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

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The Moral View of the World

SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS knows and accepts duty as the Absolute. It is bound by that alone, and this substance is its own pure conscious life; duty cannot, for it, take on the form of something alien and external. When thus shut up and confined within itself, however, moral self-consciousness is not yet affirmed and looked at as consciousness.(1) The object is immediate knowledge, and being thus permeated purely by the self, is not object. But, self-consciousness being essentially mediation and negativity, there is implied in its very conception relation to some otherness; and thus it is consciousness. This other, because duty constitutes the sole essential purpose and object of self-consciousness, is a reality completely devoid of significance for self-consciousness. But again because this consciousness is so entirely confined within itself, it takes up towards this otherness a perfectly free and detached attitude; and the existence of this other is, therefore, an existence completely set free from self-consciousness, and in like manner relating itself merely to itself. The freer self-consciousness becomes, the freer also is the negative object of its consciousness. The object is thus a complete world within itself, with an individuality of its own, an independent whole of laws peculiar to itself, as well as an independent procedure and an unfettered active realization of those laws. It is a nature in general, a nature whose laws and also whose action belong to itself as a being which is not disturbed about the moral self-consciousness, just as the latter is not troubled about it.

Starting with a specific character of this sort, there is formed and established a moral outlook on the world which consists in a process of relating the implicit aspect of morality (moralisches Ansichseyn) and the explicit aspect (moralisches Fürsichseyn). This relation presupposes both thorough reciprocal indifference and specific independence as between nature and moral purposes and activity; and also, on the other side, a conscious sense of duty as the sole essential fact, and of nature as entirely devoid of independence and essential significance of its own. The moral view of the world, the moral attitude, consists in the development of the moments which are found present in this relation of such entirely antithetic and conflicting presuppositions.

To begin with, then, the moral consciousness in general is presupposed. It takes duty to be the essential reality: itself is actual and active, and in its actuality and action fulfils duty. But this moral consciousness, at the same time, finds before it the assumed freedom of nature: it learns by experience that nature is not concerned about giving consciousness a sense of the unity of its reality with that of nature, and hence discovers that nature may let it become happy, but perhaps also may not. The non-moral consciousness on the other hand finds, by chance perhaps, its realization where the moral consciousness sees merely an occasion for acting, but does not see itself obtaining through its action the happiness of performance and of the enjoyment of achievement. It therefore finds reason for bewailing a situation where there is no correspondence between itself and existence, and lamenting the injustice which confines it to having its object merely in the form of pure duty, but refuses to let it see this object and itself actually realized.

The moral consciousness cannot renounce happiness and drop this element out of its absolute purpose. The purpose, which is expressed as pure duty,. essentially implies retention of individual self-consciousness and maintenance of its claims. Individual conviction and knowledge thereof constituted a fundamental element in morality. This moment in the objectified purpose, in duty fulfilled, is the individual consciousness seeing itself as actually realized. In other words, this moment is that of enjoyment, which thus lies in the very principle of morality, not indeed of morality immediately in the sense of a frame of mind, but in the principle of the actualization of morality. Owing to this, however, enjoyment is also involved in morality, as a mood, for morality seeks, not to remain a frame of mind as opposed to action, but to act or realize itself. Thus the purpose, expressed as a whole along with the consciousness of its elements or moments, is that duty fulfilled shall be both a purely moral act and a realized individuality, and that nature, the aspect of individuality in contrast with abstract purpose, shall be one with this purpose.

While experience must necessarily bring to light the disharmony between the two aspects, seeing that nature is detached and free nevertheless duty is alone the essential fact and nature by contrast is devoid of self-hood. That purpose in its entirety, which the harmony of the two constitutes, contains within it actuality itself. It is, at the same time, the thought of actuality. The harmony of morality and nature, or-seeing that nature is taken account of merely so far as consciousness finds out nature’s unity with it — the harmony of morality and happiness, is thought of as necessarily existing; it is postulated. For to postulate or demand means that something is thought as being which is not yet actual — a necessity affecting, not the conception qua conception, but existence. But necessity is at the same time essentially relation through the conception. The postulated existence thus is not something that concerns the imagination of some chance individual consciousness, but is implied in the very notion of morality itself, whose true content is the unity of pure with individual consciousness. It falls to the individual consciousness to see that this unity is, for it, an actuality:— which means happiness as regards the content of the purpose, and existence in general as regards its form. The existence thus demanded-the unity of both — is therefore not a wish, nor, looked at qua purpose, is it of such a kind as to be still uncertain of attainment; the purpose is rather a demand of reason, or an immediate certainty and presupposition of reason.

