Michael Braverman portfolio / personal site

Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel

  • Kenley Doves, wonderful essay from 1969 on Hegel’s Phenomenology Method.


The philosopher is a son of his own time, and his philosophy is that time comprehended in thought. To seek and transcend one’s time, is only a venture into the ‘soft element’ of fancy and opinion.1 Hegel seems to be saying something that modern speculators who are so obsessed about the future — can take note.

Hegel’s dialectical method lies precisely in taking the path from the past, until the present — which describes the phenomenology essence of this path — in the present. The dialectical thought-paths lead to the Absolute idea of knowledge in what appears to be the Absolute conception of the present, based on the phenomenological interpretation of the past, leading to the present — the now.

Sache — An identification the a man identifies himself with which allows him to pursue without a regard to external approval. Vernund — Reason Geist — Spirit


Hegel attempts to bring philosophy to a form of Science in which the goal is to lay aside the title ‘the love of knowing’ and allow it to become the actual knowing.2 The type of knowing that Hegel suggests here, is not that of objective interpretations according to the notions that natural sciences suggest, but according to the Absolute spiritedness of any given view. The Absolute is not supposed to be comprehended, it is supposed to be felt and intuited—the feeling is what must govern what is said, and the subject-matter must be expressed by it.3

The human determination to detach their ordinary and private affairs and “direct their gaze to the stars”, no longer allows men to dwell in the world’s presence, and instead, men start to dwell in an “other-worldly presence”.4 Here Hegel suggests that what is called ‘experience’ must become the enterprise worth exploring: as sense that “is rooted in earthly things that it requires just as much force to raise it”. It however does not mean that one has to completely fall into the act of dreaming things up for himself, he must also wish that such an activity, namely, that which is concerned with dreaming up based on the worldly presence—should also posses some form of philosophic edification.5

The products of reflection present only in the finite, are Notion and Necessity.

Philosophizing in a true and holy manner, does not necessarily have to be a devotion to a God, but giving this process of free reign to the finite contingency of the content within it, and to its “own caprice”.6 Here Hegel mentions dreams, which appears as a self-imposed God, and which brings wisdom in sleep in a form that is nothing but dreams.

It’s the point where knowledge no longer needs to go beyond itself. Where knowledge finds itself where notion corresponds to object and object to notion.7

Self-edifying subject

The way in which and Idea is ascribed in its primitive condition is a repetition of a previously devised formula that describes the idea.8 The ascription of an Idea to an Absolute run according to the A = A formula where A = Absolute which declares any given subject as an equal to its Absolute idea.

Hegel defined reason as a purposive activity which takes the potential of a thing in itself as apposed to for itself. An example is given with a human embryo; this is an aspect of Nature, which Hegel also credits Aristotle in devising, which makes it self-moving and whose essence lies exactly in its ability to emerge into something, but does not necessarily obligate it to be moving. The beginning state of Nature, or in this case, the embryo — is already a purpose in itself because the actuality is already present in its Notion.9

Ascribing Ideas according to the A = A formula, cancels out their self-moving Notion.

Because a system is ascribed according to propositions, this ascription is itself false because the propositions themselves are false. Even it there are infinitely many propositions for a system, which describe it in every possible attribute, it is still false because every one of these propositions is false in itself and not allow them to be self-moving — the fallacy of scientific reductionism that Hegel appears to point out, quite nicely and manifestly to his ideas.10

When something is assumed to be familiar, it is not understood in a way in which it was understood the first time. It is merely apprehended, which reconciles with the way in which everybody’s impression reconciles on the matter, whether it might seem so for an individual or not.11 This is what is referred to by Hegel as the analysis of an idea, which breaks an impression into propositions that are not self-moving. Marx’s whole materialist theory would be entirely based on the inability to comprehend objects according to their self-moving value, or use value; and instead are comprehended according to an exchange value, which reduces an object into a commodity. The commodity is what Hegel means as a false proposition, because it does not value the object in-itself, but according to a alienated market/money/exchange value.

Hegel welcomes the introduction of a term complete otherness which lies in the middle between true and false.12 This unity is necessary, as it is for other binaries such as Object and Subject, Finite and Infinite — which imply that they are outside of a unity.




Sense-certainty arises when the ‘I’ conceives an instance of an immediacy. The scheme that Hegel seems to imply is the following:13

Immediacy > Sense-Certainty > I

Where immediacy is an occurrence based on the notions of Here and Now; and sense-certainty is an instance of the what is immediately present, which forms the certainty of an ‘I’.

