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


1. It is impossible to begin a philosophical work with a clear statement of the kind of view it hopes to establish, or of its relation to what others have written. For philosophy aims at a universality which will embrace and sum up particulars, and cannot be expressed till those particulars have been gone through, and have yielded up the universality in question. It cannot be anatomised in advance, without seeing how its parts function in the whole.

2. To state the relation of a philosophical work to others is also misleading, in that it suggests that previous works were false, and have now been cancelled out in truth. But philosophical systems do not replace falsehood by truth: they represent the ever clearer development of truth, which is as much present in earlier forms as in later, and which is only complete in a total development which includes all earlier stages.

3. A statement of philosophical aims and results is only legitimate if it is seen as being initial and superficial, and is not regarded as revealing the essence of the matter in hand. For this essence is not exhausted by aims, but by the way in which they are carried out. It is not concerned with mere results, but with the manner in which they emerge. To state results without saving how one arrives at them is to present the corpse of a system, whereas merely to differentiate a system from others is to remain resolutely on its fringes.

4. General principles and points of view belong only to the beginnings of the life of thought. Once one’s mind has become deeply immersed in its subject-matter, they will be relegated to surface-talk.

5. Philosophical truth can only exist in the form of a fully-worked-out scientific system. Philosophy must show up the inner necessity that drives knowledge towards Science, and it must itself embody this drive when the appropriate moment arrives.

6. The true shape of truth is conceptual and notional. This can at present only be asserted as a counter to views like those of Jacobi (Studies in Spinoza, 1779), Novalls, Schlegel, etc., which make direct, unreasoning intuition (Anschauung) and feeling and central in philosophy, and the very being of the Absolute itself.

7. These latter views arise from the disillusioned desire to return to the peace and security of unquestioning faith which philosophical thinking has rudely shattered. They demand a suppression of thought-distinctions, not their further clarification. They aim at edification and enthusiasm rather than cool insight.

8. Such views are an attempt to return to the heaven-directed gaze of earlier eras of thought, which has been succeeded by a gaze directed only to empirical detail, which now stultifies and starves the Spirit.

9. True Science cannot, however, be satisfied to see all detail vanish in an insubstantial, edifying mist.

10. The complacency which spurns as finite the exactly defined concepts and necessary connections of Science, is not above but below the level of Science. Its would-be profundities are empty, its sweeping assertions superficial, its prophetic pronouncements arbitrary and superficial.

11. Our own time is obviously ripe for a major intellectual and spiritual advance. This has been in the womb’ for a long time, and is now about to achieve birth. Its birth-pangs are belt in a widespread sense of disillusion and frivolity, and in the vague foreboding of something unknown at hand.

12. A new scientific spirit is at first only present in general, notional germ. It is the product of an extensive, laborious transformation of previous cultural forms, and their resumption into a new simplicity. It must, to be fully actual, redevelop these forms out of this simple unity.

13. Science, in its new, notional form, as yet ill worked out and ill connected with the rich detail of past thinking, seems to be the obscure possession of an esoteric sect. To be generally intelligible and exoteric, it must connect all this past detail with its new position. To understand is to make familiar material one’s own by incorporating it in a new scientific structure.

14. When Science first emerges, it has on the one hand a tendency to stress simple intuitive rationality and a relation to what is divine, but also on the other hand to develop this insight into an organised wealth of detail. The second tendency may be held in check by the first, but continues with justification to demand satisfaction.

15. The tendency towards detail may try to satisfy itself by merely running through familiarly organised material, adding to this much that is extraordinary and curious, and then mechanically applying the same ‘absolute idea’ to all such detail without the least modification to suit special cases. This is a monotonous formalism, applicable only to ready-made differences.

16. The false absolutism just sketched falls to develop difference and detail out of itself, but thinks it has done its task when it has said of anything specific that it is not to be found in the Absolute, since there we have only the Absolute’s identity with self. Such an Absolute is the night in which every cow is black. As opposed to such a absolutism, it will be helpful to give a sketch of a true one. (Aimed at Schelling, but obviously applying to others as well.)

