Φ 798. This last embodiment of spirit – spirit which at once gives its complete and true content the form of self, and thereby realizes its notion, and in doing so remains within its own notion – this is Absolute Knowledge.
- Systematic Science as the Self-Comprehension of Spirit
It is spirit knowing itself in the shape of spirit, it is knowledge which comprehends through notions. Truth is here not merely in itself absolutely identical with certainty; it has also the shape, the character of certainty of self; or in its existence – i.e. for spirit knowing it – it is in the form of knowledge of itself. Truth is the content, which in religion is not as yet at one with its certainty. This identification, however, is secured when the content has received the shape of self. By this means, what constitutes the very essence, viz. the notion, comes to have the nature of existence, i.e. assumes the form of what is objective to consciousness. Spirit, appearing before consciousness in this element of existence, or, what is here the same thing, produced by it in this element, is systematic Science.
Φ 799. The nature, moments, and process of this knowledge have then shown themselves to be such that this knowledge is pure self-existence of self-consciousness.
It is ego, which is this ego and no other, and at the same time, immediately is mediated, or sublated, universal ego. It has a content, which it distinguishes from itself; for it is pure negativity, or self-diremption; it is consciousness. This content in its distinction is itself the ego, for it is the process of superseding itself, or the same pure negativity which constitutes ego. Ego is in it, qua distinguished, reflected into itself; only then is the content comprehended (begriffen) when ego in its otherness is still at home with itself. More precisely stated, this content is nothing else than the very process just spoken of; for the content is the spirit which traverses the whole range of its own being, and does this for itself qua spirit, by the fact that it possesses the shape of the notion in its objectivity.
Φ 800. As to the actual existence of this notion, science does not appear in time and in reality till spirit has arrived at this stage of being conscious regarding itself. Qua spirit which knows what it is, it does not, exist before, and is not to be found at all till after the completion of the task of mastering and constraining its imperfect embodiment – the task of procuring for its consciousness the shape of its inmost essence, and in this manner bringing its self-consciousness level with its consciousness. Spirit in and for itself is, when distinguished into its separate moments, self-existent knowledge, comprehension (Begreifen) in general, which as such has not yet reached the substance, or is not in itself absolute knowledge.
Φ 801. Now in actual reality the knowing substance exists, is there earlier than its form, earlier than the shape of the notion. For the substance is the undeveloped inherent nature, the ground and notion in its inert simplicity, the state of inwardness or the self of spirit which is not yet there. What is there, what does exist, is in the shape of still unexpressed simplicity, the undeveloped immediate, or the object of imagining (Vorstellen) consciousness in general. Because knowledge (Erkennen) is a spiritual state of consciousness, which admits as real what essentially is only so far as this is a being for the self and a being of the self or a notion – knowledge has on this account merely a barren object to begin with, in contrast to which the substance and the consciousness of this substance are richer in content. The revelation which substance has in such a consciousness is, in fact, concealment; for the substance is here still self-less existence and nothing but certainty of self is revealed. To begin with, therefore, it is only the abstract moments that belong to self-consciousness concerning the substance. But since these moments are pure activities and must move forward by their very nature, self-consciousness enriches itself till it has torn from consciousness the entire substance, and absorbed into itself the entire structure of the substance with all its constituent elements. Since this negative attitude towards objectivity is positive as well, establishes and fixes the content, it goes on till it has produced these elements out of itself and thereby reinstated them once more as objects of consciousness. In the notion, knowing itself as notion, the moments thus make their appearance prior to the whole in its complete fulfilment; the movement of these moments is the process by which the whole comes into being. In consciousness, on the other hand, the whole – but not as comprehended conceptually – is prior to the moments.
Time is just the notion definitely existent, and presented to consciousness in the form of empty intuition. Hence spirit necessarily appears in time, and it appears in time so long as it does not grasp its pure notion, i.e. so long as it does not annul time. Time is the pure self in external form, apprehended in intuition, and not grasped and understood by the self, it is the notion apprehended only through intuition. When this notion grasps itself, it supersedes its time character, (conceptually) comprehends intuition, and is intuition comprehended and comprehending. Time therefore appears as spirit’s destiny and necessity, where spirit is not yet complete within itself; it is the necessity compelling spirit to enrich the share self-consciousness has in consciousness, to put into motion the immediacy of the inherent nature (which is the form in which the substance is present in consciousness); or, conversely, to realize and make manifest what is inherent, regarded as inward and immanent, to make manifest that which is at first within – i.e. to vindicate it for spirit’s certainty of self.