This is where Hegel establishes his dialectic based on the notions of Now and Here. When stated that ‘Now is Night’ and then it appears that it is Day; the initial proposition has become “stale”, because according to it, day is, and night is not.14 But Hegel’s negativity lies precisely in the fact that even if night is not (because according to the observation, now is day), it is not entirely false, and instead, forms the Universal of the question. The Universal is Day and Night at the same time, which surprisingly, sounds very friendly to the nature of Quantum Physics, which seems completely alien to the way we are habituated to apprehend out world.

But when reality is conceived through the ‘I’, the reality is also apprehended according to the ‘I’ and in the ‘I’. Therefore, in Hegel’s dialectic, the object conceived by the I, becomes mine[Meinen] because the I knows it and is familiar with the object’s essence.15

This is a very interesting part in Hegel’s dialectic based on the idea of sense-certainty, because what it means to own or consider an object mine, is based on one’s ability to conceive the essence of an object. That is, it can be stated like so:

I own an object, because I can conceive it.

This is radically different from human’s current dialectic (call it condition, ontology, etc.): where an object is owned not because it is understood, but because it is bought, owned, contracted, legally inherited etc. In this circumstance, the object is not treated according to its whole essence but according to attributes that are mediated trough some other certainty that is alien to the sense-certainty itself. An example, or even primitive forms of trade — where an object is exchanged for some other object, currency, social construct, etc. — which bases it value not on the object’s essence, or other forms of sense-certainty as apprehended by the Spirit; but according to an alien attribute that is outside of the object’s essence, and has little or no relation to the object itself. Even if there is an attribute that relates to some aspect of the object’s essence, it is degraded and exploited through this exchange, because this attribute is no longer part of the object’s essence — precisely because it is mediated by this exchange value. It is not because the object is no longer judged by the sense, but according to some external factor, such as its market price.

Such as the clarity of a diamond, which is an actual attribute of the object, but the attribute actualizes its value according to the market, as apposed to its essence — perceived through the sense-certainty into the ‘I’. The value of the diamond is therefore not actualized through the faculty of sense-certainty, but instead, is actualized through some external, alien attribute — its scarcity, clarity, rarity, culture significance, market price, et cetera, et cetera.

The ‘I’ is what would later be defined as desire, which explains the reason why the ‘I’ seeks to own the Thing, and proclaim it as it’s own.


The Thing that is perceived, is an accumulative collection of attributes perceived by the consciousness, which form its universal medium. In this medium, the contents of what is perceived, inherits its own inner world, which is the product of conciseness. This universal medium contains the wide range of properties that don’t touch one another, but exist in this universal medium. These properties of a Thing, exist at the same time, in any given moment, which forms its Also. E.g, a cube is white, and also cubical, also tart, and so on.16

This can be related to the way in which music forms a medium in which notes exist on their own account containing their own individual properties, e.g. It is a major, but also forte, and also an eight of beat, etc., but all these attribute together form the universal medium of music.


The Truth of Self-Certainty

The ‘I’ as the self-consciousness, has a negative relation to its object (aim, goal, possession of an object, etc.) which forms its Desire to achieve satisfaction, only when the object effect the negativity within self-consciousness. Thus, the consciousness must carry out the negation in itself.

For Hegel, Life is an universal which constitutes all the living in its as a so called unity. Within this unity arises self-certainty and perception which causes a part to form the forces of antithesis which allow the self to assert its independence from the unity.17 Desire is what pushes this determination to assert a negative relation, which forms the object’s independence.

The unity therefore splits up into “individual shapes”. Then a further division within these shapes, causes the dividedness within them. An so from the antithesis force which separates a shape from the whole, i.e. a being-for-self from the the whole. The movement of these individual shapes becomes a process.18 After which Hegel describes it as a “ceaseless movement by which this passive medium is consumed: Life as a living thing”.18 And:

What is consumed is the essence: the individuality which maintains itself at the expense of the universal, and which gives itself the feeling of its unity with itself, just by so doing supersedes its antithesis to the other by means of which it exists for itself.19

Till this point it be noted how Hegel considers life on Earth to be a historical development of a whole consisting of living matter, which upon its development, gained an ability to subdivide into individual shapes. These shapes form the individual living self-certainties, which impose a force of antithesis on each other — Desire. Hegel’s development is based on the way desire was embodied in individual shapes, an the means through which their antithesis is satisfied. For example, individual humans (self-conscious, self-determined agents) have drastically altered the manner in which their desires are satisfied, precisely because of the manner in which life constantly consumes and dissolves solid structures — to produce new structures.19

