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


Natural Religion

Translator’s comments: The arrangement of the analysis of Religion and the divisions into the various subsections are, as indicated in the preceding note (p. 683), determined by the general development of experience. That development is from the immediate through mediation to the fusion of immediacy and mediation. The stages of the development of experience are Consciousness, Self-consciousness, Reason, the latter leading to its highest level — finite Spiritual existence. The development of Religion follows these various ways in which objects are given in experience, and the three chief divisions of Religion are determined accordingly: Natural Religion is religion at the level of Consciousness; Art, Religion at the level of Self-consciousness; Revealed Religion is Religion at the level of Reason and Spirit. Each of these is again subdivided, and the subdivision follows more or less closely the various subdivisions of these three ultimate levels of experience — Consciousness, etc. Thus, in Natural Religion, we have Religion at the level of Sense-certainty —“Light”: Religion at the level of Perception —“Life”: and Religion at the level of Understanding — the reciprocal relation constituted by the “play of forces” appears as the relation of the “Artificer” to his own product.

The general principle is not worked out in detail, with the same obviousness, in the case of the other two primary types of Religion — Art and Revealed Religion. But the same general method of development is pursued in these cases.

The historical material before the mind of the writer is, as might be expected, the various religions which have historically appeared amongst mankind. These religions are treated, however, as illustrations of principles dominating the religious consciousness m general, rather than as merely historical phenomena.

With the succeeding argument should be read Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, Part II, Sections I and II, and Part III.

Natural Religion(1)

SPIRIT knowing spirit is consciousness of itself; and is to itself in the form of objectivity. It is; and is at the same time self-existence (Fürsichsein). It is for itself; it is the aspect of self-consciousness, and is so in contrast to the aspect of its consciousness, the aspect by which it relates itself to itself as object. In its consciousness there is the opposition and in consequence the determinateness of the form in which it appears to itself and knows itself. It is with this determinateness of shape that we have alone to do in considering religion; for its essential unembodied principle, its pure notion, has already come to light. The distinction of consciousness and self-consciousness, however, falls at the same time within this notion. The form or shape of religion does not contain the existence of spirit in the sense of its being nature detached and free from thought, nor in the sense of its being thought detached from existence. The shape assumed by religion is existence contained and preserved in thought as well as a something thought which is consciously existent.

It is by the determinate character of this form, in which spirit knows itself, that one religion is distinguished from another. But we have at the same time to note that the systematic exposition of this knowledge about itself, in terms of this individual specific character, does not as a fact exhaust the whole nature of an actual religion. The series of different religions, which will come before us, just as much sets forth again merely the different aspects of a single religion, and indeed of every single religion, and the imagery, the conscious ideas, which seem to mark off one concrete religion from another, make their appearance in each. All the same the diversity must also be looked at as a diversity of religion. For while spirit lives in the distinction of its consciousness and its self-consciousness, the process it goes through finds its goal in the transcendence of this fundamental distinction and in giving the form of self-consciousness to the given shape which is object of consciousness. This distinction, however, is not eo ipso transcended by the fact that the shapes, which that consciousness contains, have also the moments of self in them, and that God is presented as self-consciousness. The consciously presented self is not the actual concrete self. In order that this, like every other more specific determination of the shape, may in truth belong to this shape, it has partly to be put into this shape by the action of self-consciousness, and partly the lower determination must show itself to be cancelled and transcended and comprehended by the higher. For what is consciously presented (vorgestellt) only ceases to be something ”presented“ and alien to spirit’s knowledge, by the self having produced it, and so viewing the determination of the object as its own determination, and hence seeing itself in that object. By this operation, the lower determination [that of being something “presented”] has at once vanished; for doing anything is a negative process which is carried through at the expense of something else. So far as that lower determination still continues to appear, it has withdrawn into the condition of unessentiality: just as, on the other hand, where the lower still predominates, while the higher is also present, the one coexists in a self-less way alongside of the other. While, therefore, the various ideas falling within a single religion no doubt exhibit the whole course taken by the forms of religion, the character of each is determined by the particular unity of consciousness and self-consciousness; that is to say, by the fact that the self-consciousness has taken into itself the determination belonging to the object of consciousness, has, by its own action, made that determination altogether its own, and knows it to be the essential one as compared with the others.

