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Chapter 3 "Consciousness" Sense-Certainty, Perception, Force and Understanding
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Chapter 3
"Consciousness" Sense-Certainty, Perception, Force and Understanding

In the preface, Hegel indicates his interest in working out a scientific theory of cognition. In the introduction, he argues in favor of a phenomenological science of the experience of consciousness, which he describes as a process occurring within consciousness.

In the account of consciousness in the first chapter, Hegel provides the initial installment of a series of connected arguments ultimately leading to what he calls absolute knowing. With Kant's critical philosophy in mind, he analyzes the cognitive process on three successive levels. Sense-certainty, the most immediate form of experience, corresponds to Kant's view of the sensory manifold, or experiential given; perception corresponds to his view of objects of experience and knowledge; and force and understanding corresponds to his and Isaac Newton's theories about the relation of the objects of experience to their properties.

The opening arguments of the book have been extensively analyzed.1 This part of the book is not only closely argued but also stylistically similar to contemporary discussion, hence relatively more "accessible" than later parts of the exposition. The main exception is the account of the inverted world in the section "Force and Understanding," unusually difficult even by Hegelian standards.

In beginning with consciousness, Hegel begins with something that is presupposed in theories of knowledge of all kinds. Hegel's analysis of consciousness is doubly distinctive. First, he shows that it is not the unitary phenomenon it appears to be. Levels of consciousness need to


be distinguished and their relations need to be understood. Second, he argues that a satisfactory account of knowledge needs to go beyond consciousness to self-consciousness. For an account of knowledge based on consciousness is inherently incomplete.

Kant maintains that knowledge depends on the unity of the object, or what is to be known.2 Following Kant on this point, Hegel successively examines different levels of consciousness as models of epistemological unity that, on scrutiny, can be shown to fail. This kind of distinction, which was highly original at the time, may now appear to be merely routine. In our century, when psychoanalysis is widely familiar, we are used to Freudian and other distinctions among unconscious, preconscious, and conscious types of awareness that had not yet been drawn in Hegel's day. His frequent claim that later theories build on earlier ones is nicely illustrated in the way that his triadic analysis of consciousness later recurs on different levels throughout the book.3

As the chapter title suggests, Hegel's analysis rests on a distinction among three levels of consciousness, each of which can be seen to correspond to a stage of the critical philosophy. In "Sense-Certainty," the first level, he considers the claim for direct, immediate knowledge in which the mind passively receives information about the external world. This corresponds, in the critical philosophy, to the contents of the sensory manifold that are brought together, or synthesized, by the subject as a necessary, but still insufficient, condition of knowledge. Perception, the next stage, is a form of awareness of the object considered as a thing with properties given in experience. In the critical philosophy, it corresponds to the experience of objects that occurs only after the experiential given—in Kant's terms, the contents of the sensory manifold—is brought under the categories to produce a perceptual object. In "Force and Understanding," the third stage, the subject theorizes about the unity of the single object and its multiple properties. This stage corresponds, in the critical philosophy, to Kant's analysis of the conditions of the possibility of objects of knowledge and experience as well as to the Newtonian theory of natural science, respectively the leading philosophical and scientific theories of the day.

Sense-Certainty: Or the 'This' and 'Meaning'

Hegel here describes the most immediate form of experience. Like Kant, he rejects the view that knowledge is limited to im-


mediate experience. He shows that since language is universal, it cannot name particulars. He argues that knowledge cannot be immediate but can only be mediate.

It is helpful, to understand Hegel's view, to say something about the doctrine of empiricism and the problem of universals. Empiricism, or the general doctrine that experience is the source of all knowledge, can be formulated in different ways. Sense-certainty concerns the most immediate form of knowledge, what, as supposedly directly given, traditionally enjoys the favor of English empiricists such as Francis Bacon and John Locke. According to Locke, our ideas are uniformly due either to sensation or to reflection. Complex ideas, due to reflection, are based on simple ideas directly derived from sensation. It is beyond our power to create any new ideas, or so-called simple ideas.4

Kant and Hegel reject the view of immediate knowledge drawn from experience in favor of other forms of empiricism. Kant, who favors a form of empiricism, since he maintains that knowledge begins with experience, holds that it does not necessarily arise out of experience.5 He rejects immediate knowledge in rejecting intellectual intuition.6 Hegel also holds that knowledge begins with, but does not necessarily arise out of, experience. Following Kant, Hegel also rejects immediate knowledge.

In his account of consciousness, Hegel takes a position in passing on the venerable problem of universals that goes back in the tradition to Plato's theory of ideas. The three main approaches to this problem are realism, nominalism, and conceptualism. Realism is the view that universals are nonmental or mind-independent. For nominalism, there are no universals but only particulars. According to conceptualism, universals are merely mental or mind-dependent. Hegel, who holds that language refers to universals only, since we can only point to, but not name, particulars, appears to favor a form of conceptualism, similar to Locke's view.

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant credits Locke with grasping how to make the transition from particular perceptions to universal concepts—in short, to universals.7 Although Locke is mentioned only once by name in the Encyclopedia,8 Hegel discusses him in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy,9 where he develops Kant's point in some detail. Here he remarks that for Locke our general ideas rest on experience. He explicitly endorses the view that the operation of consciousness draws out universals from the concrete objects of sensation, or sensory experience, while denying that universals, or universal determinations, are true in and for themselves.10 This is the general


argument that he develops in his analysis of sensation in the Phenomenology.

