Hegel- Phenomenology of Spirit, Force and Understanding

Now we move onto one of the hardest chapters in Hegel’s book, the Understanding. He opens, as usual, with a quick rundown of what he will discuss in this chapter. There is a new object, which is the first appearance of the Concept (Begriff), however, Understanding fails to grasp its nature, and thinks of the Concept as a mere static object. As we saw in Perception, the difference it posts between the for-itself and the for-another cannot be and it falls within a universal, the ‘unconditioned absolute universality’, which is that of Force. However, ‘consciousness has not yet grasped the Notion of the unconditioned as Notion’ (p. 79) as it still takes it ‘as the essence in the objective sense’ (p. 80).

Consciousness, despite having brought about the Concept, decides, out of fear, to step back as an observer. So while the Concept has arisen, it is ‘not yet Notion, or which lacks the being-for-self of consciousness and which the Understanding without knowing itself therein lets go its own way’ so that ‘we must step into its place and be the Notion which develops and fills out what is contained in the result’ (p. 80).

This is precisely because Force still wishes to save the sensuousness that was present in Perception, by thinking of the Thing’s properties as expression as Force, and Force as the substance of things. The distinctions of the Thing, such as the Medium and the One are still there, however, they were now united into the new object, Force. In this case, we see that the for-itself will become Force proper and the for-another will become Force expressed (or the Force as One and the Force as Many), as Hegel states there ‘emerges in [Force] the distinction of form and content; and in the shape of content the moments lose like they did when they first present themselves: on one side, a universal medium…and on the other side, a One reflected into itself in which their independence is extinguished’ (p. 81). As we shall see however, they are ‘no longer separated from one another at all but are in themselves essentially self-superseding aspects and what is posited is only their transition into one another’ (p. 81)

Force (Kraft) can therefore be termed to be movement (Bewegung). That is to say, that the properties of the Thing from Perception are held in existence through the Force as a Medium, but the same time their independent existence is negated by the Force as well. Force Proper (eigentlichte Kraft) will therefore be the Force as not expressed yet—but, ‘The Force which is driven back into itself must express itself’ (p. 81), but even this still remains within Force, meaning Force is self-contained. Force Proper express itself in a moment of utterance (Äußerung), by which it cancels its inwardness, and then its expressed properties come back into its unity—and this entire movement remains within itself. As Hegel states:

‘Force is the unconditioned universal which is equally in its own self what it is for an other; or which contains the difference in its own self…it must be completely set free from thought, it must be posited as the substance of these differences…remaining essentially in and for itself, and then its differences as possessing substantial being, or as moments existing on their own account.’ (p. 82).

This movement from Many to One and One to Many was already seen in Perception, however, here, it is no longer self-destructive nor contradictory, but rather they have an ‘objective form and is the movement of Force…the outcome of which is the unconditioned universal…as the inner being of Things’ (p. 83).

Force as the One, if we remember, is Force Proper, Force as not manifested yet, but this exists of course still within Force, beside the Force as expressed. Weirdly, when we posit the Force Proper, Hegel claims that something other than it must make Force express itself and go beyond it, and so Force as expressed is what solicits Force Proper to express itself, meaning the solicitation of Force as Medium and Force as One still remains within Force, and not outside it. Force, therefore has ‘expressed itself and what was supposed to be something else soliciting it is really Force itself’ (p. 83).

Therefore, now we have two Forces, the Force Soliciting and the Force Solicited. However, the Force Soliciting, cannot solicit without something else soliciting it, meaning that, the Force Soliciting must also be solicited somehow, meaning the Force Solicited and Force Soliciting become one another, in what Hegel calls a ‘play’ or, Spiel, because the ‘external, soliciting Force appears as a universal medium, but only through its having been solicited by another Force to do so, but this means that the latter gives it that character and is really itself essentially a universal medium; it gives the soliciting Force this character just because the other determination is…really its own self’ (p. 84-5), which mean that the ‘extremes [of soliciting/solicited, One/Medium]…are thus nothing in themselves…[they] are only vanishing moments…an immediate transition of each into its opposite’ (p. 85). Understanding, in positing Force, has made Force into two Forces, but this identity even is lost now, and we end up with a new unity, meaning ‘the Truth of Force remains only the thought of it…[they] collapse into an undifferentiated unity…its Notion qua Notion’ (p. 86).

