In the Spirit of Critique: Critical Theory in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Dissertation, New School for Social Research (2018)

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In the Spirit of Critique: Critical Theory in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

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IN THE SPIRIT OF CRITIQUE Critical Theory in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Michael A. Becker

This dissertation is a reconstruction of Hegel’s 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit that establishes its underlying continuity with “Frankfurt School” thought. In three parts, it shows how Hegel’s early text expounds the “inner cells” of a unified and defensible critical theory. Part I shows that the Phenomenology obeys an exacting model of “immanent critique” – a philosophical method that promotes a self-reflexive transformation in “spirit.” I additionally connect Hegel’s discussion of “speculative sentences” to this immanent method. Part II develops an interpretation of the “object” corresponding to this method, so-called “natural consciousness.” I claim that the Phenomenology exhibits natural consciousness as the bearer of a “second nature” that must be “defetishized” through Hegel’s critical procedure. Further, I show that, in the “blindness” suffered by natural consciousness, Hegel has constructed an early model of “ideological delusion.” Part III advances the view that the entire Phenomenology can be read as a derivation of the immanent-critical standpoint, as it subverts all standpoints that remain “external” to their objects. The Phenomenology suggests, in fact, that this structure of “externality” is at the core of three modern “rational pathologies”: namely, “instrumental reason,” “nihilistic disenchantment,” and “moralizing criticism.” The Conclusion recollects the various “cells” isolated in the preceding discussion and integrates them into a Hegelian Critical Theory. The dissertation ends by contemplating several intellectual-historical questions regarding Hegel’s own intentions for such a critically transformative philosophy.

IN THE SPIRIT OF CRITIQUE Critical Theory in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit


Michael A. Becker

September 2018

Submitted to The New School for Social Research of The New School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Dissertation Committee: Dr. Jay M. Bernstein, Chair (The New School for Social Research) Dr. Richard J. Bernstein (The New School for Social Research) Dr. Rahel Jaeggi (Humboldt University of Berlin) Dr. Frederick Neuhouser (Barnard College, Columbia University)

For my mom and dad, with love


I would like to say a word of thanks to all the people and institutions who have helped me through the process of writing this dissertation, beginning with the members of my committee: Jay Bernstein, Dick Bernstein, Rahel Jaeggi, and Fred Neuhouser. Jay has been an exceptional advisor since I arrived at the New School and has offered unwavering support for all my philosophical explorations. His early enthusiasm for the major ideas in this dissertation, and his illuminating feedback on earlier drafts of my writing, have made all the difference. The finished project has also benefited tremendously from the time I spent as Jay’s TA during his most recent Hegel lectures. Observing Jay up close for the year – together with the mixed blessing of marking up hundreds of student “minicommentaries” on the Phenomenology! – presented a vital opportunity to test out my interpretation with and against others’. I would like to thank Dick, who for years has inspired me both in his teaching and his scholarship. His yearlong seminar on the Phenomenology was a formative experience in my intellectual development, and I thank him, as well, for his early encouragement over the direction of my project. He has remained a discerning interlocutor concerning all things Hegel. Thank you to Rahel, who graciously took me on as her RA during her stay at the New School as the visiting Theodor Heuss Professor. I have long admired her written work, and it was a pleasure to spend time, in person, discussing the relation of Hegel to the Frankfurt School tradition. Lastly, I would like to thank Fred – the most recent addition to my committee – for taking the time to comment on a chapter draft and for discussing it with me during office hours. I have learned much from Fred’s own scholarship on Hegel’s social philosophy, and I am deeply appreciative of the interest he has shown in my work. And thanks – all four of you – for all your professional assistance as I attempt to navigate the perilous job market. I was put on the path to graduate school by a number of inspiring professors at Syracuse University, whom I would like to mention here: Linda Alcoff, Frederick Beiser, Gail Hamner, Crystal Bartolovich, Zachary Braiterman, Edward Mooney, and Marcia Robinson. Thank you, again, for your early mentorship.


The ideas in this dissertation first began to take shape during a philosophy prospectus seminar at the New School, led by Alice Crary. I would like to thank Alice for her probing questions and comments, as well as the other participants in this seminar. I would especially like to thank my friends Joseph Lemelin and Jordi Graupera for conversations about my prospectus documents, and Edward Guetti, who very thoughtfully moderated a discussion about my project. For their friendship and bracing philosophical discussion, I would like to thank my past and present co-organizers of the New York German Idealism Workshop: Alison Fernandes, Borhane Hamelin, Thimo Heisenberg, Anna Katsman, Gal Katz, Jacob McNulty, and Scott Shushan. And I would like to thank the many distinguished scholars who have come to present their work at our monthly events over the years. For many exchanges about Frankfurt School thought, I would also like to single out the following participants in a longstanding critical theory reading group at the New School: Nick Chambers, Eric Reynolds, Mithra Lehn, and Malte Fabian Rauch. I would also like to thank my philosophy students at St. Francis College, and in particular Tvrtko Vrdoljak, with whom I first charted the intellectual history of critical theory from Kant to Habermas. I am indebted to the University of Bonn’s Summer School in German Philosophy, and its hosts, Markus Gabriel and Michael Forster, for an intensive, stimulating two weeks immersed in Hegel’s writings. Likewise, I am indebted to the recent Critical Theory Summer School at Humboldt in Berlin, where I had the opportunity to participate in discussions reflecting “state of the art” Frankfurt School thought. Here I would like to acknowledge two luminaries of Adorno scholarship, Susan Buck-Morss and Robert Hullot-Kentor. Susan graciously allowed me to sit in on her critical theory seminar and listened to me describe my project. And Bob happily discussed critical theory with me, both through email and during his office hours, and offered much-appreciated encouragement. More recently, I have been indebted to the following scholars of German Idealism for very helpful philosophical exchanges, both about their work and mine, both in person and through email: Terry Pinkard, Thomas Khurana, Timo Jütten, Andreja Novakovic, and William Maker. Soon after moving to New York, I made three good friends: Clayton Shoppa, Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau, and Santiago Rey. I would like to thank them for their years of friendship, and for discussing several iterations of this project with me. Regrettably, three of my grandparents did not live to see this achievement: Arthur Becker, Miriam Becker, and Sidney Lieberstein. So I am all the more thankful that Eunice Lieberstein is here to celebrate with me. To all of them, I say thank you.


I would like to thank my siblings, Sam, Jack, Emily and Zoe, who have provided love and cheer – as well as much-needed distraction during stressful periods in academia. This dissertation is dedicated to my mom and dad, who have provided unconditional love, support and indulgence for the “life of the mind” I’ve chosen. They could not have realized they were raising a Left Hegelian, but I thank them for it. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to Cæcilie “Cille” Varslev-Pedersen, for many philosophical discussions (and arguments), as well as her constant encouragement, support, humor, patience, and love. For all these things, these past years, thank you.

A version of Chapter 1 has been published in Hegel Bulletin as “On Immanent Critique in Hegel’s Phenomenology,” and a version of Chapter 3 is forthcoming in International Journal of Philosophical Studies as “Second Nature, Critical Theory, and Hegel’s Phenomenology.” Additionally, a version of Chapter 2 has been under review at British Journal for the History of Philosophy. In each case, my dissertation has profited considerably from the expert attention of anonymous referees at these journals.





Introduction: Hegel and Critical Theory


Part I: Immanent Critique and the Speculative Sentence On Method in the Phenomenology Introduction to Part I: Does Hegel Have a Method?


Chapter 1: Immanent Critique in the Phenomenology


Excursus on Determinate Negation


Chapter 2: Method and the Speculative Sentence


Conclusion to Part I: A Summary, a Hypothesis, and a Coda


Part II: Aspects of Natural Consciousness The Phenomenology’s Object Introduction to Part II: Interpreting Natural Consciousness


Chapter 3: Second Nature in the Phenomenology


Chapter 4: From Blindness to Ideology


Part III: Instrumental Reason, Nihilism, and Moralizing Criticism On the Externality of Natural Consciousness Introduction to Part III: Uniting Method and Content


Chapter 5: From Instrumental Reason to Moralizing Criticism


Conclusion: Towards a Hegelian Critical Theory






This study is a reconstruction of Hegel’s 1807 Phänomenologie des Geistes (hereafter PhG) that establishes its underlying continuity with “Frankfurt School” critical theory.1 In this my aim is not to trace Hegel’s direct or indirect influence on this 20th century tradition. A number of commentators have already charted this intellectual history. 2 My goal is rather to reinterpret the PhG as a foundational work of critical theory in its own right.3 In particular, I will show how Hegel’s text systematically expounds the defining “inner cells” of a critical theory – including such cells as “immanent critique,” “determinate negation,” “ideology,” and “instrumental reason” – and gathers them into a coherent whole. In this way, my dissertation combines a fresh interpretation of the PhG’s central ideas with the derivation of a properly Hegelian critical theory. I call the following study a “reconstruction” advisedly. It is not a running commentary on the PhG as a whole, or a specialized treatment of specific sections, but rather “an x-ray picture revealing the vital organs and skeleton of the work,” to employ another commentator’s evocative In this study, I will use the designation “Frankfurt School” in a broad sense to encompass, not only “official” Institute members like Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse, but also “satellite” figures including Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch, and Walter Benjamin. For studies of this tradition, see Jay (1973), Buck-Morss (1979), Kellner (1989), and Wiggershaus (1995). 2 Studies on the Frankfurt School occasionally dedicate a chapter to this Hegelian inheritance, for example Benhabib (1986: chs. 1-3). There is a recent overview of this topic in Finlayson (2017). Bowie (2013: ch. 3), Jarvis (1998: ch. 6), O’Connor (2015: ch. 1) and Schweppenhäuser (2009: ch. 3) discuss Adorno’s debt to Hegel; Abromeit (2011: ch. 8) and Held (1990: ch. 6) trace the influence of Hegel on Horkheimer; and Kellner (1984: ch. 5) discusses Marcuse’s appropriation of Hegel’s thought. Of course, Hegel’s importance for this tradition is documented “firsthand” in the studies by Adorno (1993); Bloch (1976) and (1983); Lukács (1975); Marcuse (1941) and (1989); as well as, more recently, Habermas (1974: esp. chs. 3-5) and (1990: ch. 2); and Honneth (1995: part I). 3 At the same time, this sort of undertaking is not unprecedented. A handful of others, including Bernstein (2004), BuckMorss (2009), Honneth (2010), Ifergan (2014), Jameson (2010), Maker (2000), Marasco (2015), Menke (2013), Rose (1981), and Smith (1989: ch. 6), also attempt to uncover the genuinely “critical” content of Hegel himself. With the partial exception of Jameson’s short, rather dissimilar text, however, I am unaware of any large-scale interpretation of the PhG, specifically, carried out in this spirit. 1


phrase.4 In most instances, my procedure will be to develop close readings of material from the “Preface” [Vorrede] and “Introduction” [Einleitung] to the PhG for insight into the book’s method, content and structure, thereafter making liberal use of the body of the text – the concrete itinerary of “spirit” – to ratify and illuminate these readings. This approach distinguishes my study from the majority, which typically either follow the sections of Hegel’s book sequentially, or else elevate certain episodes to prominence at the expense of others.5 By contrast, each chapter of the present, thematic study is dedicated to elucidating one or more of the critical-theoretical “cells” flagged in Hegel’s introductory discussions that, I show, pervade the PhG in its entirety. Other subtle and unsubtle differences between my interpretation and others’, past and present, will emerge in the course of this dissertation. Throughout I will be steering a course between readings that have conferred primacy on, variously, the epistemological, metaphysical, anthropogenetic and existentialist dimensions of Hegel’s text.6 Though most of these scholarly disputes are restricted to footnotes, at certain moments I will be particularly eager to differentiate my reading of the PhG from the views of recent Anglophone commentators – the so-called “neopragmatist” school of interpretation – who have, I will argue, blunted the genuinely radical edge of this text.7 So I will say a word directly about this now-dominant trend here. This approach to Hegel, represented in writings by inter alia Robert Brandom, John McDowell, Robert Pippin, Paul Redding, and Terry Pinkard, has done much to “modernize” the PhG, alternately construed as an early Forster (1998: 1). Some of the better-known “sequential” commentaries are Hyppolite (1974), Flay (1984), Harris (1997), Pinkard (1994), and, more recently, Houlgate (2013) and Siep (2014). Examples of “specialist” studies that overwhelmingly emphasize particular sections include Kojève (1969), Buck-Morss (2009), Comay (2011), Shklar (1976), Russon (1997), and K. Westphal (2003). A third “class” of commentaries might include those that offer substantial readings of the PhG, but only in the context of defending a larger claim about Hegel’s philosophy as a whole. This group would include Pippin (1989), Fackenheim (1967), Förster (2012), Redding (1996), Rose (1981), Williams (1992), and Brudner (2017). 6 A helpful classification of the different approaches to interpreting the PhG may be found in Collins (2013: chs. 2 and 11), while Stern (2013: ch. 8) provides a clear account of the PhG’s reception history. For “epistemological” readings, see Collins (2013), K. Westphal (2003), Winfield (2013); for “metaphysical” readings, see Houlgate (2013) and Taylor (1975); for “anthropogenetic” readings, see Royce (1919), Kojève (1969) and Lukács (1975); and for “existentialist” readings, see Hyppolite (1974), Merleau-Ponty (1964) and, more recently, Russon (2004). 7 See especially my “Excursus” at the midpoint of Part I, my discussion of “second nature” in Chapter 3, as well as the Conclusion generally. 4 5


statement of anti-Cartesianism, inferential semantics, non-metaphysical naturalism, the sociality of reason, and other influential positions in 20th century analytic philosophy. 8 Nonetheless, while frequently illuminating, these interpretations have tended to understate, if not suppress, the PhG’s “critical” implications for social thought generally. Indeed, as I read it, Hegel’s text should be understood principally as an answer to an orienting question of critical theory: how can we effectively criticize human reality, and on what normative basis? For in this work, which famously chronicles the selftransformative development of an idealized consciousness – “spirit” – Hegel illustrates precisely how certain “irrational” attitudes, practices and social contexts may be critiqued and subverted. In the PhG, that is, Hegel daringly ventured to place “critique,” in the widest sense, on a firm methodological foundation. In a moment, I will outline the main arguments of my dissertation. Before doing so, though, I would like briefly to distance my project from another, superficially similar body of literature: one primarily concerned with Hegel’s purported anticipation of Marx and Marxism. Authors belonging to this genre emphasize that theoretical innovations routinely credited to Marx are already to be found, fully formed, in Hegel’s (published and unpublished) writings. 9 Attracted by a more or less “mystified” presentation of materialist ideas, this literature singles out Hegel’s analysis of phenomena broadly expressing the “primacy of the economic”: self-creating work; the domination exercised through ownership; the sociality of labor – the so-called “system-of-needs” – and its dehumanizing or “alienating” modern forms; the vexed relation of civil society and state; the

A representative selection includes Brandom (2002: chs. 6-7) and (2009); McDowell (1994) and (2009: part III); Pinkard (1994) and (2012); Redding (1996) and (2011); and Pippin (1989) and (2011). For an discussion of this scholarship, see Kreines (2006). For more critical treatments, see Bowie (ch. 3), Lumsden (2008) and Midtgarden (2013). 9 The “From Hegel to Marx” genre gives ample evidence of this fact. See Hook (1994), Avineri (1972: esp. ch. 7), and Hyppolite (1973). Among more recent works, see MacGregor (1998), Postone (2009), and Wood (1993). There are helpful discussions of the PhG’s “Marxian” reception – including Kojève’s Marxian-Heideggerian reading – in the recent studies by Houlgate (2013: ch. 4), Siep (2014: ch. 7), and Stern (2013: 232-234 and 237-239). Of course, with his 1844 Manuscripts, Marx himself was arguably the first contributor to this genre. See Marx (1988). 8


intractability of poverty; and so on.10 Accordingly, from the perspective implied by this literature, Hegel’s “critical” value seems to consist in elucidating, justifying, supplementing or even correcting the insights of Marxism.11 (Often enough, the text or subtext of this literature is that Hegel “betrays” these insights somewhere along his path to maturity, in favor of ideological accommodation and the very “abstraction” that, at other times, he decries.12) Though I certainly do not discount Hegel’s innovations in these areas, this materialist nexus is not central to my reading, which generally operates at a more “formal” level of analysis. In other words, while compatible with this materialist tendency, the critical cells that I gradually assemble into a Hegelian critical theory do not presuppose it, either. What this means concretely will naturally emerge more sharply in the following chapters, and I will return to this question explicitly in the Conclusion. Yet we can begin to appreciate the distinctiveness of my interpretation, together with its relation to other treatments, by sketching the main arguments of the dissertation. The dissertation divides into three parts, followed by a substantial concluding chapter. The focus of Part I, embracing the first two chapters, is the “method” followed by the PhG. In Chapter 1, I show that this method – Hegel’s recommended “approach” to the object of study – is best understood as a comprehensive and exacting version of immanent critique. More concretely, I

One impetus for this scholarship was the discovery of Hegel’s two Jena Philosophies of Spirit, from 1803-1804 and 18051806. See especially the discussions of modern labor conditions in Hegel (1979: 245-250/1986a: 227-232) and Hegel (1983: 119-123 and 138-141/1987: 204-209 and 221-224). In this dissertation, my practice for each Hegel citation will be to include the German reference after the slash symbol. A more detailed description of my citation procedure may be found in footnote 3 of the following section. 11 The Frankfurt School itself often approached Hegel with these intentions. Paradigmatic here is The Young Hegel by Lukács, whose praise of Hegel appears to extend no further than his “anticipation” of Marx. (For example: “Hegel's approach to history flows in the direction of historical materialism” (1975: 467); his work “does indeed contain a whole series of insights into man's relations with society, with social praxis” (1975: 472).) But the writings of Marcuse (1941) also have this quality, as do, to varying degrees, those of Adorno, who e.g. endorsed “[t]ranslating Hegel’s concept of spirit into social labor” (1993: 18). Habermas (1971: chs. 2-3), too, frequently positions Hegel as a half-conscious harbinger of Marx, and the recent text by Jameson (2009) is essentially an exercise in this sort of “recuperation.” 12 An irony of this literature is that Hegel is also occasionally accused of hewing to closely to “materialist” ideas. For example, Benhabib (1986) suggests that the “work model of activity” – reflected in the image of spirit’s “internalization” and “externalization” in history – is precisely where the totalizing mischief sets in, leading via Marx to the ascendance of that “philosophy of the subject” so mistrusted by the Frankfurt School’s second generation. Variations on this critique may be found in Habermas (1973) and Honneth (1996). 10


distinguish between two definitions of this methodological ideal, frequently conflated in the postHegelian literature, and show that both are represented in the PhG. For Hegel’s Introduction exhorts the reader (1) to observe how a series of “standpoints” fail to coherently enact their own, constitutive values, and (2) to self-reflexively “account” for – explain and test – her own, modern standpoint, with reference to its history. Finally, I show how Hegel establishes the identity between these two forms of immanent critique. There follows an “excursus,” in which I elucidate a component part of immanent critique that has remained vaguely understood: namely, “determinate negation.” I disambiguate several interpretive possibilities, in order to remove a potential obstacle to the “critical” reading of the PhG I am in general attempting to defend. (This will involve identifying, and contesting, two “domesticating” gestures in the recent crop of Hegel interpretations, cited above.) At the same time, this explication of “determinate negation” will prepare us for the following chapter, which essentially capitalizes upon this figure. In Chapter 2, we turn to material from the Preface in order to supplement and refine our account of immanent critique in the PhG. In contrast to other interpretations, I argue that Hegel’s discussion of the “speculative sentence” ought to be received as an addendum to the Introduction’s exposition of “immanent” method. Establishing this parallel in turn allows us to identify a class of sentences throughout the PhG as both properly speculative and methodologically substantive. At the same time, this reading helps clarify several characteristics that Hegel ascribes to the speculative sentence, but which have eluded other commentators. We will conclude Part I with a summary that culminates in a “strong thesis” regarding the standing of immanent critique for the PhG has a whole: namely, that the entire book can be read as a running justification of the “immanent” ideal, via the elimination of non-immanent standpoints that are external to their objects. (Vindicating this thesis will be the central task of Part III.) In a “Coda” appended to this discussion, we will contemplate


“genealogical” analysis and criticism as a contrasting philosophical approach – one that I will claim enjoys an ambivalent place in – and for – the PhG itself. Whereas the focus of Part I is broadly “method” in the PhG, our topic in Part II is the “content” or “object” corresponding to that method. But this, of course – the object of the reader’s critical, “immanent” attentions – is “spirit” in its development through a chain of idealized standpoints, viz. the so-called “shapes” of “natural consciousness.” Hence in Part II, containing two chapters, I develop a new interpretation of this object, while continuing to derive the inner “cells” of a Hegelian critical theory. In Chapter 3, I defend readings of three closely related and recurring expressions – “natural consciousness,” “natural notion,” and “inorganic nature” – in order to elucidate the distinctive idea of “second nature” implicitly at work in Hegel’s text. I argue that this understanding of second nature supplements the “official” version, developed in the Encyclopedia, with an “unofficial” version that prefigures its use in critical theory’s “defetishizing” program. More generally, this reconstruction allows us to see how the PhG essentially documents spirit’s acquisition of a “second nature.” Taking up a motif introduced in the preceding discussion, Chapter 4 distinguishes in a systematic way the types of constitutive “blindness” suffered by natural consciousness. In particular, I show that each shape-of-consciousness is blind to its past, present, and future: it is persistently forgetful of its prehistory, ignorant of its own constitution, and oblivious to the implications of its standpoint. Out of these elements and their interrelations I then attempt to construct a properly Hegelian model of “ideology.” And I show how, with qualification, this model negotiates the properties of ideological delusion – “genetic,” “epistemic,” and “functional” – codified in a study by Raymond Geuss. If Part I is dedicated to a description of “method” in the PhG; while Part II isolates certain basic traits of the “object” corresponding to that method; then Part III, which contains a single, long


chapter, will establish one plausible identity between these topics. We will attempt to show, that is, how Hegel’s “immanent” method is non-contingently related to the structure of “natural consciousness.” Tracing this link will involve returning to the strong thesis advanced at the close of Part I, or the proposal that the PhG justifies its “immanent” method through the elimination of “non-immanent” standpoints. Hence in Chapter 5, we will show how a final characteristic of natural consciousness – namely, its “externality” vis-à-vis its object – is visible at different stages in the evolution of spirit. At the same time, I will show throughout this discussion that, in the PhG, precisely this externality gives rise to three structures later anathematized by the Frankfurt School: “instrumental reason,” “nihilistic disenchantment,” and “moralizing critique.” In this way, Chapter 5 continues the work of recovering the PhG as an early, foundational work of critical theory. In our Conclusion, we will attempt to integrate the various “cells” of this dissertation into a whole, and so to formulate a coherent Hegelian critical theory. Appealing once more to the analytical reflections of Raymond Geuss, we will show how such a standpoint conforms to the “archetypal” shape of critical theory, while also gesturing towards several, potentially questionable disanalogies. Following this account, I will turn to more intellectual-historical questions regarding Hegel’s own intentions for such a “transformative” philosophy, and I will introduce some additional textual evidence that appears to favor our interpretation.





Attempts to ascribe a specific “method” to Hegel have been met with apprehension, since his comments occasionally seem to call the very idea into question. In particular, both the Preface and Introduction to the PhG cast doubt on efforts to explicate or justify a philosophical method in isolation from its “application” to an object in the course of knowing it. As a rule, Hegel claims, such conceptions of method preclude any intrinsic connection between knowledge and the object known. In other words, method so conceived proscribes philosophy altogether. For this reason, commentators appear understandably reluctant to use the word – method – at all. 1 This reluctance is somewhat misplaced, however, not least because Hegel himself is comfortable both with the word and the ideal it represents, provided these are understood correctly. To be sure, we are warned in the Preface that “the [pervasive] system of notions [Vorstellungen]2 relating to philosophical method…belongs to an already vanished cultural shape” (¶48/3:47).3 But Hegel’s pronounced suspicion of any “method…of a cognition which is external to its material”

One villain in this literature is Stace (1955), who poured Hegel’s “dialectic” into the plaster cast of “thesis-antithesissynthesis” – a broadly maligned caricature that seems to have made subsequent commentators cautious. For example, Dove (1970: esp. 615-616), Kaufmann (1966: esp. 77), Mueller (1996), and Solomon (1983: esp. 21-22) promote versions of this skepticism, doubting either that Hegel’s method has been grasped correctly or that his work contains any unitary “method” at all. Forster (1993: esp. 131) dismisses these scruples and attempts to codify “Hegel’s Dialectical Method” as it is operative in the Logic (which enjoys primacy vis-à-vis other parts of Hegel’s system). Notably, though, Forster does not classify this method as a form of “immanent critique.” See also Bloch (1983). 2 The obsolete Vorstellungen of method Hegel has in mind are linked to Spinozism, “the scientific régime bequeathed by mathematics – a régime of explanations, classifications, axioms, a series of theorems along with their proofs, principles, and the consequences and inferences to be drawn from them” (¶48/3:47). See footnote 41 in Chapter 1, below, for a comment on the word Vorstellung, as well as an explanation for my consistent use of “notion” as a translation. 3 All Phenomenology of Spirit citations in the dissertation will use the ¶ symbol, referring to the paragraph numbers in Terry Pinkard’s 2018 translation for Cambridge University Press. I have generally kept to Pinkard’s translation, indicating where I diverge from it, though I have also consulted a number of other translations, listed in the Bibliography. Where possible, both for the Phenomenology and other texts, I will also typically include a reference to the volume and page number of Hegel’s collected Werke in zwanzig Bänden, ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971. In each case, the German reference will follow the slash symbol. So, for example, (¶48/3:47) refers to paragraph 48 in Pinkard’s PhG translation, and page 47 of the third volume of the German collected works. 1


(¶48/3:47) hardly disqualifies his own vision of method, or precisely, as he writes, a “method [which] is inseparable from the content” (¶57/3:55). And indeed, only after alluding to “the method by which the [PhG’s] exposition is carried out” (¶81/3:75) does Hegel famously introduce and recommend the attitude of “pure-onlooking” [reine Zusehen] (¶85/3:77).4 Hegel insists, then, that the PhG does adhere to a method, and in what follows I will not hesitate to use the word.5 More difficult than the question of word-choice, of course, is the question of how to describe – much less defend – the method Hegel envisages. Accordingly, our broad topic in Part I is the “method” followed in the PhG. In Chapter 1, we will show that Hegel’s Introduction promotes a sophisticated conception of immanent critique that is faithfully served in the body of the text. After an “Excursus” concerning Hegel’s concept of “determinate negation,” we will supplement this interpretation in Chapter 2 with a new reading of the “speculative sentence” – a figure treated in the Preface that sheds additional light on Hegel’s “immanent” method. Part I will conclude with a “strong thesis” regarding the importance of immanent critique for grasping the PhG has a whole, followed by a “Coda” contrasting this method with the so-called “genealogical” approach.

Nor does Hegel demur from referencing his philosophical “method” in his other published works. He writes in the Science of Logic, for example: “This spiritual movement…is thus the immanent development of the concept, is the absolute method of the concept, the absolute method of cognition and at the same time the immanent soul of the content” (2010a: 10/5:17). 5 I would especially resist Fredric Jameson’s recent, extreme version of this skepticism: “[T]he very concept of method flattens out all the properly dialectical differences between the chapters and screens out the stimulating heterogeneity of the Phenomenology itself. The dialectic is not enhanced by its association with the truly vulgar and instrumental idea of method” (2010: 4). 4



Introduction: Two Definitions of Immanent Critique Commentators have long recognized that Hegel, if he did not invent the philosophical approach now named immanent critique, nevertheless theorized, practiced and even epitomized something of the sort.1 It seems to me, however, that a basic confusion still surrounds the very idea of immanent critique. And this confusion is reflected in the fact that two, divergent definitions of this critical method pervade the extensive literature on Hegel, Western Marxism, and modern philosophy more generally.2 Yet this distinction has not been examined or even noticed, to my knowledge, until now. More concretely, a review of the literature suggests that criticism – whether philosophical, social, or more broadly cultural – may be “immanent” in two distinct respects: when it (1) measures an object against norms, criteria or potentialities that (somehow) “belong” to that object; and when it (2) self-reflexively recognizes an object as (somehow) continuous with its own standpoint, or as that standpoint’s condition of possibility. Both ideals of immanent critique are found to be operative in the intellectual tradition that begins with Kant and continues through Hegel to Marx and beyond; and both are singled out – albeit for different reasons – as the radical red thread running through that tradition.

For claims to the effect that Hegel practiced some version of Immanent Critique, see Steven Smith (1989: 173), Michael Rosen (1982: 29), and Seyla Benhabib (1986: 21). At the same time, James Gordon Finlayson (2014: 1145-1147) and Karin de Boer (2012: 83) observe that Hegel himself did not ever use the phrase Immanent Critique. 2 For some accounts of this trope see the following selection: Adorno (1993); Antonio (1981); Benhabib (1986: ch. 1); Benjamin (1998: “Epistemo-Critical Prologue”); K de Boer (2012); Buchwalter (1991); Caygill (1998); Finlayson (2014); Fornäs (2013); Guay (2011); Jaeggi (2009); Jarvis (1998); Larsen (2009); Ng (2015); Rosen (1982: ch. 2); Smith (1989: ch. 6); and Stahl (2013). 1


Yet in recent writings on this topic, we will discover that it is not only possible but commonplace to cite one of these definitions without referring, even tangentially, to the other. In the essay “Rethinking Ideology,” for example, Rahel Jaeggi suggests that critique is “immanent” when it “takes norms that are inherent to an existing (social) situation as its starting point.”3 Similarly, in a recent article by James Gordon Finlayson, “Hegel, Adorno, and the Origins of Immanent Critique,” we find a gloss that unambiguously represents only the first definition: “What makes a criticism immanent is that the standard of criticism belongs to or inheres in (in a suitably specified sense) the object of criticism.”4 For these authors, the critic simply judges the object (of whatever kind) against standards that inhere in the object – that are “immanent” to it.5 By contrast, in her article “Ideology Critique from Hegel and Marx to Critical Theory,” Karen Ng alludes to the second, and conspicuously not to the first definition in her description: Critical theories…find themselves on both sides of the subject/object divide and must be able to account for themselves as parts of their objects of investigation…Another common way of characterizing this reflexivity is to identify ideology critique as a mode of immanent critique.6 Likewise, in the article “Hegel’s Conception of Immanent Critique,” Karin de Boer writes revealingly as follows: To be sure, Hegel never referred to his method as immanent critique. Yet the self-criticism of reason introduced by Kant and further elaborated by Hegel has originated many modes of philosophy that, implicitly or explicitly, presented their method in these terms.7

Jaeggi (2009: 75). Finlayson (2014: 1144-1145). 5 Nowhere, we will observe, do these authors state or imply the second desideratum that criticism self-reflexively “ground” its own standpoint in its object. We will note a paradigmatic statement of the first definition in Marx’s letter to Arnold Ruge: “[W]e shall confront the world not as doctrinaires with a new principle: ‘Here is the truth, bow down before it!’ We develop new principles to the world out of its own principles,” (1978: 14). Conversely, at times Adorno appears literally to equate the “externalist” impulse with the wrong politics: “Anyone who judges something…by presuppositions that do not hold within it is behaving in a reactionary manner, even when he swears by progressive slogans,” (1993: 146). 6 Ng (2015: 394). Ng continues: “Very roughly defined, immanent critique is a form of self-critique that arises out of the contradictions, inconsistencies, paradoxes, inversions, crises, failures, exclusions, and even tragedies of social formations” (2015: 394). 7 de Boer (2012: 83). 3 4


On the basis of these passages, it is clear to us that Ng and de Boer each associate immanent critique in the first instance with a self-reflexive turn. Accordingly, one can say that Kant’s critical program was immanent inasmuch as it mounted a critique of reason by means of reason. In much the same way, it is sometimes argued that Marx sharpened political economy into an analysis of capitalism that can account for its own (material, social and historical) conditions of possibility within capitalism.8 Each in its own way, then, Kantianism and Marxism both attempt methodologically to reflect on themselves, viz. the conditions of their own emergence, operation, applicability, and the like. In other words, their standpoints are located or positioned “immanently” within the object of analysis. Apropos this last example, finally, Moishe Postone’s influential rereading of Marx’s mature writings, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, contains a striking passage that embraces both definitions of immanent critique at once: [A]n immanent critique does not judge critically what "is" from a conceptual position outside of its object – for example, a transcendent "ought." Instead, it [1] must be able to locate that "ought" as…a possibility immanent to the existent society. Such a critique must also be immanent in the sense that it [2] must be able to reflexively grasp itself and ground the possibility of its own existence in the nature of its social context.9 We will immediately note that this passage leaves the relation between the two types of immanent critique obscure. Indeed, on the evidence, for Postone these modes of critique have a merely accidental connection – as though they shared nothing substantial apart from the adjective “immanent.”10 Now I have dwelt on this preliminary analytic question because Hegel’s PhG arguably pursues an analysis that is “immanent” in both senses. On the one hand, the object of criticism in this text is in each case measured according to a standard “belonging” to it. On the other hand, Hegel’s

With reference to Habermas, for example, Raymond Geuss ascribes a “reflective cognitive structure” to a Marxist social theory that “contains an account of its own genesis and origin” (1981: 56). 9 Postone (1993: 87-88), bracketed numbers mine. 10 Further, in the remainder of his book, Postone effectively retains the “self-reflexivity” definition as the significant one. 8


reader – the so-called philosophical We11 – must continuously maintain an idiosyncratic version of “reflexive” circumspection. Most importantly, however, one of the PhG’s unrecognized accomplishments is to exhibit the internal-relation between these two principles of immanent critique. In other words, Hegel shows his reader that (1) judging an object according to its own norms, is a precondition of (2) establishing a properly “reflexive” relation between oneself and this object. This, in any case, is the major claim I will defend in this chapter. Hegel’s Phenomenology in Overview Before restricting our focus to the uses of immanent critique in the PhG, however, and in order to better contextualize the object of this chapter, let me say something more general about Hegel’s text as a whole. Perhaps the least controversial way of characterizing the PhG is to say that it chronicles the self-transformative development of a reality called Geist (usually translated “spirit”). Somewhat more contentiously, we can roughly understand Geist as an “idealized human consciousness,” one that Hegel examines – both at individual and collective levels – as it advances through a number of theoretical and practical standpoints called “shapes” [Gestalten].12 Now for our present purposes, the PhG is remarkable above all for rationally thematizing, criticizing, and subverting these diverse shapes of “natural consciousness” [das natürliche Bewußtsein].13 Of course, the exact meaning of this expression has itself attracted considerable attention from

See Dove (1970: esp. 627-641), for a classic summary and critique of the differing interpretations of the “We” problem. At issue here is the question of how Hegel understands the status of the PhG’s philosopher-reader – the observer who “follows along” as spirit examines, criticizes, and transforms itself. 12 The exact meaning of Geist has divided Hegel’s readers since his death. Recent commentaries in the Anglophone world, in particular, are arguably distinguished by an effort to divest this concept of theological and even “metaphysical” associations. See especially in this connection the readings in Robert Pippin (1989) and Terry Pinkard (1994). See also the helpful overview in Kreines (2006). 13 What the PhG accomplishes in addition to this, say, preparing the reader to grasp and accept Hegel’s “system,” does not concern us at this point. But see Forster (1998: chs. 2-4), for a collation of the introductory tasks (pedagogical, epistemological, and metaphysical) purportedly assigned to the PhG. 11


commentators.14 For the moment, it is perhaps enough to say that a shape of natural consciousness is something like a fundamental character-type or human attitude that will be familiar to us from human history, our wider culture, and everyday life.15 Further, and crucially, in the PhG every such shape masquerades as the “correct” way of relating to and hence – in a quite expanded sense – “knowing” the world of things and persons.16 These attitudes are called natural, on the other hand, because they are unreflective and spontaneous dispositions that always seem to come “naturally,” as it were. Throughout the PhG, then, Hegel’s basic procedure is to fix upon a determinate attitude that will be recognizable to the reader on the basis of certain characterological traits. 17 A Stoic consciousness, a Virtuous consciousness, an Enlightened consciousness – these are only a few of the “characters” that emerge in the course of Hegel’s exposition. Yet whether a given shape expresses a basically scientific, literary, romantic, laboring, political or religious orientation – or something else altogether – it will admit of “conceptual” reconstruction in the PhG.18 And once reconstructed in this way, again, the shape in question can be rationally examined, critiqued, and finally undermined.19 See e.g. the canonical examination of this phrase in Werner Marx (1975: chs. 1-3). I develop my own interpretation of “natural consciousness” in Chapters 3 and 4, below. 15 In the first half of the book, Hegel depicts individual attitudes, more or less abstracted from any larger social or institutional context. In the second half, by contrast, such attitudes are represented within historically appearing social “worlds,” or shapes of Geist. 16 Each claims, that is, to achieve “cognition” in some very basic, albeit expanded sense that varies according to the shape. But this means that Hegelian philosophy reckons with ostensibly extra-philosophical realms of experience – artistic, professional, romantic, political, etc. – lodging rival claims to foundational truth. See Fackenheim (1967: 32-33), for an elaboration of this thought. 17 Royce (1919: 139-140) includes an unsurpassed description of this feature of Hegel’s presentation. 18 Already in the Introduction, Hegel strongly intimates that the PhG will range over “the entire realm of spirit’s truth” [das ganze Reich der Wahrheit des Geistes] (¶89/3:80), i.e. all the “Geistige” activities and structures that have historically “appeared.” Incidentally, this speaks against the thesis – defended by Förster (2012: ch. 14), among others – that Hegel had a sudden change of heart while completing the “Reason” chapter, deciding only then to include subsequent material on “spirit” proper. It seems clear that, already in the Introduction, Hegel planned such an inclusion (if on a diminished scale). Indeed, even the “first” Jena Philosophy of Spirit, from 1803-1804, strongly suggests Hegel could not have planned to conclude the PhG short of “spirit”: “This is the goal, the absolute reality of consciousness, to which we have to elevate the concept. It is the totality which it has as the spirit of a people, spirit which is absolutely the consciousness of all” (1979: 213/1986a: 190). 19 Of course, part of Hegel’s aim is to organize the shapes of consciousness into a quasi-linear sequence according to a principle of “dialectical ascent.” The collapse of one attitude gives rise to another that is more sophisticated, logically consistent, and hence “adequate” than its predecessor. Indeed, Rosen (1982: 23-54) and Finlayson (2014: 1149-1153) 14


Keeping this general overview in mind, then, we can now return to our central question and ask: in what respect(s), exactly, is the PhG’s methodological approach to these diverse attitudes an “immanent” one? How, more specifically, does this Hegelian approach evince the two divergent ideals of immanent critique? Immanent Critique in the Introduction: Definition 1 In order to see how immanent critique is first implicated in the PhG, we need only look to its “Introduction” [Einleitung], particularly ¶81 – ¶89. For it is here that Hegel explicitly commends to the philosopher-reader – the “We” – a posture of “pure onlooking” [reine Zusehen] (¶85/3:77) vis-àvis the many shapes of natural consciousness. This posture, Hegel famously suggests, enables us to judge every shape solely according to its own, internal “criterion” [Maßstab].20 To understand better the significance of this demand, however, it will help to briefly recount Hegel’s context-specific motivations. Why, then, should Hegel feel compelled to introduce this figure of an internal criterion at all? Most commentators accept that in the PhG, Hegel attempts to demonstrate inter alia that all standpoints rivaling his own – all the deep, principled, broadly “cognitive” attitudes human beings can take towards the world – are somehow mistaken or at least “partial.”21 But an obvious problem confronts this project immediately: why should any competing position accept Hegel’s standpoint or

have cast doubt on attempts (by e.g. Adorno) to extricate Hegelian Immanent Critique from this aim of “progressive narration.” At this point, I will only suggest that the tenability of this charge rests on some intuition regarding the “progress” at stake in the PhG. But the answer to this question must be highly ambiguous since, on Hegel’s own account, every last shape in the PhG is a demonstrable and often spectacular failure (that is, with the possible exception of “Absolute Knowing”). 20 While “Maßstab” can be translated as either “criterion” or “standard,” I favor “criterion” here as a way of flagging its relation to the so-called “dilemma of the criterion.” Occasionally, though, I will use the term “standard” as well. 21 See for example Forster (1998: ch. 3).


“criterion” of truth, when the position under review is defined precisely by a separate and irreconcilable criterion of its own?22 With most everyday disputes, we will observe, this “dilemma of the criterion” does not arise. 23 For example: were two parties to disagree about the height of a desk, or the physical characteristics of a recollected person, or the year of a historical event, or even the legality of a contract, the dispute could be easily and conclusively resolved with a mutually endorsed, procedural criterion. In all likelihood, the quarrelling parties would simply agree to hold up a tape measure to the desk; or find an old photograph of the recollected person; or consult an encyclopedia with a reputation for accuracy; or confer with a trusted lawyer. Yet things are notoriously different in the PhG. For in this text, Hegel is self-consciously preoccupied with incommensurable standpoints that – in very important respects – do not share basic criteria. In the absence of shared criteria, though, there is no obvious way to adjudicate disputes. What will happen, for example, when two individuals attempt to determine between them what sort of behavior is admissible, if they differ about the proper criterion of right behavior generally? To contemplate some pertinent examples drawn directly from Hegel’s text: what if my criterion of sound conduct is whatever happens to deliver pleasure, and yours is whatever harmonizes with your conscience? This sort of dilemma leads to a deadlock in which I can seemingly only assess the “truth” or “rationality” or “goodness” of another perspective according to my standards, which someone with an opposing perspective may simply refuse to acknowledge. In this kind of scenario, that is, “the criterion would lie within us, and that which was supposed to be compared with the criterion…would not As Hegel puts it: “But here, at the point where science first comes on the scene, neither science itself nor anything else has been justified as the essence or as the in-itself, and without something like that taking place, it seems that no examination can take place at all” (¶81/3:75-76). 23 See Kenneth Westphal (1988), which traces this problem to the “Pyrrhonian Skepticism” best known to us through the work of Sextus Empricus. 22


necessarily have to recognize the validity of that criterion” (¶83/3:76). For this reason, Hegel continuously suggests that transcendent or “external” criticism is both rhetorically unpersuasive and philosophically unwarranted. That is, judgments on the basis of unacknowledged criteria are uniquely powerless to shake or transform the fundamental beliefs or conduct of an interlocutor: “one bare assurance is worth just as much as another” (¶76/3:71). A given “shape” will simply refuse to be perturbed by any standard – any “bare assurance” – it does not already recognize. Yet faced with this difficulty, Hegel does not renounce criticism, but claims rather to pursue it immanently – in this case, per the first definition we stipulated above. The following quotations contain the rudiments of his vision for an analysis that overcomes the dilemma of the criterion. He writes, first, that, “Consciousness…provides its own criterion [Maßstab], and the investigation will thereby be a comparison of itself with itself” (¶84/3:76), clarifying: “in what consciousness declares…to be the true, we have the criterion which consciousness itself erects to measure its knowledge” (¶84/3:77). Hegel insists, in fact, that the comparison is strictly speaking an activity of consciousness, where the latter “examines its own self” [sich selbst prüft] (¶85/3:77). For this reason, “we do not have to bring criteria with us and apply our bright ideas and thoughts during the investigation…[Hence] we succeed in regarding what is at stake as it is in and for itself”(¶84/3:77).24 At this point we might have (at least) two questions. First: what exactly could Hegel have in mind with the supposition that each shape of natural consciousness supplies its own “criterion” – one that obviates the need to import “our bright ideas and thoughts during the investigation”? And second: what might it mean to say that each shape “examines itself” on the basis of that self-avowed criterion? In what follows I will develop a “revisionist” account that addresses these two questions in a simplified way. Ideally, this account will be both comprehensible in its own right and faithful to

See also the similarly worded admonition from Hegel’s “Preface” [Vorrede] to the PhG: “One should not intrude into the immanent rhythm of the concept either arbitrarily or with wisdom gained elsewhere: such restraint is itself an essential moment of attention to the concept” (¶58/3:56).



Hegel’s procedure as it actually unfolds in the body of the text. I hasten to add, however, that my interpretation will deviate at times from the details of Hegel’s own wording in the Introduction.25 On the Self-Examination of Consciousness Readers of the PhG soon discover that Hegel has various ways of characterizing the “selfexamination” of natural consciousness. In my view, though, the characterization most faithful to the PhG’s actual procedure is a recurring formula to the effect that some particular “certainty” must be tested in order to determine its “truth.” 26 What Hegel generally means by these “technical” terms can be parsed as follows. Every human attitude profiled in the PhG – every shape of natural consciousness – is defined by a specific self-conception, that is, a way of conceiving and valuing itself.27 In Hegel’s own words, “consciousness is for itself its concept” (¶80/3:74), or is “consciousness of itself” (¶85/3:77). For example, we will readily appreciate that a “master” defines and esteems himself in a certain way, which can be

My reason for deviating from Hegel’s language in the Introduction is that it is potentially misleading as a guide to the subsequent “experience” of natural consciousness. The sentence I quoted above may serve as an illustration: “in what consciousness declares within itself to be the in-itself, that is, to be the true, we have the standard which consciousness itself erects to measure its knowledge” (¶84). My position is that, taken alone, this gloss is misrepresentative of Hegel’s actual procedure in the text. Better yet: from the perspective of natural consciousness, it is perhaps correct to insist that it will be judged according to its “criterion” of the Sache selbst. But “for us,” it is much rather the case that this Sache selbst is always precisely a “certainty” which needs to be “examined” – to state the obvious – according to an immanent criterion of its own. Thus each shape begins with a certainty regarding what really counts, which “for consciousness” is indeed the criterion – say, the Thing, the Unchangeable, its Pleasure or Lawful Heart, etc. Yet each of these nominal criteria – which that shape “declares…to be the in-itself” (¶84) – is in reality the principal ingredient in a certainty that itself needs to be tested. Indeed, Hegel recognizes this: “the testing is not only a testing of what we know, but also a testing of the criterion of what knowing is” (¶85/3:78). Arguably the neglect of this ambiguity has impeded the ability of commentators to see how a shape can fail its own “criterion.” 26 In the Introduction, of course, Hegel will also write that a being-for-an-other must be tested against a being-in-itself; or that a concept of an object must be tested against the experience of that object; or that the truth must be compared to one’s knowledge of that truth (see esp. ¶84-¶85). Yet I would claim that, while these terms are passably well-adapted to the properly “epistemic” shapes of “Consciousness” – Sense-Certainty, Perception, and Understanding – they have a much more limited application to subsequent sections. This, then, is another reason to deviate from the vocabulary of the Introduction. For apart from potentially misleading the reader about what “criteria” are actually at stake in the PhG, this vocabulary disposes the reader towards an essentially “contemplative” image of self-examination – as though, even past “Consciousness,” the shapes simply compared one mental item (say, its concept of an object) against another (say, its concept of knowledge). 27 My general understanding of “self-examination” in the PhG is indebted to the illuminating discussion in Neuhouser (2009). See also Merleau-Ponty (1964: 65). The phrase “self-conception” is capacious enough to accommodate the selfunderstandings of both individuals and “collectives.” For example, the self-representation of the ancient Greeks immortalized in Antigone, which Hegel mobilizes in the “Spirit” chapter, is still a “self-conception” in the technical sense. Hence it admits of “self-examination” along the same lines as the earlier “individual” shapes of consciousness. 25


distinguished from the self-conceptions of an ascetic, a scientist, a hedonist, or a political revolutionary. And Hegel attempts to show his reader how, exactly, each of these character-types, familiar to us both from history and everyday life, idealizes some particular value or “concept”: say, “independence,” or “freedom,” or “pleasure,” or the “heart’s law.” More to the point, for our present purposes, each of these attitudes possesses a kind of certainty, or a spontaneous confidence in its own highest value – its “essence,” or “in-itself,” or “truth,” or “criterion.” Yet this initial description is only half the story. We must immediately add, in fact, that every self-conception also implies a corresponding concept of, and mode of relating to, one’s world.28 On this Hegelian view, to (1) ascribe a concept to oneself (in the relevant sense) is at the same time to (2) commit to a specific range of behavior that embodies or expresses that concept. For instance, to value myself as a master – to credibly enjoy a masterly self-conception – is precisely to organize my life practically, in the widest sense, around the ground-norm of “independence.” This amendment is important: in order to be coherent and compelling, a given self-conception must be sincerely lived out. My natural confidence in the tenability of a particular self-conception – my certainty – can only be validated for me by a practice that (in a way that will vary from case to case) reflects or concretizes that conception.29 And this resulting concretization, finally, is what Hegel calls the criterial “truth” of my “certainty.” Now in the PhG, famously, this circumstance is exactly what opens up the possibility of an inversion and disjunction. In fact, with the possible exception of the last shape in Hegel’s book – the endlessly contested standpoint of “Absolute Knowing” – every concretization of a determinate concept effectively contradicts that same concept. In practically enacting the professed value of This “dyadic” structure is foundational to the interpretation of German Idealism developed extensively in Dieter Henrich (2003: 19). 29 Here again I would suggest that the very idiom of “examination” is misleading inasmuch as it evokes the image of reflective or contemplative introspection – an image that simply does not square with the majority of actual examinations in the PhG. As an alternative we should, I propose, keep firmly before us the image of conduct, and specifically a conduct that (1) encodes a particular self-conception, (2) realizes that self-conception, and – if the PhG’s portraits are to be believed – (3) finally undermines it. 28


“independence,” for example, the master unavoidably incurs forms of dependence that are strictly discordant with its self-conception.30 Or again: a life-project patterned on the value of “pleasure” (¶360-¶366) founders on the very necessity it summons into reality. But this means that the ultimate truth of every certainty is, as far as natural consciousness can see, its forfeiture. From the perspective of consciousness, in Hegel’s words, “the realization of the concept” (¶78/3:72) – on my reading, the materialization via conduct of a particular, “natural” self-conception – “will count to an even greater degree as the loss of itself” (¶78/3:72).31 On Self-Examination as Immanent Critique The immediately preceding discussion should allow us to answer the questions we posed above, and so to specify how, exactly, the PhG’s method meets the first definition of immanent critique. Our questions, we will recall, were (1) what could it mean to say that natural consciousness provides its own criterion? and (2) how shall we understand the possibility of a “self-examination” on this basis? We can now respond in the following way. Every shape is marked by a self-conception organized around some ultimate value or concept: a certainty. And this value must be “tested” against the immanent “success-criterion” of a corresponding conduct that practically realizes that value: its truth. Hence in the PhG, immanent critique (under its first definition) can be adumbrated in these terms: the philosopher-reader observes how each shape of natural consciousness measures its own foundational value against the “criterion” of whichever behavior-pattern best enacts that value. For we have claimed that every such value, for Hegel, is tied to a quite specific comportment that nonarbitrarily concretizes it. This behavior is both entailed by, and uniquely suited to vouching for, the value This is exactly how Hegel casts the denouement of mastery: “The unessential [i.e. servile] consciousness is…for the master the object which constitutes the truth of his certainty of himself. However, it is clear that this object does not correspond to its concept (¶192/3:152). In retrospect, that is, “mastery showed that its essence is the topsy-turvy inversion [das Verkehrte] of what mastery wants to be” (¶193/3:152). 31 For a discussion of the institutional inversion of values, as conceived by Marxian ideology-critique, see Jaeggi (2009: 6768). 30


in question. And yet this behavior is both demanded by, and somehow devastating to, this same value.32 Immanent Critique in the Introduction: Definition 2 As we have now seen, the figure of immanent critique under its first definition can be decisively traced to the Introduction. Our reinterpretation of “self-examination” in the PhG has evoked the generic image of an attitude whose defining “concept” can be measured against a criterial conduct that follows necessarily from – hence is immanent to – that same attitude. And we have intimated that every attempt by natural consciousness to practically realize its deepest value ultimately involves, in Hegel’s words, that value’s contradictory “inversion” [eine Umkehrung].33 We will return to this last characteristic of self-examination shortly. I have also claimed, however, that a version of the second definition of immanent critique can be located in the PhG: a criticism that “accounts for itself” vis-à-vis the object criticized, or is properly “self-reflexive” in its operations. Yet this second definition of immanent critique is itself somewhat ambiguous, and I would like now to distinguish between two interpretive possibilities – two ways in which criticism may broadly demonstrate the putative virtue of self-reflexivity:

Of course, one may fail under normal circumstances to meet certain more or less empirical goals, so undermining a concrete self-understanding. For example, I may fail to win a trophy and thus damage the “self-image” that I am a firstrate athlete. Such examples become misleading, however, inasmuch as the self-conceptions that preoccupy Hegel in the PhG are not undermined by an act or conduct-type that contingently (hence rectifiably) misses the mark. On the contrary, the failures of natural consciousness follow inescapably, in Hegel’s view, from the faithful, thorough, consistent, and – such as it is – successful implementation of the principle in question. To consider again the best-known example: self-consciousness undoes itself most completely not by lapsing into some condition beneath mastery, or “failing” to attain the properties and privileges inseparable from that station. Hegel’s point is rather that precisely this masterly self-conception fails; a failure that, for this reason, cannot be made self-evident until it is exhibited in an exacting, austerely idealized dramatization. We observe, not that consciousness has failed to meet its ideal, but that this ideal cannot be sufficiently “realized” except by being transformed. 33 It is just here, I am arguing, that the identity and significance of “determinate negation” should be located. For each concept, once enacted by the appropriate, corresponding activity, is inverted (albeit only “for us”). That is, the relevant activity yields a new concept that can plausibly be construed as an inversion of the first. For just this reason, though, the new concept is repellent and inadmissible to the very shape that generates it. See in this connection the helpful account in Houlgate (2013: 26). I explicate the figure of “determinate negation” at greater length in the “Excursus” following this chapter. 32