Hegel's exposition of sense-certainty presupposes the modern distinction between sense-certainty (sinnliche Gewissheit) and perception (Wahrnehmung). In Greek thought, perception and sensation are discussed through the single word aisthesis, which refers indistinguishably to perception and to sensation. Kant draws the modern distinction in postulating an unperceived and unperceivable level of sensation to explain perception.

If the first and most immediate form of conscious experience were a source of reliable knowledge, there would be no reason to seek knowledge on higher levels of consciousness. In response, Hegel makes two points. First, there are levels of knowledge, of which sense-certainty represents only the initial and poorest form. Second, there is strictly speaking no immediate knowledge in the form of sense-certainty at all. For all knowledge, of whatever form, is only given mediately and never immediately.

Hegel endorses the generally Lockean view that universals emerge from immediate sensation that he now attributes to the nature of language. He begins by uncovering a basic difference, present in the title of this section, between the object, or 'this' (dieses), the demonstrative pronoun that refers to what is simply present to consciousness, and what we have in mind in referring through demonstrative pronouns, or what we mean (meinen). In calling attention to this disparity, in effect Hegel insists that, as concerns sense-certainty, we cannot say what we mean or mean what we say. The reason is that saying and meaning are separated by the intrinsic generality of language that identifies the true on the level of generality, whereas our immediate intention is to pick out the particular item given in sensation.

Hegel analyzes sense-certainty understood as an immediate, receptive grasp of what is as it is, apprehension without either comprehension or interpretation of any kind. "Our approach to the object must also be immediate or receptive, hence altering nothing in it as it presents itself and in grasping it refraining from comprehending it [von dem Auffassen das Begreifen abzuhalten]" (§90, 58*). Those committed to the English form of empiricism maintain that immediate experience is the only source of knowledge. Locke typically holds that simple ideas are always correct since "can none of them [i.e., simple ideas] be false in respect of things existing outside us."11 This generally Lockean view remains popular. In our time it is reformulated by such Vienna Circle


theorists as Rudolf Carnap and Moritz Schlick, who are concerned with so-called protocol sentences (Protokollsätze ), and sense datum theorists, such as A. J. Ayer, who desire to reconstruct perceptions out of sensa. Hegel rejects this Lockean view, since he denies that immediate knowledge is the "richest" and "truest" kind of knowledge. It is in fact the very opposite, since "this certainty proves itself to be the most abstract and poorest truth" (§91, 58*).

Sense-certainty can tell us only that something is, or that it exists, but not what it is. "All that it says about what it knows is just that it is" (§91, 58). We can only know what it is through other, richer, forms of knowledge. Sense-certainty yields no more than a bare awareness of existence in which "the singular consciousness [i.e., the individual] knows a pure 'This', or single item" (§91, 59).

Hegel, who has so far denied that sense-certainty offers anything more than the poorest kind of knowledge, now attacks the very idea of immediate knowledge. What appears to be immediate knowledge, a pure 'This', is in fact not immediate at all but "an instance [Beispiel] of it" (§92, 59). Sense-certainty concerns something, such as an object, that is certain for someone. "I have this certainty through some-thing else, viz. the thing [die Sache]; and it is similarly in sense-certainty through something else, viz. through the 'I' " (§92, 59*). The distinction between immediacy and mediacy is not imposed by us but is in sense-certainty that itself distinguishes between "the essence [Wesen] and the instance, the mediate and the immediate" (§93, 59). This leads us to inquire if the essence is really directly given, a question to which we can respond through careful scrutiny of so-called immediate experience.

We already know that immediate experience provides no more than a 'This'. To ask this question, we need to ask "What is the This?" (§95, 59*). The word This is a demonstrative, belonging to the general class of indexicals that denote relative to a speaker. To further specify this demonstrative, we must add such other demonstratives and adverbs as Here and Now. Any effort to specify or otherwise to identify what we learn through sense-certainty requires us to appeal to demonstratives (e.g., 'this') and adverbs (e.g. 'now'). Yet there is a distinction between what is given in experience and the universals we employ to characterize whatever is given in experience. Each of the demonstratives and adverbs can be falsified by observation. For instance, the word here that I apply to an experienced object at one moment may not apply at another moment.


This suggests four points deriving from the disparity between demonstratives and what is in fact given in immediate experience. First, the truth of immediate experience is what remains, namely, the demonstratives and adverbs that characterize the given in general terms, or predicates. "Such a simple of this kind, which is through negation, which is neither This nor That, a not-this, and is with equal indifference This as well as That—such a thing we call a universal [Allgemeines]" (§96, 60*). Second, immediate experience yields knowledge through universals only. "So it is in fact the universal [das Allgemeine] that is the true [content] of sense-certainty" (§96, 60). Third, there is an intrinsic difference between language that always refers universally and particulars given in experience. There is necessarily a disparity between what we say and mean, since "it is just not possible for us ever to say, or express in words, a sensuous being that we mean" (§97, 60). Among recent philosophers, Derrida has best understood this idea, which he demonstrates through his deconstruction of any form of definite reference.12 Fourth, immediate experience itself constitutes no more than mere existence since "pure being therefore remains its essence" (§99, 61 *).

