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Phenomenology of Spirit
Analysis of the Text by J. N. Findlay

VIII. Absolute Knowing

788. In revealed religion self-consciousness is aware of itself in pictorial objective form, not as yet as self-consciousness. It must cancel this form and become aware of itself in all the forms it has hitherto taken up. They must not merely be forms of self-consciousness for us, the phenomenological observers, but for self-consciousness itself. It must see how it has externalised itself in various objects, and in seeing this also cancelled the externalisation. It must see all its objective forms as itself.

789. The object of religion is at first an immediate existence (given in sensation), a determinate existence (given in perception), and a notion given as behind the immediate (to the scientific Understanding). Consciousness must now grope forward to an understanding of objects in the form of self. But it does so by gradual stages, and dirempts itself into a number of distinct mental postures in which separate sides of the object are gradually brought together.

790. Consciousness assuming the form of observation reaches the point of seeing itself, the Ego, as an external thing given to sense-perception, the bones of the skull.

791. This view of the Ego as sensuous externality is, however, also the view of external things as nothing but the Ego. The full development of this realisation arises at the stage of enlightenment or pure insight, when things are considered solely from the point of view of their utility to the subject.

792. A further spiritualisation of objective thinghood occurs in the moral self-consciousness, where the Ego ’s self-certainty extends to the whole of essential being, everything else being a mere husk. As the oscillation of moral duplicity vanishes, all objective ends are absorbed in a man ’s own conscientiousness.

793. Spirit certain of itself in its objective existence takes as the element of its existence nothing but the knowledge of self. That what it does is in accord with its ideas of duty makes them its duty. There is still, however, an opposition between pure duty and the external world and what men in it do. But with the act of forgiving another, this last opposition vanishes, and in all human action the Ego only encounters the Ego.

794. In religion this knowledge of Ego by Ego becomes explicit (in the Incarnation). Ego is known both in and for itself (and by itself).

795. In religion, however, the identification of Ego with Ego is still only achieved in the medium of picture-thought. A less pictorial identification was achieved in the case of the beautiful soul, whose pure inwardness really amounts, not merely to an intuition of the Divine, but to the Divine intuiting itself. Only the opposition to realisation makes this last form defective. We must progress to a knowledge of self, not as a floating universal, but in its particular externalisation.

796. This knowledge must somehow unite the religious consciousness, with its pictorial otherness, and the moral spirit, which is simply the self in action facing the two possibilities of the evil and the good. The religious spirit and the moral spirit must both abandon their rigid distinction from one another. The hard-edged, abstract, out-thereness of religion, its presentative character, must blend with the personal inwardness of the moral spirit. They must in fact both lose themselves in a new spirit.

797. In this new spirit the content of religion must become the action of the self, must be seen by the self as expressing phases of its own interior drama.

798. We now reach comprehending knowledge (begreifendes Wissen), or time and knowledge in the form of self. Spirit has reduced all its objective materials to pure concepts which are merely specifications of its own conceptual activity. Purely conceptual knowledge of knowledge in the form of self is Wissenschaft, Systematic Science.

799. What we now have, therefore, is a pure knowledge of self, even of this individual self, which is also the knowledge of all the moments of content which self distinguishes from self, and in comprehending brings back into self.

800. Systematic Science only appears when Spirit has achieved a purely conceptual self-consciousness and can reduce all objectivity to Notions, and so see itself in them.

801. Consciousness must go through a long process of first enriching its object, poor and abstract in its first appearance, and then appropriating and conceptually reabsorbing all that it has thus enriched. The pure Notion presupposes all these stages that lead up to it, but consciousness embraces them all in implicit non-notional form. Time is the Notion itself when presented to consciousness as an empty intuition, and Spirit appears to itself in time till it achieves full notional grasp and thereby abolishes time. Time is the destiny and the necessity of the as yet not perfected Spirit, i.e. until it has overcome the externality of objective Substance.

802. Everything we know must come before us in a living phase of experience (Erfahrung). The substantial, the solidly out there, must slowly be transmuted into the notional, the subjective. Time simply is the form of this self-realising process. Until Spirit reaches the end of the requisite temporal process it cannot achieve complete self-consciousness.

803. The final conceptualisation and reduction to self of all objectivity began when the religious world-view of the Middle Ages made way for the post-Renaissance philosophers. These ran through an observational phase in Cartesianism, a unified, oriental, religion-of-light phase in Spinozism, an individualistic, monadistic form in Leibniz. Everything became further subjectivised in the utility of the Enlightenment and in the pure rational, noumenal will of Kant. The subjectivisation became more absolute in the Ego-positing-the-Ego of Fichte, and the dependent construction of both time and space. This leads on to the imperfectly carried out subjectivisation of the substantial natural world in Schelling, the natural being externally and imperfectly integrated with the Ego in one Absolute.

804. The Ego must not, however, be afraid of the substantial world of objective Nature: this is its foil and therefore itself. The power of Spirit lies in remaining one with itself while it externalises itself in Nature, and that without paring down the elaborate distinction of natural being. It must understand Nature in all its variety as necessary to itself.

805. Spirit is all the phases of content in which it externalises itself, and the process of leading these phases back to a full consciousness of self. It unfolds its existence and develops its processes in the pure ether of its life and is Systematic Science. In Systematic Science the distinction between subjective knowledge and objective truth is eliminated: each phase always has both aspects.

806-7. Systematic Science cannot, however, remain a pure conceptual development: it must step out of itself and see Spirit developed in space and time and in nature.

808. It must then study Spirit returning to itself in time, i.e. in the long procession of historical cultures and individuals.

Text of Phenomenology - Table of Contents

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