I love my job and I work really hard when I'm in the office, so one particularly boring day I wrote this summary of the first few chapters of the Phenomenology whilst pretending to write e-mails. I've just read it through and played around with it a little, and I'm posting it here as I thought it may be useful to others - and as it would certainly be useful for me if other people pick holes in it and point out where I'm wrong. It's more a summary of what Hegel says than an explanation, but as I struggle to figure out wuite what it is he's saying most of the time, let alone understand it, I thought a summary may be worthwhile.
...but as it was written pretty much from memory, between faxes, e-mails and futile attempts to look busy, it probably misses lots out. If you spot important things that I've missed please let me know.
We start off with Sense Certainty. This is the simplest, barest form of consciousness possible, althought it is often (Hegel tells us) mistaken for being the truest and richest. With sense certainty the object is the true, and I am certain of its truth. The object is a 'This', and I, as a simple ego certain of it in only an immediate (i.e. unmediated) way, am also a 'This'. But the two 'Thises', consciousness and the object, are in fact found to be in a mediated relationship with each other, and this can be seen in that the object must be understood as a particular moment within a unity of other moments. Hegel explains this in terms of time and space:
This is introduced by way of the concept of 'Now': now is night - but if we look again a little later, now turns out to be day. However, this doesn't mean that the now that was night is untrue; it has being, but a being that has passed, that is not this particular present now. As a result, the truth of 'Now' is revealed as follows: in order to know a particular now we must undertstand it as a particular point within a continuum of 'now's. This particular now, the now that we percieve, is as such for the consciousness that percieves it - and therefore this union of consciousness and the particular point in time is a definite moment amongst other such moments.
The same is the case with the concept of 'Here'. I look at a house, and the house is here; but if I turn around, I look at a tree, and the tree is here. In the same way as the now, the here is a particular point within a universal. Hegel then expands this, and shows that what might be true as a here and now for my particular consciousness is not necessarily that which is true for another observing subject: where I percieve a tree at night, he/she may percieve a house during the day. And this is the crucial bit: we must presume that the objects of the world are always in a unity with consciousness. For in order to know this particular now, this particular here, I must take all possible nows and heres as a universal, and distinguish this particular point amongst them. Therefore it is inadmissable for Hegel to claim that all of the above is merely contingent on consciousness's presence in relation to the object - that all of the above only takes place when consciousness happens to look at that object. The nature of the above is that consciousness is always tied to the objective world, and vice versa.
(I stress that last aspect as I had a hell of a time with some of the later chapters until I went back and re-read this chapter. I could follow the movement of the argument, but I couldn't get past the fact that the movement between consciousness and object and the revelations as to the object's nature seemed to be entirely contingent on the fact that consciousness was looking at the object - which therefore introduced a noumenal aspect into the proceedings, i.e. what is the object like if I'm not looking at it. It's therefore important to note that consciousness is always looking at an object.)
So the conclusion of Sense Certainty is that consciousness and the object exist in a unity. Any moment of particularity within that unity is, in fact, a universality. It therefore seems that we've reached a dead end, as we've resolved everything into a universal.
But as Hegel points out, consciousness is led out of this impasse as it wants to know the object in question beyond this flat universality. We now start to look at the object itself, and this takes place in the second chapter, entitled Perception.
When we look at the object we see it in two senses: firstly as a One, as a discrete object, and secondly as the subsistance of various properties within a universal (i.e. the object is either taken to be an object in its own right, in which case the different properties are a manifold and operate as a single property, or the object is simply a medium in which these differentiated properties exist).
The dual aspects of the object's existance as a One and as a plurality of properties stand in opposition to each other. The process by which consciousness deals with this is as follows: it identifies that the thing is not just a One, but also a plurality of properties. It then identifies that each property is indifferent to each other, each has no connection with the other beyond the fact that they exist within the medium of 'thingness' (i.e. the object). The object's claim to unity then dissolves, and as such consciousness finds itself looking only at the properties themselves. the properties become mere objects for the senses, and consciousness therefore finds itself returned to the very beginning of Sense Certainty (it's just sensing discrete objects again, rather than percieving their qualities)..
