Restart of the Hegel channel

Restarting the Hegel-channel. I will focus on Hegels work in the field of the philosophy of Religion, starting with the chapter on Religion in the Phenomenology of Spirit.


Brief remarks on par. 27

Brief remarks on paragraph 27 of the preface.

It is this process by which science in general comes about, this gradual development of knowing, that is set forth here in the Phenomenology of Mind.

The phenomenology of mind is concerned with the establishment of science. All philosophy should be science, i.e. knowledge. As we have discussed in paragraph 25, what is known in philosophy cannot be presented as something immediately given. Science must be a system of knowledge, a dynamic development of its object. Science is not just knowing something, but essentially an knowledge of itself in its knowledge of something other than itself. The phenomenology is therefore the presupposition of philosophy as a science. It is the demonstration of what is contained in the immediacy of knowledge with which we have to start. We start with an immediate certainty, or, as to its object, we start with absolute being. In other words, we have to start with a type of knowledge that can claim to be absolute knowledge of the absolute object. Our ordinary consciousness, what Hegel calls natural consciousness, cannot become scientific at one stroke. It has to be shown to be wrong or insufficient. In that step-by-step demonstration the phenomenology will produce the adequate concept of knowledge, i.e. absolute consciousness or science.

Knowing, as it is found at the start, mind in its immediate and primitive stage, is without the essential nature of mind, is sense−consciousness.

So we start with knowledge as something given. We start with knowledge as it appears immediately to itself. As pure and simple being conscious of something. It is without mind, or rather without spirit.

To reach the stage of genuine knowledge, or produce the element where science is found−the pure conception of science itself−a long and laborious journey must be undertaken.

The form and shape of that laborious journey is developed in a more formal manner in the introduction. What is important now, is what Hegel explains in paragraph 28. The concrete and developed shape of the spirit is the result of different shapes that it produced and rejected. In a way the phenomenology is the historic reconstruction of a development that the spirit has already gone through. Natural consciousness contains the ultimate stage of the spirit in history, albeit in a mere immediate fashion. It is the removal of the form of immediacy that we aim for in the phenomenology. The results of the phenomenology, i.e. the concept of science or the shape of absolute consciousness is not something other than natural consciousness but simply its developed form. Only in that developed form can we say that we truly know what knowledge is. And only when we truly know what knowledge is, can we continue developing philosophical sciences.

This process towards science, as regards the content it will bring to light and the forms it will assume in the course of its progress, will not be what is primarily imagined by leading the unscientific consciousness up to the level of science: it will be something different, too, from establishing and laying the foundations of science; and anyway something else than the sort of ecstatic enthusiasm which starts straight off with absolute knowledge, as if shot out of a pistol, and makes short work of other points of view simply by explaining that it is to take no notice of them.

The phenomenology is not similar to the kind of introduction of science that we can find elsewhere. It is not about the axiomatic definitions that are the foundations of a particular natural science. And of course it’s certainly not similar to the type of philosophy that starts with a brief description of some kind of absolute intuition. As a philosophy, it is always in conversation with other points of view because they too are contained as elements or moments in the developed concept of knowledge. Every particular form of knowledge i.e. consciousness, contains the full and complete form of knowledge that is our goal. Only the fact that its expression is merely immediate or self-contradictory, or inadequate is a concern. There is no such thing as absolute error.

The Ontological Argument Revisited

The ontological argument – the argument from the definition “that which nothing greater can be conceived’ – wants to demonstrate that God is necessary from its abstract concept or definition. Kant argued that this position entails a ‘paralogism.’ An unjustified transition from the logical sphere to that of existence.

The problem seems to be even worse. The only way out of the logical order is that of a direct identification of the logical and the ontological. Only when a mental concept gives direct access to existence – in the sense of a direct intuition – can the argument be maintained. If however such a direct intuition is at all possible, the argument as such is no longer necessary. Then we would need to talk again about the implanted knowledge of God. The argument would lean on a presupposition that destroys its own necessity as an argument.

The argument also presupposes that for us Gods existence is only one of the many perfections of God and not identical to His essence and therefore His perfection as such. It reasons like there can be for us a transition from understanding Gods essence to affirming Gods existence. Therefore it presupposes that for us there is a distinction. Nevertheless, precisely the definition of God assumes also that Gods existence and His essence are in itself identical. If God is a being however that necessarily must be understood by us with a distinction between His existence and essence, in a way He is not perfect for us, since there is something that goes before the affirmation of His existence.

God is on that ground not an Infinite being, but finite, since for all finite things one must assume that the knowledge of their essence precedes the affirmation of their existence. If Gods perfection is the identity of His essence and His existence, it must necessarily be also for us. The ontological argument therefore strives to demonstrate the existence of God but its own structure refutes it. What it either proves or merely presupposes is a finite being, which contradicts the definition of what it tries to prove. It must be Gods essence that essence and existence are identical. But then there can be no reasoning that starts from an essence that is thought without existence to the same essence that is thought as existing also.

