chemical, physical] forces of abstract material elements, both of which are now stronger than himself, the former on account of the life which they have, the latter on account of their negative nature.(1) The family keeps away from the dead this dishonouring of him by the desires of unconscious organic agencies and by abstract elements, puts its own action in place of theirs, and weds the relative to the bosom of the earth, the elemental individuality that passes not away. Thereby the family makes the dead a member of a community(2) which prevails over and holds under control the powers of the particular material elements and the lower living creatures, which sought to have their way with the dead and destroy him.

This last duty thus accomplishes the complete divine law, or constitutes the positive ethical act towards the given individual. Every other relation towards him which does not remain at the level of love, but is ethical, belongs to human law, and has the negative significance of lifting the individual above the confinement within the natural community to which he belongs as a concrete individual. But, now, though human right has for its content and power the actual ethical substance consciously aware of itself, the entire nation, while divine right and law derive theirs from the particular individual who is beyond the actual, yet he is still not without power. His power lies in the abstract pure universal, the elemental individual, which seizes upon the individuality that cuts itself loose from the element and constitutes the self-conscious reality of the nation, and draws it back into the pure abstraction which is its essential nature: draws it back just as that essence is its ultimate ground and source. How this power is made explicit in the nation itself will come out more fully as we proceed.

Now in the one law as in the other there are differences and stages. For since these laws involve the element of consciousness in both cases, distinction is developed within themselves: and this is just what constitutes the peculiar process of their life. The consideration of these differences brings out the way they operate, and the kind of self-consciousness at work in both the universal essential principles (Wesen) of the ethical world, as also their connexion and transition into one another.

The community, the upper law whose validity is open to the light of day, has its concrete vitality in government; for in government it is an individual whole. Government is concrete actual spirit reflected into itself, the self pure and simple of the entire ethical substance. This simple force allows, indeed, the community to unfold and expand into its component members, and to give each part subsistence and self-existence of its own (Fürsichseyn). Spirit finds in this way its realization or its objective existence, and the family is the medium in which this realization takes effect. But spirit is at the same time the force of the whole, combining these parts again within the unity which negates them, giving them the feeling of their want of independence, and keeping them aware that their life only lies in the whole. The community may thus, on the one hand, organize itself into the systems of property and of personal independence, of personal right and right in things; and, on the other hand, articulate the various ways of working for what in the first instance are particular ends — those of gain and enjoyment — into their own special guilds and associations, and may thus make them independent. The spirit of universal assemblage and association is the single and simple principle, and the negative essential factor at work in the segregation and isolation of these systems. In order not to let them get rooted and settled in this isolation and thus break up the whole into fragments and let the common spirit evaporate, government has from time to time to shake them to the very centre by War. By this means it confounds the order that has been established and arranged, and violates their right to independence, while the individuals (who, being absorbed therein, get adrift from the whole, striving after inviolable self-existence (Fürsichseyn) and personal security), are made, by the task thus imposed on them by government, to feel the power of their lord and master, death. By thus breaking up the form of fixed stability, spirit guards the ethical order from sinking into merely natural existence, preserves the self of which it is conscious, and raises that self to the level of freedom and its own powers. The negative essential being shows itself to be the might proper of the community and the force it has for self-maintenance. The community therefore finds the true principle and corroboration of its power in the inner nature of divine law, and in the kingdom of the nether world.

The divine law which holds sway in the family has also on its side distinctions within itself, the relations among which make up the living process of its realization. Amongst the three relationships, however, of husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, the relationship of husband and wife is to begin with the primary and immediate form in which one consciousness recognizes itself in another, and in which each knows that reciprocal recognition. Being natural self-knowledge, knowledge of self on the basis of nature and not on that of ethical life, it merely represents and typifies in a figure the life of spirit, and is not spirit itself actually realized. Figurative representation, however, has its reality in an other than it is. This relationship, therefore, finds itself realized not in itself as such, but in the child — an other, in whose coming into being that relationship consists, and with which it passes away. And this change from one generation onwards to another is permanent in and as the life of a nation.

The reverent devotion (Pietät) of husband and wife towards one another is thus mixed up with a natural relation and with feeling, and their relationship is not inherently self-complete; similarly, too, the second relationship, the reverent devotion of parents and children to one another. The devotion of parents towards their children is affected with emotion just by their being consciously realized in what is external to themselves (viz. the children), and by their seeing them become something on their own account without this returning to the parents; independent existence on the part of the children remains a foreign reality, a reality all their own. The devotion of children, again, towards their parents is conversely affected by their coming into being from, or having their essential nature in, what is external to themselves (viz. the parents) and passes away; and by their attaining independent existence and a self-consciousness of their own solely through separation from the source whence they came — a separation in which the spring gets exhausted.

Both these relationships are constituted by and hold within the transience and the dissimilarity of the two sides, which are assigned to them.

