Section 4

The Freedom of Self-Consciousness

by Hegel

'197' Independent self-consciousness partly finds its essential reality in the bare abstraction of Ego. On the other hand, when this abstract ego develops further and forms distinctions of its own, this differentiation does not become an objective inherently real content for that self-consciousness.

Hence this self consciousness does not become an ego which truly differentiates itself in its abstract simplicity, or one which remains identical with itself in this absolute differentiation.

The repressed and subordinate type of consciousness, on the other hand, becomes, in the formative activity of work, an object to itself, in the sense that the form, given to the thing when shaped and moulded, is his object; he sees in the master, at the same time, self-existence as a real mode of consciousness.

But the subservient consciousness as such finds these two moments fall apart — the moment of itself as an independent object, and the moment of this object as a mode of consciousness, and so its own proper reality.

Since, however, the form and the self-existence are for us, or objectively in themselves, one and the same, and since in the notion of independent consciousness the inherent reality is consciousness, the phase of inherent existence (Ansichsein) or thinghood, which received its shape and form through labour, is no other substance than consciousness. In this way we have a new attitude or mode of consciousness brought about: a type of consciousness which takes on the form of infinitude, or one whose essence consists in unimpeded movement of consciousness. It is one which thinks or is free self-consciousness.

For thinking does not mean being an abstract ego, but an ego which has at the same time the significance of inherently existing in itself; it means being object to itself or relating itself to objective reality in such a way that this connotes the self-existence of that consciousness for which it is an object.

The object does not for thinking proceed by way of presentations or figures, but of notions, conceptions, i.e. of a differentiated reality or essence, which, being an immediate content of consciousness, is nothing distinct from it. What is presented, shaped and constructed, and existent as such, has the form of being something other than consciousness.

A notion, however, is at the same time an existent, and this distinction, so far as it falls in consciousness itself, is its determinate content. But in that this content is, at the same time, a conceptually constituted, a comprehended (begriffener) content, consciousness remains immediately aware within itself of its unity with this determinate existent so distinguished; not as in the case of a presentation, where consciousness from the first has to take special note that this is its idea; on the contrary, the notion is for me eo ipso and at once my notion.

In thinking I am free, because I am not in an other, but remain simply and solely in touch with myself; and the object which for me is my essential reality, is in undivided unity my self -existence; and my procedure in dealing with notions is a process within myself.

It is essential, however, in this determination of the above attitude of self-consciousness to keep hold of the fact that this attitude is thinking consciousness in general, that its object is immediate unity of the self’s implicit, inherent existence, and of its existence explicitly for self. The self-same consciousness which repels itself from itself, becomes aware of being an element existing in itself. But to itself it is this element to begin with only as universal reality in general, and not as this essential reality appears when developed in all the manifold details it contains, when the process of its being brings out all its fullness of content.


'198' This freedom of self-consciousness, as is well known, has been called Stoicism, in so far as it has appeared as a phenomenon conscious of itself in the course of the history of man’s spirit. Its principle is that consciousness is essentially that which thinks, is a thinking reality, and that anything is really essential for consciousness, or is true and good, only when consciousness in dealing with it adopts the attitude of a thinking being.

'199' The manifold, self-differentiating expanse of life, with all its individualization and complication, is the object upon which desire and labour operate. This varied activity has now contracted itself into the simple distinction which is found in the pure process of thought. What has still essential reality is not a distinction in the sense of a determinate thing, or in the shape of a consciousness of a determinate kind of natural existence, in the shape of a feeling, or again in the form of desire and its specific purpose, whether that purpose be set up by the consciousness desiring or by an extraneous consciousness.

What has still essential significance here is solely that distinction which is a thought-constituted distinction, or which, when made, is not distinguished from me.

This consciousness in consequence takes a negative attitude towards the relation of lordship and bondage. Its action, in the case of the master, results in his not simply having his truth in and through the bondsman; and, in that of the bondsman, in not finding his truth in the will of his master and in service. The essence of this consciousness is to be free, on the throne as well as in fetters, throughout all the dependence that attaches to its individual existence, and to maintain that stolid lifeless unconcern which persistently withdraws from the movement of existence, from effective activity as well as from passive endurance, into the simple essentiality of thought.

Stubbornness is that freedom which makes itself secure in a solid singleness, and keeps within the sphere of bondage. Stoicism, on the other hand, is the freedom which ever comes directly out of that spheres and returns back into the pure universality of thought. It is a freedom which can come on the scene as a general form of the world’s spirit only in a time of universal fear and bondage, a time, too, when mental cultivation is universal, and has elevated culture to the level of thought.

'200' Now while this self-consciousness finds its essential reality to be neither something other than itself, nor the pure abstraction of ego, but ego which has within it otherness-otherness in the sense of a thought-constituted distinction-so that this ego in its otherness is turned back directly into itself; yet this essential nature is, at the same time, only an abstract reality. The freedom of self-consciousness is indifferent towards natural existence, and has, therefore, let this latter go and remain free.

The reflexion is thus duplicated. Freedom of thought takes only pure thought as its truth, and this lacks the concrete filling of life. It is, therefore, merely the notion of freedom, not living freedom itself; for it is, to begin with, only thinking in general that is its essence, the form as such, which has turned away from the independence of things and gone back into itself.

Since, however, individuality when acting should: show itself to be alive, or when thinking should grasp the living world as a system of thought, there ought to lie in thought itself a content to supply the sphere of the ego, in the former case with what is good, and, in the latter, true, in order that there should throughout be no other ingredient in what consciousness has to deal with, except the notion which is the real essence. But here, by the way in which the notion as an abstraction cuts itself off from the multiplicity of things, the notion has no content in itself; the content is a datum, is given.

Consciousness abolishes the content as an external, a foreign existent, by the fact that it thinks it, but the notion is a determinate notion, and this determinateness of the notion is the alien element the notion contains within it.

Stoicism, therefore, got embarrassed, when, as the expression went, it was asked for the criterion of truth in general, i.e properly speaking, for a content of thought itself. To the question, what is good and true, it responded by giving again the abstract, contentless thought; the true and good are to consist in reasonableness. But this self-identity of thought is simply once more pure form, in which nothing is determinate. The general terms true and good, wisdom and virtue, with which Stoicism has to stop short, are, therefore, in a general way, doubtless elevating; but seeing that they cannot actually and in fact reach any expanse of content, they soon begin to get wearisome.

Φ 201. This thinking consciousness, in the way in which it is thus constituted, as abstract freedom, is therefore only incomplete negation of otherness. Withdrawn from existence solely into itself, it has not there fully vindicated itself as the absolute negation of this existence. It holds the coent is held indeed to be only thought, but in doing so also takes thought as a specific determinate thought, and at the same time the general character of the content.


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