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In addition to Plato's Myth of the Cave, Hegel's Phenomenology is also inspired by the Genesis creation story in the Judaic scriptures (the Old Testament). One of the central tasks of Western philosophy from the Roman era onward has been to reconcile Platonic-Greek religion with Judaism. The Phenomenology reconciles the two traditions.
The book of Genesis in the Old Testament tells the story of how God created the world in seven days. The world wasn't created instantly: it was made by a process that had seven stages.
Western philosophy usually thinks of God's creation in terms of human creation. So God is like a human engineer or technician or artist. Human creators usually have some idea or concept of what they're going to create before they create it. So, before creating the world, God had a concept of the world that God was about to make. Hegel refers to this as "the Concept"; in Miller's translation, this is "the Notion". The Concept exists in God's mind.
The Notion is more than a blueprint. Since the creation of the world is a process, the Notion is a PLAN. It is something like a recipe, script, or computer program.
Besides having a concept of the world, God also has a concept of God. This is God's self-conception. The Genesis story says that God was motivated to create the world because God was lonely and wanted companionship. But God doesn't want a pet: God wants a companion who is like God. So, God's concept of the world includes a copy of God's own self-conception. God is going to make something in God's own image. Human beings are made by God in the image of God. The concept of humanity is like God's own self-conception.
The whole process of creation is the self-externalization of God, meaning that God projects God's own self-conception outside of God and into the world. It's as if you were making a statue or sculpture of yourself: you'd be externalizing your own form into the statue. Better: it's like God is cloning God by making people, although of course we're not quite as powerful.
God doesn't make humans at the start: God develops a world for humans.
Humans are created only at the very end of the process, on the last day.
Since humans are made in the image of God, they are the highest (most complex
and most valuable) parts of God's creation. They appear at the very end.
But the whole purpose of creation was to make something like God to be a
companion for God. The purpose is the beginning: it's what starts everything,
it's the motive. Initially, the motive is only formal or conceptual -- it's
just an idea in God's mind. But as God makes the world, the motive is realized.
God achieves God's purpose at the end. The motive at the start is actually
achieved at the end. So, in a way, the beginning is the end.
William Paterson University Philosophy Department