This result reverses what we began with since the immediate given that appeared to be essential as the truth turns out not to be true at all. For the certainty that we seek in knowledge, and that we initially describe through demonstratives and adverbs, is found, not in the object, but in the subject's view of it. "Its truth is in the object as my object, or in the meaning [Meinen]; it is because I know about it" (§100, 61*). Since immediate experience depends on the subject, the subject pole must be examined.

The examination of the subject is intended to free claims to know from dependency on an individual subject. Obviously, claims for "my seeing, hearing, and so on" (§101, 61) depend on me. Yet different subjects have different experiences. For Hegel, knowledge claims depend on a subject understood as a person, but not on any particular person, or on any particular observation since "what does not disappear in all this is the 'I' as universal" (§102, 62). More generally, universal knowledge does not concern the view of this particular individual, or the particular thing in view. In fact, it could not since

when Science is faced with the demand—as if it were an acid test it could not pass—that it should deduce, construct, find a priori, or however it is put, something called 'this thing' or 'this one man', it is reasonable that the demand should say which 'this thing', or which 'this particular man' is meant; but it is impossible to say this. (§102, 62)


It follows that knowledge depends neither on this particular object nor on this particular subject. We have already become aware of the distinction between this particular existent object and its properties, or universals that can be asserted about it as its truth. This same distinction can be drawn for both subject and object. "Sense-certainty experiences, hence, that its essence is neither in the object, nor in the I, and immediacy is neither the immediacy of one or the other; for in both what I mean is rather inessential, and the object and the I are universal" (§103, 62*). In fact, the immediacy of the immediately given is unconcerned with what happens contingently to be the case, for instance, with "the otherness of the 'Here', as a tree which passes over into a 'Here' that is not a tree" (§104, 62), and so on.

Hegel now shows that the demonstratives and adverbs we employ to qualify what is immediately given in experience are universals by considering as an illustration 'Now', as in "the 'Now' as day which changes into a 'Now' that is night" (§104, 62). Obviously, the particular 'now' we point to at any given moment immediately ceases to be. Playing on the similarity in German between the past perfect "has been" (ist gewesen) ¾for the verb Sein = "to be"—and "essence" (Wesen ), Hegel notes, "But what has been [ist gewesen] is in fact no essence [Wesen]; it is not, but we were concerned with being" (§106, 63*).

The effort to point out something as now, anything as now, yields no more than a collection of different 'Nows' whose message is "Now is a universal" (§107, 64). A similar observation can be made for any other general descriptive word, such as Here. For immediate experience, or sense-certainty, is not a single event but a developmental process. "It is clear that the dialectic of sense-certainty is nothing else but the simple history of its movement or of its experience, and sense-certainty itself is nothing else but just this history" (§109, 64). Since the most immediate kind of knowledge concerns what is inherently unstable and constantly changing, it cannot count as universal experience.

In drawing the moral of his complex analysis, Hegel again affirms that particular objects, such as the pink elephant I am now contemplating, cannot be picked out through language that is intrinsically universal. Whatever can be said about individual things is said in words that are themselves not specific but general. What we know, when we know, about something immediately given is known about its general properties. In playing on the etymological similarity in German between "to take up" (aufnehmen) and "to perceive" (wahrnehmen), Hegel concludes that knowledge is not at all immediate but mediate. For when I


know an object through experience "I take it up, as it is in truth, and instead of knowing an immediacy, I perceive it" (§110, 66*).

Perception: Or the Thing and Deception

In his account of perception, Hegel studies a frequent theme in modern philosophy,13 where perception is typically understood as "the discovery, by means of the senses, of the existence and properties of the external world."14 Descartes offers an early version of the causal theory of perception. In very different language, Kant later restates Descartes's causal explanation of perception in his analysis of the relation of the phenomena given in experience, considered as appearances, to things in themselves.

Accounts of perception routinely consider under this single heading what Hegel considers separately as sensation, perception, and understanding. For Hegel, sense-certainty exhibits a basic self-contradiction between an interest in truth as universal and a concern with the 'this', whereas perception takes what is given as universal. "Immediate certainty does not take over the truth, for its truth is the universal, whereas it wants to apprehend the This. By contrast, perception takes the existing [das Seiende] for it as universal" (§111, 67*).

Like Kant, Hegel emphasizes the active role of the subject in shaping what we perceive. Perception further differs from sensation in that the subject is not merely passive but active in pointing out the object, or what is perceived. Again like Kant, Hegel stresses the objectivity of perceptual knowledge. Unlike sensation that just occurs, perception is characterized by necessity. He correlates the movement of pointing out and the object pointed out in writing "this perception, that object" (§111, 67*). (Miller's translation has the locution "simple event," which does not appear in the German and only confuses a difficult passage.) For the movement of perception and the object perceived are the same.

Hegel immediately proceeds to redefine the object that has so far been described as a process. In "Sense-Certainty," we learned that universals are suggested by particulars. In his analysis of knowledge as knowledge of instantiated universals, Hegel generally follows Aristotle. Like Aristotle, he maintains we do not know particulars; we only know universals.15 Further like Aristotle, he maintains that it is a mistake to separate the universals, or general terms, from the particulars.16 Hegel


follows the Aristotelian idea that universals are not immediate, or immediately given, but are rather always instantiated in the object, or mediate, in his idea of the "mediated universal" (§112, 67). He now describes the perceptual object, distantly following Aristotle's idea of primary being17 as "the thing with many properties [Eigenschaften]" (§112, 67). The properties, or universals, are given in perception but not in sensation that yields no more than the contradiction above between general terms and particular objects.