1. I may discover or recognize that my standpoint (preeminently my norms of judgment), do not “transcend” the object of criticism (paradigmatically my society). On the contrary, I must contend with the fact that this object has constituted my standpoint.34 2. During a critical analysis, I may refuse to “exempt” my standpoint from contestation and transformation. My own norms of judgment are exposed to revision in the course of the examination.35 These two types of self-reflexivity – two distinct ways of “accounting” for one’s own standpoint – are related. But the difference, though subtle, is meaningful: in the first case – (1) – I observe that my viewpoint is entangled in the nature of the object; in the second case – (2) – I methodically expose my viewpoint to the possibility of alteration in light of the object. Both modes of maintaining theoretical self-reflexivity are represented in the PhG. In order to verify their presence and grasp their significance, we may look once again to the Introduction for clues. We would not be the first to do so. In his monograph Metacritique, Garbis Kortian traces the ancestry of 20th century critical theory, not merely to the PhG, but specifically to its Introduction. Yet he does not so much as allude to the trope of “internal criteria” in his reconstruction of Hegel’s methodological standpoint. On the contrary, Kortian remains fixated upon precisely those gestures that imply Hegel’s so-called “metacritical” turn, or “what critique becomes when it is made radical” (1980, 29). Whereas traditional epistemology “does not reflect on its relation to the object criticized” (1980, 29), Hegel’s text is exactly one in which “critique itself” will be “subjected to critique and share the fate of the object criticized” (1980, 29). In other words, Kortian grounds the Frankfurt At the beginning of his essay “Cultural Criticism and Society,” Adorno pointedly reminds us that the critic is always a “product” of the culture he or she criticizes: “The cultural critic is not happy with civilization, to which alone he owes his discontent. He speaks as if he represented either unadulterated nature or a higher historical stage. Yet he is necessarily of the same essence as that to which he fancies himself superior” (1983: 19). 35 The same may be said to describe Walter Benjamin’s ideal of cultural criticism. According to Howard Caygill, Benjamin’s own, idiosyncratic version of Immanent Critique, though inspired more by the German Romantics than Hegel, is “open to having its ‘conditions of legibility’ transformed by the encounter with the work or object of experience,” (1998: 33-34). 34


School project in just that principle that makes the PhG’s analysis “immanent” according to the second definition.36 Exactly which passages from the Introduction Kortian has in mind is difficult to determine, however, since he is largely content to summarize Hegel’s metacritique of Kant’s critical doctrine without quoting directly from the text. For our present purposes, moreover, Hegel’s broadside against Kantian epistemology is less directly illuminating than several other passages in the Introduction that recommend “self-reflexivity” in a more straightforward way. Two groupings of comments, corresponding to both principles of self-reflexivity, are particularly relevant here. We will discuss, first, those remarks that pertain to the We’s imputed capacity for observing “determinate negation” [bestimmte Negation]. And second, we will examine the aim of dissolving so-called “natural notions” [natürlichen Vorstellungen]. In this way, I will argue, we can begin to establish the exact meaning for Hegel of the second version of immanent critique. Self-Reflexivity (1): Learning that one’s “concept” has emerged In an “Interlude” between this chapter and the next, I will describe Hegel’s conception of determinate negation in greater depth – very roughly, his conviction that a particular item (a concept, an attitude, a social order, etc.) is only adequately grasped as the “result” of another item’s dissolution: its inversion.37 Yet I must briefly refer to this conception at this point. For on my account, the philosophical We’s attainment of the “self-reflexive” standpoint (in the first sense) is for Hegel premised on its grasp of determinate negation. In short, only by viewing the various shapes of natural consciousness under their genetic aspect is the We ultimately able to “account for” itself. In See Kortian (1980: Introduction and ch. 2). Clearly our second definition of Immanent Critique is linked to what is sometimes called “metacritique,” a term used to varying effect in Adorno and Habermas. Since, however, this term also seems to be used ambiguously – and moreover, with a markedly different emphasis from Immanent Critique – I will mostly avoid it. But see the discussions in Jarvis (1998: ch. 6) and Rose (1981: ch. 1). 37 See the discussions of this figure in Rosen (1982: ch. 2) and Finlayson (2014). Eckart Förster (2012: 307-308), though without using the phrase “determinate negation,” especially emphasizes the “scientific” standing of these transitions for Hegel. 36


Hegel’s words, by deliberately tracking the “pure emergence” [reines Entstehen] (¶87/3:80) of an attitude’s organizing value from the collapse of another one, the philosophical reader will gradually come to an understanding of her own basic “concept(s).” Just this insight, Hegel tells us, is proscribed to natural consciousness, which is in principle unable to view values – least of all its own – in this light. On the contrary, as we have already suggested, it is characteristic of natural consciousness that its own deepest value comes spontaneously or naturally – as a kind of given.38 So significant for Hegel is this alleged impairment of natural consciousness (relative to the We) that he alludes to it twice in the Introduction. To form a better idea of what self-reflexivity involves in this context, then, let us consider each of these statements in turn. First, Hegel contrasts the PhG’s developmental account – the continuous spiritual saga observed by the reader – with the marked failure of natural consciousness to conceive this process at all: [T]he account of non-truthful consciousness in its untruth is not a merely negative movement. Natural consciousness generally has that kind of one-sided view of that movement…In contrast, when the result is grasped as determinate negation, that is, when it is grasped as it is in truth, then at that point a new form has immediately arisen. (¶79/3:73-74) What is notable in this (admittedly difficult) quotation is Hegel’s insistence that, as a rule, natural consciousness is defined by an abstractly “negative” skepticism. In other words, it does not believe that any “determinate” or “positive” result can follow from the breakdown of a standpoint.39 This

The defining value of a particular shape always appears as something given, meanwhile, precisely because natural consciousness is as a rule “forgetful” of its prehistory. This trait is clear already from the Introduction. But Hegel will also occasionally remind us, typically between sections, that a particular shape preserves no memory of the foregoing, phenomenological “history.” At the start of the “Reason” chapter, for example, he writes: “The consciousness which is this truth has this path behind it and has forgotten it, and comes on the scene immediately as Reason” (¶233/3:180). See Chapters 3 and 4, below, for a more extensive examination of this trait. 39 Indeed, Hegel insists that this “abstract” conviction is the major source of natural consciousness’ “despair” (¶78). For any natural consciousness, “the realization of the concept” (¶78), again, “will count to an even greater degree as the loss of itself” (¶78). But this, once again, is precisely because natural consciousness is incapable of perceiving any logical continuity between (1) its own standpoint and (2) the inverted Gestalt finally entailed by that standpoint’s proper “realization.” 38


thought already implies that to conceive determinate negation is at once to transcend natural consciousness, or to assume the standpoint of the We. But this implication is confirmed and developed in a second passage, where the same contrast is once more drawn: [F]rom that [i.e. the We’s] viewpoint the new object [i.e. the new value or “essence” of natural consciousness] shows itself to have come about by means of a reversal of consciousness itself. This way of regarding what is at stake does not exist for the consciousness that we are considering…[T]he emergence of the new object…takes place for us, as it were, behind the back of consciousness…For consciousness, what has emerged exists merely as the object, whereas for us, what has emerged exists at the same time as a movement and a coming-to-be. (¶87/3:79-80) What the philosophical observer sees, again, is what natural consciousness is constitutively unable to see: namely, that and how each constitutive value or “object” has emerged.40 Hence, in sum, if any single characteristic distinguishes the We from a given shape of natural consciousness, it is this ability to view each fundamental concept genetically, or as the product of another concept’s selfinverting “negation.” But this entails, finally: whichever concept(s) or value(s) Hegel’s reader happens here and now to affirm will also – at some stage – be viewed under its genetic aspect, or as the “result” of the portrayed “detailed history of the cultural development of consciousness” (¶78/3:73). As we will underscore in the next section, Hegel supposes his reader is devoted to one or more of the “natural notions” (¶78/3:73) [natürlichen Vorstellungen] 41 embodied by the many shapes of natural Confusingly, Hegel is reluctant to distinguish in any strict or consistent way between the terms “essence,” “in-itself,” “truth,” “criterion,” and – in the present case – “object.” But we should not be misled into supposing that by “object” Hegel intends something as narrow as a – sensible or non-sensible – “thing.” The shapes of “Consciousness” do take their “objects” in this way: as mind-independent “Thises,” “Things,” and “Forces.” But Hegel’s point is precisely that what Consciousness takes as an “object” is actually its concept of an object. For just this reason, the meaning of “object” will be revised thereafter to include something like one’s purpose or “objective.” Consider, for example, the opening of “Self-Consciousness”: “As self-consciousness, consciousness henceforth has a doubled object: The first, the immediate object, the object of sense-certainty and perception, which, however, is marked for it with the character of the negative; the second, namely, itself, which is the true essence and which at the outset is on hand merely in opposition to the first” (¶167). 41 In order to flag the systematic meaning of Vorstellung in this and related contexts, I have consistently translated it as “notion.” This decision deviates from Pinkard’s translation, which – in the Introduction alone – renders Vorstellung as “supposition” (¶73), “representation” (¶74) and “conception” (¶78). At the same time, it disrupts an older tradition of using “notion” to translate Begriff. This was A. V. Miller’s practice, for example, in his 1977 translation. Yet in a note to his 1965 translation of the Preface, Walter Kaufmann already cogently critiqued this practice: “The ordinary meaning of Begriff is definitely concept. Because this is one of Hegel’s most characteristic terms…some nineteenth-century English 40


consciousness. That is, Hegel anticipates a reader who shares with natural consciousness one or more of the values that must be “examined” in the course of experience.42 Yet for just this reason, at a certain point in the text – probably several – this reader will witness the “emergence” of the value or values that constitutes her own self. In just this way, Hegel’s reader will self-reflexively account for her own, “modern” standpoint with reference to her object, namely, Geist and its history.43 The We, in Hegel’s language, eventually discovers that it has effectively deduced its own spiritual structures – its nominal “inorganic nature” (¶28/3:33)44 – with reference to its cultural prehistory.45 Self-Reflexivity (2): Shaking one’s “natural” certainties Let us now turn to the second plank of the We’s properly self-reflexive attitude. As we distinguished it above, this is the demand, not only to (1) observe that and how the We’s values have emerged – so accounting for its standpoint vis-à-vis the observed object – but also to (2) test those values, and so answer for that standpoint. In other words, it is one thing to document “for us” the growth of that “inorganic nature” which we ourselves are. It is quite another to take the measure of ourselves, our own deepest convictions, at the same time.

translators felt that a less ordinary term was called for and hit on “notion.” This word is utterly misleading as it suggests vagueness and caprice, while Hegel takes pains to attack haziness and subjectivity” (1966: 7-9). I submit, though, that the associations of “vagueness and caprice” are exactly what Hegel intends with the term Vorstellung. Lastly, I have opted not to translate Vorstellung as “picture-thinking,” so as to decouple it from the properly “religious” contexts in which – to be sure – it also becomes important for Hegel. (I thank an anonymous reader at International Journal of Philosophical Studies who pressed for these clarifications.) 42 William Bristow (2007: ch. 5) is especially perceptive regarding this ‘architectural’ characteristic of the PhG. See also Rose (1981: 163-164) and Houlgate (2013: 24). 43 Absent this peculiar ability to “account for herself,” the reader would remain a natural consciousness whose defining value “exists merely as the object.” In any event, such a reader is emphatically not that We which per definition views values – including and especially its own – “at the same time as a movement and a coming-to-be.” Compare also the “Reason” chapter’s opening discussion: “[Reason’s] immediate entrance onto the scene is the abstraction of its being at hand, whose essence and whose being-in-itself is the absolute concept, i.e., the movement of its having-come-to-be” (¶234/3:181). 44 See Chapter 3, below, for my interpretation of this image. 45 Again, Geuss appears to credit Marxism with this innovation, since the latter “purports to explain how it was possible for Marxism to arise when and where it did” (1981: 56). But we may now respond that the PhG, too, chronicles the currents that entered into its own generation. This reading comports well, of course, with Hegel’s own descriptions of the PhG as a massive work of “recollection” [Erinnerung] in both the Preface (e.g. at ¶47) and “Absolute Knowing” (e.g. at ¶808).


Now as we’ve seen, the Introduction itself singles out and problematizes the presuppositions of Kant’s critical project. Indeed, the very first sentence identifies the pervasive “natural notion” [natürliche Vorstellung] (¶73/3:68) that cognition is a faculty that can be inventoried, understood and validated independently of its use and object.46 In this way, Hegel imputes to the Kantian standpoint – hence the PhG’s likely reader in 1807 – a tissue of presuppositions demanding attention and examination. In other words, the nominally “critical” standpoint is insufficiently critical, as it “presupposes that there is something (namely, a great deal) which is the truth, and it supports its scruples and its deductions on some other basis which is itself in need of examination as to whether it is the truth” (¶74/3:69-70). For this reason, as we have already claimed, one basic premise of the PhG’s presentation is a reader beset by certain natürlichen Vorstellungen – her own concepts or values – that must be tested together with natural consciousness.47 This means that, in addition to practicing the austere models of immanent critique that Hegel commends in the Introduction, the empirical reader is ex hypothesi committed to a definite set of presuppositions. This circumstance underpins the widely remarked paradox of the philosophical We. After all, on the evidence, a reader sincerely ensconced in one of the PhG’s many false attitudes (up to and including the Kantian one) would be unable to entertain the We’s “Hegelian” standpoint except in the condescending way of someone who knows better – let alone take seriously any of the claims of natural consciousness. Every reader has his or her own, dogmatic values. But in fact, the spectatorial form “It is natural to assume [Es ist eine natürliche Vorstellung] that in philosophy, before one gets down to dealing with what really matters, namely, the actual cognition of what there is in truth, it would first be necessary to reach prior agreement about cognition, namely, about whether it is to be viewed either as the instrument with which one takes possession of the absolute, or as the means by which one catches a glimpse of it” (¶73). 47 See again Bristow (2007: 229). While I am substantially in agreement with Bristow’s illuminating account, I would mention several differences between our positions. Above all, he does not identify the We’s “self-reflexive” posture as a species of Immanent Critique, which prevents him from drawing any connection between this motif and larger discussions in post-Hegelian and Western Marxist thought. Beyond this, the first type of self-reflexivity I’ve isolated does not figure in Bristow’s account – which is accordingly incomplete – nor is the “internal criterion” trope related to these selfreflexive postures in the “strategic” ways I’ve attempted to establish. Finally, while I share Bristow’s conclusion regarding the PhG’s self-reflexivity (in its second sense), my argument for this conclusion is quite different. More concretely, I have tried to show that this conclusion follows from Hegel’s use of the phrase natürlichen Vorstellungen (which I’ve invested here with a systematic significance). 46


of the PhG is explicitly conceived as an “educative” response to exactly this paradox: [I]n directing itself to the entire range of phenomenal consciousness, skepticism makes spirit for the first time competent to investigate what is the truth, since it manages to elicit a despair about…so-called natural notions, thoughts, and opinions [natürlichen Vorstellungen, Gedanken und Meinungen]… Consciousness, which straight away gets down to such an examination, is still filled out and burdened with such conceptions and is for that very reason in fact incapable of accomplishing the task which it wishes to undertake. (¶78/3:73) This passage confirms our thesis that the reader (the “Consciousness, which…gets down to such an examination”), and not only his or her object (viz. natural consciousness), is afflicted with untested presuppositions. But these comments also illuminate a deeper significance to the danger of “external” criticism. Earlier we noted that immanent critique (under the first definition) is introduced as a contrivance that circumvents the dilemma of the criterion. ‘Even if an interlocutor fails or refuses to recognize our standard,’ Hegel appears to suggest, ‘we may nonetheless show him that he fails to meet his own.’ As a result of this “innovation,” the reader is told, “we do not need to import criteria, or to make use of our own bright ideas [Einfälle und Gedanken]” (¶84/3:77). Yet the passage above indicates a quite different motivation for this same self-restraint. I suspend my own values during the analysis, not only because any given shape of natural consciousness may disregard my standpoint, hence undercut my rhetorical authority. On the contrary, these very “bright ideas” are natürlichen Vorstellungen with which I, the reader, am “still filled out and burdened” (¶78/3:73). In other words, Hegel entices the reader into suspending her bright ideas on a kind of pretext: that in so doing, she will be better positioned to address and criticize the values of her opponent.48 In fact, this suspension clears the way for her own education – provided, that is, she distances herself from her deepest values long enough to observe them as ingredients in some self-

I have tried to show this above. Even if Science has “just begun to come on the scene” (¶81), Hegel’s whole way of speaking in the Introduction, and especially at ¶81-¶83, strongly suggests that his philosopher-reader does possess this Scientific standpoint, while the only obstacle to its “justification” is that the “knowledge [that] is our object” (¶83) – i.e. natural consciousness – “would not necessarily have to recognize the validity of such a standard” (¶83).



subverting shape in the parade of “untrue knowing” [unwahre Wissen] (¶76/3:71).49 My suggestion is that this, finally, is exactly how Hegel urges the We into the second version of self-reflexivity. Not only are the reader’s own values depicted as products of failed self-examinations. These values are also assuredly at stake, wherever they are observed as “natural” components of some reconstructed attitude or another. In other words, the reader “accounts” for her standpoint precisely by seeing it represented as a shape of natural consciousness that examines and inverts itself. Let us now briefly summarize our reflections on immanent critique under its second definition. We have suggested that achieving “self-reflexively” is itself a complex act. For we may perceive, on the one hand, that our own values are drawn from the object; and, on the other, that these same values are corrigible in light of the object. In the PhG, however, this takes the form of (1) acknowledging that and how our present values have sprung from the collapse of earlier ones; and (2) accepting that these same values are dogmatic presuppositions that must be de-familiarized, examined and – as the case may be – inverted.50 Conclusion I want now to review the major claims of this chapter, in order finally to answer a question we raised in the first section. We began by insisting that a certain amount of confusion surrounds the

In the PhG itself, of course, this “strategy” remains largely latent. Yet in a short essay entitled “Who Thinks Abstractly?” usually dated to 1808, Hegel openly toys with the image of this same “spectatorial” device. Specifically, this essay refers to “scenes of recognition which are meant to instruct the world against its will [but] have the inexcusable fault that they simultaneously humiliate” (1966: 114/2:576) their audience. Indeed, Hegel playfully imagines a philosophical text wherein concepts, “like the cabinet member in a comedy…[are] required to walk around during the entire play in their overcoat, unbuttoning it only in the last scene, disclosing the flashing star of wisdom” (1966: 115/2:576). Here I am suggesting that in the PhG, the “audience” that is initially asked simply to “observe” the selfinversions of natural consciousness likewise – at certain “scenes of recognition” – discover its own “natural notions” defamiliarized and depicted in just this way. Walter Kaufmann’s translation of this essay can be found in Hegel (1966: 113118). 50 These reflections intimate a tantalizing possibility. Hegel must believe that spiritual transformation – a real determinate negation – may have more than one source and take more than one form. Specifically, Hegel must suppose these transformations need not at all times originate either in self-inflicted violence or obliviously, but that they might also proceed in the light of reason’s self-awareness. Indeed, on my interpretation, Hegel’s entire procedure in the PhG rests on this prospect: that a standpoint, viz. the reader’s, can be revolutionized, not only in spite of itself (as the shapes of “untrue knowing” uniformly exemplify), but consciously and without trauma, in response to one or more visions of failure. But see the “darker” discussion of this theme in Comay (2011), and my discussion in the Conclusion, below. 49


expression “immanent critique” in the literature, one symptom of which is an unrecognized dispute over its definition. In particular, immanent critique is commonly held to have two meanings: either (1) judging one’s object against “immanent” criteria, or (2) self-reflexively grounding oneself – “immanently” – in one’s object. Since, however, this basic ambiguity of immanent critique has not even been noticed, it is unsurprising that the relation between the definitions has not attracted attention, either. After synoptically presenting the content of Hegel’s 1807 Phänomenologie des Geistes, I directed our attention to its Introduction, in order to show that both definitions are constitutive for the “immanent” method practiced in this book. On the one hand, responding to the so-called “dilemma of the criterion,” Hegel instructs his reader to observe how the shapes of natural consciousness – basic human orientations familiar to us from our culture and its history – are at odds with their avowed “criteria.” (At this point I defended a revisionist, “behavioral” interpretation of each shape’s “criterion” and the sorts of “self examination” that actually unfold in the PhG.) On the other hand, Hegel’s reader is subtly urged towards two, complementary sorts of “reflexivity.” That is, she is trained to recognize that her own standpoint is itself (1) the (late) product of cultural history, and (2) ultimately at stake in the “self-examinations” Hegel portrays. These reflections, then, have enabled us to observe the basic features of Hegelian immanent critique in a perspicuous way. I would add, though, that we are now also positioned to unite conceptually the two definitions of immanent critique that, at least initially, had appeared unrelated. So, to state my claim in a compact way: the “contrivance” of judging an object against its “immanent” norms – when it is executed as Hegel intends, at least in the PhG – will precipitate our own immersion or “immanence” in the object judged. In other words, the practice of measuring natural consciousness against the standard of its own conduct (definition 1) – such that a basic


concept gives way to another one implied by its enactment – is for Hegel the precondition51 for explicating the emergence, and testing the integrity, of one’s own standpoint (definition 2).52 For at certain junctures in the PhG, as we have seen, the reader will encounter her own “selfconception” as both a product of history and a “certainty” to be inverted in the course of its examination. At these places, the reader’s own intellectual identity is joined to the development of natural consciousness: she is exposed to an inverted experience of the value under review. Hence the solution to our initial puzzle – in any case, the one contained in Hegel’s book – is that the first and second definitions of immanent critique coincide when, and only when (1) the object I measure against its native criterion is (2) the (estranged) objectification of my own value. 53

Here we may distinguish “pedagogical” from “logical” preconditions, and ask: what sort is actually at issue? Of course, I have foregrounded the pedagogical dimension. Though led to expect an examination that applies only to opponents lacking her “Scientific” criteria, the PhG’s reader is brought around to an unsettling self-recognition in the “otherness” of natural consciousness. But is pure-onlooking also a logical precondition of self-reflexivity? My answer is yes. First, accounting for our standpoint continues to demand observing how the standpoint preceding us has failed its own, immanent truth. (We do not grasp ourselves as that standpoint’s “negation” until we observe how it has “inverted” itself.) But second, we cannot coherently examine ourselves until we observe our defining “values” – our certainty – measured against their own instantiation – our truth. (I thank two anonymous readers at Hegel Bulletin who pushed for this clarification.) 52 A reader at Hegel Bulletin has suggested a stronger formulation: once a reader assumes the attitude of pure-onlooking, self-reflexivity is entailed. This is because, assuming the PhG is fully comprehensive, as Hegel claims – i.e. every possible shape of natural consciousness is represented in its pages – then the reader will necessarily encounter her own “natural notions” at some point. I am happy to credit this formulation, which I believe is correct, albeit stronger than is required for our present purposes. 53 We should take care to emphasize that this “coincidence” will obtain only under a specific condition: namely, when the natural consciousness that is (1) measured against its native criterion also (2) shares the critic’s own value or conviction. But of course, the particular “object” examined – the attitude, the practice, the social order – need not evince the critic’s own standpoint, and in fact frequently does not. This applies to a number of shapes in the PhG, not all of which, presumably, represent “live” ideological options for the reader. 51



In Chapter 2 I will turn to the Preface, and specifically to the section on “speculative sentences,” in order to deepen our account of immanent critique, and to clarify features of Hegel’s method that remain underdeveloped in the Introduction itself. Before doing so, however, I want to discuss at greater length a figure that appeared in Chapter 1, but without very much explanation: namely, “determinate negation” [bestimmte Negation]. This analysis should help sharpen our understanding of the argument in Chapter 1, while also preparing us for a reading of the “speculative sentence” that will capitalize upon this figure. At the same time, we are not essentially concerned here to state a “theory” of determinate negation, so much as to disambiguate several interpretive possibilities that in my view have not been properly distinguished in the literature.1 This disambiguation will in turn allow us to remove several potentially serious obstacles to the sort of “critical theoretical” interpretation defended in this dissertation. The first thing to note, then, is that the expression determinate negation is applicable solely to a sequence of some kind, or a transition from one item (a) to another (b) – where (b) is emphatically the “result” of (a)’s “dissolution.” 2 Hegel’s canonical formulae in the Introduction express this condition clearly: “when the result is grasped as determinate negation, that is, when it is grasped as it is

Hegel’s Science of Logic (2010a: 32-33/5:49) includes a complementary description of this phrase, though I will be focusing on the PhG. Other treatments of Hegel’s expression may be found in M. Rosen (1982: 30-35) and Smith (187: 193). For an account of Adorno’s use of this phrase, see O’Connor (2013: 48-49 and 62-65), and Schweppenhäuser (2009: 20-26). 2 Emphasizing this property of determinate negation allows us to distinguish Adorno’s distinctive use of the same term. In fact, Adorno occasionally appears to use the term as a synonym of immanent critique. In one passage from Dialectic of Enlightenment, determinate negation connotes the critic’s refusal to articulate transcendent, standards of judgment, or a “positive” image of utopia: “The right of the image is rescued in the faithful observance of its prohibition. Such observance, ‘determinate negation,’ is not exempted from the enticements of intuition by the sovereignty of the abstract concept, as is skepticism” (2002: 18). 1


in truth, then at that point a new form has immediately arisen ” (¶79/3:74). Or again, this form has been “apprehended as the nullity of that of which it is the result, a result which contains whatever truth the preceding knowledge has in itself” (¶87/3:80). 3 The transition in question may be between pairs of concepts, attitudes, practices or institutions – for the moment it is unimportant which. Now in the context of such transitions, it seems to me that, as a rule, the expression determinate negation may pertain to one of two things: 1. An item (b), when it is conceived as the positive result of the dissolution of item (a) – the latter’s “negation.” According to this use – the most common in Hegel’s book – item (b) is the “determinate negation” of (a). 2. The act or procedure – either mental or physical – that generates the transition from (a) to (b). So, for instance, the Slave’s labor may be called the “determinate negation” of the thing, now transformed from something natural to something constructed. (We may contrast this labor with the Master’s “abstract” negation of the thing in consumption.)4 Now I have been deliberately vague in my word choice (refusing to specify the status of the “entity” negated) and provocative in my example (in which a putatively extra-mental “thing” is negated). This is because what interests me is precisely the ambiguity of “determinate negation” in both senses – that is, the dramatically different ways in which an item or act can be conceived as the “determinate negation” of something else. In other words, every shape in the PhG is a “productive mistake,” in

See also the Science of Logic: “In the Phenomenology of Spirit, I have presented an example of this [philosophical] method with respect to a concrete object, namely consciousness. At issue there are shapes of consciousness, each of which dissolves itself in being realized, has its own negation for result – and thereby has gone over to a higher shape” (2010a: 33/5:49). 4 In what follows I will use the expression in both senses. But I should mention a third possible use. A determinate negation might also be the truth-content of item (a) that will subsequently be “liberated” as item (b). As far as I can tell, this meaning does not occur in the PhG, though I will note that it becomes common in the Marxist tradition to call the working class the existing “negation” of capitalism. 3


the sense that it is somehow necessary for yielding its successor-shape.5 But the nature of each mistake’s productivity or contribution seems to vary in quite basic ways, both according to its place in the text and the emphasis we choose. In fact there are at least two ambiguities surrounding this expression, both of which are decisive for any interpretation of the PhG. First, commentators seem to equivocate between whether determinate negation affects discourse alone, or the world itself in some larger sense. Second, commentators do not adequately distinguish cases in which an item is itself preserved (albeit relativized) as part of a greater whole, from those in which an item is abolished, once its “truth” has been extracted and preserved in some other mode. Let us develop each of these ambiguities in turn. Ambiguity 1 Accounts of determinate negation have become one of several entry-points for the so-called “discursive bias” of recent Hegel interpretation. 6 Terry Pinkard’s explanation of determinate negation appears to reflect such a bias: The negation of an account, in Hegel’s language, is always that set of self-undermining considerations that arise from within an account’s own terms, and, for that reason, negation is always determinate negation, the specific set of self-undermining objections that come out of such accounts.7

We will leave aside the less decisive ambiguity that both the shape’s in-itself and the entire shape can (and should) be so grasped in this way. So, for example: not only is Perception’s “Thing” the determinate negation of Sense Certainty’s “This.” It is just as clear that Perception is the determinate negation of Sense Certainty tout court. 6 For descriptions and critiques of “discursive bias,” see Lumsden (2008), "The Rise of the Non-Metaphysical Hegel," and Midtgarden (2013) "Conflicting and Complementary Conceptions of Discursive Practice in Non-metaphysical Interpretations of Hegel." This bias seems to me inseparable from the decades-old backlash against so-called “anthropogenetic” readings of the PhG. 7 Pinkard (1994: 7). But see as well the highly representative sentence from Pippin: “[I]t is one of the great virtues of th texts after the early Jena period that Hegel replaces the intuition language with his position on thought’s “determinate” self-negation, its developing self-correction in its free, logical self-determination” (1989: 70). On the other hand, Brandom’s (1999: 174) gloss for determinate negation – “material incompatibility” – while in principle agnostic regarding the object of negation (which can be either a thing or an idea) becomes in his writings, in practice, a feature of discourse, “conceptual contents,” and the like. 5


On this reading, the transformations in question appear confined to account-giving and nothing else – least of all a material world altogether untethered from those accounts. 8 In the book’s early transitions, to be sure – say, from Perception to Understanding – it may very well be Pinkard’s definition that wins the day.9 (In that place, an account of Things with Properties gives way, in the face of “self-undermining skepticism,” to an account involving Lawful Forces. The same may be said, with lesser or greater plausibility, of the other “non practical” shapes.) Even when such account-giving is qualified as a “practice” by the neo-pragmatist school, the skeptical breakdowns in question are always imagined to originate in – while at the same time remaining internal to – the realm of discourse. By contrast, I will continue to argue that the basic “meta criterion” for measuring the coherence (and satisfaction) of a shape will be its enactment via conduct in the world, or a potentially ruinous incursion into the “extra mental”.” But this interpretation entails that a resulting inversion or “negation” both (a) responds to the contradiction between, while (b) absorbing the alterations at, mental and non-mental levels. This means, first, that the “new” essence in one’s reason-giving practice emerges solely as the response to – and recognition of – the material realization of the “old” essence. Second, it means that, while a determinate negation certainly involves a transformation of account-giving, this also coincides with some commensurable alteration in the structures of the world. Indeed, the literature’s uniform reduction of “negation” to either a mental event, or a relation of one judgment or conceptual scheme to the next, is itself abstract, and hardly in keeping

This bias extends beyond interpretations of the phrase determinate negation. Even readers sympathetic to Hegel’s “emancipatory” potential counterpose his alleged discursive bias to the “materialist” alternative. So Gordon Finlayson – ostensibly in agreement with Adorno – claims: “The unity of the whole is achieved at the price of violence perpetrated against the particulars and that violence…is not just an innocent conceptual violence according to Adorno” (2014: 1159). It is exceedingly difficulty to identify much “innocent conceptual violence” in the PhG. 9 Though see Forster (1998), who repositions even the individual shapes of Sense-Certainty, Perception and Understanding within larger social contexts and historical phases. This question, however, is not reducible to the problem of whether or not Hegel’s first chapters are actually “historical.” We can deny that Perception belongs to a certain historical phase of human development, while still insisting that Perception is “materially developmental,” and not only a shift in account giving. 8


with Hegel’s own use of the expression in the PhG. For our purposes it will suffice to contemplate the most infamous example: it is not the “idea” of the opponent that is “abstractly negated”10 in the battle of prestige, but the man himself in his conversion into a corpse. Neither gives back the other to itself nor does it receive itself from the other by way of consciousness. Rather, they only indifferently leave each other free-standing, like things. Their deed is abstract negation,11 not the negation of consciousness, which sublates in such a way that it preserves and maintains what has been sublated [i.e. determinately negated12] and which thereby survives its having become sublated. (¶188/3:150) This quotation alone evokes the interpretive dangers of assuming that “negation,” on Hegel’s understanding, is something purely discursive or mental, rather than a property or consequence of material “deeds,” or an inescapably pragmatic moment in a shape’s development and dissolution. Ambiguity 2 The second ambiguity I cited above, though certainly related to the first, takes a slightly different form. The position I oppose may be called ‘everything-in-its-place’ quietism. The question, in this case, is not whether it is reality, rather than a particular regime of discourse, that undergoes transformation. Here the question is: even if the item in question is extra-discursive, what precisely does its “negation” – hence its “preservation” – involve? Even if a commentator allows that determinate negation in the PhG pertains both to discursive and extra-discursive reality, she may nonetheless maintain that the PhG’s “transformations” are ultimately between perspectives – say, from conceiving something as a defect to recognizing its rationality. On this view, one may suppose that Again, pace Finalyson (2014: 1152). This use of “abstract negation” recurs in the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Spirit: “[T]he growth of the activity of his physical organism into a static habit leads on to the abstract negation of the living individuality, to death” (2007: §396 Z/10:86). 12 The context of “sublation” in the passage – as Hegel’s antonym for abstract negation – together with the obvious conceptual relation between determinate negation and sublation generally, permit this inference. In the chapter “Perception,” Hegel confirms the basic continuity between these expressions: “The ‘this’ [i.e. the object of Sense Certainty] is therefore posited as not-this [i.e. as the propertied thing of Perception]; that is, as sublated [aufgehoben], and thereby as not nothing but as a determinate nothing [ein bestimmtes Nichts], that is, as a nothing of a specific content, namely, of the ‘this’” (¶113/3:94). If we grant that Hegel uses the phrases “determinate negation” and “determinate nothing” interchangeably (a precedent established in the Introduction), then the concept’s relationship to the more notorious “sublation” is clear from the quoted passage. When one item – say, the This – has been properly sublated, then the second item yielded – say, the Thing – may rightfully be called the determinate negation of the first item. 10 11


some bit of reality has been “negated” when it has been, not transformed per se, but relativized with respect to the whole. Its “totalizing” tendency checked – hence in some sense genuinely “reformed” – this item will nonetheless continue to enjoy a qualified, limited existence in the world. Once again, Pinkard endorses just the interpretation I’d like to question: “The kinds of ends that humans take up, and therefore the kinds that fail, are not independent of the facts of human life. They are sublations of those facts, that is, ways in which the authority accorded to certain facts is circumscribed by another authority.”13 In fact, the critical nerve of Hegel’s text is arguably damaged more by this imputed ‘everything-in-its-place’ quietism than any discursive bias. Now admittedly, determinate negation does occasionally seem to take this form. Sometimes, that is, after attempting to one-sidedly or “abstractly” negate its object, a particular shape will instead find a way to “sublate” that object by relativizing it. So, for instance, nature is consciously “cancelled” as an absolutely authoritative value, yet simultaneously “preserved” as a necessary albeit insufficient or “underdetermined” condition. Likewise, Hegel must surely have thought that that the shape of Perception would continue to enjoy a – non-totalizing or “circumscribed” – place in our everyday lives.14 But this conception of determinate negation, while perhaps applicable at some places in the text, simply does not begin to capture the logic of other transitions. For example, it is equally obvious that Hegel does not view Mastery and Phrenology as existents to be embraced-withqualifications, but two practices on the historical block. Another way of making this point is to say that slavery, for Hegel, has been “negated” – but whether this negation has been “abstract” or “determinate” depends upon our emphasis. It has been (1) “abstractly” negated in the sense that it has been eliminated, as a human practice, root and branch. By contrast, again, Hegel suggests other Pinkard (2012: 117). Similarly, after critiquing the inadequacy of “clever argumentation” for philosophical presentation, Hegel qualifies himself as follows: “In fact, non-speculative thinking also has its rights, which are valid but which are ignored in the speculative proposition” (¶65/3:61).

13 14


practices, paradigmatically the Protestant Religion, can and will be recognized in their “partial” validity, hence concretely preserved as a “moment,” now relativized within and against a larger “whole.” Yet nowhere does Hegel indicate that slavery – in its literal form – has even a “limited” place in the modern world. Slavery has also been (2) “determinately” negated, however, in the forms of – internally divided – subjectivity nourished under relations of domination and obedience. In the PhG, the shapes of Stoicism, Skepticism and Unhappy Consciousness together do preserve the “truth content” of Slavery, only now unmoored from the social relation itself. The Unhappy Consciousness, meanwhile, in pursuit of its patently self-contradictory goal – and as though in spite of itself – shapes itself (Bildung) into the sort of regular, calculable, implicitly rational sort of mind or actor that is the premise of modernity. Incidentally, the neo-pragmatist school is hardly alone in neglecting the implications of this ambiguity. Marx’s most pointed, seemingly devastating criticism of Hegel in the 1844 Manuscripts takes precisely this form: [S]elf-conscious man, insofar as he has recognized and annulled and superseded the spiritual world…as self-alienation, nevertheless again confirms this in its alienated shape and passes it off as his true mode of being – re-establishes it, and pretends to be at home in his other-being as such. Thus, for instance, after annulling and superseding religion, after recognizing religion to be a product of self-alienation, he yet finds confirmation of himself in religion as religion. Here is the root of Hegel’s false positivism, or his merely apparent criticism.15 But the early Frankfurt School, too, adopted this line of criticism, and routinely attempted to distinguish its own position from Hegel’s on this point as well. Thus in his essay, “On the Problem of Truth,” Horkheimer, avowedly taking sides with “materialism” against Hegel’s alleged conservatism, insists: Understanding that the prevalent circumstances are conditioned and transitory is not…immediately equated with transcending them and canceling them out…To

K. Marx (1988: 158). Or again: “In the actual world private right, morality, the family, civil society, the state, etc., remain in existence, only they have become moments of man” (1988: 159).



conceptualize a defect is therefore not to transcend it; concepts and theories constitute one moment of its rectification.16 If we keep in mind the ambiguity surrounding Hegel’s conception of “determinate negation,” however, we will be slower to denounce the PhG for this sort of ideological blunder. For if some transitions in the PhG indicate that a “seeming” defect is, from a higher perspective, no such thing; or that spirit “transcends” some item simply by allocating it to its proper sphere, typically one reserved for it in the modern state; there are nevertheless other transitions that reflect much more radical types of negation. 17 Some Conclusions We have now isolated two interpretive ambiguities that have surrounded discussions of determinate negation – the technical expression Hegel uses to capture the speculative relation of something to its “result.” Identifying these ambiguities was necessary for removing two potential obstacles to the revisionist reading I am in general attempting to defend. That is to say: it becomes much more difficult to conceive the PhG as both an antecedent and example of “critical theory” if Hegel’s doctrine of determinate negation implies either that human transformation is restricted to, or explained exclusively by, the characteristics of our discursive or mental schemes, or that radical human (and specifically social) development is not possible or real. (Either this development is the effect of a mere shift in perspective; or else it is a matter of ensuring that every existent human reality – including odious ones – finds its relative place or proper “sphere” in the modern world.) But I have attempted to show that determinate negation in the PhG is better grasped as a thesis that does not Horkheimer (1993: 189). Hegel’s “On Classical Studies,” an 1809 speech delivered to his Nüremberg Gymnasium students, appears to capture determinate negation as follows: “When once the insufficiency and the disadvantage of old principles and institutions is recognized…our mind first superficially reacts by demanding their complete rejection and abolition. But the wisdom of our government has risen superior to such an easy-going method, and it has fulfilled the requirements of the time in the truest way by modifying the relation of the old principles to the new world; thus it preserves their essential features no less than it alters and rejuvenates them” (1975: 321-322/4:314).

16 17


necessarily imply either of these inferences, and one that – at least at many places – can and should be taken in rather opposed ways.



Introduction: Speculative Sentences and the Phenomenology While Hegel’s only explicit treatment of the “speculative sentence” [spekulative Satz] occurs in the PhG, commentators rarely link the trope to the philosophical program of this text.1 The discussion’s location in the Preface is thought to count against such a connection. After all, the expansive Preface introduces, not the PhG per se, but Hegel’s larger “system” ultimately codified in the three-part Encyclopedia.2 This circumstance has led interpreters to neglect or understate the Preface – including its treatment of speculative sentences – as a source of methodological instruction for the PhG itself. Instead, most readers of the PhG have understandably focused their attention on the compact Introduction, which Hegel does explicitly frame as a guide to the ensuing experience of natural consciousness. For this reason, it is unsurprising that those authors who have ventured interpretations of the speculative sentence have done so, nearly without exception, to throw light on topics and problems extrinsic to the PhG. At various times, Hegel’s discussion has been taken to illuminate the Science of Logic’s presentation;3 an independent theory of judgment;4 the proto-hermeneutical and proto-deconstructive dimensions of Hegelian language;5 as well as some of the general implications

Hegel also appears to discuss earlier and later incarnations of this figure, albeit under different names, in the Difference essay (1977a: 103-109/2:35-41), in Faith and Knowledge (1977b: 70-72/2:305-307), as well in the Science of Logic (2010a: 6669/5:92-95) and the Encyclopedia Logic (2010b: 68-71/8:94-98). 2 Of course, the exact form the 1807 Hegel imagined for this projected system has remained open to question. See especially the discussion in Forster (1998). 3 See Bowman (2013: 251-255), Gadamer (1976: 16-21 and 94-99), Houlgate (1986: 141-156), and Hyppolite (1997: 129148). Lau, too, claims “the speculative proposition…can be considered the leitmotiv of Hegel’s Logic” (2006: 63). 4 See Bowman (2013), Harrelson (2013), Lau (2006), and Surber (1975). 5 See Gadamer (1976), Gasché (1986: 45-54), Malabou (2005: ch. 12), Pahl (2006), and Žižek (1989: 234-237). 1


of this language for social theory. 6 For the most part, the speculative sentence has not been considered significant for grasping the method or content of the PhG itself.7 I would like in this chapter to challenge this tendency. I will argue that, in fact, the Preface’s discussion of speculative sentences should be linked to Hegel’s larger project in the PhG. More specifically, I will show that this discussion both mirrors and supplements the Introduction’s explication of Hegel’s “immanent” method, as we reconstructed it in Chapter 1. Establishing this parallel will in turn enable us to identify a large class of sentences throughout the PhG as both properly speculative and methodologically substantive. At the same time, this discussion will help clarify several characteristics that Hegel ascribes to the speculative sentence, but which have gone largely unnoticed by commentators. I. Hegel’s Method: The Introduction Let us rehearse Hegel’s method, then, this time in a compressed way. In Chapter 1, we emphasized the PhG’s portrayal and critique of so-called “shapes” of “natural consciousness”8 – roughly, basic human orientations familiar from cultural history and everyday life: Mastery, Stoicism, Pleasure, Faith, and the like. We saw that, while the majority of these Gestalten do not appear to epitomize “epistemologies” in the narrow sense, each one is nonetheless committed to some foundational “essence” or “concept” – say, Immediacy, or Independence, or Pleasure – which for Hegel constitutes its “certainty.” And we suggested that every shape is instinctively committed to some

See Kortian (1980: ch. 1-2), Marcuse (1941: 97-102), G. Rose (1981), M. Rosen (1982: 135-142), Ruda (2017), and Zambrana (2017). Naturally, my interpretation is partially indebted to the precedent established by this last group of commentators. Yet I am equally critical of these efforts inasmuch as they neglect the role of speculative sentences in the PhG itself. 7 It is indicative of this trend that Hyppolite’s reading of the speculative sentence occurs, not in his commentary on the PhG, Genesis and Structure (1974), but rather in Logic and Existence (1997) – his analysis of the greater Logic. Authors who at least gesture towards some role for speculative sentences in the PhG include H. S. Harris (1997 Vol. I: 137-146), Kortian (1980), W. Marx (1971: 21-45), Pinkard (2012), and G. Rose (1981: 149-151). Still, these gestures notwithstanding, no commentators really establish the importance of this figure for the remainder of Hegel’s text. 8 See Chapter 3 for my interpretation of the phrase “natural consciousness.” 6


specific behavior or practice that expresses its concept: domination, labor, contemplation, romantic conquest, prayer, and so on. Finally, the testing-procedure canonized in the Introduction – immanent critique under its first definition – broadly involves observing whether a shape’s basic conceptual certainty can be coherently enacted and so validated. Since “consciousness examines its own self, the only thing that remains to us is purely to look on” (¶85/3:77). Such a procedure is immanent (under its first definition) inasmuch as the performance of each shape is assessed, not according to the reader’s own, “external” criterion, but according to a measure recognized by natural consciousness itself. “[W]e thus do not need to bring standards with us and in the investigation to apply our ideas and thoughts. By leaving these aside, we succeed in considering the matter at issue as it is in and for itself (¶84/3:77). Now as we have seen, every attempt by natural consciousness to substantiate its foundational concept – its certainty – culminates in failure. Or more precisely, the practical “realization” of a shape’s characteristic concept always inverts that concept, or yields another concept that is somehow inadmissible to the shape in question. To consider some examples: SenseCertainty’s ostensive assertion of immediate “individuality” delivers a mediated universality that is starkly irreconcilable with its epistemic aims; the Master’s effort to embody “independence” unavoidably ensnares him in – disavowed – relations of dependence; while the consummation of individual “pleasure” directly incurs a form of self-defeating necessity.9 At the same time, precisely because each shape commits to, and identifies with, its characteristic “essence,” Hegel writes that, “the realization of the concept will count instead, to it, as the loss of itself” (¶78/3:72). From this perspective, that is, nothing “positive” results from the dissolution of a concept or position. “Such a one-sided view is what natural consciousness generally has” (¶79/3:73), since it 9

Hegel’s summaries of these inversions occur at ¶110, ¶192, and ¶365.


invariably “sees in the result always only pure nothing” (¶79/3:74), a “merely negative movement” (¶79/3:73), and thus “cannot progress any further from this point” (¶79/3:74). In fact, Hegel suggests that this generic attitude of natural consciousness shares with skepticism more narrowly the “vanity…which always knows how to bring all thoughts to dissolution and how to find, in place of all content, only the arid I” (¶80/3:75). For Hegel’s philosophical observer, by contrast, something positive does follow from the selfdissolution of each certainty: namely, that determinate “inversion” every shape both generates and disavows. And this circumstance allows us to contemplate the succeeding shape, which does assimilate the concept – the undigested “antithesis” – prepared in the previous phase of experience. We see that Perception accepts the “universality” repelled by Sense-Certainty,10 and that the Lawful Heart integrates the “necessity” that defeats Pleasure.11 Only “for us” does there arise “a new shape of consciousness…for which the essence is something different from what was the essence for the preceding shape” (¶87/3:80). This, we have been arguing, is the basic thought behind some the Introduction’s more challenging language – that, for instance, “grasped as it is in truth,” every result is a “determinate negation” (¶79/3:74), or again, that the philosopher intuits the “pure emergence” (¶87/3:80) of each essence. Evidently, the reader alone perceives each essence “as movement and coming-to-be [Bewegung und Werden]” (¶87/3:80), because she alone perceives its genesis in a shape which simultaneously demanded and disallowed it. Hegel’s preferred way of summarizing these inversions, we noted, is to say that a shape’s self-dissolving “certainty” has issued in its determinate “truth.” That is, the specific concept that natural consciousness avows at some stage of its development – its “certainty” – is ultimately enacted as a contradictory concept, or a “truth” given “Immediate certainty does not take hold of the truth, for its truth is the universal…On the other hand, perception takes what, to perception, is the existent as universal” (¶111/3:93). 11“The final moment of its [Pleasure’s] existence is the thought of its loss within necessity…However…this necessity, or this pure universality, is its own essence. This reflection of consciousness into itself, knowing necessity as itself, is a new shape of consciousness” (¶366/3:274-275). 10


body by the succeeding shape. We can briefly develop the significance of this couplet with some of Hegel’s own illustrations. In fact, the word “truth” appears with this meaning on the first page of the book, where it is conjoined with Hegel’s infamous organic imagery: “the fruit emerges as the blossom’s truth as it comes to replace the blossom itself” (¶23/3:12). It recurs frequently thereafter. Occasionally, Hegel is explicit that the term “truth” is being used in this technical way.12 More often, it is clear from the context that it glosses a result that follows from, while violating, some initial “certainty.” So, to collect in one place a number of phrases belonging to this class: “the universal is the truth of sensuous-certainty” (¶97/3:85); “The truth of the self-sufficient consciousness is…the servile consciousness” (¶193/3:152); “the truth of this rational self-consciousness is for us the ethical substance” (¶357/3:268); “the truth of observing is…the sublation [Aufheben] of this immediate instinct for finding” (¶437/3:324); “The totality or actuality which showed itself to be the truth of the ethical world is that of the self of the person” (¶633/3:465); or again, “the stoic self-sufficiency of thinking…passes through the movement of the skeptical consciousness, [and] it finds its truth in the shape that was called the unhappy self-consciousness” (¶751/3:546-547). Indeed, the very titles of several sections in the PhG – “The Truth of Self-Certainty,” “The Certainty and Truth of Reason,” “The Truth of the Enlightenment” – are arguably only intelligible when “truth” is understood along these lines. Hence readers familiar with the content of these sections, i.e. the specific experiences named by these titles, will note that in each case, “truth” expresses the specific, unforeseen inversion in store for each shape enacting its foundational “certainty.”13

This is particularly clear where Hegel interjects “result” as a synonym: “Consciousness…has learned from experience about perceiving, namely, that its result and its truth [das Resultat und das Wahre] are its dissolution” (¶118/3:98). 13 For example, regarding Enlightenment’s truth, Hegel writes: “pure insight attains positive objectivity in utility…This objectivity now constitutes its world, and it has become the truth of the entire previous world” (¶581/3:430). 12


II. Hegel’s Method: The Preface How, then, does this preliminary outline of phenomenological method, presented in the Introduction, relate to the topic of “speculative sentences,” discussed at ¶58 – ¶66 in the Preface? What might lead us to connect these sections at all? One initial reason for receiving these passages as addenda to the Introduction is that, here, Hegel reiterates the same basic methodological instructions, and in nearly identical language. On the most superficial level, that is, Hegel’s choice of words alone should alert us to the underlying continuities between these sections. If anything, the metaphors conventionally linked to immanent critique are more pronounced in the Preface than in the Introduction. For example, the reader is explicitly and repeatedly discouraged from a reasoning that “stands above all content” (¶58/3:56),14 or an “external cognition” (¶66/3:61)15 that “never resides in the matter itself but is always outside and beyond it” (¶59/3:57). 16 Instead, this reader is exhorted to “immerse” (¶58/3:56)17 herself in the object and “deal with the self of the content” (¶60/3:58-59),18 and in fact “be together with that content” (¶60/3:59).19 Or again, rather than “reaching the free attitude of reasoning, thinking now becomes absorbed in the content” (¶62/3:59).20 But the continuities run deeper than metaphor. Recall that, in the Introduction, Hegel recommends a posture of “pure-onlooking” vis-à-vis natural consciousness – a posture that obviates the “need to bring standards with us and in the investigation to apply our ideas and thoughts” (¶84). Through such an “immanent” approach, “we succeed in considering the matter at issue as it is in and

“…die Freiheit von dem Inhalt und die Eitelkeit über ihn.” “äußerlichen Erkennen.” 16 “…ist sie überhaupt nicht in der Sache, sondern immer darüber hinaus.” In the same vein, Hegel speaks pejoratively of a “freedom” that amounts to arbitrary self-will: “thinking cannot roam freely any longer, but is held fast by this weight” (¶60). 17 “…in ihn zu versenken.” 18 “…hat es vielmehr mit dem Selbst des Inhalts noch zu tun.” 19 “…mit diesem zusammen sein.” 20 “…und nun, statt daß es im Prädikate in sich gegangen die freie Stellung des Räsonierens erhielte, ist es in den Inhalt noch vertieft.” 14 15


for itself (¶84). Now consider a strikingly similar passage from the Preface, in which the “abstinence” required for philosophical comprehension, the surrender of external “wisdom,” as well as the object’s “immanent rhythm,” are all cited by way of introducing the speculative sentence. In this place, Hegel urges thought to descend into the content and…let it move itself by means of the self as its own self and then to observe this movement. This refusal both to insert one’s own views into the immanent rhythm of the concept and to interfere arbitrarily with that rhythm by means of wisdom acquired elsewhere, or this abstinence, are all themselves an essential moment of attentiveness to the concept. (¶58/3:56) Or again, recall the Introduction’s admonitions against that “one sided view” (¶79), common to natural consciousness and abstract skepticism alike, which cannot or will not see how a new position – the “positive” – is intimated by the collapse of the old one. Such an attitude “cannot progress any further from this point” (¶79), because it perceives the failure of each concept as a “merely negative movement” (¶79), whose “result [is] always only pure nothing” (¶79), and so amounts to a “vanity” that “find[s], in place of all content, only the arid I” (¶80). With these remarks in mind, let us turn again to Hegel’s preamble to the speculative sentence: ‘This is not the way it is’; this insight is the merely negative; it is final, and it does not itself go beyond itself to a new content…It is reflection into the empty I, the vanity of its own knowing. – What this vanity expresses is not only that this content is vain but also that this insight itself is vain, for it is the negative which catches no glimpse of the positive within itself. (¶59/3:56-57) Further – and by way of contrast – we will remember the Introduction’s insistence that, “for us,” each failure of natural consciousness to coherently enact its concept does in fact yield a new, positive concept – the specific “inversion” assimilated by the succeeding shape. In that place, Hegel tells us that, “while the result is grasped as it is in truth, as determinate negation, a new form has thereby immediately arisen” (¶79). Now consider the following words, again from the same “preamble”: [I]n comprehensive thinking, the negative belongs to the content itself and is the positive, both as its immanent movement and determination and as the totality of these. Taken as a result, it is the determinate negative which emerges out of this movement and is likewise thereby a positive content. (¶59/3:57)


And to complete the parallel we have been constructing in this section, we will note that, whereas the observer of natural consciousness grasps each emergent concept “as movement and coming-tobe [Bewegung und Werden]” (¶87), the reader addressed in the Preface is encouraged to see how “the concept is the object’s own self…which exhibits itself as the object’s coming-to-be [sein Werden]” (¶60/3:57). III. A Puzzle and a Thesis On the evidence, then, Hegel has felt compelled to reproduce the Introduction’s central methodological instructions, this time in the Preface, and more specifically in those passages that frame his account of the speculative sentence. For here, too, Hegel has emphasized (1) the need to rescind one’s own notions and standards, in order to follow the object’s immanent self-movement; (2) the danger of misapprehending the object’s self-subversion as an entirely “negative” process (as the “vain I” is wont to do); and, conversely, (3) the ideal of treating these negations as the “determinate,” hence productive or “positive” affairs they ultimately are. In each of these three respects, Hegel appears to presuppose both a philosophical approach, and a conceptual object, with similar or identical properties. Yet at the same time, these unmistakable parallels present us with a puzzle. The Introduction’s exhortations, after all, are meant to instruct Hegel’s reader in proper phenomenological conduct. That is, the philosophical “We” is urged into a form of observation or “pure onlooking” vis-à-vis the motley shapes of natural consciousness. Why, then, should Hegel repeat these same instructions during an exposition, not of natural consciousness, but of the seemingly unrelated topic of propositional form? What exactly justifies this “exportation” of his immanent method into a separate, potentially disanalogous sphere of philosophical experience?


