Encyclopedia par. 453
In this paragraph Hegel beautifully states the principle that our concept of the (absolute) Spirit is totally congruent with and even identical to the reality of the Spirit. The philosophy of the Spirit cannot just be a subjective understanding that refers to a reality called Spirit, nor can it be part of the institutions of social reality or Objective Spirit. It is the free self-expression of Absolute Spirit – and that self-expression is precisely the reality of the Spirit.
The concept of the spirit has its reality in the spirit.
Concepts seem to be subjective artifacts with which we refer to a reality. The concept of a ‘dog’ obviously does not have its reality in ‘dog’ but in ‘a’ dog, or in the species of dogs of which there are many. It wouldn’t make sense to say: the concept of the dog has its reality in the dog. One might say: it has its reality in the species of dogs. Meaning the various animals that share the common characteristics of a dog. Of course, the word ‘dog’ is expressive of a ‘general perception’ and not a real concept.
More to the point, even a real concept like the ‘State’ cannot be treated in this way. Even though it is the highest concept in the sphere of the Objective Spirit, one cannot say: the concept of the State has its reality in the State. The reason begin that no single state shows the inner completeness of the concept of State. Another reason begin that our utterance is not a part of the reality we call ‘State.’
But Hegel can say: the concept of the spirit has its reality in the Spirit. What we mean by ‘Spirit’ is already actualized, is already reality, including our concept of it.
If this reality is in completed identity with that concept as the knowledge of the absolute idea, then the necessary aspect is that the implicitly free intelligence liberates itself for its concept, in order for it to be a shape worthy of it.
The first part of this proposition is a statement of fact, the second one describes an inner momentum of free thought.
The statement of fact is the notion that the concept of the Spirit is identical to the reality of the Spirit as Hegel proposed in the first sentence of the paragraph.
The momentum is, that our thinking of the concept of Spirit implies freedom. Spirit is freedom. Our concept of the Spirit must express in itself its identity with Spit the Spirit. And it does so by the fact that it is free. When our thought liberates itself – makes itself free from all restraints – it becomes adequate to the concept it is thinking.
Only then is intelligent thought – i.e. the philosophy of the Spirit itself – a ‘shape’ of the Spirit. My thinking the concept of the Spirit, is the reality of the Spirit. The Spirit that I conceptualize and express in the philosophy of Spirit is a reality at the same time. Concept and reality are identical. But that fact is shown within a philosophy of the Spirit which is at the same time a subjective understanding of Spirit and an objective expression of the Spirit.
The subjective and the objective spirit can therefore be seen as the path on which this side of reality or existence forms itself (¤ 304).
The subjective element of Spirit is the fact that any philosophy will be a construct, an artifact, made by someone. The objective Spirit is the social reality in which this happens. Both are stages of the development of the Spirit in a logical sense – not in a historical sense of course. Absolute Spirit is both: it expresses itself in social reality and in the subjective endeavor of a particular philosophy. ‘This side of reality’, meaning reality as the identity of concept and spirit, forms itself through these previous shapes. It is the ‘sublation’ of both in the new concept of Absolute Spirit.
Conversely, this path also has the significance that the subjective spirit is seen as the first entity which exists in its immediacy without the concept, grasps its essence and forms itself from there, and thereby reaches its free identity with the concept, its absolute reality.
Subjective Spirit is the universal structure of human intelligence. It is not ‘my’ reason in particular, but the reason within humanity, as it exists concretely: in a soul, in an embodied shape. It has an immediacy without the concept, because it actually has to go through the labor of systematic thought to reach the stage of conceptual understanding.
Just by understanding itself, it does reach an understanding of the concept, i.e. that all real truth is grasped by way of the concept and not by way of gathering of empirical data. (Which presupposes the concept anyway.) The free identity with the concept requires the affirmation of the reality of the Spirit. ‘Free’ means without being coerced by Objective Spirit (the State) nor by any kind of natural law. How do I affirm reality to be ultimately ‘spiritual’? Unless by an act of free affirmation that what I understand – the concept of Spirit – is actually the reality of everything? Such an act is free or it is not realized at all.
What is meant by the ‘concept of Spirit’?
It is the idea that the whole of reality is intrinsically intelligence, is self-related, is closer to a subjective agent than to an objective, given existence. The whole must be expressed as subject as well as substance – Hegel claims in his Phenomenology, where the concept of Spirit is first derived.
Hegel is not just saying that Spirit means ‘intelligence’, – which is part of the concept of it – but that precisely like that, it is reality. In my understanding of the Spirit, that Spirit is conceptualized and in that act already it is real.