The truth of belief in a given determination of the religious spirit shows itself in this, that the actual spirit is constituted after the same manner as the shape in which spirit beholds itself in religion; thus e.g. the incarnation of God, which is found in Eastern religion, has no truth, because the concrete actual spirit of this religion is without the reconciliation this principle implies.

It is not in place here to return from the totality of specific determinations back to the individual determination, and show in what shape the plenitude of all the others is contained within it and within its particular form of religion. The higher form, when put back under a lower, is deprived of its significance for self-conscious spirit, belongs to spirit merely in a superficial way, and is for it at the level of presentation. The higher form has to be considered in its own peculiar significance, and dealt with where it is the principle of a particular religion, and is certified and approved by its actual spirit.


God as Light(2)

SPIRIT, as the absolute Being,, which is self-consciousness-or the self-conscious absolute Being, which is all truth and knows all reality as itself — is, to begin with, merely its notion and principle in contrast to the reality which it gives itself in the process of its conscious activity. And this notion is, as contrasted with the clear daylight of that explicit development, the darkness and night of its inner life; in contrast to the existence of its various moments as independent forms or shapes, this notion is the creative secret of its birth. This secret has its revelation within itself; for existence has its necessary place in this notion, because this notion is spirit knowing itself, and thus possesses in its own nature the moment of being consciousness and of presenting itself objectively. We have here the pure ego, which in its externalization, in itself qua universal object, has the certainty of self; in other words, this object is, for the ego, the interfusion of all thought and all reality.

When the first and immediate cleavage is made within self-knowing Absolute Spirit, its shape assumes that character which belongs to immediate consciousness or to sense-certainty. It beholds itself in the form of being; but not being in the sense of what is without spirit, containing only the contingent qualities of sensation — the kind of being that belongs to sense-certainty. Its being is filled with the content of spirit. It also includes within it the form which we. found in the case of immediate self-consciousness, the form of lord and master,(3) in regard to the self-consciousness of spirit which retreats from its object.

This being, having as its content the notion of spirit, is, then, the shape of spirit in relation simply to itself — the form of having no special shape at all. In virtue of this characteristic, this shape is the pure all-containing, all-suffusing Light of the Sunrise, which preserves itself in its formless indeterminate substantiality. Its counterpart, its otherness, is the equally simple negative — Darkness. The process of its own externalization, its creations in the unresisting element of its counterpart, are bursts of Light. At the same time in their ultimate simplicity they are its way of becoming something for itself, and its return from its objective existence, streams of fire consuming its embodiment. The distinction, which it gives itself, no doubt thrives abundantly on the substance of existence, and shapes itself as the diverse forms of nature. But the essential simplicity of its thought rambles and roves about inconstant and inconsistent, enlarges its bounds to measureless extent, and its beauty heightened to splendour is lost in its sublimity.(4)

The content, which this state of pure being evolves, its perceptive activity, is, therefore, an unreal by-play on this substance which merely rises, without setting into itself to become subject and secure firmly its distinctions through the self. Its determinations are merely attributes, which do not succeed in attaining independence; they remain merely names of the One, called by many names. This One is clothed with the manifold powers of existence and with the shapes of reality, as with a soulless, selfless ornament; they are merely messengers of its mighty power,(5) claiming no will of their own, visions of its glory, voices in its praise.

This revel of heaving life(6) must, however, assume the character of distinctive self-existence, and give enduring subsistence to its fleeting shapes. Immediate being, in which it places itself over against its own consciousness, is itself the negative destructive agency which dissolves its distinctions. It is thus in truth the Self; and spirit therefore passes on to know itself in the form of self. Pure Light scatters its simplicity as an infinity of separate forms, and presents itself as an offering to self-existence, that the individual may take sustainment to itself from its substance.


Plants and Animals as Objects of Religion(7)

SELF-CONSCIOUS spirit, passing away from abstract, formless essence and going into itself-or, in other words, having raised its immediacy to the level of Self — makes its simple unity assume the character of a manifold of self-existing entities, and is the religion of spiritual sense-perception. Here spirit breaks up into an innumerable plurality of weaker and stronger, richer and poorer spirits. This Pantheism, which, to begin with, consists in the quiescent subsistence of these spiritual atoms, passes into a process of active internal hostility. The innocence, which characterizes the flower and plant religions, and which is merely the selfless idea of Self, gives way to the seriousness of struggling warring life, to the guilt of animal religions; the quiescence and impotence of contemplative individuality pass into the destructive activity of separate self-existence.