- The return of the Spirit so comprehended to Immediate Existence Φ 802. For this reason it must be said that nothing is known which does not fall within experience, or (as it is also expressed) which is not felt to be true, which is not given as an inwardly revealed eternal verity, as a sacred object of belief, or whatever other expressions we care to employ. For experience just consists in this, that the content – and the content is spirit – in its inherent nature is substance and so object of consciousness. But this substance, which is spirit, is the development of itself explicitly to what it is inherently and implicitly; and only as this process of reflecting itself into itself is it essentially and in truth spirit. It is inherently the movement which is the process of knowledge – the transforming of that inherent nature into explicitness, of Substance into Subject, of the object of consciousness into the object of self-consciousness, i.e. into an object that is at the same time transcended – in other words, into the notion. This transforming process is a cycle that returns into itself, a cycle that presupposes its beginning, and reaches its beginning only at the end. So far as spirit, then, is of necessity this self-distinction, it appears as a single whole, intuitively apprehended, over against its simple self-consciousness. And since that whole is what is distinguished, it is distinguished into the intuitively apprehended pure notion, Time, and the Content, the inherent, implicit, nature. Substance, qua subject, involves the necessity, at first an inner necessity, to set forth in itself what it inherently is, to show itself to be spirit. The completed expression in objective form is – and is only when completed – at the same time the reflexion of substance, the development of it into the self. Consequently, until and unless spirit inherently completes itself, completes itself as a world-spirit, it cannot reach its completion as self-conscious spirit. The content of religion, therefore, expresses earlier in time than (philosophical) science what spirit is; but this science alone is the perfect form in which spirit truly knows itself.
Φ 803. The process of carrying forward this form of knowledge of itself is the task which spirit accomplishes as actual History. The religious communion, in so far as it is at the outset the substance of Absolute Spirit, is the crude form of consciousness, which has an existence all the harsher and more barbaric the deeper is its inner spirit; and its inarticulate self has all the harder task in dealing with its essence, the content of its consciousness alien to itself. Not till it has surrendered the hope of cancelling that foreignness by an external, i.e. alien, method does it turn to itself, to its own peculiar world, in the actual present. It turns thither because to supersede that alien method means returning into self-consciousness. It thus discovers this world in the living present to be its own property; and so has taken the first step to descend from the ideal intelligible world, or rather to quicken the abstract element of the intelligible world with concrete self-hood. Through “observation”, on the one hand, it finds existence in the shape of thought, and comprehends existence; and, conversely, it finds in its thought existence.(2) When, in the first instance, it has thus itself expressed in an abstract way the immediate unity of thought and existence, of abstract Essential Reality and Self; and when it has expressed the primal principle of “Light” in a purer form, viz. as unity of extension and existence – for “existence” is an ultimate simple term more adequate to thought than “light” – and in this way has revived again in thought the Substance of the Orient;(3) thereupon spirit at once recoils in horror from this abstract unity, from this self-less substantiality, and maintains as against it the principle of Individuality.(4) But after Spirit has externalized this principle in the process of its culture, has thereby made it an objective existence and established it throughout the whole of existence, has arrived at the idea of “Utility”(5) and in the sphere of absolute freedom has grasped existence as its Individual Will,(6) – after these stages, spirit then brings to light the thought that lies in its inmost depths, and expresses essential Reality in the form Ego=Ego.(7)
This “Ego identical with Ego” is, however, the self-reflecting process; for since this identity qua absolute negativity is absolute distinction, the self-identity of the Ego stands in contrast to this absolute distinction, which – being pure distinction and at the same time objective to the self that knows itself – has to be expressed as Time. In this way, just as formerly Essential Reality was expressed as unity of thought and extension, it would here be interpreted as unity of thought and time. But distinction left to itself, unresting, unhalting time, really collapses upon itself; it is the objective quiescence of extension; while this latter is pure identity with self – is Ego.