Since any object whatsoever seems to be a 'This', any 'This' turns into a 'not-This', and immediate sensation turns into perception. Hegel introduces the term "sublation" to describe the process in which one stage is negated and then transformed into a further, higher stage that builds on it. "Sublation [Aufheben] expounds its true twofold meaning which we have seen in the negative: it is at once a negating and a preserving [Aufbewahren ]" (§113, 68*). Through this new concept, Hegel stresses that the developmental process of knowledge preserves what is true (wahr) in the prior moment. This is clear to the German reader in the terms "Aufbewahren," meaning "to keep, to store," and "bewahren," meaning "to keep, to preserve," although Hegel's claim is obscured in translation. In the negation of the singular object, the 'This' "preserves [bewahrt] its immediacy and is itself sensuous, but it is a universal immediacy" (§113, 68*).

The properties, or mediated universals, coexist in the individual thing. A grain of salt, for instance, has a whole series of different properties. The different properties of anything given in consciousness are what they are through their difference from other properties. Properties are said to be opposed to each other and to what they qualify, namely, the object in which they can be said to inhere as "the moment of negation" (§114, 69). The perceptual object (§115) includes "(a) the indifferent, passive universality, the Also of the many properties, or rather Matters; (b) simple negation, or the One, the exclusion of contrary properties; and the many properties themselves, the relation of the two initial moments" (§115, 68*). A property only is one when it is instantiated, or combines both universality and singularity in the instantiated quality.

Truth and error concern the perceptual object. Perceptual truth, defined as pure apprehension (reines Auffassen) of the object as a thing without either adding or subtracting anything to it, presupposes a direct grasp of the object as it is. Perception of the object "has only to take it, and to behave as pure apprehension [reines Auffassen]" (§116,


70*). Error is merely the incorrect apprehension of the object, not as it is, but as it is not. The standard of perceptual truth is self-identity between the object as it is perceived and as it is. Error, or diversity, concerns its perception, not the self-identical object.

The description of the perceptual object is followed by a description of "what consciousness experiences in its actual perceiving" (§117, 70). This confirms the points just made with respect to the object as it develops in consciousness. This development includes an initial singularity that is later worked up as a series of universals and that finally becomes a series of instantiated properties. The subject constitutes what it perceives. The truth of perception "is reflection out of the True and into itself" that is "not a simple pure apprehension, since in its apprehension [the subject] is at the same time reflected out of the True and into itself" (§118, 71). In understanding that it is at the origin, say, of its misperception of the object, the subject becomes aware of itself as the perceptual source.

Hegel now takes up the vexed distinction between primary and secondary qualities, roughly properties of the independent object and properties of the object as perceived. In his famous wax example, through his distinction between sensation and perception, Descartes depicts perception as an intuition of the mind, or a judgment, which makes possible what he sees.18 In his reply to Thomas Hobbes, he stresses that the various qualities of the wax do not belong to what it is, which he calls its formal nature.19 On the contrary, Locke argues in favor of primary, or simple, ideas as objectively true, since they cannot be false with respect to external things.20 For Hegel, an existing object is both a unity, verifiable in sensation, and a perceptual diversity dependent on the way the perceiver "constitutes" its perception. "So in point of fact, the Thing is white only to our eyes, also tart to our tongue, also cubical to our touch, and so on" (§119, 72).

George Berkeley criticizes Descartes and Locke in arguing that all qualities are secondary.21 Hegel is close to Berkeley in arguing that perceptual qualities are not absolute but relative to the perceptual object. Perception of the object as a thing with many properties is correct, since "the Thing is perceived as what is true" (§120, 73). In perception, "the Thing itself is the subsistence of the many different and independent properties" (§121, 73*).

In perception, there is a distinction between the way something appears and the way it is. In reflection, we become aware that the subject perceives a thing in a specific manner, "the way that the Thing exhibits


itself[darstellt] for the consciousness apprehending it," but that the object "is at the same time reflected out of the way in which it presents itself to consciousness and into itself" (§122, 74*). The perceptual object is as it appears for us and as it is in itself, as well as the movement between these two poles. For "the object is now for consciousness the whole movement which was previously shared between the object and consciousness" (§123, 74). The difference is not subjective but objective. The object is said to have a "contradiction in its objective essence" that attaches to "the single separated Thing itself" (§124, 75).

In perception, the subject's contribution is to bring the many properties of the thing together in a unified object. This in turn presupposes that the perceptual object occurs within consciousness as a unity and as a diversity. For the subject, the object is as it is in-itself, as a postulated entity in independence of perception, as well as for a perceiver, or for-us. The object is what it is as a determinate thing through its relation to other such things, with which it can be said to be "in conflict."

Any perceptual object is what it is through its relation to other things and, eventually, other subjects. It is what it is for others through its relation to them. The absolute character of the thing is, then, relative to other things. "It is just through the absolute character of the Thing and its opposition that it relates itself to others, and is essentially only this relating" (§125, 75-76).

