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


Spirit in Self-Estrangement — The Discipline
Of Culture

Translator’s comments: The life of spirit as found in the social self-consciousness has two fundamental factors, the universal spirit or social whole as such, and the individual member as such. The interrelation of these constitutes the spiritual existence of society. Each by itself is abstract, but the realization of complete spiritual life through and in each is absolutely essential for spiritual fulfilment. In the preceding analysis of spirit, one form of this process has been considered, the realization of the objective social order in and through individuals. In the succeeding section, with its various subsections, the other process of securing the same general result is analysed: we have the movement by which, starting from the individual spirit, the realization of complete spiritual existence is established. The former starts from the compact solidarity of the social substance, and results in the establishment of separate and individually complete legal personalities. The latter process starts from the rigidly exclusive unity of the individual self and issues in the establishment of a social order of absolutely universal and therefore absolutely free wins. Both processes are per se abstract, necessary though they are: hence, as we shall find, a further stage in the evolution of spirit has still to appear.

The process of spirit in this second stage assumes from the start a conscious contrast between the individual spirit and a universal spiritual whole, a contrast, which, while profound, the individual seeks to remove, because the universality of spiritual existence which he seeks to attain is implicitly involved in his very being as a spiritual entity. His spiritual life seems, to begin with, rent in twain, so complete is the sense of the opposition of these factors constituting his life. His true life, his objective embodiment, seems outside him altogether and yet is felt to be his own self. He seems “estranged” from his complete self, and the estrangement seems his own doing, because the substance from which he is cut off is felt to be his own. The contrast is the deepest that spirit can possibly experience, just because spirit is and knows itself to be self-contained and self-complete, “the only reality”. The contrast can only be removed by effort and struggle, for the individual spirit has to create or recreate for itself and by its own activity a universal objective spiritual realm, which it implies and in which alone it can be free and feel itself at home. The struggle spirit goes through is thus the greatest in the whole range of its experience, for the opposition to be overcome is the profoundest that exists. Since its aim is to achieve the highest for itself, nothing sacred can be allowed to stand in its way. It will make any sacrifice, and, if necessary, produce the direst spiritual disaster, a spiritual “reign of terror”, to accomplish its result.

The movement of spirit here analysed covers every form of the individual’s “struggle for a substantial spiritual life”. It embraces the “intellectual”, “economic”, “religious”, and the “ethical” in the narrower sense of these terms; it embraces all that we mean by “culture” and “civilization”. Hence the various parts of the argument:— spiritual “discipline”, “enlightenment”, the pursuit of “wealth”, “belief” and “superstition”, “absolute freedom”.

The process of spiritual life passed under critical review here is familiar to a greater or less extent in every age and every society. But the actual historical material present to the mind of the writer is derived from (1) the period of European history embracing the entrance of Christianity and Christian philosophy into European civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire, and the intellectual, “humanistic”, awakening of the Renaissance which led on to the ecclesiastical revolution known as the Reformation: (2) the rationalistic movement of the eighteenth century, the so-called “Enlightenment” which proceded and culminated in the French Revolution, the supreme outburst of spiritual emancipation known in European history. These two periods, far removed as they are in time, have much in common. They embody principles of spiritual development fundamentally &like, and are therefore freely drawn upon in the analysis, regardless of historicity.

Much of Hegel’s analysis of the first stage of this spiritual movement has also directly in view the character of Rameau in Diderot’s Le neveu de Rameau. This remarkable work was written in 1760, but was first brought to the notice of the literary public by Goethe, who translated and published the work in 1805. It thus came into Hegel’s hands while he was writing the Phenomenology: and this perhaps accounts the repeated references to it in the argument. The term “self-estranged spirit” with which he heads this section occurs in Goethe’s translation. Rameau is an extreme type of such a spirit.

With this section should be read Hegel’s Philosophy of History, Pt. III, § 3, c. 2; Pt. IV, § 2, c. 1, § 3, c. 1, 3: the History of Philosophy, Pt. 3, Introduction, and c. 2, “The French Philosophy and the German Enlightenment.”