An unmixed intransitive form of relationship, however, holds between brother and sister. They are the same blood, which, however, in them has entered into a condition of stable equilibrium. They therefore stand in no such natural relation as husband and wife, they do not desire one another; nor have they given to one another, nor received from one another, this independence of individual being; they are free individualities with respect to each other. The feminine element, therefore, in the form of the sister, premonizes and foreshadows most completely the nature of ethical life (sittliches Wesen). She does not become conscious of it, and does not actualize it, because the law of the family is her inherent implicit inward nature, which does not lie open to the daylight of consciousness, but remains inner feeling and the divine element exempt from actuality. The feminine life is attached to these household divinities (Penates), and sees in them both her universal substance, and her particular individuality, yet so views them that this relation of her individuality to them is at the same time not the natural one of pleasure.

As a daughter, the woman must now see her parents pass away with natural emotion and yet with ethical resignation, for it is only at the cost of this condition that she can come to that individual existence of which she is capable. She thus cannot see her independent existence positively attained in her relation to her parents. The relationships of mother and wife, however, are individualized partly in the form of something natural, which brings pleasure; partly in the form of something negative, which finds simply its own evanescence in those relationships; partly again the individualization is just on that account something contingent which can be replaced by an other particular individuality. In a household of the ethical kind, a woman’s relationships are not based on a reference to this particular husband, this particular child but to a husband, to children in general — not to feeling, but to the universal. The distinction between her ethical life (Sittlichkeit) (while it determines her particular existence and brings her pleasure) and that of her husband consists just in this, that it has always a directly universal significance for her, and is quite alien to the impulsive condition of mere particular desire. On the other hand, in the husband these two aspects get separated; and since he possesses, as a citizen, the self-conscious power belonging to the universal life, the life of the social whole, he acquires thereby the rights of desire, and keeps himself at the same time in detachment from it. So far, then, as particularity is implicated in this relationship in the case of the wife, her ethical life is not purely ethical; so far, however, as it is ethical, the particularity is a matter of indifference, and the wife is without the moment of knowing herself as this particular self in and through an other.

The brother, however, is in the eyes of the sister a being whose nature is unperturbed by desire and is ethically like her own; her recognition in him is pure and unmixed with any sexual relation. The indifference characteristic of particular existence and the ethical contingency thence arising are, therefore, not present in this relationship; instead, the moment of individual selfhood, recognizing and being recognized, can here assert its right, because it is bound up with the balance and equilibrium resulting from their being of the same blood, and from their being related in a way that involves no mutual desire. The loss of a brother is thus irreparable to the sister, and her duty towards him is the highest.(3)

This relationship at the same time is the limit, at which the circumscribed life of the family is broken up, and passes beyond itself. The brother is the member of the family in whom its spirit becomes individualized, and enabled thereby to turn towards another sphere, towards what is other than and external to itself, and pass over into consciousness of universality. The brother leaves this immediate, rudimentary, and, therefore, strictly speaking, negative ethical life of the family, in order to acquire and produce the concrete ethical order which is conscious of itself.

He passes from the divine law, within whose realm he lived, over to the human law. The sister, however, becomes, or the wife remains, director of the home and the preserver of the divine law. In this way both the sexes overcome their merely natural being, and become ethically significant, as diverse forms dividing between them the different aspects which the ethical substance assumes. Both these universal factors of the ethical world have their specific individuality in naturally distinct self-consciousnesses, for the reason that the spirit at work in the ethical order is the immediate unity of the substance [of ethical life] with self-consciousness — an immediacy which thus appears as the existence of a natural difference, at once as regards its aspect of reality and of difference. It is that aspect which, in the notion of spiritual reality, came to light as “original determinate nature”, when we were dealing with the stage of “Individuality which is real to itself”. This moment loses the indeterminateness which it still has there, and the contingent diversity of “constitution” and “capacities”. It is now the specific opposition of the two sexes, whose natural character acquires at the same time the significance of their respective ethical determinations.

The distinction of the sexes and of their ethical content remains all the same within the unity of the ethical substance, and its process is just the constant development of that substance. The husband is sent forth by the spirit of the family into the life of the community, and finds there his self-conscious reality. Just as the family thereby finds in the community its universal substance and subsistence, conversely the community finds in the family the formal element of its own realization, and in the divine law its power and confirmation. Neither of the two is alone self-complete. Human law as a living and active principle proceeds from the divine, the law holding on earth from that of the nether world, the conscious from the unconscious, mediation from immediacy; and returns too whence it came. The power of the nether world, on the other hand, finds its realization upon earth; it comes through consciousness to have existence and efficacy.