The remainder of this chapter is addressed to this puzzle. I will argue that the recurrence of these methodological strictures in the Preface is neither accidental nor inappropriate. On the contrary, this repetition is entirely justified. I will defend this thesis in two stages. First, I will show that immanent critique (under its first definition) is precisely the approach required to grasp the peculiar, self-inverting structure of the speculative sentence. Second, however, I will show that the implied homology between natural consciousness and the speculative sentence is hardly fortuitous, since – at a number of places in the PhG – these sentences have the clear function of “abbreviating” the selfinverting experiences of natural consciousness itself. Before doing so, however, let us briefly introduce Hegel’s treatment of the speculative sentence in more traditional terms. IV. The Speculative Sentence (i): An Introduction What is the speculative sentence? At the most general level – here commentators are mainly in agreement – Hegel’s discussion contrasts two, distinct ways of connecting the terms of a proposition: namely, “predication” and “identity.”21 Hegel believes that our customary, everyday use of language is typified by predicative statements – or, more accurately, statements intended and interpreted as predicative. Under normal circumstances, in other words, we expect statements to connect a foundational “subject” term – paradigmatically via the copula “is” – with a separate term, conceived as a relatively contingent “predicate.” Hegel suggests that this predicative attitude to language, variously named “clever argumentation [Räsonieren]” (¶58/3:56) and “formal thinking [formales Denken]” (¶58/3:56), carries certain presuppositions regarding the object of knowledge. Above all, the act of positing “a represented subject to which the content is related as accident and predicate” (¶60/3:57) presupposes

Beyond the specialist studies cited above, helpful running commentaries on Hegel’s discussion include Inwood (2018: 362-367), Kaufmann (1966: 88-101), and Yovel (2005: 175-189).



a substance that is ontologically separable from its properties.22 In Hegel’s words, it is the “nature of judgment or of the proposition per se [die Natur des Urteils oder Satzes überhaupt]” (¶61/3:59) that it essentially “includes the difference between subject and predicate” (¶61/3:59). To consider one of Hegel’s favored examples from the lesser Logic: ‘the rose (subject-term) is red (predicate).’ 23 Since in principle a rose may also be white, it is here conceived as “a motionless subject tranquilly supporting the accidents” (¶60/3:57), inasmuch as it enjoys a certain independence vis-à-vis its fungible color. Conversely, red and white are properties that may be predicated of additional things, apart from roses; they are in this respect “universal[s] which, as free from the subject, could belong to many others” (¶60/3:58). What matters most, for Hegel, is that such a conception appears to preclude any intrinsic relation between the items in question. By contrast, what Hegel calls “comprehending thinking [begreifendes Denken]” (¶60/3:57) is capable of grasping “identity” statements – or rather, again more precisely, it is capable of interpreting statements in terms of intrinsic identity. Conceived in this way, a proposition does not “externally” conjoin a fixed subject-term with a predicate or predicates, or specify an object’s contingent properties as they are uncovered. On the contrary, in cases of conceptual identity, the nominal “predicate” is construed as the singular disclosure of the subject-term’s essential value: “The content is thereby in fact no longer the predicate of the subject; rather, it is the substance, the essence, and it is the concept of what it is which is being spoken of” (¶60/3:58). Above all, in a genuinely “speculative” or “philosophical” proposition, like “the actual [das Wirkliche] is the universal [das Allgemeine]” (¶62/3:60),24 the subject-term “cannot have still other predicates or accidents” The Encyclopedia Logic (2010b: §28) emphasizes the correlation between this predicative attitude and traditional, i.e. precritical metaphysics. On the other hand, Hyppolite (1997: 140) and Lau (2006: 65) both link this attitude specifically to the shape named “Perception” in the PhG. In either case, Hegel’s intention is clearly to relax the hold of “substance ontology” on his reader. This ambition is elaborated in Houlgate (1987: 141-156). 23 Hegel (2010b: §166-§167 and §172-§174). For another use of this example in the context of speculative sentences, see Rosen (1982: 139). 24 In contrast to most commentators, I have avoided discussing Hegel’s second, potentially misleading example: “God is being” (¶62/3:59). For one thing, Hegel himself accentuates its deficiencies – ideally, in philosophical discourse the 22


(¶60/3:58). When a concept’s “essence” has been comprehensively and uniquely expressed through another concept, that which “in the proposition has the form of a predicate” (¶60/3:58) confronts thought as “the substance itself” (¶60/3:58). V. The Speculative Sentence (ii): Immanence and Inversion Just now I have presented the central distinction of Hegel’s discussion in a schematic way that does not deviate from the interpretations outlined in most commentaries. At this point, though, I would like to emphasize several features of Hegel’s position that directly relate to our previous reconstruction of method, and thus isolate a novel element of his account largely unnoticed in the literature. In doing so, I return to the questions posed above: how exactly does the speculative sentence mirror the experience of natural consciousness? – and how, by extension, does it likewise admit of the “immanent” analysis repeatedly advocated by Hegel? The PhG’s general testing procedure, we said, involves measuring a shape’s defining concept – its “certainty” – not against our criteria or “notions,” but against the immanent enactment of that same concept. Now if, introducing the speculative sentence, Hegel again disclaims the temptation to “insert one’s own views into the immanent rhythm of the concept” (¶58/3:56), in order thereby to “descend into the content and…let it move itself by means of the self as its own self” (¶58/3:56), it is presumably because this type of sentence evinces a similar “self movement.” And indeed, this is just what Hegel says. Precisely because the proposition reflects “the selfmoving concept” (¶60/3:57), or “the object’s own self” (¶60/3:57), or “the immanent concept” (¶66/3:62), Räsonieren’s “external” approach to propositions must be replaced with an emphatically subject-terms of propositions “immediately point to concepts” rather than “names.” Accordingly, it is “expedient to avoid the name, ‘God,’ because this word is not immediately the concept but is rather at the same time the genuine name, the fixed point of rest of the underlying subject, whereas in contrast, e.g., ‘being,’ or ‘the one,’ ‘individuality,’ ‘the subject,’ etc., themselves immediately point to concepts” (¶66/3:62). Further, this example – owing to its manifestly special object – gives us a needlessly tendentious impression of what is (metaphysically and theologically) at stake in these propositions.


“immanent” one: “Instead of being able to be what sets the predicate in motion, the subject, as merely clever argumentation over whether this or that predicate is supposed to be attached, has instead something to do with the self of the content” (¶60/3:58-59). Or again, “instead of having taken an inward turn into the predicate, and instead of having preserved the free status of only clever argumentation, it is still absorbed in the content” (¶62/3:59). The Encyclopedia Logic, too, plainly stipulates this requirement of immanence, and again in connection with the activity of predication. The argumentative procedure of the “old metaphysics,” Hegel writes, consisted in attributing predicates to the object to be known…This, however, represents an external reflection about the object since the determinations (the predicates) are ready-made [fertig] in my representation and attributed to the object in an external manner only. By contrast, true knowledge of an object must be of the sort that the object determines itself out of itself and does not receive its predicates from outside.25 What all of these quotations reflect, of course, is Hegel’s conviction that the subject-term of a philosophical proposition cannot be grasped or assessed “from the outside,” according to our readymade notions. We must rather observe how each given subject-term – “the self-moving concept” – immanently determines, realizes, or enacts itself, or meets the demands of its own content. Solely in this way, Hegel will suggest, does one “allow the object [Objekt] to determine itself freely out of itself.”26 But to see what this immanent self-determination means in practice, we must recall the additional features of Hegel’s methodological ideal. Natural consciousness, we saw, takes a purely negative, “one sided view” (¶79) of failure. For this reason, once undermined, its concept or “certainty” collapses into a “pure nothing” (¶79). In fact, since natural consciousness intimately identifies with its concept, this negative result “will count…to it, as the loss of itself” (¶78). By contrast, the philosophical observer grasps and preserves the “determinate negation” (¶79) – the positive “truth” – that inverts that certainty. 25 26

Hegel (2010b: §28 A/8:96). Hegel (2010b: §31 A/8:98).


Now we established above that Hegel resurrects this same distinction in the Preface. Räsonieren has a “merely negative” (¶59/3:56) relation to its object, since it “does not itself go beyond itself to a new content” (¶59/3:56), and “catches no glimpse of the positive within itself (¶59/3:57); whereas “comprehensive thinking” (¶59/3:57) does observe “the determinate negative which emerges out of this movement” (¶59/3:57), now faithfully registered as “a positive content” (¶59/3:57). Yet what exactly might these desiderata mean in the context of our present topic, namely, the speculative sentence? How, that is, do the “argumentative” and “comprehending” attitudes grasp the proposition in these respective ways? We may begin to address these questions as follows. Our customary assumption, when considering a given proposition, is that the predicate-term is simply an “accident,” or one among innumerable properties that help us to qualify a pre-established subject-term. Significantly, neither the meaning nor the validity of the subject-term are essentially in doubt. For instance, a rose (subject-term) may be red, large and wet (predicates), or it may possess different properties altogether. Yet all of these “accidents” are perfectly consistent with what is initially grasped through the subject-term, i.e. the rose’s “concept.” So while Räsonieren undertakes a mounting inventory of the subject-term, naming its predicates as they are uncovered,27 these accidents do not ex hypothesi alter the meaning or standing of the thing itself, the immobile subject-term to which they are assigned as accidents. “At first,” Hegel accordingly writes, “it is usually the subject as the objective fixed self which is made into the ground” (¶60/3:58). Here I would add, though, that the subject-term is only “fixed” in this way – “a motionless subject tranquilly supporting the accidents” (¶60/3:57) – because it is Such a procedure evokes Hegel’s notion of a “bad infinity,” as the Encyclopedia Logic indicates: “Proceeding…in the manner of predication, the mind has the feeling of inexhaustibility by means of such predicates” (2010b: §28 A/8:96). As Gadamer writes: “there is no necessity at all in its development: for the fixed subject-basis of all these determinations extends beyond everything which is ascribed to it, since, in fact, additional predicates can also be ascribed to it” (1976: 17).



dogmatically posited by Räsonieren. Or, alternatively: this subject-term is thought’s own certainty. Precisely because the reader holds this subject-term with “certainty,” Hegel suggests – again echoing the Introduction – any challenge to it will strike her as a “loss.” Indeed, a sentence bearing genuinely “speculative” content, such as “the actual is the universal,” appears to reliably produce this quasipsychological effect. In such cases, we are told, “the subject melts away” (¶62/3:59), so that thought “loses its fixed objective basis which it had in the subject” (¶62/3:60) and “misses the subject” (¶62/3:59). In what respect does the speculative sentence shake the reader’s certainty regarding her subject-term? Hegel’s answer appears to be that the pivot from Räsonieren to “comprehension” initially involves apprehending the relevant predicate as a violation – the “counter-punch” [Gegenstoss] – of this initial certainty. In other words, thought recognizes this predicate as the unexpected inversion of the subject-term’s initial, abstract meaning: It suffers, to picture it in this way, from a counter-punch. Starting from the subject as if this were an enduring ground, it on the contrary finds that by the predicate being the substance, the subject has passed over into the predicate and has thereby become sublated [aufgehoben]. (¶60/3:58) Now I will suggest that it is exceedingly revealing that Hegel uses the technical expression “sublation” – a synonym for “determinate negation”28 – to designate the subject-term’s relation to its essence-disclosing predicate. Here the philosophical reader, formerly confined to identifying properties of its subject-term that comport with its initial certainty, discovers in the predicate the sublation – the contradictory “truth” – of that certainty.29 Earlier in the Preface, Hegel had already underscored this concept-inverting mechanism of philosophical propositions, which invariably display the “becoming-other” of their subject-terms: “the words, ‘absolute,’ ‘divine,’ ‘eternal,’ and so Recall the passage from “Perception” confirming this identity: “The This is therefore posited as not-this, or as sublated [als aufgehoben], and thereby as not nothing but as a determinate nothing [ein bestimmtes Nichts], or as a nothing of a specific content” (¶113). 29 Houlgate (1986: 148) also emphasizes this ‘certainty disrupting’ quality of speculative sentences. 28


on, do not express what is contained in them…Whatever is more than such a word, even the mere transition to a proposition, is a becoming-other…or, it is a mediation” (¶20/3:24-25).30 Yet Hegel only redeems this contention in his discussion of the speculative sentence, where the difficulty this trait presents to our everyday expectations, together with its implications for philosophical form, are developed in detail. In any case, we are now positioned to answer this section’s basic question: how does the speculative sentence mirror the experience of natural consciousness, and thus oblige the same method of “pure onlooking”? At this point we can simply say: just as (1) natural consciousness immanently realizes its “certainty” as a “truth” that is experienced by natural consciousness as a pure negation, but grasped by the philosopher as a determinate result, so (2) the subject-term of a speculative sentence is only authentically expressed in another concept that cancels its initial, abstract meaning – a cancellation felt by Räsonieren as a simple loss, but belatedly recognized by begreifendes Denken as the “sublation” it is.31 In just this way, thought overcomes its “merely negative” (¶59/3:56) attitude to the concept’s collapse, and obtains “the determinate negative which emerges out of this movement” (¶59/3:57) as “a positive content (¶59/3:57).

Some commentators verge on the suggestion that there are no speculative sentences, only speculative readings of – otherwise unexceptional – sentences. Surber claims that “when Hegel speaks of the ‘speculative sentence,’ he refers not to any particular sentence, distinguished on the basis of some special content or extra-ordinary form, but to the comprehended concrete unity…which lies at the basis of any occurrence of language” (1975: 228). Harrelson (2013: 1277) and Lau (2006: 63) appear to echo him. In my view this goes too far. While Hegel is undoubtedly preoccupied with the form of the proposition as such, the specific examples he cites, together with the constraints he places on the ingredients belonging to these propositions, suggest that their “content” is just as relevant as their “form.” As Houlgate clarifies: “The main characteristic…in a speculative sentence is that the subject- and the predicate-terms are both logical categories or universal concepts. Speculative sentences are thus clearly distinguished from propositions or judgments with a sensuous, representational content” (1986: 146). See relatedly Hyppolite (1997: 145) and Yovel (2005: 182-184). 31 Harris comes close to asserting this identity between the structures of natural consciousness and the speculative sentence: “The subject that we are observing constructs itself, and that subject cannot be anything except what it determines itself to be, for it does not have predicates (which may be noticed or unnoticed). It has only experiences, and it can only be the self-concept that results from those experiences” (1997 Vol. I: 140). Yet having posited this provocative identity, Harris does not return to it, and its implications are left unexplored. On the other hand, Kortian, too, claims that the PhG “aims to articulate speculative experience within the discourse of the speculative proposition” (1980: 27). Again, though, the meaning of this suggestion remains opaque, since Kortian confines himself to some schematic comments on the Preface and Introduction, without any effort to trace his thesis into the body of Hegel’s text. Finally, see W. Marx (1971: 22-24) for an entirely different approach to this parallel. 30


VI. The Speculative Sentence (iii): Abbreviating Experience In the previous two sections, we introduced the speculative sentence and established its parallels with natural consciousness. Specifically, our commentary elucidated the structure of immanent selfinversion common to both figures.32 This in turn enabled us to resolve the puzzle introduced by the Preface’s (seemingly unmotivated) reiteration of the Introduction’s methodological ideal. For just as (1) the philosophical observer simply “looks on” as a self-certain concept of natural consciousness is realized as its contradictory “truth,” so (2) the reader of a speculative sentence watches its selfcertain subject-term “break down” in favor of that concept which best expresses its “essence.”33 Yet I would like now to propose that the identity of these figures is not accidental; natural consciousness and the speculative sentence do not just happen to share this precise, self-inverting structure. And this identity is not accidental because, at a number of places in the PhG, the selfinverting experiences of natural consciousness are themselves recorded – in abbreviated form – by speculative sentences that plainly correspond to them. In other words, the speculative sentence is that unit of discourse that most perspicuously expresses “for us” the basic self-transformations of spirit.34 We have already gestured in this direction, of course. In our first descriptions of method in the PhG, we cited a handful of phrases that seem to at least approximate speculative sentences. So, while they eschew the compact austerity epitomized by “the actual is the universal,” propositions like “the universal is the truth of sensuous-certainty,” or “the truth of the self-sufficient consciousness is…the servile consciousness,” unquestionably record the sort of movement we have been attempting to When Hegel writes that the “content is thereby… the concept of what it is which is being spoken of” (¶60/3:58) and that “what is said of the subject…means its concept” (¶64/3:60), or when he disparages “the habit of grasping the speculative predicate according to the form of a proposition instead of grasping it as concept and essence” (¶66/3:62), he is evidently flagging this shared structure. 33 “[T]he motionless subject itself breaks down; it enters into the differences and the content and constitutes the determinateness, which is to say, the distinguished content as well as the content’s movement” (¶60/3:57). 34 Yovel (2005: 183) also indicates that these sentences occasionally have an “abbreviating” function, though he does not draw any connections to particular sections or phrases in the PhG. 32


isolate. And, naturally, the same principle will apply to dozens of other subtle variations on this figure, such as “The realization of force is…at the same time the loss of reality” (¶141/3:115); “faith has in fact become the same as the Enlightenment”(¶573/3:423); “it is…in utility that pure insight finalizes its realization” (¶580/3:428); or “the reality of pure duty is its actualization in nature and sensibility” (¶628/3:462). At the same time, a good number of propositions in the PhG do exhibit the austerity that typifies Hegel’s own examples. And these propositions also serve either to anticipate or recollect a specific experience of natural consciousness, and again by adumbrating its defining “inversion.” Perhaps most strikingly, the momentous identities Hegel establishes between the PhG’s fundamental shapes – Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, Reason, etc. – are each asserted in this compact fashion. We may assemble these propositions as links in a chain: “Consciousness…is indeed itself necessarily self-consciousness” (¶164/3:135); “self-consciousness is reason” (¶232/3:178); “Reason is spirit” (¶437/3:324); and, somewhat less prototypically, “religion is…the consummation of spirit” (¶680/3:499).35 We will readily see that each of these sentences expresses the “sublation” of one concept (i.e. a subject-term) in a second one (i.e. a nominal predicate) expressing its “essence.” But it is equally obvious to the PhG’s reader – and only to this reader – that these sentences have summarized specific “identities” between the formations of natural consciousness itself. The transitions between subdivisions, too, are frequently summarized as propositions of this sort. Consider, for example, the opening line of the Reason chapter: “Consciousness has taken hold of the thought that singular individual consciousness in itself is absolute essence [einzelne Bewußtsein an sich absolutes Wesen ist], and in that thought, consciousness again takes an inward turn” (¶231/3:178). Moments later, admittedly, Hegel varies this language slightly: Reason intuits, not that See also the Preface to the Science of Logic, where Hegel writes: “In its truth reason is however spirit, which is higher than both reason bound to the understanding and understanding bound to reason” (2010a: 10/5:17). Further, this time commenting explicitly on the PhG, Hegel states the following in the Introduction to the Logic: “Absolute knowledge is the truth of all the modes of consciousness” (2010a: 29/5:43).



“individual consciousness…is absolute essence,” but rather that “the sublated singular individuality is the universal [das aufgehobne Einzelne das Allgemeine ist]” (¶231/3:178). In either case, though, Hegel’s reader sees that the “proposition” now implicitly embraced by Reason has just been yielded by the foregoing experience of the Unhappy Consciousness. In broad strokes: this shape had fully enacted its lowly, “inessential” self-conception through a number of self-mortifying practices including prayer, fasting, alms and thanksgiving – the paradoxical result of which is to invert this “individual consciousness” into something “essential.” In other words, the Unhappy Consciousness implicitly realizes an identity between “the singular individual consciousness” and “absolute essence” (or, alternately, “the universal”) – one that is only accepted, albeit unconsciously, by the succeeding shape of Observing Reason.36 However, any number of sections would provide us with relevant examples. Consider, somewhat arbitrarily, Sense-Certainty’s own Gegenstoss: “The Now is…what has been [Das Itzt…ist es ein gewesenes]” (¶106/3:88); Force and Understanding’s conatus: “The understanding is itself really the concept” (¶136/3:110); Pleasure’s “result,” as expressed in its terminal propositions, “selfconsciousness is…universal” (¶359/3:269-270), and – more revealingly – “self-consciousness is…necessity” (¶367/3:275); the concluding lesson of Reason’s Spiritual Animal Kingdom: “the individual is a self as the universal self” (¶418/3:311); or the experience of revolutionary Terror, in which “[absolute] freedom is…abstract self-consciousness” (¶592/3:437). Again, each of these speculative

The full passage confirms that this proposition is only properly intelligible as a resumé of this “unhappy” experience: “For the unhappy consciousness, being-in-itself is the other-worldly beyond of itself. However, what its movement has achieved in the unhappy consciousness is that it has posited singular individuality in its complete development, or it has posited singular individuality, which is actual consciousness, as the negative of its own self, namely, as the objective extreme, or, it has driven its being-for-itself outside of itself and made it into an existent. In having done so, its unity with this universal has also come to be for it, or a unity which for us no longer falls outside the bounds of consciousness since the sublated singular individuality is the universal” (¶231/3:178).



identities compress “for us” – for begreifendes Denken – a specific, inverted experience of natural consciousness itself.37 VII. The Infinite Judgments of Absolute Knowing However, the best-known and most instructive illustrations of Hegel’s practice are likely those “infinite judgments” [das unendliche Urteil] collected at ¶790-¶792 in “Absolute Knowing.” For here Hegel himself emphasizes the relation of these manifestly speculative “judgments” 38 to the selfcomprehending experience of spirit at certain pivotal stages in its development. He expressly names two such judgments39 in this retrospective précis, and I would like to briefly expound them. Broadly, the first judgment, “[T]he being of the I is a thing” (¶790/3:577), was the inverted result of Self-Consciousness, and from there the conceptual subtext of Observing Reason in general (as well as the final realization of Phrenology, specifically). Though Hegel’s own treatment is dense, we may rehearse these moments ourselves as follows. The strenuous effort of Self-Consciousness to repudiate nature within and without – to verify its conviction that it is entirely independent of thinghood40 – culminates in an inversion: it reduces itself to a thing. As Hegel writes at the close of the Unhappy Consciousness: “It has the certainty of having in truth emptied itself of its I, and of having

Up to a point, I agree with Gillian Rose (1981: 48-50) that speculative sentences express an experience of estrangement. At least as reflected by natural consciousness, and later approached by the “predicative attitude,” such sentences presuppose a situation in which the terms do not harmonize, but “invert” one in the other. I would only add that each inversion conveys the specific estrangement immanently encountered by whichever shape it characterizes. 38 Pinkard regards these terms as synonyms: “Almost immediately after introducing that section [i.e. Absolute Knowing], Hegel tells us that what is at stake here is the ‘infinite judgment’ (what he had earlier just as obscurely called the ‘speculative proposition’)’’ (2012: 71). Žižek (1989: 234-35) also identifies this connection. 39 It may be worth observing that the Encyclopedia Hegel will distinguish more sharply between the terms “judgment” and “proposition”: “Judgments are different from propositions [Die Urteile sind von den Sätzen unterschieden]; the latter contain the determination of the subjects that does not stand in a connection of universality with them” (2010b: §167 Z/8:319). In the PhG, however, this distinction does not appear to be developed. This is suggested by certain passages where Hegel seems to equivocate between the two terms. For example: “The nature of judgment, or of the proposition per se [die Natur des Urteils oder Satzes überhaupt], which includes the difference between subject and predicate within itself, is destroyed by the speculative proposition [den spekulativen Satz]” (¶61/3:59). 40 “[S]elf-consciousness is only the motionless tautology of ‘I am I’” (¶167/3:138). 37


made its immediate self-consciousness into a thing, into an objective being” (¶229/3:175-176).41 In the vocabulary we have been using: Self-Consciousness realizes its concept of the “I” as an inversion, i.e. the “Thing.” This achieved identity – I = Thing – forms the implicit basis of the subsequent shape, Observing Reason, which searches for itself as something immediately sensible: “[T]he I should…find itself currently present as both a shape and as a thing” (¶241/3:186). This principle, though, remains largely unconscious or “instinctive” until Observing Reason’s last phase, Phrenology – whereupon it is itself summarily inverted.42 At the beginning of Absolute Knowing, then, Hegel recollects this movement as follows: [W]ith regard to the object, insofar as it is immediate and is an indifferent being, we saw observing reason seeking and finding itself in these indifferent things…We also saw its determination at its highest point expressed in the infinite judgment that the being of the I is a thing. – namely, as a sensuous immediate thing. (¶790/3:577) Immediately after recalling this judgment, though, Hegel cites the second infinite judgment, which expresses the perfect or mirror inversion of the first: namely, “The thing is I” (¶791/3:577). 43 Consistent with our interpretation, it is Pure Insight and then Enlightenment which, having reverted to the standpoint of Sense-Certainty,44 reduce every representation of Faith to an anthropomorphic projection. “[I]nsight’s distinctive object as such [is] an ordinary existing thing of sensuous-certainty”

This is the contribution of the Unhappy Consciousness: “Through these moments of first surrendering its own decision, then surrendering its property and consumption, finally, through the positive moment of carrying out a task it does not understand, it deprives itself in truth and completely of the consciousness of inner and outer freedom, of actuality as its being-for-itself. It has the certainty of having in truth emptied itself of its I, and of having made its immediate self-consciousness into a thing, into an objective being” (¶229/3:175-176). 42 At this point, “representational consciousness” (¶346/3:262) crudely verbalizes this thesis: “The being of spirit is a bone” (¶343/3:260). But shorn of its imagistic associations, this judgment has deeper significance: “In its result, consciousness expresses as a proposition that of which it is the unconscious certainty – the proposition which lies in the concept of reason. This proposition is the infinite judgment [das unendliche Urteil] that the self is a thing – a judgment which sublates itself” (¶344/3:260). 43 When Observing Reason reaches self-awareness, it is predictably “inverted.” For this reason, we might expect Absolute Knowing to trace this inversion into the immediately following shape: Active Reason. Following this pivot, Reason wants to produce, rather than locate itself as an object: “Consciousness no longer wants to find itself immediately. Rather, it wishes to engender itself by its own activity. It itself is, to itself, the purpose of its own doing in the way that in observing it was, to itself, concerned only with things” (¶344/3:261). Why at this point Hegel chooses to isolate “Utility,” rather than the quite similar – and chronologically more appropriate – Pleasure, is not a question I will address here. 44 “Consciousness, which in its very earliest actuality is sensuous-certainty and opinionating, returns from the whole course of its experience back to this point and is again a knowing of the pure negative of itself, or of the sensuous things, i.e., existing things which indifferently confront its being-for-itself”(¶558/3:414). 41


(¶552/3:409), and so Faith – in worship and ritual – is accused of investing material objects with a “spirit” they conspicuously lack: “the Enlightenment here turns into a transitory thing just what to spirit is eternal life and the holy spirit, and it besmirches it with the point of view of sensuouscertainty” (¶553/3:409). Yet having thoroughly purged its object of all mind-independent meanings and values – having fully realized its concept of a subject-less “thing”– insight confronts this selfinversion: “The thing is I.” This is the principle assimilated by Utility, which construes its object instrumentally, as a mere function of its practical will – something entirely answerable to the “I” – and in this sense believes that “The thing is nothing in itself; it only has any meaning in relationships, only through the I and its relation to the I” (¶791/3:577). A fully satisfying analysis of these infinite judgments, as well as those “propositions” cited in the last section, would require more interpretive work. For the purposes of this chapter, though, it seems to me that these examples suffice. For in themselves they confirm our basic position regarding the enduring importance of speculative sentences in the PhG. We may now confidently state that Hegel’s discussion of this figure, in the Preface, does more than establish a novel theory of language or judgment. Likewise, it does more than initiate the reader into the literary construction or philosophical doctrine of the Science of Logic. In fact, Hegel’s descriptions of the speculative sentence help us to read and interpret the PhG itself: initially, to grasp the method embodied in its language, and later on, to decipher the very language expressing that method. Conclusion: Two Definitions of Immanent Critique. A Reprise Until now, the explicit focus of Chapter 2 has been the Preface’s evocation of immanent critique under its first definition: the measurement of an object against its internal norms. Like natural consciousness, the subject-term of a speculative sentence is tested against its own, unique realization. But we have had less to say regarding the presence – or absence – in the Preface of immanent critique under its second definition: the forms of self-reflexivity the speculative sentence may – or may not –


engender in its reader. I would like to conclude this chapter’s discussion by rectifying this lacuna. I will show that, properly comprehended, the speculative sentence does eventuate in this selfreflexivity, on Hegel’s account. And it does so in the way elucidated in Chapter 1, wherein a reader “accounts” for her own standpoint with reference to her object. The most direct way to establish this claim is by returning to the experience of “self-loss” occasioned by the speculative sentence. We proposed that, in the mode of Räsonieren, the reader approaches predicates as “accidents” that cannot compromise its dogmatically “certain” subjectterm, or “the objective fixed self which is made into the ground” (¶60/3:58). For this reason, when this “subject[-term] melts away” (¶62/3:59) in its speculative inversion, the reader “loses its fixed objective basis” (¶62/3:60) and “misses the subject” (¶62/3:59). Above all, we found that this certainty-disrupting quality of speculative experience is manifest in Hegel’s use of the term Gegenstoss. Here the reader “suffers, to picture it in this way, from a counter-punch” (¶60/3:58), inasmuch as the putative “enduring ground…has passed over into the predicate and has thereby become sublated” (¶60/3:58). Hegel continues, in a passage we have not yet considered in its entirety, that thought is unable to return to the subject-term – or, more precisely, to its initial certainty regarding the subject-term – but must now linger with the “predicate” that has shaken it: [T]he knowing subject…continues to find in the predicate that which it wants to be through with, and beyond which it wants to return to itself. Thus, instead of being able to set the predicate in motion by an activity of reasoning, which checks whether this or that predicate fits the first subject, it now has to deal with the self of the content: it cannot be [any longer] for-itself, but must be together with that content. (¶60/3:58-59) Apart from conveying the “reflexivity” we are trying to locate, this passage provides valuable insight into the metaphors of “externality” and “immanence” we have been developing in this chapter and the last. For what exactly is the difference, according to Hegel, between an external cognition which “wants to return to itself,” and an immanent reason that “deal[s] with the self of the content” and is “together with that content”?


On my reading, so-called external cognition makes no contact with its object, because it does not expose itself to anything – any “predicate” – that would substantially challenge its initial certainty concerning that object. One’s initial judgment is impervious to revision. (In Hegel’s words, one “wants to be through with” any fundamental reassessment of the subject-term.) For this reason, cognition finds nothing but itself in that object, the “I” it has injected there: “[T]he knowing I takes the place of that subject, and [it is here that] it is both the binding together of the predicates and the subject supporting them” (¶60/3:58). Knowledge of the object is here accomplished at the expense of that object, since the latter has been replaced by the “I”s arbitrary organization of experience, a “merely clever argumentation over whether this or that predicate is supposed to be attached” (¶60/3:58-59). Speculative or “immanent” thinking, by contrast, is a preeminent mode of being-withoneself in otherness, since one attaches oneself or commits to the subject-term – the concept – in its development. In other words, one gambles one’s own intellectual identity on the development of that concept.45 Since the meaning and legitimacy of the subject-term are not certainties that can be “possessed” in advance, one exposes oneself to an inverted experience.46 But this, of course, is exactly a form of the self-reflexivity profiled in Chapter 1: immanently “accounting” for oneself with reference to one’s object. Here again, that is, the two definitions of immanent critique coincide, inasmuch as (1) observing a concept (i.e. a subject-term) enacted as its inversion (i.e. a predicate), elicits (2) my education, or the dissolution of my “certainty” in favor of an implied “truth.”47 In other

So Harris cites “the truly philosophical procedure of committing oneself to the content” (1997 Vol. I: 158, fn. 62). Or again: “The argumentative consciousness is affected by this, because it can no longer escape into sceptical indifference. It has to identify with the absolute self of the content. The thinking Subject has its own Substance as its objective content” (1997 Vol. I: 139). See also G. Rose (1981: 159). 46 Yovel notes the correspondence between a “fixed” logical and a “fixed” mental subject: “[I]n a merely analytic mode of thinking, the “motionless” logical subject results in a “motionless” (merely abstract) human subject” (2005: 178). This – I argue – because such a subject does not put its “ground-norms” at stake, hence remains invulnerable to development. 47 Though it is less obvious, and I will not emphasize it in my account, speculative comprehension attains the other form of self-reflexivity as well. By grasping in the predicate the “content itself…[as] the determinate negative” (¶59/3:57), 45


words, the section’s continuous reference to the reader’s experience of surprise or “counter-punch” shows that it is ultimately her own standpoint or concept(s) that are to be thematized and shaken. Lastly, Hegel’s strategic equivocation in this section – between the subject-term of a sentence and the subject-mind of the thinker – is readily explicable along these lines. For in the case of that speculative sentence most appropriate to, i.e. most convulsive for, the empirical reader of the PhG, the two are in fact identical. This is so, because in such cases the subject-term I affirm with certainty represents precisely that essence that constitutes my own self-concept, or subjectivity. And this means that when the affirmed subject-term “goes under” in favor of its inverted “predicate,” my own selfunderstanding is “sublated” at one and the same moment.48

thought is made alert, albeit gradually, to the prehistory of its own self-concept. In Hegel’s words, it perceives that “the concept is the object’s own self which presents itself as its becoming” (¶60/3:57). In the same way, the We perceives that the “inorganic nature” (¶28/3:33) natural consciousness assumes on its phenomenal path is an essential content. Its cultural “wealth” is both an expression and inversion of the subject, rather than a superficial “predicate” or congeries of predicates arbitrarily ascribed to it. See Chapter 3 for my analysis of the phrase “inorganic nature.” 48 It follows that the importance and intensity of each Gegenstoss will vary according to the PhG’s empirical reader. In particular, it will depend upon the specific essence a given reader happens to affirm. Some object-concepts in the PhG may be viewed from a distance as comic performances whose inversions leave us unmoved. Others are not so easily accepted, and in these cases the reader will only reluctantly let the “immobile” subject-term dissolve or become “plastic.”



Chapters 1 and 2 have brought the basic contours of Hegel’s immanent, speculative method into view – with one exception to be treated in a “coda” to this section. In concluding Part I, though, I want to summarize our results, and to draw one straightforward but provocative inference regarding the correct interpretation of Hegelian immanent critique. This inference should then form the basis of additional interpretive work in this dissertation. A Summary: The Essential Characteristics of Hegelian Immanent Critique In Chapter 1 I insisted that – terminological scruples notwithstanding – Hegel’s text does obey a “method,” and one that commentators have accurately designated immanent critique. Yet I also pointed to an unrecognized confusion over the definition of this phrase, which appears to have two meanings: either (a) judging one’s object against “immanent” norms, or (b) self-reflexively grounding one’s standpoint – “immanently” – in one’s object. We then analyzed material from the Introduction, in order to show that both definitions are constitutive for Hegel’s method: in her approach to natural consciousness, the reader is instructed to bracket her criteria, but precisely as a condition of achieving philosophical self-reflexivity. Chapter 1 was followed by an “interlude,” in which I attempted to clarify the meaning of the phrase “determinate negation.” This interlude was necessary, first, to sharpen our understanding of a mechanism that had remained vague; second, to preempt some of the standard allegations regarding the “quietism” of Hegel’s method; and third, to prepare us for a reading of the speculative sentence that would capitalize on this figure. Thus, in Chapter 2, we defended an interpretation of the


speculative sentence that emphasized its affinity with the Introduction’s methodological instructions, at the level both of rhetoric and substance. This interpretation both confirmed and supplemented our treatment of the Introduction. We found that grasping a subject-term philosophically demands perceiving it immanently “realized” as an inverted predicate – its determinate negation. Here too, then, a self-certain concept is undermined by its own enactment. But Hegel’s continuous reference to the reader’s experience of surprise or “counter-punch” shows that it is ultimately her own standpoint or concept(s) that are to be thematized and shaken. Once again, then, this interpretation synthesizes the two definitions of immanent critique we distinguished. Grasping the “grammar” of a speculative sentence, we observe that successfully exhibiting a concept’s “inverted” realization (definition 1), will secure – under the appropriate conditions – the reader’s self-recognition in and self-criticism against its object (definition 2). Or again: judging an object against its “immanent” norms precipitates our own immersion or “immanence” in the object judged. A Strong Hypothesis: Immanent Critique as the Key to the Phenomenology At this point I would like to reflect somewhat more expansively upon the results we’ve reached and the orientation it implies for the rest of the dissertation. These reflections will culminate in a strong thesis regarding the status of Hegelian immanent critique for the PhG in its entirety. Ideally, however, most of what follows – though perhaps couched in slightly different language – simply pieces together ideas and claims we have already encountered, at least implicitly. I will begin by observing that Hegel’s book takes responsibility for educating a reader who can read it. The person who first opens the PhG is ex hypothesi not such a reader, because she has not accepted one or more of the demolitions belonging to spirit’s history, or – a different emphasis – because she clings as yet to one of its categorial shapes. And this entails that the PhG’s ideal reader, one fully capable of the “pure onlooking” required, has not been self-consciously formed until the chapter on Absolute Knowing. In other words, the meaning and validity of the reader’s commitment


to Hegelian immanent critique, incurred in the Introduction, is not specified in its entirety until the conclusion which, paradoxically, becomes a condition of properly appreciating the Preface’s exposition of the speculative sentence. My first thesis, then, is that the immanent method postulated in the Introduction – echoed in the Preface – is only really deduced in the course of the PhG. Yet what might such a “deduction” involve? What could the PhG’s content be, such that it essentially contributes to explicating and validating immanent critique? My answer to this question is my second thesis: Hegel’s advocacy of this immanent-critical standpoint is ultimately defensible solely in light of each and every failure of natural consciousness to practice immanent critique. To put it bluntly: natural consciousness remains at every phase of its development non-accidentally and fatally “external” to its object. (Any examples at this point will be arbitrary, and it will be the function of Chapter 5 to redeem this strong thesis in detail. Yet for the moment simply consider, quite at random, the subsuming activities of the Understanding; Desire’s hostility to alterity; Phrenology’s reduction of spirit to what it is not; the basic impulses of the Kantian “ought” and the moral valet; or, after a fashion, the sado-masochism of Consciousness and Self-Consciousness in general. Or again: consider how the disputants portrayed in the chapter “Spirit” – Antigone and Creon, Faith and Enlightenment, Actor and Judge – practice uniformly dogmatic, external criticism on one another.) The PhG begins and terminates, then, in the “immanent critical” standpoint – that is, in a critic prepared to read the PhG itself. But this posture of criticism, I am arguing, is substantiated precisely through the elimination of standpoints that are insufficiently immanent-critical. Whether naturalistic, disenchanting, or moralistic, the shapes we examine are never “immanent” and fail in each instance for that reason. Yet this suggests that Hegel’s hortatory in the Preface and Introduction


against external criticism1 – remaining “beyond” the object rather than immersed in it – functions not only to chasten the reader herself against dogmatism. Perhaps more importantly, it establishes the exact threshold that natural consciousness cannot cross while remaining natural.2 But this means that Hegelian immanent critique, correctly pursued, is the supersession of subject-object diremption – the long acknowledged topic and task of the PhG.3 Yet are there grounds for supposing that Hegel himself views the PhG along these lines? Is there evidence in the PhG itself that immanent critique is that standpoint that overcomes subjectobject dualism? Arguably, what first puts this possibility in the reader’s mind is Hegel’s remark in the Introduction that the “thoroughgoing skepticism” he endorses – the We’s very medium – must be distinguished from that shape separating Stoicism and Unhappy Consciousness. In other words, Hegel insists that the standpoint of pure-onlooking, despite its passing similarities, is not the shape entitled Skepticism in the PhG. [T]he account of non-truthful consciousness in its untruth is not a merely negative movement…[A] knowledge that makes this one-sidedness into its own essence is one of those shapes of incomplete consciousness which in the overall course of things both belongs to that path and itself shows up on the path. It is the very skepticism which always sees in its results only pure nothingness. (¶79/3:73) This remark is significant, because if the standpoint Hegel commends to his readers is not the one designated Skepticism; and if, moreover, the PhG is truly comprehensive, embracing every relation consciousness may “knowingly” establish to its other; we may with some justification ask which shape does provide the template for the We’s pure onlooking. However, if this standpoint is not to be found in the PhG’s many pages, we already have strong prima facie evidence for supposing (a) the We will not and should not be “related” to its object as an “other” (since Hegel has concrete names for A typical example from the Preface: “this knowledge, being external to its content, reduces that which moves itself to mere material in which it then has an indifferent, external, lifeless content” (¶46/3:46). 2 This suggests that, in the first instance, natural consciousness is burdened by “externality” – by its other – through prejudice, or because it holds the object to criteria that the object lacks. 3 See especially Forster (1998) and Siep (2014). Furthermore, Siep identifies the quasi-methodological standing of the concluding standpoint: “The “absolute knowledge” which results from this skepticism is neither a “supertheory” nor the impossibility of all theory, but rather a kind of method” (2014: 65). 1


– and objections to – all such dualistic attitudes); and (b) all shapes in the PhG – and not only, or even principally, Skepticism proper – should be viewed in this quite specific light, namely, as failed attempts to practice pure-onlooking or, as I am suggesting, a sufficiently stringent version of Hegelian immanent critique. This omission may count as negative evidence. That is: if the attitude of pure-onlooking is objectionably dualistic, then it would perforce appear as one configuration on the despairing path of consciousness. But it does not appear on this path,4 so we may infer on this basis that it has, indeed, overcome dualism. However, there is also more positive evidence for my attribution, namely, that Hegel simply says so in the Introduction. I have already proposed that Hegel introduces the figure of an “internal” criterion as a contrivance that evades the difficulties associated with the “dilemma of the criterion” or the structure of consciousness generally. But he also concedes in quite explicit language that, in the absence of this contrivance, the We’s standpoint would be no less intractably dualistic than that of natural consciousness: [I]n this investigation, knowledge is our object…What we would assert to be its essence would not be its truth but rather merely our knowledge of it. The essence, that is, the criterion would lie within us, and that which was supposed to be compared with the criterion…would not necessarily have to recognize the validity of that criterion itself” (¶83/3:76). Here Hegel raises the possibility – though not, ultimately, sincerely – that the philosopher-reader may be afflicted by the same appearance/essence distinction as natural consciousness itself. So long as “the criterion…lie[s] within us,” the We simply mirrors the defect of natural consciousness, for the latter measures its object against its own, dogmatic criteria: “[W]hat is related to knowledge is likewise distinguished from it and is also posited as existing external to this relation” (¶82/3:76). Yet when Hegel continues that “the nature of the object which we’re investigating overcomes this division, or this semblance of division and presupposition” (¶84/3:76), it is clear from the context 4

In Chapter 5, I both contemplate and discard the possibility that “Observing Reason” expresses the We’s standpoint.


that he has in mind the division between the We and its “object.”5 In other words, just because the We is prepared to rescind its own “in itself” for the duration of natural consciousness’s self-examination, and to attend only to the latter’s own norms, it has through that very gesture “overcome this division” that had seemed to threaten it. A Coda: On Genealogy Before turning to Chapter 3, I want to address a seeming oversight in the argument of Chapters 1 and 2. I have claimed until now that Hegel’s basic method in the PhG is best understood as an exacting type of immanent critique – one that eschews “externality” to the object at all costs, in the ways I’ve described. And yet there is undoubtedly at least one “externalist” gesture in the PhG’s presentation and argument, which can plausibly be called “genealogical.”6 I am using this category in the rather rough and broad sense that Robert Brandom glosses in a recent paper: [G]enealogical explanations concern the relations between the act or state of believing and the content that is believed. A genealogy explains the advent of a belief, in the sense of a believing, an attitude, in terms of contingencies of its etiology, appealing exclusively to facts that are not evidence, that do not provide reasons or justifications, for the truth of what is believed.7 More specifically, I call the PhG’s argument genealogical whenever Hegel attempts to ground “individual” self-understandings in their sociohistorical conditions of possibility (and intelligibility). For The quoted line is the introductory sentence of ¶84, while the immediately preceding line – already cited – plainly flags the threat of division between the We and natural consciousness: “[T]he standard would lie within us, and that which was supposed to be compared with the standard…would not necessarily have to recognize the validity of that standard itself” (¶83). 6 Though see Robert Guay’s (2011) article, “Genealogy as Immanent Critique,” which argues – as the title suggests – that genealogical analysis and criticism is immanent in some sense. Yet it seems to me Guay can only defend this claim by completely omitting from his discussion the rather typical features of genealogical argument that I describe. See also Menke (2006), which treats genealogical analysis more as a “complement” to Hegel’s phenomenological procedure than I do here. 7 Brandom (2012: 4). Though see as well Michael Forster’s description in his article, “Genealogy”: “[T]he method of genealogy…is primarily a means to better understanding, or explaining, psychological outlooks and psychologically laden practices…[It shows] in a naturalistic (that is, non-religious, non-mythical, non-transcendent) way, that and how they have developed historically out of earlier origins prior to which they were not really present at all” (2011: 232). I favor Brandom’s gloss, however. While it rightly emphasizes the “naturalistic” ideals of genealogical explanation, Forster’s description (e.g. “developed historically out of earlier origins”) comes too close to embracing the “genetic reflexivity” I associate with immanent critique – from which I would accordingly distinguish “genealogy” proper. 5


Hegel does claim, after all, that such shapes – every phase between Sense-Certainty and Law-Testing Reason – can only be adequately grasped when repositioned within a determinate social, i.e. institutional context that has appeared in history.8 (At this point, in fact, we must distinguish more sharply between genetic analysis and insight (which we have tied to the self-reflexivity desideratum of immanent critique), and genealogical critique (which implies an “externalist” agenda, at least for Brandom). Whereas, roughly speaking, “genetic” insight advances self-understanding, i.e. a grasp of one’s “given” concept as the result of logical inversion, “genealogical” practice advances self-disillusionment, i.e. the awareness that one’s ostensible “concept” is an illusory function of non-conceptual, “natural” processes. It seems to me that, while genetic insight – as a component of Hegel’s immanent program – is not vulnerable to accusations of the genetic fallacy, the genealogical approach to spiritual phenomena is vulnerable to this accusation.9) But this addition of “genealogical” procedure implies that, for Hegel, the significance and validity of each individual shape-of-consciousness may be elucidated in at least two ways. On the one hand, within the sections Sense-Certainty through Law-Testing, a given shape is explicated with reference to its predecessor and successor shapes – an explication that illuminates its emergence as a solution, and its dissolution as a problem. (For example, the Lawful Heart is best grasped, on this view, as a – problematic – stage between two other individual shapes, namely, Pleasure and Virtue.) This

This claim, it seems to me, may be understood in weaker and stronger senses. Suggesting a “weaker” position are those passages resembling quasi-sociological observation: the view that the Stoic “impulse” is nourished under conditions of tyranny and fear seems plausible, but surely this is an empirical question for historians and demographers. The “stronger” position is reflected in Hegel’s technical comments in the introductory section of the “Spirit” chapter. More specifically, it is implied by the phrase quoted above, namely that “Spirit is…self-supporting, absolute, real being. All previous [i.e. individual] shapes of consciousness are abstract forms of it” (¶440/3:325). Compare also the similar gesture in Hegel’s “first” Jena Philosophy of Spirit: “The preceding levels are in principle ideal, they exist for the first time in a people; speech only is as the speech of a people, and understanding and Reason likewise” (1979: 244/1986a: 226). 9 Beiser (1993: 280) and Forster (1998: 445) both defend Hegel against this charge, though not in the way I have. Finally, for Hegel’s own, extensive condemnation of (a version of) this fallacy, see the Philosophy of Right (2003: §3 Z/7:34-42). 8


mode of presentation and criticism follows naturally, I claim, from the strictly immanent approach I’ve attempted to articulate in this chapter. But on the other hand, at “genealogical” moments – culminating, though not beginning, in the “Spirit” chapter – Hegel insists that an individual shape’s origin and function must be sought within some greater social constellation. The latter, Hegel indicates, is the real “truth” of that individuality, which retrospectively appears ideological in the extreme. Hence, although these “isolated” individual shapes “have the appearance [i.e. to themselves] of really existing as such…they are only moments or vanishing quantities” (¶439:3/325). The position that certain worldviews reflect, or are nourished by, specific material and social conditions is discernable already in Hegel’s Frankfurt writings. The “Spirit of Christianity” essay, for instance, posits the following historical correlation between socio-political freedom and religious belief: The death of Moses was followed by a long period of independence interchanging with subjection to foreign nations…The transition to weakness, to a position of good fortune, appeared as a transition to the service of new gods, and the spirit to rise out of oppression to independence appeared as a reversion to their own God.10 Similarly, in his early “Natural Law” essay, Hegel proposes: [I]f the reality of the universal and of right has lost all credence and truth and the nation cannot feel or enjoy the image of divinity within itself, but must place it outside itself and make do with a vague feeling towards it, or with the highly painful feeling of great distance and sublimity – under circumstances such as these, the feudal system and servitude have absolute truth, and this relationship is the only possible form of ethical life...11 Finally, in the PhG, too, Hegel liberally permits himself quasi-sociological speculations of this sort: “as a universal form of the world-spirit,” the shape of Stoicism “can only come on the scene in a time of universal fear and servitude which is, however, also a time of universal cultural development” (¶199/3:157-158). Yet this sort of explanation and criticism is, it seems to me, emphatically “external” to its object. For it will tend to disenchant or demystify a given standpoint 10 11

Hegel (1975: 200/1:292). See also the discussion in Forster (2011). Hegel (1999: 174-175/2:524).


with reference to its material, social and historical conditions of possibility – conditions that are as a rule obscure to, or concealed from, the standpoint in question. In such cases, we may be led to condemn a shape’s rationality, not because it fails to meet its own, immanent standards, but rather because it misrepresents or “mystifies” its relation to social substance.12 Has Hegel, then, abandoned the strictures of immanent critique at such junctures, in favor of his own version of the “hermeneutics of suspicion”?13 And does this gesture vitiate in some ways the cogency of his account? At this place, I will merely suggest that the order of the PhG provides an answer to these objections. Indeed, I would argue that Hegel largely postpones his more “genealogical” remarks to the later chapter “Spirit” precisely as proof against accusations of an “external” standpoint and judgment. That is to say, in the absence of something like the immanent critique of individual shapes pursued in “Consciousness,” “Self-Consciousness” and “Reason,” the re-positioning work of “Spirit” would do nothing to invalidate the defining concepts of those shapes. To inform Unhappy Consciousness that its exertions amount to distortions or misrepresentations of social atomism, or to tell them, with Kojève, that they are merely “slave ideologies”14 – these gestures may inspire circumspection and disorientation, but would do nothing to rationally dislodge the grip of a picture whose power consists in its (relative or qualified) rationality.15

Such a substance is in every case opaque to the individual shape in question. Indeed, Gillian Rose appears at times to read the entire book along these lines: “The Phenomenology is not the experience of consciousness recapturing its alienated existence, but the presentation of the formation of consciousness as a determination of substance and consciousness' misapprehension of that determination. It is the experience not of alienation, but of the inversions of substance into the various forms of misrepresentation” (1981: 152). 13 See Paul Ricoeur’s famous discussion in Freud and Philosophy. “If we go back to the intention they [i.e. Marx, Nietzsche and Freud] had in common, we find in it the decision to look upon the whole of consciousness primarily as “false” consciousness” (1970: 33). By the same token, “the Genealogy of Morals in Nietzsche’s sense, the theory of ideologies in the Marxist sense, and the theory of ideals and illusions in Freud’s sense represent three convergent procedures of demystification” (1970: 34). 14 Kojeve (1969: 53). 15 As Michael Rosen puts it: “Opposing systems are not just worthless illusions. They are rational enterprises – albeit imperfect ones – and, as such, are more than merely subjective” (1982: 29). 12


Partly I am of the view, then, that Michael Forster’s heroic philological efforts – often cogently specifying the empirical historical contexts of seemingly abstract forms – are, at least in this connection, entirely beside the point. For the dissolution of each shape does not result from the vertigo occasioned by historicist insight. (No shape is ever aware of misrepresenting social substance, hence failing for that reason.). On the contrary, these shapes must dissolve from internally generated dissatisfactions.16 In other words, Hegel only purchases his right to make externalist claims and criticisms regarding shapes-of-consciousness – specifically in the mode of genealogical reconstruction – with the strictly immanent analysis preceding it.