17. In my view, which the full exposition of my system alone can justify, the true Absolute must not merely be thought of as a Substance, i.e. something immediately there, whether this be a knower or something known. It must be thought of as a Subject. We think in terms of Substance if we think in terms of undifferentiated universality, whether this be that of what merely is, or of what merely thinks, or of what ( la Schelling) combines both in a single intellectual intuition.

18. True Substance is a being that truly is Subject, i.e. which only is itself in so far as it alienates itself from itself, and is then able to posit itself in and through what is thus alien. It cannot exist as a simple, positive starting-point, but only as part of a self-departing, self-returning movement, which both negates itself in indifferent, external otherness, and then reasserts itself as the negation of all such otherness.

19. The life and self-knowledge of the Absolute may well be described as that of the divine love disporting itself with itself, but such an image readily becomes insipid, or sinks into edification, since it fails to emphasise the seriousness, the anguish, and the patient effort involved in thus negating the negation. The essence of the Absolute cannot be separated from its execution, nor its form from the full content of its carrying-out.

20. The true Absolute can only be seen as the whole of a self-realising act or process, and is also the result or outcome of such an act or process. What is present at its beginning can only be emptily universal, and can only achieve specific content through connection with what appears to be other than itself, but what can then be seen to be not really other.

21. There is a horror of mediate connection which stems from a misunderstanding of the role of mediation in absolute knowledge. For mediation is merely the self-negation, and the negation of this negation, involved in the self-Identification of the Subject. The Subject only becomes an immediate unity through the denial of its mediate connection with something else. Reflection, or the going from one thing to another, should not be abhorred: it is essential to the return to self which annuls it.

22. What has been said amounts to saying that Reason is purposive activity. External purpose has rightly been banished from natural philosophy, but not so the self-moving purposiveness which is indistinguishable from subjectivity. For in purpose the result or outcome is one with its moving cause, which in departing from self realises self, and in which even the process of departing from self is a fulfilment of self.

23. Philosophical sentences, e.g. God is the moral order of the world, illustrate the nature of the Absolute. For while they appear to have fixed subjects to which predicates accrue externally, these subjects merely anticipate what is to be predicated of them, and only acquire concrete significance when the predication is completed. Predications analytically anticipated in the meaning of their subjects make predication quite vacuous.

24. Philosophical knowledge is essentially systematic, and a philosophical first principle therefore at once refutes itself by being merely a first principle. Being merely universal, merely initial, its further development is in a sense its own refutation, the clear exhibition of its merely initial character.

25. That philosophical truth is necessarily systematic, that Substance must be Subject, can be expressed by saying that the Absolute is essentially Spirit, both in and for itself. It is at first only in and for itself to philosophical reflection, and is then spiritual Substance, or Spirit in itself. I t must become in itself for itself, must come to know Spirit, and itself as Spirit, i.e. must become its own object both immediately and reflectively. Spirit thus fully self-conscious is Science, i.e. Spirit fully constituted for itself in its own element.

26. To know itself and be at home with itself in what is absolutely other than itself, is the true ‘Aether’ of Science. But for the ordinary consciousness, which always opposes itself to its objects, life in such an Aether seems topsy-turvy and unreal. The thinking spirit must gradually accustom itself to such topsy-turvy unreality.

27. The genesis of Science is the theme of the Phenomenology of Spirit. This genesis starts from Spirit immediate or spiritless Spirit, i.e. from the consciousness of sense, and must tread a long road before it can become true Science, can give birth to its true concept or element. Such a genesis will not be a fancied illumination of the road to science, nor yet an actual founding of science, nor yet a pistol-shot of illumination aiming straight at absolute knowledge.

28. The task of proceeding from the uncultured to the knowing mind is really performed by the universal individual, i.e. self-conscious Spirit as such. The particular individual is merely a one-sided. partial expression of this Spirit, an expression in which one trait is emphatic and the rest underscored. The particular individual must. however, run through and repossess itself of all the phases of the universal individual’s past development. They will now be seen as of the environing scene, not requiring the deep research that was previously, demanded.