Spirit in Self-Estrangement-The Discipline
Of Culture

The ethical substance preserved and kept opposition enclosed within its simple conscious life; and this consciousness was in immediate unity with its own essential nature. That nature has therefore the simple characteristic of something merely existing for the consciousness which is directed immediately upon it, and whose “custom” (Sitte) it is. Consciousness does not take itself to be particular excluding self, nor does the substance mean for it an existence shut out from it, with which it would have to establish its identity only through estranging itself and thus at the same time have to produce that substance. But that spirit, whose self is absolutely insular, absolutely discrete, finds its content over against itself in the form of a reality that is just as impenetrable as itself, and the world here gets the characteristic of being something external, negative to self-consciousness. Yet this world is a spiritual reality, it is essentially the fusion of individuality with being. This its existence is the work of self-consciousness, but likewise an actuality immediately present and alien to it, which has a peculiar being of its own, and in which it does not know itself. This reality is the external element and the free content(1) of the sphere of legal right. But this external reality, which the lord of the world of legal right takes control of, is not merely this elementary external entity casually lying before the self; it is his work, but not in a positive sense, rather negatively so. It acquires its existence by self-consciousness of its own accord relinquishing itself and giving up its essentiality, the condition which, in that waste and ruin which prevail in the sphere of right, the external force of the elements let loose seems to bring upon self- consciousness. These elements by themselves are sheer ruin and destruction, and cause their own overthrow. This overthrow, however, this their negative nature, is just the self; it is their subject, their action, and their process. Such process and activity again, through which the substance becomes actual, are the estrangement of personality, for the immediate self, i.e. the self without estrangement and holding good as it stands, is without substantial content, and the sport of these raging elements. Its substance is thus just its relinquishment, and the relinquishment is the substance, i.e. the spiritual powers forming themselves into a coherent world and thereby securing their subsistence.

The substance in this way is spirit, self-conscious unity of the self and the essential nature; but both also take each other to mean and to imply alienation. Spirit is consciousness of an objective reality which exists independently on its own account. Over against this consciousness stands, however, that unity of the self with the essential nature, consciousness pure and simple over against actual consciousness. On the one side actual self-consciousness by its self-relinquishment passes over into the real world, and the latter back again into the former. On the other side, however, this very actuality, both person and objectivity, is cancelled and superseded; they are purely universal. This their alienation is pure consciousness, or the essential nature. The “present” has directly its opposite in its “beyond”, which is its thinking and its being thought; just as this again has its opposite in what is here in the “present”, which is the actuality of the “beyond” but alienated from it.

Spirit in this case, therefore, constructs not merely one world, but a twofold world, divided and self-opposed. The world of the ethical spirit is its own proper present; and hence every power it possesses is found in this unity of the present, and, so far as each separates itself from the other, each is still in equilibrium with the whole. Nothing has the significance of a negative of self-consciousness; even the spirit of the departed is in the life-blood of his relative, is present in the self of the family, and the universal power of government is the will, the self of the nation. Here, however, what is present means merely objective actuality, which has its consciousness in the beyond; each single moment, as an essential entity, receives this, and thereby actuality, from an other, and so far as it is actual, its essential being is something other than its own actuality. Nothing has a spirit self-established and indwelling within it; rather, each is outside itself in what is alien to it. The equilibrium of the whole is not the unity which abides by itself, nor its inwardly secured tranquillity, but rests on the estrangement of its opposite. The whole is, therefore, like each single moment, a self-estranged reality. It breaks up into two spheres: in one kingdom self-consciousness is actually both the self and its object, and in another we have the kingdom of pure consciousness, which, being beyond the former, has no actual present, but exists for Faith, is matter of Belief. Now just as the ethical world passes from the separation of divine and human law, with its various forms, and its consciousness gets away from the division into knowledge and the absence of knowledge, and returns into the principle which is its destiny, into the self which is the power to destroy and negate this opposition, so, too, both these kingdoms of self-alienated spirit will return into the self. But if the former, the first self holding good directly, was the single person, this second, which returns into itself from its self-relinquishment, will be the universal self, the consciousness grasping the conception; and these spiritual worlds, all of whose moments insist on having a fixed reality and an unspiritual subsistence, will be dissolved in the light of pure Insight. This insight, being the self grasping itself, completes the stage of culture. It takes up nothing but the self, and everything as the self, i.e. it comprehends everything, extinguishes all objectiveness, and converts everything implicit into something explicit, everything which has a being in itself into what is for itself. When turned against belief, against faith, as the alien realm of inner being lying in the distant beyond, it is Enlightenment (Aufklärung). This enlightenment completes spirit’s self-estrangement in this realm too, whither spirit in self-alienation turns to seek its safety as to a region where it becomes conscious of the peace of self-equipoise. Enlightenment upsets the household arrangements, which spirit carries out in the house of faith, by bringing in the goods and furnishings belonging to the world of the Here and Now, a world which that spirit cannot refuse to accept as its own property, for its conscious life likewise belongs to that world. In this negative task pure insight realizes itself at the same time, and brings to light its own proper object, the “unknowable absolute Being” and utility.(2) Since in this way actuality has lost all substantiality, and there is nothing more implicit in it, the kingdom of faith, as also that of the real world, is overthrown; and this revolution brings about absolute freedom,, the stage at which the spirit formerly estranged has gone back completely into itself, leaves behind this sphere of culture, and passes over into another region, the land of the inner or subjective moral consciousness (moralischen Bewusstsein).

1. v. p. 501 ff.

2. Cp. Eighteenth century Deism and utilitarianism.

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