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


Pleasure and Necessity

Translator’s comments: The succeeding three sections discuss the procedure of one-sided subjective individualism — the attempt to realize the individual and yet not transcend the particular individuality. The first thought of self-consciousness when it seeks to realize or objectify itself as a mere individual is to make the objective element return directly to itself and bring a sense of increase of its own individual being or private Pleasure. This is all its interest in the practical realization of its purposes. But the realization of purposes is an expression of the life of reason, and reason means universality and systematic connexion of the content realized. Hence to seek solely private satisfaction or pleasure by a process which is inherently universal is a contradiction in terms. This contradiction the individual discovers in the shape of a sharp and painful contrast between its private feeling of individuation on the one hand and a network of universal connexion on the other-the contrast between “pleasure” and “necessity”. Both fall within the individual’s experience as a rational agent, and hence this necessity is his own necessity as much as the pleasure is his own pleasure. In the opposition between these factors there is no question as to which must triumph, and which must surrender.

This is the type of experience analysed in the following section. It is an experience that constantly recurs in the life-history of most if not all human beings at one stage or another in their development. The analysis contained in this section is indirectly a searching criticism of Hedonism in all its forms.

Pleasure and Necessity

SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, which is aware of being the reality, has its object within itself, but an object which, at first, is merely its own (für sich), and is not yet in actual existence. Existence stands opposed to it as a reality other than its own; and the aim of self-consciousness consists in carrying out what it is “for itself” so as to see itself as another independent being. This first purpose is to become conscious, in that other self-consciousness, of itself as an individual, to turn this other into its own self. It has the assurance that this other already is essentially itself.

In so far as it has risen from out of the substance of ethical life and the quiescent state of thought, and attained its conscious independence, it has left behind the law of custom and of substantial existence, the kinds of knowledge acquired through observation, and the sphere of theory; these lie behind it as a gray shadow that is just vanishing. For this latter is rather a knowledge of something, the independent existence (Fürmichseyn)and actuality of which are other than those of self-consciousness. It is not the seemingly divine spirit of universality in knowledge and action, wherein (all individual) feeling and enjoyment are stilled, that has passed into and fills this new level of self-consciousness; but the spirit of the earth, a spirit which holds that being alone as true reality which is the reality of individual consciousness.

It repudiates sense and science

The highest gifts possessed by men-

It has gone over to the devil,

And must be o’erthrown (1)

It plunges thus into life, and carries to its completion the pure individuality in which it appears. It does not so much make its own happiness as take it directly and enjoy it. The grey shades of science, laws and principles, which alone stand between it and its own reality, vanish like a lifeless mist that cannot contend against the living certainty of its reality. It takes to itself life much as a ripe fruit is plucked, which comes to meet the hand that takes it(2)

Its action is only in one respect an act of Desire; it does not aim at abolishing the objective fact in its entirety, but only the form of its otherness or objectivity, which is an unreal appearance; for it holds this to be inherently and implicitly the same reality as its own self. The sphere in which desire and its object subsist independently and indifferent towards each other is that of living existence; the enjoyment of desire cancels this existence, so far as it belongs to the object of desire. But here this element, which gives to both separate and distinct actuality, is rather the category, a form of being which has essentially the character of a presented being. It (i.e. the element) is therefore the consciousness of independence — it may be natural consciousness, or the consciousness developed into a system of laws — which preserves the individuals each for himself. This separation does not per se hold for self-consciousness, which knows the other as its own proper self-hood. It attains therefore to the enjoyment of Pleasure, to the consciousness of its actualization in a consciousness which appears as independent, or to the intuition of the unity of both independent self-consciousnesses. It succeeds in its purpose, but only to learn there what the truth of that purpose is. It conceives itself as this individual self-existent (Fürmichseyn) being; but the actualization of this purpose is just the cancelling of the purpose. For it comes consciously to be, not object in the sense of a given particular individual, but rather as unity of its self and the other self-consciousness, consequently as cancelled and transcended individual, i.e. as universal.