See the relevant lines from Merold Westphal’s History and Truth: “Hegel knows that reflection on the life-world out of which critical philosophy arises does not refute that philosophy. It may help explain it, but never to explain it away” (1979: 39).






Part I of the dissertation contained an account of the PhG’s “method,” which we reconstructed as an exacting form of immanent critique (Chapter 1) mirrored in Hegel’s treatment of the “speculative sentence” (Chapter 2). In Part II, our topic is broadly the “content” or “object” corresponding to this method: namely, “spirit” determined as “natural consciousness.” Of course, certain schematic features of this object are by this point familiar to us. Above all, we are now accustomed to thinking of natural consciousness as a “practically self-inverting attitude.” Yet apart from this relatively spare characterization, we have had little to say regarding the properties of the PhG’s “shapes,” and by extension about their possible importance for the critical-theoretical interpretation we are elaborating in this study. In the next two chapters, then, we will discuss several aspects of natural consciousness that, moreover, continue to evince Hegel’s essentially “critical” designs. In Chapter 3, we will show how the PhG implicitly operates with a concept of “second nature” – one that complicates Hegel’s “official” account in the Encyclopedia, while anticipating the Frankfurt School model. In Chapter 4, our focus will be the constitutive “blindness” of natural consciousness, ultimately as a way of preparing a Hegelian model of “ideology.” In this way, Part II will allow us, first, to more adequately grasp the object of immanent critique, and second, to continue deriving the inner “cells” of a Hegelian critical theory.



While Hegel’s concept of second nature has received substantial attention from commentators, relatively little has been said about the place of this concept in the PhG. This neglect is understandable, since Hegel does not explicitly use the phrase “second nature” here. Nonetheless, several closely related phrases reveal the centrality of this concept to the PhG’s structure. Chapter 3 develops interpretations of the figures “natural consciousness,” “natural notion,” and “inorganic nature,” in order to elucidate the distinctive concept of second nature at work in the text. I will argue that this concept of second nature supplements the “official” version, developed in the Encyclopedia, with an “unofficial” version that prefigures its use in Frankfurt School critical theory. At the same time, this interpretation will allow us to see how the PhG essentially documents spirit’s acquisition of a “second nature.” Introduction: Hegel and Second Nature There have been multiple reasons for the broad interest in Hegel’s concept of second nature.1 A number of scholars have looked to Hegel’s writings on this topic out of a general concern for the “naturalism” question.2 For these philosophers, second nature, conceived primarily as “habit,” is a promising concept in the effort to non-reductively situate human mindedness in the natural order of things. At the same time, Frankfurt School theorists have long been drawn to the ambiguously For some accounts see the following selection: Khurana (2016) and (2018); Lumsden (2012), (2013), and (2016); McCumber (1990); Menke (2013); Novakovic (2017); Testa (2009). 2 Much of this interest appears traceable to McDowell’s Mind and World. See Pippin (2005: ch. 9) for a helpful summary and criticism of McDowell’s account. More recently, Pinkard’s Hegel’s Naturalism can be taken as a late culmination of this literature. In these cases, Hegel’s writings are conceived as a resource for a revived Aristotelianism that, it is suggested, remains respectful of both modern science and the enduring distinction between nature and culture. 1


“critical” dimensions of this concept, expanded to encompass culture more generally.3 For these theorists, second nature paradoxically expresses both the socio-historical constitution of human spirit, and its “naturalization” into something that appears ossified, or estranged from human thought and will. Now both of these camps, when they discuss Hegel, have focused mainly on the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Spirit and Philosophy of Right though, more recently, connections have been established to the Lectures on the Philosophy of History and the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.4 Rarely, however, do these commentators refer to the PhG at any length.5 This omission is both unsurprising and slightly odd. It is unsurprising for the obvious reason that, unlike the Encyclopedia and Philosophy of Right, the PhG does not contain the phrase “second nature” at all. The absence of attention is also odd, though, and not only because Hegel’s text famously centers upon the ur-mechanism of second nature in every sense: enculturation or Bildung.6 Beyond this, the PhG capitalizes upon a set of intimately related, recurring expressions that form a transparent constellation around this very theme. More specifically, I will argue that the tropes of “natural consciousness” [natürliche Bewußtsein], “natural notion” [natürliche Vorstellung], and “inorganic nature” [unorganische Natur] are for Hegel inseparable aspects of spirit’s second nature writ large. Interpreting these expressions in the way I suggest will have broader implications for reading the PhG as a whole. We will find that the PhG grounds a distinctive concept of second nature that both supplements and complicates the version developed in Hegel’s other writings, since it anticipates the “defetishizing” use it will have for the

This concern begins at the latest with Lukács’s Theory of the Novel, and is soon after taken up in Adorno’s “The Idea of Natural History.” More recently, Khurana (2016), Menke (2013) and Testa (2007) have emphasized this concept’s importance for critical theory. 4 See Lumsden (2016) and Khurana (2018: 431). 5 There are suggestive allusions to the place of second nature in the PhG in Testa (2009: 359), and Lumsden (2016: 75), though no sustained attention. Exceptions to this neglect include Russon (1997: ch. 4), Whitebook (2008), and especially Novakovic (2017: ch. 2), which contains an illuminating treatment of the PhG’s “Bildung” section in light of the second nature thematic. 6 See Novakovic (2017: 76) and Wood (1998: 302-305). 3


Frankfurt School. At the same time, this analysis will enable us appreciate that and how the PhG essentially documents spirit’s acquisition of a second nature. We will begin (part I) by rehearsing Hegel’s “official” account of second nature, developed in the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Spirit, before (part II) considering an “unofficial” conception of second nature found in the writings of critical theory – a conception that, though credited to Hegel, substantially departs from the “official” account. We will then turn (parts III, IV, and V) to the PhG itself, and specifically to Hegel’s use of the phrases “natural consciousness,” “natural notion,” and “inorganic nature.” Our analysis will show that, while the “official” version is detectible in the PhG, the “unofficial” concept of second nature is more clearly Hegel’s focus. We will conclude Chapter 3 with some reflections on the broader significance of these claims. I. Second Nature and Habit Before turning to the PhG itself, then, let us rehearse Hegel’s best-known treatment of second nature, found at §410 in his Philosophy of Spirit.7 In this place, a relatively inchoate form of selfhood designated “soul” acquires a more stable unity against the “sensations” that otherwise engulf it. This is accomplished, Hegel claims, through the mechanism of “habit” [Gewohnheit]. Practical repetition inures the self against disturbing or otherwise distracting sensations8 – one is “habituated” to the cold – so that a formerly scattered attention may be stabilized and focused upon other priorities.9 It is in this context that the phrase “second nature” [zweite Natur] initially appears: Habit has rightly been called a second nature: nature, because it is an immediate being of the soul, a second nature, because it is an immediacy posited by the soul, incorporating and moulding the bodiliness that pertains to the determinations of feeling as such and to the determinacies of representation and of the will in so far as they are embodied.10 Helpful accounts of this section include Inwood (2007), McCumber (1990) and Novakovic (2017). “This self-incorporation…appears as a repetition of them, and the production of habit appears as practice” (§410/10:184). Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations in this section are drawn from the Philosophy of Spirit. “R” abbreviates Remark, while “Z” abbreviates Zusatz. 9 “The soul is free of them [i.e. sensations], in so far is it is not interested in or occupied with them,” such that “it is at the same time open to other activity and occupations” (§410/10:183-184). 10 Hegel (§410 R/10:184). 7 8


This passage suggests that, in a general way, habit is a second nature inasmuch as, via repetition, one has appropriated and reformed a first nature – roughly speaking, one’s animal embodiment.11 At the same time, this second nature nonetheless remains a “nature,” in the sense of something “still burdened with the form of being.”12 An action performed out of habit, we are told, has been “made into something that is natural, mechanical.”13 Removed from our conscious attention, that is, a habit becomes as thoroughly “instinctive” as our first nature. Hegel is quick to evoke the far-reaching implications of this human capacity, ostensibly “a form that embraces all kinds and stages of spirit’s activity.”14 In fact, Hegel’s varied examples of habit do reflect such a spectrum, from relatively passive capabilities (such as consistently detaching one’s awareness from unpleasant sensations), to fairly sophisticated activities and practices (such as writing by hand or playing a musical instrument). Perhaps for this reason, Hegel claims that habit is the most essential feature of the existence of all spiritual life [aller Geistigkeit] in the individual subject, enabling the subject to be concrete immediacy, to be soulful ideality, enabling the content, religious content, moral content, etc., to belong to it as this self…in its very being.15 Now for our present purposes, what matters most in this characterization is the conception of “second nature” as, generically, the embodied expression of norms. As Hegel later puts it, “since the individual activities of man acquire by repeated practice the character of habit…the soul brings into its expressions a universal mode of acting…a rule.” 16 Precisely through habituation, a “rule” or “content” – notably including moral and religious content – may become a component of one’s

“So, if I want to actualize my aims, then I must make my physical body capable of carrying over this subjectivity into external objectivity. My body is not by nature fitted for this; on the contrary, it immediately does only what is appropriate to animal life” (§410 Z/10:190). I take this clarification as evidence that, at least in this context, “first nature” simply means the “instinctive bodily endowment” human beings share with animals. For additional confirmation that this is the basic meaning of “first nature,” see also the Introduction to the Philosophy of History in Hegel (1988: 42). 12 Hegel (§410 Z/10:189). 13 Hegel (§410 R/10:184). 14 Hegel (§410 R/10:186). 15 Hegel (§410 R/10:187). Translation modified: “spiritual” has been substituted for “mental.” 16 Hegel (§410 R/10:191). 11


bodily, instinctive “second nature.” Indeed, Hegel intimates that sufficient repetition secures one’s identification with the norm in question, so that it becomes the pre-reflective basis of one’s bodily disposition. The highest levels of spirit, in particular, depend upon such a possibility: “[T]he habit of right in general, of the ethical, has the content of freedom.”17 Only as habituated, then, are principles of Sittlichkeit “naturally” – decisively and without reluctance – expressed or concretized in one’s actions.18 Yet as multiple commentators have remarked, Hegel’s conception of second nature is emphatically double-edged.19 Precisely because habit remains “an immediate being of the soul,”20 or something unreflectively “mechanical,”21 Hegel will write: [A]lthough, on the one hand, by habit a man becomes free, yet, on the other hand, habit makes him its slave. Habit is not an immediate, first nature…But all the same it is still a nature, something posited that assumes the shape of immediacy, an ideality of beings that is itself still burdened with the form of being, consequently something not corresponding to free spirit, something merely anthropological.22 On the one hand, then, Hegel insists upon the decisive “liberation…that man gains through habit.”23 Most significantly, habit may inculcate the principles of a genuinely ethical orientation, enabling an agent to do what is required of her – meeting the expectations of her social role or station – unhesitatingly and without the “vanity” of moral reflection.24 On the other hand, Hegel is equally insistent that these norm-inflected “habits” may pose difficulties for the agent whose “second nature” they have become. The Philosophy of Spirit indicates Hegel (§410 R/10:185). The expressions “habit” and “second nature” reappear with these meanings in the Philosophy of Right: “But if it is simply identical with the actuality of individuals, the ethical [das Sittliche], as their general mode of behaviour, appears as custom [Sitte]; and the habit of the ethical appears as a second nature which takes the place of the original and purely natural will” (2003: §151/7:301). This idea is a focus of Khurana (2018) and Novakovic (2018). 19 See especially Lumsden (2016) and Menke (2013). 20 Hegel (§410 R/10:184). 21 Hegel (§410 R/10:184). 22 Hegel (§410 Z/10:189). 23 Hegel (§410 R/10:185). 24 Novakovic (2018, ch. 1) has defended Hegel’s claim that the Sittliche disposition must be habitual or second natural. See also the description in Pippin (2005: 199-200). 17 18


that even a benign or admirable habit, just because it is “mechanical,” prevents an individual from concretely grasping changed conditions and adapting to them.25 And at the more general level of a “form of life,” too, Hegel alludes to the potentially destructive consequences of a routinized second nature. In such cases, pervasively habitual dispositions, embodying now-surpassed norms, may positively obstruct a spiritual development whose time has come.26 Our affective identification with the mores of a form of life, secured via processes of enculturation, makes them highly resistant to the “challenges” of either novel circumstances or rational argumentation.27 II. Second Nature in Critical Theory I will return to these dimensions of second nature shortly. For the moment, though, and by way of returning to our interpretation of the PhG, I want to draw attention to another use of the expression “second nature”: the one that pervades the Frankfurt School corpus. This usage, too, has a purportedly Hegelian provenance, while likewise evincing a “critical” function. And yet it is unquestionably distinct from the conception we have just explicated. Consider, for example, the following representative passage from Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, which conveys a specific understanding of critical theory’s debt to Hegel’s concept: The theory of second nature, to which Hegel already gave a critical tinge, is not lost to a negative dialectics. It assumes, tel quel, the abrupt immediacy, the formations which society and its evolution present to our thought; and it does this so that analysis may bare its As Hegel explains, “The universal to which the soul relates in habit is…only the abstract universality produced by reflection from the repetition of many individualities” (§410 Z/10:188). The constitutive moment of heteronomy following from this defect of “abstraction” is emphasized in Menke (2013). 26 See Lumsden (2016) for the place of habit in Hegel’s view of the breakdown of a culture. Conversely, in an 1807 letter discussing the French Revolution, Hegel acclaims a people for having transcended a “habitual” relation to its form-of-life: “Thanks to the bath of her Revolution, the French Nation has freed herself of many institutions which the human spirit had outgrown like the shoes of a child….[T]he individual as well has shed the fear of death along with the life of habit [Gewohnheitsleben] – which, with a change of scenery, is no longer self-supporting” (1984: 123/1887: 82). 27 Here I am receptive to Novakovic (2018: 65-68), who claims that, for Hegel, habit need not inevitably decline into something context-insensitive, deadening, unresponsive to novelty and thus a source of human suffering. But I nonetheless agree with Lumsden (2016: 88) that, for Hegel, historically and as a rule, transitions from one cultural formation to the next have caused this kind of psychic trauma – and precisely because a form-of-life’s “habituation” cements a deep-seated identification with norms that, in the meantime, may gradually become unfeasible. 25


mediations to the extent of the immanent difference between phenomena and that which they claim to be in themselves.28 Here Adorno clearly associates Hegel’s “theory of second nature” with the program of “defetishizing critique”: the theoretical effort to expose a seeming “immediacy” as something socially and historically “mediated.” 29 Paradigmatically, such an analysis demonstrates that what masquerades as an immutable “law of nature” – say, the commodity form – is in reality the product of a historically determinate, hence mutable, sociopolitical arrangement.30 Or again, in the vocabulary we contemplated a moment ago: we discover that a spiritual “second nature” (i.e. a culturally evolved norm, practice or institution) has appeared to thought as a “first nature” (i.e. something unalterably “beyond human control” that – for just this reason – seems justified).31 Yet is Adorno entirely warranted in ascribing a defetishizing dimension to Hegel’s theory of second nature? Our précis of §410 in the Philosophy of Spirit casts doubt on this ascription, or at least complicates it. The technical terms themselves, in any case, have slightly different referents. To be sure, for both Hegel and Adorno, “second nature” assuredly pertains to culture in some expanded sense – habitual ethical dispositions and political arrangements alike have at some stage been brought about or “posited” by human activity. Yet in the Philosophy of Spirit, “first nature” refers – uncritically – to one’s instinctive animal endowment, out of which a “second nature” may be habituated;

Adorno (1973: 38). I take the expression “defetishizing critique” from Benhabib (1986: ch. 2). As the name indicates, this program is epitomized by Marx’s treatment of “commodity fetishism.” Here I will distinguish sharply between (1) the PhG’s defetishizing work, from (2) what I have been calling – and will continue to call – the demystifying or disenchanting movement of “genealogy” and other types of “external” cognition. While superficially similar, these operations are in fact opposites: whereas (1) defetishizing thought shows that a “given” or “natural” item is in reality cultural, spiritual, historical, etc., (2) disenchanting or demystifying thought reduces what presents itself as “conceptual,” “normative” or “spiritual” to something non-spiritual, a blind natural process, etc. 30 The same use of “second nature” can be found in, for example, Lukács (1971b: 128). 31 Readers familiar with Adorno’s writings will note that, occasionally, “first nature” also designates the natural drive for selfpreservation. Hence Adorno sometimes claims that our “second natures” – the putative achievements of culture – are actually extensions or even intensifications of “first nature,” inasmuch as they perpetuate the human struggle for survival “at a higher level.” To avoid unnecessary confusion, I will leave this valence of first nature undeveloped in this chapter. See Testa (2007), though, for an illuminating treatment of the issue in these terms. 28 29


while Adorno uses “first nature” in a critical way, to capture the deceitful “abrupt immediacy” or quasi-natural appearance assumed by this second nature. 32 More to the point, it does not seem to be Hegel’s considered view of second nature that it appears speciously “natural” to thought. The Philosophy of Spirit does not suggest, for example, that any self “habituated” to a norm subsequently forgets that this norm was initially something “posited,” or mistakes this norm for a piece of unchanging (human or non-human) “nature.”33 Thus we may conclude that, in Hegel’s writings, the concept of second nature precisely lacks the “critical tinge” that Adorno imputes to it in the passage above.34 In the remainder of this chapter I will problematize this verdict. I will argue that Hegel does in practice propound a version of second nature that, while recalling the Philosophy of Spirit account, ultimately converges with Adorno’s critical-theoretical model. For in the PhG, I claim, we encounter both conceptions. On the one hand, Hegel’s text portrays diverse shapes of “natural consciousness”: pre-reflective, “habitual” dispositions embodying determinate “norms” that have been “posited” as their “second nature.” (These norms, we will gradually see, are the “natural notions” held by consciousness and, taken together, constitute its “inorganic nature.”) On the other hand, however, we are continuously confronted in the PhG with the spectacle of an emphatically social and historical consciousness – the bearer of a “second nature” – that continuously mistakes its norms for

See Buck-Morss (1977: 52-62) for a helpful discussion of Adorno’s use of the expression “second nature,” which likely owes more to the writings of Lukács and Walter Benjamin than to Hegel. 33 Menke does at times seem to read Hegel this way: “The identity of the self of habit is imaginary: it has become, has been posited by spirit, and appears as being or nature” (2013: 41). Of course, in an attenuated sense, habit does appear “thing-like” to the self of the Subjective Spirit. However, I am not certain there is enough evidence in §410 to ascribe to this self a “mystified” relation to its habits – as though this self did not realize its second nature was at an earlier stage “posited” by its own activity. 34 Probably the closest Hegel comes to explicitly identifying the “mystifying” potential of second nature is in the Philosophy of Right. Here Hegel suggests that, once the political state is a “second nature” to its citizens, they become blinded to its contingency: “[H]abit blinds us to the basis of our entire existence. It does not occur to someone who walks the streets in safety at night that this might be otherwise, for this habit of [living in] safety has become second nature, and we scarcely stop to think that it is solely the effect of particular institutions”(2003: §268 A/7:414). 32


something immediately “natural”: a given “first nature” in that critical sense censured by the Frankfurt School.35 Let us turn to the PhG, then, in order to confirm and develop these suggestions. III. Natural Consciousness and Non-philosophy In Chapters 1 and 2, we reconstructed the PhG’s method of “immanent” examination, showing how Hegel thematizes, criticizes, and finally subverts the diverse shapes of “natural consciousness.” In that place I made two claims regarding this figure that I would like to elaborate now in greater detail. I argued, first, that a shape of natural consciousness is something like a fundamental character-type or human attitude, familiar to us from both human history and everyday life. For example, a given shape may express a broadly “Stoic,” or a “Virtuous,” or an “Enlightened” attitude – the character trait at issue typically figures by name in the relevant section. Second, though, I suggested these shapes are aptly called “natural” because they are unreflective and spontaneous dispositions that always seem to come – so to speak – “naturally.” Now it follows from these descriptions that the shapes of natural consciousness are not principally “philosophies” or even, as rule, reflective.36 This inference may appear counterintuitive since – to be sure – Hegel does repeatedly articulate these orientations as discursive, i.e. philosophical “claims” that can be examined. That is, each shape can and will be re-transcribed as a shape of “phenomenal knowing.”37 As natural, however, these shapes are not, in the first instance, articulate or reflective theories, so much as concrete, spontaneous attitudes embodied in observable conduct See again Benhabib (1986: ch. 2). I hasten to add that I am not the first to ascribe a “defetishizing” program to Hegel’s PhG. Benhabib herself emphasizes such a connection. My contribution, again, is rather to elucidate the unity of this program with certain key expressions in the PhG that, taken together, signal a distinctive conception of second nature. 36 Nonetheless, a number of commentators do seem to understand natural consciousness along these lines. Kenneth Westphal, for example, strongly implies that these shapes are in the first instance philosophies: “Part of Hegel’s genius is his ability to identify the core principles of philosophical views, to take them absolutely literally, and to state exactly what follows from them” (2009: 6). For similar attributions, see Gillespie (1984: 68, 70), Förster (2012: 367-8), and Siep (2014: 62). Even the recent “neopragmatist” readings defended in Pinkard (1994) and Brandom (2009) arguably promote a version of this view, inasmuch as natural consciousness is conceived firstly as a “reason giving practice.” 37 On this point I am following Werner Marx, who draws roughly the same distinction: “[N]atural consciousness ‘exists’ essentially in immediate unity with the total situation which at any given time dominates and determines it” (1975: 3). By contrast, “phenomenal knowledge is a ‘qualified’ form of natural consciousness…[I]nsofar as it is an object of presentation, it ‘presses on’ as such, along the [scientific] road presented” (1975: 3). 35


types and life-projects. The distinction is intimated in the Introduction, where it is evidently natural consciousness that “wants to remain in thoughtless indolence” (¶80/3:75), while phenomenal knowing is the “thought [that] spoils the thoughtlessness, and [whose] unrest disturbs the indolence” (¶80/3:75). But in the Preface, too, Hegel notoriously suggests this: “For the natural consciousness to entrust itself immediately to science would be to make an attempt, induced by it knows not what, to walk upside down all of a sudden” (¶26/3:30). In other words, natural consciousness is just that disposition that – its conservative impulses notwithstanding – is coaxed into a reflective articulation and accounting of itself. 38 If this intuition is correct, then in the PhG Hegel settles accounts, not with rival philosophies – more credibly the task of his Lectures on the History of Philosophy or even the Science of Logic – but with fundamentally non-philosophical opponents. 39 Now this assumption should not be especially controversial, since very few “shapes” in the PhG are identifiable as conventional positions or important doctrines in the history of philosophy. A few are identified by name – for instance, Stoicism and Skepticism. And others have uncontroversial sources or referents, as does Humean “Perception” or Kantian “Law Testing.” Yet even those few shapes that do appear straightforwardly philosophical are arguably of interest to Hegel chiefly as outgrowths of largely unreflective impulses, life-processes and activities.40 In any event, we will immediately observe that many more of the PhG’s One might suppose that Hegel’s reference is to the difficulty of an individual directly ascending to Absolute Knowing. But the next sentence strongly suggests Hegel is referring to the vertigo shared by any shape once it begins to “examine” itself: “The compulsion to accept this unaccustomed attitude and to transport oneself in that way would be, so it would seem, a violence imposed on it” (¶26/3:30). Compare the Introduction’s similar passage: “Consciousness therefore suffers this violence at its own hands and brings to ruin its own restricted satisfaction” (¶80/3:74). 39 To my knowledge, Fackenheim (1967: 32-33) was the first commentator to fully appreciate this peculiarity of natural consciousness. And H. S. Harris, too, clearly holds something like this view: “[T]he Science of Experience is the ‘salvation into eternal life’ of all the non-philosophical forms of experience and concepts of truth” (1997 Vol. II: 751). 40 Only at the conclusions of Sense-Certainty and Perception does Hegel refer directly to the philosophical exponents of these shapes. Only then, that is, does Hegel address the theoretical doctrines based on the foregoing experiences. (See ¶109 and ¶131. Compare also ¶162 in “Force and Understanding.”) But this suggests that even the most patently “epistemological” shapes in the book are essentially orientations, and not the “philosophies” founded on them. Even more clearly, Stoicism and Skepticism figure, not as self-enclosed intellectual frameworks, but as practical life-projects. (See ¶199 and ¶205.) Finally, the failures that Hegel chooses to accentuate are inseparable from those life-projects, the attempt to live out these orientations coherently. (See ¶201 and ¶205.) 38


shapes are drawn directly from non-philosophical realms of human culture, in the widest sense: literary, romantic, scientific, laboring, political, religious, and a great deal more.41 A Note on Method Now the very language I have used to explicate natural consciousness should already dispose us to the interpretation I am proposing. To call each shape a “pre-reflective, habitual, spontaneous attitude” is, at least on a rhetorical level, to intimate some sort of connection to Hegel’s “official” conception of second nature. But before developing this vague connection into something more explicit, we must briefly recall an additional characteristic of natural consciousness that is integral to Hegel’s method in the PhG. We saw in Chapter 1 that each shape of natural consciousness is committed to some determinate “ground-norm” that is foundational to its self-understanding, or the way a shape grasps and values itself: say, “independence,” or “freedom,” or “pleasure,” or the “heart’s law.” Further, we observed that holding a ground-norm has practical implications. Thus we are continuously shown how every attitude organizes its behavior around the ground-norm in question. In other words, to idealize a particular ground-norm – to relate to it as a “certainty,” as Hegel sometimes puts it – is at the same time to commit to a specific range of behavior that embodies or expresses it. Now this short elaboration enables us to perceive the basic continuity between the PhG and the Philosophy of Spirit’s “official” conception of second nature. For I am proposing that each shape of natural consciousness assimilates and expresses its “ground-norm” in precisely the way that, via habit, the self comes to embody a rule, principle, or “content.” Recall that, in the Philosophy of Spirit, an individual may so thoroughly integrate a norm that it becomes an instinctive “second nature” – a particular “moulding” of its animal endowment or “first nature.” Through practical repetition, one

So Harris writes: “The famous comment ‘Truth is the Bacchanalian revel’ means not just that speculative truth is alive and dialectical but that it is a whole, embracing the life that is not speculative and self-consciously transparent, but natural, spontaneous, and unconscious or dark” (1993: 74).



may even develop an affective identification with this content, such that one’s general orientation and behavior become embodied expressions of it. To repeat Hegel’s words: “habit is the most essential feature of the existence of all spiritual life in the individual subject…enabling the content, religious content, moral content, etc., to belong to it as this self…in its very being.”42 Yet we will immediately see that this description also captures the status of natural consciousness. On the one hand, the PhG itself leaves no doubt that every shape originates out of a kind of “first nature” – namely, the animal “proto-self” described in Hegel’s reflections on “life” at the beginning of the “Self-Consciousness” chapter.43 On the other hand, however, every succeeding shape so intimately identifies with its defining “essence” that it both (1) instinctively expresses it in its mode of thought and behavior, and (2) is perpetually afraid of losing it to Hegel’s “testing procedure.” Why else, we might ask, would “anxiety over the truth…strive to hold on to what it is in danger of losing” (¶80/3:74-75)? Why else, indeed, would consciousness experience the entire PhG as a protracted “path of despair” (¶78/3:72)?44 Well-known formulations like these are only intelligible because natural consciousness is nothing else but the foundational, yet ultimately unsustainable “concept” it has incorporated. To recall once more a passage we have now encountered several times: Natural consciousness will prove to be only the concept of knowing…But while it immediately regards itself rather as real knowing, this path has negative meaning for it, and what is the realization of the concept will count instead, to it, as the loss of itself, for on this path, it loses its truth. (¶78/3:72) Only the self’s affective, bodily identification with its norms could explain the anxiety aroused by a threat to those norms, or its subsequent perception of “self loss” when these norms are dissolved. Hegel (§410 R/10:187). See also the Lectures on the Philosophy of History, where Hegel connects habit and second nature to the instinctive, unreflecting disposition of ethical life, and at the same time confirms that “first nature” is the self’s animal embodiment: “Ethical life…is the sense of duty (unquestioned, unconscious), the substantial law – a ‘second nature,’ as it has rightly been called (since the ‘first nature’ of human beings is our immediate animal being)” (1988: 42). 43 See ¶166-¶177. 44 Michael Gillespie writes: “Natural consciousness is...fundamentally conservative and strives to maintain the world that is for it a home” (1984: 73). 42


For only in the event of such a thoroughgoing identification – only when, as Hegel puts it, “consciousness is for its own self its concept” (¶80/3:74) – would a threat to that concept constitute a threat to the very self whose concept it is.45 My proposal is that the achievement of this affective identification is finally inconceivable apart from the process of “habituation” Hegel recounts,46 through which these norms can come “to belong to it as this self…in its very being.”47 IV. Second Nature and Natural Notions In the preceding section, we established a point of continuity between the PhG and Hegel’s “official” conception of second nature. In this section, we will begin to uncover the “unofficial” conception of second nature developed in the PhG – a conception without any clear basis in the Philosophy of Spirit, but which prefigures the “defetishizing” version adopted in the writings of critical theory. The official account, we have seen, centers on the bodily incorporation of “norms” that are thence instinctively expressed in conduct as a “second nature.” The Frankfurt School account, by contrast, arises in an alleged context of ideological “fetishism.” At issue here is our tendency to invest human activity and its products – our cultural “second nature” – with a false, “first natural” independence.48 This conception will be our central focus in the remainder of Chapter 3. To make this case, let us consider the second leitmotif of our interpretation – one that we also began to unfold in Chapter 1. Hegel repeatedly indicates that every ground-norm that is See especially Lumsden (2013: 132). More concretely, and taking the Philosophy of Right at face value, such dispositions have presumably been “habituated” both by education and the more impersonal discipline of civil society. See Khurana (2018: 424-430). Here I will leave the specific mechanisms of this enculturation indeterminate. 47 Though beyond our scope here, deepening this continuity would require showing, in greater detail, how each of the shapes of natural consciousness both originates in, while preserving, the animal “proto-self” described in Hegel’s reflections on Life at ¶166-¶177. This, I take it, is the basic premise behind the analysis provided in Whitebook (2008: esp. 383), which treats the struggle-for-recognition as a parable for the transition from “first” (i.e. instinctive, animal) nature to “second” (i.e. normative, cultural) nature. 48 I will repeat that the illusory “first nature” evoked here is not to be conflated with the Philosophy of Spirit’s narrow version, i.e. the self’s instinctive bodily endowment. To be sure, second nature may deceptively assume this particular form. (After all, one longstanding ideological argument is that traditional gender roles are rooted in our “biological natures.” Indeed, the PhG’s section on Greek Sittlichkeit subverts just such an ideology.) But our thematic here pertains more broadly to any item, process, or law that, though “posited” by human activity, is mistaken for something that “naturally” obtains independently of that activity. 45 46


spontaneously avowed and expressed by natural consciousness is also a “natural notion.” We have already implied that the deepest values of natural consciousness emerge for it as “givens.” But Hegel insists that these values only appear as given because natural consciousness has in each case forgotten its “prehistory.”49 More specifically, this means that natural consciousness is by definition unaware that its defining value – upon which its entire identity is founded – has sprung from the failure of another shape to enact its value. This broader perspective, Hegel continuously suggests, belongs solely to the reader: This observation of the matter is our addition…[and] is not there for the consciousness that we are observing…[T]he emergence of the new object [i.e. ground-norm]…takes place for us, as it were, behind the back of consciousness…[for which] what has emerged is only as object. (¶87/3:79-80, my brackets) It is solely “for us,” writes Hegel, that every ground-norm “shows itself to have come to be through a reversal of consciousness itself” (¶87/3:79), or “has emerged…as movement and coming-to-be” (¶87/3:80). The philosophical “We,” we have argued, views each ground-norm genetically, or as the product of another ground-norm’s examination and collapse. But just this perspectival limitation of natural consciousness, I am claiming, accounts for Hegel’s pointed use of the expression “natural notion.” For this expression invariably connotes a deep conceptual assumption, viz. a ground-norm, which consciousness only takes as “natural” because its prehistory has been lost to memory. The phrase itself appears in the first sentence of the Introduction, and memorably flags the unremarked presuppositions of modern epistemology – above all Kant’s critical project. In particular, Hegel identifies the pervasive natural notion that cognition is a faculty that can be inventoried, understood and validated independently of its use and object: “It is a natural notion

This trait is clear enough from the Introduction. But Hegel will also intermittently note in his own voice that a particular shape preserves no memory of its “history.” Consider, for example, the opening of “Reason”: “The consciousness that is this truth has this path behind it and has forgotten it while it immediately comes on the scene as reason” (¶233/3:180). See Chapter 4, below, for a more differentiated treatment of natural consciousness’s “blindness,” of which “forgetfulness” is only one sub-type.



[natürliche Vorstellung]50 that in philosophy, before one gets down to dealing with…the actual cognition of what, in truth, is, it is first necessary to come to an understanding about cognition” (¶73/3:68). A moment later, in the same vein, Hegel reiterates that such a framework “presupposes notions of cognizing [Vorstellungen von dem Erkennen] as an instrument and as a medium” (¶74). At the same time, Hegel does not restrict this phrase’s application to specifically Kantian notions. In one striking passage, in fact, he strongly suggests that the PhG’s “self-consummating skepticism [sich vollbringende Skeptizismus]” (¶78/3:72) is nothing else but the project of canvassing and subverting all the Vorstellungen that grip consciousness in a merely implicit, instinctive, habitual way: [T]his kind of skepticism [brings] about a despair regarding…so-called natural notions, thoughts, and opinions [sogenannten natürlichen Vorstellungen, Gedanken und Meinungen]…with which consciousness that goes straightaway into examining matters is still suffused and burdened. (¶78/3:73) Occasionally, to be sure, Hegel will express this same thought in a slightly varied way, as when in the Preface he disclaims the impulse of “calling to mind habitual notions [gewohnte Vorstellungen] 51 as if they were truths both settled and familiar” (¶57/3:55), or when he challenges “current notions [der Vorstellungen unserer Zeit] about the nature and shape of truth” (¶71/3:65-66) that are at obvious variance with Hegel’s own standpoint. The same understanding of Vorstellung is equally evident where Hegel alludes to the typical philosopher’s ideal of examination – the thinker who merely attempts to discern whether “everything said by everybody else…match[es] up with his own notion [Vorstellung] about the matter, or with whether it seems that way to him and whether or not it is something with which he is familiar [bekannt]” (¶31/3:35). 52 Yet in both the Preface and the See footnote 41 in Chapter 1, above, for a note explaining my translation of Vorstellung as “notion.” Pinkard renders gewohnte Vorstellungen with “common conceptions.” I have used “habitual” to preserve the continuity with Hegel’s other discussions of habit. 52 The text preceding this quotation constitutes strong additional evidence that such “notions” are in fact the foundational concepts presupposed by natural consciousness: “[T]he most common form of self-deception and deception of others is when one presupposes something as well known and then makes one’s peace with it…Subject and 50 51


Introduction, we will observe, the pejorative associations of our deceptively familiar but unexamined Vorstellungen are never far from the surface. But this means that, in some sense, Hegel pursues the type of “defetishizing” program we described above. More specifically, he shows that all the “so-called natural notions” received by natural consciousness as givens – deliverances, say, of passive perception, or sensuous inclination, or healthy common sense, or moral conviction, etc.53 – are very much products of a spiritual history that is, nonetheless, only perspicuous “for us.” Or, as Adorno would phrase it: natural consciousness persistently misrepresents its posited “second nature” as an “abrupt immediacy” that conceals its genesis in “society and its evolution.” 54 V. The Inorganic Nature of Natural Consciousness We are now better prepared to address a third and final trope that recurs throughout the PhG: “inorganic nature.” But it may help us to make this transition by first considering one of Hegel’s more intriguing remarks in his introduction to the “Reason” chapter: Consciousness will determine its relationship to otherness, or to its object, in various ways depending on just which stage it finds itself occupying vis-à-vis how the world-spirit is becoming conscious of itself. How consciousness is immediately to be found, and how it determines itself and its object at any given time, or how it is for itself, depends on what it has already come to be, or on what it already is in itself. (¶234/3:181) We have already emphasized that the norms governing natural consciousness – its own prejudices notwithstanding – are not in reality “givens,” but essentially products of (now forgotten or suppressed) developments. Couched in the vocabulary we have elaborated, then, the second sentence of the quoted passage arguably means something like the following: a given shape’s instinctive attitude (“How consciousness is immediately to be found”) is grounded in one or more pre object, God, nature, understanding, sensibility, etc., are, as is well known, all unquestioningly laid as foundation stones which constitute fixed points from which to start and to which to return” (¶31/3:35). 53 These phrases, of course, are glosses for the “shapes” that Hegel calls Perception, Desire, Law-Giving Reason, and the Conscience. 54 Adorno (1973: 38).


reflective Vorstellungen (“what it already is in itself”), which has in each instance issued (“has already come to be”) from the collapse of another. In short, the ground-norm yielded by a shape’s self-inverting examination becomes the foundational second nature of the succeeding shape, taken as natural consciousness. But in the first sentence of the passage quoted above, Hegel clearly goes somewhat further than this claim. For he suggests that the various shapes of consciousness, which until now we have treated simply as individual attitudes, can and should be indexed to developments in the wider culture of a society. To repeat: “Consciousness will determine its relationship to otherness, or to its object, in various ways depending on just which stage it finds itself occupying vis-à-vis how the world-spirit is becoming conscious of itself.”55 This “cultural” enlargement of Hegel’s second nature thematic is necessary for grasping our final trope. Indeed, in the Preface, immediately prior to introducing the metaphor of inorganic nature, Hegel insists in the same language that, “the world spirit…had to be examined in the development of its cultural education [der Weltgeist, in seiner Bildung zu betrachten]” (¶28/3:31), continuing: [E]ach individual spirit also runs through the culturally formative stages of the universal spirit, but it runs through them as shapes which spirit has already laid aside…This past existence [vergangne Dasein] has already become an acquired possession [erworbnes Eigentum] of the universal spirit; it constitutes the substance of the individual, or, his inorganic nature [unorganische Natur] – and thus appears external to him [so ihm äußerlich erscheinend]. (¶28/3:32-33)56 This provocative passage raises several questions. First: what precisely is the individual’s “substance” or “inorganic nature”? The answer Hegel provides here – that it is spirit’s “past existence,” and specifically “shapes which spirit has already laid aside” – is as yet rather vague. Second: why should In light of “meta-reflections” of this sort, the assimilation of all forms-of-consciousness – i.e. the shapes SenseCertainty through Law-Test Reason – to the mature Hegel’s category of “subjective spirit” becomes particularly problematic. See for example Lukács (1975: 472). In the Philosophy of Spirit, subjective spirit appears to embrace the transhistorical competencies (cognitive or otherwise) of the human being. Yet on the basis of the cited passage, in the PhG the very prospect of such a definitive, epoch-independent catalogue seems doubtful. 56 Hegel inserted the last, crucial part of this sentence – “thus appears external to him” – while editing the PhG at the end of his life. While Yovel’s translation includes this phrase, Pinkard’s does not. 55


this inorganic nature (at least initially) “appear external” to the individual in question – particularly if this nature is ostensibly her own? Once again, Hegel’s words leave the causes behind this appearance of externality obscure. Now my suggestion, based on Hegel’s larger discussion in these sections (¶28-¶33), is that the culture-pervading unorganische Natur at issue consists precisely in the full set of natürlichen Vorstellungen that, at a certain stage of development, is characteristic of, and habitually compelling for, a given individual. The attention we have already paid to Hegel’s pointed use of this expression in the Preface and Introduction has prepared us for its (otherwise curious) reemergence here. When Hegel transitions from metaphorical imagery to conceptual exposition, his portrait of an “individual…living off that inorganic nature” (¶28/3:33) is replaced exactly by the individual’s reflective articulation and examination of her everyday “notions”: “In this movement, although the individual is spared the sublation of existence [Daseins], what still remains is the notion of and the familiarity with the forms [die Vorstellung und die Bekanntschaft mit den Formen]” (¶30/3:34). The context for this claim – that the thinker’s task is to sublate, not Dasein, but Vorstellungen and Bekanntschaft – is Hegel’s overview of the foremost difference between the functions of ancient and modern philosophy. On this reckoning, ancient thinking essentially consisted in attaining universality via abstraction from sensuous, natural, immediate existence. 57 By contrast, modern philosophy is charged with the de-familiarization or de-fetishization of its Vorstellungen: with “actualizing and spiritually animating the universal through the sublation of fixed and determinate thoughts [das Aufheben der festen bestimmten Gedanken]” (¶33/3:37).58 Once again, the phrase “second nature” is useful for connoting the deceptive familiarity of these Vorstellungen. Hegel’s celebrated mot makes this connotation obvious: “What is familiar and well “Experimenting…with each part of its existence and philosophizing about everything it came across, the ancient course of studies fashioned itself into an altogether active universality” (¶33/3:37). 58 See also Hegel’s related remark in his “Difference” essay: “Dichotomy is the source of the need of philosophy; and as the culture of the era, it is the unfree and given aspect of the whole configuration” (1977a: 89/2:20). 57


known [Das Bekannte] as such is not really known [erkannt] for the very reason that it is familiar and well known” (¶31/3:35). In other words, the more thoroughly consciousness is “habituated” to any given notion, the less likely it will be to actually grasp it. In this way, our analysis comports well with our construal of natural consciousness as a pre-reflective attitude or orientation. For though every “shape” is premised upon an implicit ground-norm, nonetheless, as natural, consciousness has not yet subjected its inborn “notions” to reflection and examination, and hence cannot yet grasp them as posited “second natures” at all. In Hegel’s words, they are still perceived as “fixed and determinate thoughts” (¶33/3:37), rather than accurately recognized “as movement and coming-to-be” (¶87/3:80). Let us return now to the additional, “cultural” dimension that the expression inorganic nature has introduced. To begin with, it is relatively simple to grasp how the composition of an individual’s second nature might correspond to the present stage of a society’s culture, or the world Gestalt he or she directly confronts. In the Preface, at any rate, Hegel appears to simply assume that the typical, mature participant in modern culture has been endowed, via routine processes of enculturation, with the most logically developed fund of norms.59 Further, such a participant has been led through habituation to pre-reflectively and spontaneously identify with these Sitten.60 In fact, this aspect of the term “inorganic nature” will be confirmed in the section of Observing Reason subtitled “Logical and Psychological Laws.” Here Hegel clarifies, using the same metaphor: The moments constituting the content of the law are, on the one hand, individuality itself, and on the other hand, its universal inorganic nature [allgemeine unorganische Natur], namely, the circumstances, situations, habits [Gewohnheiten], mores [Sitten], religion, and so forth that it comes upon [vorgefundenen],61 and it is from these moments that determinate individuality is to be comprehended. (¶305/3:230) In any case: every participant in the Western European culture of 1807. Moreover, the most unthinkingly assimilated Vorstellungen of that era were the basically Kantian ones Hegel identifies in the Introduction. 60 The self’s quasi-libidinal identification with norms, we suggested earlier, explains why it experiences their loss as “selfloss” on a “path of despair.” 61 I have altered Pinkard’s translation slightly to underscore that these elements of inorganic nature are ostensibly vorgefundenen, or something consciousness “comes upon.” 59


Here again, as in the Preface, the phrase inorganic nature applies to those culture-pervading Gewohnheiten and Sitten assimilated by the individual.62 There are also indications, though, that this last description properly belongs to the (one-sided) perspective of Observing Reason. From the perspective represented in the above passage, inorganic nature is merely something present, synchronically, for individuality, and therefore something given that the latter “comes upon.” But if, as we have seen, the individual’s modern inorganic nature descends in truth from “shapes which spirit has already laid aside” (¶28/3:32), then the formula from Observing Reason will appear incomplete. For it leaves unexpressed the historical constitution of our second nature, or its diachronic dimension. How, then, should we interpret Hegel’s claim that this second nature, i.e. the individual’s basic stock of unexamined Vorstellungen, is non-arbitrarily connected to spirit’s “past existence” (¶283/3:33)? Our answer must be that, for Hegel, this second nature is at the same time composed of the pre-history, or previous stages, of the present culture. Or to speak more precisely: contemporary culture itself has preserved – in an arguably problematic way – the characteristics of its own past states or conditions. 63 An explanation of this sort is necessary to make sense of a passage like the following: [T]he particular individual is an incomplete spirit, a concrete shape whose entire existence falls into one determinateness and in which the other features are only present as intermingled traits. In any spirit that stands higher than another, the lower concrete existence has descended to the status of an insignificant moment; what was formerly at stake is now only a trace; its shape has been covered over and has become a simple shading of itself. (¶28/3:32) Each individual, accordingly, is the bearer of an inorganic nature – a growing ensemble of cultural notions, Gewohnheiten, Sitten, dispositions, and the like – that has been pressed over the course of Compare the meaning of “inorganic nature” in the following passage from Hegel’s “first” Jena Philosophy of Spirit: “The world does not come to this consciousness…in the absolute form of something external, for it has been penetrated thoroughly by the form of consciousness; [the child’s] inorganic nature is the knowledge of his parents, the world is already prepared [on his behalf]; and it is the form of ideality which comes to the child” (1979: 234/1986a: 215). 63 For a more detailed elaboration of this thought, see Forster (1998: 354). 62


spirit’s history. The PhG chronicles this history, of course, and shows how such dispositions actually give body to increasingly rational self-understandings.64 Yet Hegel also suggests that, chronologically, these cultural norms exert an ascending level of power over that individual, “whose substance is spirit standing at the higher level” (¶28). That is, the most historically proximate “shape” is in each case the dominant influence over the individual’s thinking and conduct, whereas an older cultural form has to that degree “descended to the status of an insignificant moment,” or is “only a trace.” Conclusion: on the Persisting Externality of Second Nature I would like to conclude this chapter by recapitulating our major claims, as a prelude to addressing an outstanding question from the last section. After reviewing the Philosophy of Spirit account of second nature, centered on the bodily incorporation of norms, we contemplated the “defetishizing” conception advanced by critical theory. Afterwards, through our analysis of several recurring expressions, we saw that the PhG negotiates both conceptions. For natural consciousness both manifestly (a) identifies with a posited norm it habitually expresses in its thought and behavior, and (b) mistakes this “natural notion” for a first nature, in the sense of a given that has not been “posited.” Finally, our interpretation of the phrase “inorganic nature” supplied additional confirmation of the PhG’s essentially defetishizing program, now broadened to embrace a wider social whole: the exposure of apparent “immediacies” as historically evolved and cultural second natures. Today – or rather in 1807 – Hegel directs his reader to “take possession” of her inorganic nature, and hence her entire substantial history.65 Yet until now, as we observed, this nature has appeared as a given or alien endowment. In the Preface, recall, Hegel states that the “individual’s substance…appears external to him” (¶28), while, in Observing Reason, it is something the These self-understandings are rational, because they are conceptually articulable as normative truth-claims, and they are increasingly so, because each preserves the “truth-content” of an earlier, failed self-understanding: “[E]very result which emerges…contains the truth that the previous knowing has within itself” (¶87/3:79-80). 65 Förster (2012: 358-362) has shown that Hegel took over the distinction between “inheriting” and “taking possession” from Goethe’s Faust I. 64


individual “comes upon” (¶305). To return to our question, then, postponed until now: why should this so-called inorganic nature appear “external,” at least initially, from the individual’s perspective? Why, more pointedly, should the individual need to repossess her own nature? If my interpretation thus far is correct, of course, a fully satisfying answer to this question would amount to resolving a fundamental problem of Hegel’s writings: why should a “mediated” reality ever falsely appear to consciousness as something “immediate”? Why, indeed, must spirit become “foreign” to itself in order to know itself? Naturally, I will not be dispatching the larger problem of Hegel’s philosophical theodicy in this place. Nevertheless, Hegel does shed some light on our more specific question, regarding the “externality” of inorganic nature, in three passages from the Preface. In the first, he writes that, “the cultural formation of the individual regarded from his own point of view consists in his acquiring all of this which is available, in his living off that inorganic nature and in his taking possession of it for himself” (¶28/3:33). He adds, in a second passage: “That content, which is already what has been thought, is the possession of individuality [Eigentum der Individualität]…[I]t is just the in-itself which is to be converted into the form of being-foritself ”(¶29/3:33). And in a third passage, Hegel clarifies, using the same language we have repeatedly highlighted, that “knowing is directed against the notion [Vorstellung] which has come about through this immediacy, [and] is directed against this familiarity [Bekanntsein]” (¶30/3:35). Hegel’s object in these three quotations seems to be a two-stage model or mechanism of selfknowledge. An “education” that (1) every self implicitly realizes simply by living in the modern era, or by being brought up to function passably well in this cultural milieu, is only (2) completed – however ambiguously – in philosophical self-reflection. Yet as we can now appreciate, this “self-reflection” involves reconstructing one’s inorganic nature – the tissue of spuriously “familiar” Vorstellungen circulating in the wider culture – as a developing sequence of increasingly rational ground-norms or “concepts.” My interpretation of Hegel’s image is that until and unless one’s inorganic nature is


“recollected” and reconceived along these lines, it will appear to reason as arbitrary: a nature I just happen to have. Every “natural notion” strikes consciousness as a “given.” It will remain a “mere” second nature for me – something habitually “familiar” – if it is not recapitulated as a rational development and thus (truly) made mine. To employ another Hegelian expression: I attain “selfcognition” in the “otherness” of my natural Vorstellungen only when I intuit them as more than simply “familiar,” but as my very own substance – as a “posit” of that spirit which I myself am. Yet here we might insist that this second nature is rational, i.e. really does meet the criteria of rational adequacy, only if it has surpassed its internally discordant, self-inverting characteristics. Thus we can now infer: what is de facto mine is only actively appropriated inasmuch as it is subjected to a Hegelian form of criticism – when, precisely, “knowing is directed against the notion [Vorstellung] which has come about” (¶30). But this means that I cannot “take possession” (¶28/3:33) of my second nature, and so “convert [it] into the form of being-for-itself” (¶29/3:33), without at the same time “defetishizing” its appearance as first nature and critically transcending it – and in just the way that we have argued.



Introduction: On Blindness Beginning in Chapter 1, we suggested that the PhG’s self-inverting shapes should be conceived principally as non-philosophical character-types familiar to us from our wider culture and its history. In Chapter 3, we used the motif of “second nature” to further illuminate the constellation of a “natural consciousness” dominated by “natural notions” – fundamental yet unexamined concepts comprising its “inorganic nature.” We found Hegel de-naturalizes these notions by showing that they are in all events the (forgotten) outcomes of (rationally explicable) collapses in other orientations. For natural consciousness, though, this habitual second nature remains something immediately given and irresistibly necessary. At the end of this discussion, we began to address an outstanding puzzle: what precisely does Hegel mean when he states that consciousness’ own nature – what is ostensibly most “familiar” – appears to it in such an “opaque” way?1 In the first half of this chapter, we will continue developing this aspect of natural consciousness: namely, its constitutive blindness. In this way, we can assemble some of the ingredients necessary for constructing a Hegelian model of “ideology.” This will be our focus in the chapter’s second half.