This is why a self-consciousness achieves the greatest satisfaction when its object of Desire is satisfied in another self-consciousness.20 The satisfaction of Desire, is what allows self-consciousness to reflect into itself and achieve a certainty that has become truth.21 Which leads to one of the most intriguing sections in PoS

Lordship and Bondage

Every S-C seeks a recognition in another S-C through a form of Recognition. This recognition occurs in a two-way fashion, both, as Hegel mentioned previously, the ‘I’ recognizes the ‘We’, and the ‘We’ recognizes the ‘I’. Here, he refers to it as for us and for itself, which are the S-C’s that mutually recognize one another.22

However, there is also a tension of life and death among the two sides which has to be resolved among them. But the death of one of these sides does not resolve the tension because once that occurs, the remaining S-C will collapse into its own unity that “is split into lifeless, merely immediate, unopposed extreme”23. This is why it becomes necessary for one consciousness to be for itself, while the other lives and serve it — the former is lord, the other is bondsman. The bondsman therefore labours for the lord while the latter posses the tools of subjection for the former.24

Through this service, the bondsman “rids himself of his attachment to natural existence in every single detail; and get rid of it by working on it.”25 — A pretty much complete definition of what Marx would later define as labour alienation. In the next paragraph (§195), Hegel defines how the bondsman is actually a more genuine form of consciousness because he is directly engaged with his work. Even if whatever the bondsman produces is for the vanishing enjoyments of his lord, the consciousness qua worker (bondsman) comes to see its own independent being in the work of his own independence. Here Hegel probably means an independence in the worker’s direct, un-alienated relation to his labour, but this could also be a historical independence of the bondsman through many generations of bondage to the lord. In other words, the history of “working out” the freedom of the individuality.

Freedom of Self-consciousness: Stoicism, Skepticism, and the Unhappy Consciousness

Here, Hegel establishes the forces that allow a consciousness to escape its Lord and Bondsman relationship and what he calls “the dialectical movement of self-certainty”.26 He defines two forms:

Stoicism — As the name implies, is a patient resistance and understanding about the lord and bondsman relationship and has become aware of the fact, but does not attempt to unchain itself from it, nor comprehend it in great detail. This resembles a somewhat enlightened state of thought, but not one that allows complete liberation from the present condition.

It is what one may refer today to as the “work ethic”, where an individual recognized the difficulty of his position and forms various forms of various methods of reconciliation with its difficult suffering. But it cannot yet think beyond it.

Skepticism — Skepticism on the other hand, denies what has been merely formulated by Stoicism and attains a state of a freer consciousness that becomes aware of its bonded-slave condition.

But skepticism, although does manage to achieve an independence from the more typical contingencies, it falls into its own contingency that contradicts itself. Because of its constant sceptic outlook, it becomes and Unhappy Consciousness which, as Hegel put quite concisely, resembles a “squabbling of self-willed children, one of whom says A if the other says B, and in turn says B if the other says A, and who by contradicting themselves buy for themselves the pleasure of continually contradicting one another.”27

Here, arises the need for the consciousness to have some ideal, or an “Unchangeable consciousness” to which it can look up to and guided towards (Christ, priest, Justin Bieber, etc.). The emergence of the Unchangeable is characterized in three relations:28

  1. The consciousness appears to itself Unchangeable.
  2. Individuality of the consciousness belongs to the idea of an Unchangeable (Christ, priest, etc.)’
  3. It finds its own self within that idea of the Unchangeable, e.g. “I want to look like Justin Bieber, but am going to add my touch of pink hair, etc.”

On a more serious and more analytical note, Hegel’s historic dialectic can be noticed in the manner in which Christ was the “Unchangeable” idea through which the “Unhappy Consciousness” of the time (bondsmen, servants, tenants) where thought to follow the moral guidance of Christ, that gave them reconciliation29 to their slave condition, up until the enlightenment period. Today we see the same thing in capitalism, where the “God” is capitalism itself, and Justin Bieber, Miley Syrus, Taylor Swift, etc. are the “Christ(s)” or the “Unchangeables” that give the “Unhappy Consciousness” of the mass the power to reconcile their sufferings, while obfuscating the questions of human condition, intellectual dialog, etc. — which satisfy the needs of capitalist-God — the capitalist ideology itself.

