Reading Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, The Truth of Self-Certainty

Before I begin this summary, a quick word is that I’ll probably be putting off any other summaries for Hegel for a while, as my computer’s just broken and I’ve lost most of the notes that I had on the original text, minus this one. I already had finished notes on the master-slave and Unhappy Consciousness, but I feel that before I start ‘re-writing’ notes I should wait until my computer comes back from the shop (it’s being sent on Thursday). With that in mind, here’s to you…

In this stage, ‘there has arisen…a certainty which is identical with its truth; for the certainty is to itself its own object and conciseness is to itself the truth’ (p. 104). Previously, we made all sorts of distinctions between the object in itself and the object as for consciousness, but this is not present here, the subject as self-consciousness is also my object. Despite this development, there must be still further dialectical movements if the book is to be completed, this is only truth in its most immediate formulation. What happens here is that self-consciousness turns towards itself, when the objects in the real world seem to exist as being other than me—and at this point is when consciousness becomes its own object and thereby self-consciousness, only by returning from the otherness both of the external world and of itself, meaning it cancels it. Or, it is the ‘reflection out of the being of the world of sense and perception and is essentially the return from otherness…what distinguishes from itself is only itself as itself, the difference…is not, and it [self-consciousness] is only the motionless tautology of ‘I am I’; but since for it the difference does not have the form of being, it is not self-consciousness’ (p. 105). Meaning that self-certainty can only be achieved if they are to somehow unite the awareness it has of itself and of the external world. Since self-consciousness considers itself to be the absolute, it must take the objects in the external world as being only for it in their truth—therefore, the ‘unity of self-consciousness with itself…must become essential to self-consciousness, i.e self-consciousness is Desire (Begrierde) in general’ (p. 105).

Hegel briefly gives us here an introduction to his theory of universe, only insofar as it is applicable in this chapter, again, there are a lot of similarities to Spinoza’s Ethics, the summary of which you can read here. The object, via the reflection of self-consciousness, has become Life (Leben) as a whole, or it is what Hegel calls the ‘negative element’ of self-consciousness, representing the opposing nature of consciousness (of the external world) and self-consciousness (of myself). Self-consciousness is differentiated ‘from itself as having being…it is being that is reflected into itself, and the object of immediate desire is a living thing’ (p. 106). The object of consciousness at this point is no longer a static object but a real object of desire that is always in flux.

To be more clear, the world is in axial rotation, or the Sphere (Sphäre) of Life, as we come into birth by distinguishing ourselves from the Earth and then returning to it. This spinning of the Earth is Time (Zeit) and it contains the shape of Space (Raum). Life, also, is a cancellation of differences, differences that seek for their own survival (Bestehen), meaning the members (Glieder), or individual creatures in the life-process seek for their survival via reproduction, but they themselves are only moments, finite determinations of the infinite life, as Hegel says, for life, ‘essence is infinity as the suppression of all distinctions, the pure movement of axial rotation, its self-repose being an absolutely restless infinity’ (p. 106). They give birth, however, to a genus (Gattung), but once again, the ‘differencequa difference, of these members with respect to one another consists in general in no other determinateness than that of the moments of infinity or of the pure movement itself’ (p. 107).

Humanity, for example, appears at first to be a unity, but this unity becomes divided within itself, what at first appears to be merely being-for-self is via a reflection and splitting (Entzweiung), ‘the independence of the shape appears as something determinate, for an other’ (p. 107)—taken to mean that humanity as a unity becomes split into the male-female distinction. These finite determinations, including that of humans, survive via Bestehen, or they consume the Earth to avoid death. We also reproduce and create a new genus, and at that point we cancel our singularity (the moment I have a child or a family I am no longer merely myself). If we remember, then the ‘first moment, the subsistence of the independent shapes…have no being in themselves, no enduring existence. The second moment, however, is the subjection of that experience to the infinity of difference’ (p. 107). This is why for Hegel, the ‘suppression of individual existence is equally the production of it…Life consists rather in being the self-developing whole which dissolves its development and in this movement simply preserve itself’ (p. 108).

The genus that we create is how we thereby negate our singularity but produces something stable that remains within Life. This is the second unity, where the immediate unity of singular individuals are overcome—this is the ‘simple genus which does not exist for itself qua this simple determination; on the contrary, in this result, Life points to something other than itself, viz. to consciousness, for which Life exists as this unity, or as genus’ (p. 109), hinting that it is for consciousness that Life appears as a genus, for us, that is. Self-Consciousness therefore is what emerges from this universality of life as its own genus. It is, however, a ‘simple essence and has itself as pure ‘I’ for object…This abstract object will enrich itself for the ‘I’ and undergo the unfolding which we have seen in the sphere of life’ (p. 109).

Self-Consciousness, as we recall, is desire, it destroys the other object because it is certain that the other object is nothing, therefore, it ‘gives itself the certainty of itself as a true certainty’, but however, in this process, it shows that the object is necessary for self-certainty and therefore the object has its own independence, and this is why ‘it produces the object again and the desire as well’ (p. 109). Eventually, it realizes that the only object from which it can gain satisfaction in negation is the object that can negate itself, meaning ‘self-consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness’ (p. 109), therefore, now we have a new object, which is ‘equally independent in this negativity of itself; and thus it is for itself a genus’ (p. 110). From this point, we already have the Notion (Concept) of the Spirit according to Hegel, as it is where ‘consciousness first finds its turning-point, where it leaves behind…the sensuous here-and-now…and steps out into the spiritual daylight of the present’ (p. 110-1), that is, into the first manifestations of the Spirit.

Note: It’s also important to realise that ‘Notion’ and ‘Concept’ mean the same thing, but for some reason A.V Miller decided to translate the word two different ways, making it extra confusing. Most Hegel scholars I’ve talked to prefer ‘Concept’ (Begriff) over ‘Notion’ as it has similarities with other German words, like ‘to grasp’ (begriefen). That was one of the points that threw me off when I first read the text, and I hope it doesn’t cause you that much confusion now!

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