As we have noted, for Hegel, what is most familiar is exactly what must be de-familiarized, in order to be genuinely “known.” Dove (1970: 627) offhandedly cites the Brechtian principle, Verfremdungseffekt, to describe the general discontinuity between the perspectives of the philosophical We and natural consciousness. However, I would go somewhat further with this comparison, and claim that Hegel also frequently dramatizes our familiar “notions” in an unnatural, artificial way – so distancing the reader from her own “inorganic nature.” (For instance, I take the chapter “Force and Understanding” as a paradigmatically “alienating” depiction of the scientific worldview.) See also G. Rose (1981: 163-164).



Three Types of Blindness Now the inability or unwillingness of consciousness to perceive something about itself or its situation, frequently emphasized in the literature, can itself be differentiated further. 2 For simplicity’s sake, it seems to me we can distinguish three types of blindness corresponding to the temporal objects of past, present and future. Accordingly, natural consciousness is as a rule (1) forgetful of its prehistory, (2) ignorant of its own constitution, and (3) oblivious to that constitution’s (uniformly tragic) implications. I will add at once that the internal connections between these aspects of blindness – indeed, their fundamental inseparability – should become clearer as we proceed. With this caveat, then, let us ask how the characteristic blindness of natural consciousness is evinced along each of these axes. Blindness to the Past Commentators rarely neglect the conspicuous “forgetfulness” of natural consciousness. For if the PhG is itself a work of recollection or Erinnerung, 3 nonetheless, its protagonist fails as a rule to remember anything anteceding its own interval or phase of experience4 – on occasion forgetting even the episodes within that phase. We have already encountered this attribute, tangentially, in our analyses of the Introduction and Preface over the last three chapters. Indeed, we have seen that, if a single “instinct” dominates every shape of non-speculative consciousness, it is the conviction that each of its defining essences or “concepts” is something given to it. In its obdurate refusal to recognize the “pure emergence” (¶87/3:80) of its own essence from the collapse of a previous, now-negated essence, natural consciousness cannot “recollect” its own

Paul Redding is especially persistent in developing the analogy between the audience of a play and the philosophical observer: “[W]e as audience can see more of the structure of this situation than is immediately available to the protagonists in the situation” (1996: 124). 3 See for example Angelica Nuzzo (2012: ch. 1), Rebecca Comay (2011), and Donald Verene (1985). Compare also the discussion in Gillespie (1984: 77-78). 4 See especially in this connection Katrin Pahl’s essay “The Way of Despair”: “Because none of the figures of consciousness remembers its previous life or recollects the torturous self-negations that have led it to where it is, the protagonist of the Phenomenology falls apart into many protagonists” (2011: 152). 2


genetic conditions of possibility and so know itself.5 The former essence, together with the orientation and experience-type that this essence grounds – all of these confront natural consciousness as abstractly untrue “appearances.” Consider, for example, the attitude of Stoicism towards the experience – viz. Lordship and Bondage – from which it has directly emerged: What alone has importance [for Stoicism] is the difference posited by thought…This consciousness accordingly has a negative attitude towards the lord and bondsman relationship. As lord, it does not have its truth in the bondsman, nor as bondsman is its truth in the lord's will and in his service” (¶199/3:157). Or again, consider the description that opens the “Law of the Heart,” which recalls the Introduction’s vocabulary verbatim: [F]or us the preceding movement confronts the new shape because the new shape has in itself originated out of it, and the moment from which it stems is necessary for it. However, to itself, that moment appears as something it just finds as given, while it has no consciousness of its origin and, to itself, the essence is instead for itself, or it is the negative in-itself opposed to this positive in-itself. (¶369/3:276)6 As we have seen in previous chapters, Hegel’s claim that the genesis of each nominally “natural” essence “takes place for us, as it were, behind the back of consciousness” (¶87/3:80), is a tribute to this circumstance. Conversely, if the philosophical We possesses any obvious advantage over natural consciousness, it will consist in this self-reflexive intuition: that every essence, particularly its own, is non-arbitrarily and negatively related to another, previous one.7 And to achieve this intuition, of course, the philosophical We must minimally enjoy the very faculty of memory that natural consciousness congenitally lacks or spurns.

As we argued in Chapter 1, as “natural,” consciousness cannot achieve a “self-reflexive” relation to its object. For it cannot see, in effect, that the characteristics of its present “object” are entangled with its own past experience. Hegel expresses this trait clearly in “Force and Understanding”: “For us, this object has come to be through the movement of consciousness in such a way that this consciousness is interwoven in the coming-to-be of the object” (¶132/3:108). 6 See also the similar words from the section entitled “Observation of Nature”: “For this consciousness itself, what is in truth the result and the essence now makes its entrance, however, as object, and, while it is for consciousness not a result and has no relation to the preceding movement, as a particular kind of object. Its relation to this consciousness is that of another kind of observing” (¶253/3:196). 7 See Part I above. See also Förster (2012: 301-305) and W. Marx (1975: 78-81) for different accounts of “our contribution” to the development of consciousness. 5


Now the importance of Erinnerung for the PhG as a whole is not merely a plausible inference, but continuously foregrounded in the text itself. Indeed, at crucial places Hegel is explicit that spirit’s full self-comprehension takes exactly the form of self-recollection. He writes in the Preface, for example: In the whole of the movement taken as rest, that which differentiates and gives itself particular existence is retained as something that interiorizes and remembers itself [sich erinnert], whose existence is its knowing of itself, just as its knowing itself is immediately existence. (¶47/3:46-47)8 This ultimate identity, for Hegel, between self-cognition and self-recollection is even more pronounced in the concluding paragraph of “Absolute Knowing” 9: [S]pirit’s…knowledge is its taking-the-inward-turn [Insichgehen] within which spirit forsakes its existence and gives its shape over to recollection [Erinnerung]. In taking-the-inward-turn, spirit is absorbed into the night of its self-consciousness, but its vanished existence is preserved in that night. (¶808/3:590) Yet if speculative, Hegelian self-knowledge is achieved only as a sort of philosophical recollection, then it will not surprise us that the protagonist of the PhG’s itinerary itself proceeds from the most attenuated conceptual memory, in the direction of a deepened one. In point of fact, spirit’s ultimately “recollective” destiny is intimated as early as the PhG’s first shape. It is not an accident, on this reading, that no subsequent Gestalt struggles as mightily with amnesia as Sense-Certainty. This shape – peculiar in this respect – appears to forget even episodes that occur within its own phase of experience.10 So Hegel concludes the chapter by remarking: “[N]atural consciousness…arrives at this result, which is the truth in sense-certainty, and it presses ever forward. It learns from experience about it, but

Here I have quoted Yovel’s (2005) translation. Pinkard, by contrast, omits the self-reflexivity of “sich erinnert”: “In the whole of the movement, apprehended as being at rest, what distinguishes itself within it and what gives itself existence is preserved as what remembers…” 9 Thus Verene observes: “On this last page of the Phenomenology Hegel uses Erinnerung to describe what the phenomenology of spirit is. In other words, Hegel waits until the last page, and in fact the last sentence, to give a game to that power of consciousness by which consciousness can have a speculative knowledge of its own activity…Hegel’s work is a colossus of systematic memory” (1985: 3). If my interpretation above is correct, the Preface says much the same thing. But Verene’s general point is well taken. 10 Though something similar applies to the shape described as a “Spiritual Animal Kingdom”: “It makes one meaning after another into the subject of this predicate, and then it forgets one after the other [und vergißt die eine nach der anderen]” (¶413/3:306). 8


then it likewise forgets it once again, and then it starts the whole movement all over again from the beginning” (¶109/3:90). The maxim that “all reification is forgetting”11 is perhaps best dramatized by this shape’s failure to lay hold of the ens realissimum as a particular This-Here-Now, together with its subsequent disregard for that failure.12 In Hegel’s words: “Immediate certainty…wants to apprehend the This” (¶111/3:93). Instead, it invariably exclaims a vacuous “not-this” or “universal” – the perfect inversion of the intended This13 – only to continue on as before, its certainty unshaken, as though nothing at all had been learned. Sense-Certainty can maintain its defining conviction (unmediated knowledge) only by scrupulously suppressing or forgetting a characteristic of its experience that, nonetheless, becomes unmistakable in every attempt to substantiate that conviction (its mediation by universality and thus by itself). It is unsurprising, then, when Sense-Certainty culminates in a strategy that expresses this quintessence perfectly: it “clings tenaciously…to immediacy and…thereby excludes from itself all the opposition that previously took place” (¶103/3:87). The Sense-Certain instinct is to purge its own memory. It is founded, to speak hyperbolically, upon the refusal to know what it already knows. And a trace of this oblivion persists into all the following sections, in the compulsion of natural consciousness to suspend everything “that previously took place.”

Adorno and Horkheimer (2002: 191). See also Adorno’s repetition of the maxim in a letter to Benjamin. “For all reification is a forgetting: objects become purely thing-like the moment they are retained for us without the continued presence of their other aspects: when something of them has been forgotten” (1999: 321). 12 See Harris: “As a result of our experience of ‘sensible certainty’ we can say that it involves reaching after an absolute Being that ‘truly is,’ and finding that we cannot grasp it because ‘what truly is’ cannot be in that way at all…[I]mmediacy itself is what is not, and cannot be” (1997 Vol. I: 225). 13 “[I]t is put forward as a philosophical assertion…that the reality, that is, the being, of external things as this, that is, as sensuous, is to have absolute truth for consciousness. Such an assertion…does not know that it is saying the opposite of what it wants to say” (¶109/3:90). 11


The continuing importance of forgetfulness, whose prominence appears at times to measure consciousness’ distance from self-knowledge, is hardly confined to the sections we’ve mentioned.14 If it wasn’t already clear from the Introduction and the passages we quoted above, Hegel will occasionally note in his own voice, typically between sections, that a particular shape preserves no memory of the foregoing, phenomenological “history.” In a given instance – say, at the start of “Self-Consciousness” – it is always “we [who] consider this new shape of knowledge…in relation to what has come before” (¶167/3:138),15 even as natural consciousness per se is simply “a new shape of consciousness that does not take cognizance of its essence in what has gone before but instead regards it as something wholly different” (¶164/3:134). Indeed, if the specific shapes of SelfConsciousness for the first time “steps out into the spiritual daylight of the present” (¶177/3:145), it does so precisely by “leav[ing] behind the…sensuous world and the…supersensible beyond” (¶177/3:145). The most vivid example of this oblivion occurs in the opening paragraphs of Reason. Here Hegel suggests that the modern, i.e. post-Lutheran and post-Cartesian, shape-of-consciousness is (at least in this respect) quite as “natural” as any of the preceding types: “The consciousness which is this truth has this path behind it and has forgotten it, and comes on the scene immediately as Reason” (¶233/3:180).16 Even the third and final section of Reason, entitled “Die Individualität, welche sich an und für sich selbst reell ist,” opens with the following, representative reflection: “Selfconsciousness has the pure category itself for its object, that is, it is the category which has become conscious of itself. The account self-consciousness has with its previous forms is now closed. They

Comay, too, emphasizes “the incessant stalling and backsliding, the meandering and repetition, the stubborn obliviousness, the self-censorship, and the constant blackouts. Consciousness proves to be a virtuoso at forgetting what it learns – disparaging its significance, disarming its impact, or drawing inferences that can be counter-intuitive and even perverse” (2015: 263). 15 The full sentence: “[W]e consider this new shape of knowledge, that is, knowledge of itself, in relation to what has come before, that is, knowledge of an other” (¶167/3:138). 16 Indeed, the project of Reason appears to elevate this “blemish” of natural consciousness into something like a selfconscious virtue: historically, a pronounced suspicion of tradition’s authority has bled into a studied indifference to any questions of its own genesis, now perceived as immaterial to its own truth, validity, or meaning. 14


lie behind it, forgotten” (¶395/3:293). That Hegel would describe the last shape of Reason in just these terms is strong evidence that forgetfulness remains a persisting, non-contingent quality of natural consciousness – hence that the Introduction’s projections remain applicable to “our” object well past the PhG’s opening sections.17 “For itself,” in other words, natural consciousness always appears to spring fully formed ex nihilo into life, with determinate convictions, impulses and modes of behavior – in short, a complete human vocation – yet always without a past. Blindness to the Present We have now considered the perfect forgetfulness of natural consciousness: its stubborn inability to perceive that and how it relates to its own origin: namely, as an inversion of that origin. At the same time, we hypothesized that the development of natural consciousness must involve inter alia its obtaining – however gradually – the ability to recollect. In short, natural consciousness itself must reach the We’s unbroken awareness that an orientation’s truth – both its adequacy and inadequacy – can only be correctly grasped through a reflection on that orientation’s (formerly disregarded) origin. This forgetfulness, however, may now be supplemented with an additional type or aspect of ignorance: the regular failure of natural consciousness to perceive some crucial characteristic of its present relation to itself and its world. Here I cannot postpone a provisional statement of a distinction that will recur in the remainder of the dissertation, and which, on my interpretation, provides an additional key to the PhG as a whole. I submit that the shapes of natural consciousness should be broadly separated into two classes, corresponding to the two basic orientations an individual may “naturally” assume towards objectivity. For if we grant the intuitive thought that every shape in the PhG projects – and, after a fashion, attempts to establish – a unity between itself and its object, we will readily see that this can be accomplished in either of two ways. In the simplest terms, consciousness

Of course, it is also constitutes definitive evidence that every shape of individuality, at least, must be conceived as “natural” in this technical sense.



may either (a) subordinate itself to the object, or (b) subordinate the object to itself. I propose that those shapes governed by the first principle may be called Consciousness; while those shapes governed by the second principle may collectively be called Self-Consciousness. To foreclose confusion, I hasten to clarify that, as I use the term, “Consciousness” applies not only to the shapes of Sense-Certainty, Perception, and Understanding, but to all shapes that methodically subordinate themselves to an external “truth-maker.” Thus the Unhappy Consciousness, Observing Reason, and Law-Giving Reason are all, by this standard, forms of “Consciousness” in the wide sense. In the same way, “Self-Consciousness” broadly understood embraces not only shapes such as Desire and Skepticism, but all of the “world-subordinating” attitudes and behaviors we encounter in the PhG: say, Pleasure, Law-Testing and – later on – Utility. We require this distinction at just this point for a simple reason. The attitudes of Consciousness and Self-Consciousness are blind to their pasts in common ways: both alike are afflicted with the “forgetfulness” of natural consciousness generally. Yet these orientations are blind in different ways to their present. For the moment it is perhaps enough to say that the shapes of Consciousness are unaware that they are also forms of Self-Consciousness, while the latter do not properly recognize they are also forms of Consciousness. Hegel’s own statement of the contrast captures something of this symmetry: Spirit…is consciousness in general…in so far as in its self-analysis Spirit holds fast to the moment of being an objectively existent actuality to itself, and ignores the fact that this actuality is its own being-for-self. If, on the contrary, it holds fast to the other moment of the analysis, viz. that its object is its own being-for-self, then it is self-consciousness. (¶440/3:326) For this reason, “Consciousness” must be brought to the “critical” insight that it “takes up” its object – that it is self-determining – and that the “really real” is not a mind-independent item in, or feature of, reality, but is rather a categorical mode of self-organization. By contrast, “SelfConsciousness” is compelled to see that it depends upon, or conditioned by, its object. Hence it


cannot subordinate its object in the ways it imagines, without both misapprehending that object and – on a practical register – disfiguring its own conditions of possibility. Here our discussion will profit from a brief detour through Hegel’s Philosophical Propaedeutic, written for the benefit of his Nuremberg Gymnasium students between 1808 and 1811 – the years immediately following the publication of the Jena PhG. Above all, this text’s abbreviated “Phenomenology” is useful for containing several clear and illuminating elaborations of our central distinction that are mainly only implied in the PhG itself. In this way, it provides unusually plain confirmation of an interpretation that might otherwise appear artificial. In the first place, then, we learn that the attitudes of Consciousness and Self-Consciousness correspond neatly to the two major philosophical doctrines: [I]t is possible…to think of [things and their determinations] as in-and-for-themselves outside of Consciousness, as given to the latter in the shape of alien and already existing material for it. On the other hand, since Consciousness is equally essential to the Knowing of these [material things] it is also possible to think that Consciousness itself posits this, its world, and produces or modifies, either wholly or in part, the determinations of the same through its behaviour and its activity. The former point of view is called Realism, the latter Idealism.18 On this scheme, Consciousness may be called a form of Realism inasmuch as it endorses the view that objects are “given…in the shape of alien and already existing material.” Conversely, SelfConsciousness shares with Idealism the assumption that the subject “produces or modifies” the world “through its behaviour and its activity.” Shortly afterwards, however, Hegel will describe this same distinction in a subtly different way: “Self-Consciousness posits itself through negation of otherness and is practical Consciousness…[Conversely] Consciousness proper…is called theoretical.” 19 Now I take Hegel’s words as strong prima facie evidence in support of the hypothesis I ventured above: that every Hegel (1986b: 55/4:111-112). In a running commentary to his translation of the PhG Introduction, Howard Kainz (1994: 15-17) argues that this particular distinction (between Realism and Idealism) is central to grasping Hegel’s argument regarding the “self-comparison” of consciousness at ¶84. 19 Hegel (1986b: 60/4:117). 18


identifiably practical, ‘other-negating’ shape (and not only those found in Chapter IV), can and should be conceived as a type of Self-Consciousness; while each shape that deliberately “conforms” to its object, as theory, is a type of Consciousness. So when the entire book is conceived, as I am suggesting, principally as an oscillation between Consciousness and Self-Consciousness, then it is at the same time understood as a thoroughgoing demonstration of Theory’s unity with Practice. For it shows that neither attitude can be logically sustained on its own, but each becomes (a version of) the other in the very attempt to “realize” itself.20 Consciousness We will return to this contrast in Chapter 5. For the moment, again, our purpose is only to illustrate and expound the unique blindness of each major orientation to its own present. As we have now observed, the instinct of “Consciousness” is to conform to its object. And this fundamentally selfabnegating undercurrent erupts at certain pivotal moments in the PhG. For Sense-Certainty, “the object is; it is the truth and the essence” (¶93/3:84), while “knowing…itself can just as well exist as not exist” (¶93/3:84). 21 For Perception, “the object is the true and the universal, selfsame, and…consciousness, in its own eyes, is what is alterable and unessential” (¶116/3:97).22 And for Understanding, too, “the true object…is still an object of consciousness” (¶132/3:107-108), so that “it thus does not yet have any cognizance of itself in that reflected object” (¶132/3:108), but “is still withdrawing from what has come to be” (¶132/3:108). This “repulsion” by Consciousness of At the same time, such an interpretation will also tend to confound our ability to easily determine what is “theoretical,” what “practical.” For example, a shape like Unhappy Consciousness is on the face of things emphatically practical. But because it clearly evinces the orientation of “Consciousness,” it perhaps makes more sense to emphasize its traditionally “theoretical” agenda. Indeed, this emphasis makes the “logic” of Hegel’s transition to the (initially) arch-theoretical Reason more readily comprehensible. Likewise, an ostensibly theoretical shape like Skepticism ought to be viewed under its basically active, “practical” aspect. 21 This is nicely stated by David Ciavatta in his essay “Hegel on Desire’s Knowledge”: “[A] basic experiential phenomenon – that irreducible, lived experience, familiar to us all, of sensing something, and of finding this experience to be intrinsically compelling and self-evidently truth-revealing – can be said to generate, solely from within itself, the basic schema of a realist metaphysics” (2008: 534). 22 See also the first paragraph of Perception: “[T]he object, defined as the simple [entity], is the essence regardless of whether it is perceived or not; but the act of perceiving, as a movement, is the unessential moment, the unstable factor, which can as well be as not be” (¶111/3:93). 20


responsibility for the characteristics of its own experience reappears, practically transfigured, in the bad faith of Unhappy Consciousness, which cannot repel the “for itself” authorship of its actions quickly enough: “In work and enjoyment…it can directly forget itself; and the consciousness of its own particular role in this realization is cancelled out by the act of thankful acknowledgement” (¶223/3:173). Later on, the (putatively more advanced) forms of “Observing Reason” succumb to a version of this same delusion: As observing consciousness, reason…concerns itself with things, supposing that it is taking them in their truth as sensuous things opposed to the I. However, its actual activity contradicts this supposition, for it knows things, and it transforms their sensuousness into concepts, i.e., precisely into a being which is at the same time the I. (¶242/3:187)23 “For us,” of course, there is an element of blindness inseparable from the “epistemic selfabnegation” reflected in each of these passages. Consciousness is blind, that is, to its own responsibility for the qualities – indeed, the existence tout court – of its object. For this reason, the common impulse displayed by these shapes, each one of which searches in vain for lasting validation in a mind-independent reality, is intelligible only as a distinctive class of self-occlusion. Consciousness is an activity that does not realize or care that it is an activity. If there is no other conceit shared by Sense, Perception and Understanding, it is the refusal to accept that true cognition is in any way akin to an “activity” or affected by it. But often enough the phrase itself reveals the contradiction: “It only has to…conduct itself as pure apprehension [sich als reines Auffassen zu verhalten]” (¶116/3:96).24 Self-Consciousness To put our basic thought in a slightly different way: every shape shares the goal or success-criterion of “identification.” Either the subject attempts to liken itself to the object, as Consciousness, or the

On just this account, Hegel advises us to perceive and follow the self-understanding encoded in this shape’s scientific practice, and not dwell on what it happens to consciously think or say. 24 Or consider the “behavior of consciousness [Das Verhalten des Bewußtseins]” (¶118/3:99) that Hegel imputes to a range of shapes that are convinced they do not “behave” at all. 23


object to itself, as Self-Consciousness.25 But if Consciousness is an activity that mistakes itself for something strictly passive, much the opposite error can be ascribed to Self-Consciousness. The latter is blind, in short, to its passivity or dependence vis-à-vis its object, which does possess a moment of intrinsic “independence” or “validity” (of the relevant type). At one point, in fact, Hegel suggests that the principle of “being-for-self” is effectively a synonym for blindness to one’s own, essential conditions of possibility (whatever these are): Specifically, it maintains itself, i.e., it is its nature to conceal the necessity and at the same time to present that necessity as a contingent relation, since its freedom, that is, its being-for-itself, is precisely its conducting itself towards what is necessary for it in the same way it would conduct itself towards what is indifferent for it. (¶259/3:200) And this is the tangible reason, conspicuous “for us,” that the PhG’s famously active, worldsubordinating shapes must fail. Or again, it is the reason why their abstractly independent concepts must be concretized as “inversions.” Self-Certain Desire, of course, is the first shape to imagine that “the object’s in-itself” must answer to – become a function of – its own “concept” of the object. At this point, and in essence, the object is its “being for another,” hence no longer in any important sense “external” to the self: “[T]his other…for the I, is likewise merely itself” (¶166/3:138). Hegel will repeatedly announce this orientation-type with various key phrases and images. In particular, the reader will know that this sort of orientation is under review wherever the object is reduced to a mere “appearance”: “The sensuous world is…for it a durable existence, which is, however, merely appearance [nur Erscheinung], that is, is the distinction which in-itself has no being” (¶167/3:138-139). Desire’s object is for this reason “marked for it with the character of the negative” (¶167/3:139). Yet at the same time, Hegel anticipates that its self-inverting Erfahrung will gradually impress consciousness with the insuperable separateness and integrity of its object. That is, the result of its activity will thwart its initial certainty

See Adorno (1993: 40-41), for a reading that emphasizes the theme of mimetic adaptation in Hegel’s writings. In this light, we might say that Consciousness and Self-Consciousness are essentially strategies of mimesis that mistake themselves for something else – say, pure theory or pure practice.



regarding the “mere appearance” of its object: “As self-sufficient as consciousness is, its object is initself equally self-sufficient. Self-consciousness, which is utterly for itself…will thus learn even more so from experience about this object’s self-sufficiency” (¶168/3:139-140).26 Strikingly little has changed by the time we encounter Active Reason as Pleasure, which in like manner “sets itself on eliminating the form of its otherness, that is, its self-sufficiency, which is an essenceless façade [wesenloser Schein]” (¶362/3:271). This shape, too, “knows the other as its own selfhood” (¶362/3:272). But similarly, when it “achieves its purpose…it then experiences in that achievement what the truth of its purpose it” (¶362/3:272) – an object that once again cannot be so absorbed.27 Interlude: A Puzzle For the moment this summary will suffice. Before moving on, however, I want to address a textual puzzle that seems to emerge here. If Self-Consciousness is blind in the sense I have just proposed, why would Hegel openly (and famously) associate it with “the native realm of truth” [das einheimische Reich der Wahrheit] (¶166/3:138) – arguably implying that in some basic sense it ‘sees things as they are?’ To adequately respond to this puzzle, we must recall our discussion of Hegel’s method in Chapter 1. For as I read Hegel’s encomium, the present orientation has reached the native realm of truth because the true terms of its self-examination – namely, self-concept and its implementation – become for the first time legible for consciousness itself.

See Williams (1992: esp. chs. 6-11) on the theme of otherness or “alterity” in the PhG, and its putative relation to Hegel’s “skeptical method.” 27 A number of other examples, of course, reflect the same procedure. For “Absolute Freedom,” writes Hegel “what is now present is nothing more than an empty semblance [ein leerer Schein] of objectivity which separates selfconsciousness from such possession…From the being-in-and-for-itself of utility as the object, consciousness discerns that its being-in-itself is essentially being for others” (¶583/3:431-432). And this shape, too, experiences the same “inversion” as the others: “It is in its distinctive works that absolute freedom becomes an object to itself and in which selfconsciousness experiences what this freedom is…[A]bsolutely free self-consciousness finds its reality to be totally other than what its concept of itself was” (¶592/3:437). 26


In other words, what formerly appeared to be a reflective, even introspective comparison of “knowledge-concept” and “object-concept” is apprehended now as an essentially practical examination. Specifically, what seemed to be a mere knowledge-concept is grasped as a normative self-concept, and what seemed to be an object-concept is grasped as the projected realization and intuition of that self-concept in the world. Self-Consciousness has indeed reached the realm of truth, then, but only because it finally accepts the real contours and significance of its testing procedure.28 This, it seems to me, is the correct interpretation of the Introduction’s notoriously ambivalent characterization of that procedure: If [a] we designate knowledge as the concept, but designate the essence, that is, the truth, as what exists, that is, the object, then the examination consists in seeing whether the concept corresponds to the object. But if [b] we take the essence, that is, the in-itself of the object, and designate it as the concept, and then in contrast understand by object the concept as object, which is to say, the concept as it is for an other, then the examination consists in our seeing whether the object corresponds to its concept. One clearly sees that both are the same. (¶84/3:77, my brackets) I would claim that Hegel’s first instruction, the one I’ve marked [a], properly applies to the shapes of “Consciousness” (in both the narrow and broad senses). For it is Consciousness that asks in practice whether and how its “knowledge” conforms to an independent “essence” or “truth” – that is, “whether the concept corresponds to the object.” (The shapes of Sense-Certainty, Perception and Understanding are only the most obvious cases in point.) By contrast, the second stated instruction, [b], is much better suited to the evident testing procedure of Self-Consciousness. After all, it is clearly the latter which insists that the “object” immediately, sensuously confronting it is an appearance – merely “the concept as it is for an other” – while the object’s “essence” or “in itself” is the intrinsic “concept” purportedly unveiled by acting upon that object. On my reading, to ask “whether the object corresponds to its concept” is to ask, with Desire, whether the Thing conforms to its conception of it. Or again, it is to ask, with Pleasure,

On the other hand, subsequent shapes displaying the “Consciousness” structure have, I would say, regressed behind this insight.



whether the other self-consciousness – its “semblance” of independence notwithstanding – corresponds to the dependent “concept” it has formed of the other. Yet if Hegel then tells his reader that testing-procedures [a] and [b] are nonetheless “the same,” this is because – as I have now claimed at several places – procedure [a] is implicitly already [b]. Though the Understanding, say, may imagine it is simply comparing its knowledge-concept against an object that is there in any case, it is in reality and all along examining whether its self-concept can be “realized” in and as its object.29 As I read him, Hegel announces exactly this revision in the terms of comparison at the opening of the “Self-Consciousness” chapter: [I]f one calls concept what the object is in itself but calls the object what it is as an object, that is, what it is as for an other, it is clear that being-in-itself and being-for-an-other are here the same, for the in-itself is consciousness…[I]t is for consciousness that the object’s in-itself and the object’s being for an other are the same. (¶166/3:137) To summarize, then, Self-Consciousness is defined by the conviction that the external object apprehended through the senses – “what it is as an object” – is in truth or essentially the “concept” it has formed of the object. Only on this view does it then make perfect sense to say that “the in-itself is consciousness.” The object must now conform to my concept of it, while my activities can be understood as “tragic” attempts to bring that conformity about. Blindness to the Future To appreciate the third and final type of blindness suffered by natural consciousness, we need only to recall this structure of “tragic inversion,” described in the first three chapters.30 Until now, to be sure, our interest in this structure has mostly been restricted to the light it casts on the figures of immanent critique, determinate negation, the speculative sentence, and second nature. We have shown that a given shape in the PhG, grounded in a particular concept, is “realized” via an To take the present example: the Understanding asks whether, and how, it can “validate” its sense of itself as a “pure apprehender” in relation to its “object.” 30 Theodore George, especially, cites Hegel’s “reliance on a resource of tragedy to characterize the phenomenon of experience” (2006: 28). 29


appropriate conduct-type. And this conduct-type originates the “inversion” of that first concept – its immanent antithesis. At the same time, the succeeding shape is animated by that same inversion: the “new, true object” (¶86/3:78) is the one concretized by the foregoing shape’s “self-examination,” even as it was deemed inadmissible and for that reason repelled by that earlier standpoint. Yet our grasp of this inversion-structure now yields a straightforward answer to our present question, namely: how exactly is natural consciousness “blind” to its future? For here the blindness of consciousness simply consists in its ignorance of its own “truth,” or that specific terminus which both follows from and undermines its initial self-understanding. Whatever is “most real” (¶78/3:72) from that shape’s initial standpoint is “for us” or “in truth merely the unrealized concept” (¶78/3:72). In this respect, every shape is blind to where it is going, as it were, to what is intimated by its norm, belief and conduct.31 For Hegel, in other words, my blindness to the systematic implications of my declared self-understanding is once again, in the most fundamental way, blindness to myself, to what I am.32 Since this structure of phenomenological inversion has now been examined at length, it will not be necessary to devote much space to the issue here. Instead it may suffice to quickly consider two or three examples, to give some indication of this trope’s pervasiveness. Thus quite early on in “Consciousness,” having outlined the constitutive ingredients of that shape named Perception, Hegel asserts its blindness to the necessary consequences – the fate – of its characteristic concept, accessible already “for us.” The following words apply in a formal sense to every shape to come: “Let us see now what consciousness experiences…For us, this experience is already contained in the development of the object, and of the attitude of consciousness towards it given just now. It is only This, for instance, is how Hegel describes the culmination of Pleasure: “To it, the consequences of its deeds are not its deeds themselves, and what befalls it is the fact that for it there is no experience of what it is in itself” (¶365/3:274). 32 Robert Brandom (2009) might say that, in binding itself to a norm, a given shape necessarily incurs a range of commitments, the content of which extends beyond the scope of that shape’s awareness. We may accept Brandom’s vocabulary here, provided we insist again on the qualifications I have raised thus far. See also the critiques in Lumsden (2008) and Midtgarden (2013). 31


a matter of developing the contradictions that are present therein” (¶118/3:97). The content of this formality, or what future exactly consciousness fails to foresee, will naturally vary by Gestalt, its object, and the specific “contradictions that are present therein.” In the present case, Perception cannot unite the very “notions” it mobilizes, the Things and its Properties, without generating an object – the “essence” of an Unconditioned Universal – inadmissible in its own sphere. So Hegel can summarize: This ‘sound common sense’ which takes itself to be a solid, realistic consciousness is, in the perceptual process, only the play of these abstractions…Bandied about by these vacuous ‘essences,’ thrown into the arms first of one and then of the other, and striving by its sophistry to hold fast and affirm alternately first one of the ‘essences’ and then the directly opposite one, it sets itself against the truth. (¶131/3:105-106) Intriguingly, Hegel has here characterized Perception as a mixture of (1) heteronomy (as “the play of these abstractions”); (2) rebellion against its fate (“it sets itself against the truth”); and (3) failure of nerve – it refuses to acknowledge something about itself that it (somehow) both does and does not see. Hegel will use similar language in his description of Skepticism, which likewise refuses to unite its contradictory notions into one “concept”: This consciousness is therefore the unconscious, thoughtless rambling [dieses bewußtlose Faselie] which passes back and forth from one extreme of self-identical self-consciousness to the other extreme of the contingent consciousness that is both bewildered and bewildering. It does not bring these two thoughts of itself together. (¶205/3:162)33 Like Perception, then, the “sophistical” shape of Skepticism cannot apprehend its own, underlying unity without glimpsing its inverted “truth” and thereby surpassing itself. In just this sense, Skepticism incubates – in-itself but not for-itself – a future concept it must resist.34 The un-blinkered recognition of

This sort of “thoughtless rambling” does not end with Self-Consciousness. Consider the following passage from the Spiritual Animal Kingdom: “However, the truth of this honesty is that it is not as honest as it seems, for it cannot be so thoughtless as to let these various moments in fact come undone from each other in that way. Rather, it must have an immediate consciousness of their opposition because they are so plainly related to each other” (¶414/3:307). 34 See also Hegel’s similar description of the “diverse shapes of consciousness” (¶498/3:371) at the beginning of “Die Bildung und ihr Reich der Wirklichkeit.” This shape, too, is unable at this stage to bring its “principles” together: “[C]onsciousness itself comes to be determined as diverse, as being good or bad; not because it had for its principle either being-for-itself or pure being-in-itself, for both are equally essential moments. In the twofold judging considered 33


this concept dissolves Skepticism’s blindness (and thus Skepticism itself), so inaugurating the Unhappy Consciousness (which naturally has its own sorts of blindness in store).35 Finally, and in a related way, Observing Reason’s impulsion to experiment upon nature, to arrange its results, and to generalize on that basis, serves the future concept unawares: “the instinct of Reason…proceeds to refine the law and its moments into a concept; it does this of necessity, but without knowing that this is what it aims to do” (¶251/3:194). In other words, once again, Observing Reason’s “instinct” is actively to prepare the conditions of a self-understanding that will “sublate” that instinct. Ideology and Natural Consciousness We have now established the thoroughgoing “blindness” of natural consciousness along three dimensions. In the second half of this chapter, I would like to construct a Hegelian model of “ideology” inspired by this account. We would not be the first, of course, to find in Hegel’s writings certain prototypes of an ideological, “mystified” consciousness. Certainly Marx’s own celebrated images of ideological delusion – say, the deceptive Schein of commodity fetishism,36 or the topsyturvy, verkehrte Welt of capitalism more generally37 – wear their Hegelian provenance openly.38 More recently, in On Voluntary Servitude, Michael Rosen has credited Hegel himself with sharpening and conjoining – if not necessarily inventing – the basic “background beliefs” supporting the modern concept of ideology. “Hegel’s philosophy,” Rosen argues, “brings together the two intuitions which…make the theory of ideology appear to be so plausible: the idea of the self-maintaining

above, the principles were thought of as separate, and therefore contained merely abstract ways of judging” (¶498/3:371372). 35 Put another way: natural consciousness is willfully blind to the conditionality of that ground-norm defining it at a given stage. And this obstinacy takes the form of clinging to the ground-norm to the exclusion of the inverted norm it implies. 36 Marx (1978: 319-329). 37 Marx (1978: 53). 38 See especially the subsection entitled “A Hegelian Marx?” in Rosen (1996: 207-218).


character of the social order and the idea of false consciousness.”39 Notably, Rosen alludes to the PhG for Hegel’s most developed presentation of “false consciousness”: [T]he primary form of false consciousness at work in Hegel’s philosophy is…a distortion of identity of a cosmic or metaphysical kind: the fact that Geist lacks the unified self-presence that comes when it knows itself in its otherness. As its title makes clear, the Phenomenology of Spirit is Hegel’s compendium of these forms of division, loss and distortion.40 Rosen does not elaborate upon this interpretive suggestion in much depth. Further, as this passage indicates, his account of false consciousness in the PhG takes on such a metaphysical flavor that it does not serve our present “critical-theoretical” purposes very well. Finally, while Rosen does attribute to Hegel a belief in “the self-maintaining character of the social order,” he looks entirely to the Lectures on the Philosophy of History, rather than the PhG, for evidence of this belief. For these reasons, there are clear limitations to Rosen’s account as a guide for our present efforts.41 Instead, I would like to draw our attention to Raymond Geuss’s “analytical” – certainly less metaphysical – treatment of this question in The Idea of a Critical Theory. Consider, specifically, the following tripartite specification of ideology in its objectionable or “pejorative” sense, reproduced in full: I will use the term ‘form of consciousness’ to refer to a particular constellation of beliefs, attitudes, dispositions, etc…In what sense or in virtue of what properties can a form of consciousness be ideologically false, i.e. can it be an ideology in the pejorative sense? I will consider three kinds of answers to this question: (a) a form of consciousness is ideologically false in virtue of some epistemic properties of the beliefs which are its constituents; (b) a form of consciousness is ideologically false in virtue of its functional properties;

Rosen (1996: 167). Rosen (1996: 161). Robert Williams (1992: 103-104), too, describes natural consciousness as a “false consciousness.” 41 At another place, Rosen describes Hegel’s two “contributions” in a slightly different way as “both a series of fertile ideas regarding the nature of false consciousness in modern society and a fully worked-out account of the role of unintended consequences in history” (1996: 146). Again, the specific notion of “false consciousness” Rosen ascribes to Hegel concerns the metaphysical failure of individuals to grasp themselves as embodiments of “spirit,” together with the distortions in human relations following from that failure; and Rosen’s account of “unintended consequences” in Hegel’s thought is limited to the “cunning of history” theme in the Philosophy of History: “[T]he idea of the ‘cunning of reason’ offers an account of how an individual agent, acting freely, may bring about purposes that go beyond his own original intentions and that he himself fails to understand fully” (1996: 146). 39 40


(c) a form of consciousness is ideologically false in virtue of some of its genetic properties.42 We will immediately note Geuss’s well-advised use of the Hegelian expression, “form of consciousness,” in his introductory statement. 43 This decision simplifies our task considerably, inasmuch as our own discussions of natural consciousness have also rendered each of the PhG’s shapes as, roughly, “a particular constellation of beliefs, attitudes, dispositions” and the like.44 In other words, if each shape of natural consciousness is also a “form of consciousness” in Geuss’s technical sense, then there is no obvious obstacle to prevent us from asking: in what respects, exactly, do the PhG’s shapes themselves exhibit the “ideological” patterns of thought and behavior that Geuss discriminates so clearly? In the remainder of this chapter I will argue that the types of ideological delusion, linked by Geuss to the genetic, epistemic, and functional properties of a given form of consciousness, are precisely the types of “blindness” afflicting natural consciousness – specifically, as we have seen, its ignorance of certain significant facts relating to its past, present, and future. So, to recapitulate our interpretation with a formula that makes these parallels perspicuous: every shape of natural consciousness is blind to (1) its (genetic) prehistory, (2) the present (epistemic) standing of its object, and (3) the (functionally) inverted results of its self-understanding. In what follows, then, I would like to develop the position that natural consciousness is “ideologically deluded” in each of the three ways Geuss distinguishes in the Frankfurt School tradition.

Geuss (1981: 12-13). To be sure, here Geuss (1981: 12-13) refers in a footnote to Habermas, and the latter’s use of the term Bewußtseinsformationen. But the motif’s ultimate origin in Hegel’s writings seems unmistakable. 44 Recall particularly Chapter 3, above, wherein – following Werner Marx’s example – I sharply differentiate between natural consciousness and phenomenal knowing. Note also, however, that whereas Geuss appears content to describe a form of consciousness as a congeries of beliefs, dispositions, attitudes, etc., I have attempted to distinguish and relate these elements in a more systematic way. In particular, I have claimed that natural consciousness (a pre-reflective “attitude”) is itself founded on a self-concept (a kind of central, fundamental “belief”) that can be elicted and examined as phenomenal knowing. 42 43


Ideology 1: Genetic Properties What, then, are the genetic properties belonging to a form of consciousness? And how, exactly, is the “falsehood” of a form of consciousness – its pejoratively ideological quality – supposed to be bound up with these properties? To the first question, Geuss answers that the genetic properties of a given form of consciousness concern “facts about its origin, genesis, or history, about how it arises or comes to be acquired or held by agents, or in virtue of the motives agents have for adopting and acting on it.”45 Among such “facts,” Geuss considers especially the “social situation” in which a particular form of consciousness develops, and more particularly the “class position” of that consciousness. To the second question – in what does its ideological delusion consist? – Geuss answers that, for the typical genealogical critic, a form of consciousness is ideological to the degree that it is a function or “expression” of this origin. For example, Marxists of a certain sort may accuse an economist of holding a “bourgeois” ideology that merely expresses her early upbringing, her present class position, or even her life generally under capitalism.46 Here it must be said that Geuss’s account of “genetic” critique is largely negative; he takes a generally dim view of its prospects, at least in the forms it has normally been practiced. Many socalled “genetic” critiques, he suggests, simply mistake “epistemic” and “functional” falseness for a genetic defect of some kind. In these cases, Geuss asserts, “the causal history” of some belief or worldview – say its origin under conditions of deprivation – “isn’t itself the grounds for rejecting it; its inappropriateness is.”47 In the case of vulgar Marxist class analysis, specifically: “What is wrong with ideological forms of consciousness is not their origin, but their false representation of social reality.”48 Such confusion merely indicates the vulnerability of this criticism to a sophisticated, but Geuss (1981: 19). Geuss (1981: 19-20 and 36-37). 47 Geuss (1981: 20). Or again: “the theory is not false because it arose in bourgeois society, but because it is inaccurate, incompatible with the evidence, etc.” (1981: 37). 48 Geuss (1981: 39). 45 46


ultimately no more acceptable version of the “genetic fallacy”: “[O]ne hasn’t shown anything about the truth or falsity of a belief by showing how it arose.”49 In fact, with this line of objection, I take Geuss to be making roughly the same point I have made in connection with Hegel’s own narrowly “genealogical” gestures. In particular, in my coda to Part I, I have referred to instances where Hegel appears to “reduce” individual self-understandings to more encompassing social totalities – totalities that are either concealed entirely from that individual, or else perceived in a highly distorted form.50 I made a point of assimilating these gestures to a basically “externalist” form of explanation and assessment, arguing that their purchase depends in a substantial way upon the successes of Hegel’s antecedent “immanent” critiques.51 As Geuss insists, in a very similar spirit, “if the form of consciousness has an unsavory causal history this might make us very suspicious of it…but that doesn’t in itself give us good grounds to reject the form of consciousness.” 52 Again, my claim is precisely that these grounds can only be prepared by the immanent analysis Hegel executes beforehand. Yet notwithstanding these criticisms, Geuss does grant the validity, at least potentially or in principle, of one variant of genetic Ideologiekritik. The structure of this variant, though, must be sharply distinguished from the alternative, more conventional form taken by genealogical criticism, and thus insulated from the genetic fallacy charge: If the genetic approach to ideology in the pejorative sense is to get off the ground, it must somehow show that the ‘genetic fallacy,’ granted its validity for scientific statements, is not necessarily a fallacy for forms of consciousness.53

Geuss (1981: 20). Though see Gillian Rose’s subtle distinction in Hegel Contra Sociology: “The ‘lost’ substance reappears in the forms of misrepresentation, in the forms of consciousness which misapprehends its relation to that substance. The Phenomenology does not trace the misrepresentation of substance…but the misapprehension of the relation” (1981: 159). 51 Recall the Coda’s distinction between “genetic” and “genealogical” types of analysis. I will continue my treatment of “genealogical” explanation towards the end of Chapter 5. 52 Geuss (1981: 20). 53 Geuss (1981: 20). 49 50


But what sort of alternative, non-fallacious argumentative strategy might Geuss have in mind here? Under what special conditions might facts about the “origin” of a standpoint become somehow relevant for assessing the validity – or ideological falseness – of that standpoint? Partly appealing to the examples set by Nietzsche and Freudian psychoanalysis,54 Geuss writes that “ideologies might be understood as systems of beliefs and attitudes accepted by the agents for reasons or motives which those agents could not acknowledge.”55 On this view, facts about the “origin” of a standpoint become pertinent for evaluating its ideological standing when, and potentially only when, they are facts that cannot be recognized or accepted from within that standpoint.56 Here I will add that, while Geuss’s particular examples involve the non-acknowledgement of “reasons or motives,” I will assume that this form of Ideologiekritik applies to any item that essentially cannot be accepted by a given standpoint. How, then, are the shapes of natural consciousness “ideological” in just this sense? We may now answer, with reference to our discussion above, that natural consciousness is “ideological” inasmuch as it is blind to a prehistory it cannot in principle accept. Significantly, we argued that this blindness is not an accidental or contingent feature of natural consciousness; it is rather constitutive. By this I mean that the very structure of natural consciousness, which consists inter alia of mistakenly conceiving its ground-norm as a natural “given,” obstructs any recognition of that norm’s (inverted) “origin.” In other words: my very ability to take a value as a natural given – say, a deliverance of sensibility, or moral intuition, or revelation – would be jeopardized and undermined by knowledge of its “emergence” from an earlier, now-negated value. Conversely, if natural consciousness were to acknowledge its value “at the same time as a movement and a coming-to-be” (¶87/3:80), it would by that very act abolish itself as natural consciousness. For these reasons, we can say that natural

Geuss (1981: 39-44). Geuss (1981: 20). 56 Geuss writes: “[I]n the case of ‘ideologies’ it isn’t just that they are said to have been adopted for unacknowledged motives or reasons, but for motives which could not be acknowledged by the agents” (1981: 21). 54 55


consciousness is ideological along genetic lines, inasmuch as it cannot – must not – perceive the logical origin of its “concept.” Indeed, the PhG’s “defetishizing” operation, connected in Chapter 3 to the concept of “second nature,” implicitly appeals to this very idea of “ideological delusion.” To see how, consider Adorno’s description of thought’s reification in his essay, “Education After Auschwitz”: I mentioned the concept of reified consciousness. Above all this is a consciousness blinded to all historical past, all insight into one’s own conditionedness, and posits as absolute what exists contingently. If this coercive mechanism were once ruptured, then, I think, something would be gained.57 Of course, if I have interpreted Hegel’s text correctly, every shape of natural consciousness – and not only, or even primarily, those of an especially “reified” cast – is guilty of this sort of denial. They are all “blinded” to their prehistory and conditionedness; they all “posit” their defining norm as something natural, “absolute,” hence underived; and this is why they all admit of Hegel’s “genetic,” defetishizing analysis. Ideology 2: Epistemic Properties We may now turn to the second putative dimension or source of ideological delusion, and ask: what are the epistemic properties exhibited by a form of consciousness? And how is the falsehood of this consciousness dependent upon those properties? In general, Geuss’s treatment of epistemic ideological delusion is unsystematic – at least it is less systematic than his account of the other two types.58 He chooses instead to accentuate four heterogeneous instances of epistemic error, which he presumably understands to be especially representative of the genre as a whole. Hence a form of consciousness is paradigmatically in error whenever it (1) mistakes the epistemic “status” of its Adorno (2005b: 200). Geuss revealingly introduces his account in the following, slightly arbitrary way: “By the ‘epistemic properties’ of a form of consciousness I mean such things as whether or not the descriptive beliefs contained in the form of consciousness are supported by the available empirical evidence, or whether or not the form of consciousness is one in which beliefs of different epistemic type (e.g. descriptive beliefs and normative beliefs) are confused” (1981: 13).

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beliefs (say, falsely assuming that its value-judgments are empirical ones); (2) mistakes “selffulfilling” beliefs for beliefs that are not self-fulfilling; (3) imagines that some subject- or activitydependent phenomenon is actually subject-independent and thus “natural” – what Geuss calls an “objectification mistake”; and (4) imagines that its “particular” interest is in reality a “universal” one, when it is not.59 Now while it seems to me that the PhG contains portraits of all four of these types of epistemic error, in what follows I will single out the errors distinguished as (3) and (4) for extended attention, as they are especially pertinent to our reconstruction.60 Objectification Mistakes, or: The Ideology of “Consciousness” Consider, first, Geuss’s summary of the “objectification mistake”: [H]uman agents or ‘subjects’ are suffering from ideologically false consciousness if they falsely ‘objectify’ their own activity, i.e. if they are deceived into taking that activity to be something ‘foreign’ to them, especially if they take that activity to be a natural process outside their control.61 Later on, Geuss will clarify that victims of this particular error misconstrue, not only “their own (subjective) activity,” but also “the results of that activity” as “a ‘foreign,’ independently existing, natural or ‘objective’ phenomenon.”62 That this mistake is frequently constitutive for the shapes of natural consciousness should already be apparent from Geuss’s descriptions. We insisted above that the defining procedure of that orientation named “Consciousness” – in both the narrow and broad senses – is to externalize or “project” its object, in such a way that it can then be accepted as a subsisting, mind-independent truth-maker. The sweep of this claim implied that numerous worldconforming shapes in the PhG suffer from this “mistake.” And in fact, Geuss helpfully gestures See Geuss (1981: 13-15, 26-31) for more detailed descriptions of these four, loosely connected epistemic “errors.” Apart from persistently making “objectification mistakes” and inflating its particular will into something “universal,” that is, natural consciousness arguably also (1) mistakes the epistemic status of its beliefs (as when e.g. Phrenology confuses “normative” features of reality for physical “facts of the matter”), and (2) ignores or suppresses the essentially “self-fulfilling” standing of its beliefs (as when e.g. Faith’s beliefs in a “universal will” are at the same time necessary for generating that will). 61 Geuss (1981: 14). 62 Geuss (1981: 71). 59 60


towards the range of spurious truth-makers upon which an ideological form of consciousness – a nominal “world-picture” – may turn: The self-generated pseudo-objectivities’ self-reflection is to ‘dissolve’ are such ‘things’ as natural rights, natural law, the ‘essence of man,’ the ‘commodity form,’ ‘human nature,’ etc. that is, they are the ‘things’ about which the world-picture purports to make objectively valid statements. 63 To be sure, we elucidated this peculiar error with the help of a broadly “temporal” type of classification that Geuss does not explicitly share, namely, as a form of “blindness to the present.” But the “projections” of Consciousness are self-evidently of the same sort he describes. We need only add to our previous judgment regarding Consciousness – its essential blindness to its responsibility for the qualities of its object – that this self-occlusion is an ideological defect. Admittedly, we may initially appear to be straining the meaning of the term “ideology” by applying it to, for example, the Understanding’s “projection” of Force. Yet this worry is misplaced, since Hegel’s entire presentation in the PhG is designed to show that a specific mechanism, which begins in the production of seemingly benign “pseudo-objectivities” – the cognitively idle Gedankendinge of Force – will culminate in a series of spiritually disastrous “posits” that continue to bewitch natural consciousness. This tendency is already plain by the time the self-mortifying Unhappy Consciousness “alienates” the Unchangeable from itself.64 But the assorted “beyonds” of shapes including Faith and Morality compound our sense that, from the beginning, Hegel has conjoined the “objectification mistake” with the structures of a dirempted, self-inverting objective spirit. This widely acknowledged feature of Hegel’s position opens up another interpretive vista onto the PhG that would, I am sure, repay our attention. In this dissertation I do not develop the intimate but vexed relation between “subjective” and “objective” spirit. While a natural point of

Geuss (1981: 72-73). Certainly the account of alienated labor in Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts is indebted to the imagery Hegel introduces in this section.

