This is from the last chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807) – His book is very important for philosophers.

On the Ego and the Self

We saw, too, its specific character take expression at its highest stage in the infinite judgment: “the being of the ego is a thing”. And, further, the ego is an immediate thing of sense. When ego is called a soul, it is indeed represented also as a thing, but a thing in the sense of something invisible, impalpable, etc., i.e. in fact not as an immediate entity and not as that which is generally understood by a thing. That judgment, then, “ego is a thing”, taken at first glance, has no spiritual content, or rather, is just the absence of spirituality. In its conception, however, it is in fact the most luminous and illuminating judgment; and this, its inner significance, which is not yet made evident, is what the two other moments to be considered express.

The thing is ego. In point of fact, thing is transcended in this infinite judgment. The thing is nothing in itself; it only has significance in relation, only through the ego and its reference to the ego. This moment came before consciousness in pure insight and enlightenment. Things are simply and solely useful, and only to be considered from the point of view of their utility. The trained and cultivated self-consciousness, which has traversed the region of spirit in self-alienation, has, by giving up itself, produced the thing as its self; it retains itself, therefore, still in the thing, and knows the thing to have no independence, in other words knows that the thing has essentially and solely a relative existence.

But knowledge of the thing is not yet finished at this point. The thing must become known as self not merely in regard to the immediateness of its being and as regards its determinateness, but also in the sense of essence or inner reality. This is found in the case of Moral Self-consciousness. This mode of experience knows its knowledge as the absolute essential element, knows no other objective being than pure will or pure knowledge. It is nothing but merely this will and this knowledge. Any other possesses merely non-essential being, i.e. being that has no inherent nature per se, but only its empty husk. In so far as the moral consciousness, in its view of the world, lets existence drop out of the self, it just as truly takes this existence back again into its self. In the form of conscience, finally, it is no longer this incessant alternation between the “placing” and the “displacing” [dissembling] of existence and self; it knows that its existence as such is this pure certainty of its own self; the objective element, into which qua acting it puts forth itself, is nothing else than pure knowledge of itself by itself.

These are the moments which compose the reconciliation of spirit with its own consciousness proper. By themselves they are single and isolated; and it is their spiritual unity alone which furnishes the power for this reconciliation. The last of these moments is, however, necessarily this unity itself, and, as we see, binds them all in fact into itself. Spirit certain of itself in its objective existence takes as the element of its existence nothing else than this knowledge of self. The declaration that what it does it does in accordance with the conviction of duty – this statement is the warrant for its own action, and makes good its conduct.

Systematic Science as the Self-Comprehension of Spirit

It is spirit knowing itself in the shape of spirit, it is knowledge which comprehends through notions. Truth is here not merely in itself absolutely identical with certainty; it has also the shape, the character of certainty of self; or in its existence – i.e. for spirit knowing it – it is in the form of knowledge of itself.

german philosophyTruth is the content, which in religion is not as yet at one with its certainty. This identification, however, is secured when the content has received the shape of self. By this means, what constitutes the very essence, viz. the notion, comes to have the nature of existence, i.e. assumes the form of what is objective to consciousness. Spirit, appearing before consciousness in this element of existence, or, what is here the same thing, produced by it in this element, is systematic Science.

The nature, moments, and process of this knowledge have then shown themselves to be such that this knowledge is pure self-existence of self-consciousness.

It is ego, which is this ego and no other, and at the same time, immediately is mediated, or sublated, universal ego. It has a content, which it distinguishes from itself; for it is pure negativity, or self-diremption; it is consciousness. This content in its distinction is itself the ego, for it is the process of superseding itself, or the same pure negativity which constitutes ego. Ego is in it, qua distinguished, reflected into itself; only then is the content comprehended (begriffen) when ego in its otherness is still at home with itself. More precisely stated, this content is nothing else than the very process just spoken of; for the content is the spirit which traverses the whole range of its own being, and does this for itself qua spirit, by the fact that it possesses the shape of the notion in its objectivity.

As to the actual existence of this notion, science does not appear in time and in reality till spirit has arrived at this stage of being conscious regarding itself. Qua spirit which knows what it is, it does not, exist before, and is not to be found at all till after the completion of the task of mastering and constraining its imperfect embodiment – the task of procuring for its consciousness the shape of its inmost essence, and in this manner bringing its self-consciousness level with its consciousness. Spirit in and for itself is, when distinguished into its separate moments, self-existent knowledge, comprehension (Begreifen) in general, which as such has not yet reached the substance, or is not in itself absolute knowledge.

History, is the process of becoming in terms of knowledge, a conscious self-mediating process – Spirit externalized and emptied into Time. But this form of abandonment is, similarly, the emptying of itself by itself; the negative is negative of itself.

This way of becoming presents a slow procession and succession of spiritual shapes (Geistern), a gallery of pictures, each of which is endowed with the entire wealth of Spirit, and moves so slowly just for the reason that the self has to permeate and assimilate all this wealth of its substance.

Since its accomplishment consists in Spirit knowing what it is, in fully comprehending its substance, this knowledge means its concentrating itself on itself (Insichgehen), a state in which Spirit leaves its external existence behind and gives its embodiment over to Recollection (Erinnerung). In thus concentrating itself on itself, Spirit is engulfed in the night of its own self-consciousness; its vanished existence is, however, conserved therein; and this superseded existence – the previous state, but born anew from the womb of knowledge – is the new stage of existence, a new world, and a new embodiment or mode of Spirit.

Read the whole thing here. Absolute Knowledge

Hegel is very popular with Marxists.

Kierkegaard was completely against this “systematic knowledge of spirit”.


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