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

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Belief and Pure Insight(1)

THE spiritual condition of self-estrangement exists in the sphere of culture as a fact. But since this whole has become estranged from itself, there lies beyond this sphere the nonactual realm of pure consciousness, of thought. Its content consists of what has been reduced purely to thought, its absolute element is thinking. Since, however, thinking is in the first instance the element of this world, consciousness has merely these thoughts, but it does not as yet think them or does not know that they are thoughts: to consciousness they appear in the form of presentations, they are objects in the form of ideas. For it comes out of the sphere of actuality into that of pure consciousness, but is itself still to all intents and purposes in the sphere of actuality with the determinateness that implies. The conscious state of contrition and abasement is still essentially and inherently the self-identity of pure consciousness, not as a fact that itself is aware of but only as presented to us who are considering its condition. It has thus not as yet completed within itself the process of spiritual exaltation, it is simply there; and it still has within itself the opposite principle by which it is conditioned, without as yet having become master of that principle through the mediating process. Hence the essential content of its thought is not taken to be an essential object merely in the form of abstract immanence (Ansich), but in the form of a common object, an object that has merely been elevated into another element, without having lost the character of an object that is not constituted by thought.

It is essentially distinct from the immanent nature which constitutes the essential being of the stoic type of consciousness. The significant factor for Stoicism was merely the form of thought as such, which has any content foreign to it that is drawn from actuality. In the case of the consciousness just described, however, it is not the form of thought which counts. Similarly it is essentially distinct from the inherent principle of the virtuous type of conscious life; here the essential fact stands, no doubt, in a relation to reality; it is the essence of reality itself: but it is no more than an unrealized essence of it. In the above type of consciousness the essence, although no doubt beyond reality, stands all the same for an actual real essence. In the same way, the inherently right and good which reason as lawgiver establishes, and the universal operating — when consciousness tests and examines laws — neither of these has the character of actual reality.

Hence while pure thought fell within the sphere of spiritual culture as an aspect of the estrangement characteristic of this sphere, as the standard, in fact, for judging abstract good and abstract bad, it has become enriched, by having gone through the process of the whole, with the element of reality and thereby with content. This reality of its essential being, however, is at the same time merely a reality of pure consciousness, not of concrete actual consciousness: it is no doubt lifted into the element of thought, but this concrete consciousness does not yet take it for a thought; it is beyond the reality peculiar to this consciousness, for it means flight from the latter.

In the form in which Religion here appears — for it is religion obviously that we are speaking about — as the belief which belongs to the realm of culture, religion does not yet appear as it is truly and completely (an und für sich). It has already come before us in other phases, viz. as the unhappy consciousness, as a form of conscious process with no substantial content in it. So, too, in the case of the ethical substance, it appeared as a belief in the nether-world. But a consciousness of the departed spirit is, strictly speaking, not belief, not the inner essence subsisting in the element of pure consciousness away beyond the actual: there the belief its has itself an immediate existence in the present; its element is the family.

But at the stage we are now considering, religion is in part the outcome of the substance, and is the pure consciousness of that substance; in part this pure consciousness is alienated from its concrete actual consciousness, the essence from its existence. It is thus doubtless no longer the insubstantial process of consciousness; but it has still the characteristic of opposition to actuality qua this actuality in general, and of opposition to the actuality of self-consciousness in particular. It is essentially, therefore, merely a belief.

This pure consciousness of Absolute Being is a consciousness in estrangement. Let us see more closely what is the characteristic of that whose other it is; we can only consider it in connexion with this other. In the first instance this pure consciousness seems to have over against it merely the world of actuality. But since its nature is to flee from this actuality, and thereby is characterized by opposition, it has this actuality inherent within its own being; pure consciousness is, therefore, essentially in its very being self alienated, and belief constitutes merely one side of it. The other side has already arisen too. For pure consciousness is reflexion out of the world of culture in such a way that the substantial content of this sphere, as also the separate areas into which it falls, are shown to be what they inherently are-essential modes of spiritual life, absolutely restless processes or determinate moments which are at once cancelled in their opposite. Their essential nature bare consciousness, is thus the bare simplicity of absolute distinction, distinction which as it stands is no distinction. Consequently it is pure self-existence not of this single self, but essentially universal self, whose being consists in a restless process invading and pervading the stable existence of actual fact. In it is thus found the certainty that knows itself at once as the truth: there we have pure thought in the sense of absolute notion with all its power of negativity, which annihilates every objective existence that would claim to stand over against consciousness, and turns it into a form of conscious existence.

This pure consciousness is at the same time simple and undifferentiated as well, just because its distinction is no distinction. Being this form of bare and simple reflexion into self, however, it is the element of belief, in which spirit has the character of positive universality, of what is inherent and essential in contrast with that self-existence of self-consciousness.

