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

C

Spirit in the Condition of Being Certain of Itself:
Morality

Translator’s comments: The following section deals with the final and highest stage in the life of finite spiritual experience as realized in the concrete form of a historical society. Here the substance of the social order is the real content of the self-conscious individual: that substance has become subjectified; we have therefore a self-contained spiritual subject. The discordance involved in the sphere of culture and enlightenment is overcome by the self knowing and realizing itself as a completely universal self-determining free will, its world within itself, and its self its own world. Each reflects the whole (the totality of social life) in itself so perfectly that what it does is transparently the doing of the whole as much as its own doing. Such a sphere of spiritual existence is Morality, the all-sufficient spiritual order of the finite spirit as an individual. The meaning assigned to “morality” here is that expressed by Kant when he says that morality is “the relation of actions to the autonomy of the will, i.e. to possible universal legislation through maxims of the will”. In other words, all the universality constituting the interrelations of finite spirits in a society is epitomized in the soul of the acting individual, who can thus quite legitimately look upon itself as the self-regulating source of all universal conditions of action.

It is inevitable that such a concrete mode of experience should have and should pass through various stages in the process of various aspects fully realizing its nature. The individual may lay exclusive stress on the self-completeness which he possesses through being the source and origin of his own laws. His self-legislative function, just because it carries with it the sense of universality, may appear so supremely important that all the actual detail of his life comes to be treated as external, indifferent, and contingent. This detail no doubt is essential to give body and substance to his spiritual individuality, but the universality of his will so far transcends each and every detail of content as to seem by itself the sole and all-sufficient reality of his being. The content of his life only enters into consideration as an element to be regulated and made to conform to the universal: the relation so constituted between content and universal is found in the consciousness of Duty. Since the content is thus subordinate, though absolutely essential to give even meaning to the idea and the “fulfilment” of duty, and since the universal is the supremely important fact, not merely is duty to be fulfilled for duty’s sake, but the duty in question is pure duty. The “good will” is the purely universal will, and is the only will in the world from this point of view.

In the first section (a) Hegel analyses this phase of the moral life.

The historical material the writer has in mind is a moral attitude which came into prominence at the time of the Romantic movement towards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. It found its philosophical expression in the moral theories of Kant and Fichte; and Lessing may be taken as a typical representative in literature of the same attitude.

Self-Assured Spirit: Morality

THE ethical order of the community found its destiny consummated and its truth realized in the spirit that merely passed away within it — the individual self. This legal person, however, has its substance and its fulfilment outside the ethical order. The process of the world of culture and belief does away with this abstraction of a mere person; and by the completion of the process of estrangement, by reaching the extremity of abstraction, the self of spirit finds the substance become first the universal will, and finally its own possession. Here, then, knowledge seems at last to have become entirely adequate to the truth at which it aims; for its truth is this knowledge itself. All opposition between the two sides has vanished, and that, too, not for us (who are tracing the process), not merely implicitly, but actually for self-consciousness itself. That is to say, self-consciousness has itself got the mastery over the opposition which consciousness involves. This latter rests on the opposition between certainty of self and the object. Now, however, the object for it is the certainty of self, knowledge: just as the certainty of itself as such has no longer ends of its own, is no longer conditioned and determinate, but is pure knowledge.

Self-consciousness thus now takes its knowledge to be the substance itself. This substance is, for it, at once immediate and absolutely mediated in one indivisible unity. It is immediate — just like the “ethical” consciousness, it knows and itself does its duty, and is bound to its duty as to its own nature: but it is not character, as that ethical consciousness was, which in virtue of its immediacy is a determinate type of spirit, belongs merely to one of the essential features of ethical life, and has the characteristic of not being conscious explicit knowledge. It is, again, absolute mediation, like the consciousness developing itself through culture and like belief; for it is essentially the movement of the self to transcend the abstract form of immediate existence, and become consciously universal-and yet to do so neither by simply estranging and rending itself as well as reality, nor by fleeing from it. Rather, it is for itself directly and immediately present in its very substance; for this substance is its knowledge, it is the pure certainty of self become transparently visible. And just this very immediacy, which constitutes its own actual reality, is the entire actuality; for the immediate is being and qua pure immediacy, immediacy purified by thoroughgoing negativity, this immediacy is pure being, is being in general, is all being.

Absolute essential Being is, therefore, not exhausted by the characteristic of being the simple essence of thought; it is all actuality, and this actuality exists merely as knowledge. What consciousness did not know would have no sense and can be no power in its life. Into its self-conscious knowing will, all objectivity, the whole world, has withdrawn. It is absolutely free in that it knows its freedom; and just this very knowledge of its freedom is its substance, its purpose, its sole and only content.

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