The universal elements of the ethical life are thus the (ethical) substance qua universal, and that substance qua particular consciousness. Their universal actuality is the nation and the family; while they get their natural self, and their operative individuality, in man and woman. Here in this content of the ethical world we see attained those purposes which the previous insubstantial modes of conscious life set before them. What Reason apprehended only as an object has become Self-consciousness, and what self-consciousness merely contained within it is here explicit true reality. What Observation knew — an object given externally and picked up, and one in the constitution of which the subject knowing had no share — is here a given ethical condition, a custom found lying ready at hand, but a reality which is at the same time the deed and product of the subject finding it. The individual who seeks the “pleasure” of enjoying his particular individuality finds it in the family life, and the “necessity”(4) in which that pleasure passes away is his own self-consciousness as a citizen of his nation. Or, again, it is knowing the “law of his own heart”(5) as the law of all hearts, knowing the, consciousness of self to be the recognized and universal ordinance of society: it is “virtue”,(6) which enjoys the fruits of its own sacrifice, which brings about what it sets out to do, viz. to bring the essential nature into the light of the actual present — and its enjoyment is this universal life. Finally, consciousness of “fact as such” (der Sache selbst)(7) gets satisfaction in the real substance, which contains and maintains in positive form the abstract aspects of that empty category. That substance finds a genuine content in the powers of the ethical order, a content that takes the place of those insubstantial commands which the “healthy human reason”(8) wanted to give and to know: and in consequence thus gets a concrete inherently determinate standard for “testing”, not the laws, but what is done.

The whole is a stable equilibrium of all the parts, and each part a spirit in its native element, a spirit which does not seek its satisfaction beyond itself, but has the satisfaction within itself for the reason that itself is in this balanced equipoise with the whole. This condition of stable equilibrium can, doubtless, only be living by inequality arising within it, and being brought back again to equipoise by Righteousness and Justice. Justice, however, is neither an alien principle (Wesen) holding somewhere remote from the present, nor the realization (unworthy of the name of justice) of mutual malice, treachery, ingratitude, etc., which, in the unintelligent way of chance and accident, would fulfil the law by a kind of irrational connexion without any controlling idea, action by commission and omission, without any consciousness of what was involved. On the contrary, being justice in human law, it brings back to the whole, to the universal life of society, what has broken away separately from the harmony and equilibrium of the whole:— the independent classes and individuals. In this way justice is the government of the nation, and is its all-pervading essential life in a consciously present individual form, and is the personal self-conscious will of all.

That justice, however, which restores to equilibrium the universal when getting the mastery over the particular individual, is similarly the simple single spirit of the individual who has suffered wrong; it is not broken up into the two elements, one who has suffered wrong and a far-away remote reality (Wesen). The individual himself is the power of the “nether” world, and that reality is his “fury”, wreaking vengeance upon him.(9) For his individuality, his blood still lives in the house, his substance has a lasting actuality. The wrong, which can be brought upon the individual in the realm of the ethical world, consists merely in this, that a bare something by chance happens to him. The power which perpetrates on the conscious individual this wrong of making him into a mere thing is “nature” it is the universality not of the community, but the abstract universality of mere existence. And the particular individual, in wiping out the wrong suffered, turns not against the community — for he has not suffered at its hands — but against the latter. As we saw,(10) the consciousness of those who share the blood of the individual removes this wrong in such a way that what has happened becomes rather a work of their own doing, and hence bare existence, the last state, gets also to be something willed, and thus an object of gratification.

The ethical realm remains in this way permanently a world without blot or stain, a world untainted by any internal dissension. So, too, its process is an untroubled transition from one of its powers to the other, in such a way that each preserves and produces the other. We see it no doubt divided into two ultimate elements and their realization: but their opposition is rather the confirming and substantiation of one through the other; and where they directly come in contact with each other as actual factors, their mediating common element is the immediate permeation of the one with the other. The one extreme, universal spirit conscious of itself, becomes, through the individuality of man, linked together with its other extreme, its force and its element, with unconscious spirit. On the other hand, divine law is individualized, the unconscious spirit of the particular individual finds its existence, in woman, through the mediation of whom the unconscious spirit comes out of its unrealizedness into actuality, and rises out of the state of unknowing and unknown, into the conscious realm of universal spirit. The union of man with woman constitutes the operative mediating agency for the whole, and constitutes the element which, while separated into the extremes of divine and human law, is, at the same time, their immediate union. This union, again, turns both those first mediate connexions (Schlusse) into one and the same synthesis, and unites into one process the twofold movement in opposite directions-one from reality to unreality, the downward movement of human law, organized into independent members, to the danger and trial of death,-the other, from unreality to reality, the upward movement of the law of the nether world to the daylight of conscious existence. Of these movements the former falls to man, the latter to woman.

1. The description here refers to the process of bodily corruption.

2. i.e. the earth?

3. Cp. Antigone, 1. 910.

4. Cp. p. 384 ff.

5. Cp. p. 391 ff.

6. Cp. p. 402 ff.

7. Cp. p. 419 ff.

8. Cp. p. 440 ff.

9. The reference here is to Orestes.

10. P. 471 sup.

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