The first experience above referred to and this postulate are not the only experience and postulate; a whole round of postulates comes to light. For nature is not merely this completely free external mode in which, as a bare pure object, consciousness has to realize its purpose. Consciousness is per se essentially something for which this other detached reality exists, i.e. it is itself something contingent and natural. This nature, which is properly its own, is sensibility, which, taking the form of volition, in the shape of Impulses and Inclinations, has by itself a determinate essential being of its own, i.e. has specific single purposes, and thus is opposed to pure will with its pure purpose. In contrast with this opposition, however, pure consciousness rather takes the relation of sensibility to it, the absolute unity of sensibility with it, to be the essential fact. Both of these, pure thought and sensibility, are essentially and inherently one consciousness, and pure thought is just that for which and in which this pure unity exists; but for it qua consciousness the opposition between itself and its impulses holds. In this conflict between reason and sensibility, the essential thing for reason is that the conflict should be resolved, and that the unity of both should come out as a result: not the original unity which consisted in both the opposites being in one individual, but a unity which arises out of the known opposition of the two. So attained, such a unity is then actual morality; for in it is contained the opposition through which the self is a consciousness, or first becomes concrete and in actual fact self, and at the same time universal. In other words, we find there expressed that process of mediation which, as we see, is essential to morality.

Since, of the two factors in opposition, sensibility is otherness out and out, is the negative, while, on the other hand, pure thought of duty is the ultimate essence which cannot possibly be surrendered in any respect, it seems as if the unity produced can be brought about only by doing away with sensibility. But since sensibility is itself a moment of this process of producing the unity, is the moment of actuality, we have, in the first instance, to be content to express the unity in this form — sensibility should be in conformity with morality.

This unity is likewise a postulated existence; it is not there as a fact; for what is there is consciousness, or the opposition of sensibility and pure consciousness. All the same, the unity is not a something per se like the first postulate, in which free external nature constitutes an aspect and the harmony of nature with moral consciousness in consequence falls outside the latter. Rather, nature is here that which lies within consciousness; and we have here to deal with morality (Moralität) as such, with a harmony which is the active self’s very own. Consciousness has, therefore, of itself to bring about this harmonious unity, and “to be always making progress in morality”. The completion of this result, however, has to be pushed away into the remote infinite, because if it actually entered the life of consciousness as an actual fact, the moral consciousness would be done away with. For morality is only moral consciousness qua negative force; sensibility has merely a negative significance for the consciousness of pure duty, it is something merely ”not in conformity with” duty. By attaining that harmony, however, morality qua consciousness, i.e. its actuality, passes away, just as in the moral consciousness or actuality its harmony vanishes. The completion is, therefore, not to be reached as an actual fact; it is to be thought of merely as an absolute task or problem, i.e. one which remains a problem pure and simple. Nevertheless, its content has to be thought as something which unquestionably has to be, and must not remain a problem: whether we imagine the moral consciousness quite cancelled in the attainment of this goal, or riot. Which of these exactly is the case, can no longer be clearly distinguished in the dim distance of infinitude, to which the attainment of the end has to be postponed, just because we cannot decide the point. We shall be, strictly speaking, bound to say that a definite idea on the matter ought to be of no interest and ought not to be sought for, because this leads to contradictions — the contradiction involved in an undertaking that at once ought to remain an undertaking and yet ought to be carried out, and the contradiction involved in the morality which is to be no longer consciousness, i.e. no longer actual. By adopting the view, however, that morality when completed would contain a contradiction, the sacredness of moral truth would be seriously affected, and the unconditional duty would appear something unreal.

The first postulate was the harmony of morality and objective nature-the final purpose of the world: the other was the harmony of morality and will in its sensuous form, in the form if impulse, etc.-the final purpose of self-consciousness as such. The former is the harmony in the form of implicit immanent existence; the latter, the harmony in the form of explicit self-existence. That, however, which connects these two extreme final purposes which are thought, and operates as their mediating ground, is the process of concrete action itself. They are harmonies whose moments have not yet become definitely objective in their abstract distinctiveness from each other: this takes place in concrete actuality, in which the aspects appear in consciousness proper, each as the other of the other. The postulates arising by this means contain harmonies which are now both immanent and self-existent, whereas formerly they were postulated merely separately, the one being the immanent harmony, the other self-existent.

