Prof. Eric Steinhart (C) 1998

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The Introduction basically relates the Phenomenology to the ascent of the soul in Plato's Myth of the Cave. Read ¶s 77 to 80.

History has already lifted philosophical consciousness from animal sense-certainty to absolute knowledge. Philosophical consciousness is like the educated soul that has left the cave but now has to return to rescue the others who have remained behind. Hegel refers to the minds that are still in the cave as "natural consciousness".

Natural consciousness is the uneducated soul that is still imprisoned in the cave. Philosophical consciousness is going to liberate natural consciousness and guide it up out of the cave, raising it from sense-certainty to absolute knowledge.


77. The Phenomenology of Spirit "can be regarded as the path of the natural consciousness which presses forward to true knowledge; or as the way of the Soul which journeys through the series of its own configurations as though they were the stations appointed for it by its own nature, so that it may purify itself for the life of the Spirit, and achieve finally, through a completed experience of itself, the awareness of what it really is in itself."

Philosophical consciousness going to liberate natural consciousness and then watch its progress as it ascends out of the cave. Who exactly is philosophical consciousness?

By now you should realize something about Hegel himself: he's the first one to get out of the cave and to record the journey. He wrote the guidebook for getting out. You're reading it for this course. So Hegel himself -- the writer of the Phenomenology -- is the first example of true philosophical consciousness. His mind contains absolute knowledge. You might think this is the height of arrogance, but Hegel knows that it was just an accident that absolute knowledge happened to him first. He was in the right place at the right time. Nothing special about him personally.

You and I, the readers of the Phenomenology, are in a weird situation. The historical evolution of human culture has raised our minds to an enlightened level. We are out of the cave. We have philosophical Science, but we don't yet know that we have it. We don't yet know that we're out of the cave. We have the book in which this science is contained (the Phenomenology), but we haven't read it yet. By studing the spiritual history of human culture, by reading the Phenomenology, we are studying the way out of the cave.

The Phenomenology is like a roadmap or guidebook for getting out of the cave. To fully appreciate it, we have to carry it back down into the cave and use it to guide others out. That is, we have to read it first (you wouldn't go on a journey without studying the map) and then return to the cave to guide others out. But to guide them out is just to teach them the Phenomenology. So, you see now who I am: I've read the Phenomenology, and so I've studied the way out. I've come back into the cave (this classroom) to help guide you out by teaching you the Phenomenology.

So you see, the joke is that you're out of the cave but you don't know it yet. Now here's the punch line: since you don't know that you're out of the cave, you're still in it. Once you've read the Phenomenology, you'll know you're out; but you still won't be truly out until you've gone back down and brought some others out too. You won't be fully out until you teach the Phenomenology to those who don't yet know it. In other words, I'm collecting my reward.

See the trick? The Phenomenology is like a product that sells itself; it's like a Ponzi scam or pyramid game: the only way to get any benefit from this book is to get others to buy it and to read through it with them. Of course, after a while . . . . But let's get back to the story.

Philosophical consciousness has something to learn while it raises natural consciousness. For even though philosophical consciousness has escaped from the cave, it was raised automatically by the power of its own substance (like an insect that grows automatically from a caterpillar to butterfly) and is not aware of how it was raised.

In watching the progress of natural consciousness, philosophical consciousness is remembering and re-living its own history. It is like a parent who repeats his or her own grown as he or she guides his or her child to adulthood. So The Phenomenology of Spirit is like the diary kept by a parent raising his or her own child to adulthood.

Indeed, philosophical consciousness really is like a parent. It's like a seed that has grown into a tree of knowledge which has produced new seeds of its own. All that philosophical consciousness has to do is to return to the cave -- to the soil from which it grew -- to plant its own seeds in the natural consciousnesses that are there. These knowledge-seeds (what Plotinus called "logoi spermatikoi"), once planted, grow by itself. Philosophical consciousness watches this growth, and so observes its own development.


78. Recall that in Plato's Myth of the Cave, the prisonner is afraid and does not want to be freed. Liberation and enlightenment are painful. Natural consciousness, like the ignorant soul imprisoned in the cave, mistakes superstitious illusions for rational truths.

Natural consciousness feels the seed of knowledge growing in it; but it is afraid of this growth, which at first seems alien. It's like when you go through puberty and changes occur to your body that you do not yet fully understand. You may have read in books what those changes were about, but you don't appreciate that knowledge until you go through it yourself. The body is changing but the soul still has to catch up. It takes longer for the soul to mature.

Natural consciousness fears losing its illusions; it's afraid that once it loses its superstitions, it will have nothing. It's like a child who is afraid of growing up. Or like a child who is afraid of casting off the superstitious beliefs of his or her parents: "My mother told me to believe X, so I'm going to believe X no matter what you say."

Natural consciousness shows itself to have only illusory knowledge, the lowest kind on the Divided Line. But since it mistakes this false knowledge for real knowledge, the path out of the cave "has negative significance for it," and what is in fact its self-realization "counts for it rather as the loss of its own self; for it does lose its truth on this path. The road can therefore be regarded as a pathway of doubt, or more precisely as the way of despair."

As it makes its way out of the cave, natural consciousness changes from one configuration or shape into another: "The series of configurations which consciousness gores through along this road is, in reality, the detailed history of the education of consciousness itself up to the standpoint of Science."


79. Once the seed of knowledge is planted, it grows pretty much by itself: "The necessary progression and interconnection of the forms of the unreal consciousness [that is, natural consciousness] will by itself bring to pass the completion of the series" of shapes of the soul on its way to enlightenment.


80. Of course, natural consciousness can resist. But if it does, it will be very frustrated. It's like knowing you have a great talent but not using it. That's frustrating. Once the seed of knowledge has been planted, "the progress towards this goal is also unhalting, and short of it no satisfaction is to be found at any of the stations on the way."

Rocks don't want to be anything more than rocks. Rocks do not go beyond themselves. Not so for consciousness. You're in college to make yourself more than you are now: to get an education. Consciousness can't hold itself back once it gets started: it "is something that goes beyond limits, and since these limits are its own, it is something that goes beyond itself."

Trying to hold yourself back once the seed of knowledge has been planted is like trying to beat yourself at solitaire: every time you win, you lose. Whenever it holds itself back, natural consciousness does violence to itself. Ouch. Holding itself back, "consciousness suffers this violence at its own hands: it spoils its own limited satisfaction." This violence breaks up its peaceful ignorance, and pushes natural consciousness forward: "When consciousness feels this violence, its anxiety may well make it retreat from the truth, and strive to hold on to what it is in danger of losing. But it can find no peace. If it wishes to remain in a state of unthinking inertia, then thought troubles its thoughtlessness, and its own unrest disturbs its inertia."

So get moving.

William Paterson University Philosophy Department