Again, Ego is not merely self, it is identity of self with itself. This identity, however, is complete and immediate unity with self; in other words this Subject is just as much Substance. Substance by itself alone would be void and empty Intuition (Anschauen), or the intuition of a content which qua specific would have merely a contingent character and would be devoid of necessity. Substance would only stand for the Absolute in so far as Substance was thought of or “intuited” as absolute unity; and all content would, as regards its diversity, have to fall outside the Substance and be due to reflexion, a process which does not belong to Substance, because Substance would not be Subject, would not be conceived as Spirit, as reflecting about self and reflecting itself into self. If, nevertheless, a content were to be spoken of, then on the one hand it would only exist in order to be thrown into the empty abyss of the Absolute, while on the other it would be picked up in external fashion from sense perception. Knowledge would appear to have come by things, by what is distinct from knowledge itself, and to have got at the distinctions between the endless variety of things, without any one understanding how or where all this came from.(8)
Φ 804. Spirit, however, has shown itself to us to be neither the mere withdrawal of self-consciousness into its pure inwardness, nor the mere absorption of self-consciousness into Substance and the nothingness of its (self-) distinction. Spirit is the movement of the self which empties (externalizes) itself of self and sinks itself within its own substance, and qua subject, both has gone out of that substance into itself, making its substance an object and a content, and also supersedes this distinction of objectivity and content. That first reflexion out of immediacy is the subject’s process of distinction of itself from its substance, the notion in a process of self-diremption, the going-into-itself and the coming into being of the pure ego. Since this distinction is the pure action of Ego=Ego, the notion is the necessity for and the rising of existence, which has the substance for its essential nature and subsists on its own account. But this subsisting of existence for itself is the notion established in determinate form, and is thereby the notion’s own inherent movement – that of descending into the simple substance, which is only subject by being this negativity and going through this process.
Ego has not to take its stand on the form of self-consciousness in opposition to the form of substantiality and objectivity, as if it were afraid of relinquishing or externalizing itself. The power of spirit lies rather in remaining one with itself when giving up itself, and, because it is self-contained and self-subsistent, in establishing as mere moments its explicit self-existence as well as its implicit inherent nature. Nor again is Ego a tertium quid which casts distinctions back into the abyss of the Absolute, and declares them all to mean the same there. On the contrary, true knowledge lies rather in the seeming inactivity which merely watches how what is distinguished is self-moved by its very nature and returns again into its own unity.
Φ 805. With absolute knowledge, then, Spirit has wound up the process of its embodiment, so far as the assumption of those various shapes or modes is affected with the insurmountable distinction which consciousness implies [i.e. the distinction of consciousness from its object or content]. Spirit has attained the pure element of its existence, the notion. The content is, in view of the freedom of its own existence, the self that empties (externalizes) itself; in other words, that content is the immediate unity of self-knowledge. The pure process of thus externalizing itself constitutes – when we consider this process in its content – the necessity of this content. The diversity of content is, qua determinate, due to relation, and is not inherent; and its restless activity consists in cancelling and superseding itself, or is negativity. Thus the necessity or diversity, like its free existence, is the self too; and in this self-form, in which existence is immediately thought, the content is a notion. Seeing, then, that Spirit has attained the notion, it unfolds its existence and develops its processes in this ether of its life and is (Philosophical) Science.(9) The moments of its process are set forth therein no longer as determinate modes or shapes of consciousness, but – since the distinction, which consciousness implies, has reverted to and has become a distinction within the self – as determinate notions, and as the organic self-explaining and self-constituted process of these notions. While in the Phenomenology of Mind each moment is the distinction of knowledge and truth, and is the process in which that distinction is canceled and transcended, Absolute Knowledge does not contain this distinction and supersession of distinction. Rather, since each moment has the form of the notion, it unites the objective form of truth and the knowing self in an immediate unity. Each individual moment does not appear as the process of passing back and forward from consciousness or figurative (imaginative) thought to self-consciousness and conversely: on the contrary, the pure shape, liberated from the condition of being an appearance in mere consciousness, – the pure notion with its further development, – depends solely on its pure characteristic nature. Conversely, again, there corresponds to every abstract moment of Absolute Knowledge a mode in which mind as a whole makes its appearance. As the mind that actually exists is not richer than it,(10) so, too, mind in its actual content is not poorer. To know the pure notions of knowledge in the form in which they are modes or shapes of consciousness – this constitutes the aspect of their reality, according to which their essential element, the notion, appearing there in its simple mediating activity as thinking, breaks up and separates the moments of this mediation and exhibits them to itself in accordance with their immanent opposition.
