Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit


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It thus had features closer to the more pantheistic picture of divine thought found in Spinoza, for example, for whom matter and mind were attributes of the one substance. The materialists to which he was opposed mechanistic corpuscularists of his time conceived of unformed matter as a type of self-subsistent substance, and it seems to have been that conception to which he was opposed, at least in some periods of his work, not the reality of matter per se. Given the understanding of Hegel that predominated at the time of the birth of analytic philosophy, together with the fact that early analytic philosophers were rebelling precisely against Hegelianism so understood, the interpretation of Hegel encountered in discussions within analytic philosophy is often that of the late nineteenth-century interpretation.

In this picture, Hegel is seen as offering a metaphysico-religious view of God qua Absolute Spirit, as the ultimate reality that we can come to know through pure thought processes alone. Indeed, Hegel often seems to invoke imagery consistent with the types of neo-Platonic conceptions of the universe that had been common within Christian mysticism, especially in the German states, in the early modern period.

Thus, in our consciousness of God, we somehow serve to realize his own self-consciousness, and, thereby, his own perfection. In English-language interpretations, such a picture is effectively found in the work of Charles Taylor and Michael Rosen , for example.

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With its dark mystical roots, and its overtly religious content, it is hardly surprising that the philosophy of Hegel so understood has rarely been regarded as a live option within the largely secular and scientific conceptions of philosophy that have been dominant in the twentieth century. To critics, such as Karl Popper in his popular post-war The Open Society and its Enemies , Hegel had not only advocated a disastrous political conception of the state and the relation of its citizens to it, a conception prefiguring twentieth-century totalitarianism, but he had also tried to underpin such advocacy with dubious theo-logico-metaphysical speculations.

With his idea of the development of spirit in history, Hegel is seen as literalising a way of talking about different cultures in terms of their spirits, of constructing a developmental sequence of epochs typical of nineteenth-century ideas of linear historical progress, and then enveloping this story of human progress in terms of one about the developing self-conscious of the cosmos-God itself.


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The pantheistic legacy inherited by Hegel meant that he had no problem in considering an objective outer world beyond any particular subjective mind. But this objective world itself had to be understood as conceptually informed: it was objectified spirit. Thus in contrast to Berkeleian subjective idealism it became common to talk of Hegel as incorporating the objective idealism of views, especially common among German historians, in which social life and thought were understood in terms of the conceptual or spiritual structures that informed them.

But in contrast to both forms of idealism, Hegel, according to this reading, postulated a form of absolute idealism by including both subjective life and the objective cultural practices on which subjective life depended within the dynamics of the development of the self-consciousness and self-actualisation of God, the Absolute Spirit. Despite this seemingly dominant theological theme, Hegel was still seen by many as an important precursor of other more characteristically secular strands of modern thought such as existentialism and Marxist materialism.

Existentialists were thought of as taking the idea of the finitude and historical and cultural dependence of individual subjects from Hegel, and as leaving out all pretensions to the Absolute, while Marxists were thought of as taking the historical dynamics of the Hegelian picture but reinterpreting this in materialist rather than idealist categories.

Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

As for understanding Hegel himself, the traditional metaphysical view remained the dominant interpretative approach of Hegel scholars throughout much of the twentieth century. Thus it is commonly asserted that implicit within the metaphysical Hegel is an anti-metaphysical philosopher struggling to get out—one potentially capable of beating the critical Kant at his own game.

More controversially, one now finds it argued that the traditional picture is simply wrong at a more general level, and that Hegel, even in his systematic thought, was not committed to the bizarre, teleological spirit monism that has been traditionally attributed to him because he was free of the type of traditional metaphysical commitments that had been criticized by Kant.

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Prominent among such interpretations has been the so-called post-Kantian interpretation advanced by North American Hegel scholars Robert Pippin , , and Terry Pinkard , , From an explicitly analytic perspective, broadly similar views have been put forward by Robert Brandom , , and John McDowell With this notion, it is claimed, Hegel was essentially attempting to answer the Kantian question of the conditions of rational human mindedness, rather than being concerned with giving an account of the developing self-consciousness of God.

But while Kant had limited such conditions to formal abstractly conceived structures of the mind, Hegel extended them to include aspects of historically and socially determined forms of embodied human existence. Proponents of the post-Kantian view, it is commonly said, are guilty of projecting onto Hegel views they would like to find there rather than what is actually to be found.