The assertion that a thing is constituted by its relations to other things is important for other parts of the theory. Hegel's famous discussion of the relation of Master and Slave in the next chapter depends on the conflictual interrelation between conscious individuals. Later on in the Phenomenology and again in the Encyclopedia, he maintains that we only become self-aware, or self-conscious, conscious of ourselves, through our relation to others.22

The account of perception reveals that the objective qualities, or very being, of a thing are not absolute but constituted through relation. "The Thing is posited as being for itself, or as the absolute negation of all otherness, therefore as absolute, only as self-related negation; but this self -related negation is the sublation of itself, or the having of its essence in another" (§126, 76*). In fact, the discussion of the perceptual object has been leading up to this view of the thing as both a unity as it is, or exists, and as a perceptual diversity for an observer. Hegel expresses the dual aspects of the object as a unity and as a diversity in saying that it is "the opposite of itself: it is for itself, so far as it is for another, and it is for another, so far as it is for itself " (§128, 76).


Like sensation that turns into perception, the perceptual object is also unstable. It is both the qualities, or predicates, that are instantiated in something and the qualities, or predicates, themselves. Since these are merely different ways in which the object is perceived, or for-us, Hegel says that we have now entered "the realm of the Understanding" (§129, 77). Understanding (Verstand ) is Kant's term for the faculty of knowledge that, when applied to the sensory input, "constitutes" the perceptual object.23 We reach this level when we realize that the perceptual object is "constituted" by us as a condition of its perception.

In the development from sensation to perception, mere immediate certainty is replaced by instantiated universality, or "sensuous universality" (§130, 77). The same object appears from two different perspectives: as it is for us, namely, as universal, since perception is intrinsically composed of universalities; but also as it is in itself, namely, as a single thing, or "true singularity" (§130, 77*). Mere existence is an undifferentiated unity, whereas perception reveals a disunified diversity. What was merely meant on the level of immediate sensation is replaced in perception through an unresolved dualism, which opposes unity and diversity, the same dualism that is already present in the designation of the perceptual object as the thing with many qualities. This is a dualism between the way the object is in-itself and the way it is for-us, that is, a dualism between its unity and its many properties.

The difficulty that now arises is a version of what is usually known as the problem of the one and the many, which is an ancestor of the problem of universals. Plato introduces the concept of participation (methexis) to understand the relation of particular things to forms, or ideas. Aristotle criticizes this view, among other reasons, on the grounds that it generates an infinite regress.24 Understanding, which Hegel elucidates under the heading of sound common sense (der gesunde Menschenverstand), fails to unify the perceptual object as both a unity and a diversity. We are meant to infer that Kant, who insists on the unity of the perceptual object, fails to elucidate it.

For the ordinary person, the philosopher is concerned with mere "mental entities," whereas he is in fact concerned with "wholly substantial material and content" (§131, 78). The philosopher considers such entities "in their specific determinateness," hence as concrete, whereas the ordinary person is preoccupied with "abstraction" (§131, 78). The ordinary person regards as essential what is in fact a mere play of unessential aspects that he hypostasizes. Common sense runs astray in tak-


ing the abstract for the concrete, in failing to recognize characteristics such as white, cubical, tart, and so on, as specific determinateness.

Force and Understanding: Appearance and the Supersensible World

Perception, which cannot explain the unity of the perceptual object, bequeaths an unresolved dualism between sensation and perception. Empiricism founds knowledge on what is given in experience.25 Since the unity of the object necessary for a theory of knowledge cannot be explained solely within perception, empiricism of all kinds is forced beyond perception in order to explain it theoretically.

The references to force and understanding in the title of this passage concern Newton and Kant, authors of the leading scientific and philosophical theories of the day. Both Newton and Kant maintain that knowledge begins in experience; both explain perception through a causal analysis proceeding beyond it. We have already noted that understanding is a peculiarly Kantian term. The concept of force, which is central to Newtonian mechanics, is very old. It goes back, although not necessarily under that name, to pre-Socratic philosophy, where it appears in various forms as a principle of motion. The term "force" is used by Newton, then Kant, and later Herder. Newton understands force as an impulse producing a change of motion, as in the famous second law of motion: F = ma. Kant criticizes force, which Newton takes as an ultimate explanatory principle, as a derivative form of causality.26 Herder, Kant's former student, uses force to refer to an idea that is not rationally explicable but that is necessarily assumed for any psychological interpretation of existence. Hegel, who was aware of the connection between Newton and Herder, criticizes the concept of force, including Newton's and Herder's views of it, in the Encyclopedia.27

The section "Force and Understanding," longer than the two sections "Sense-Certainty" and "Perception" combined, is a good deal more complex, even by Hegelian standards, approaching, in the account of the inverted world, the limits of human comprehension. Even the main line of thought is not always obvious.

Hegel begins by summarizing the preceding discussion to show that perception fails to resolve the problem of knowledge. Sensation, he repeats, does not provide the perceptual qualities secured in seeing and


hearing that are finally reached in what he calls the unconditioned universal, his term for what is true without reservation. Perception of such qualities as blue, round, hard, and so on, is not false. Yet it is correct only when the universal and the individual object, the thing and its qualities, are conceived as a unity that is the same as it exists and as it is known.

Perception yields qualities such as green, young, big, and so on. Such qualities can be taken either as the way the object is for a subject, or being-for-self, as something essential related to what is inessential, or just as that of which we are conscious. So far, the subject has failed to recognize that the object of which it is conscious is its own object. "This unconditioned universal, which is now the true object of consciousness, is still just an object for it; consciousness has not yet grasped the Concept of the unconditioned as Concept" (§132, 79*). For the subject, which takes the object to be solely objective, is still unaware of its role in constituting its object. Yet truth is only implicit unless the subject is aware that it has a hand in what it perceives. In encountering the object, in a sense we encounter and become aware of ourselves. For "in this completely developed object, which presents itself to consciousness as a being [ein Seiendes], it [i.e., the subject] first becomes a comprehending consciousness" (§133, 80*).