As I mentioned in my previous blog about Gods existence, the ontological argument would require the separate affirmation that ‘such a being’ actually exists in order to be valid. And precisely such an affirmation is the problem.

Gods Existence is Self-evident?

Then there is the marvelous argument by Anselm.

Whatever is self-evident must be affirmed, as soon as we understand what it means. The first principles are like that: identity, A=A e.g. is understood as valid as soon as we understand what it means.

Is the affirmation of God’s existence like that? If we define God like this:

that thing which nothing greater can be conceived

we must also affirm the existence of it. Why? Because obviously (?) that which exists both mentally and actually must be considered greater than something that only exists mentally. As soon as we understand the word ‘God’ by this definition, we must also affirm Gods existence. That must imply that the affirmation of Gods existence is self-evident and can not be contradicted.

But again we run into problems. First of all, not everyone will understand the word ‘God’ to mean exactly this. So even when we say to someone “God”, that doesn’t mean that our opponent has the same mental image as we do of the meaning of the word ‘God’.

Secondly, even when we accept that someone understands the word ‘God’ in exactly this manner, it does not follow that he will also accept that ‘God’ exists both actually and mentally. One can understand  the argument without accepting its conclusion.

And thirdly, only if we add the premise that such a being does actually exist, will the argument be upheld. That ‘that which nothing greater can be conceived” does exist, depends on the separate statement  – and further argument – that such a being exists, and not on the fact of the meaning of the word alone. If and only if this greatest being exists both mentally and actually can we say that the mere fact that we think the meaning of ‘God’ implies the existence of God. Those who deny the existence of God will not be swayed by this argument.

Wealth in Hegel’s Phenomenology

In our present culture this paradox is made even more complex, by the fact that the dominant ideology commands us to define ourselves by choosing our own lifestyle, by carving out an existence that is highly individual and unique. But how can we achieve that? Relying again on consumer goods, that by their nature are universal, we are supposed to have our own ring tones, personalized mobile phones, interior designs, clothes etc. Individuality seems to reside in the pattern of our consumption. Our unique “lifestyles” must be seen to be the product of highly individual choices. The imperative to be an individual in such a way cannot mask the fact that the nature of this injunction itself is the power of the universal. If all are “individuals” then in a sense nobody is.

This consumerist individuality that I can attain by sustaining a specific lifestyle, seems to correspond with what Hegel called the element of wealth. In my properties, in my wealth I experience myself in a positive way, not just through the differences with others, but I can truly enjoy what I have – implying therefore that at this level I enjoy what I am through what I own. But in this positive self-enjoyment – different from my merely abstract individuality as a citizen – I also experience a negation of my universal being as a citizen. In the measure that I can express myself through my wealth, I am (quasi-)independent of the State, I am
”myself” in distinction to all others and am different from the being that State imposes upon me. This individual self-expression through wealth, makes it possible for me, to accept – or remain passive at least towards – the negative limitations that the power of the State and society in general impose upon me.

Wealth however, in Hegel’s view, in order to do this, cannot only be an individual’s self-expression as such. Though property can be considered as “a” predicate, what I own qualifies me as an owner, wealth is definitely not a predicate of my separate existence. Being wealthy is not something that pertains to me as a singular entity, because it implies the ability to act upon others and presupposes a system of connected “wealths”. Through my wealth I am a part of a system of riches, a “commonwealth”, a chain of social capitals (plural required here) that exist to some degree independently from the State. Wealth, in sum, is itself also of a general nature, it is an universal in itself. Precisely for that reason it appears to be the goodfor all, since its generosity reaches everyone, whereas the limiting state power appears to us as the evil. The distinction between the Good-Wealth and the Evil-State of course, rests solely on the criterion of my interest in individual self-expression.

What then is the relationship between the power of the State and the power of Wealth? The question needs to be asked because the perspective of self-expression is not sufficient. Any individual will experience the State as a restraining evil and wealth as a positive self-enjoyment. Yet on reflection, the State is a condition of my individual survival as well as the possibility of wealth itself. The system by which I can amass money that I do not need for survival, using it for other ends, is made possible by the State – i.e. through the political organization of a society. Without the State, no wealth can sustain itself nor be produced. The State after all makes the economy possible. Free production and the market are not naturally given. Without a system of exchanges, without the regulations that institute a market, no modern economy can exist. That is why the idea that the market should be left on its own without State interference is paradoxical. The market does not exist and surely not as “free” market without government supervision and guarantees. Its freedom therefore has always been relative to government policies.

Yet, wealth by its very nature exists within the State as independentfrom it. It may not be independent as such, but it appears – and not as an illusion but as its mode of being – as independent. It is not the state that produces wealth, it is the state that makes the production of wealth possible. Wealth is not owned by governments, but made possible by its policies. In other words: the State is the necessary, but not the sufficient condition of wealth. Precisely because of this relative independence wealth is deemed to be the Good since it provides opportunity for individual self-enjoyment and self-improvement and thereby enables an individuality not limited and defined by the State – or so it seems at any rate which semblance is enough.