Then, we now have ‘Force in the form of its true essence’ as an ‘object for the Understanding’ (p. 86). Understanding, however, wants to take itself out of Force and project it as an entity onto the world of Things, resulting in another world, or the Beyond (Jenseits), as contrasted with our world, or the Diesseits. This Another World is Thought itself, but Understanding wants to objectify it, not realising that it is the Concept, as ‘the inner is for [consciousness] certainly Notion, but it does not yet know the nature of the Notion’ (p. 87). In this world, Force no longer are two Forces, but rather only as vanishing moments, what Hegel calls the Appearance (Erscheinung), whereby we open the ‘sensuous world…the world of appearance, a super-sensible world which hence forth is the true world, above the vanishing present world there opens up a permanent beyond…the first, and therefore imperfect, appearance of Reason’ (p. 87).

Now we posit the first super-sensible world and we create the new universal, the inner of things qua inner, known as the law (Gesetz) or Force. here, sensuous objects have merely become appearance and the law of Force has become the object. Force is what the Understanding believes to be the interior of appearance and therefore sensuous things, so that ‘our object is thus from now on the syllogism [the mediation] which has for its extremes the inner being of Things and the Understanding for its middle term, appearance’ (p. 88). That is to say, that there are now two extremes here, the Understanding and the super-sensible world, the mediation being the play of Force.

Hegel reminds us that the pure beyond is ‘empty, for it is merely the nothingness of experience, and positively the simple or unitary universal’ that is determined as the ‘beyond of consciousness’. It is our job to ‘fill it up with reveries, appearances, produced by consciousness itself’ (p. 89). Appearance, since it is in constant flux, the sensuous world is in an unstable play where determinations run into and become one another. However, consciousness as Understanding wants to take this flux away from the truth of things, and attempts to grasp the Beyond as a pure object. Consciousness therefore posits a law, that is to say, ‘there is in this absolute flux…only difference as a universal difference, or as a difference into which the many anthesis have been resolved. This difference…is…the simple element in the play of Force itself and what is true in it. It is the law of Force’ (p. 90). The law, essentially, is what stabilises the unstable appearances of things by introducing a pure formulae. This is why Hegel says that ‘negation is an essential moment of the universal, and negation, or mediation in the universal is therefore a universal difference. This difference is expressed in the law which is the stable image of unstable appearance’ (p. 91), as law negates both the particularity of things and their unstable nature.

However, the law is therefore simply empty, since it needs to have the realm of unstable appearances to fill it—meaning everything in appearance must somehow fall under law. Law is the One, and has the necessity of a unity, if it cannot unite all appearances under Law then it has failed, since ‘the law is present but is not the entire presence of appearance, with every change of circumstance the law has a different actuality…there are indefinitely many laws. But this plurality is itself rather a defect; for it contradicts the principle of the Understanding for which…the True is simply universal unity. It must therefore let the many laws collapse into one law’ (p. 91).

Understanding, however, once again, somehow wants to connect this formal realm of laws to the actual world of appearance, and does so by positing necessity, or Notwendigkeit. However, this necessity cannot ever become actual in the realm of appearance, but Understanding creates differences that are not really differences in order to formulate this law in the first place. Necessity, for Hegel is ‘an empty word…Electricity, as simple Force, is indifferent to its law—to be positive and negative…It merely has this property, which just means that this property is not in itself necessary to it’ (p. 92). A formulae can show the relationship between certain letters but it cannot show their logical development nor necessity of why they must be together. Understanding realises that the necessity of difference must lie within itself and not outside in the realm of appearance. This is now where the process of explanation, Erklären, comes in.