The unconditioned universal is posited as the identity between opposing poles of perception, namely, between the way the object is and the way it is perceived, that is, "the unity of 'being-for-self' and 'being-for-another' "(§134, 80). When we take the unconditioned universal as our object, a difficulty, similar to that between sensation and perception, arises in the distinction between "form and content" (§135, 81). Perception reveals an unstable relation between particular qualities, each of which is different from the others, which form both a diversity as well as a unity, and whose unity and diversity constantly change into each other. Perhaps thinking of the reliance on force in physical theory to explain acceleration, Hegel uses this concept to designate the transition of unity into diversity and conversely.

It is in the nature of force to express itself.

Or, the posited as independent [die selbstständig gesetzten] directly goes into their unity, and their unity directly into diversity, and this again back to reduction [i.e., to unity]. But this movement is called Force [Kraft]. One of its moments, the dispersal of the independent matters, is the externalization [Äußerung] of Force; but Force, taken as that in which they have disappeared, is Force proper, Force which has been driven back into itself from its externalization. (§136, 81*)


Force enables the cognitive subject to grasp the unity of sensation and perception, existence and essence, or that the object of knowledge is and what it is.

Hegel's use of the Newtonian term "force" should not obscure the way this conceptual model is exemplified in the Newtonian and Kantian theories alike. This is obvious for Newtonian physics, but perhaps less obvious in Kant's critical philosophy, which features an unclarified relation through which the independent object "affects" the subject as a condition of experience. Kant intends to ground, or to justify the possibility of, Newtonian science.28 Hegel draws attention to the link between Newton and Kant in writing that "the Understanding, to which the Concept of Force belongs, is strictly speaking the Concept which sustains the different moments as different; for, in themselves, they are not supposed to be different. Consequently, the difference exists only in thought" (§136, 82*). Force allows us to understand unity in difference and difference in unity for perceptual phenomena.

Philosophers prior to Hegel objected to the tendency to hypostasize force as a metaphysical entity that, say, Berkeley regards as no more than a convenient fiction.29 With great dialectical skill, Hegel identifies a series of problems arising from the widespread effort in philosophy and physics to explain perceptual experience through a concept that operates behind it. One problem is that, as the conceptual "glue" permitting us to comprehend how the object is both a unity and a diversity, force is supposedly both present to mind and in the object itself, or "equally in its own self what it is for an other" (§136, 82). Another is that, on reflection, the single force is replaced by two forces, one that manifests itself in the diverse phenomena of experience and another that "solicits" the former to do so.

The reason for this latter claim is unclear. Hegel may be thinking of Newton's third law of motion that posits the equivalence of action and reaction. He may also be thinking of the way that, through the parallelogram of forces, any particular force can be considered as the resultant of two other vectors of force. It is at least clear that the concept of force requires two forces, each of which is independent, and each of which is posited in order to make sense of the other. If we distinguish between the manifestation of force and force itself, then it is merely a convenient concept. "Thus the truth of Force remains only the Thought [Gedanke] of it" (§141, 86).

We can, for instance, regard the manifestation as the essence and what is manifested as merely potential, or conversely. Hegel here again has in mind the familiar Kantian theory according to which what we


perceive is the appearance (Erscheinung) of what appears that cannot itself be given in experience. In the latter case, the object appears to the subject, or understanding, as the outward form of an inner reality, the whole mediated by force.

The middle term, which unites the two extremes, the Understanding and the inner world, is the developed being of Force which, for the Understanding itself, is henceforth only a vanishing. It is therefore called appearance; for we call false appearance [Schein] being that is directly and in its own self a non-being. (§143, 86-87*)

Hegel now considers force as unifying the perceptual object, whose truth lies in an inner reality, in "a supersensible world which from now on is the true world" (§144, 87*). With Kant in mind, Hegel notes that the inner world is only the pure beyond. We know nothing about it. Yet Hegel does not like Kant say it is unknowable, but only that "consciousness does not as yet find itself in it" (§146, 88).

It is well known that for Plato the visible world depends in some unclarified way on an invisible, supersensible world as its cause. Thinking of Kant, who sought to ground the world of appearance in mental activity, Hegel now inverts the Platonic argument in claiming that the inner, or supersensible, world "comes from the world of appearance that is its mediation" (§147, 89*). The starting point lies in experience, or the so-called world of appearance, which we only surpass to explain what is given in experience, but that cannot be explained within it.

Kant was deeply knowledgeable about natural science. His view that inner being manifests itself through force in externality is closely related to natural scientific law that is routinely used to postulate a hidden unity subtending perceptual multiplicity. Hegel, who rejects any appeal to what is not itself given in experience, identifies a series of difficulties in this approach. Since force requires two forces, Hegel claims that there is a unifying principle called the law of Force (§148, 90) underlying the play of forces. In regarding law as the regularity of force, he identifies something common to the critical philosophy that places the principle of order in the understanding and to classical mechanics that postulates laws governing the natural world. Both explain phenomenal diversity through an underlying unity, or law, lodged in the supersensible realm, which enables the observer to detect unity, or stability, in the flux of appearance. Hegel characterizes law as "the stable image of unstable appearance" (§149, 90).