Forced back upon itself away from this unsubstantial world whose being is mere dissolution, spirit when we consider its true meaning is, in undivided unity, at once the absolute movement, the ceaseless process of negating its appearance, as well as the essential substance thereof satisfied within itself, and the positive stability of that process. But, bearing as they inherently do the characteristic of alienation, these two moments fall apart in the shape of a twofold consciousness. The former is pure Insight, the spiritual process concentrated and focussed in self-consciousness, a process which has over against it the consciousness of something positive, the form of objectivity or presentation, and which directs itself against this presented object. The proper and peculiar object of this insight is, however, merely pure ego.(2) The bare consciousness of the positive element, of unbroken self-identity, finds its object, on the other hand, in the inner reality as such.

Pure insight has, therefore, in the first instance, no content within it, because it exists for itself by negating everything in it; to belief, on the other hand, belongs the content, but without insight. While the former does not get away from self-consciousness, the latter to be sure has its content as well in the element of pure self-consciousness, but only in thought, not in conceptions — in pure consciousness, not in pure self-consciousness. Belief is, as a fact, in this way pure consciousness of the essential reality, i.e. of the bare and simple inner nature, and is thus thought— the primary factor in the nature of belief, which is generally overlooked.(3) The immediateness which characterizes the presence of the essential reality within it is due to the fact that its object is essence, inner nature, i.e. pure thought.(4) This immediateness, however, so far as thinking enters consciousness, or pure consciousness enters into self-consciousness, acquires the significance of an objective being that lies beyond consciousness of self. It is because of the significance which immediacy and simplicity of pure thought thus acquire in consciousness that the essential reality, the object of belief, drops into being an imaginatively presented idea (Vorstellung), instead of being the content of thought, and comes to be looked at as a supersensible world, which is essentially an “other” than self-consciousness.

In the case of pure insight, on the other hand, the passage of pure thought into consciousness has the opposite character: objectivity has the significance of a content that is merely negative, that cancels itself and returns into the self; that is to say, only the self is properly object to self, or, to put it otherwise, the object only has truth so far as it has the form of self.

As belief and pure insight fall in common within pure consciousness, they also in common involve the mind’s return out of the concrete sphere of spiritual culture. There are three aspects, therefore, from which they show what they are. In one aspect each is outside every relation, and has a being all its own; in another each takes up an attitude towards the concrete actual world standing in antithesis to pure consciousness; while in the third form each is related to the other inside pure consciousness.

In the case of belief the aspect of complete being, of being in-and-for-itself, is its absolute object, whose content and character we have already come to know. For it lies in the very notion of belief that this object is nothing else than the real world lifted into the universality of pure consciousness. The articulation of this world, therefore, constitutes the organization belonging to pure universality also, except that the parts in the latter case do not alienate one another when spiritualized, but are complete realities all by themselves, are spirits(5) returned into themselves and self-contained.

The process of their transition from one into the other is, therefore, only for us [who are analysing the process] an alienation of the characteristic nature in which their distinction lies, and only for us, the observers, does it constitute a necessary series; for belief, however, their distinction is a static diversity, and their movement simply a historical fact.

To deal shortly with the external character of their form: as in the world of culture state-power or the good was primary, so here the first and foremost moment is Absolute Being, spirit absolutely self-contained, so far as it is simple eternal substances.(6) But in the process of realizing its constitutive notion which consists in being spirit, that substance passes over into a form where it exists for an other; its self-identity becomes actual Absolute Being, actualized in self-sacrifice; it becomes a self, but a self that is transitory and passes away.(7) Hence the third stage is the return of self thus alienated, the substance thus abased, into its first primal simplicity. Only when this is done is spirit presented and manifested as spirit.(8)

These distinct ultimate Realities, when brought back by thought into themselves out of the flux of the actual world, are changeless, eternal spirits, whose being lies in thinking the unity which they constitute. While thus torn away from self-consciousness, these Realities all the same lay hold on it; for if the Ultimate Reality were to be fixed and unmoved in the form of the first bare and simple substance, it would remain alien to self-consciousness. But the laying aside, the “emptying” of this substance, and afterwards its spirit, involves the element of concrete actuality, and thereby participates in the believing self-consciousness, or the believing attitude of consciousness belongs to the real world.