The moral consciousness, qua simple knowledge and willing of pure duty, is brought, by the process of acting, into relation with an object opposed to that abstract simplicity, into relation with the manifold actuality which various cases present, and thereby assumes a moral attitude varied and manifold in character. Hence arise, on the side of content, the plurality of laws generally, and, on the side of form, the contradictory powers of intelligent knowing consciousness and of a being devoid of consciousness.

To begin with, as regards the plurality of duties, it is merely the aspect of pure or bare duty in them which the moral consciousness in general recognizes as having validity: the many duties qua many are determinate and, therefore, are not, as such, anything sacred for the moral consciousness. At the same time, however, being necessary, in virtue of the notion of action which implicates a manifold actuality, and hence manifold types of moral attitude, those many duties must be looked on as having a substantial existence and value. Furthermore, since they can only exist in a moral consciousness, they exist at the same time in another consciousness than that for which only pure duty qua pure duty is sacred and substantial.

It is thus postulated that there is another consciousness which renders them sacred, or which knows them as duties and wills them so. The first maintains pure duty indifferent towards all specific content, and duty consists merely in being thus indifferent towards it. The other, however, contains the equally essential relation to the process of action, and the necessity, therefore, of determinate content: since duties for this other mean determinate duties, the content is thus, for it, just as essential as the form in virtue of which the content is a duty at all. This consciousness is, consequently, such that in it the universal and the particular are, through and through, one; its essential principle is thus the same as that of the harmony of morality and happiness. For this opposition between morality and happiness expresses in like manner the separation of the self-identical moral consciousness from that actuality which, qua manifold existence, opposes and conflicts with the simple nature of duty. While, however, the first postulate expresses merely the objective existential harmony between morality and nature, because nature is therein the negative of self-consciousness, is the moment of existence, this inherent harmony, on the other hand is now affirmed essentially as a type of consciousness. For existence now appears as the content of duty, as that in the determinate duty which gives it specific determinateness. The immanent harmony is thus the unity of elements which, qua simple ultimate elements, are essentially thought-created, and hence cannot exist except in a consciousness. This latter becomes now a master and ruler of the world, who brings about the harmony of morality and happiness, and at the same time sanctifies duties in their Multiplicity. To sanctify these duties means this much, that the consciousness of pure duty cannot straight-way and directly accept the determinate or specific duty as sacred; but because a specific duty, owing to the nature of concrete action which is something specific and definite, is likewise necessary, its necessity falls outside that consciousness and holds inside another consciousness, which thus mediates or connects determinate and pure duty, and is the reason why that specific duty also has validity.

In the concrete act, however, consciousness proceeds to work as this particular self, as completely individual: it directs its activity on actual reality as such, and takes this as its purpose, for it wants to perform something definite. “Duty in general” thus falls outside it and within another being, which is a consciousness and the sacred lawgiver of pure duty. The consciousness which acts, just because it acts, accepts the other consciousness, that of pure duty, and admits its validity immediately; this pure duty is thus a content of another consciousness, and is only indirectly or in a mediate way sacred for the active consciousness, viz. in virtue of this other consciousness.

Because it is established in this manner that the validity, the bindingness, of duty as something wholly and absolutely sacred, falls outside the actual consciousness, this latter thereby stands altogether on one side as the incomplete moral consciousness. Just as, in regard to its knowledge, it is aware of itself as that whose knowledge and conviction are incomplete and contingent; in the same way, as regards its willing, it feels itself to be that whose purposes are affected with sensibility. On account of its “unworthiness”, therefore, it cannot look on happiness as something necessary, but as a something contingent, and can only expect happiness as the result of “grace”.

But though its actuality is incomplete, duty is still, so far as its pure will and knowledge are concerned, held to be the essential truth. In principle, therefore, so far as the notion is opposed to actual reality, in other words, in thought, it is perfect. The absolute Being [God] is, however, just this object of thought, and is something postulated beyond the actual. It is therefore the thought in which the morally imperfect knowledge and will are held to be perfect; and the Absolute, since it takes this imperfection to have full weight, distributes happiness according to “worthiness”, i.e. according to the “merit” ascribed to the imperfect consciousness.

