Some Remarks on the Introduction of the Phenomenology

We know that the preface was written after Hegel finished editing the Phenomenology. The introduction however was conceived at the same time and was written first. That is why the introduction just covers the original three parts of the work. That is to say it deals with consciousness, self-consciousness and reason.

The final three parts that Hegel added, sections on the Spirit, religion and absolute knowledge, are lacking from the introduction.

Going beyond a theory of knowledge
The introduction is aimed specifically at criticizing types of philosophy that were nothing but a theory of knowledge. It was important to Hegel to distinguish the project of his phenomenology, from the philosophies of Kant and Fichte that it resembles somewhat. To Hegel a theory of consciousness is at the same time, all though from a specific perspective, a philosophy of history and up to a point also a metaphysics.
That is what we found in the first two pages of the text. If philosophy is the conceptual understanding of reality as such, i.e. the absolute, then it cannot be conceived as a theory of knowledge at all. Such a theory will, in its classical shape, immediately introduce a destructive presupposition, i.e. that there is a gap between the subject and the object of knowledge that needs to be bridged. It therefore already denies what has to be examined. Therefore a consistent theory of knowledge must have a completely new starting point if it hopes to evade making a metaphysical presupposition that cannot be overcome later on. It has for that reason to be a metaphysics at the same time.
As a principle Hegel has already expressed this in the preface. Substance has to become subject, what is immediately posited as the real must be examined to show that it is an expression of subjectivity at the same time. Only in the identity of substance and subject can the absolute be said to show itself. Then knowledge of the absolute is like a ray of sunlight instead of a prism that collects the light and changes it. It is the manifestation of truth and not the net that we use to catch it.

Consciousness: the spirits appearance to itself
In the same manner Hegel conceived his logic to be both a critique and a replacement for metaphysics in general. The distinction between logica and metaphysics is just as unsupported as the distinction between a theory of knowledge and metaphysics. Or rather: if logic and theory of knowledge are considered to be independent from reality and therefore from metaphyics, they both presuppose a metaphysical position already.

Consciousness is therefore examined in the phenomenology neither as a means to discover truth or a faculty of knowledge, nor as a psychological entity. Both would imply a dualist metaphysics, Cartesian style: knowledge on the one hand and reality on the other. Consciousness to Hegel is – ultimately – the way the spirit i.e. the intelligible and intelligent totality of the real, appears to itself. It appears to itself inasmuch as it is present in the presuppositions, structure and contents of the knowledge that is readily available to a contemporary, educated human being . What we actually know, is based on a specific history in which the shape and the contents of our common  knowledge were produced. The phenomenology analyzes that history not as such, something Hegel will do in the philosophy of history, but by examining the result.

Instead of starting with the notion of absolute knowledge, Hegel starts with the most abstract and implicit understanding of knowledge that we can possibly have. Even that immediate and implicit knowledge has a structure. All theories of knowledge presupposes a composite relationship between a subject that knows, an object that is known, and some determination as to the nature of that relationship. Every mode of consciousness that Hegel examines is like a theory of knowledge, in which a complex relationship of human beings in the world is contained and expressed. The theories of knowledge are like symptoms. By examining the symptoms we can reach an understanding of the underlying processes.

The method that Hegel deploys has some similarities to a dialogue. In any form of consciousness it is presupposed that someone will take up a position and defend it. Then questions can be raised about the consistency of that position. In particular the question can be raised whether the explicit content of the position is in agreement with the implicit conditions.

Up to a point this procedure is analogous to what is most commonly referred to as the pragmatic paradox. That is a contradiction between a claimed position and the exercise of that position. The most common example being the skeptic’s statement that there is no truth. That is not a self-contradictory statement, but the expression of it as a position – the exercise of it – is in contradiction with the claim. I.e. one can think of it without contradiction, but cannot exercise it as a position in a dialogue without contradiction. After all, at least that statement must be in conformity with what the defender of the claim is thinking. The skeptic says what he thinks. His statement is congruous with his thought. That kind of conformity however is a truth.

To be continued

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