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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thoughts on Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit

The following paragraphs contain a few thoughts or insights that came to mind reading Hegel's Phenomenology.  They do not necessarily reflect an accurate interpretation of Hegel's own thought, but rather the summary of what I was able to glean from it.  His book was difficult, and I may learn more from another reading, but for now this is what I learned from it.  

The “I”, as subject, is devoid of those personal characteristics associated with self-identity, the reflexive self, or self-as-object, the “me”.  Hegel concludes that the “I” is universal – by contrast, I conclude that the act of subjectivity is deeper than our reflexive ego, and prior to it.  Our subjectivity is transitive from us to something transpersonal and prior to even our pre-biographical unity or transcendental apperception.  The pre-biographical unity is the unity anterior to the self, while the “universality” of subjectivity points to a unity anterior to subjectivity as such.  The act of subjectivity is an act “pushing forward” from the impersonality of pure subjectivity to the reflexivity of self-awareness on through to the multiplicity of sense objects, upon which we turn back to a second reflexive understanding of the self (the first was self-consciousness, this is a truly reflexive understanding of oneself) as we process our sense-impressions through our thoughts and self-concepts.

Riding this wave of the surging act of subjectivity backwards (a paradox, since to think about something is to objectify it, and we are objectifying subjectivity qua subjectivity), we find that the pure subjectivity qua subjectivity is not only devoid of personal characteristics, but it is a surging-forth from nothingness into being.  This surging-forth, phenomenologically constituted, is the apperception of itself, that is, as the subjectivity surges forth into the cognition of things and thoughts, it apperceives the very act of apperception, and likewise there are reflective acts on a deeper level than apperception that turn back on themselves, pushing back the envelope deeper and deeper all the way to a nothingness prior to the unity of being.

This surging-forth from nothingness is the act of Creation, in theological terms, since the acts of creation and sustaining the universe are one.  The unity of this one act can be seen in the lack of individuality or the “universality” of the subjectivity qua subjectivity – though it is reflected on by many “me”s, there can be no multiplicity to the subjectivity as such, because no characteristics by which to individuate it.  There is only one “surging-forth” – one act of creation.

This is not metaphysical idealism, because we must alienate the objectivity of the outside world from our own subjectivity by positing objects separate from us, and the necessity of such an alienation implies a noumenal “surging-forth” independent of the existence of a human subject understanding or perceiving the objects.   This noumen is prime matter; it does not exist except phenomenally, but to even talk about a noumen is to talk about it as phenomenon, so it is meaningless to say that the noumen is “unknowable”.

Let us ride the wave of being forward now.  God reveals Himself by creating and by sustaining the world, and His Providence is the same as his sustaining of the world, and Hegel notes how man through his intellectual activity orders the world, imparts finality to it, elucidates it, sheds light on diversity in order bring unity and order out of chaos.  The movement is toward consciousness, consciousness OF everything in its relation to everything else.  Hegel thought this was the Absolute struggling to achieve consciousness of itself; I say it is God revealing Himself through the Book of Nature.

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