It is of no avail to have removed the lifelessness of abstraction from the things of perception, and to have raised them to the level of realities of spiritual perception: the animation of this spiritual kingdom has death in the heart of it, owing to the determinateness and the negativity, which overcome and trench upon the innocent indifference [of the various species of plants] to one another. Owing to this determinateness and negativity, the dispersion of spirit into the multiplicity of the passive plant-forms becomes a hostile process, in which the hatred stirred up by their independent self-existence rages and consumes.

The actual self-consciousness at work in this dispersed and disintegrated spirit, takes the form of a multitude of individualized mutually-antipathetic folk-spirits, who fight and hate each other to the death, and consciously accept certain specific forms of animals as their essential being and nature:(8) for they are nothing else than spirits of animals, or animal lives separate and cut off from one another, and with no universality consciously present in them.

The characteristic of purely negative independent self-existence, however, consumes itself in this active hatred towards one another; and through this process, involved in its very principle, spirit enters into another shape. Independent self-existence cancelled and abolished is the form of the object, a form which is produced by the self, or rather is the self produced, the self-consuming self, i.e. the self that becomes a “thing”. The agent at work, therefore, retains the upper hand over these animal spirits merely tearing each other to pieces; and his action is not merely negative, but composed and positive. The consciousness of spirit is, thus, now the process which is above and beyond the immediate inherent [universal] nature, as well as transcends the abstract self-existence in isolation. Since the implicit inherent nature is reduced, through opposition, to the level of a specific character, it is no longer the proper form of Absolute Spirit, but a reality which its consciousness finds lying over against itself as an ordinary existing fact and cancels; at the same time this consciousness is not merely this negative cancelling self-existent being, but produces its own objective idea of itself,-self-existence put forth in the form of an object. This process of production is, all the same, not yet perfect production; it is a conditioned activity, the forming of a given material.


The Artificer(9)

SPIRIT, then, here takes the form of the artificer, and its action, when producing itself as object, but without having as yet grasped the thought of itself, is an instinctive kind of working, like bees building their cells.

The first form, because immediate, has the abstract character of “understanding”, and the work accomplished is not yet in itself endued with spirit. The crystals of Pyramids and Obelisks, simple combinations of straight lines with even surfaces and equal relations of parts in which the incommensurability of roundness is set aside — these are the works produced by this artificer, the worker of the strict form. Owing to the purely abstract intelligible nature of the form, the work is not in itself its own true significance; it is not the spiritual self. Thus, either the works produced only receive spirit into them as an alien, departed spirit, one that has forsaken its living suffusion and permeation with reality, and, being itself dead, enters into these lifeless crystals; or they take up an external relation to spirit as something which is itself there externally and not as spirit — they are related to it as to the Orient Light, which throws its significance on them.

The separation of elements from which spirit as artificer starts — the separation of the implicit essential nature, which becomes the material it works upon, and independent self-existence, which is the aspect of the self-consciousness at work-this division has become objective to spirit in its work. Its further endeavour has to be directed to cancelling and doing away with this separation of soul and body; it must strive to clothe and give embodied shape to soul per se, and endow the body with soul. The two aspects, in that they are brought closer to one another, bear towards each other, in this condition, the character of ideally presented spirit and of enveloping shell. Spirit’s oneness with itself contains this opposition of individuality and universality. As the work comes closer to itself in the coming together of its aspects, there comes about thereby at the same time the other fact, that the work comes closer to the self-consciousness performing it, and that the latter attains in the work knowledge of itself as it truly is. In this way, however, the work merely constitutes to begin with the abstract side of the activity of spirit, which does not yet know the content of this activity within itself but in its work, which is a “thing”. The artificer as such, spirit in its entirety, has not yet appeared; the artificer is still the inner, hidden reality, which qua entire is present only as broken up into active self-consciousness and the object it has produced.