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entry for Ideologiekritik, and well noted in the Western Marxist tradition, this complex question is comparatively remote from the simpler, more basic “critical cells” I have attempted to excavate from the PhG. Nonetheless, here we should at least gesture in the direction of this research, which would involve showing how exactly natural consciousness generates a “social substance” it nonetheless misrepresents to itself as a quasi-autonomous entity – perhaps the most sophisticated “objectification mistake” depicted in Hegel’s writings. A critique of ideology would then consist in subverting fallacious self-understandings that correspond to institutional arrangements they both buttress and misconstrue.65 Of course, owing to our preoccupation with Hegel’s “immanent” ideal of analysis, we may wish to demur from such a “demystifying” procedure altogether, which clearly verges on the kind of “external,” genealogical program we have at other times kept at arm’s length. Nevertheless, this program would clear the way for much stronger continuities with the Western Marxist tradition than we will develop in this study. From Particularity to Universality, or: The Ideology of “Self-Consciousness” Let us now consider a second paradigmatic type of epistemic error that, for Geuss, may qualify a form of consciousness for the epithet “ideological.” Now, to be sure, Geuss initially describes this error in the specific vocabulary of class analysis adopted in the Western Marxist tradition: “A form of consciousness is ideologically false if it contains a false belief to the effect that the particular interest of some subgroup is the general interest of the group as a whole.”66 As it stands, such a framing may appear to encumber the sort of “transposition” we are attempting, since, admittedly –

This idea is a central component of Lukács’ interpretation of individual shapes-of-consciousness in The Young Hegel. On this account, Hegel believes that society – at least in the formations treated in the “Spirit” chapter – can be produced and sustained only by individuals who hold certain “necessary self-delusions,” i.e. who hold ideologies: “[I]t is true that the individual's belief that he can construct his own reality on his own, by virtue of his own activity, is a self-deception whose tragic breakdown forms the theme of the first part of the Phenomenology. Nevertheless, the part played by individual consciousness in the overall objective life of the species is not just a delusion, but an indispensable element in the process” (1975: 476). 66 Geuss (1981: 14). Or again: “[A]lthough the class-interest of some particular class may in some circumstances be identical with the ‘general interest’ of the society, very often this will not be the case. But classes have a natural tendency to identify their own particular class interest with the general interest” (1981: 38). 65


notwithstanding Hegel’s analyses of the “estates” [Stände] both in the PhG and at other places – class distinction and conflict per se do not appear to constitute the book’s central focus.67 At other times, though, Geuss will refer more broadly to the “confusion of a particular for a general interest”68 – arguably a more promising point of departure for our purposes. In fact, this broader formula, untethered from the analysis of social classes per se, applies in a straightforward way to the second grouping of “shapes” we have discriminated in the PhG. For the orientation we have denominated “Self-Consciousness” is precisely one that elevates its “particular” will or interest into something speciously authoritative, generalizable or “universal.” In other words, one quite plausible articulation of that “judgment” at the root of all “world-subordinating” attitudes, beginning with Desire, is something like: ‘My desire, will, interest, etc., or whatever is most ‘for me,’ is immediately identical with the ‘in itself,’ and so legitimate.’ In Hegel’s Naturalism, Terry Pinkard appears to read “Lordship and Bondage,” as well as the PhG’s subsequent phenomenological development, exactly through the prism of Geuss’s second “epistemic” mistake.69 For Pinkard, in fact, this problematic is central to Hegel’s larger philosophy of history, according to which the full distinction of a rationally justified claim and a merely particular claim is itself something that must be practically worked out over historical time…We must think that at some distant part of our prehistoric past, the full prying apart of the an sich, “in itself” universality of reasons from the particular goals of an individual (or of a tribe or a clan) had not yet been achieved, and thus “might” and “right” had not yet been adequately distinguished.70 On such an interpretation, the unmediated fusion of particularity and universality in the disposition of Mastery, which “fundamentally conflates the normative order with the interests attached to a

But since, as we have seen, class analysis does not for Geuss constitute a primary or even necessary feature of critical theory’s “structure,” I see no strong reason to consider this omission a defect in our “Hegelian” version of it. 68 Geuss (1981: 27). 69 See Pinkard (2012: esp. 64-68). 70 Pinkard (2012: 65). 67


particular point of view,”71 is gradually decomposed in the chain of “experiences” following from it. But while I do not doubt that such a narrative of in-itself/for-itself “decoupling” – at least in a relative sense – can be reconstructed, it is far from obvious that any shape practically succeeds in some final or unconditional way. On the contrary, it seems much more likely that all orientations evincing the world-subordinating instincts of Self-Consciousness, from the Lawful Heart through Absolute Freedom to the Conscientious Actor, simply make increasingly sophisticated, “spiritualized” versions of the same “epistemic mistake” named by Geuss. For they all blindly confuse what is most directly and un-problematically “one’s own” – the contents of my Desire, my Heart, my Conviction, etc. – with what is most universal and (socially) just, right or good. Ideology 3: Functional Properties Lastly, let us consider the third source or type of ideological delusion: “A form of consciousness is an ideology in virtue of its functional properties.”72 How are these properties to be understood and assessed? On Geuss’s classification, a standpoint may be “ideological” in the first instance, not because of its inadmissible origin; nor because of its erroneous grasp of reality; but rather because of the – insidious – effects produced, in practice, by its beliefs.73 Crucially, Geuss suggests that isolating this ideological content depends upon our recognizing the distinction between (1) the “manifest content” of a belief, i.e. what that belief is about, and (2) that belief’s “functional” consequences, i.e. the ultimately harmful influence of these beliefs on behavior and, through it, the larger natural and social world.74 In some instances, this

Pinkard (2012: 67). Geuss (1981: 15). 73 See generally Geuss (1981: 15-19) on “functional” properties. 74 In Geuss’s words: “One can distinguish between ‘ideologies’…on the basis of differences in their ‘manifest content,’ i.e. by reference to differences in what the beliefs are beliefs about…One can [also] distinguish between ideologies…in terms of their functional properties. By ‘functional properties’ I mean the way the elements of the ideology influence action” (1981: 8). 71 72


distinction will underscore the potentially striking hiatus between the object of a belief, epistemically considered, and the practical result of holding that belief: [S]ome of the most interesting cases will be ones in which there are significant differences between the manifest content of the beliefs in an ideology and their functional properties – a set of ‘religious and philosophical’ beliefs about the nature of the gods may actually serve to regulate economic and political transactions.75 By this point in our account, though, it ought to be clear that exceptional instances of the sort Geuss mentions will be of secondary importance for a Hegelian critical theory. To be sure, as we have repeatedly stated, Hegel does occasionally – at “genealogical” moments – draw attention to the radical separation or discrepancy between a self-understanding and its material, legal, political, or religious effects.76 We have been arguing, however, that the value of a Hegelian immanent critique – ex hypothesi potent when addressed explicitly to the standpoint under review – depends upon renouncing any “transcendent” perspective. Geuss himself appears to flag this problem when he alludes to the “differences between the classification the participating agents would prefer to give and the classification we, as outside observers, might prefer.”77 Understood in these terms, our position is that, at its most effective, Hegel’s approach is to circumvent this dilemma entirely by accepting only those “classifications” that natural consciousness itself would accept. Nonetheless, this caveat does not mean that a Hegelian critical theory has no place or use for the “functional” analysis of ideology überhaupt. It simply means that any such functional analysis would need to remain within the bounds of immanent critique as we have construed it. Specifically, on my reading, this would involve our attending solely to those insidious “functional” effects that

Geuss (1981: 9). Or again: “[A] set of beliefs of no matter what manifest content which significantly influences economic behavior could be called an ‘economic ideology,’ a set of beliefs and attitudes which significantly influences religious practices a ‘religious ideology’” (1981: 8). 76 With Hegel’s assistance, that is, the “We” may see how, for example, the Unhappy Consciousness’s self-mortifying beliefs produce the social, “general will” behind its back. But I submit that this kind of analysis is radically extraneous to Hegel’s otherwise immanent testing-procedure: the standpoint in question would not take this “material” result to undermine (i.e. invert) its self-understanding in a sufficiently “internal” way. 77 Geuss (1981: 8). Thus: “Even if there aren’t difficulties in principles about the basic classification of a certain bit of behavior as a ‘religious ritual,’ it may also have political or economic aspects, overtones, or implications” (1981: 8). 75


are both (1) derivable from a self-conception, and (2) directly apparent to that self-conception. In other words: whereas Geuss’s example, cited above, alludes to functional effects that are radically different from, and obscure to, the worldview that generates them, a Hegelian would confine herself to the specific immanent “inversion” that defines a given shape of natural consciousness and is immediately, intimately available to it. I emphasize this desideratum, again, in order to distinguish the critical component of Hegel’s procedure, as we have appropriated it, from the “hermeneutics of suspicion” that succeeds it in European intellectual history. Thus even if, as Geuss correctly observes, “it is possible to experience suffering and frustration without knowing the ultimate cause of one’s frustration, especially if the cause is some large-scale institution like ‘private property,’ or ‘the state,’”78 the Hegelian form of analysis is not in the first instance concerned with such experiences. Its priority is rather to demonstrate, as we have repeatedly stated, how determinate self-conceptions, once practically enacted, reliably generate for that enactor an “inversion” – one that is felt as a spectrum of human dissatisfaction. Hegelian critique promises to release a given self from its characteristic, self-incurred form of suffering. The suffering at stake can be called metaphorical or mental – or merely “philosophical,” in the pejorative sense – only if we abstract from the behavior that gives body to that self-conception. 79 (A sincerely Unhappy Consciousness, for instance, would be surprised to learn that it suffers from an idea, and not also from a life-project that is that idea’s very image or reflection.) But so understood, finally, the object of Hegel’s critical theory is broadly continuous with

Geuss (1981: 80). Arguably such a misconception is partly responsible for Marx’s attack on Hegel in the 1844 Manuscripts. In this vein, Marx writes: “The whole history of the alienation-process and the whole process of the retraction the alienation is…nothing by the history of the production of abstract (i.e., absolute) thought – of logical, speculative thought” (1988: 147).

78 79


the species of ideology that Geuss has foremost in mind: the tendency of a worldview to generate and sustain “insidious” states of affairs.80

Geuss (1981: 15). “The coercion from which the agents suffer…is one whose ‘power’ or ‘objectivity’ derives only from the fact that the agents do not realize that it is self-imposed” (1981: 58).






Our topic in Part I was “method” in the PhG. In Chapter 1, we argued that the nominally observational attitude commended in the Introduction is accurately described as a comprehensive and exacting version of immanent critique.1 In Chapter 2, we brought this framework to bear on material from the Preface, yielding a novel interpretation of the “speculative sentence” that establishes its continuity with this same method. In Part II, we developed several aspects of natural consciousness, allowing us to elucidate the “object” of immanent critique, and also to uncover additional criticaltheoretical gestures in Hegel’s book.2 So, in Chapter 3, we found that the PhG implicitly contains a concept of “second nature” that unites the Encyclopedia’s “official” account with an “unofficial” version – one plainly evoking the “defetishizing” program of the Frankfurt School. The shapes of consciousness, we claimed, amount to non-philosophical orientations dominated by “natural notions” comprising their “inorganic nature.” In Chapter 4, we attempted in a systematic way to distinguish the types of “blindness” that afflict natural consciousness, in order then to construct a Hegelian theory of ideology. Each of these interpretive decisions have helped make Hegel’s text available to us as a foundational work of critical theory in its own right. But if Part I mainly contained an analysis of method in the PhG; while Part II reconstructed the object of that method; then in Part III – comprising a single, long chapter – we will be concerned with tracing the links between these aspects. For if Hegel insists at all times on the inseparability of I call this version comprehensive because it negotiates both of the definitions of this method promulgated in the postHegelian literature. And it is exacting because of the multiple constraints that Hegel places on this approach to one’s object. Thus Hegel stipulates the formal characteristics, not only of the “pure-onlooking” demanded of the philosophical We, but also, however schematically, of the sort of peculiarly self-inverting object presupposed by that attitude. 2 I have also attempted to show how these aspects have been eclipsed or obscured by the “domesticating” gestures of recent Hegel commentary in the Anglophone world. 1


method and content (or observer and observed; or subject and object), fidelity to these intentions compel us to ask how the “immanent” standpoint is non-contingently related to “natural consciousness.” Here we will recall our answer to this question, ventured as a strong hypothesis at the close of Part I: the PhG ought to be read as a running justification, via elimination, of the immanent critical method. Specifically, this involves showing that Hegel’s text undermines all attitudes that remain external to their objects. Hence there is a final characteristic of natural consciousness that we must contemplate, in addition to – and subtending – those we collected in Part II. In order to make the necessary link with Hegelian method, that is, we must consider the thoroughgoing “externalism” of natural consciousness itself. At the same time, finally, this focus will enable us to delineate the structures of three bête noires of critical theory: (1) instrumental reason, (2) nihilistic disenchantment, and (3) moralizing criticism. These phenomena, I will argue, represent three variations on the underlying “externalism” in question.



Introduction: On Externality In this chapter, we will defend the following claim: natural consciousness is marked by a tragically “external” relation to its object, and the full series of its “failures” validates the We’s standpoint – the so-called immanent-critical approach. Let us note here that, while we have distinguished a number of qualities ascribable to the immanent method, this focus has left us with an imprecise grasp on the meanings – and the vices – of so-called transcendent or “external” approaches. To be sure, we have observed how the Preface and Introduction each contrast Hegel’s immanent ideal to a range of behaviors described in this way: say, “the shapeless repetition of one and the same thing…externally applied to diverse material” (¶15/3:21), “counter-assertions and impressions external to the principle” (¶24/3:27), “an external activity vis-à-vis the item at issue” (¶43/3:43), an “external and empty application of…formula[s]” (¶51/3:49), an “external cognition” (¶66/3:61), or “a cognition [that] is external to the absolute” (¶74/3:70), and that “is also indeed external to the truth” (¶74/3:70). But we have not generally overcome the vagueness of this sort of language. In this chapter we will rectify this imprecision by examining in some detail the characteristics of externalism as they progressively emerge in the itinerary of spirit. At the same time, we will gradually find that these very characteristics define several of the Frankfurt School’s major antagonists: instrumental reason, nihilistic disenchantment, and moralizing critique. In this way, we will conjoin a new analysis of the PhG’s underlying narrative with a continuing derivation of the inner cells of Hegel’s critical theory.


A Caveat: Externality and Dichotomy Before beginning this account, though, I’d like to enter a qualification. I readily admit that commentators do flag something like these forms of externality, at least implicitly, when they note that Hegel is preoccupied in the PhG with the dichotomies afflicting our theoretical and practical frameworks.1 Michael Forster in particular insists upon the importance, for Hegel, of categorial dichotomies as sources of human discontent. Further, Forster emphasizes the natural corollary that Hegel’s aim in dissolving these dichotomies is to alleviate that discontent: In accordance with this diagnosis of the sources of modern man’s unhappiness, Hegel, beginning in the early theological writings, developed the position that the required cure for this unhappiness was to overcome the offending dualisms. His primary means for accomplishing this was to be the establishment in modern culture of a fundamentally monistic conception of reality.2 Naturally, I do not dispute the fact that Hegel attaches immense importance to the “dichotomies” of thinking and acting in the modern era or, indeed, that Hegel believes these dichotomies frustrate human happiness.3 On the contrary, I recognize this diagnosis as a basic presupposition of my position. At the same time, however, I am not aware of a commentator who explicitly links the defect of dichotomy with the habits of externality that Hegel repeatedly cites in the Preface, Introduction, and throughout the text. Nor am I familiar with a commentator who refers the resolution of these

Forster makes this diagnosis central to Hegel’s project: “Already long before writing the Phenomenology Hegel had come to the view that one of the most distinctive and pervasive characteristics of modern Europeans’ outlooks was their conception of reality in terms of sharp and fundamental dualisms” (1998: 22). And Ludwig Siep states: “[T]he very topic of the Phenomenology is the elevation of ‘natural consciousness,’ which is precisely characterized by various kinds of dichotomy, to the standpoint of ‘identity-knowledge’ through its own ‘experiences’” (2014: 72). 2 Forster (1998: 78-79). Forster is unusual among commentators in arguing that the PhG serves the essentially “practical purpose of enabling modern men to achieve genuine happiness” (1998: 18). According to Forster (1998: 20), Hegel’s (implied) position is that human beings have three profound desires – namely, for solidarity, truth, and freedom – while the PhG’s “monistic” standpoint delivers their satisfaction. Alan Brudner (2017), too, has recently defended a (more radical) version of this thesis. 3 As Hegel writes in his early text, “The Essence of Philosophical Criticism”: “The Cartesian philosophy expounded [in a philosophical form] the universally comprehensive dualism in the culture of the recent history of our north-westerly world – a dualism of which both the quiet transformation of the public life of men after the decline of all ancient life, and the noisy political and religious revolutions are equally just different-colored outward manifestations” (2000: 284/2:184). See also the “Difference” essay’s treatment of dichotomy in Hegel (1977a: 89-94/2:20-25). 1


dichotomies to the “immanent” attitude of pure-onlooking that Hegel counsels no less frequently. What follows should be read with this caveat in mind. Consciousness and Beyond Our contention is that natural consciousness consistently evinces the vices, in more or less explicit ways, of external cognition as Hegel conceives it. But for reasons of economy, we will not expend ourselves identifying where and how, exactly, the PhG’s dozens of shapes each individually display symptoms of external cognition. While I do not doubt the possibility of such an inventory, for our more limited purposes it is neither feasible nor necessary. Rather I propose a more strategic approach. On the one hand, we will concentrate on the basic meta-shapes – Consciousness and SelfConsciousness – since sound characterizations of these will naturally apply, as a matter of course, to their diverse recapitulations. On the other hand, we will make use of particular episodes that illuminate the characteristics of external cognition in an especially perspicuous way. This strategy will allow us to demonstrate the enduring importance of externality throughout the PhG, without detaining ourselves over the details of every “experience.” Let us begin with a word about the book’s first chapters. Here I submit that the shapes of “Consciousness” are methodical attempts to practice the We’s own ideal of “pure-onlooking” [das reine Zusehen] (¶85/3:77) that, in the event, only manage to reproduce the structures of externality they avowedly spurn. This is a fairly simple argument to prosecute, since Hegel is remarkably explicit and consistent that “apprehension” is the goal of Consciousness. The very first sentence of SenseCertainty, for example, toys with the prospect that the standpoint of this initial shape just is that of the “We”: Knowledge which is our object at the outset, that is, immediately, can be nothing but immediate knowledge, knowledge of the immediate, that is, of what is. Likewise we ourselves have to conduct ourselves immediately, that is, receptively [aufnehmend]. We therefore are to alter nothing in the object as it presents itself, and we must keep our conceptual grasp of it apart from our apprehension of it. (¶90/3:82)


Nowhere else in the PhG is the reader so clearly invited to recognize the parallel between (1) the We’s imputed standpoint regarding natural consciousness, and (2) natural consciousness’s own standpoint regarding its object. In this instance the parallel is short lived, of course. For it quickly emerges that Sense-Certainty, whose purported wish is unalloyed contact with its object, and which for this reason refuses to interpose any “concept” between its sensorium and the world, is already acting in bad faith. Its “positing” – its spontaneity or constitutive self-understanding – is already the ground-norm (preeminent among its own “bright ideas”) it had vowed to expel from intuition.4 This distinction of essence and example, of immediacy and mediation, is not merely one that we make; we find it in sense-certainty itself…[O]ne moment is posited [gesetzt] as that which simply and immediately is…The other, by contrast, is posited as the inessential and mediated moment. (¶93/3:83) In this way, we are led to understand that Sense-Certainty’s ideal of pure apprehension actually involves a set of self-assertions, most obviously in speech and gesture: self-recoiling attempts to encapsulate its Meinen in pseudo-speculative (and presently stale) truth-claims, as though in alabaster.5 As H. S. Harris poignantly describes this unique lesson as it figures in Hegel’s program of “de-familiarization”: “What is familiar has to be made strange in order that we may take it seriously. The very first thing that we have to realize is that the form of conceptualization, which we so readily take for granted, is a state of death for all that is fixed in it.”6 Much the same can be said of Perception, which likewise imagines that it “has only to take it [i.e. Thing], to confine itself to a pure apprehension of it [sich als reines Auffassen zu verhalten], and what is thus yielded is the true” (¶116/3:96). This conceit notwithstanding, the Hegelian ideal of immanent apprehension is “for us” again debarred by Perception’s devotion to a standard – its own Pippin (1989: ch. 6), of course, interprets the “Consciousness” section as Hegel’s derivation of the ‘non-experiential conditions of experience.’ 5 See again Pippin (1989: 123) for an interpretation of Sense-Certainty’s judgments – e.g. “Here is a tree, Now is noon” – as early examples of “speculative sentences.” 6 Harris (1993: 70). 4


instinctive natural notion – that invariably contours its “intuitions” in advance. The Perceiver’s “criterion of truth [Kriterium der Wahrheit] is…selfsameness, and his behavior consists in apprehending the object as self-identical” (¶116/3:97). And Perception shortly discovers the paradox of this circumstance for itself, recognizing that “its perceiving is essentially composed…not as a simple, pure act of apprehending, but rather as being in its act of apprehending at the same time taking a reflective turn into itself from out of the true” (¶118/3:98). In Chapter 4, we made a note of the blindness on display in each of these cases – emphasizing especially the behavior of shapes that are convinced they do not behave. Our present focus, though related, takes a slightly different form: the varied ways in which cognition remains external to its object – in spite of a well-entrenched confidence that, free of presuppositions, it simply “observes” whatever is there. When I claimed, at the end of Part I, that the PhG takes responsibility for educating a reader who can read the PhG, I had something like this curiosity in mind. By following the experience of a natural consciousness that fails to practice pure-onlooking – in the case of “Consciousness,” despite its best efforts – the empirical reader may unburden herself of those natural notions that block the way to her self-appointed ideal. Finally, at the beginning of “Force and Understanding,” again in similar language, Hegel tells us: Without the understanding’s knowing itself to be doing so, it, the understanding, also allows that [i.e. the concept of the true] to go its own way. This, the true, works out its essence for itself in such a way that consciousness has no part in its free realization but rather merely looks on that realization and purely apprehends it [sondern ihr nur zusieht, und sie rein auffaßt]. (¶133/3:108) The Understanding, then, shares with its predecessors-shapes the conceit of a basically “apprehending” relation to its object. To be sure, this belief is now considerably strained by the equally emphatic awareness that “the true existing in itself” (¶133/3:108) – the “unconditioned universal [which] is an object for consciousness” (¶135/3:109), viz. Force, Inner, Law, etc. – is not


immediately available to its senses. 7 But notwithstanding this modification, as a realist shape of Consciousness proper, the Understanding, too, imagines it accesses, not the concept of an object, but the object itself.8 “Because the force is supposed to exist in its truth, it must be set entirely free from thoughts and must be posited [gesetzt] as the substance of these distinctions” (¶136/3:110). In other words, the undiminished “apprehending” instincts and ambitions of Consciousness are thwarted, once again, by its own natural notions, as it blindly insinuates into experience the very structure it “finds” there: “once again as consciousness, it makes this, what is true, into what is objectively inner and distinguishes the reflection of things into themselves from its own reflection-into-self” (¶143/3:116).9 On my interpretation, then, the shapes of “Consciousness” each attempt, but fail, to inhabit the methodological standpoint of the PhG as a whole – to bracket natural notions and so obtain “what is at stake as it is in and for itself” (¶84/3:77). In these introductory sections, above all, Hegel’s invocation of the “pure apprehension” ideal is heavy-handedly reminiscent of the pure-onlooking we have identified with immanent critique. Or again: Sense-Certainty, Perception and Understanding are exactly species of external cognition, as that posture is adumbrated in Hegel’s comments on method.

Thus the Understanding becomes convinced, no later than ¶143, that true knowledge of mind-independent reality involves active inferences from a manifold and changing Erscheinung to a “true background” that is both unified and unchanging. “This genuine essence of things now has been determined as not existing immediately for consciousness. Rather, consciousness has a mediate relationship to the inner, and, as the understanding, it looks into the true background of things by means of this middle term of the play of forces” (¶143/3:116). 8 “In its eyes, what has come to be is the concept of the true as the true existing in itself, which is not yet the concept, that is, which lacks the being-for-itself of consciousness” (¶133/3:108). And later: “[I]t is really the understanding to which the concept of force belongs. The understanding is itself really the concept” (¶136/3:110). 9 The full sentence: “However, once again as consciousness, it makes this, what is true, into what is objectively inner and distinguishes the reflection of things into themselves from its own reflection-into-self in the way that in the eyes of consciousness, the mediating movement is still equally an objective movement” (¶143/3:116). 7


On the Difference between Consciousness and Pure-Onlooking Here we may linger a moment with the question: why isn’t “apprehension,” as Consciousness idealizes and pursues it, already the standpoint of pure-onlooking or immanent critique? What in principle distinguishes these two perspectives? We have already seen that Consciousness is afflicted with unexamined “natural notions” that preclude unprejudiced contact with its object. Yet the issue is more complex than this. Indeed, a more troubling objection presents itself here: why aren’t Hegel’s criticisms of “Consciousness” applicable in equal measure to the We’s standpoint? In a highly pertinent discussion, Paul Redding insists that this standpoint cannot be both a defensible philosophical method and purely “observational,” if the latter reduces to one of those passive orientations implacably undermined in the course of its experience – precisely those attitudes, presumably, we have opted to gloss as Consciousness. 10 And if the structure of pure-onlooking we have reconstructed did share in this defect, Redding’s objection would be to the point. Yet we have already seen that the immanent-critical attitude is not purely observational in any epistemologically indefensible sense.11 On the contrary, it is most accurately described as actively self-transformational, because inescapably responsive to the exigencies and demands of its object.

Redding makes this claim in the course of rejecting the (commonplace) suspicion that the We already inhabits the standpoint of Absolute Knowing, from the start: “One lesson that had been repeated over and over concerned the inadequacy of assuming a spectatorial conception of knowledge. Another had been the inadequacy of the assumption that the truth of the world is located in some transcendent beyond. However, these seem to be precisely the sorts of assumptions presupposed by the “phenomenological we” throughout the drama” (1996: 137). But I hope to have shown that the We’s standing is considerably more equivocal than Redding’s comment suggests. For we can distinguish between the We’s standpoint and that of the empirical reader (whatever her ideology), who can both inhabit and not inhabit the Absolute Standpoint at a given point. At the same time, a reader that is willing and able to put her own convictions at stake, per Hegel’s express instructions, can hardly be said to hold “a spectatorial conception of knowledge.” Indeed, the very meaning of a “spectatorial” stance to one’s object will depend upon the nature of that object. See Chapter 1 on the “pedagogical” function of this spectatorial device. 11 See Chapters 1 and 2, above, which both emphasize the self-transformative potential of immanent critique. See also Bristow (2007: ch. 5). 10


There is more to be said in response to Redding’s particular worry, though, and one promising place to look will be Hegel’s reflections at the crucial “turning point” of the entire PhG.12 For here Hegel both specifies the inadequacies of Observing Reason (a deliberate reprise of the “Consciousness” orientation), and hints at the cognitive superiority of Practical Reason (the restoration of “Self-Consciousness” on a rational plane),13 in a most general way: Insofar as it has elevated itself to its being-for-itself from out of the ethical substance and from out of the motionless being of thought, the law of ethos and existence, together with the knowledge related to observation and theory, only lay behind it as a gray and gradually vanishing shadow, for observation and theory are to a greater degree the knowledge of the kind of thing whose being-for-itself and whose actuality is other than that of selfconsciousness. (¶360/3:270) Hegel’s pointed defense of the primacy of the practical, an insight licensed by the failure of Observing Reason to find itself as Reason, does appear at first glance to confirm Redding’s worry. Unperturbed contemplation does not establish contact with its object as itself, but only as something “other.”14 In sum: “[O]bserving is not knowing itself, and is ignorant of it” (¶300/3:228). And if “Reason is purposive activity” (¶22/3:26), as the Preface had long since announced, then Reason can finally know itself only as such purposive activity. But this means we should be careful to avoid an overly abstract condemnation of observation per se, the ideal of which certainly remains present in the We’s activities throughout. On a moment’s reflection, in fact, we will realize that what Hegel above calls “the knowledge related to observation and theory” (¶360/3:270) is restricted to a relatively small domain of scientific practice

See Harris – “the most important turning point in our Science” (1997 Vol. I: 117) – and Speight (2004: 40-41), on the significance of this section as the major joint or pivot in the PhG as a whole, following the “low point” of Phrenology. 13 At the midpoint of “Reason,” Hegel frames Observing and Practical Reason as reenactments – on a “higher plane” – Consciousness and Self-Consciousness. “Just as observing reason repeated within the elements of the category the movement of consciousness (namely, sense-certainty, perception, and understanding), reason will also once again pass through the doubled movement of self-consciousness, and then from self-sufficiency, it will make its transition into its freedom” (¶348/3:263). 14 Hans-Friedrich Fulda encourages us “to guard against presupposing that the cognition sought by the philosophizing phenomenologist must be theoretical. It should not be presupposed that this cognition has to ground theories about (and be verified in view of) objects and facts which are the case independent of the existence or non-existence of a theory about them” (2008: 24). 12


and knowledge. For this reason, we must insist on the all-important distinction between – for instance – observing a play at the theater, and observing the projections of a brain-imaging device. In these two examples, the “objects” of observation are as incommensurable as the kinds of “observation” they involve. This implies that the relevant distinction is not, strictly speaking, between observational and non-observational practices. It is rather between the observation of (1) “the kind of thing whose being-for-itself and whose actuality is other than that of selfconsciousness,” and (2) an object that is so similar to or reminiscent of spirit itself, that the only appropriate response is rapt absorption, affective investment and, finally, a vulnerability to selftransformation in light of that object’s fortunes. 15 In light of this distinction, the debacle of Phrenology shows that the human spirit is permanently refractory,16 not to human observation per se (else the We’s pure onlooking would indeed become untenable past the section on Observing Reason, if not well before), but to an emphatically reductive and instrumentalist observation17 – to, that is, a particular regime of external cognition.18

Redding himself writes: “Our ability to follow the progress of the character is dependent on our ability to empathize with his experience and ambition…We simply cannot grasp the events that unfold if we refuse to participate in this way” (1996: 82). On this view, the major condition and seal of “contemplative reconstruction” is empathy. 16 “Lichtenberg is thus right in saying: Supposing the physiognomist did once take the measure of a man; it would only be a matter of decent resolve on the man’s part to make himself once again incomprehensible for centuries” (¶318/3:239). Presumably what Hegel believes of Physiognomy applies equally to Phrenology. 17 Hegel’s reversion to the idiom of “intuition” at the close of the chapter on “Spirit,” precisely at the point that Absolute Spirit emerges, is strong evidence that his censure of the “observational” standpoint extends only so far: “The word of reconciliation is the existing spirit which immediately intuits in its opposite the pure knowledge of itself as the universal essence, intuits it in the pure knowledge of itself as individuality existing absolutely inwardly – a reciprocal recognition which is absolute spirit” (¶670/3:493). 18 It seems to me that these reflections also yield a defense of Hegel from Benhabib’s central charge against him – namely, that he subordinates his early insights into “intersubjectivity” to the ideal of a “transubjective” standpoint: “This expressivist paradigm, along with the premise of the ontological priority of work to action, leads Hegel to suppress his discovery of human intersubjectivity and to interpret it instead as transsubjectivity…[A]ccording to the standpoint of intersubjectivity, the perspective of human agents is constitutive of the validity and meaning of their interactions, whereas the standpoint of transsubjectivity locates this validity and meaning in a source external to the shared perspectives of social agents, in the standpoint of a thinker-observer” (1986: 89-90). Again, since the “thinkerobserver’s” standpoint is itself clearly at stake, Benjabib’s characterization is misleading. See Habermas (1974: ch. 4) and Honneth (1995: 3-64) for additional iterations of this longstanding criticism. 15


Mathematical Cognition in the Preface Our running reconstruction left off above with the Understanding. We claimed that, like SenseCertainty and Perception, this shape’s attempts at pure apprehension founder on certain presuppositions, or fixed natural notions, concerning the object of its experience. Yet I would also suggest that the Understanding’s conjunction with the structures of external cognition surpasses both Sense-Certainty and Perception, and in crucial respects. Moreover, my comment just now regarding the instrumentalist streak of Phrenology makes for a natural transition to these additional dimensions. Indeed, I will suggest that the very limitations that Hegel imputes to external cognition mark out critical theory’s conception of “instrumental reason,” formulated over a century later. The 20th century protest that “reason has become an instrument,”19 or a “subjective reason” 20 defined by “unrelatedness to objective content”21 – this development in intellectual history will not surprise a close reader of the Preface, whose treatment of mathematical thinking, above all, prefigures this conception in its essentials. At this extreme point, in fact, what we have been calling external cognition just is reified and reifying thought: “The movement of mathematical proof does not belong to the object [Sache] but is an activity that is external to the item at hand…The whole act of bringing the result to light is a process and a means of cognition [Gang und Mittel des Erkennens]” (¶42/3:42).22 We will observe that Hegel calls mathematical cognition’s activity “external” for the

Horkheimer (1947: 21). Horkheimer (1947: 21). 21 Horkheimer (1947: 21). Of course, Adorno too uses this language: “reason itself is reduced to an instrument and assimilated to its functionaries” (2005a: 123). 22 In the Introduction, of course, after dispatching the metaphors of medium and instrument, Hegel continues that, “the very absurdity of the enterprise [i.e. of cognition] lies in our making use of any means [Mittels] at all” (¶73/3:69). And yet the passage I’ve quoted from the Preface strongly suggests that “eines Mittels” isn’t just a misplaced metaphor for cognition. On the contrary, this anathema is genuinely applicable to cognition of a certain type: “But the genuine defectiveness of this kind of cognition [Die eigentliche Mangelhaftigkeit dieses Erkennens] has to do with cognition itself as much as it does with its material” (¶44/3:43). 19 20


simple reason that it cannot in principle reach its object, der Sache.23 And it fails – it remains external to its object – because its procedure is in essence merely subjective, “a process and a means of cognition” that remains uninformed by the encounter with its material, which is manipulated from the outside. The inevitable result for cognition of this sort, writes Hegel, “has nothing to do with its content but only with its relation to the subject” (¶42/3:42). Evoking the instructive metaphor of “a means,” then, Hegel clearly associates external cognition with a “subjective” form of reasoning, whose knowledge for that reason lacks objective purchase. Further, the “content” of this “defective cognition [mangelhaften Erkennens]” (¶45/3:44) has a quite specific profile. In fact, Hegel’s objection to mathematical cognition applies equally to “the defectiveness of its material” [Mangelhaftigkeit ihres Stoff] (¶45/3:44): the concept-less and mutually-indifferent “magnitudes” [Größen] presupposed by quantifying and hence equalizing thought.24 Strictly speaking, it is the nature of this material, the “non-actualities [Unwirklichkeit] which are the things of mathematics” (¶45/3:44), that in the present case ensures the lasting externality of cognition to its object. “[I]ts concept,” writes Hegel, is magnitude [Größe]. It is precisely this relationship which is non-essential and devoid of the concept [begrifflose]. For that reason, the movement of knowledge in mathematics takes place only on the surface; it does not touch on the thing that really matters [die Sache selbst], does not touch on the essence, that is, the concept, and hence it does not constitute any kind of comprehension of what is at stake. – The material that provides mathematics with this gratifying wealth of truths consists of space and numerical units. Space is the existence in which the concept inscribes its distinctions as it would in an empty, dead element in which the distinctions themselves are just as unmoved and lifeless. (¶45/3:44) Now my basic claim here is that the un-philosophical, mathematical cognition Hegel both describes and disparages in these two passages conspicuously appears at a specific place in the PhG itself. A moment later: “In mathematical cognition, insight is an external activity [äußerliches Tun] vis-à-vis the item at issue [die Sache]” (¶43/3:43). And again: “The necessity does not emerge from the concept of the theorem. Rather, it is imposed…This purposiveness…turns out later on to be merely external [nur eine äußerliche ist]… It is an external purpose [ein äußerer Zweck] which controls this movement” (¶44/3:43-44). 24 “It is also on account of that principle and element – and what is formal in mathematical convincingness consists in this – that knowledge advances along the line of equality” (¶45/3:44-45). 23


Indeed, a cognition that fits Hegel’s description perfectly – that is external to its object, that is essentially subjective, and this precisely because it proceeds via the mutual indifference of its dead, begrifflose magnitudes – emerges for the first time as a phase of spirit proper in the midst of “Force and Understanding.”25 The Understanding, Continued Since this entire orientation is impressed so deeply and persistently by these characteristics, it will be slightly arbitrary to focus on any particular passages. Nonetheless, consider the following, fairly typical description of the Understanding’s “magnitudes”: [T]hese parts, time and space…do not now express in themselves this origination out of one universal. They are indifferent to each other. Space is represented as being able to be without time, time without space…in the same way that their magnitudes [ihre Größen] are indifferent to each other...and thus are not related to each other by virtue of their essence. (¶153/3:124) Notably, by this point in the chapter the Understanding is in full flower, constructing explanations out of magnitudes that relate externally. Indeed, the only experience-proper that remains for this shape to undergo is its contemplation of a manifestly absurd verkehrte Welt (¶157-¶160), or its own crudely substantialized depiction of the Infinity concept. 26 On this basis alone, we may suppose that its “tautological” efforts at explanation, and hence its standing as a form of subjective, external cognition, are insuperable properties of Understanding. That is, these defects will not be redeemed at a further stage of this shape’s development: [W]ithin this tautological movement, the understanding steadfastly insists on its object’s unity at rest, and the movement just takes place in the understanding itself, not in the

I am not the first reader to draw this sort of connection. According to Marcuse, in fact, the entirety of Consciousness evinces a “reifying” tendency: “The first three sections of the Phenomenology are a critique of positivism and, even more, of reification” (1941: 112). More recently, Fredric Jameson has also suggested that a “comprehensive kind of illusion slowly develops throughout these first chapters and which we must call…Verstand or understanding: this is what we might now today call common sense: reified thinking, the thinking of the external, of space and objects generally, a thinking ultimately abstracted and codified in mathematics” (2010: 17-18). But it seems to me that reified thinking proper first appears in “Force and Understanding,” as I show below. 26 The final section of “Force and Understanding,” ¶161-¶165, is better understood as “our” ex post facto reflection on this terminal self-examination of the Understanding. It is not a further “experience” of consciousness itself. 25


object…By virtue of this movement nothing new emerges about the item itself which is at issue [der Sache selbst]. Instead the movement merely comes into view as a movement of the understanding. (¶155/3:126)27 Of course, from the beginning of the chapter Hegel has left little doubt regarding this shape’s merely subjective status. “For us,” that is, “the Understanding is itself really the concept, and it supports the distinct moments as distinct…The distinction thereby exists merely in thought” (¶136/3:110). Early on, “the truth of force remains…merely the thought of force” (¶141/3:115), 28 while later “the understanding’s relation to the inner by means of the mediation is the understanding’s own movement” (¶148/3:119). But even in its final attempts at cognition – at its most sophisticated, scientific, and seemingly objective – the Understanding receives the same, unchanging verdict: “However, this inner distinction still just belongs to the understanding and is not yet posited in the item itself at stake. It is thus merely its own necessity that the understanding expresses” (¶154/3:125). Hence in the closing paragraphs of the chapter, Hegel reflects that the Understanding’s explanations are defined by this inability to reach the Sache selbst: [T]his movement, that is, this necessity, is in this way still a necessity and a movement of the understanding, that is, as such it is not the object of the understanding…It is precisely for that reason that there is so much self- satisfaction [Selbstbefriedigung], in explanation, because the consciousness involved in it is, to put it this way, in an immediate conversation with itself, enjoying only itself [nur sich selbst genießt]. While it undeniably seems to be pursuing Hegel continues that, “within that movement we have cognizance of exactly what was missing in the law, namely, the absolute alternating fluctuation itself” (¶155/3:126). Since it is exactly what the “realm of unchanging laws” does not and cannot accommodate, this fluctuation must then be shunted off into a second, “perverted” world. But the absurdity of this second world is, it emerges, only the natural result of the Understanding’s attempt to represent in its own, externalist and substantialist fashion, an object-concept – Infinity – that in principle exceeds its own capacities of cognition. “[A]s the topsy-turvy inversion of the fist law…infinity indeed becomes itself the object of the understanding, but once again the understanding fails to notice it as such, since the understanding once again distributes to two worlds, or to two substantial elements, the distinction in itself” (¶164/3:134). 28 The full passage reads: “The force as actual exists purely and simply in the expression, which at the same time is nothing but a self-sublation…The truth of force remains therefore merely the thought of force; and without pause, the moments of its actuality, its substances, and its movement collapse together into an undifferentiated unity” (¶141/3:115). This passage represents additional evidence in favor of our emphasis on, and conception of, the “inversion” structure in Part I. As usual, an item – in this case “force” – realizes or expresses itself by way of its inversion or “loss.” As Hegel summarizes: “The realization of force is therefore at the same time of the loss of reality; it has to a greater degree become within that movement something wholly other” (¶141/3:115). 27


something else, it is really just consorting with itself [sich nur mit sich selbst herumtreibt]. (¶163/3:134) Commentators have often supposed that Hegel’s attitude to the Understanding’s self-satisfaction is more equivocal that I’ve suggested, if not altogether positive. The last paragraphs of the chapter may be, and frequently have been interpreted as a qualified defense of the Understanding’s explanatory activities.29 For surely, it may be urged, Hegel is not claiming that explanation delivers no real comprehension of its object at all. And yet, when placed alongside the following, closely related passage from the Preface, Hegel’s considered judgment on the Understanding is – in my view – much more unambiguously negative: That the so-called proofs of such propositions which applied mathematics frequently provides, such as those concerning the equilibrium of the lever, the relation of space and time in falling motion, etc., should be given and accepted as proofs is itself only proof of how great the need for proof is for cognition, since even where it has no more proof, cognition still respects the empty semblance [den leeren Schein] of proof and even thereby attains a kind of satisfaction [eine Zufriedenheit]. (¶46/3:45) Now our discussion of mathematical cognition and the Understanding has uncovered an important additional layer to our central figure. For in these contexts, Hegel plainly links (1) cognition’s “externality” to its object, with (2) the object’s “self externality,” or the conceptual indifference between the items “explained.”30 By dissolving the integral object into indifferent, arbitrarily related magnitudes, the mathematical Understanding – so to speak – dirempts that object’s self-organizing, living quintessence. How exactly does the Understanding extinguish this life? Here we should add that the object’s reduction to commensurable magnitudes, expressible in abstract identities, is for Hegel correlative to a familiar diremption: between the immobility of those equations and the changing flux of appearance they exclude. Grasped along these lines, the Understanding’s extrapolation of

See e.g. Houlgate (2013: 71-82). Recall once more Hegel’s discussion of the speculative sentence. In the mode of “mere argumentation,” one can only “externally” relate to sentences with terms that themselves relate “externally” to each other.

29 30


mathematical formulae is merely one, early instance of a movement we recurrently observe in the PhG: an abstract, difference-excluding identity is constructed as an “essence” at the expense of some material excluded from it.31 In this case, the procedure of abstracting commensurable magnitudes from sensible appearance imparts to the latter a merely “negative” significance. In other words, the Understanding “sacrifices” appearance to the non-sensible: The being of that object for consciousness is mediated through the movement of appearance, in which the being of perception and what is sensuously objective as such have only a negative meaning, and out of which consciousness therefore reflects itself into itself as reflecting itself into the true. (¶143/3:116)32 In this respect, we can say that the Understanding, far from reaching its qualitative object, converts movement into stasis, diversity into unity, and generally what is living into what is dead33 – in each case reducing all traces of the former to an “appearance” of the latter.34 This difference-excluding property of external cognition allows us again to expand the range of shapes suffering from the defect. For this “reductive” conatus of Understanding makes a straight line through Unhappy Consciousness to Phrenology and later Enlightenment. The reduction of what changes to what does not; of the multiple to the unitary; of what is different to the same, etc. – our analysis shows us that these are the gestures of an external cognition whose object is made external

The archetypal identity is ‘I = I.’ The first, “negative” phase of “Independence and Dependence,” in which SelfConsciousness constitutes itself via the expulsion of all empirical and so heteronomous elements, is perhaps the most concrete example of this movement: “Self-consciousness is at first simple being-for-itself, and it is selfsame by virtue of the exclusion from itself of all that is other. In its eyes, its essence and absolute object is the I, and within this immediacy, that is, within this being of its being-for- itself, it is an individual. The other for it exists as an unessential object designated by the character of the negative” (¶186/3:147). 32 Since this sensuous appearance nonetheless remains to conscious awareness, the only recourse of the Understanding is to explain away that “nullity.” Once acknowledged, the insufficiency of this tautological procedure gives rise to the Understanding’s “inverted world” contortions. This second world is meant to absorb the flux expelled from the first “beyond.” 33 For Adorno and Horkheimer, of course, just this procedure defines Enlightenment: “Humans believe themselves free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown. This has determined the path of demythologization, of enlightenment, which equates the living with the nonliving as myth had equated the nonliving with the living” (2002: 11). 34 At the succeeding stage, not only is one element of the ‘external world’ subordinated to another – the This to the Thing, or both of these to Force. From the standpoint called Desire, “the whole breadth of the sensuous world” (¶167/3:138) – the This, the Thing, and non-sensuous Inner alike – is summarily answerable to the “I”: “The being of what was meant, along with the individuality and the universality opposed to that individuality in perception, as well as the empty inner of the understanding, no longer exist as the essence. Rather, they exist merely as moments of self-consciousness” (¶167/3:138). The object itself is now “marked for it with the character of the negative” (¶167/3:139). 31


to itself. When for example Hegel decries Phrenology as “the shamefulness of brute, conceptless [begrifflosen] thought which takes a bone to be the actuality [Wirklichkeit] of self-consciousness” (¶345/3:261), he has simply followed the externality of Verstand, first marked out in the Preface, through to its most literal iteration.35 (Of course, there is more ambiguity in this structure than this comparison lets on. The Understanding, to state the most obvious difference, attempts to reduce what is sensible to what is non-sensible: to the abstract universality of unchanging laws between fixed quantities. By contrast, Phrenology reduces the immediately non-sensible, viz. the spiritual inner, to something immediately and unequivocally sensible: the stable physical characteristics of the observable human skull. Yet notwithstanding this difference in the direction of law, it is not difficult to appreciate what these shapes do share: namely, the drive to convert the irreducibility of self-differentiating life – later on, spirit – into fixed quantities, or terms more congenial to the Understanding.36 The re-emergence of quantifiable, indifferent “magnitudes” in Observing Reason, and in Phrenology specifically, is further evidence of this underlying affinity.37)

In similar terms, Hegel chides the Unhappy Consciousness for its attempt to locate the Unchangeable as a “thing”: “Where the other is sought, it cannot be found, for it is supposed to be an other-worldly beyond, that is, precisely the kind of thing that cannot be found” (¶217/3:169). Since their procedures are in this respect identical, it is only natural to compare the grave that Unhappy Consciousness finds with the skull that Phrenology grasps. See as well Hegel’s description of Enlightenment, “turns what to spirit is eternal life and the holy ghost into a transitory thing, and it besmirches it with the point of view of sense-certainty, which is in-itself negative” (¶553/3:409). 36 Further, it can hardly be accidental that these shapes are the two, decisive levers from theoretical to practical reason. The “objects” apprehended by (1) the Understanding and (2) Phrenology represent the two poles of reifying activity: of what is most remote (the Law-governed beyond) and what is closest to hand (the sensible skull, which can be held in one’s palm). The shapes that follow from their immanent negations – Self-Certain Desire and the Actuality of Rational Self-Consciousness – are both immediate inversions of this reifying impulse. 37 From Phrenology: “[I]n light of the determination in terms of which the organ of self-consciousness would be the active cause working on the aspect confronting it, there is much which could be said from this or that angle about it since the issue concerns the makeup of a cause whose shape and magnitude [ihrer Gestalt und Größe] is studied in terms of its indifferent existence, that is, of a cause whose “inner” and whose being-for-itself are what is precisely supposed to have nothing to do with immediate existence” (¶330/3:249). 35


We will note here that an object-concept with an “immanently” self-differentiating structure does arise at the close of the “Force and Understanding” chapter: namely, Infinity.38 In this concept, the ingredients of experience do not finally confront one another as externally subsistent elements, “indifferent to one another and without any necessity for each other” (¶161/3:131). On the contrary, they figure now only as temporarily estranged moments or parts of an integral whole. Most famously: “[B]y virtue of this concept of inner distinction, what is unlike and indifferent…is a distinction that is no distinction” (¶161/3:131). And yet, as Hegel reminds us more than once, it belongs to the definition of Consciousness that Infinity cannot explicitly become its object: “When infinity is finally an object for consciousness, and consciousness is aware of it as what it is, then consciousness is self-consciousness” (¶163/3:133). This impasse should not surprise us. In Part I we described in a general way the mechanism of inversion: an object-concept generated in the course of a shape’s experience will nonetheless remain inadmissible to its standpoint. What Hegel calls Infinity is just such an object-concept: an item implicit in, but in principle surpassing, the activities of Understanding.39 But again, Hegel’s same discussion in the Preface anticipated this incommensurability: Precisely because it does not move itself, what is lifeless does not make it all the way to the distinctions of essence, nor to essential opposition, that is, to non-selfsameness, nor to the transition of one opposition into its opposite, nor to qualitative, immanent self-movement. For it is magnitude alone, the inessential distinction, that mathematics deals with. (¶45/3:45)40 For Hegel, Infinity is the “absolute unrest of pure self-movement, in which whatever is determined in one way or another, e.g. as being, is rather the opposite of this determinateness” (¶163/3:133). 39 The previous sentence clarifies that the structure of Infinity is implicit in Understanding’s activities: “Appearance, that is, the play of forces, already exhibits infinity itself, but infinity first freely emerges as explanation” (¶163/3:133). Meanwhile, the shape that does accept this object-concept as “Life,” i.e. Self-Consciousness, is paradigmatic of an orientation whose “ground norm” both emerges from a forgotten prehistory, “for us,” and appears as something “natural,” or given, “for consciousness.” So Hegel writes: “However, consciousness as it immediately possesses this concept once again comes on the scene as its own form or as a new shape of consciousness that does not take cognizance of its essence in what has gone before but instead regards it as something wholly different…[T]his concept of infinity is, in its eyes, the object” (¶164/3:134). But see Chapter 4, above, on the “blindness” of natural consciousness to its past. 40 See also: “Mathematics does not consider, for example, the relation of line to surface, and when it compares the diameter of a circle with its circumference, it runs up against their incommensurability, which is to say, a ratio lying in the concept, that is, an infinite, which itself eludes mathematical determination” (¶45/3:45). 38


In “Force and Understanding” itself, the importance of this incommensurability leads Hegel to repeat the prohibition in even stronger terms. He does so in a formulation whose pejorative overtones have – I repeat – escaped most commentators, but which makes perfectly obvious that the Understanding as such remains a quintessentially subjective, externalist form of cognition.41 For if the Understanding remains “in an immediate conversation with itself [in unmittelbarem Selbstgespräch mit sich], enjoying only itself [nur sich selbst genießt]” (¶163/3:134); and if, though it “undeniably seems to be pursuing something else, it is really just consorting with itself [nur mit sich selbst herumtreibt]” (¶163/3:134); then clearly for Hegel such a cognition remains constitutionally subjective, since it does not get as far as the Sache selbst.42 Some Portraits of Interiority “Self-conversing” figures of this sort are legion in the PhG, perhaps even constituting their own genre. Periodically Hegel will refer to an entire class of shapes that precisely must be “left to themselves” – that spurn communication and by extension community, finally burning out or evaporating. The one who, in the Preface, has “nothing further to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in his heart” (¶69/3:64-65), and thus “trample[s] under foot the roots of humanity” (¶69/3:65),43 is evidently just the “barren I” that, in the Introduction, “flees from the universal and seeks only being-for-itself” (¶80/3:75). We have repeatedly observed that the impetus to remain a barren I is both constitutive and, as far as natural consciousness itself can see, profoundly

Verene captures this idea nicely: “The understanding has no interest in the inner life of the object. The understanding is concerned with the object only to the extent that it can reflect its own powers off the object and thus know it” (2007: 25). 42 Pinkard helpfully analogizes this limitation in the following way: “To use Wittgenstein’s metaphor, it [i.e. Consciousness as the Understanding] is describing the frame around the picture all the while thinking that it is describing the picture itself” (1994: 42-43). 43 This is a passage to which I have already drawn attention: “Those who invoke feeling as their internal oracle are finished with anyone who does not agree: they have to own that they have nothing further to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in his heart – in other words, they trample under foot the roots of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to struggle for agreement with others, and humanity exists only in the accomplished community of consciousness” (¶69). 41


sensible. 44 If “the realization of the concept” counts for consciousness “as the loss of itself” (¶78/3:72), it stands to reason that it will resist every “inversion” that can only appear to it as a catastrophe. To appreciate the significance of this resistance, let us briefly consider a couple well-known examples. The Lord and the Stoic, each in their own ways, fail to develop their positions – to “externalize” their concepts – lacking any living contact with something credibly “other” than themselves.45 “For the independent self-consciousness,” Hegel summarizes, it is only the pure abstraction of the ‘I’ that is its essential nature, and, when it does develop its own differences, this differentiation does not become a nature that is objective and intrinsic to it. Thus this self-consciousness does not become an ‘I’ that in its simplicity is genuinely self-differentiating. (¶197/3:155) It is true that the drama of Lordship and Bondage is followed directly by a form of “thinking” consciousness that, in contrast to the Lord, “has the meaning of being an object in its own eyes” (¶1973:156). But notwithstanding this marked advance as “freedom in thought,” Stoic consciousness likewise learns that it “is only the concept of freedom, not the living reality of freedom itself” (¶200/3:158). In the final analysis: “Withdrawn from existence only into itself, it has not there achieved its consummation as absolute negation of that existence” (¶201/3:159). Stoicism, too, fails to develop and becomes “tedious” for just this reason. More remarkably, all three of the sections in the “Spirit” chapter – “Ethical Life,” “Culture,” and “Morality” – effectively terminate in figures that are deeply intolerant of exteriority. A fanatical preoccupation with purity, which comes at the cost of sterility and eventually death (of a more or less metaphorical sort), weighs especially upon these last shapes. Thus Roman Persönlichkeit sustains itself as a forlorn, self-enclosed monad – an “unaccommodating self” (¶477/3:355) and “self See Chapter 3, above, on the “allergy” of natural consciousness to development. This allergy, we have speculated, is related to a quasi-libidinal attachment to “habituated” natural notions. 45 When in Minima Moralia Adorno cites “the possibility of going beyond oneself by assimilating the contradictory” (2005a: 131), he likewise links the human potential for rational self-transformation with a cognition that exposes itself to otherness. 44


sufficiency devoid of spirit” (¶478/3:356); Absolute Freedom can only incinerate itself as an “abstract self-consciousness that within itself destroys all distinction and all the durable existence of any distinction” (¶592/3:437); while the consumptive Beautiful Soul wastes away from “powerlessness to give itself substantiality, that is, to transform its thought into being and to commit itself to absolute distinction” (¶658/3:483-484). 46 In light of these later episodes, it seems entirely appropriate to speculate that behind the Understanding’s early, private Selbstgespräch we can already observe, in embryo, an impulse that at length comes to fruition in Conscience’s divine “worship service within himself” (¶655/3:481). Summary Let us summarize the main lines of our argument until now. In this chapter, we have consistently brought the optic of “externality” to our analysis of natural consciousness. We have been motivated by a willingness to develop and test the strong hypothesis ventured at the end of Part I. In that place we proposed that the “We’s” standpoint carries more than thinly methodological significance, but rather constitutes a shape-of-spirit in its own right. Further, we proposed that such an attitude is ratified through the PhG’s subversion of shapes that fail to observe the norms of Hegelian immanent critique, or that behave in essentially external modes towards their objects.47 We have therefore followed the itinerary of natural consciousness to uncover where and how the trait of externality appears both generically and in particular instances. We began this reconstruction by reviewing the shapes of “Consciousness” proper. Strikingly, Hegel himself underscores the deliberate attempts by Consciousness, beginning with SenseCertainty, to practice its own ideal of pure-onlooking. The efforts of Sense-Certainty, Perception, and Understanding are spoiled, however, by their unremarked spontaneity, which occludes the

See Stern (2013: 184-187), on the deep parallels between the experiences of Absolute Freedom and the Beautiful Soul. In other words, Hegel’s putatively “methodological” suspicion of external philosophical procedure actually enters into the fabric of spirit’s experience.