So consciousness loops back and goes through the dialectic of sense certainty again. In so doing it is returned to the issues of Perception armed with the knowledge that the error (that which had sent it back to the beginning again) lies within it, rather than within the object (it's process of deduction ended up dissolving the object altogether). As a result, consciousness concludes that it must itself unite the properties as a One, that it must hold the properties together and focus them as an object. For example, the computer screen is translucent and also convex, also smooth, also illuminated etc. These properties are in danger of drifting off altogether, as they seem to be indifferent to each other. But consciousness, in its attempt to hold the properties together, now states that the computer monitor is both translucent and convex - but in so far as it is not translucent it is not smooth, and in so far as it is smooth it is not illuminated. This 'in so far as' is a construction of consciousness, which holds the diverse properties together in a One.
We therefore have a sense in which consciousness serves as a focal point for the diverse properties of the thing.
But these properties are properties of a thing, and are determinate - they come from the object in question, and as such it must be the object that is holding the properties together. It must therefore be the case that the object is the focal point, and the diverse properties subsist in the senses of the observing subject. Where consciousness was the particular point, focussing the plurality of the properties, now the object becomes the focal point.
Hegel now applies the terms 'in itself' and 'for itself.' In so doing, he points out that if the object is a focal point (the particular moment) whilst consciousness contains the properties (which are universal and indifferent to one another within consciousness), the object would be IN itself (as a One) and FOR another (for the observing consciousness as a diversity of properties). Therefore, the object would seem to have two aspects - the one that it has in itself, and the other that it presents to the observing consciousness.
...but as Hegel points out, this means that we're now really talking about two objects - and we know from previous experience that the truth of the object is as a One. The object's twofold existance is therefore a contradiction of its Oneness.
In order to solve this problem, consciousness posits that this twofold existance is now shared between two objects. This means that the properties of the object are taken as a manifold, and that this manifold is contrasted with the manifold properties of another object. The properties are held together as an 'in so far as' (i.e. as a one), in relation to another 'in so far as.' For example, the computer monitor is distinct from the mug; it is convex, smooth and illuminated, and these properties characterise the object in so far as they are distinct from the properties of the mug. The object retains a diversity of properties but is also able to exist as a One.
But this doesn't work. Consciousness realises that what becomes important is the distinction between two manifold sets of properties, and as such each manifold blurs into a single property. Each object becomes, in effect, a single property - and this means that the diversity of the properties is lost.
However, we're not sent back to the beginning again as consciousness has realised that the object's existance as a One must fall outside of that object. It now comes to the conclusion that the object is for itself only in so far as it is for another - and that it is for another only in so far as it is for itself:
"...the last qualifying "in-so-far", which separated self-existence and existence for another, drops away altogether. The object is really in one and the same respect the opposite of itself - for itself "so far as" it is for another, and for another "so far as" it is for itself. It is for itself, reflected into self, one; but all this is asserted along with its opposite, with its being for another, and for that reason is asserted merely to be superseded. In other words, this existence for itself is as much unessential as that which alone was meant to be unessential, viz. the relation to another."
So where it might have been thought that the object was the essential thing and the observing consciousness inessential (i.e. the object exists perfectly well without an observing consciousness), we now find that this independent existance is just as inessential. Both presuppose the other. The object's existance as a One is contingent upon its existance for another, and vice versa. Consciousness and object exist only so far as they exist in a relationship with each other - a relationship in which the particularity of each is reliant upon its diremption into its opposite. Both exist only so far as they exist for the other, and this realisation is what Hegel calls the 'unconditioned universal.' With this the chapter on Perception is concluded.