Φ 806. Absolute Knowledge contains within itself this necessity of relinquishing itself from notion, and necessarily involves the transition of the notion into consciousness. For Spirit that knows itself is, just for the reason that it grasps its own notion, immediate identity with itself; and this, in the distinction that it implies, is the certainty of what is immediate or is sense-consciousness – the beginning from which we started. This process of releasing itself from the form of its self is the highest freedom and security of its knowledge of itself.
Φ 807. All the same, this relinquishment (externalization) of self is still incomplete. This process expresses the relation of the certainty of its self to the object, an object which, just by being in a relation, has not yet attained its full freedom. Knowledge is aware not only of itself, but also of the negative of itself, or its limit. Knowing its limit means knowing how to sacrifice itself. This sacrifice is the self-abandonment, in which Spirit sets forth, in the form of free fortuitous happening, its process of becoming Spirit, intuitively apprehending outside it its pure self as Time, and likewise its existence as Space.(11) This last form into which Spirit passes, Nature, is its living immediate process of development. Nature-Spirit divested of self (externalized) – is, in its actual existence, nothing but this eternal process of abandoning its (Nature’s) own independent subsistence, and the movement which reinstates Subject.
Φ 808. The other aspect, however, in which Spirit comes into being, History, is the process of becoming in terms of knowledge, a conscious self-mediating process – Spirit externalized and emptied into Time. But this form of abandonment is, similarly, the emptying of itself by itself; the negative is negative of itself. This way of becoming presents a slow procession and succession of spiritual shapes (Geistern), a gallery of pictures, each of which is endowed with the entire wealth of Spirit, and moves so slowly just for the reason that the self has to permeate and assimilate all this wealth of its substance. Since its accomplishment consists in Spirit knowing what it is, in fully comprehending its substance, this knowledge means its concentrating itself on itself (Insichgehen), a state in which Spirit leaves its external existence behind and gives its embodiment over to Recollection (Erinnerung). In thus concentrating itself on itself, Spirit is engulfed in the night of its own self-consciousness; its vanished existence is, however, conserved therein; and this superseded existence – the previous state, but born anew from the womb of knowledge – is the new stage of existence, a new world, and a new embodiment or mode of Spirit. Here it has to begin all over again at its immediacy,(12) as freshly as before, and thence rise once more to the measure of its stature, as if , for it, all that preceded were lost, and as if it had learned nothing from the experience of the spirits that preceded. But re-collection (Er-innerung) has conserved that experience. and is the inner being, and, in fact, the higher form of the substance. While, then, this phase of Spirit begins all over again its formative development, apparently starting solely from itself, yet at the same time it commences at a higher level. The realm of spirits developed in this way, and assuming definite shape in existence, constitutes a succession, where one detaches and sets loose the other, and each takes over from its predecessor the empire of the spiritual world. The goal of the process is the revelation of the depth of spiritual life, and this is the Absolute Notion. This revelation consequently means superseding its “depth”, is its “extension” or spatial embodiment, the negation of this inwardly self-centred (insichseiend) ego – a negativity which is its self-relinquishment, its externalization, or its substance: and this revelation is also its temporal embodiment, in that this externalization in its very nature relinquishes (externalizes) itself, and so exists at once in its spatial extension” as well as in its “depth” or the self. The goal, which is Absolute Knowledge or Spirit knowing itself as Spirit, finds its pathway in the recollection of spiritual forms (Geister) as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their spiritual kingdom. Their conservation, looked at from the side of their free existence appearing in the form of contingency, is History; looked at from the side of their intellectually comprehended organization, it is the Science of the ways in which knowledge appears.(13) Both together, or History (intellectually) comprehended (begriffen), form at once the recollection and the Golgotha of Absolute Spirit, the reality, the truth, the certainty of its throne, without which it were lifeless, solitary, and alone. Only
The chalice of this realm of spirits Foams forth to God His own Infinitude(14)
v. sup. P. 684. “Absolute Knowledge” is at once the consummation of experience and, when developed, constructive philosophy: v. infra, p. 802 ff.
I.e. Absolute or completely coherent Knowledge.
Cp. Ency. §244; also Naturphilos., Introd.
Cp. Aristotle, Metaph., 107lb, “Movement can neither come into being, nor cease to be; nor can time come into being, or cease to be.”
Adaptation of Schiller’s Die Freundschaft ad fin.; cp. also Schiller’s Philos. Briefe, “Gott”.
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