29. It is impossible to state the scientific outcome of all this cultural development without running through it patiently stage by stag(,. Each stage on the route has been necessary, and has incarnated the sense of the whole movement in one of its special phases. But such a running-through is eased and abbreviated by the reduction of past stages to explicit thoughts from being merely implicit existences.

30. Past stages have lost the immediacy of existence, but this loss of existence is only a first negation which still retains the immediacy of the mere presentation, the idea that is familiar, and has as such been set aside. This first negation must itself be negated, and the familiar idea brought back into the purview of the thinking self.

31. What is merely familiar is not as such properly known. To build upon familiar concepts of subjectivity, objectivity, God, Nature, etc., without allowing these ideas to develop, is and remains irremediably superficial.

32. The analysis of an idea is the removal of its familiarity, its reduction to elements that are the true possessions of the thinking self. In such reduction the idea itself changes and renders itself unreal. The force which effects analysis is that of the Understanding, the most remarkable and absolute of powers, the power of the thinking self and also of death. It is above all marvellous that this thinking self should be able to isolate, and to look at apart, what can only exist as an aspect or ‘moment’ in a living whole. Thinking Spirit can, however, only grasp such a whole by first tearing it into parts, each of which it must look at separately for a while, before putting them back in the whole. The thinking self must destroy an immediate, existent unity in order to arrive at a unity which includes mediation, and is in fact mediation itself.

33. Ancient thought differs from ours in that it built directly on the natural consciousness, and reached out to the universal from it, whereas our thought finds the universal lying ready to hand, in hard, fixed form, which it then has to revitalise and restore to fluidity. So vitalised, fixed ideas become self-moving notions, spiritual essentialities.

34. Such a movement of pure essentialities is Science as such, whose content is nothing but their necessary expansion into an organic whole. The notion of Science does not arise out of contingent philosophising on these or those themes, relations or common ideas, nor from logical manipulations of these or those definite thoughts, but from the rounding-itself-out of the self-moving concept into cosmic Completeness.

35. The exposition to be given in the present work is therefore the first part of Science, in that Spirit’s first existence is merely the beginning in which it has not yet returned to self. Existential immediacy distinguishes this part of the system. This leads us on to comment on certain fixed ideas which occur in this context.

36. Consciousness, the immediate existence of Spirit, always embraces two opposed factors: the element of knowledge and that of objectivity. Together these constitute the experience of Spirit, and there is nothing in the objective Substance given in experience but what falls within such experience. Spirit, however, itself underlies the objectivity which at first confronts it as alien, and which is then repossessed and seen as its own.

37. The disparity between the self and the objective Substance is the void which inspires their movement towards one another. The ancients rightly made the void a principle of motion. The disparity between self and object is at once an inadequacy of the self in understanding the object, and an inadequacy of the object to itself. When the object is fully itself, i.e. fully revealed, the subject-object distinction vanishes and Phenomenology yields place to Logic.

38. There is a temptation to think that, since the standpoint of Phenomenology is superseded as false in the standpoint of Logic, it would have been better to have dispensed with it, and have gone straight to Logic. This argues a false view of truth and of its relation to what is false.

39. Falsehood is not simply the slag or dross which must be rejected to arrive at truth: it is the unshaped metal which must be reshaped and refined into truth, and which is necessarily present in the final shape of such truth.

40. The philosophical dogmatist thinks we can pronounce definitively on a philosophical issue as we can pronounce on the date of Caesar’s birth or on the equality of the square on a triangle’s hypotenuse to the two squares on its other two sides.

41. The truths of history, to the extent that they are contingent, and concern particular existents, are indeed naked matters of fact, which nothing renders necessary. Even here, however, there are grounds for and against, so that error becomes part of truth.

42. Mathematical truths are not thought to be known unless proved true. Their demonstrations are not, however, kept as parts of what they prove, but are only our subjective means towards knowing the latter. In philosophy, however, consequences always form part of the essence made manifest in them, which returns to itself in such expressions.

43. Mathematical insights, employing constructions and proofs, have to that extent always something false about them. We depart from the triangle in incorporating its parts into other figures, and we only come back to it in the end.

44. Mathematical knowledge is defective in that lines of proof and constructions have to be blindly tried out till we hit on one that leads to the desired conclusion. They are not consequences of the notional content of the theorem to be established.