Force and the Understanding
We now get to Force. We've seen that this unconditioned universal is characterised by a movement between particularity and universality; each moment of particularity (i.e. space and time, the properties of the object) exist only in so far as it takes place within a universality of other moments. Likewise, the universal exists only in so far as it is focussed into the particular. There seems to be a constant pulsing between the two conditions of universality and particularity - but it is also recognised that the two states exist simultaneously.
Consciousness describes this movement as Force. It thinks this as a Notion, as an idea existing only within the Understanding of this condition (that of unconditioned universality). Force therefore exists at the moment only as its own Notion - it is not yet real.
BUT - everything that exists does so only in so far as it has its being in its opposite (something is for itself only in so far as it is for another). By this logic, it is recognised that Force must be a real phenomena. Force is now taken to be the real force that governs the movement between particularity and universality; therefore it is not something existing solely within consciousness, but rather is a real force that governs the unity of consciousness and its objects. My perception of the computer monitor is force expressed (as particularity); the existance of this moment within universality is force as such, i.e. force retracted. Force is recognised to be the reality of the unconditioned universal itself.
It is then recognised that the force expressed exists only in so far as force as such exists. It seems that both are seperate elements in a reciprocal relationship with each other. From this it is posited that what we really have are two separate forces, rather than the one single force which we first assumed.
The apparent opposition between these two forces is sublated via the concept of Law. The expression and retraction of the two forces is said to be itself the expression of an inner law of things, a law that lies behind the appearances of sensible reality (remembering that with the movement of force we are looking at the perceptible world). It would now seem that we have a noumenal world of laws behind the phenomenal world of appearances, as if this is something that lies behind appearances we don't know what it is. All we have is the phenomenal expression of this inner world. But by the same logic that we have seen throughout - something is for itself only in so far as it is for another - we recognise that the inner world is not independent; it is the inner world of appearances, and Hegel thus describes it as appearance qua appearance. It therefore becomes populated by the particular laws that govern the particular manifestations of appearance (gravity, electricity, chemistry etc.).
But this isn't enough; we now have a diversity of laws within the inner world, and this constitutes a plurality of disconnected particulars. To solve this, their sublation into one overall Law is posited, and law thus gives way to the Notion of law. The diverse laws become the manifestations of the particular Law - and in this we can see that we have something analogous to the movement of force operating within the inner world. The particular laws are only in so far as they are the expressions of the one Law; and the one Law is only in so far as it is expressed in the particular laws (we saw in the movement of force that force expressed, i.e. particularity, is only in so far as it is also force as such, i.e. univerality).
...here it gets really wierd, as the inner world is now considered to be the opposite of the real substantial world. That which is sweet in the substantial world has its being, is defined (i.e. is sensible and comprehensible only in so far as) as such as it is sour in the inner world. What is good in the substantial world is bad in the inner world, and so on. The inner world is the opposite to the substantial world, and gives the sensible world meaning. The inner world is this the inversion of the world of appearances.
But just as the object was the opposite to consciousness and also a unity with consciousness, so too is the inverted world a unity with the world of appearances. It is recognised that sour objects exist alongside sweet ones in the sensible world, and it is recognised that all the aspects of the inner world are in fact sensible - and as such the inverted world sublates the sensible world, and the two are united. We now find that the law governing everything that exists within the unity of consciousness and the objective (i.e. within the unconditioned universal with which we started this section) is that everything splits and changes into its opposite - and that which is opposite is reunited back into an identity. The pulsing between universality and particularlity that we identified within sense certainty, perception and the movement of force has its truth in this: everything that is identical splits into its opposite, and everything that is opposite is reunited into an identity.
Consciousness therefore recognises that it itself is also subject to this law, and that it exists in a state of simultaneous identity and difference with materiality. As such, it becomes self consciousness, as when it looks at the objective world it sees itself. Where we had consciousness peering through appearance into the inner truth of the world, we now find that the inner world and consciousness are in a state of identity. Their mediation by appearance thus falls away, and we have the emergence of Spirit.