46 47


“apprehending” relation it seeks. On this reading, the object-concepts of Consciousness proper – an immediate This, a Thing, a Force – are merely the first of many “so-called natural notions” (¶78/3:73) with which “consciousness…is still filled out and burdened” (¶78/3:73). Accordingly, immediately after the experience of these shapes is concluded, Hegel observes in exactly these terms that “the concept of the object is sublated in the actual object, that is, the first immediate notion [unmittelbare Vorstellung] is sublated in experience” (¶166/3:137). Following a brief clarification of the non-trivial distinction between the passivity of Consciousness and the active self-transformation of pure-onlooking proper, we returned to the shape of Understanding for a more detailed examination. It is here, I argued, that the “reification” motif, announced in the Preface’s treatment of mathematical cognition, first makes its entrance as a proper, articulate shape of natural consciousness. Conversely, it is here that the reductive, instrumental impulse first reveals itself in practice as the most developed, extreme expression of “external” cognition more generally. This last result should be emphasized once more. Commenting on the tradition of critical theory, Raymond Geuss has remarked that instrumental reason is essentially 1. objectifying, separating the subject from its object, and 2. subsumptive, subordinating particulars to increasingly abstract universals48 Our own reconstruction of “Force and Understanding” has shown how, for Hegel, just these two characteristics are mutually implicated. The estrangement of “external” cognition from its object is coextensive with the estrangement of the object from itself: the subjection of the changing to the In his essay “Art and Theodicy,” Geuss ascribes these properties – objectification and subsumption – to instrumental or “enlightened” reason (1999: 98-99). To be sure, Geuss also identifies a third property: such reason enables the prediction and control of nature. However, while this last property arguably figures in Hegel’s “genetic” account of reason in the “Spirit of Christianity,” as well as in the “Utility” section of the PhG itself, it appears to be less “conceptually” foundational in the present case. On the other hand, see Harris’s comment on Self-Consciousness as the “practical” background of Consciousness, and specifically Sense-Certainty: “The real context of sense-experience is not theoretical but practical. The world of sense-certainty is not what we seek to know, but what we need in order to stay alive” (1997 Vol. I: 226).



unchanging, and diversity to unity. For example, the Understanding repels from itself the nonsensible, law-governed “beyond” – thus securing the most insurmountable subject-object dichotomy – by severing its object into transcendental and empirical moments. Paradoxically, then, the prolonged struggle of Consciousness simply to “apprehend” its object – to conform to it, as philosophical “realism” prescribes – results in a reductive, instrumental, and vainly “self-conversing” cognition that elevates externality to a postulate. The overarching significance of this figure is evident, we repeat, both from Hegel’s metaphenomenological comments and its recurrence as different incarnations of natural consciousness. Consider another passage from the Preface that combines several of these tropes into a single image: The schema’s monochromatic character and lifeless determinations [leblosen Bestimmungen], like this pure identity and like the passage from one to the other, are alike a dead understanding [toter Verstand] and are all equally external knowledge [gleich äußerliches Erkennen]. (¶51/3:51) While here Hegel’s criticism is overtly directed at the philosophical doctrine of a contemporary (in this case Fichte), we have now seen that these predicates plainly apply to external cognition in its more expansive sense. For natural consciousness as Understanding, too, “the living essence of what is at stake [das lebendige Wesen der Sache] has been omitted or concealed” (¶51/3:51). Just this attitude, from its spare origins in Force and Understanding, gradually blossoms into full-blown scientific disenchantment: “The excellent…cannot escape the fate of being thus deprived of life and spirit, of being flayed and then seeing its skin wrapped around lifeless knowledge and its vanity [leblosen Wissen und dessen Eitelkeit]” (¶52/3:51). These words would fit equally well in the opening pages of “Observing Reason,” where Hegel sketches a shape’s seemingly benign effort to empirically locate “its presence in the world” (¶240/3:186). Yet this recognizable variant of the “apprehending” orientation – Consciousness in the broad sense – reprises the Understanding’s reductive, “synthetic” activity, now exposed as a


vehicle for the “general appropriation of its own assured possessions” (¶241/3:186).49 In the name of this world-annexation, then, reason “plants the symbol of its sovereignty on every height and in every depth” (¶241/3:186), and soon “digs into the very entrails of things and opens up every vein in them so that it may gush forth to meet itself” (¶241/3:186). But Hegel leaves no doubt that this putatively “observational” program is again a movement of abstraction that divides consciousness off from the very object it wants to reach, and for this reason “will not attain this joy” (¶241/3:186).50 Self-Consciousness Now that we have canvassed the externality of Consciousness – in both the narrow and broad sense – we may return to Hegel’s text and ask how the orientation of Self-Consciousness yields to this same characteristic. This is a relatively simple thing to grasp, though, since for the most part SelfConsciousness does not even pretend to pursue an “immanent” cognition of its object. On the contrary, as I claimed in Chapter 4, the modus operandi of this orientation is the essentially practical imposition of norms, concepts, or “criteria” upon its object. Now to be sure, we ought to repeat that in practice the behavior of Consciousness, too, involved an imposition of this sort.51 The object to which its knowledge “conforms” is not the Sache selbst, as it initially supposes, but its own concept of it. But in each case this occurred inadvertently, an “inversion” that appeared inflicted “from the outside.” It is just the advance of Self-Consciousness, however, to actively “negate” its object. This, I propose, is one lesson to draw from Hegel’s

“We now see this consciousness…once again entering into meaning-something [das Meinen, i.e. the orientation of Sense Certainty] and perceiving” (¶240/3:185). Only here, “what was a thing for meaning-something and perceiving is now to be found as a concept, which is to say, reason is to have in thinghood merely the consciousness of itself” (¶240/3:185-186). 50 Again, from the Preface: “[A]ll the flesh and blood has been stripped from this skeleton, and the no longer living ‘essence’ has been packed away in the boxes” (¶51/3:51). 51 Indeed, Hegel had insisted that the two “testing procedures” described at ¶84, and that I’ve attributed to Consciousness and Self-Consciousness, are in fact one and the same. See again Hegel’s language at ¶166. 49


description of Skepticism, a shape that allegedly “exhibits the dialectical movement which Sensecertainty, Perception, and the Understanding each is” (¶203/3:160), a movement that at first appears to consciousness as something which has it at its mercy, and which does not have its source in consciousness itself. As Skepticism, on the other hand, it is a moment of self-consciousness, to which it does not happen that its truth and reality vanish without its knowing how, but which, in the certainty of its freedom, makes this ‘other’ which claims to be real, vanish. (¶204/3:160) In other words, Consciousness, too, experiences its object’s “loss” – but in spite of itself. For instance, Sense-Certainty comically interposes a universal This between itself and the world, so “losing” the latter by violating the sole rule it claimed to respect; and the Understanding’s object – quintessentially an unchanging beyond – is repeatedly “lost” as something existing independently of its appearance to cognition. But having rescinded the ideal of a passive, apprehending contact with the appearing world of external objects, Self-Consciousness is no longer embarrassed, but is positively empowered by its free “mediation” of reality. Hegel makes roughly this same point again in the Nüremberg “Phenomenology”: Self-Consciousness posits itself through negation of otherness and is practical Consciousness. If, therefore, in Consciousness proper, which also is called theoretical, the determinations of it and of the object altered themselves in-themselves, this now happens through the activity of Consciousness itself and for it. It is aware that this sublating activity belongs to it.52 The defining conviction of Self-Consciousness, then, and its celebrated but double-edged “native realm of truth” (¶166/3:138), is the nullity of its object. The enduring “appearance” of independence notwithstanding, this object is now essentially answerable to the designs of natural consciousness. On this view, we have observed, the object is its “being for another” (¶166/3:137), hence “for the I…is merely itself” (¶166/3:138) and “in-itself has no being” (¶167/3:139). In Chapter 4 I argued that the Introduction’s second gloss of the phenomenological “testing procedure” should be understood as an anticipation of this orientation. It is exactly Self

Hegel (1986b: 60/4:117-118). Note especially that, in the cited passage, Hegel is characterizing the entire orientation of Self-Consciousness, and not only the specific phase designated “Skepticism” in the Jena Phenomenology. I would suggest there is truth in Hegel’s revision.



Consciousness that “take[s] the essence, that is, the in-itself of the object, and designate it as the concept, and then in contrast understand[s] by object the concept as object, which is to say, the concept as it is for an other” (¶84/3:77). In this mode, I am convinced that what the object really is – its inner, authoritative, and intelligible “in itself” or “essence” – is my concept of that object, i.e. the given object taken as a prospective mirror of my will, design, or purpose. By contrast, the external “object” proper confronts me as a mere sensuous cover or appearance, something “for an other,” which both can and should be brought into conformity with its inner essence, viz. my concept of it. And once again, we will note that Hegel uses identical language when he recapitulates the terms of his testingprocedure at the opening of Self-Consciousness: [I]f we call concept what the object is in itself, but call the object what it is qua object for an other, then it is clear that being-in-itself and being-for-an-other are one and the same….[I]t is for consciousness that the in-itself of the object, and the being of the object for an other, are one and the same. (¶166/3:137) Hence all forms of experience launched from this “native realm of truth” share a world-subduing program that lasts until, in each case, the object’s insoluble “independence” is impressed upon SelfConsciousness via experience.53 The Externality of Theory and Practice: A Clarification In our discussion thus far, we have frequently equivocated between the “thought” and “behavior” of natural consciousness, suggesting the latter’s standpoint is external to its object in both respects. Yet this equivocation might give rise to a question. In cases of theoretical judgment, after all, transcendent or external critique has a relatively simple meaning: conventionally, the discursive, paradigmatically moral measurement of objects against non-indigenous “criteria.” But it is perhaps less clear what

“Self-consciousness, which is utterly for itself and which immediately marks its object with the character of the negative, that is, which is initially desire, will thus learn even more so from experience about this object’s self-sufficiency” (¶168/3:139-140).



practical externality might signify. In what respect precisely can behavior itself be accurately characterized in this way? In an article cited earlier, Gordon Finlayson provides an example that suggests a helpful answer to our question: “A criticism is a judgment, which may be implicit or explicit. It need not take the grammatical form ‘s is p’ and need not even be vocalized. Throwing a stone at the window of a bank, or burning a flag, are forms of judgment.”54 Now something like this thought was already implied in our revisionist reading of the phrase, “consciousness examines…its own self” (¶85/3:77). Indeed, our entire reconstruction of Hegel’s method, and specifically the trope of a self-concept’s enactment, was essentially dependent on the “symbolic” standing of conduct and action. If the act of deliberately shattering a bank window constitutes an implicit, un-verbalized judgment, so too, I have argued, do the diverse behaviors of natural consciousness, which practically expresses a conceptual self-understanding more or less remote from its explicit awareness. We claimed in the last chapter, for instance, that for Hegel the concrete, post-Lutheran behaviors and practices sequenced in “Reason” each give body to a judgment – “I=I” or “self-consciousness is all reality” – explicitly formulated and known only by philosophers. But this clarification means there is no real obstacle to our description of natural consciousness per se as an exemplar of external critique, in the modes of both theoretical cognition and practical behavior. No less than the “contemplative” shapes of Consciousness, the worldaltering posture first declared as Self-Certain Desire bears a conceptual structure that makes this “externalist” description appropriate and, in some ways, unavoidable. Just this posture, still discernable in the most developed activities and practices of natural consciousness, remains external to its object.


Finlayson (2014: 1144).


Self-Consciousness, Continued Human activities of every kind, then, are underwritten by frequently un-thematized conceptual commitments. 55 This is one way of approaching Hegel’s remark that, “in practice,” we are all idealists.56 For if the doctrine of idealism simply designates the “non-independence” of the object, then in every world-changing action the individual is implicitly behaving “idealistically,” or practically testifying to that non-independence.57 Again, Self-Certain Desire inaugurates a range of object-negating behaviors tacitly propelled by such a judgment: Certain of the nothingness of this other, it explicitly affirms that this nothingness is for it the truth of the other; it destroys the independent object and thereby gives itself the certainty of itself as a true certainty, a certainty which has become explicit for self-consciousness itself in an objective manner. (¶174/3:143) But here, the contrast between this “externalist” program and what we have been calling the “immanent critical” standpoint is already sufficiently clear. Disregarding appearance, or the semblance of integrity my object immanently “claims,” I impose the idealist concept-of-an-object – the “natural notion” – I have antecedently formed of it, namely, “the nothingness of this other.” We will observe in passing that this interpretation unites two poles of the persistently ambiguous term “appearance” [Erscheinung], which in the PhG alternately designates both (1) an unjustified, “bare assurance,”58 and (2) what something seems to be – above all to sense-experience – rather than what it essentially is.59 The Self-Conscious “certainty” that “the sensuous world is…a See Flay (1984: esp. 19-28) on the “putative praxical presuppositions” of consciousness. See also Chapter 3, above, for my interpretation of the distinction between (1) “natural consciousness” and (2) the “phenomenal knowing” which articulates and examines its conceptual foundations. 56 This idea is expressed at the end of “Sense-Certainty,” ¶109-¶110, and in the Philosophy of Right (2003: §44/7:106-107). And it is implied, as we saw in Chapter 4, in the Nüremberg “Phenomenology,” where Hegel postulates identities between realism and theory, on the one hand, and idealism and practice, on the other. 57 See also David Ciavatta’s articles, “Hegel on Desire’s Knowledge” (2008) and “Hegel on the Idealism of Practical Life” (2016) for other discussions of this thought. 58 In the Introduction, for example, Hegel claims that, “in coming on the scene, science is itself an appearance [eine Erscheinung], and as it comes on the scene, science has not yet itself been worked out in its truth in any extensive way” (¶76/3:71). 59 As I showed above, the sensuous object first has this significance in the chapter “Force and Understanding”: “The middle term, which merges together the two extreme terms (the understanding and the inner) is the developed being of 55


durable existence, which is, however, merely appearance, that is, a distinction which in-itself has no being,” should be grasped in both ways. For when as Desire I disregard the “apparent” independence of my object, in favor of an imputed “nullity,” I have handled that object as both (1) an unjustified claim, one that can then be met with my own “bare assurance,” and (2) something ontologically unreal, enclosing my own conception of it. But this means, again, that the shape of Self-Certain Desire is the Urphänomen of all transcendent critique, because it forcibly holds its living object to a “norm” – namely, its supposed dependence or nullity – that precisely does not obtain within that object. On the contrary, Hegel insists that the latter “presents itself to self-consciousness as an independent life” (¶174/3:143). Thus the abstract judgment sedimented in my destructive action is not one the object itself would credit or “recognize.” A touch of this violence arguably remains latent in all external critique, helping to








presuppositions that do not hold within it is behaving in a reactionary manner.”60 For these reasons, the idealist “homeland” of Self-Consciousness also remains a realm of untruth until it “learns from experience about the self-sufficiency of its object” (¶175/3:143).61 Of course, Desire’s stated “object” is evidently only non-human life, “a living thing” (¶168/3:139), or a “differentiated, merely living, shape” (¶176/3:144).62 For this reason, it is unclear whether the object’s putative “refusal to recognize” my external judgment exceeds the level of

force, which for the understanding is henceforth a vanishing. For that reason, it is called appearance [Es heißt darum Erscheinung], for being that is immediately in itself a non-being is what is called seeming-to-be” (¶143/3:116). 60 Adorno (1993: 146). 61 See again ¶168. As I have suggested several times now, the standpoint of Self-Consciousness is only the “homeland of truth” in the (comparatively) modest sense that the true terms of its testing-procedure are now in view. It now realizes – at least on some level – that the attainment of real knowledge will entail comparing, not its knowledge and a mind-independent truth-maker, but its self-conception with whatever “objectification” its realization brings. 62 The Nürenberg “Phenomenology” is even more explicit about the real ontological distinction between the objects at issue in these sections. Self-Consciousness is “Desire,” Hegel writes, “in so far as it is directed to other things” (1986b: 59/4:117), while it is “Master and Slave in so far as it is directed to another Self-Consciousness unlike itself” (1986b: 5960/4:117).


metaphor.63 By contrast, the subsequent struggle-to-death between two human beings can be grasped less metaphorically as a crude expression of “external” judgment – one that can be recognized or not. Here, too, Self-Consciousness “does not see the other as an essential being, but in the other sees its own self” (¶179/3:146), and hence feels impelled to “supersede this otherness of itself” (¶180/3:146).64 In such an abstractly antagonistic encounter, one self-consciousness again imposes its undiminished will – the orginary archetype of an external “criterion” – only now onto its human other, and vice versa. Interestingly enough, this is just how Robert Pippin reconstructs the categorial framework structuring this initial violent encounter, in which there is no non-question-begging criterion, or method, or procedure or standard by which such a contention can be resolved. Whatever one might count as the giving and asking for reasons might be counted by the other as the arbitrary expression of the other’s desire for success, as a mere instrumental ploy or strategy. So, Hegel reasons, the primitive expression of normative commitment, the only available realization (Verwirklichung) of the claim as a claim, is a risk of life itself.65 Though Pippin does not elaborate upon this “criterial” language, it is an apt characterization. The participants in this idealized confrontation do subsume one another under Desire’s external “judgment”: “For it, its essence and absolute object is ‘I’…What is ‘other’ for it is an unessential, negatively characterized object. But the ‘other’ for it is also a self-consciousness” (¶186/3:148). And just because this other is human, the subsumption becomes even more radical and comprehensive, a “movement of absolute abstraction” (¶186/3:148). At this stage, not only are the things that satisfy my contingent needs or purposes “abolished,” in order to validate my ground-norm or selfconception of Independence. In the mortal struggle with another Self-Consciousness, both nature within and without is subjected to this same action: “The presentation of itself…as the pure Though if, as Hegel ventures, “even animals” are instinctive idealists, “not shut out from this wisdom” (¶109/3:91), then perhaps their non-discursive resistance to human violence reflects an implicit judgment of their own. 64 “[I]ts essential being is present to it in the form of an ‘other,’ it is outside of itself and must rid itself of its selfexternality” (¶187/3:149). 65 Pippin (2011: 83). 63


abstraction of self consciousness consists in showing itself as the pure negation of its objective mode, or in showing that it is not attached to any specific existence” (¶187/3:148). The “behavior” correlative to this "self-presentation” is sacrificial, namely, exposing oneself to death and destroying one’s opponent. “[O]nly thus is it proved that for self-consciousness, its essential being is not [just] being, not the immediate form in which it appears” but, on the contrary, “that it is only pure beingfor-self” (¶187/3:149). I have repeatedly cited the shape of Pleasure as another illustration of this world-subduing program. This shape also “knows the other as its own selfhood” (¶362/3:272) and for this reason “sets itself on eliminating the form of its otherness” (¶362/3:271), regarded as an “essenceless façade” (¶362/3:271). But a number of other “characters” evince approximately the same instinct, and it is not too difficult to see how. So the shape that directly succeeds Pleasure, a so-called Lawful Heart, likewise imagines it is “confronted by a real world” (¶369/3:275), that is, “something other than what the concept is” (¶369/3:275), and so “directs its energies to getting rid of this necessity which contradicts the law of the heart” (¶370/3:276).66 But even the Kantian pattern of Law-Testing Reason attempts to externally subjugate ethical “givens” – erstwhile heteronomous commands – through the means of a formal procedure it identifies with its very self: Laws are no longer merely given laws; they are tested, and for the consciousness that is doing the testing, the laws have already been given…[I]t comes to a standstill in the face of the command as a command, and it equally conducts itself simply towards this command, since it is its criterion [Maßstab]. (¶428/3:317) Here again, Hegel’s terminology itself evidently validates this chapter’s major contention: that natural consciousness is continuously defined by a Maßstab that is external to, rather than drawn from, its object. On our reading, though, it is hardly accidental that the culminating shape of Reason In a way, the self-withdrawing orientation of Virtue has renounced this world-subduing program, and so is better conceived as a shape of “Consciousness,” in the broad sense On the other hand Virtue’s antagonist – the self-serving Weltlauf – is clearly marked out as a shape of Self-Consciousness: “In the way of the world, individuality…makes itself the essence and subordinates the good and the true in themselves to itself” (¶381/3:284).



self-consciously accedes to the “certainty” of a (tautological) testing “criterion” that applies universally, because externally, to any and all ethical deliverances: “Just because the criterion [Maßstab] is a tautology, and indifferent to the content, one content is just as acceptable to it as its opposite” (¶429/3:317).67 Demystification and the Genealogical Paradigm In the “Coda” to Part I, I cited genealogical analysis as an especially sophisticated version of the external standpoint. And I argued that, at least periodically, Hegel’s own procedure in the PhG verges on genealogy, so understood.68 Here we will recall Brandom’s description: [G]enealogical explanations concern the relations between the act or state of believing and the content that is believed. A genealogy explains the advent of a belief, in the sense of a believing, an attitude, in terms of contingencies of its etiology, appealing exclusively to facts that are not evidence, that do not provide reasons or justifications, for the truth of what is believed.69 Along these lines, Hegel’s own comments occasionally indicate that the real “truth” of natural consciousness resides in social-psychological conditions that are essentially external to the – consequently fictitious or mystified – beliefs it holds at every stage. This view is apparent, for instance, when Hegel allows himself the assertion that, “as a universal form of the world-spirit,” the shape of Stoicism “can only come on the scene in a time of universal fear and servitude which is, however, also a time of universal cultural development” (¶199/3:157-158). On any reasonable interpretation, of course, such a claim does not account for the Stoical attitude with reference to “evidence” or “justifications” that would validate or invalidate that attitude. Stoicism is rather explained, in Brandom’s words, “in terms of contingencies of its

Or again: “The criterion [Maßstab] of the law which reason possesses in itself therefore fits every case equally well and is thus in fact no criterion [Maßstab] at all” (¶430/3:319). In other words: the only legitimate “criterion” is one that is responsive to the object or “case” at issue. 68 There is a brief analysis of the PhG’s genealogical elements in Forster (2011: 237-238). 69 Brandom (2012: 4). 67


etiology.”70 In the present case, Hegel’s words precisely suggest that conditions of psychic distress foster or even cause the emergence of Stoic beliefs.71 Moreover, the true causes of these beliefs are effectively unknown to the believer herself. Indeed, after the dissolution of Sittlichkeit, Hegel again redescribes Stoicism as a kind of distorted representation – a “non-actual thought” – of an “actuality” now identified as Roman Legalism: “Personality…is the independence of consciousness, an independence which has actual validity. The non-actual thought of it which came from renouncing the actual world appeared earlier as the Stoical self-consciousness” (¶478/3:355-356). The theoretical implications of this dimension to the PhG were apparently visible to Hegel in the years that followed its publication. In the Encyclopedia Logic, for example, he recollects the PhG’s peculiar construction by evoking the same image we have encountered several times – a reality or process transpiring “behind the back” of natural consciousness – and investing it with far more emphatically genealogical significance: [The philosophical standpoint] presupposed the concrete shapes of consciousness such as morality, the ethical life, the arts, religion. Consequently, the development of the basic content of the objects of the distinctive parts of the philosophical science likewise falls within the development of consciousness, which at first seems to be restricted to a merely formal aspect. This development must so to speak take place behind consciousness's back insofar as the content (as what is in itself) relates to consciousness.72 On the interpretation we have already developed, based on materials from the Introduction and the larger body of the PhG, it is strictly speaking the “conversion” of one shape to another that for Hegel occurs “behind the back” of natural consciousness. (For just this reason, we have argued, consciousness is always forgetful of its “origination” out of a prior and opposing shape.) In this passage from the Encyclopedia, however, it is evidently social substance and its development – “concrete Later on, Brandom writes: “The normatively contingent character of any particular decision to apply or not to apply a particular concept is manifested in the fact that one always can explain any particular decision genealogically – in terms of “what the judge had for breakfast,” in the derisive slogan of jurisprudential theory” (2012: 17). 71 See Forster (1998: 464-468), where the PhG’s treatment of Stoicism, specifically, is taken to imply a type of “intellectual historicism,” or the position that “the general types of thought which have arisen during the course of history belong to and are explicable in terms of their specific social contexts” (1998: 464). 72 Hegel (2010b: §25/8:90). 70


shapes…such as morality, the ethical life, the arts, religion” – that is essentially unknown to consciousness. However, I have also claimed that this characterization is one-sided, at least as the final word concerning method in the PhG. More precisely, I claimed that the genealogical standpoint Hegel occasionally occupies does not replace, but merely follows and supplements, the extended immanent analysis that is independently undertaken.73 In other words, Hegel only belatedly – as an auxiliary – practices a demystifying “hermeneutics of suspicion” that, as Paul Ricoeur puts it, “look[s] upon the whole of consciousness primarily as ‘false’ consciousness.” 74 He must earn this demystifying standpoint by discharging the burden of “immanently” explaining, examining, and critiquing the shapes of natural consciousness. Thus, while Hegel unquestionably does disenchant Stoicism as a slave ideology – a withdrawal into the ether of thought under the duress of socio-political oppression – he is also careful to show how it nonetheless preserves the truth-content of Lordship and Bondage, while failing to realize itself as Skepticism. Here it will be useful to reiterate why the genealogical standpoint, so understood, should be perceived as an “external” one. An immanent standpoint, we will recall, directly addresses the concept or claim around which an interlocutor’s attitude implicitly centers. Specifically, one examines that concept or claim in terms of its own “enactment” – that evaluative standard ex hypothesi most compelling for the interlocutor herself. From the radical genealogical standpoint, by contrast, a norm’s enactment – its immanently generated “criterion,” as we have construed it – is

It is perhaps revealing, in light of this distinction, that Kojève assigns to Stoicism, Skepticism, and Unhappy Consciousness a merely ideological standing: “[B]efore realizing Freedom, the Slave imagines a series of ideologies, by which he seeks to justify himself, to justify his slavery, to reconcile the ideal of Freedom with the fact of Slavery” (1980: 53). Likewise, Jameson calls these shapes “various existential-metaphysical options on offer in the desolation of the Roman Empire” (2010: 14). If my interpretation is correct, these remarks are accurate but insufficient. For these “slave ideologies” are also shapes-of-consciousness that must be explicated and critiqued on their own terms, and not only on the terms of the historically informed reader who “knows better.” 74 Ricoeur (1970: 33). 73


entirely irrelevant to its “reality,” now conceived as a nexus of “blind causal processes.”75 The very prospect of a shape’s “self-consistency” simply does not matter. What does matter, i.e. what does fix the meaning and value of a concept, claim, or shape, is rather the set of circumstances that account for it. In this way, the genealogist bypasses any consideration of the claim-as-claim, in favor of identifying its (ostensibly exterior) conditions of possibility. In just this sense, genealogical procedure does not “immerse” itself in its object, but remains “beyond” it. Hegel’s famous words in the Preface are applicable here: [I]nstead of dealing with the subject matter [der Sache], such talk is always outside it; instead of abiding in the subject matter and forgetting itself in it, such knowledge always reaches out for something else and really remains preoccupied with itself instead of sticking to, and devoting itself to, the subject matter. (¶3/3:13) Yet if Hegel’s considered ideal of method can be protected against this particular charge of genealogical externality, the same defense cannot be made for natural consciousness itself. In what follows, then, we will review some of the major offenders, in order again to enrich our notion of external cognition, while strengthening our larger case that such externality is the preeminent vice of natural consciousness. Enlightenment as Genealogy In the paper by Brandom we’ve cited, it is the character of the “moral valet” (¶665/3:489), introduced at the close of the “Spirit” chapter, which typifies genealogical reductionism, a standpoint that denies the very existence of normativity.


On this account, the base,

“niederträchtig” disclosure of objectionable motives behind the most high-minded, unobjectionable actions and professions, is something like the prototype of radical genealogy. So Brandom writes: “Here Brandom (2012: 3). Brandom describes the “radical” conception of genealogy as follows: “[O]ne can take it that what the genealogists dug down to is not just causes distorting our reasons, but causes masquerading as reasons. When what we fondly believe to be reasons are unmasked, all that remains is blind causal processes” (2012: 3). Later in the essay, Brandom cites the “moral valet” as exemplary: “The hero is a hero insofar as he acts according to the norms that articulate his duty. The valet views what the hero does genealogically, in resolutely nonnormative, reductive terms” (2012: 17-18).

75 76


Hegel, writing in 1806, before the advent of the great unmaskers of the dawning nineteenth century, acknowledges that every application of a norm is in principle liable to a naturalistic, genealogical explanation.”77 However, while the shape of a moral valet is certainly a pertinent example in this context, there are arguably other, more illuminating precedents for the “genealogical program” of natural consciousness. The basic gestures of “disenchantment” are by now familiar to us from our discussions of Understanding and Observing Reason. These shapes were eager to fossilize their objects – first changing “appearances,” then “life” and “spirit” generally – as fixed magnitudes. Phrenology, in particular, is probably the first shape to radically mistrust and contest the reality of normativity as such.78 This mistrust is evident in its attempt to lawfully reduce the “inner,” selfconscious spirit, to its immediately sensible “outer,” or what is most emphatically non-spiritual: [T]he opposition which is at issue here has for its elements the individuality which is conscious of itself and the abstraction of an externality [Äußerlichkeit] that has become entirely a thing – that inner being of spirit interpreted as a fixed, spiritless being standing in opposition to that kind of being. (¶340/3:357)79 These grand gestures – the reduction of what changes to what does not; the “interpretation” of selfdetermining spirit as “a fixed, spiritless being” – already contain the rudiments of all disenchanting analysis. Yet we must look further ahead for examples of genealogy proper: roughly speaking, the program of actively debunking beliefs as illusory “projections,” the real causes of which are allegedly obscure to, or hidden from, the believer herself. Such a program is best represented by the figures of Pure Insight and, to an even greater degree, Enlightenment, whose “object” – Faith – is purportedly mired in irrational superstitions and anthropomorphic projections. Brandom (2012: 17-18). Presumably, this radical mistrust is the basis of Hegel’s comment that “this last stage of observing reason is its very worst, and for that reason its complete reversal is necessary” (¶340/3:258). 79 Or again: “[O]bservation finally…goes back to hard and fast being. In terms of its concept, it expresses externality as the outer immediate actuality of spirit, neither in the sense of an organ, nor as a language or a sign, but in the sense of a dead thing” (¶343/3:259). 77 78


Indeed, Hegel’s descriptions constantly cast the disenchanting activiy of this mind as the very soul of “external” Ideologiekritik: “Enlightenment distorts faith in all its moments and makes those moments into something quite different from what they are within faith” (¶563/3:417). In terms of the language we used a moment ago, such “criticism” does not address itself to the foundational concept or claim of its Faithful opponent, still less to the immanent “enactment” of these native elements. On the contrary, it systematically ignores these elements in favor of conditions exogenous to Faith.80 In fact, Enlightenment’s judgments invariably conform to its own criteria of truth: [Enlightenment] knows faith to be opposed to itself and thus opposed to reason and truth. Just as in its eyes faith is on the whole a tissue of superstitions, prejudices, and errors, the consciousness of this content is in its own eyes further organized into a realm of errors in which false insight, as the universal social sphere of consciousness, is immediate, naive, and completely without any reflective turn into itself. (¶542/3:401) More specifically, Enlightenment ridicules Faith for a set of superstitious behaviors, including its devotion to the “projection” of a supersensible essence, its ritualistic use of cultic objects, and its symbolic – hence allegedly hypocritical – sacrificial displays. Perhaps most intriguingly, for our purposes, is Hegel’s claim that a nearly paranoid skepticism accompanies these gestures: the suspicion that Faith has been deceived by the self-serving fabrications of the priesthood, in close alliance with political despotism (¶542/3:401-402). On this view, God is an invention of the human imagination, “a being of faith’s own consciousness…something generated by consciousness” (¶549/3:406),81 while in its relation to the crucifix and Eucharist, Faith “anthropomorphizes the essence and makes it objective and representable” (¶552/3:409). Finally, it substitutes nominal renunciations of selfhood – in fasting and almsgiving – for their complete realization (¶556/3:411-413). Yet as we have emphasized, the Houlgate perceives this characteristic of Enlightenment very well: “The problem with insight, from faith’s perspective, is that it does not enter into and understand faith’s perspective. All insight can see in faith is a failure of insight into the nature of faith itself; but this blinds insight to faith’s own point of view” (2013: 159). 81 And again: “the Enlightenment isolates the pure moment of activity and declares faith’s in-itself to be merely something produced by consciousness. However, the isolated activity opposed to the in-itself is a contingent activity, and, as an activity of representational thought, it is an engendering of fictions – representations that do not exist in themselves. This is the way in which the Enlightenment regards the content of faith” (¶566/3:419-420). 80


tenability of these sorts of criticism rests on an ignorance or repudiation of Faith’s own conceptions – the determinate grasp it has of itself and its world. Instead, Faith’s beliefs and behavior are measured against Enlightenment’s “criterion” of the Sache selbst, i.e. an essentially materialist worldview that its interlocutor simply does not recognize: But it already does wrong to faith when it apprehends the object of faith as if faith’s object were insight’s own object. Accordingly, it says of faith that its absolute essence is a piece of stone, a block of wood with eyes that do not see, or else that it is something made of breaddough obtained from the field, which, when transformed by men, is then returned there. Or when it says in whatever other ways that faith anthropomorphizes the essence and makes it objective and representable. (¶552/3:409) Indeed, Hegel is explicit that this shape has reverted, dogmatically, to the long-sublated stage of Sense-Certainty. Only from this external “point of view,” Hegel observes, do the activities of Faith appear in such an unbecoming light: [T]he Enlightenment here turns what to spirit is eternal life and the holy ghost into a transitory thing, and it besmirches it with the point of view of sense-certainty, which is in-itself negative – with a point of view which is simply not available to faith in its acts of worship. (¶553/3:409)82 Hence this shape imposes its “Enlightened” concept-of-an-object or “natural notion” onto its opponent and intellectual environment more generally. The medium it “diffuses” and re-arranges is the realm of picture-thinking, Faith’s “household.” In all of this, it matters that the specific “object” Enlightenment attempts to disenchant is not the falling stone, nor is it the “inner” of an individual human mind, as in the cases of Understanding and Observing Reason. Enlightenment’s object is rather an opposing worldview. Generally speaking, previous forms of “externalism” have opposed individual “others” – both human and non-human. This shape, however, methodically turns its conceptual instruments against the universal standpoint of an intellectual antagonist: namely, the dogma of Faith. One shape of natural consciousness fully confronts another.

Or again: “In its approach to what, for faith, is absolute Spirit, it interprets any determinateness it discovers there as wood, stone, etc., as particular, real things…[I]n this way it grasps in general every determinateness, i.e. all content and filling, as something finite, as a human entity and [mere] idea” (¶557/3:413).



In the “Spirit” chapter as a whole, in fact, the “objects” of natural consciousness are straightforwardly other standpoints and forms-of-life more generally. Part of Hegel’s argument seems to be that the “object” of natural consciousness is all along a social Sache selbst.83 I will merely add that, as the book’s numerous opponents do battle in increasingly refined, spiritualized forms – master and slave, stoic and skeptic, virtue and the Weltlauf, Antigone and Creon, honest and base consciousness, faith and enlightenment, actor and judge – the true significance of inhabiting an “external” standpoint is gradually revealed to natural consciousness itself. On the Externality of Morality I would like to conclude this chapter by commenting on the third and final section of the “Spirit” chapter, in which Hegel examines a form-of-life called simply “Morality.” Significantly, this section documents the last proper experience of natural consciousness in the PhG as a whole. 84 If our central hypothesis is correct, then, we might expect to find the “externality” trope thematized in an especially clear way, so verifying the over-arching importance we have ascribed to it. Since “Morality” itself roughly divides into two major sub-sections – entitled the “Moral Worldview” and “Conscience” – I will sketch the peculiar forms of external judgment characterizing each shape in turn.

The following passage from the middle of “Die Sittlichkeit” provides fairly robust evidence for this hypothesis: “In this content of the ethical world, we see that the purposes which the previous substanceless shapes of consciousness [i.e. the shapes of Reason] had set for themselves are now achieved. What reason merely apprehended as an object has become self-consciousness, and what self-consciousness merely possessed within itself is here on hand as true actuality. – What observation knew as something it merely came upon, and in which the self would have had no share, is here a set of given mores, an actuality which is at the same time the deed and work of those who are finding themselves in it” (¶460/3:339). This feature of Hegel’s argument relieves the remaining awkwardness of comparing (1) our attitude to natural consciousness with (2) natural consciousness’ attitude to its object. For if this interpretation is correct, both ultimately involve the attitude of cognition to another standpoint. The so-called “other” of spirit is in both cases fundamentally spirit. 84 Apart from recapitulating, as a complementary religious history, the same sequence already unfolded in “Spirit,” the “Religion” chapter is conspicuously lacking in “experience” of the sort we find in all previous sections. Inasmuch, then, as this chapter features neither “natural consciousness” nor its “immanent self-inversions,” it has been excluded from our study. In a recent article, Hans-Friedrich Fulda asks “whether any factual reasons render the absence of conscious experience in the chapter on religion uncontroversial for what follows” (2008: 39). 83


The Moral Worldview In fact, Hegel’s portrait of the Kantian Moral Worldview comes as close as anything in the book to critical theory’s long-held conception of a quintessentially “transcendent” critique. For it is precisely definitive of “moralizing” critique, so understood, that it condemn its object – an attitude, behavior, institution, or social world – on behalf of an ineffectual “mere ought” that has no essential basis in, or hold on, that object.85 Among Hegel’s political writings, the structure of this criticism is perhaps best known from the Philosophy of Right’s insistence that “philosophy is…the comprehension of the present and the actual, not the setting up of a world beyond which exists God knows where.”86 Further, this is essentially how Moishe Postone chooses to formalize the substance and weakness of transcendent critique, in a passage we first considered in Chapter 1: “[A]n immanent critique does not judge critically what "is" from a conceptual position outside of its object – for example, a transcendent "ought." Instead, it must be able to locate that "ought" as...a possibility immanent to the existent society.”87 In the PhG itself, however, we may link Hegel’s attack on the “mere ought” directly with his commitment to an idiosyncratic version of empiricist orthodoxy. Hegel’s bedrock conviction that “consciousness knows and comprehends nothing but what lies within its experience”(¶36/3:38), repeatedly compels him – as in “Observing Reason” – to disavow “intellectual fantasies [die Gedankendinge] which merely ought to be [nur sein sollen], and which, as what ought to be, are suppose to be true even if they have never been encountered in any experience at all” (¶249/3:192).88 See the accounts in Buchwalter (1991) and, more recently, Geuss (2008: 8). Hegel (2003: 20/7:24). In the German Ideology, Marx and Engels will impugn moral “idealism” in much the same way, albeit with a markedly different emphasis: “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (1978: 162). 87 Postone (1993: 87-88). 88 Hegel will likewise insist in the chapter “Absolute Knowing” that “it must be said that nothing is known that is not in experience” (¶802/3:585). Compare also the “Natural Law” essay’s interesting discussion of “experience,” as it figures in philosophy, where Hegel writes: “The reason why philosophy can point to its ideas in experience is directly attributable to the ambiguous nature of what is known as experience. For it is not immediate intuition itself, but intuition raised to an intellectual level, conceived by thought and explained, divested of its singularity, and expressed as a necessity, which counts as experience” (1999: 165/2:511-512). 85 86


Notably, these formulations clarify that Hegel does not scorn the “ought” as such, but rather a mere ought that does not, and cannot, appear. 89 Never, that is, does Hegel seriously contest the various action-guiding “ideals” that can and do justifiably govern human conduct across life spheres. Hence in the context of the section we are considering, Hegel’s target is rather a specifically Kantian “ought” that remains entirely extrinsic to the “object.” In other words, the “ought” that figures in the “Moral Worldview” is utterly and in principle unrealizable by that natural consciousness addressed by it. In particular, Hegel critiques a natural consciousness whose noumenal “greatest good” is postulated as both necessary and impossible. The self-understanding of this consciousness – which “knows duty to be the absolute essence” (¶599/3:442) and identifies with it as “its own pure consciousness” (¶599/3:442) – strictly entails that all “otherness,” i.e. all “nature” within and without, is “a reality completely without significance for consciousness” (¶599/3:443), “a nature…which is indifferent to moral self-consciousness” (¶599/3:443). As something thoroughly divested of moral significance, that is, such “otherness” may be “left completely free by selfconsciousness” (¶599/3:443). And yet it is nonetheless obvious that, if moral duty is really the “essence,” there can be no “otherness” to it. In fact, nature must ultimately answer to moral duty, or must become dependent upon it. From these “entirely conflicting presuppositions” (¶600/3:443)90 there necessarily follow two, irreconcilable moral demands: to (1) unify or “harmonize” consciousness and nature (via successful moral action and the happiness that certifies it), such that nature’s dependence on duty is confirmed, and (2) indefinitely postpone such a unification, which would only undermine the basis of “What ought to be is also in fact what is, and what only should be, but is not, has no real truth” (¶249/3:192). In other words, the Moral Worldview cannot decide whether “nature” is something entirely independent of, or entirely dependent on, itself: “Lying at the basis of this relation is the complete indifference and the self-sufficiency of both nature and of moral purposes and activities with respect to each other, and, on the other side of the coin, there is the consciousness of the sole essentiality of duty and of the complete non-self-sufficiency and inessentiality of nature” (¶600/3:443).

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autonomous morality so conceived (i.e. as something entirely independent of, and indifferent to, its object). As Hegel writes: But in that harmony, morality as consciousness vanishes, that is, its actuality vanishes in the way that in moral consciousness, that is, actuality, its harmony vanishes. For that reason, the culmination is not actually to be reached. Instead, it is to be thought of merely as an absolute task [nur als eine absolute Aufgabe], which is to say, a task which remains purely and simply a task. (¶603/3:447) On Hegel’s account, the so-called “postulates” of practical reason are simply strategies for projecting these contradictions into the “dark remoteness of the infinite [der dunkeln Ferne der Unendlichkeit] to which the attainment of the end consequently has to be postponed” (¶603/3:447).91 It is the “mere ought” inseparable from these conceptions and activities that Hegel finally ridicules: “[I]t is in itself the unity of duty and actuality; this unity thus becomes in its eyes the object as perfected morality – however, as an other-worldly beyond [Jenseits] of its actuality – but an other-worldly beyond that nonetheless ought to be actual [wirklich]” (¶614/3:452). In this way, Hegel presents the Moral Worldview, captive to an infinitely postponed Sollen, as a very late refinement of the Unhappy Consciousness, whose attitude to the Unchangeable was likewise both self-mortifying and sophistical. Earlier, that is, the penitent self incessantly pursued “the unattainable other-worldly beyond [Jenseits] which, in the act of being seized, escapes” (¶217/3:169). Now, in the case of the Moral Worldview, “for the sake of acting, i.e., for the sake of the actual harmony of purpose and actuality, this harmony is posited as not actual, as an other-worldly beyond” (¶618/3:455).92 In both cases, the very premise of “approaching” the transcendent illustrates the absurdity of an infinite “task,” or a goal whose definition excludes reaching it.93 More to the point, These are “contradictions lying in a task which is both to remain a task and which is yet to be fulfilled, and in a morality which is not any more supposed to be consciousness and not any more supposed to be actual” (¶603/3:447). 92 Again: “It is thus even more so merely the in-between state of imperfection which counts, a state that nonetheless is supposed to be at least progress towards perfection. Yet it also cannot be this progress, for progress in morality would really be an approach towards its own downfall” (¶623/3:458). 93 Conversely, it illustrates the Introduction’s programmatic thesis that, if our efforts are to yield anything at all, the truth must be “with” natural consciousness from its inception and at all times: “[T]he absolute itself would nonetheless almost 91


for our purposes, these orientations embody forms of especially severe external judgment. For they measure sensuous behavior and concrete action according to exacting, pure, supersensible standards that cannot possibly be met.94 Or, as Hegel himself felicitously summarizes it, the benighted Moral Worldview is a “consciousness of pure duty” that “give[s] itself an empty criterion [Maßstab]…opposed to actual consciousness” (¶634/3:466). The Judging Conscience The chimerical ideal of non-dischargeable moral purity implied in the application of such an “empty criterion” – a “mere ought” that cannot and must not logically be met by sensuous, mortal creatures – becomes explicit in the figure of conscientious judgment. As we noted above, Brandom takes the Judge for a prototype of radical genealogy: the niederträchtig drive to locate non-moral motives behind even the most unimpeachable actions. Without diminishing this aspect, though, I’d like rather to underscore the continuity of the Judge’s moral severity with the preceding Kantian shape. This emphasis will allow us to perceive the enduring “externality” of the Judge’s hard-hearted criticisms vis-à-vis his “object”: the conscientious Actor he condemns. Before analyzing this concluding episode of the PhG, though, I would like to briefly draw attention to material from Hegel’s Spirit of Christianity essay, which contains an early portrait of external moral critique, understood along exactly these lines. Consider, specifically, the following passage, reproduced at length, which combines a prescient analysis of moral “conscience” with the language of “judgment” and external “criteria”: To conscience, the consciousness of one's own dutifulness or undutifulness, there corresponds the application of the laws to others in judgment. "Judge not," says Jesus, "that ye be not judged; for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged." This subsumption surely cast scorn on this ruse [i.e. of epistemology] if it were not both in and for itself already there with us and wanted to be there” (¶73/3:69). 94 “However, the purpose of reason as the all-comprehensive universal purpose, is nothing less than the whole world itself, a final end which goes far beyond the content of this individual action and thus is to be placed altogether beyond all actual acting. Because the common good ought to be put into practice, nothing good is done” (¶619/3:455).


[Subsumieren] of others under a concept manifested in the law may be called a weakness on the ground that the judge is not strong enough to bear up against them altogether but divides them; he cannot hold out against their independence; he takes them not as they are but as they ought to be; and by this judgment he has subjected them to himself in thought, since the concept, the universality, is his. But with this judging he has recognized a law and subjected himself to its bondage [Knechtschaft], has set up for himself also a criterion of judgment [ein Maß des Richtens]; and with the loving disposition which leads him to remove the mote from his brother's eye he has himself fallen under the realm of love.95 Now it seems to me that this passage reflects several significant characteristics of Hegel’s view during this early phase of his intellectual development – characteristics that are equally evident in the PhG itself. We will observe that external judgment – the act of evaluating other human beings “not as they are but as they ought to be” – issues from a domineering, lordly disposition. Conscience “subsumes” its object “under a concept manifested in the law,” because the “application of the laws to others in judgment” is precisely a means of “subject[ing] them to himself in thought.” Relatedly, I would suggest that this passage implicitly flags one distinctly ethical motivation for, and import of, Hegelian immanent critique generally. For the Introduction’s descriptions of internal and external “criteria” (the analysis of which inaugurated this study), are here prefigured by a conscience which “sets up” an external “criterion of judgment,” only to find the severity of its judgment rebounding simultaneously on itself. For the Hegel of the Spirit of Christianity, at least, the alternative to taking others “not as they are but as they ought to be” amounts to nothing less than bringing oneself and the other “under the realm of love.” At this stage, in other words, “love” is synonymous with grasping the internal “criterion” that the other is.

Hegel (1975: 222-223/1:335). The language in this passage is neither accidental nor exceptional. Indeed, not long afterwards Hegel will reiterate at length the same image of “external” judgment: “Apart from the personal hatred which springs from the injury befalling the individual and which strives to bring to fulfillment the right against the other to which the situation gives rise, apart from this hatred there is also the righteous man's rage, a hating rigorous dutifulness, which must needs rage not over an injury to his individuality but over an injury to his intellectual conceptions, i.e., to the commands of duty. By discerning and laying down the rights and duties of others, and by judging others accordingly and so exhibiting their subjection to these duties and rights, this righteous hatred imposes these same standards on itself. In its righteous wrath against those who transgress these, it sets up a fate for them and does not pardon them; but thereby it has taken from itself the possibility of being pardoned for its own sins, of being reconciled with a fate which they would bring on it, for it has fixed specific standards which do not permit it to soar above its real situation, i.e., above its sins” (1975: 237/1:352).



A decade later, Hegel clearly echoes this figure in the final section of “Spirit,” profiling much the same “insistence on the part of the universal consciousness that it make its own judgment” (¶663/3:487). At this late point in Hegel’s narrative, the titular “conscientious” self has polarized into an Actor and a Judge, each of whom asserts immediate, unshakable possession of the moral “essence.” While from the Actor’s perspective, its “certainty of itself is the essence vis-à-vis the in-itself or vis-à-vis the universal” (¶660/3:485) – i.e. the publicly established norms pervading his community – the Judge represents precisely “the element of existence or universal consciousness, for which the essential being is rather universality, duty” (¶660/3:485). This Judge “holds firmly to duty” (¶660/3:485) and, perceiving the Actor’s non-compliance with “universal” standards of good conduct, accuses him of evil. Further, suspecting that the declaration of “conscience” is a self-interested ruse, the Judge also calls the Actor a hypocrite. The Actor protests these accusations, “declar[ing] that what the [Judge] expresses as wickedness…is instead an action according to inner law and conscience” (¶662/3:486), but the Judge “neither believes his assurance [Versicherung] nor gives him any recognition” (¶662/3:486). In the language we have repeatedly used, then, the Judge refuses to accept the self-understanding of the conscientious Actor – his professed “inner law and conscience” – as a basis for communication and assessment, but merely replies with his own “bare assurance.”96 For this reason, in the course of Hegel’s analysis, it emerges that this Judge is nothing but the self depicted in the Preface that, abstractly spurning all opposing standpoints, “tramples the roots of humanity underfoot” (¶69/3:65). For this consciousness, too, “repels this community from itself; it is the hard heart which exists for itself and which rejects any continuity with the other” (¶667/3:490).

In this connection, Houlgate writes the following: “the judge knows that the agent fails to do what the judge thinks duty requires, but he has no grounds for denying that the agent himself is convinced that his actions are dutiful…[C]onscience is self-certifying, so if the agent declares himself convinced of his goodness, the judge cannot prove otherwise” (2013: 171).



But I would add that the underlying correspondence between this section and the earlier Spirit of Christianity is also unmistakable. The conscience that, in the passage from the Spirit essay, construes others “not as they are but as they ought to be” and thus “has subjected them to himself in thought, since the concept, the universality, is his” – this same character appears in the PhG as the “consciousness of the universal…[which] remains in the universality of thought, behaves as a consciousness that apprehends, and its first action is merely one of judgment” (¶664/3:487). In the earlier essay, “the judge is not strong enough to bear up against them [i.e. the condemned] altogether but divides them; he cannot hold out against their independence,” while in the PhG, “the judgmental consciousness is…base because it divides up the action, and it both produces and clings to the action’s non-selfsameness with itself” (¶666/3:489). Where the Spirit essay’s domineering conscience subsumes his “other” – the criminal – “under a concept manifested in the law,” the Judge, “in the vanity it has in being such a faultfinder…places itself far above the deeds it excoriates, and it wants to know that its speech…is to be taken as a superior actuality (¶666/3:489). Lastly, the Spirit essay’s conscientious self, who in the very act of subordinating the criminal “to himself in thought,” likewise “has set up for himself also a criterion of judgment” – in the PhG this shape becomes a judging consciousness whose “base” and “hypocritical” verdicts stamp him with the same exact defects that characterize his interlocutor, “thereby bringing itself to selfsameness with the agent about whom it is so judgmental” (¶666/3:489). Taken together, these traits delineate a shape that persists in judging its object against “external” measures of evaluation. Such a shape, we have seen, conceives others “not as they are but as they ought to be.” Further, it measures concrete human deeds and conduct against a “pure duty” that could never be discharged even in principle since, in Hegel’s words, “duty for duty’s sake, this pure purpose, is the non-actual” (¶665/3:489). Perhaps most damningly, the external criteria that this Judge applies are precisely not the objective, “universally recognized” norms it affects; on the


contrary, “in making such a judgment, it is appealing to its own law in the same way that the evil consciousness appealed to its own law. This is so because the former law comes on the scene in opposition to the latter, and as a result it comes on the scene as a particular law” (¶663/3:487). I submit that, in a quite novel way, these characteristics help elucidate the stiff-necked Judge, whose hard heart must logically break in order for “absolute spirit” finally to make its appearance in the PhG. In this interpretive light, this concluding shape can be perceived as the most austere dramatization of transcendent critique that Hegel constructs.



