Section 8

Absolute Knowledge

by Hegel

'788' The Spirit manifested in revealed religion has not as yet surmounted its attitude of consciousness as such; or, what is the same thing, its actual self-consciousness is not at this stage the object it is aware of.

Spirit as a whole, and the moments distinguished in it, fall within the sphere of figurative thinking, and within the form of objectivity.

The content of this figurative thought is Absolute Spirit.

All that remains to be done is to cancel and transcend this bare form.

The form appertains to consciousness as such. Its true meaning must already have come out in the shapes or modes that consciousness has assumed.

  1. The Ultimate Content of the Self knows itself as all Existence

The surmounting of the object of consciousness in this way is not to be taken one-sidedly as meaning that the object showed itself returning into the self.

It has a more definite meaning.

It means that the object as such presented itself to the self as a vanishing factor. The emptying of self-consciousness itself establishes thinghood. This externalization of self-consciousness has not merely negative, but positive significance, a significance not merely for us or per se, but for self-consciousness itself.

The negative of the object is its cancelling its own existence. It gets, for self-consciousness, a positive significance. Self-consciousness knows this nothingness of the object because on the one hand self-consciousness itself externalizes itself.

In doing so, it establishes itself as object, or, by reason of the indivisible unity characterizing its self-existence, sets up the object as its self.

On the other hand, there is also this other moment in the process, that self-consciousness has just as really cancelled and superseded this self-relinquishment and objectification, and has resumed them into itself, and is thus at home with itself in its otherness as such.

This is the movement of consciousness, and in this process consciousness is the totality of its moments.

Consciousness, at the same time, must have taken up a relation to the object in all its aspects and phases, and have grasped its meaning from the point of view of each of them. This totality of its determinate characteristics makes the object per se or inherently a spiritual reality.

It becomes so in truth for consciousness, when the latter apprehends every individual one of them as self, i.e. when it takes up towards them the spiritual relationship just spoken of.

'789' The object is, then, partly immediate existence, a thing in general – corresponding to immediate consciousness; partly an alteration of itself, its relatedness, (or existence-for-another and existence-for-self), determinatenesss – corresponding to perception; partly essential being or in the form of a universal – corresponding to understanding.

The object as a whole is the mediated result [the syllogism] or the passing of universality into individuality through specification, as also the reverse process from individual to universal through cancelled individuality or specific determination.

These three specific aspects, then, determine the ways in which consciousness must know the object as itself. This knowledge of which we are speaking is, however, not knowledge in the sense of pure conceptual comprehension of the object; here this knowledge is to be taken only in its development, has to be taken in its various moments and set forth in the manner appropriate to consciousness as such; and the moments of the notion proper, of pure knowledge, assume the form of shapes or modes of consciousness.

For that reason the object does not yet, when present in consciousness as such, appear as the inner essence of Spirit in the way this has just been expressed.

The attitude consciousness adopts in regard to the object is not that of considering it either in this totality as such or in the pure conceptual form; it is partly that of a mode or shape of consciousness in general, partly a multitude of such modes which we [who analyze the process] gather together, and in which the totality of the moments of the object and of the process of consciousness can be shown merely resolved into their moments.

'790' To understand this method of grasping the object, where apprehension is a shape or mode of consciousness, we have here only to recall the previous shapes of consciousness which came bef ore us earlier in the argument.

As regards the object, then, so far as it is immediate, an indifferent objective entity, we saw Reason, at the stage of “Observation”, seeking and finding itself in this indifferent thing – i.e. we saw it conscious that its activity is there of an external sort, and at the same time conscious of the object merely as an immediate object.

We saw, too, its specific character take expression at its highest stage in the infinite judgment: “the being of the ego is a thing”. And, further, the ego is an immediate thing of sense. When ego is called a soul, it is indeed represented also as a thing, but a thing in the sense of something invisible, impalpable, etc., i.e. in fact not as an immediate entity and not as that which is generally understood by a thing. That judgment, then, “ego is a thing”, taken at first glance, has no spiritual content, or rather, is just the absence of spirituality. In its conception, however, it is in fact the most luminous and illuminating judgment; and this, its inner significance, which is not yet made evident, is what the two other moments to be considered express.

'791' The thing is ego.

Thing is transcended in this infinite judgment. The thing is nothing in itself. It only has significance in relation, only through the ego and its reference to the ego.

This moment came before consciousness in pure insight and enlightenment. Things are simply and solely useful, and only to be considered from the point of view of their utility.

The trained and cultivated self-consciousness, which has traversed the region of spirit in self-alienation, has, by giving up itself, produced the thing as its self; it retains itself, therefore, still in the thing, and knows the thing to have no independence, in other words knows that the thing has essentially and solely a relative existence.

Or again – to give complete expression to the relationship, i.e. to what here alone constitutes the nature of the object – the thing stands for something that is self-existent; sense-certainty (sense-experience) is announced as absolute truth; but this self-existence is itself declared to be a moment which merely disappears, and passes into its opposite, into a being at the mercy of an “other”.

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