Prof. Eric Steinhart (C) 1998

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Readings for the first 3 chapters:

The first 3 chapters (that is, A. Consciousness) of the Phenomenology of Spirit exhibit the shapes of the philosophical consciousness from the Presocratics to Kant (the last major thinker before Hegel). The first 3 chapters are very much concerned with the psychology of pure mind (that is, with cognition and epistemology). They are so abstract they make even my head hurt. I am not aware of any texts more difficult than these first 3 chapters.

These chapters are not a linear re-telling of the history of western philosophy. However, you can roughly see that they correspond to Ancient, Medieval, and Modern philosophy. This is a crude way to summarize the extreme complexity of these first 3 chapters, but it's ok as a start.

When we get to natural religion, we'll see these 3 first shapes repeated at a higher level.

Sense-Certainty: Ancient Philosophy


In Sense-Certainty, we find the ancient Greeks: Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates, and Plato.

The Heraclitean moment is the flux of the Here and Now: Now is night, but changes into day; Here is a tree, but changes into a house. For sense-certainty, the here and now is perpetually changing like the Heraclitean river that is always flowing.

The Parmenidean moment is the "pure being" mentioned in ¶91, ¶92, and ¶99.

Socrates is reached in the dialectic of meaning: it is Socrates who first pondered definitions of universals and the problems of universality and meaning using a dialectical method (110). Hegel's assertion that language has the divine nature of "directly reversing the meaning of what is said" can be taken as referring to Socratic irony.

J. N. Findlay tells us "The dialectic [of sense-certainty] is much influenced by arguments in Plato's dialogTheatetus, where the impossibility of reconciling knowledge with radical subject-object flux is maintained, and the unchanging universal ideas are shown to be necessary" [1]

The wisdom of the ancient Greek & Roman Mystery Religions is also invoked in this chapter via the reference to "the Eleusinian Mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus" (¶109).

Pure Being Splits into Subject and Object (¶92; read)

Sense-certainty is sure of itself. Seeing is believing. What you see is what you get. But sense-certainty doesn't bother to classify or analyze what it sees. It's totally superficial; it's immediate. So in sense-certainty the MIND that looks (the SUBJECT) and the THING that it looks at (the OBJECT) simply or immediately exist. Each is indeterminate: just a THIS.

The subject is THIS mind; the object is THIS thing: "in sense-certainty, pure being at once splits up into what we have called the two 'Thises', one 'this' as 'I', and the other 'This' as object." (¶92)

The Dialectic of Now (¶95, 96; read these)

THESIS: (¶95) Now is night. Now is the immediacy of time. Write this down and go to sleep.

ANTITHESIS: (¶95) You wake up, but Now is day. Now is NOT night. So the thesis is false.

SYNTHESIS: (¶96) Now is whenevery you say it is. Now is always actually this particular time, but Now is also possibly any time. So Now is a universal, since it is able to refer to ANY time (unlike "noon", or "midnight", which refer only to certain restricted classes of times). Thus thesis (particular) and antithesis (universal) are reconciled.

The Dialectic of Here (¶98; read)

THESIS: Here is a tree. Here is the immediacy of space. Turn around.

ANTITHESIS: Here is a house. Here is NOT a tree.

SYNTHESIS: Here is wherever you say it is. "Here" always ACTUALLY refers PARTICULARLY to this place, but it is POSSIBLE for "here" to refer UNIVERSALLY to any place. So Here is both particular and universal, like Now. In the concept of "Here" and "Now" the particular and universal are reconciled.

The Dialectic of "I"

THESIS: Plato says: "I am Plato"

ANTITHESIS: Socrates says: "I am Socrates"; so "I" is NOT Plato.

SYNTHESIS: The word "I" is like "Now" and "Here" -- it always ACTUALLY refers PARTICULARLY to this speaker, but it is POSSIBLE for it to refer UNIVERSALLY to any speaker.

Perception: Medieval Philosophy


Perception covers the period from Aristotle through the Medieval period.

The chapter concerns itself primarily with the Aristotelian distinction of substance and attributes, that is, the substantial THING with its many PROPERTIES.

In treating the one thing with many properties, the chapter also covers the Neoplatonic problem of the ONE and the MANY.

Insofar as it deals with the problem of universals, this chapter covers the Medieval period.

Supersession (¶112; do not read)

"Supersession exhibits its true twofold meaning which we have seen in the negative: it is at once a negating and a preserving." (¶112)

The Salt Crystal (¶113; do not read)

Here and Now you perceive a salt crystal. It is ONE thing with MANY properties: "The salt is a simple Here, and at the same time manifold; it is white and ALSO tart, ALSO cubical in shape, [ALSO] of a specific gravity. All these MANY properties are in a SINGLE simple 'Here'." But the properties that occur Here and Now together do not interact; they are interconnected "only by an indifferent ALSO. This Also is thus the pure universal itself, or the medium, the 'thinghood', which holds them [the properties] together."

Dialectic of Perceiver and Perceived (¶119, 128; read these)

THESIS: (¶119) You perceive this thing here and now. The UNITY is in the thing (in the OBJECT); any MULTIPLICITY is in your mind (in the SUBJECT), since it is white to your eyes, tart to your taste, but the difference in sight and taste is in you, not in the thing.

ANTITHESIS: (¶119) You perceive the flavor and color together; they come into your mind through your MANY different senses, but your consciousness overcomes this MULTIPLICITY by UNITING the many into your perception of ONE thing. Now the UNITY is in your mind, not in the thing. The thing is just many different ways of affecting the unity of your mind.

SYNTHESIS: (¶128) There is ONE thing and ONE mind; the different qualities are MANY relations between these opposed unities.

Force and Understanding: Modern Philosophy

Force and Understanding covers modern philosophy from empiricism through Kant.

It obviously enough deals with Kant's noumena / phenomena distinction (appearance versus the supersensible world). According to Baillie "In this section we have at once an analysis of empiricism and a criticism of the Kantian solution of the problem of empiricism" (Baillie, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 179).

In addition to Kant and the problem of empiricism, Werner Marx tells us that the determination of Force which occurs in this chapter is "reminiscent of Leibniz" (Werner Marx, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 95).

The dialectic of Force and Understanding ends with the passage of consciousness from the Sensible World to the Supersensible World. The main hurdle on the Divided Line has now been crossed. Behind the curtain of appearances there lies the hidden inner world.

165. "We see that in the inner world of appearance, the Understanding in truth comes to know nothing else but appearance . . . This curtain [of appearance] hanging before the inner world is therefore drawn away, and we have the inner being [the 'I'] gazing into the inner world . . . It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain which is supposed to conceal the inner world, there is nothing to be seen unless we go behind it ourselves, as much in order that we may see, as that there may be something behind there which can be seen."

1. J. N. Findlay's "Analysis of the Text" in Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller, p. 510; Baille also notes that the Theatetus influenced this chapter. See his footnote to the chapter in Baille, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 147.

William Paterson University Philosophy Department