This completes the meaning of the moral attitude. For in the conception of moral self-consciousness the two aspects, pure duty and actual reality, are affirmed of a single unity, and thereby the one, like the other, is put forward, not as something self-complete, but as a moment, or as cancelled and transcended. This becomes consciously explicit in the last phase of the moral attitude or point of view. Consciousness, we there saw, places pure duty in another form of being than its own consciousness, i.e. it regards pure duty partly as something ideally presented, partly as what does not by itself hold good — indeed, the non-moral is rather what is held to be perfect. In the same way it affirms itself to be that whose actuality, not being in conformity with duty, is transcended, and, qua transcended, or in the idea of the Absolute [God’s view], no longer contradicts morality.

For the moral consciousness itself, however, its moral attitude does not mean that consciousness therein develops its own proper notion and makes this its object. It has no consciousness of this opposition either as regards the form or the content thereof; the elements composing this opposition it does not relate and compare with one another, but goes forward on its own course of development, without being the connecting principle of those moments. For it is only aware of the essence pure and simple, i.e. the object so far as this is duty, so far as this is an abstract object of its pure consciousness — in other words, it is only aware of this object as pure knowledge or as itself. Its procedure is thus merely that of thinking, not conceiving, is by way of thoughts not notions. Consequently it does not yet find the object of its actual consciousness transparently clear to itself; it is not the absolute notion, which alone grasps otherness as such, its absolute opposite, as its very self. Its own reality, as well as all objective reality, no doubt is held to be something unessential; but its freedom is that of pure thought, in opposition to which, therefore, nature has likewise arisen as something equally free. Because both are found in like manner within it-both the freedom which belongs to [external] being and the inclusion of this existence within consciousness — its object comes to be an existing object, which is at the same time merely a thought-product. In the last phase of its attitude or point of view, the content is essentially so affirmed that its being has the character of something presented, and this union of being and thinking is expressed as what in fact it is, viz.-Imagining (Vorstellen).

When we look at the moral view of the world and see that this objective condition is nothing else than the very principle or notion of moral self-consciousness which it makes objective to itself, there arises through this consciousness concerning the form of its origin another mode of exhibiting this view of the world.

The first stage, which forms the starting-point, is the actual moral self-consciousness, or is the fact that there is such a self-consciousness at all. For the notion establishes moral self-consciousness in the form that, for it, all reality in general has essential being only so far as such reality is in conformity with duty; and that notion establishes this essential element as knowledge, i.e. in immediate unity with the actual self. This unity is thus itself actual, is a moral actual consciousness. The latter, now, qua consciousness, pictures its content to itself as an object, viz. as the final purpose of the world, as the harmony of morality with all reality. Since, however, it pictures this unity as object and is not yet the complete notion, which has mastery over the object as such, this unity is taken to be something negative of self-consciousness, i.e. the unity falls outside it, as something beyond its actual reality, but at the same time of such a nature as to be also existent, though merely thought of.

This self-consciousness, which, qua self-consciousness, is something other than the object, thus finds itself left with the want of harmony between the consciousness of duty and actual reality, and indeed its own reality. The proposition consequently now runs thus: “there is no morally complete actual self-consciousness”; and, since what is moral only is at all so far as it is complete — for duty is the pure unadulterated ultimate element (Ansich), and morality consists merely in conformity to this pure principle — the second proposition runs: “there is no actual existence which is moral”.

Since, however, in the third place, it is a self, it is inherently the unity of duty and actual reality. This unity thus becomes its object, as completed morality — but as something beyond its actual reality, and yet a “beyond” which still ought to be real.

In this final goal or aim of the synthetic unity of the two first propositions, the self-conscious actuality, as well as duty, is only affirmed as a transcended or superseded moment. For neither of them is alone, neither is isolated; on the contrary, these factors, whose essential characteristic lies in being free from one another, are thus each in that unity no longer free from the other; each is transcended. Hence, as regards content, they become, as such, object, each of them holds good for the other; and, as regards form, they become object in suchwise that this reciprocal interchange is, at the same time, merely pictured — a mere idea. Or, again, the actually non-moral, because it is, at the same time, pure thought and elevated above its own actual reality, is in idea still moral, and is taken to be entirely valid. In this way the first proposition, that there is a moral self-consciousness, is reinstated, but bound up with the second that there is none; that is to say, there is one, but merely in idea. In other words, there is indeed none, but it is all the same allowed by some other consciousness to pass for one.

1. i.e. there is not the opposition of an object to subject which consciousness requires.

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