|Title page of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)|
Introduction (Stephen Cowley)
This book marked a major step in the dissolution of the Hegelian school, the justification of Marx’s description of Hegel as a “dead dog” (Afterword to 2nd edition of Capital, 1873). It is echoed and varied by Karl Popper. The main interest for me however, is the analysis of themes in the text itself.
The Phenomenology of Spirit
Diese Philosophie nicht kann, was sie soll und nicht ist, was sie will.
“This philosophy cannot [do] what it should, and is not what it wants [to be].” (294)
“The Phenomenology prepares and contains an attempted demonstration of the viewpoint of absolute knowledge. This it does by means of a practical-psychological pedagogy of non-philosophical consciousness. It does it in the form of a relentless critique of different scientific and philosophical viewpoints. It does it by providing fragments from the history of philosophy. It does it lastly by unfolding a succession of portraits of world history, a panorama of states of culture belonging in part to the distant past and in part to the most recent modernity. It is didactic in being critical, and it is critical in being historical. It is all that, properly seen, not in a juxtaposition, but all in one, at the same time and concomitantly.” (296)
Two methods of demonstration
“Two of these demonstrative motifs, first of all, stand out from the rest when one tries to prune this copse that they form, but they only stand out however, to combine together still more compactly. It is a matter of transcendental-psychological and historical demonstration. Hegel himself qualifies the first as the true kernel of the Phenomenology, the pillar supporting the whole, and to which the rest serve merely as vestments. Hegel himself indicates likewise to what degree historical proof is based on and immediately interwoven with it.” (297)
The historical deduction
“Now this basic plan of the Phenomenology immediately supports a second. Into the transcendental-psychological deduction, there is interleaved the historical construction of the supposedly highest scientific viewpoint. And it is true that the legal title to proceed to this intercalation rests on a presupposition that Hegel at first spares himself from proving, but which is very strictly at one with his whole vision of the world – with the aesthetic idealization of the world. Here, according to Aristotle, is the difference between the dramatic and epic poet and the historian, the latter describes events as they really happened; the former [two], on the contrary as they could perchance have happened according to an internal probability – oiov av genoito [Poetics, 5165].” (299)
“The presupposition is not far to seek; the steps and the developmental process of the individual consciousness and consciousness in general present themselves at the same time as epochs of history, as the development of the world spirit spreading itself out in time. The transcendental-psychological history of consciousness is essentially identical to the history of the self-education [Bildung] of the world. The whole of humanity, in the course of the centuries of its existence, had essentially to go through the same apprenticeship, carry out the same works that make up the steps of the individual and the moments of consciousness considered in itself.” (299)
“The goal, absolute knowledge, or mind knowing itself as mind, has to bring to a successful conclusion on its path the inward commemoration of spirits such as they are in themselves and the organization of their kingdom. Their preservation, alongside their free existence appearing under the form of contingency, is history, but on the side of their conceptualized organization, the science of knowledge as appearing.” (299-300; PhG, Miller, para 808)
“Soon the signs of a show of historical description become more uncertain and fade out. It seems that the “unhappy consciousness”, supposed to develop starting from the skeptical consciousness, is straightforwardly a universal form of consciousness, but the more we accustom our eyes to the shadowy outlines of the sketch, the more the matter is beyond a doubt: we are dealing in truth with a characterization of the ecclesiastical and monastic ethics of medieval Christendom.” (300)
|Rameau's Nephew by Didierot|
|Christ at Calvary|
Confusion of the two sides
“We are not pushed onto either of the two paths, but we pretend to take a road of proof that is neither purportedly philosophical, nor purportedly historical. It is not even the case that the historical phenomena are associated with psychological facts by way of simple clarification or example, or inversely, that the latter are developed only to characterize the former more sharply. It is on the contrary in the confusion that surreptitiously prevails between the steps of the psychological process and those of the march of world history that the distinctive character of the Phenomenology consists. The gallery of stages of culture in world history shows itself to be a construction introduced from outside into the space of psychological facts. The psychological facts appear as artificially interwoven into the historical facts. It is precisely this, which constitutes the appeal of the Phenomenology, that at the same time withdraws from it, as a whole and in detail, all probative value."