45. Mathematics may plume itself on its self-evidence, but this self-evidence rests on the poverty of its aim and the defectiveness of its material, in which philosophy should be ashamed to follow it. Mathematics only seeks to establish quantitative relations which belong exclusively to the surface of things. Its materials are space and the unit, an empty, lifeless, repetitive element, set forth in fixed, dead propositions, linked together only bl equational identities, and never progressing through opposition to some qualitatively different outcome. The incommensurability of the different dimensions, which for mathematics constitutes a problem, is a luminous necessity to the philosopher.

46. Mathematics is wholly unsuccessful in its treatment of time, which it does not see as standing in a relation of necessary opposition and complementarity to space. Its proofs of the equalisation of moments in the lever, and of the relations of time and space in gravitation, are pitifully empirical. Time with its essential, living self-differentiating, is the very Notion present in actual existence. The notionless quantities and equations of mathematics are unable to capture its essence.

47. Philosophy does not move in the inert, abstract, unreal medium of mathematics, but in an actual, living progression of distinct notional phases, some of which negate what went before, and are themselves negated in what follows, but are all necessary steps in the progression, and are recalled in its final conclusion. philosophical truth is like a Bacchanalian riot where the drunken participants fall down as they try to stand up, but it is also like the enlaced final sleep in which all have collapsed on to the floor.

48. The method of philosophy must be set forth by Logic, and is in fact Logic itself. It is not the method of mathematics, with its definitions, axioms, theorems, proofs, grounds pro and contra etc., which deals externally with its materials, and does not seek to develop their inner content. Mathematical methods are suited to their abstract materials, and to the fixed identities of concrete sensuous things, which do not change as we consider them.

49. But if philosophy steers clear of the loose methods of ordinary argument and the exact methods of mathematics, it must not therefore, let itself sink back into prophetic divinations and enthusiasms which are not scientific at all.

50. Kant has brought back into philosophy the dialectical triplicity which is the essential form of Science. But neither he nor his successors have been able to give it llle. They have treated it as an inert schema, and have applied it to the most heterogeneous materials, sometimes grossly empirical, sometimes categorial and notional. Such applications are as void of deep sense as are the category-headings of ordinary chatter.

51. Such unthinking application of the same schema to quite different materials is a pure formalism, though it may call itself a construction. It makes rise throughout of a wild series of analogical identifications. The Understanding is linked to electricity, the animal to nitrogen, and so on. There is an appearance of conceptual connection where none is really present. The procedure resembles that of a poor painter who depicts everything in two colours, or, worse still, in one.

52. It is, however, only because dialectical triplicity is felt to be the essential form of Science that it is thus devitalised and abused.

53. True Science is nothing but the self-development of the Notion, which first confronts its own simple universality with a specific, objective other, then takes back the sense of that other into its own simplicity, thereby becoming more determinate. The schematising Understanding merely catalogues and tables the stages of such self-development, without knowing what they amount to, nor the principle of their growth.

54. Every qualitative nuance of being has its own abstracted self identity, which is one with the abstract self-Identity of a distinct thought. This self-identical, qualitative nuance necessarily brings about its own dissolution, and becomes a mere moment in a wider whole. But this dissolution is not brought about by some alien process of reflection, but is cunningly contrived by the objective content itself which to preserve itself must move beyond itself. The thought that sees this does not progress by a retreat into subjectivity, but by immersing itself in its object’s own development.

55. The abstractive Understanding is not only an aspect of self conscious subjectivity, but also of existent being. Existence means distinction in quality: this is the Understanding of existence, what Anaxagoras called its Nous, and what later thinkers raised to the status of an Eidos or Idea or sort. But such a self-identical, distinct sort involves its own dissolution: it may seem to be destroyed by alien violence, but is in fact destroyed by the negation, the reference to another, which It bears within itself. In such becoming the Understanding-aspect of being passes over into its Reason.

56. The being of anything is one with its Notion, and this Notion is at once the necessity of its rhythmic development and the speculative concept which enables us to know it. It is not necessary to apply speculative categories to what concretely is, since the latter already embodies such categories in itself.

