Section 2

Observation as a Process of Reason

by Hegel

THIS consciousness, which takes being to mean what is its own, now seems, indeed, to adopt once again the attitude of “meaning" (1) and “perceiving”; but not in the sense that it is certain of what is a mere “other” , but in the sense that it is certain of this “other” being itself.

Formerly, consciousness merely happened to perceive various elements in the “thing”, and had a certain experience in so doing.

But here it itself settles the observations to be made and the experience to be had. “Meaning” and “perceiving”, which formerly were superseded so far as we were concerned (für uns), are now superseded by consciousness in its own behalf (für es).

Reason sets out to know the truth, to find in the form of a notion what, for “meaning” and “perceiving”, is a “thing”; i.e. it seeks in thinghood to have merely the consciousness of its own self.

Reason has, therefore, now a universal interest in the world, because it is certain of its presence in the world, or is certain that the actual present is rational.

It seeks its “other”, while knowing that it there possesses nothing else but itself: it seeks merely its own infinitude.

While, at first, merely surmising that it is in the world of reality, or knowing this only in a general way to be its own, it goes forward on this understanding and appropriates everywhere and at all points its own assured possession. It plants the symbol of its sovereignty on the heights and in the depths of reality.

But this superficial “mine” is not its final and supreme interest. The joy of universal appropriation finds still in its property the alien other which abstract reason does not contain within itself. Reason has the presentiment of being a deeper reality than pure ego is, and must demand that difference, the manifold diversity of being, should itself become its very own, that the ego should look at and see itself as concrete reality, and find itself present in objectively embodied form and in the shape of a “thing”.

But if reason probes and gropes through the inmost recesses of the life of things, and opens their every vein so that reason itself may gush out of them, then it will not achieve this desired result; it must, for its purpose, have first brought about in itself its own completion in order to be able after that to experience what its completion means.

Consciousness “observes”, i.e. reason wants to find and to have itself in the form of existent object, to be, in concrete sensuously-present form.

The consciousness thus observing fancies (meint), and, indeed, says that it wants to discover not itself, but, on the contrary, the inner being of things qua things. That this consciousness “means” this and says so, lies in the fact that it is reason, but reason as such is for it not as yet object.

If it were to know reason to be equally and at once the essence of things and of itself, and knew that reason can only be actually present in consciousness in the form and shape peculiarly appropriate to reason, then it would descend into the depths of its own being, and seek reason there rather than in things.

If it had found reason there, it would again turn from that and be directed upon concrete reality, in order to see therein its own sensuous expression, but would, at the same time, take that sensuous form to be essentially a notion.

Reason, as it immediately appears in the form of conscious certainty of being all reality, takes its reality in the sense of immediacy of being, and also takes the unity of ego with this objective existence in the sense of an immediate unity, a unity in which it (reason) has not yet separated and then again united the moment of being and ego, or, in other words, a unity which reason has not yet come to understand.

It, therefore, when appearing as conscious observation, turns to things with the idea that it is really taking them as sensuous things opposed to the ego.

But its actual procedure contradicts this idea, for it knows things, it transforms their sensuous character into conceptions, i.e. just into a kind of being which at the same time is ego; it transforms thought into an existent thought, or being into a thought-constituted being, and, in fact, asserts that things have truth merely as conceptions.

In this process, it is only what the things are that consciousness in observation becomes aware of; we, however [who are tracing the nature of this experience], become aware of what conscious observation itself is. The outcome of its process, however, will be that this consciousness becomes aware of being for itself what it is in itself [i.e. becomes aware of being to itself what, in the meantime, it is to us].

We have to consider the operation of this observational phase of reason in all the various moments of its activity.

It takes up this attitude towards Nature, Mind, and finally towards the relation of both in the form of sense-existence; and in all these it seeks to find itself as a definitely existing concrete actuality.

Observation of Nature

  1. v. p. 154 ff.

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