Explaining is when distinctions are made that are not real, and therefore is a tautological process, it is when ‘the moments are indeed distinguished, but at the same time, their difference is expressly said to be not a difference of the thing itself and consequently is immediately cancelled again. This process is called ‘explanation’…’ (p. 94). Tautology, however, is not merely useless, as it posits a difference where the ‘movement itself cancels as a difference. This is the same flux that presented itself in the play of Forces…In the process, then, of explaining, the to and fro of change which before was outside the inner world and present only in the appearance has penetrated into the super-sensible world itself’ (p. 95), meaning this movement is what allows the flux of change to enter into the super-sensible world, which it so desperately wished to fend off. This brings us to the famous inverted world.

This new law of the inverted world is what states that differences are no longer differences and what is not self-same is self-attractive, meaning that it comes out of explanation. This is when the Understanding learns that ‘the differences arise which are no differences, or that what is selfsame repels itself from itself…Thus we have a second law whose content is the opposite of what was previously called law…This new law expresses rather that like becomes unlike and unlike becomes like’ (p. 95-6). The second super-sensible world we may consider is therefore the law of flux, that is the truth of the first world. This is why we may call it the ‘inverted world…With this, the inner world is completed as appearance. The first super-sensible world was only the immediate raising of the perceived world into the universal element; it had its necessary counterpart in this perceived world which still retained for itself the principle of change and alteration. The first kingdom of laws lacked that principle, but obtains it as an inverted world’ (p. 96-7).

Hegel gives odd descriptions, as this is the place where sweet becomes sour and black becomes white, etc. Here, however, we have things such as the magnet, where the opposites come into one another into a unity. Or, we may see that a crime can become rewarded or a good dead can be punished. This is where, for example, where the ‘revenge on an enemy is, according to the immediate law, the supreme satisfaction of the injured individuality…this law is turned round by the principle of the other world…the reinstatement of myself as a person through the destruction of the alien individuality is turned into self-destruction’ (p. 97). This world, therefore, is the inversion of the first and at the same time the truth of the first. However, ‘looked at superficially, this inverted world is the opposite of the first in the sense that it has the latter outside of it and repels that world from itself as an inverted actual world…such antithesis of inner and outer, of appearance and super-sensible…we no longer find here’ (p. 97-8). Now, then, the opposition between the world of appearance and the world of essences is also no more, the world of essence is the world of appearance in a single process. These two opposites contain and posit one another. We have to ‘think pure change, or think antithesis within the antithesis itself, or contradiction…the super-sensible world…has at the same time overreached the other world and has it within it; it is for itself the inverted world…Only thus is it difference as inner difference, or difference in its own self, or difference as an infinity’ (p. 99).

Now, Hegel speaks of infinity, only through this infinity, does ‘law complete itself onto an immanent necessity, and all the moments of [the world of] appearance are taken up into the inner world…Each is the opposite of itself; each has its ‘other’ within it and they are only one unity’ (p. 100). This infinity for Hegel is called as the Absolute Concept that is the essence of the world. Infinity is the totality of the finite determinations and of their processes. This ‘simple infinity, or the absolute Notion, may be called the simple essence of life, the soul of the world, the universal blood…’ (p. 100). Hegel takes a huge amount of inspiration from Spinoza on this point, whose Ethics I summarised here: (only the relevant sections) if you wish to take a look.

In any case, the movement that consciousness experiences in explanation is the same as self-consciousness. It is because in explanation, ‘consciousness is, so to speak, communing directly with itself, enjoying only itself’ (p. 100), therefore, now a new shape of consciousness comes into play, the consciousness that is ‘for its own self, it is a distinguishing of that which contains no difference, or self-consciousness’ (p. 102). The Understanding has experienced ‘only itself, the two extremes [of this syllogism], the one of the pure inner world, the other, that of the inner being gazing into this pure inner world’, but they have no coincided and vanished, and so has the middle term. Therefore we not have the ‘undifferentiated selfsame being which repels itself from itself, posits itself as an inner being containing different moments, but for which equally these moments are immediately not different—self-consciousness’ (p. 103). And with this, we put an end to the first section of Hegel’s Phenomenology.

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