The pleasure enjoyed has, indeed, the positive significance that the self has become aware of itself as objective self-consciousness: but the negative import is there as well-that of having cancelled itself. And since it took its realization in the former sense only, its experience comes consciously before it as contradiction, in which the acquired reality of its individual existence finds itself destroyed by the negative element, which stands without reality and without content over against the former, and yet is the force which consumes it. This negative element is nothing else than the notion of what this individuality inherently is. This individuality is, however, as yet the poorest form of self-realizing mind; for it is to itself still simply the abstraction of reason, or is the merely immediate unity of being-for-self and being-in-self (Für-sich und Ansichseyns), of explicit and implicit self. Its essential nature therefore is only the abstract category. Still it has no longer the form of immediate simple being as in the case of Observation, where it is abstract being, or, when affirmed as something alien, is thinghood in general. Here in the case before us there has entered into this thinghood self-existence (Fürsichseyn) and mediation. It comes on the scene here, therefore, in the form of a circular process, whose content is the developed pure relation of the simple essential elements. The actualization attained in the case of this individuality consists, therefore, in nothing else than its having turned out this cycle of abstractions from the restricted confines of simple self-consciousness, and put them into the sphere and condition of “being for consciousness” existence, where they appear spread out in detail as distinct objects.

The sort of object, then, that self-consciousness in its pleasurable enjoyment takes to be its true reality, is the detailed expansion of those bare essential elements of pure unity, of pure difference, and of their relation. Further than this the object, which individuality experiences as its true nature, has no content. It is what is called Necessity. For Necessity, Fate, or the like, is just that about which we are unable to say what it is doing, what its definite laws and its positive content actually are, because it is the absolute pure notion itself, viewed as being, relation bare and simple, but imperturbable, irresistible, and immovable, whose work is merely the nothingness of individual existence. It is this firm unbending connexion, because that which is connected consists in pure essentialities or empty abstractions. Unity, Difference, and Relation are categories, each of which is nothing, as it stands by itself, but only in its relation to its opposite, and they therefore cannot come apart from one another. They are by their own notion related to each other, for they are the pure notions themselves; and this absolute relation and abstract process constitute Necessity. The merely particular individuality, which has in the first instance only the pure notion of reason for its content, instead of having escaped from dead theory and plunged into actual life, has thus only precipitated itself into consciousness of its own lifelessness, and enjoys itself merely as naked and alien necessity, lifeless actuality.

The transition takes the place from the form of oneness to that of universality, from one absolute abstraction into the other; it proceeds from that purpose of pure explicit existence-for-self, which has cast off fellowship and communion with others, into the sheer opposite — i.e. into equally abstract implicit immanent existence — into mere being-in-itself. This appears consequently in such form that the individual is simply reduced to naught, and the utter atomicity of separate individual existence is pulverized on the equally hard but continuous actuality.

Since it is qua consciousness the unity of itself and its opposite, this transition is still a fact for it. Its purpose, and its realization as well as the contradiction of what constituted for it its essential nature, and what inherently that nature is — all this it is consciously aware of. It learns the double meaning which lies in what it did, when it sought to “take” and possess its life: it “took” life, but thereby rather laid hold on death.

This transition of its living being into lifeless necessity appears to it therefore a perversion which is mediated by no agency at all. The mediating factor would have to be that in which both sides would be one, where consciousness thus knew the one moment in the other, found its purpose and action in Fate, and its fate in its purpose and action, saw its own true nature in this Necessity. But, for consciousness the meaning of this unity here is just pleasure itself, or simple particular feeling; and the transition from the moment of this its purpose into the moment of its true nature is for it a mere leap into the opposite. For these moments are not contained and combined in feeling, but only in the bare pure self, which is a universal or thought. Consciousness, therefore, through the experience in which its truth ought to have come to light, has instead become to itself a dark riddle; the consequences of its deeds are to it not really its own deeds. What happens to it is found to be not the experience of what it inherently is; the transition is not a mere alteration in form of the same content and essential nature, presented now as content and true reality of consciousness, thereafter as object or intuitively perceived essence of itself. The abstract necessity thus gets the significance of the merely negative uncomprehended power of universality, on which individuality is broken in pieces.

The appearance of this mode of self-consciousness goes as far as this stage. The last moment of the existence of this mode is the thought of its loss and annihilation in necessity, or the thought of itself as a being (Wesen) entirely alien to itself. Self-consciousness in itself, however, has survived this loss; for this necessity or pure universality is its own proper nature (Wesen). This reflexion of consciousness into self, the knowledge that necessity is itself, is a new mode or attitude of consciousness.


1. Faust (adapted).

2. Cp. Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Bk. 2: Canto 12, 54.

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