Nevertheless, the independence of wealth with regard to the State is not just an illusion. The State in its effective reality (Wirklichkeit) is itself only possible on the basis of wealth that she requires for her own means of existence. By taxation the State withdraws from the acquired wealth – the surplus of production and labour – what she needs to survive. Partially for her own institutions, by setting people free from the ordinary requirements of labour to constitute a separate class of government employees, “civil servants.” Partially by a process of redistribution of wealth to guarantee social order, and partially for public works like the police, courts and the public space. It is the State that provides and maintains the infrastructure that makes economic life possible. It seems therefore, that the power of the State as limiting is at the same time prviding the basis for wealth; and wealth, though independent from the State is making the State possible. In the individual’s consciousness however there is the moral opposition between the evil limitation and the beneficent wealth. How does this opposition express itself? And what inner weaknesses of state and wealth – though in reality each makes the other possible – gives rise to this dichotomy within consciousness?





[5]Real wages: net income minus the average cost of living.

Robbert Veen

The Two Roads of Revelation

A favorite argument of many Christians is the statement that the knowledge of God is implanted in us. Some may even refer to Paul’s statement in Romans 1:18b-19,where he refers to the fact of the injustice of men,

who hinder the truth in unrighteousness; 19 because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them.

It is the basis of what we call “natural theology”, which implies the idea that God gave a natural revelation of Himself, and a supernatural one. Justin Martyr discussed a “human teaching” that was obtained by the implanted seed of the Logos in every human being, to be distinguished from an insight and understanding that can only be received through Christ. Tertullian, another Church Father speaks about the knowledge of God through the works of creation, giving a testimony to the soul within, apparently thinking of the quote in Romans. God can be known from the visible things, says Augustine, but especially from the inner testimony of self-consciousness that provides a road to eternal truth.

The question is, whether the existence of God can be affirmed from the point of view of human rationality alone.

Catholic dogma affirms that. The Roman Church teaches that “God…can be known with certainty in the light of natural human reason from the created things, though it pleased God to reveal Himself and his eternal decrees by supernatural means.”

The Reformation however put a different emphasis on this distinction. For them, God surely revealed Himself through creation. Yet, our human understanding was so darkened by sin, that we can not not fully understand and appropriate that revelation. ‘Supernatural” did no longer mean: “by a means that was distinct from the natural order”, but it came to mean: “absolutely distinct and opposed to our sinful human self-understanding.” The rational theology of Roman Dogma lost its independence as a rational access to Gods existence.

On the other extreme side there were the Anabaptists and the Socinians. The first group denied all natural understanding of God, and became complete ‘fideists.’ Only by faith could humans understand God, faith brought a complete certainty. And the Socinians went basically the same way, by defending that all contents of faith, all dogma, could be – and should be-derived from revelation. Ultimately this stress on the revelation as source for all knowledge turned into its opposite. Both the Dutch Anabaptists and the Socinians took up a humanist rationalism that more or less replaced faith.

It seems of course, that the knowledge of God must be seen as implanted and in that sense as self-evident. The existence of God seems axiomatic in the sense in which first principles are axiomatic. It is impossible to deny first principles without contradiction. The idea e.g. that A=A, the identity of anything with itself, that something is whatever it is, is self-evident ion that sense. By denying it, one has to rely on it.It seems therefore that such an important truth as the existence of God must be understood as analogous to such first principles. To deny the existence of God must then be a pragmatic paradox – we would rely on the existence of God in the attempt to deny it.

A similar approach would state, that since we cannot ever deny truth without contradicting ourselves – again we rely on what we deny – it is obvious that we cannot deny God, since God is Truth. We would here need a reference to John 14:6 to make that argument where Christ states that He is “the way, the truth and the life.”

All of this argument for the self-evident nature of Gods existence falls short of a very simple experience that everyone makes. Though it is practically impossible to deny the validity of Truth, since it is impossible to even think that there can be no truth without contradiction, it isn’t impossible at all to deny the existence of God. Mentally we are quite able to do so. Psalm 14 affirms that: ‘The fool says in his heart there is no God.” From such an experience it seems obvious that the existence of God can not be a self-evident truth.

The Reformation maintained that some kind of ‘knowledge of God’ is indeed natural within us. Implanted even. But it is just a very general and confused knowledge of something higher and above and beyond human beings. It corresponds with the dimension of Awe that Jewish religious philosopher Abraham Jeshua Heschel speaks about. Thomas Aquinas speaks about the inbred desire for happiness that is common to all human beings, which implies that God who is the ultimate cause of that, must therefore be known to some extent. Yet, this desire for happiness does not constitute a knowledge of God, even though ‘we’ might know that the ultimate source of happiness is God. “To know that someone is coming does not mean that we know it is Peter who is coming.” All men tend to believe in something and put their trust in it for their happiness. That is what Luther then would call an idol. Everything that we put our trust in for our happiness that is not the God of revelation is ‘a’ God to us.

Even so, the mere fact that human beings desire happiness and take the possible cause of that happiness as a ‘God’ that they should serve and adore, does not in itself show the existence of ‘a’ God at all.

Humanity could simply be wrong.