Raymond Geuss’s seminal The Idea of a Critical Theory begins with a helpful gloss on critical theory’s distinctive features and virtues, at least according to its principal exponents from Horkheimer to Habermas. On Geuss’s account, reproduced below, the members of the Frankfurt School implicitly hold three major “theses” regarding the essential structure of a critical theory: 1. Critical theories have a special standing as guides for human action, in that: a. they are aimed at producing enlightenment in the agents who hold them, i.e. at enabling those agents to determine what their true interests are; b. they are inherently emancipatory, i.e. they free agents from a kind of coercion which is at least partly self-imposed, from self-frustration of conscious human action. 2. Critical theories have cognitive content, i.e. they are forms of knowledge. 3. Critical theories differ epistemologically in essential ways from theories in the natural sciences. Theories in natural science are ‘objectifying’; critical theories are ‘reflective.’1 Notably, although Geuss’s study is overwhelmingly dedicated to elucidating the forms of Ideologiekritik propounded in the Western Marxist tradition, he nonetheless suggests at once that this broad characterization of critical theory is capacious enough to include the project of Freudian psychoanalysis, as well. In Geuss’s words, “the ‘critical theory of society’ which supposedly arose from the work of Marx” is merely “one purported instance of a critical theory.”2 On this more encompassing reckoning, the theories of Marx and Freud exhibit such strong similarities in their essential epistemic structure that from a philosophical point of view they don’t represent two different kinds of theory, but merely two instances of a single new type. The general name given to this new type of theory of which Marxism and psychoanalysis are the two main instances is ‘critical theory.’3 Geuss (1981: 1-2). Geuss (1981: 2). 3 Geuss (1981: 1). 1 2


Regrettably, Geuss does not elaborate very much upon this provocative suggestion in his book, aside from the occasional reference or illustration in passing. Yet his decision to confidently broaden the definition of critical theory to omit mention of such seemingly constitutive elements as class struggle and oppression, or even a broadly “materialist” worldview, opens up an intriguing possibility for our study.4 For I would submit that, as they stand, these three “theses” apply equally well to the Hegelian form of “critique” constructed in this dissertation. Actually, there is more robust support than the example of Freudian psychoanalysis for our hypothesis that this account of critical theory might be extended in a Hegelian direction. Just a few years ago, in a paper reflecting on the origin, content, and legacy of The Idea of a Critical Theory, Geuss strikingly confessed that “Hegel…is the major spiritual presence hovering over this book…whose work is the more important for understanding what I was trying to do for not being mentioned at all in the main text.”5 Again, regrettably, the implications of this confession go entirely undeveloped in Geuss’s retrospective account. Nonetheless, I will attempt to show that his “theses” on critical theory are in some respects the most natural, illuminating way of recapitulating the major conclusions we have now reached regarding the PhG’s method, its object, and their mutual implication. Let us briefly specify, then, how a Hegelian critical theory might support or instantiate each of the Frankfurt School theses in turn. Thesis 1: Enlightenment and Emancipation The first thesis is that critical theories enjoy “a special standing as guides for human action,” which for Geuss entails two, practically-transformative properties: they facilitate (1) “enlightenment in the agents who hold them,” specifically by delivering insight into their rational “interest,” and (2) See Geuss (1981: 73-74), however, for a discussion of several disanalogies between Marxian Ideologiekritique and Freudian psychoanalysis (together, presumably, with the Hegelian critical theory we have constructed). 5 Geuss (2016: 79). The essay, “The Idea of a Critical Theory. Forty Years On,” is an English version of Geuss’s Preface to the 2014 Chinese translation of The Idea of a Critical Theory. 4


“emancipation,” by liberating agents from self-incurred “coercion,” or “from self-frustration of conscious human action.” Let us suppose that anyone who reads and grasps Hegel’s book is at least potentially the sort of “agent” addressed by this first thesis. On the basis of what we’ve claimed in previous chapters, how might the PhG be construed as a ‘guide for action,’ and in the two senses Geuss discriminates? In other words, how exactly might fully comprehending the PhG yield both “enlightenment” and (an inseparable) “emancipation” for a prospective reader? Much will depend, as we have suggested, on how precisely “enlightenment” is to be understood in this context. After all, no commentator could reasonably dispute that the PhG – or any other philosophical or even scientific text, for that matter – is meant to “enlighten” its reader. At this point we should note that, later in his account, Geuss will clarify that each “thesis” partly receives its meaning, and presumably its value, from a broad contrast between “critical” and “scientific” theories. 6 So, in the present case, whereas a critical theory facilitates emancipationcatalyzing reflection, a scientific theory is only “instrumentally useful,” allowing its addressee to better cope, practically, with her environment. To begin, then, a critical theory must “enlighten” us with more than some practically useful information about our world. Yet it would not suffice, either, to sharpen the category of “enlightenment” into the narrower function of, say, “enlarging or correcting the reader’s selfunderstanding,” since a treatise such as Spinoza’s Ethics arguably accomplishes this in equal measure, without, presumably, making it a foundational text of critical theory.7 For this reason, we must

Geuss (1981: 55-56). In his essay “Hegel’s Image of Phenomenology,” Harris assigns the PhG to another literary “genre” altogether: “[I]f Hegel’s Phenomenology is…modeled on the image of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, then we can say what kind of book it is after all. Just as Spinoza’s Ethics is philosophy modeled on a geometry book, so Hegel’s Phenomenology is philosophy modeled on a manual of devotional discipline” (1993: 73).

6 7


ultimately show how the sort of “enlightenment-production” at stake in the PhG consists more specifically in, as Geuss phrases it, “enabling…agents to determine what their true interests are.”8 Our major argument in Part I was that Hegel enables the reader to “account” for herself via the dual-mechanism of immanent critique. By holding her object, natural consciousness, against its “criterial” conduct, thus pursuing the first definition of immanent critique, the reader is gradually brought to “self-reflexivity,” thus achieving a version of the second definition. In this way, Hegel enlarges his reader’s “self-understanding” in a quite specific way: she both perceives that her own concepts have “evolved” from the collapse of earlier ones, and exposes those same concepts to examination, and potentially transformation, as component-parts of natural consciousness and herself. If Hegel’s text does contribute to the reader’s “enlightenment,” then, it is by nurturing self-reflexivity so understood. Now we may ask: what is the relation between this self-reflexivity and the heightened capacity to apprehend one’s true “interest”? Owing to the sheer diversity of shapes treated by Hegel, hence the number of distinct “rational pathologies” occluding spirit’s practical pursuit of “rational interest,” our answer to this question must be quite schematic.9 Very formally, though, we can say: the via negativa of natural consciousness has a uniformly chastening effect upon the pure-onlooker.10 The PhG is restricted to negating those notions that, “abstractly” embraced, bring ruin to the enactor – both natural consciousness and the empirical reader, inasmuch as she evinces the shape in question. (This is perhaps once place to recall Hegel’s pointed admonition in his Lectures on the

Geuss (1981: 1-2). Today this expression is closely associated with the work of Axel Honneth, who in his short work The Pathologies of Individual Reason briefly gestures toward the PhG in precisely these terms: “[I]t is above all The Phenomenology of Spirit that may be understood as a critique, motivated by the diagnosis of the age, of...modern forms of consciousness, or restricted models of freedom, with all their pathological consequences” (2010: 29ft). 10 See Comay (2011) and Shklar (1976) for accounts emphasizing the experiences of “mourning” and “tragedy,” respectively, that attend this “observation.” 8 9


History of Philosophy: “To make abstractions hold in reality is to destroy reality.”11) At the same time, it is neither surprising nor regrettable that Hegel constructs no alternative, “positive” spiritual selfconception in lieu of these assorted pathologies. For such an attempt – propounding a selfconception that delivers on the “true interests” of spirit, where others result in frustration – would precisely be an exercise in utopian, “transcendent” critique. Thus if a Hegelian critical theory does “enlighten” its reader in the narrow sense, and apprises that reader of her “true interest,” it does so by drawing attention to the irrationality of selfconceptions driving the – in Geuss’s words – “self-frustration of conscious human action.”12 It is confined to dislodging (predominantly modern) natural notions that immanently fail to satisfy the true interests of natural consciousness. Again, the “false” interests gripping Hegel’s reader are as potentially variegated as the many “ideologies” she observes. But in every instance of effective critique, what presents itself as an orientation furthering rational self-interest is disclosed as one form, among others, of self-inflicted violence.13 Finally, we can now say that the “emancipation” at stake for Hegel’s reader coincides with the dissolution, for her, of any and all abstract self-conceptions tied to contradictory conduct. We proposed early on that any such self-conception can be “realized” only through a practice that inverts and violates it. But for this reason, the PhG promises a relief from human suffering – at least of the kind reducible to deluded normative beliefs – as comprehensive as the book itself.

Hegel (1896: 425/20:331). “Abstraktionen in der Wirklichkeit geltend machen, heißt Wirklichkeit zerstören.” The specific context in the Lectures for this wonderfully suggestive phrase is, unsurprisingly, a description of the French Revolution. Yet I have attempted to show that every shape of natural consciousness has a touch of fanaticism, a drive to impose and make good on some abstract self-conception – come what may. 12 In Geuss (1981: 1-2). 13 From the Introduction: “Thus consciousness suffers this violence at its own hands: it spoils its own limited satisfaction” (¶81/3:74). 11


Thesis 2: Forms of Knowledge As Geuss states it, the second thesis is comparatively spare: “Critical theories have cognitive content, i.e. they are forms of knowledge.”14 Once again, we face a problem of “generality.” For as it stands, this thesis unquestionably applies to Hegel, but also to the typical philosophical system. Moreover, since we’ve already established that critical theories are essentially “enlightening,” it might plausibly be objected that the amendment of “cognitive content” risks redundancy. To begin to see why this attribution is both informative and interesting, then, we must again take stock of that contrast that is only made explicit later on in Geuss’s account: while “scientific” theories are confirmed or disconfirmed via observation and experiment, “critical” theories must ultimately submit to (a type of) “reflective endorsement” by their addressee.15 For this reason, the specific sort of “knowledge” associated with critical theories is to be distinguished from scientific knowledge, inasmuch as the latter admits paradigmatically of empirical corroboration. And while, to be sure, critical theories cannot make empirically ungrounded claims, Geuss’s suggestion is that they will nonetheless conform to a separate “verification procedure” involving their acceptance or nonacceptance by a given agent. Hence the compact second thesis, that “Critical theories have cognitive content, i.e. they are forms of knowledge,” should be taken to mean something less vague and more philosophically interesting than is initially apparent. Keeping the above distinction in mind, I would reformulate this thesis in the following way: ‘A critical theory trades in a kind of discursive knowledge that, even if it cannot be tested by the traditional route of observation, nevertheless does admit of a valid testingprocedure.’ This entails that the standpoint recommended by a critical theory is not just a matter of

14 15

Geuss (1981: 1-2). Geuss (1981: 55-56).


“faith,” or “taste,” or “conjecture,” or “speculation” in the pejorative sense.16 So Geuss writes, regarding the specific tradition of critical social theory his book addresses: Ideologiekritik is not just a form of ‘moralizing criticism,’ i.e. an ideological form of consciousness is not criticized for being nasty, immoral, unpleasant, etc. but for being false, for being a form of delusion. Ideologiekritik is itself a cognitive enterprise, a form of knowledge.17 In any case, according to this reconstruction, a legitimate critical-theoretical standpoint is in principle linked to propositionally expressible judgments that can be intersubjectively verified as true or false, rational or irrational, etc., albeit not according to the traditional, “positivist” canon of observation and experiment.18 In summary, the Frankfurt School’s ascription of “cognitive content” to critical theory is partly meant to foreclose the suspicion that it somehow constitutes an “irrationlist” doctrine or standpoint.19 Yet the conviction that any defensible critical theory must contain or yield “forms of knowledge,” in the strict sense, is rather plainly shared by Hegel, the arch-rationalist. The key terms of his critical enterprise in the PhG – the notions of “shapes of consciousness” that assert themselves as “phenomenal knowing” – are by themselves sufficient to establish this affinity. At the

See Geuss (1981: 28) on the putative “rationality” of those judgments delivered by critical theories. Martin Jay (1973: 48-51) sympathetically describes the Frankfurt School’s (mainly Horkheimer’s) principled opposition to the “irrationalist” tendencies in the so-called Lebensphilosophies of Nietzsche, Dilthey, and Bergson. 17 Geuss (1981: 26). 18 So Geuss writes: “If a critical theory is to be cognitive and to give us knowledge, it must be the kind of thing that can be true or false, and we would like to know under what conditions it would be falsified and under what conditions confirmed” (1981: 75). By these standards, in fact, he will later record his positive verdict on critical theory: “If knowledge is basically whatever gives ‘successful orientation in action’ on which there can be free intersubjective agreement…then a critical theory would seem to be a form of knowledge”(1981: 91). 19 Here it may perhaps be wondered whether the first thesis does not by itself secure the “rationalist” credentials of critical theory. After all: is it even conceivable for a critical theory to produce (1) “enlightenment,” without at the same time bearing (2) “cognitive content”? I imagine that one Left Hegelian or Frankfurt School response to this quibble might run as follows: The term “enlightenment” is as yet unacceptably vague, for (at worst) it might only signal the addressee’s inherently private illumination, say, via the mental revelation of a quasi-aesthetic, ineffable “intellectual intuition.” Beyond this, though, a justifiable critical theory holds that “enlightenment” must ultimately deliver real knowledge, which will necessarily take the form of judgments that can be both communicated and publically verified. Indeed, Lukács (1975: 428432) and Forster (1998: 108-110) both account for the “break” between Schelling and Hegel with reference to the former’s “esoteric” (hence aristocratic), the latter’s “exoteric” (hence democratic), ideals of philosophy. 16


same time, Hegel’s repeated critiques of positivism clearly convey to his reader the non-reducibility of his rationalist program, and its substantiation, to “empiricist” standards of knowledge.20 On the one hand, then, the PhG concerns itself in the final analysis with “truth-apt” judgments. As we have seen, the class of initially implicit “concepts” that underwrite the shapes of natural consciousness are “elicited” by the phenomenologist as explicit propositions regarding self, world, and their relation. 21 In Geuss’s language, these propositions arguably constitute the aggregated “cognitive content” of Hegel’s analysis. On the other hand, we have found that the means available to the reader for confirming or disconfirming the “truth” of these claims – hence the ostensible “rationality” of any given shape – appear to be entirely separate from those embraced in the natural sciences.22 Unlike the scientist, that is, the phenomenologist cannot appeal to facts outside of, or “external” to, the self-concept being measured.23 So at this point we must ask: what alternative mode of “confirmation” is available to the critical theorist – Hegelian or otherwise? Geuss himself summarizes the contrast between “scientific” and “critical” avenues of theoretical confirmation in this way: Scientific theories require empirical confirmation through observation and experiment; critical theories are cognitively acceptable only if they survive a more complicated process of evaluation, the central part of which is a demonstration that they are ‘reflectively acceptable.’24 Now eventually Geuss will elaborate upon the meaning of this “reflective acceptability” in the direction of a distinctly Habermasian sort of proceduralism. He writes, for example, that a critical The sections on Sense-Certainty, Perception, Understanding, and later Observing Reason appear to contain the most explicit critiques of this sort. See Marcuse (1955: 112-114) for an interpretation of “Consciousness” in its entirety as a critique of both “positivism” and, more damningly, “reification.” 21 See again Flay (1984: ch. 1). 22 Though we should probably enter the caveat that Hegel’s self-presentation as an orthodox philosophical “empiricist” arguably complicates such a separation. (See the concluding section of Chapter 5, above.) Indeed, in a similar spirit, Geuss maintains that both scientific and critical theories “are based on and can be confirmed only by experience. However, the ‘experience’ on which a critical theory is based includes not only observation but also the ‘Erfahrung der Reflexion’” (1981: 91). 23 This methodological prohibition naturally imparts an additional layer of significance to the pure-onlooking required of Hegel’s reader. 24 Geuss (1981: 55-56). 20


theory’s acceptability depends, not only upon “the free assent of the agents to whom it is addressed,” 25 but more concretely upon their “agree[ment] (after thorough consideration in conditions of perfect information and full freedom) to the views about freedom and coercion expressed in it.”26 It is not clear to me that Hegel would countenance such a desideratum. (I imagine he’d call it imponderably “abstract.”) Nonetheless, if we leave Geuss’s broader formulation untouched, i.e. if we do not expound it in a narrowly Habermasian way, then the points of continuity with the PhG become more apparent. What, then, is the rational testing-procedure that Hegel provides in place of empirical method, and how does it connect to the broad confirmation-criterion Geuss himself imputes to critical theories – namely, that “their ‘objects,’ the agents to whom they are addressed, would freely agree to them”?27 Our answer to this question was provided in Part I, which contained our reconstruction of Hegelian immanent critique. For it is exactly a property of this procedure, so understood, that a given shape’s “certainty” is measured – i.e. confirmed or disconfirmed – not according to some fixed, observable reference-point outside of it, but rather according its own concretion. In this way, the PhG’s device of “immanent enactment” allows its reader to divine the “truth” of a shape without appealing to natural-scientific norms of examination. Nonetheless, there is also a stronger type of “confirmation” at play, which resembles Geuss’s formula more closely. As we saw in Part I, inasmuch as the reader feels addressed by a particular shape in the PhG and, moreover, perceives the justice in Hegel’s characterization of that shape’s fate, Hegel has arguably to this extent elicited “the free assent of the agents to whom it [i.e. the PhG] is addressed.”28 For wherever Hegel’s reader clings to one or more of the “natural notions” dramatized Geuss (1981: 78). Geuss (1981: 78). Or again, later on: “A critical theory...asserts of itself that it can be definitively confirmed or disconfirmed only by being freely accepted or rejected by agents in the ideal speech situation” (1981: 85). 27 Geuss (1981: 79). 28 Geuss (1981: 78). 25 26


as “natural consciousness,” she ought to feel implicated in the latter’s fortunes. Each attempted confirmation, it is true, may encounter a number of difficulties: a reader may be unable to see the relevance a particular episode has for her own situation; she may refuse to identify with Hegel’s portrait of a certain shape; or she may simply remain unconvinced that this shape “inverts” itself in the way Hegel proposes. But these would all precisely be failures of non-empirical confirmation, or failures of the reader’s self-reflexive “free assent” to the Hegelian critical theory.29 Here we should add, finally, that Chapter 2’s interpretation of “speculative sentences” as adjuncts to this immanent testing procedure helps us to stipulate precisely the kind of “cognitive content” belonging to a particular instance of “confirmation.” Our hypothesis, recall, is that these propositions establish identities between the “concepts” anchoring sequential shapes of consciousness. For this reason, they are suited to retrospectively “abbreviating” the inversion of one self-understanding into another. But this means that the speculative sentence lodges a type of “truth claim” whose validity is not beholden to any observable or mind-independent fact.30 In other words, speculative sentences found a class of legitimate propositional knowledge validated through, and only through, the self-inverting experience of natural consciousness and the self-reflexive reader who observes it, recognizes herself in it, and finally takes its inversions to heart. Thesis 3: Reflection Geuss’s third and final thesis pertains to the “basic epistemic structure” of a theory, and it states the following: “Critical theories differ epistemologically in essential ways from theories in the natural

In fact there is another possible type of “confirmation,” both intimated by the PhG and ostensibly expected by Hegel, which is defended in Forster (1998: ch. 4). This is perhaps the most ambitious “task” Forster ascribes to the PhG: namely, that it produce its own validation in the community of its readers. The latter, on this account, may so thoroughly absorb the texts concepts, arguments, and positions (both theoretically and practically) that – owing to Hegel’s putative “consensus theory of truth” – this community literally “generates” the wide scale metaphysical truth of these Hegelian doctrines. 30Nor, however, is a speculative sentence’s truth-claim beholden to other, more primary propositions standing in relations of strict inference. 29


sciences. Theories in natural science are ‘objectifying’; critical theories are ‘reflective’.”31 By this point in our reconstruction, of course, we have alluded to critical theory’s “self-reflexivity” a number of times, and it may be wondered whether there is anything left to learn by revisiting its peculiar “epistemic structure” again. Nevertheless, by contemplating in a direct way this structure’s ostensible contrast with the “objectifying” mechanism of scientific or “traditional” theory,32 we may be able to illuminate an aspect of self-reflexivity we have not yet sufficiently emphasized. By calling scientific theories “objectifying,” Geuss means that they separate themselves off – in a “positivist” spirit – from the world, such that “the theory isn’t itself part of the object-domain it describes.” 33 Indeed, the intelligibility and feasibility of scientific theory’s basic confirmationcriterion – empirical observation – presupposes just such a cleavage between subject and object: The members of the Frankfurt School assume that we can speak of ‘observation’ only when the object or state of affairs observed is independent of the act of observing, i.e. when the object or state of affairs observed is not essentially changed and is certainly not created or brought into being by the act of observing.34 This description should be carefully borne in mind, since it intimates the passivity integral to scientific theory’s observation, and by implication the transformative dynamism of critical theory’s self-reflexivity. 35

Geuss does not mean, I take it, that “self-reflexivity” amounts merely to enlarging the content of

investigation to include the formerly neglected “subject” pole. (According to this more modest standard, one behaves reflexively simply by taking into account the object in addition to one’s “relation” to it.) Beyond this, Geuss implies that critical theory’s characteristic “reflexivity” signals a Geuss (1981: 1-2). And again, at the end of his book: “Whatever differences in epistemic status or cognitive structure exist between scientific and critical theories are to be attributed to the role ‘reflection’ plays in the confirmation of critical theories” (1981: 91). 32 While Horkheimer’s essay, “Traditional and Critical Theory” (1972: 188-243), plays no role at all in Geuss’s account – at least it is never explicitly named – it is difficult not to notice its relevance to this third “thesis,” in particular. 33 Geuss (1981: 55). As we noted in Chapter 5, in his essay “Art and Theodicy,” Geuss more generally ascribes the property of “objectification” (together with “subsumption”) to instrumental or “enlightened” reason. See Geuss (1999: 98-99). 34 Geuss (1981: 92). 35 Lukács’ essay on reification (1971b) is the classic statement of scientific theory’s essentially passive, “contemplative” structure. Of course, this is only one symptom, for Lukács, of the thoroughgoing reification of bourgeois consciousness – itself grounded in the pervasion of society, at every level, by the “commodity form.” 31


genuinely distinct orientation that involves a deliberate theoretical responsiveness to the object, as well as the reconstitution of that object.36 The latter, after all, is purportedly a “state of affairs” that is “essentially changed” or even “created or brought into being” by the critical theory. In other words, if critical theories are invariably “self-referential,” or “always in part about themselves,” as Geuss claims, this must partly be taken to entail their influence upon, and even potentially their generation of, the object itself. 37 The example Geuss chooses to illustrate this robust reflexivity – the mutual-imbrication of subject and object which is supposedly inseparable from all critical-theoretical practice – is the interpretive research program of a socially embedded and culturally sympathetic anthropologist: If one wishes to find out how the agents view the world and what they are likely to find convincing in discussion, one must enter in their mode of life by interacting with them – discussing the weather with them, playing with their children, planning joint enterprises with them, consuming the local narcotic drug with them, etc. This kind of long-term interaction is not, it is claimed, just a course of observation and experiment, and the reason for this is the particularly intimate active involvement of the ‘observer’ in what is ‘observed.’38 Tacitly evoking the generic image of immanent critique, Geuss exhorts the model theorist to immerse herself in the object – in this case, the (initially alien) culture of a specific community. Such a researcher, lacking any direct observational access to this culture’s discursive belief system, that system’s inculcation, or its justification, is compelled to interact, open-endedly, with its members. Only on the basis of this interaction can the interlocutor’s belief system then be “reconstructed.”39 But upon closer examination, the research program described here also conforms in a stricter way to the second definition of immanent critique: the practical aim of self-reflexively accounting for one’s own standpoint, at the same time. On Geuss’s telling, the theorist’s reconstructive “explication” In his essay “Critical Theory and Tragic Knowledge,” Christoph Menke describes Horkheimer’s distinction in roughly these terms: “Horkheimer understands critical theory as a form of knowledge that is distinguished not only by a specific object – the overall process of society – but also by a specific relation to its object” (1999: 57). 37 Geuss (1981: 55). 38 Geuss (1981: 92). 39 Geuss writes: “Their epistemic principles aren’t just out there to be observed and described; in formulating them the critical theory is in part ‘constructing’ them” (1981: 94). 36


of a culture’s tacitly held beliefs will potentially alter and even undermine the epistemic position, not only of the “object” (interlocutor), but also of the “subject” (researcher) herself: If I change my views about what are good reasons for acting, what is a possible way of looking at the world, what are comprehensible human motives, etc. this may be as a direct result of encounter with other agents with whom I am trying to interact and whose behavior I must therefore interpret.40 There are unquestionably limits to this comparison between the empirical research of Geuss’s culturally embedded “interpreter,” and the “reflexive” kinds of experience a Hegelian critical theory may impart to a receptive thinker. One possibly significant disanalogy is that, whereas the empirical researcher must reckon with a presumably separate and potentially strange culture and belief system, the Hegel’s reader ex hypothesi has only to do with her very own “inorganic nature,” which – owing to factors discussed in Part II – only appears to confront her as something “given.” This specific objection has a special pedigree in the history of Hegel interpretation, of course. The most uncharitable framing might run: a sympathetic researcher’s unprejudiced interaction with a genuinely distinct culture bears a very strained comparison with absolute spirit’s self-reflection – a kind of cosmic solipsism that has with justice been called “monological.”41 I will not address this sort of criticism here, although it seems to me that parts of my dissertation have disarmed its negative implications.42 Instead, I would like to draw attention to the underlying continuity between the “interpretive” sensibility Geuss describes and the forms of reflexivity cultivated by Hegel’s philosophical onlooker. Above all, we should underscore the shared opposition of Geuss’s researcher and Hegel’s reader to the complacency of “mere” observation,

Geuss (1981: 93). And later: “[T]he basic assumption of the critical theory is that simply bringing certain attitudes, beliefs, behavior patterns etc. to full consciousness changes them” (1981: 94). Further, “through the complex process of coming to adopt the critical theory certain beliefs, attitudes, etc. are not just changed, but refuted, shown to be false” (1981: 94). 41 See above all the critique in Habermas (1973), which will be taken up nearly verbatim in Honneth (1996: ch. 3). For a well-argued defense of the PhG against this critique, see Sherman (1999: 205-222). 42 In any case, the fact that the PhG is explicitly engaged, not with every conceivable sort of culture, but with conceptual mistakes of a dualistic kind, should exempt Hegel from the harshest form of the critique: that he reduces every kind of otherness to “the same.” Of course, even Geuss’s researcher – inasmuch as the mutual adjustment of reflexive interlocutors issues in agreement – is vulnerable to this critique. 40


which leaves subject and object essentially unmoved, their stability intact. As we have seen, this “confirmation criterion” is meaningful only in cases where the object is unaffected by its observation. Yet the “object” of the embedded researcher and the Hegelian critical theorist alike thwart this criterion in obvious ways. Neither the researcher’s interlocutor, nor the shapes of natural consciousness, can be “examined” without being brought to a potentially transformative selfawareness. At the same time, neither the empirical researcher nor the philosophical “observer” are themselves exempt form the self-reflexive reckoning that, under ideal conditions, may follow from these encounters. In each of these ways, critical-theoretical practice refutes positivism’s assertion that “all cognition is ‘objectifying’ cognition,”43 or its “denial that theories could be both reflective and cognitive.” 44 There is a final point to make regarding Hegelian immanent critique that I have not yet raised in this study, but which may help to strengthen our impression of its reflexivetransformational power. In his monograph, Hegel: Three Studies, Adorno attributes the following “critical” program to Hegel: Human beings must appropriate even the powers that are hostile to them; they must insinuate themselves into them, so to speak...[Hegel’s] thought as a whole is cunning; it hopes to achieve victory over the superior power of the world, about which it has no illusions, by turning this superior power against itself until it turns into something different.45 Of course, here it may well be objected that this ideal of “cunning” mimetic behavior is more Adorno’s than Hegel’s. The theme is certainly pervasive enough in Adorno’s writings.46 It is a rare commentator, though – aside, perhaps, from Adorno himself – who would attribute the value to Hegel. Yet Hegel does occasionally speak in this way. For example, in the “second” Jena Philosophy of Spirit, from 1805-1806, Hegel explicitly acclaims “the honor of cunning against power – to grasp Geuss (1981: 2). Geuss (1981: 2). 45 Adorno (1993: 42-43). 46 In Dialectical of Enlightenment, for example, Adorno writes: “The faculty by which the self survives adventures, throwing itself away in order to preserve itself, is cunning” (2002: 39). 43 44


blind power from one side so that it turns against itself; to comprehend it…so that it negates itself.”47 And again: “The great deed is to compel others to be what they are, in and for themselves, in light of consciousness…fundamentally, the master is the one who gets the other to mislead himself.” 48 Indeed, Hegel’s Preface to the PhG makes perfectly plain that the value of active cunning is inseparably part of a speculative, immanent standpoint that only feigns passivity: [A]s knowledge sees the content return into its own inwardness, its activity is to a greater degree sunken into that content, for the activity is the immanent self of the content as having at the same time returned into itself, since this activity is pure selfsameness in otherness. In this way, that activity is a kind of cunning [List] which, while seeming to abstain from activity, is looking on to see just how determinateness and its concrete life takes itself to be engaged in its own self-preservation [Selbsterhaltung] and its own particular interest and how it is actually doing the very opposite, that is, how it is doing what leads to its own dissolution and what makes itself into a moment of the whole. (¶54/3:53-54) In other words, the methodological postulate of “cunning” is not an Adornian invention that is retroactively, and artificially, credited to Hegel. It is rather Hegel’s explicit program.49 But this means that the ideal of pure-onlooking – to repeat a final time – is not a type of static passivity, by Hegel’s reckoning. On the contrary, it is an “activity” that immanently follows “concrete life” – ostensibly committed only to “self-preservation” – through to its inverted “opposite,” or to its own “dissolution.” A Hegelian Critical Theory: Continued We have now shown how the Hegelian form of “critique” reconstructed in the body of the dissertation conforms to the schema of critical theory proposed by Geuss. Our analysis, it seems to me, suffices to establish this Hegelian critique as “a reflective theory which gives agents a kind of

Hegel (1983: 104/1987: 190). Hegel (1983: 104/1987: 190-191). 49 In other words, the so-called “cunning of reason” is not simply an (often imperceptible) mechanism or power that Hegel finds operative in history and human affairs generally – perhaps inspired by a reading of Kant or Adam Smith. It is rather, in this context, at the heart of deliberate philosophical method. 47 48


knowledge inherently productive of enlightenment and emancipation.”50 We have shown, in other words, that Hegel’s reader is de facto involved in such a reflexive, inherently emancipatory, yet still “cognitive” process of enlightenment. Nevertheless, I submit our study has done considerably more than this to reconstitute the PhG as a work of critical theory in its own right. Not only does the Hegelian standpoint we have outlined satisfy the three “theses” that, in a formal way, stipulate the desiderata of any identifiable critical theory (at least as that has been understood and defended in the Frankfurt School tradition). Beyond meeting this aim, we have shown in a systematic way to what degree, precisely, Hegel contributes to the infrastructure of critical social theory. For as we have reconstructed it, the PhG also yields sophisticated critical models of “immanent critique” (Chapters 1 and 2), “second nature” (Chapter 3) and “ideology” (Chapter 4), as well as “instrumental reason,” “nihilistic disenchantment,” and “transcendent critique” (Chapter 5).51 In these additional ways, too, the PhG has revealed itself as a foundational critical-theoretical text. In his most recent work, Changing the Subject: Philosophy from Socrates to Adorno, Geuss ends a chapter dedicated to Hegel with the following sentence: “The question remains whether, having read the Phenomenology and observing the world around us, we do not find ourselves motivated to change it.”52 Naturally, as Geuss’s comment indicates, the question of “motivation” is ultimately one every reader must answer for him- or herself. Nonetheless, I would like to conclude this dissertation by reflecting on Hegel’s own possible “world changing” intentions, as these are plausibly reflected both in the PhG and across a range of his writings.

Geuss (1981: 2). This, of course, is Geuss’s programmatic summary of the three “theses.” Geuss announces: “The very heart of the critical theory of society is its criticism of ideology. Their ideology is what prevents the agents in the society from correctly perceiving their true situation and real interests” (1981: 3). 52 Geuss (2017: 180). 50 51


Hegel and the Transformation of Spirit: Therapy or Critique? In this study I have strongly suggested that, at least in 1807, Hegel both envisages and “critically” promotes a radical transformation in human spirit. By contrast, a number of recent commentators, including Terry Pinkard and Robert Stern, have likened Hegel’s philosophical project, not to radical critique, but to “therapy.”53 Of the many practical aims Michael Forster attributes to the text, none are “critique” in the modern sense, while most appear to be variations on some narrowly pedagogical or therapeutic end.54 Even Seyla Benhabib, so alert to the origins of critical theory in Hegel’s writings, draws a starkly invidious comparison with Marx in these same terms: “The function of critique is not therapy and healing the wounds of the ethical as in Hegel’s case, but ‘crisis diagnosis’ enabling and encouraging future social transformation.”55 On the other hand, in vivid contrast to the many tepid, qualified descriptions of Hegel’s intentions, Jean-Luc Nancy writes the following: Hegel is the inaugural thinker of the contemporary world. His entire work is penetrated and mobilized by the consciousness and by the feeling of having to make a decisive inflection in the course of the world, and consequently, in the course of philosophy.56 Yet Nancy’s hyperbolic claim, while congenial to the interpretation I’ve been defending, may inspire some healthy skepticism. What concrete evidence is there, really, that Hegel self-consciously wished to produce such a “decisive inflection in the course of the world”? He was acutely aware of his era as See Pinkard (2012: 175) and Stern (2013: 17-24). Paul Giladi’s (2015) develops this claim at length, specifically arguing that Hegel’s work essentially anticipates the “therapeutic” ambitions of classical pragmatism. See Yeomans (2015: esp. 47), as well, for a discussion of Hegelian “therapy” in connection with the greater Logic. For the most part, these sorts of interpretations appear to align Hegel with the Wittgensteinian – essentially “quietist” – conception of philosophy selfconsciously developed by McDowell. 54 See Forster (1998: Part I). By contrast, Marasco (2015: 27) does assimilate the PhG to the tradition of “critique.” 55 Benhabib (1986: 109). Of course, the very ascription of a “therapeutic” design to Hegel – even by those disposed to this reading – is ambivalent. One might suppose that Hegelian philosophy helps to grind down those edges of human character – atavistic impulses and wishes tied to obsolete “notions” – that do not assort with modern institutional conditions, so reconciling individuals to the best, and possibly the only world they are likely to have. Such a reading would restrict Hegel’s project to a “quietist” sort of therapy. And yet, on the other hand, it seems equally likely that Hegel intends to prepare and reform his readers, in view of a form-of-life just then being inaugurated. In this case, though, Hegel’s nominally “therapeutic” ambitions would precipitate the very “future social transformation” Benhabib discounts as a properly Hegelian concern. Indeed, therapy so conceived begins to verge on the program we have been outlining, inasmuch as it assumes a “critical” posture vis-à-vis those forces obstructing the transformation in question. 56 Nancy (2002: 3). 53


a profoundly transformative one, certainly, and he expressed this awareness unreservedly both in the years before writing the PhG and in the text itself. For example, his 1802 essay “The Essence of Philosophical Criticism,” Hegel asserts, “the spirit of unrest and instability that is everywhere astir…is the mark of our time,”57 calling this unrest “a process of fermentation through which the spirit strains upwards toward a new life out of the putrefaction of the deceased culture, and springs forth again in a rejuvenated shape from under the ashes of the old.”58 In lectures from 1806, Hegel describes his age in much the same terms: We find ourselves in an important epoch in world history, in a ferment, when spirit has taken a leap forward, where it has sloughed off its old form and is acquiring a new one. The whole mass of existing notions [Vorstellungen] and concepts, the very bonds of the world have fallen apart and dissolved like a dream. A new product of the spirit is being prepared. The chief task of philosophy is to welcome it and grant it recognition, while others, impotently resisting, cling to the past and the majority unconsciously constitute the masses in which it manifests itself.59 Finally, this memorable portrait of an era in the clutches of deep, comprehensive, and convulsive spiritual transformation is both confirmed and embellished in Hegel’s Preface to the PhG: Besides, it is not difficult to see that our own epoch is a time of birth and a transition to a new period. Spirit has broken with the previous world of its existence and its ways of thinking; it is now of a mind to let them recede into the past and to immerse itself in its own work at reshaping itself. To be sure, spirit is never to be conceived as being at rest but rather as ever advancing. However, just as with a child, who after a long silent period of nourishment draws his first breath and shatters the gradualness of only quantitative growth – it makes a qualitative leap and is born – so too, in bringing itself to cultural maturity, spirit ripens slowly and quietly into its new shape, dissolving bit by bit the structure of its previous world, whose tottering condition is only intimated by its individual symptoms. The kind of frivolity and boredom which chips away at the established order and the indeterminate presentiment of what is yet unknown are all harbingers of imminent change. This gradual process of dissolution, which has not altered the physiognomy of the whole, is interrupted

Hegel (2000: 284/2:184). Hegel (2000: 284/2:184). 59 Quoted in Lukács (1975: 454), originally in Rosenkranz (1844: 214-215). The sentence that immediately follows this passage reads: “Recognizing it [i.e. the new product of the spirit] as the eternal, it falls to philosophy to pay it reverence.” How exactly this thought is compatible with the passage as a whole is not a question I will address here. See Förster (2012: ch. 12), though, for an intellectual-historical analysis of this issue. Finally, this passage’s clear implication that a spiritual world is welded together by Vorstellungen – and that, as these dissolve, so goes that world – should not escape our notice. 57 58


by the break of day, which in a flash and at a single stroke brings to view the structure of the new world. (¶11/3:18-19)60 Nonetheless, at this point a skeptic may counter that Hegel’s well-documented awareness of sociocultural transformation – even, indeed, his rhetorical embrace of it – does not in itself evidence Nancy’s stronger contention: that Hegel conceived or intended his philosophy to facilitate this event. For surely one may perceive that “a new product of the spirit is being prepared” or that one’s era is “a time of birth and a transition to a new period” without, however, deliberately contributing to the tumult. Incidentally, it will not suffice to cite Hegel’s numerous non-philosophical, polemical interventions into the political debates of his day.61 To be sure, these earnest, life-spanning attempts to nudge political reality in his favored direction – failures notwithstanding – appear jarringly incompatible with the essentially “stoical” view sometimes attributed to the man: namely, that modern moral reality is basically unalterable.62 But these polemics would not substantiate our deeper contention: that Hegelian philosophy has, or might have, some role to play. To advance the argument further than this, then, we would need to marshal evidence, not merely that Hegel apprehended the world-transformation in question; or even that he contributed to it in a polemical, non-philosophical capacity; but, further, that he assigned a culturally, socially, or politically transformative function to philosophy itself – at least of the sort enclosed in the 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit.63 Intriguingly, Hegel again evokes the “frivolity” characterizing pre-revolutionary situations in a speech, “On Classical Studies,” delivered to his Nüremberg students in 1809: “The general superficiality and frivolity which only the tremendous gravity and impact of the political revolutions in our days was able to overcome had perverted the relation between means and ends…” (1975: 329-330/4:323). 61 These polemics are anthologized in Hegel (1999) and have been contextualized in an illuminating discussion by Habermas (1974: ch. 5). 62 As Habermas observes: “The mere fact that Hegel wrote political polemics throws a peculiar light on the relation of his theory to praxis. For how can the intention of changing reality – which is, after all, the reality of the moral idea – be reconciled with a theory which must reject as vain any such claim?” (1974: 177). Or again: “the political form of a treatise…contrasts most oddly with this wholly unpolitical intention of educating malcontents and world reformers to Stoicism and a world-historically enlightened quietism” (1974: 182). 63 In recent years, two commentators have made (weaker and stronger) versions of exactly this claim. Michael Forster has argued that Hegel intended the PhG to “generate” its own audience, or to “realize” its doctrine via the public’s practical reception of it. In Forster’s words, the PhG is meant “to establish an enduring communal consensus in support of 60


Fortunately, in my view, there are a number of passages in Hegel’s writings that implicitly or explicitly express this judgment. Of course, the “image” of this putatively transformative philosophy will evolve over time. So, in a 1795 letter to Schelling, Hegel expects the philosophy in question to assume an emphatically Kantian form: From the Kantian system and its highest completion I expect a revolution in Germany. It will proceed from principles that are present and that only need to be elaborated generally and applied to all hitherto existing knowledge…I believe there is no better sign of the times than this, that mankind is being presented as so worthy of respect in itself. It is proof that the aura of prestige surrounding the heads of the oppressors and gods of this earth is disappearing. The philosophers are proving the dignity of man. The peoples will learn to feel it. Not only will they demand their rights, which have been trampled in the dust, they will take them back themselves, they will appropriate them.64 A year later, in a fragment now entitled the “Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism,” Hegel – together, perhaps, with Hölderlin and Schelling – suggests that philosophy may intuit or devise “Ideas” to which reality, and specifically political reality, must conform. So, having posited that, “philosophy supplies the Ideas,” Hegel continues – now in a decidedly un-Kantian spirit – that [t]he Idea of mankind…gives us no Idea of the State, since the State is a mechanical thing, any more than it gives us an Idea of a machine. Only something that is an objective of freedom is called an Idea. So we must go even beyond the State! – for every State must treat men as cogs in a machine; and this it ought not to do; so it must stop.65 Yet neither is this tendency to invest philosophy with world-altering powers a relic of Hegel’s early romantic, “theological” period. Even after his conversion to the program of “systematic”

Hegelian Science in the modern world, and thereby to make possible and actual Hegelian Science’s truth” (1998: 245). In a far more radical way, Alan Brudner claims that, “in the form presented in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel’s philosophy aims to transform the world it understandings” (2017: 4). More specifically, the PhG is conceived as “a bridge necessary for crossing from the bifurcated (into state and society) civil society of modernity to the dialectically unified State that completes divine-human history” (2017: 5). 64 Hegel (1984: 35/1887: 15). This high estimation of Kant’s practical philosophy is broadly consistent with the position expressed in Hegel’s contemporaneous 1795 essay, “The Positivity of the Christian Religion,” which makes Jesus into a “Kantian” radical social reformer avant la lettre. Within several years, of course – beginning with the 1798 “Spirit of Christianity” essay – Kantianism will become the villain in this same story. 65 Translated in Harris (1972: 510/1:234-235). It is unclear whether Hölderlin and Schelling co-wrote the “Earliest System-Programme.” In the “Difference” essay, Hegel (1977a: 148/2:87), will attack Fichte’s “machine” state in a similar way.


philosophy, Hegel indicates in another famous letter to Schelling, in 1800, that his practical, “youthful” concerns have not left him: In my scientific development, which started from [the] more subordinate needs of man, I was inevitably driven toward science, and the ideal of [my] youth had to take the form of reflection and thus at once of a system. I now ask myself, while I am still occupied with it, what return to intervention in the life of men can be found.66 Unsurprisingly, Frederick Beiser gives a strictly theoretical and, moreover, apolitical turn to the contents of this letter, and specifically to the “ideal” of Hegel’s youth. According to Beiser, “‘The ideal of his youth’ was Hegel’s organic vision of the world, his concept of infinite life, which would reconcile the individual with the universe.”67 But this interpretation seems forced. For why, if this were true, would Hegel then describe his recursion to this point of departure as a “return to intervention in the life of men”? By contrast, in his study of Hegel’s early intellectual development, Harris offers the salutary reminder: “For Schelling philosophical insight was an end in itself, while for Hegel, at this stage [i.e. in November of 1800], it was primarily an instrument for social regeneration.”68 And it seems to me the editors of Hegel’s Letters must be correct where they claim that this youthful ideal “refers to the essentially pagan, Romantic-Hellenistic ideal of a free people united in a religion described as at once ‘subjective’ and ‘public’.”69 This is evidently just the “ideal” expressed in a Jena manuscript dated by Harris to the years 1801-1805. 70 For here, in an audibly prophetic passage, Hegel charges philosophy with transcending an obsolete religious culture by consolidating and even grounding a new, autonomous form-of-life: Protestantism has freed itself from alien consecration. Hence Spirit can now consecrate itself as Spirit, in its own proper form; and it can dare to produce its original self-reconciliation in a new religion, in which the infinite grief and whole gravity of its discord is acknowledged, but at the same time serenely and purely dissolved. It can do so, that is, if there will be a free Hegel (1984: 64/1887: 27). Beiser (2005: 89). As far as I can tell, Förster (2012: 277-281) defends a similar reading of Hegel’s “youthful ideal.” 68 Harris (1983: 3-4). Later, Harris writes: “He was striving to meet the philosophical need of his time in its most absolute form; and if he could do this successfully, then poets, educators, all bearers of political responsibility not only ought to heed him, but would surely be obliged to do so” (1983: 10). 69 See Hegel (1984: 64). 70 See Harris’s introductory note to “Appendix 2” in Hegel (1979: 254). 66 67


people, and if Reason will have given birth again to its reality as ethical Spirit (Sittchkeit), a Spirit bold enough to take unto itself its pure shape, on its own soil and autonomous majesty…To embrace the whole energy of the suffering and discord which has controlled the world and all its forms of culture of several thousand years, and also to rise above it – this can be done by philosophy alone.71 In any case, we need not rest content with materials from Hegel’s unpublished writings.72 The 1801 “Difference” essay contains a number of programmatic remarks that convey the varied relations between philosophy and an era’s wider, non-philosophical culture. Admittedly, Hegel occasionally indicates that philosophy has the function of “expressing” one’s era conceptually: “what it articulates is already present in the time’s inner core.”73 Specifically, answering to a “widespread philosophical need,” 74 it has the task of both presenting and resolving – in concepts – the forms of diremption afflicting a culture: “the formal task of philosophy is taken to be the suspension of dichotomy.”75 At other times, though, Hegel suggests that philosophy’s dichotomy-suspending activities reach back down into “the time” – i.e. the religious, aesthetic, political, economic, etc., sectors of his “Northwestern” culture – that solicited philosophy in the first place: It is true that a philosophy issues from its time, and if one wants to call the fragmentation of the time its ethical corruption, then philosophy issues from that corruption; but it does so in order to reestablish man from within himself, against the confusion of the time and in order to restore the totality which the time has rent.76 Quoted in Fackenheim (1967: 209, my italics), originally in Rosenkranz (1844: 141). In my view, this manuscript passage provides exactly the right context for grasping the PhG’s first, strikingly ambivalent descriptions of Sittlichkeit at the midpoint of “Reason” (¶347-¶359/3:263-270). In that place, the question is again whether ethical life is only “already lost” or, potentially, “yet unattained.” So Hegel writes: “However, once self-consciousness has attained this happy fortune, that is, where self-consciousness has achieved its destiny and where it lives surrounded by that destiny, then self-consciousness, which is according to the concept at first spirit and is spirit only immediately, leaves it behind; or also – it has not yet achieved its destiny, for both can be equally said” (¶353/3:266). 72 In a contrasting account of this period, Raymond Plant (1973: ch. 4) conjectures that, beginning in 1801, Hegel the “social reformer” had essentially abandoned these plans: “[Hegel’s] preoccupations were still the same – to overcome the dissonance and fragmentation of experience – but these aims were now to be achieved not by structural reforms in the social world and in personal relationships but by a philosophical description of experience, a description which would ‘transfigure’ the world and enable men to live at home in it” (1973: 76). How much of the PhG’s presentation can fairly be called mere “redescription” of experience – rather than a witheringly critical subversion of it – I leave to my reader to decide. 73 Hegel (1977a: 82/2:13). This, of course, seems to be an early formulation of Hegel’s thesis, in the Philosophy of Right, that “philosophy…is its own time comprehended in thoughts” (2003: 21/7:26). 74 Hegel (1977a: 82/2:12). And later: “When the might of union vanishes from the life of men and the antitheses lose their living connection and reciprocity and gain independence, the need of philosophy arises” (1977a: 91/2:22). 75 Hegel (1977a: 155/2:94). 76 Hegel (1977a: 178/2:120-121). 71


In this way, Hegel seems to extend the promise of reconciliation to “the manifold of cultural tendencies which are connected with philosophy, but which assume a rigid shape before they arrive at philosophy.”77 In a secondary way, of course, the PhG itself attests to the transformative “potency” of philosophy, broadly understood. Now strictly speaking, I have argued that the shapes of natural consciousness are not principally “philosophies” so much as non-philosophical attitudes and lifeprocesses.78 Nevertheless, Hegel plainly believes that the intellectual movements depicted in the PhG, and especially that spiritual current named “Enlightenment,” exert a profoundly disruptive influence on the wider political culture. In the case of Enlightenment, indeed, a putatively intellectual force – the philosophes of prerevolutionary France – is explicitly charged with precipitating a condition of revolutionary “terror.” For Hegel, such a condition follows directly from spirit’s “enlightened” discovery that “consciousness alone is in truth the element within which the spiritual essence, or the spiritual powers, have their substance” (¶585/3:433). Henceforth, this “whole system, which organizes itself and sustains itself by means of the division into separate social estates, collapsed after singular consciousness has grasped the object as having no other essence than that of selfconsciousness itself (¶585/3:433). However, the greater purpose of my study has been to show, not that Hegel’s book portrays the practically transformative influence of philosophy on non-philosophical culture, but that it selfconsciously exerts such an influence. Now I am not the first to interpret the 1807 Phenomenology of

Hegel (1977a: 192/2:136). Or again: “That which has died the death of dichotomy philosophy raises to life again through the absolute identity” (1977a: 195/2:138). In contrast to this reading, Pippin takes a rather “quietist” view of the Differenzschrift, which allegedly “points to the inability of the dominant versions of Kantian and post-Kantian philosophies to resolve the dichotomies, antinomies, and paradoxes they have themselves created...Hegel does not treat such disunity as itself necessarily a problem. (1989: 65-66, my italics). A far more “interventionist” interpretation of Hegel’s program in the Differenzschrift may be found in Marcuse (1941: 45). 78 See above, Chapter 3. 77


Spirit as Hegel’s promised “return to intervention in the life of men.”79 But I am, perhaps, the first commentator seriously to elucidate those “critical cells” that might conceivably effect such an intervention. I have reconstructed the PhG as a self-reflexive immanent critique and defetishization of the natural notions comprising our habitual, inorganic natures – carried out in a “speculative” language suitable to these intentions. Precisely by nourishing a “knowledge…directed against the notion [Vorstellung] which has come about through this immediacy” (¶30/3:35), one that “elicit[s] a despair natural notions [Vorstellungen]” (¶78/3:73), Hegel’s text promises to relieve the modern subject of its comprehensive “blindness,” as well as the “externalist” habits of thought culminating in instrumental reason, nihilistic disenchantment, and moralizing criticism. It may be awfully late, at this point in our discussion, to ask whether Hegel really believes that the immanent critique and dissolution of our natural notions might occasion such a transformation “in the world.” But here I will leave the last word to Hegel, who – to all appearances – tips his hand in an 1808 letter: “I am daily ever more convinced that theoretical work accomplishes more in the world than practical work. Once the realm of notion [Vorstellung] is revolutionized, actuality [Wirklichkeit] will not hold out.”80

See Brudner (2017: 116). Of course, in this study I have deliberately left the specific social actors, organs, mechanisms, vehicles and channels of this transformation vague. Indeed, Hegel himself appears to have envisioned different “candidates” at different times: a folk-religion, artists and other cultural leaders, political rulers, Napoleon or some other modern “Theseus” who would impose unity and reforms on a politically fragmented Prussia, professional corporations, etc. Again, the interesting article by Habermas (1974) finds that Hegel’s non-philosophical political writings express evolving preferences for a range of potential “agents” of reform. But see Brudner (2017: 3-4), on the PhG’s capacity to effect a reconciliation between state and civil society, as well as the concluding discussion in Comay (2011: 136-153) – specifically her allusion to the PhG’s “aching absence of explicit political discussion following his [i.e. Hegel’s] analysis of the breakdown of revolutionary freedom” (2011: 138). 80 Hegel (1984: 179/1887: 194). 79



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