The surrounding habitation, then, external reality, which has so far been raised merely to the abstract form of the understanding, is worked up by the artificer into a more animated form. The artificer employs plant life for this purpose, which is no longer sacred as in the previous case of inactive impotent pantheism; rather the artificer, who grasps himself as the self existent reality, takes that plant life as something to be used and degrades it to an external aspect, to the level of an ornament. But it is not turned to use without some alteration: for the worker producing the self-conscious form destroys at the same time the transitoriness, inherently characteristic of the immediate existence of this life, and brings its organic forms nearer to the more exact and more universal forms of thought. The organic form, which, left to itself, grows and thrives in particularity, being on its side subjugated by the form of thought, elevates in turn these straight-lined and level shapes into more animated roundness — a blending which becomes the root of free architecture.(10)

This dwelling, (the aspect of the universal element or inorganic nature of spirit), also includes within it now a form of individuality, which brings nearer to actuality the spirit that was formerly separated from existence and external or internal thereto, and thus makes the work to accord more with active self-consciousness. The worker lays hold, first of all, on the form of self-existence in general, on the forms of animal life. That he is no longer directly aware of himself in animal life, he shows by the fact that in reference to this he constitutes himself the productive force, and knows himself in it as being his own work, whereby the animal shape at the same time is one which is superseded and becomes the hieroglyphic symbol of another meaning, the hieroglyph of a thought. Hence also this shape is no longer solely and entirely used by the worker, but becomes blended with the shape embodying thought, with the human form.(11) Still, the work lacks the form and existence where self exists as self: it also fails to express in its very nature that it includes within itself an inner meaning; it lacks language, the element in which the sense and meaning contained are actually present. The work done, therefore, even when quite purified of the animal aspect, and bearing the form and shape of self-consciousness alone, is still the silent soundless shape, which needs the rays of the rising sun in order to have a sound which, when produced by light, is even then merely noise and not speech, shows merely an outer self, not the inner self.(12)

Contrasted with this outer self of the form and shape, stands the other form, which indicates that it has in it an inner being. Nature, turning back into its essential being, degrades its multiplicity of life, ever individualizing itself and confounding itself in its own process, to the level of an unessential encasing shell, which is the covering for the inner being. And as yet this inner being is still simple darkness, the unmoved, the black formless stone.(13)

Both representations contain inwardness and existence — the two moments of spirit: and both kinds of manifestation contain both moments at once in a relation of opposition, the self both as inward and as outward. Both have to be united. The soul of the statue in human form does not yet come out of the inner being, is not yet speech, objective existence of self which is inherently internal — and the inner being of multiform existence is still without voice or sound, still draws no distinctions within itself, and is still separated from its outer being, to which all distinctions belong. The artificer, therefore, combines both by blending the forms of nature and self-consciousness; and these ambiguous beings, a riddle to themselves — the conscious struggling with what has no consciousness, the simple inner with the multiform outer, the darkness of thought mated with the clearness of expression — these break out into the language of a wisdom that is darkly deep and difficult to understand.(14)

With the production of this work, the instinctive method of working ceases, which, in contrast to self-consciousness, produced a work devoid of consciousness. For here the activity of the artificer, which constitutes self-consciousness, comes face to face with an inner being equally self-conscious and giving itself expression. He has therein raised himself by his work up to the point where his conscious life breaks asunder, where spirit greets spirit. In this unity of self-conscious spirit with itself, so far as it is aware of being embodiment and object of its own consciousness, its blending and mingling with the unconscious state of immediate shapes of nature become purified. These monsters in form and shape, word and deed, are resolved and dissolved into a shape which is spiritual-an outer which has entered into itself, an inner which expresses itself out of itself and in itself,-they pass into thought, which brings forth itself, preserves the shape and form suited to thought, and is transparent existence. Spirit is Artist.

1. Primarily Oriental religion.

2. Parsee religion.

3. Term applied in e.g. Judaism and Mohammedanism.

4. Cp. Philos. Of Relig., W.W., XI, 403,404, 411.

5. Angels.

6. Cp. Ency., § 389.

7. Primarily religions of India.

8. Sacred animals in Indian religion.

9. Egyptian religions.

10. The Egyptian columns and architecture.

11. The representations of the gods with forms half animal, half human.

12. The statues of Memnon which gave forth a moaning harp-like noise at sunrise.

13. The Black Stone of Mecca: a fetish still worshipped by the faithful.

14. Sphinxes.

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