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


Religion in the Form of Art(1)

SPIRIT has raised the shape in which it is object for its own consciousness into the form of consciousness itself; and spirit produces such a shape for itself. The artificer has given up the synthesizing activity, that blending of the heterogeneous forms of thought and nature. When the shape has gained the form of self-conscious activity, the artificer has become a spiritual workman.

If we next ask, what the actual spirit is, which finds in the religion of art the consciousness of its Absolute, it turns out that this is the ethical or objective spirit. This spirit is not merely the universal substance of all individuals; but when this substance is said to have, as an objective fact for actual consciousness, the form of consciousness, this amounts to saying that the substance, which is individualized, is known by the individuals within it as their proper essence and their own achievement. It is for them neither the Light of the World, in whose, unity the self-existence of self-consciousness is contained only negatively, only transitorily, and beholds the lord and master of its reality; nor is it the restless waste and destruction of hostile nations; nor their subjection to “castes”, which together constitute the semblance of organization of a completed whole, where, however, the universal freedom of the individuals concerned is wanting. Rather this spirit is a free nation, in which custom and order constitute the common substance of all, whose reality and existence each and every one knows to be his own will and his own deed.

The religion of the ethical spirit, however, raises it above its actual realization, and is the return from its objectivity into pure knowledge of itself. Since an ethically constituted nation lives in direct unity with its own substance, and does not contain the principle of pure individualism of self-consciousness, the religion characteristic of its sphere first appears in complete form in its parting from its stable security. For the reality of the ethical substance rests partly on its quiet unchangeableness as contrasted with the absolute process of self-consciousness; and consequently on the fact that this self-consciousness has not yet left its serene life of customary convention and its confident security therein, and gone into itself. Partly, again, that reality rests on its organization into a plurality of rights and duties, as also on its organized distribution into the spheres of the various classes, each with its particular way of acting which co-operates to form the whole; and hence rests on the fact that the individual is contented with the limitation of his existence, and has not yet grasped the unrestricted thought of his free self. But that serene immediate confidence in the substance of this ethical life turns back into trust in self and certainty of self; and the plurality of rights and duties, as well as the restricted particular action this involves, is the same dialectic process in the sphere of the ethical life as the plurality of “things” and their various “qualities”— a process which only comes to rest and stability in the simplicity of spirit certain of self

The complete fulfilment of the ethical life in free self-consciousness, and the destined consummation (Schicksal) of the ethical world, are therefore that individuality which has entered into itself; the condition is one of absolute levity on the part of the ethical spirit; it has dissipated and resolved into itself all the firmly established distinctions constituting its own stability, and the separate spheres of its own articulated organization and, being perfectly sure of itself, has attained to boundless cheerfulness of heart and the freest enjoyment of itself. This simple certainly of spirit within itself has a double meaning; it is quiet stability and solid truth, as well as absolute unrest, and the disappearance of the ethical order. It turns round, however, into the latter; for the truth of the ethical spirit lies primarily just in this substantial objectivity and trust, in which the self does not know itself as free individual, and which, therefore, in this inner subjectivity, in the self becoming free, falls into ruins. Since then its trust is broken, and the substance of the nation cracked, spirit, which was the connecting medium of unstable extremes, has now come forward as an extreme — that of self-consciousness grasping itself as essential and ultimate. This is spirit certain within itself, which mourns over the loss of its world, and now out of the purity of self produces its own essential being, raised above actual reality.

At such an epoch art in absolute form(2) comes on the scene. At the earlier stage it is instinctive in its operation; its operation is steeped in existence, works its way out of existence and works right into the existent; it does not find its substance in the free life of an ethical order, and hence, too, as regards the self operating does not exercise free spiritual activity.

Later on, spirit goes beyond art in order to gain its higher manifestation, viz. that of being not merely the substance born and produced out of the self, but of being. in its manifestation as object, this very self; it seeks at that higher level not merely to bring forth itself out of its own notion, but to have its very notion as its shape, so that the notion and the work of art produced may know each other reciprocally as one and the same.(3)

Since, then, the ethical substance has withdrawn from its objective existence into its pure self-consciousness, this is the aspect of the notion, or the activity with which spirit brings itself forth as object. It is pure form, because the individual in ethical obedience and service has so worked off every unconscious existence and every fixed determination, as the substance has itself become this fluid and undifferentiated essence. This form is the night in which the substance was betrayed, and made itself subject. It is out of this night of pure certainty of self that the ethical spirit rises again in a shape freed from nature and its own immediate existence.

The existence of the pure notion into which spirit has fled from its bodily shape, is an individual, which spirit selects as the vessel for its sorrow. Spirit acts in this individual as his universal and his power, from which he suffers violence, as his element of “Pathos”, by having given himself over to which his self-consciousness loses freedom. But that positive power belonging to the universal is overcome by the pure self of the individual, the negative power. This pure activity, conscious of its inalienable force, wrestles with the unembodied essential being. Becoming its master, this negative activity has turned the element of pathos into its own material, and given itself its content; and this unity comes out as a work, universal spirit individualized and consciously presented.

1. Greek religion.

2. The religion of pure beauty.

3. This paragraph may be regarded as a parenthetical note.

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