The Unhappy Consciousness therefore is reconciled back to its basic activity consisting of desiring and working.30 Thus, this provides the consciousness an “sanctified world” in which it is guided according to the Unchangeable.31

Reason: The Certainty and Truth of Reason

The successes that was achieved by the Unhappy Consciousness, is finding the negative of itself, or its objective extreme — the beyond of itself. This is where the Unhappy Consciousness finds its idea of an ideal existence (e.g Christ), and seeks to fulfill it being according to the idea of this ideal existence.

This starts with the assertion that I am I, which is what cannot be denied according to Reason.32

A: Observing Reason

Observation of Nature

Observation of Self-Consciousness and its relation to external actuality. Logical and physiological laws

Hegel opens up a new observational method in which he seeks to describe the “behavior of consciousness in its actuality”33 which refers to as the study of Psychology. This statement leads slowly to his somewhat subtle hint of defining material history, which consists of “universal inorganic nature” that consists of the given circumstances, situation, habits, customs religions and so on; these form the individuality that can be comprehended in a material fashion, but also to an extent, these also form a self-universal form of the described individuality.34

In one of the following paragraphs, Hegel gives an example that is some sense, depicts how material history of circumstances that also resonates with his Aesthetics: In order to comprehend a particular individual and his external world, there must be two types of pictures: one which are the organic circumscribes of the individual, and the other which depicts the inorganic material circumstances of that individual, in his historic moment.35 To translate that into Hegel’s Aesthetics, a work of art from of the historical past that is viewed in the present, such as Greek sculptures, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, etc. form only one part of this picture, namely, the organic inner subjectivity in that work of art, which the viewer can either perceive profoundly or superficially; the other, or the negative of the first picture, is the second picture, which is absent from our view, but which consists of the inorganic, material circumstances that accompany the the first picture. This second picture cannot be present, because it requires a subjectivity to be present in the circumstances, nor can history or philosophy fully provide a substitution to it.

Observation of the relation of self-consciousness to its immediate actuality. Physiognomy and Phrenology

C: Individuality Which Takes to Be Real In and For Itself

S-C sets its own negative that becomes its own End that it then seeks to achieve which makes action its own category. The S-C is therefore no longer occupied with the other, and instead is occupied with itself — where the effort and aim lie in action itself.36 As Hegel describes, this action now resembles a moving circle which moves freely within itself in a void, and is perfectly content of operating in its own self. This action therefore becomes implicit and forms the unity of thought, making it actual.

The Spiritual Animal Kingdom and Deceit, or the ‘matter in hand’ itself

For now, individuality can only know its reality through the act of being free and realizing its own determinations. It therefore preserves itself as a unity despite the limitation imposed.37 For now, the consciousness qua individual is merely a being and not yet acting.38 Therefore, the individuality struggles in itself to find something explicit for it:

An individual cannot know what he [really] is until he has made himself a reality through action.39

This implies that the individual the individual cannot fully know what his reality after would be, or its End, after his action is carried it. That is, we sometimes make an action for the sake of fulfilling an object, or a Desire, and then regretting it, after we subjectively experience and rationalize who we really are once the action is fulfilled. Thus, an individual cannot know the beginning, without an End, which he must preform according to initial circumstances when doing it the first time.

  1. Hegel, Philosophy of Right p. 35 as referenced in the preface of Phenomenology, p. vii 

  2. §5, p.3 

  3. §6, p.4 

  4. §8, p.5 

  5. §9, p.6 

  6. §10, p.6 

  7. Bernstein, Lectures on Phenomenology of Spirit, day 1-4 

  8. §16, p.9 

  9. §22, p.12 

  10. §23, p.13 

  11. §31, p.18 

  12. §39, p.23 

  13. §92, p.59 

  14. §95, p.60 

  15. §100, p.61 

  16. §120, p.73 

  17. §168, p.106 

  18. §171, p.107  2

  19. §171, p.108  2

  20. §175, p.110 

  21. §176, p.110, sec. b 

  22. §184, p.112 

  23. §188, p.114 

  24. §190, p.115 

  25. §194, p.117 

  26. §203, p.123 

  27. §205, p.126 

  28. §210, p.128 

  29. Marx’s opium for the mass 

  30. §218, p.132 

  31. §219, p.133 

  32. §234, p.141 

  33. §302, p.182 

  34. §305, p.183 

  35. §306, p.184 

  36. §396, p.237 

  37. §398, p.238 

  38. §399, p.238 

  39. §401, p.240