57. The scientific method of speculative philosophy will show itself to be at once determined by the contents it studies and by its own inherent rhythms. If it is described as we have just described it, resistance will be aroused from the standpoint both of sound common sense and of mystical insight. This is the standard response to what seems an alien dogma: men prefer to be revolutionary in their own time and manner.

58. To think in pure Notions, e.g. self-identity, being-in-itself, being-for-self, is tiresome and difficult, both to the thought that prefers to think in pictures, in which what is universal is not clearly abstracted, and to merely argumentative thought, which does not immerse itself in its thought-content at all, but satisfies is vanity by pronouncing upon it rather than by allowing it to develop.

59. Argumentative thinking delights in refuting a conceptual content and reducing it to nothing. Such negative reflection is as vain and empty as the content it refutes. It is quite different from the constructive negation which always has a positive, outcome.

60. Argumentative thinking connects the content it thinks of with its own self as judging Subject. The determination of subject by predicate seems to it to be its own free doing. But the thought which achieves grasp of its subject only does so when its round of predication is complete. It discovers its subject only in being forced to enlarge its predications, and not in its original reference. But picture-thought, concerned only with points of reference and with what is accidental, resents having to revise its content as it goes along. The revision of the logical subject, however, means the emergence of’ the thinking Subject, which finds itself in developing the content of the logical subject through various predications, and not in some arbitrary reference-point of which arbitrary predications are made. (Paragraph very difficult owing to identification-in-distinction of’ the conscious with the logico-grammatical subject.)

61. The conflict w have here is that of the superficial view of’ the proposition of judgement, which treats it as an external connection of independently significant elements, and of the speculative view which sees it as the self-development, through complementary differences, of a single significant content.

62. It is hard for an argumentative thinker to realise that, until he has decided what has to be said of a given logical subject, e.g. God in his relation to being, he is not truly concerning himself with subject of reference nor with any subject at all.

63. From this springs the objection to philosophical statements that they have to be read over many times before they can be understood. A comfortable enlargement of a familiar subject by the mere addition of predicates has ceased to be possible.

64. To mix argumentative thinking with speculative dialectic can never succeed, since the fixed points of reference necessary for the former are lacking in the latter.

65. Speculative dialectic does not merely dispense with the fixed distinctions of argumentative thought in some high flight of insight. It shows them breaking down as it reflects on the intrinsic sense of propositions.

66. Speculative dialectic must itself be expounded in propositions, and this might seem to expose it to the same objections as argumentative thought, and to open the way to a critique of speculation. But the prepositional form is a mere shell in speculation, since its predications are not meant to be externally added to an already fixed subject of reference. For this reason names like ‘God’ with a conventionally fixed content are best avoided in philosophy.

67. It is not thought necessary to have a preliminary training before one philosophises: ordinary information, skills, methods are thought sufficient. But since nothing can be taken for granted until tested by philosophy, philosophy involves its own skills and standards which have to be learnt and practised.

68. Thought incapable of considering abstract propositions or their mutual relations should not be confused with tolerance and freedom of mind, much less with inspired genius. Inexact, undisciplined thinking has all the defects of poetry without its merits.

69. To be a naturalist or a common-sense philosopher is to revert to trivialities that it requires no philosopher to utter. Such trivialities always lead on to antinomics which are neither sophistical nor visionary. To refuse to engage in justifications and analyses is to abdicate human nationality.

70. To rely on common sense supplemented by a little reading of philosophical prefaces and reviews is an easy road to Science. Science. however, requires that truth should be won by the labour of the Notion developing itself in its own medium.

71. Though there have been many who value Plato for his literary myths, there have been times when his Parmenides has been seen to be the supreme work of art of the ancient dialectic, and the positive expression of the divine life. There have been times, too, when the philosophy of Aristotle was valued for its speculative depth. We may hope that our system will penetrate public attention, since it has had to wait till its time was ripe and its public in existence. This public does not consist of the soi-disant representatives of public opinion.

72. In our age the universal aspect of Spirit has been strengthened, while its individual expressions are less significant. In such an age the individual must forget his individuality and must do what he can, while less should also be demanded of him by society.

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