Hegel is extremely critical of law within natural science and, later in


the book, of Kant's view of moral law. The generality of law enables it to describe, but finally not to account for, particular cases. Hegel concedes that, in his words, "this realm of laws is truly the truth of the Understanding, which in difference, in the law, has its content" (§150, 91*). Yet he criticizes law as only providing for phenomenal difference in a general, indeterminate manner.

Philosophers typically insist on specificity, as illustrated by the concern of Husserl and Heidegger to go to things themselves (zu den Sachen selbst), in short, to grasp particulars through direct intuition of givenness.30 For Hegel, as laws become more general, hence more powerful, as they explain more and more, they also explain less and less, since they lose specificity, or the capacity to grasp the individual things.

Hegel sharpens his critique of law with respect to Newton. In the Scholium to his great Principia, Newton famously, but perhaps inaccurately, claims to deduce his view from phenomena while avoiding hypotheses of either a metaphysical or a physical type.31 Hegel regarded Newton's opposition to metaphysics as an opposition to thought. He specifically singles out Newton's famous inverse square law in writing that "the one law which combines in itself the laws of falling bodies and of the motions of the heavenly bodies, in fact expresses neither law" (§150, 91*). Universal attraction, or gravitation, or "the pure Concept of law" (§151, 92), transcends specific laws. But it lacks "an inner necessity " relating other, more specific laws as well as the multiple phenomena in a "simple unity" located in "the inner world" (§151, 92). In the cases of gravitation and electricity, the definition of the law "does not contain the necessity of its existence" (§152, 93), which turns out to be merely contingent. Through a reference to Galileo's "law of motion" (§153, 93),32 Hegel further complains that space and time are distinguished, although their parts are not.

After his criticism of specific laws, Hegel criticizes scientific explanation (Erklären) in general. Natural science fails to grasp individual objects through general laws, since explanation operates with distinctions that fall within the understanding but not within what is to be explained. In a word, "this inner difference still falls . . . only within the Understanding, and is not yet posited in the affair itself [an der Sache selbst gesetzt]" (§154, 94*). Explanation in physical theory "not only explains nothing, but . . . really says nothing at all" (§155, 95). Yet it is unclear what an alternative, Hegelian view of natural science would look like. It is not obvious that, or how, natural science could, or should, formulate laws that are both general and specific, accounting both for


things in general and for particulars. Hegel later seems to concede as much in the Encyclopedia, in conceding that even the Philosophy of Nature cannot account for every phenomenon.33

For Hegel, as noted, change in the object is merely change in the subject's view of it. If change is merely change of understanding that is "the inner being of things" (§156, 95), then it is also "a law of appearance itself" (§156, 96) whose differences are not differences at all. For what underlies them is force as a simple unity expressed through law. This suggests a distinction in kind between change in the object and change in the understanding, or two sets of laws: the one governing the inner being of the object that we seek to grasp through a law that relates the multiple ways it appears and the other one governing what the understanding itself brings forth.

Explanation that surpasses experience, as it must for Newton and Kant, results in not one but two contrasting explanatory models opposed at every step. This yields an opposition between the merely empiricist, natural scientific view, illustrated in Newtonian mechanics, and the philosophical view that combines empiricism and idealism, illustrated in Kant's critical philosophy.

Hegel contrasts these two models in an extremely difficult passage, whose interpretation is uncertain,34 based on a distinction between the world and the so-called inverted world. There is an obvious opposition between Newton, the natural scientist, and Kant, the philosopher, each of whom explains the world of experience through a further, supersensible world, but from opposing perspectives. Newton derives laws from experience, whereas Kant formulates laws intended to ground the possibility of experience. Hegel illustrates difficulties that arise in any position locating laws in a supersensible other world by inventing the peculiar conception of an "inverted" world in which the inner is the outer and the outer is the inner.

He has earlier used this and related terms in other contexts. In his introduction to the Critical Journal of Philosophy, perhaps referring to Kant, he remarks that philosophy sets itself through the understanding against common sense in "an inverted world [eine verkehrte Welt]."35 He frequently employs forms of the verb verkehren, meaning in the first instance "to reverse, to invert, to turn upside down," and so on, to indicate a basic error.

The normal world and its inverted counterpart, which are polar opposites, need to be brought into relation. As a consequence of rejecting the original approach embodied in "the first supersensible world, the


tranquil kingdom of laws, the immediate copy of the perceived world is changed into its opposite" (§157, 96). Behind florid rhetoric that at times approaches impenetrability, Hegel suggests that the critical philosophy, which claims to ground Newtonian physics, must "include" it, as the supersensible world "includes" the normal world.

For Plato, as the science of the sciences philosophy grounds, or justifies, its own and all other claims to know. Kant, who famously claimed to understand Plato better than he understood himself, applies a version of this approach to modern science and modern mathematics. For Kant, mathematics, Newtonian science, and the future science of metaphysics must be "grounded" in a philosophical explanation of their possibility. Probably referring to the Kantian inversion of the Newtonian world, Hegel writes that

the supersensible world, which is the inverted world, has at the same time overarched [über(ge)griffen] the other world and itself; it is for itself inverted, that is the inverted of itself. It is itself and its inversion in a unity. Only in this way is the difference as internal, or difference in itself, or as infinity [ünendlichkeit]. (§160, 99*)

By "infinity" Hegel means "a law that contains immanent necessity." Such a law is precisely infinite, or unlimited, in virtue of its ability to grasp the particular, since "all the moments of appearance [Erscheinung] are taken up into the inner world" (§161, 99). Infinity is also called "the absolute Notion," as "the simple essence of life, the soul of the world, the universal blood" (§162, 101). The distinction between the knower and the known, or between the cognitive subject and the object, is overcome when, on a deeper level, the subject and object poles form a unity. In reflection, the subject becomes aware that whatever is known in consciousness just is in consciousness.