According to this second condition, the believing type of consciousness partly finds its actuality in the real world of culture, and constitutes its spirit and its existence, which have been described; partly, however, belief takes up an attitude of opposition to this its own actuality, looks on this as something vain, and is the process of cancelling and transcending it. This process does not consist in the believing consciousness making witty remarks about the perverted condition of that reality; for it is the naive simple consciousness, which reckons esprit and wit as emptiness and vanity, because this still has the real world for its purpose. On the contrary, in opposition to its placid realm of thought stands concrete actuality as a soulless form of existence, which on that account has to be overcome in external fashion. This obedience through service and praise, by cancelling sense-knowledge and action, produces the consciousness of unity with the self-complete and self-existing Being, though not in the sense of an actual perceived unity. This service is merely the incessant process of producing the sense of unity, a process that never completely reaches its goal in the actual present. The religious communion no doubt does so, for it is universal self-consciousness. But for the individual self-consciousness the realm of pure thought necessarily remains something away beyond its actuality; or, again, since this remote region by the emptying, the “kenosis”, of the eternal Being, has entered the sphere of actuality, its actuality is sensuous, uncomprehended. But one sensuous actuality is ever indifferent and external to another, and what lies beyond has thus only received the further character of remoteness in space and time. The essential notion, however — the concrete actuality of spirit directly present to itself — remains for belief an inner principle, which is all and effects all, but never itself comes to the light.

In the case of pure insight, however, the concept, the essential notion (Begriff), is alone the real; and this third aspect of belief — that of being an object for pure insight — is the specific relation in which belief here appears. Pure insight itself has like belief to be considered partly by itself (an und für sich), partly in relation to the real world — so far as the real world is still present in positive shape, viz. in the form of a vain consciousness — and lastly in that relation to belief just mentioned.

We have already seen what pure insight by itself is. Belief is unperturbed pure consciousness of spirit as the essentially real; pure insight is the self-consciousness of spirit as the essentially real; it knows the essentially real, therefore, not qua essence but qua Absolute Self. Its aim thus is to cancel every kind of independence which falls without self-consciousness, whether that be the independence of the actually objective or of the inherently real, and to mould it into conceptual form. It not merely is the certainty of self-conscious reason assured of being all truth; it knows that it is so.

In the form, however, in which the notion of pure insight meets us first, it is not yet realized. As a phase of consciousness it appears in consequence as something contingent, as something isolated and particular, and its inmost constitutive nature appears as some purpose that it has to carry out and realize. It has to begin with the intention of making pure insight universal, i.e. of making everything that is actual into a notion, and one and the same notion for every self-consciousness.(9) The intention is pure, for its content is pure insight; and this insight is similarly pure, for its content is solely the absolute notion, which finds no opposition in an object, and is not restricted in itself. In the unrestricted notion there are found at once both the aspects — that everything objective is to signify only the self-existent, self-consciousness, and that this is to signify something universal, that pure insight is to be the property of all self-consciousnesses. This second feature of the intention is so far a result of culture, in that in culture both the distinctions of objective spirit, the parts, and express determinations of its world, have come to naught, as well as the distinctions which appeared as originally determinate natures. Genius, talent, special capacities one and all, belong to the world of actuality, in so far as this world contains still the aspect of being a herd of self-conscious individuals, where, in confusion and mutual violence, individuals cheat and struggle with one another over the contents of the real world.

The above distinctions doubtless have no place in it as genuine espèces. Individuality neither is contented with unreal “fact”, nor has special content and purposes of its own. It counts merely as something universally acknowledged and accepted, viz. qua cultivated and developed; and the fact of distinction is reduced to a matter of less or more energy, a distinction of quantity, i.e. a non-essential distinction. This last difference, however, has come to nothing, by the fact that the distinction in the state where consciousness was completely torn asunder, turned round into an absolutely qualitative distinction. What is there the other for the ego is merely the ego itself. In this infinite judgment all the one-sidedness and peculiarity of the original self-existing self is extinguished; the self knows itself qua pure self to be its own object; and this absolute identity of both sides is the element of pure insight.

Pure insight, therefore, is the simple ultimate being undifferentiated within itself, and at the same time the universal achievement and result and a universal possession of all. In this simple spiritual substance self-consciousness gives itself and maintains for itself in every object the sense of this its own individual being or of action, just as conversely the individuality of self-consciousness is there identical with itself and universal.

This pure insight is, then, the spirit that calls to every consciousness: be for yourselves what you are all essentially in yourselves-rational.

1. The contrast between these two elements is found both in the pre-Reformation period and in the eighteenth-century period; in the latter the contrast assumes perhaps its acutest form.

2. Kant: “Pure ego is the absolute unity of apperception.”

3. “Belief is a kind of knowledge."-Encycl.: §554.

4. Kant: “I am the essential reality when conscious of myself in pure thought.”

5. The “persons” of the “Trinity”.

6. God transcendent, God as Substance, God the Father.

7. The God-man, Christ.

8. God as Absolute Spirit, God the Holy Ghost.

9. “Kant’s philosophy is the enlightenment adapted so as to become a philosophical method."-Hegel, W.W. 15, p. 502.

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