For history is one thing, psychology another. The simply philosophical exposition of the necessary stages of consciousness would require that one confines oneself to the purity and generality of its forms. But in history, where the consciousness of whole masses prevails, formed by thousands of fortuitous occurrences, dependent on thousands of concrete facts – in history these pure forms appear precisely nowhere.” (302-03)
“To say it all, the Phenomenology is a psychology thrown into confusion and disorder by history, and a history cut to ribbons by psychology. The viewpoint of naive romanticism was to not demonstrate the Absolute. To wish to demonstrate it, at the price of a confusion, was the viewpoint of reflective romanticism, consequently shameful and dissimulating. Here again, the festival of absolute knowledge is celebrated. To celebrate this solemnity worthily, a romantic masquerade is organized. There parade in long procession before the throne of the Absolute historical figures disguised as spirits of a psychological nature, and once more psychological figures under the masque of historical figures. Just as absolute knowledge itself is no other than a thinking consideration of things, but daubed over and imbued with an aesthetic conception of these latter, a romantic-fantastical confusion of what is the concern of the poet and what is the concern of the philosopher, so the phenomenological road leading to knowledge consists equally of lastingly carrying out the poetic transposition of abstract powers into concrete historical powers, or rather of threading them through, without ceasing to interweave and intermix them.” (305-06)
“One can conceive – be it said in passing – that this hybrid nature of the work shows through also in the style of the Phenomenology. [...] The work is visibly written with a concern for style, but at what a distance does this diction stand from a noble proportion between the form of sense and the form of thought, where a true equilibrium would have to be discerned between the aesthetic spirit and the reflecting spirit. The language of the concept becomes only heavier, with Hegel wishing at the same time that it should carry the load of intuition. This alliance is neither free nor natural; we have here a mixture of the two that is obtained by chasing them violently together. The grandiose enterprise fails which aims to sew living figures onto a base of abstraction; everywhere formalism enslaves form; everywhere is betrayed either the inability of our systematician, or the intrinsic impossibility of bringing beauty to the understanding, of making the object of the understanding beautiful.” (306)
Evaluation of the Transcendental Proof taken in itself
Setting that aside however, let us consider the transcendental proof of absolute knowledge on its own merits. Let us assume for the time being then, that the historical material is merely illustrative. Let us assume that, in Haym’s words: “The path that we are made to travel here through world history is only the means of completing the given impulses to a historical construction of absolute knowledge that we meet in a scattered state in the previous writings of Hegel.” (309)
“It was in abstracto the demonstration that all these modes of thought started from the viewpoint of the Absolute. It was in concreto the bringing to the fore of the non-coincidence, in the end, of the rational and the real, of idea and phenomenon, of subjective and objective, of the non-idealization of the world and the non-realization of the Idea, of the fact that one arrives everywhere only at the ought-to-be and at infinite progress, that reality, natural as well as ethical, is disfigured into a thing devoid of life and beauty.” (308)
“Why though? It is because precisely these phenomena form the basis and real background of the fiction of a knowledge which, as knowledge, has to have the same effects and the same character as the concrete ethical and political life of the Greeks, as the aesthetic humor of the artist and the contemplation of the man of piety.” (309)
“It is the whole of reality that must become identical to consciousness, fill its space with neither a gap nor remainder. There must then, from the beginning, be introduced the stuff of reality. The Hegelian history of consciousness cannot, like that of Fichte, take wing from the center of the mind simply certain of itself, in the certainty (Gewissen) of thought. His certainty is of an aesthetico-religious order; its standard and its compass are the presumption in favor of the Hellenic form of spirit, the schema of the living identity of nature and spirit, of reality and Idea. His departure thus takes place from the natural consciousness that has for concrete content what has a sensible existence.” (309)
The Pedagogical Element
No proof emerges from this of absolute knowledge – none in which it is not already presupposed that is. The nature of the journey brings to light though, the pedagogical element of the composition of the work. The book is supposed to be also an education of naive consciousness into philosophical consciousness – a practical introduction. As a wheel in a mechanism can serve several purposes, so we find the didactic element entangled with the historical-psychological motive.
The Phenomenology as introduction, first part and whole of the system
Failure of the Demonstration
Such then is our examination of the composition of the Phenomenology. Haym comments:
“if we abstract from the spirit in which it was conceived and from our admiration for the artist’s knowledge with which so many threads were both woven together and ordered, we cannot fail to feel also a complete deception. It is necessary to put an end to all illusion that would wish to see an effective proof in this attempt to prove the Absolute.” (317)
“The demonstration that the Hegelian philosophy provides in the Phenomenology is a vicious circle, if it is one. From the first step, at the threshold of the Phenomenology, the enchanted circle of this system closes on itself. From here, the Absolute grabs hold of us, never to let us go, to stifle forever out intellectual conscience. By the end of the Phenomenology, we find ourselves in a world completely bewitched.” (317)
“Absolute knowledge knows no form of consciousness above itself; they all have to submit themselves to it as forms overcome. It is the same for the historical present. It has, properly speaking, no future ahead of it, but only behind it, a past. History is no longer the pursuit of an aspiration of humanity; it is no longer the work leading towards the light of a higher freedom; it is a game of freedom with its own existence that, in the exchange, is eternally the same.” (318)
Hegel’s attitude to contemporary events and the interests of the nation
This was our philosophy, resting on our classic poetry, at the very moment when a foreign conqueror broke the power of the greatest German state and was on the point of crushing a second German state [Prussia and Austria respectively]. The infamous cupidity and cowardice of the West German princes had taken him for a protector. Haym appeals in this “not simply to your understanding, but to your good sense and feelings.” (318) He writes: “What did it matter that the monarchy of Frederick the Great was cast down and that the “cold tyranny from abroad” consolidated itself in our German provinces, provided that it did not remain hidden from the world that “substance” is “at the same time subject” and that, newly born of absolute knowledge, spirit leans to perfect its form in the purity of its own aether.” (319)
“Driven from the favorable ground for a sane national and political development, the German spirit sought out a country in the world of ideas. In this world, it laid the ground stones of the most sumptuous and glittering reality, of a Pantheon of images and thoughts. It takes its ease in the imaginary reconciliation of the ideal and the real. If nonetheless it finds something missing here, it is simply the truth of the real and of power.” (321)
Conclusion (Stephen Cowley)
Osmo refers in this connection to the work of Martial Guéroult on Fichte and his reception. Fichte's use as a patriotic icon owes much to Treitschke’s Fichte und die Nationale Idee (1862). Treitschke was Haym’s successor as editor of the Preußische Jahrbücher. In general, Haym's text is at the threshold between the view of Germany as a land of poets and scholars and the land of "blood and iron" that became dominant after Prussia's wars under Bismarck with Denmark (1863), Austria (1866) and France (1870). In Britain, this led to the "Two Germanys" theory of writers like J.H. Muirhead, whilst others like L.T. Hobhouse condemned German intellectual traditions wholesale. In another tradition, the view of idealism as impractical is also associated with Marxist writers, including John Macmurray in the 1930s.
Haym's essay as a whole is well worth digesting for the light it throws on the problems that readers face in encountering the obscurities of Hegel's text. - SC.]