What this means can be illustrated through a trivial example. Hegel contends that when we examine the process of cognition, we become aware not only that in a sense the snow that I see on the ground outside my window is my consciousness or, to put the point bluntly but not inaccurately, in a sense I am the snow but also that in a way I am everything of which I can be aware. This is a version of the idealist thesis that what is only is for a subject, maintained in German idealism by Kant and earlier by, say, Berkeley and Aristotle. For the latter, the subject, or the soul, is in a way the object as a condition of knowledge.36

Hegel's point is related to the modern view of subjectivity. For Kant,


we finally experience and know only ourselves. Extending this idea, Hegel again insists that cognition rests on self-consciousness. He argues for this thesis by recapitulating his analysis in this section. Infinity, or the capacity to go beyond any and all differences, is present from the beginning, and displayed in appearance. Yet we only become aware of this capacity when we reflect on the nature of explanation that, as Hegel notes, "is primarily only a description of what self-consciousness is" (§163, 101). For instance, the rigor of explanation through laws is only the rigor of the understanding. Understanding, featured in Kant, necessarily falls short of infinity in failing to grasp the object, hence in failing to grasp concreteness.

It is obvious that the dualistic approach featured in Newton and Kant is unable either to overcome dualism or to grasp the object. The object can only be grasped through a turn to the concept that, for Hegel, is basic to science of all kinds, including natural science and philosophy. For "the same object that is in a sensuous covering for the Understanding is for us in its essential form as a pure Concept. This grasp [Auffassen] of the difference as it in truth is, or the grasp of infinity as such, is for us, or in itself. The exposition of its Concept belongs to Science" (§164, 102*).

The first step beyond the understanding is to realize that, in becoming aware of an external object in principle independent of us, we are in fact only aware of ourselves. Hegel reinforces this message, whose weight will emerge in the next section, in writing,

The necessary advance from the previous shapes of consciousness for which their truth was a Thing, an 'other' than themselves, expresses just this, that not only is consciousness of a thing possible only for a self-consciousness, but that this alone is the truth of those shapes. But it is only for us that this truth exists, not yet for consciousness. But self-consciousness has at first become for itself, not yet as a unity with consciousness in general. (§164, 102*)

Hegel now sums up his discussion in a way that obviously foreshadows the theory of self-consciousness he will expound in the next chapter. Again stressing the role of the subject in perception, he remarks that "we see that in the inner world of appearance, the Understanding in truth comes to experience nothing else but appearance [. . ..] in fact only itself" (§165, 102-103*). Consciousness perceives itself in a unity with the supersensible world through the appearance. The appearance is, then, only a mediating term between the subject that ex-


periences and knows and the object as essence underlying the object as appearance.

Kant's understanding of objects of experience and knowledge as mere appearances of an independent reality suggests two views of knowledge. Kant limits experience and knowledge to appearances. This line of argument leads, as Salomon Maimon, Kant's contemporary, notes, to skepticism, since we can never penetrate behind appearances to know essences.37 The other, contrary interpretation is to understand the separation between independent reality and appearance as relative. For, under specifiable conditions, the subject can go beyond the appearance to grasp reality, or the essence, if the essence can appear within consciousness. The difficulty is to explain how this is possible. Since in a "constructivist" approach, such as Kant's, we "produce" what we experience and know, it must be that whatever we find when we go behind the curtain of appearance is put there by ourselves.

It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain which is supposed to conceal the inner world, there is nothing to be seen unless we go behind it ourselves, as much in order that we may see, as that there may be something behind there which can be seen. But at the same time it is evident that we cannot without more ado go there straightaway. For this knowledge of what is the truth of appearance, as ordinarily conceived, and of its inner being, is itself only a result of a complex movement whereby the modes of consciousness [such as] 'meaning', perceiving, and the Understanding vanish; and it will be equally evident that the cognition of what consciousness knows in knowing itself, requires a still more complex movement, the exposition of which is contained in what follows. (§165, 103*)

Hegel here makes four points that will be decisive for the remainder of the book. First, like Kant, he commits himself to the view that there is knowledge, since essence, what Kant dalls the thing-in-itself, appears within consciousness. He hence commits himself to making good on the spirit, if not the letter, of the Kantian theory of knowledge. This is a point that Kant fails to explain since he has no coherent account of the relation of the appearance to what appears, of the representation to what is represented. Second, Hegel acknowledges it is not possible without further discussion to go beyond appearance to essence. This is a reaffirmation of his denial of any form of immediate knowledge, a view he shares with Kant. Third, he again stresses the role of the subject, the key for Kant and all philosophy since Descartes, which in a different way will also be the key for his own theory. Fourth, he indicates that, since we cannot go beyond appearance to essence without


further development, it is necessary to burst the bounds of the Kantian conceptual framework to make good on the Kantian aim. Hegel immediately takes steps to do so in his analysis of self-consciousness that extends the Kantian problematic beyond the confines of the critical philosophy.


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