Here one tends to find interpreters attributing to Hegel some type of conceptual realism, sometimes appealing to contemporary analytic metaphysics for the legitimacy of metaphysics conceived as inquiry into the fundamental features or structures of the world itself. Among the interpreters advancing something like this revised metaphysical view might be counted Stephen Houlgate b , Robert Stern , , Kenneth Westphal , James Kreines , and Christopher Yeomans On a number of points, the proponents of the revised conceptual realist metaphysical interpretation will agree with advocates of the post-Kantian non-metaphysical approach.

First, they tend to agree in dismissing much of the extravagant metaphysics traditionally ascribed to Hegel.

While it is for the most part clear what sets both post-Kantians and conceptual realists against the traditional view, it is still not clear which issues dividing them are substantive and which are ultimately verbal. After all, Kant himself was not critical of metaphysics per se. His claim was that existing so-called dogmatic metaphysics was in a state analogous to that in which, say, physics had been in before the scientific revolution of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Rather than wanting to eliminate metaphysics, after the style, say, of Hume or the modern logical positivists, Kant had wanted to put metaphysics itself on a secure scientific basis analogous to what Galileo and Newton had achieved for physics. The relevant differences between revised metaphysical and the non-metaphysical views would need to be established with respect to such particular issues as, for example, the nature of acceptably Kantian metaphysical claims.

In the next category are works that were published at the time as handbooks for use in student teaching such as the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences first published in while he was teaching at Heidelberg and subsequently revised and republished in and again in , and Elements of the Philosophy of Right , effectively an expansion of a section of the Encyclopaedia and published in after his move to Berlin. Transcripts of his earlier lectures on this topic delivered in Heidelberg have also since been published.

Along with the Encyclopaedia and the Philosophy of Right might be added similar teaching-related writings from the Jena period, prepared as lectures but only published as such much later. Here we will restrict the discussion to the first three categories. The term clearly suited Kant as he had distinguished the phenomena known through the faculty of sensibility from the noumena known purely conceptually. It is meant to function as an induction or education of the reader to the standpoint of purely conceptual thought from which philosophy can be done. As such, its structure has been compared to that of a Bildungsroman educational novel , having an abstractly conceived protagonist—the bearer of an evolving series of so-called shapes of consciousness or the inhabitant of a series of successive phenomenal worlds—whose progress and set-backs the reader follows and learns from.

Or at least this is how the work sets out: in the later sections the earlier series of shapes of consciousness becomes replaced with what seem more like configurations of human social life , and the work comes to look more like an account of interlinked forms of social existence and thought within which participants in such forms of social life conceive of themselves and the world.

Hegel constructs a series of such shapes that maps onto the history of western European civilization from the Greeks to his own time. When Kant had broached the idea of a phenomenological propaedeutic to Lambert, he himself had still believed in the project of a purely conceptual metaphysics achievable by the use of the regressive or analytic method, but this project conceived as an exercise in theoretical reason was just what Kant in his later critical philosophy had come to disavow.

Works by Willem DeVries

Supporters of the post-Kantian interpretation of Hegel obviously interpret this work and its telos differently. For example, it has been argued e. As Pinkard had pointed out in that work, this was a conception of the normatively structured practices of human reason found in the American pragmatist Wilfrid Sellars, the inspiration behind the Hegelian dimensions of analytic philosophers such as Willem deVries , Robert Brandom and John McDowell.

Chapters 1 to 3 effectively follow a developmental series of distinct shapes of consciousness—jointly epistemological and ontological attitudes articulated by criteria which are, regarded from one direction, criteria for certain knowledge , and from the other, criteria for the nature of the objects of such knowledge. In chapter 1, the attitude of Sense-certainty takes immediately given perceptual simples—the sort of role played by the so-called sense-data of early twentieth-century analytic epistemology, for example, with which a subject is purportedly acquainted as bare thises —as the fundamental objects known.


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The idea seems to be that for Hegel, the same content can play the roles played by both concepts and intuitions in Kant. By the end of this chapter our protagonist consciousness and by implication, we the audience to this drama has learnt that the nature of consciousness cannot be as originally thought: rather than being immediate and singular, its contents must have some implicit universal conceptual aspect to them.

The general truth that was learned about the apparent qualitative simples in Sense-certainty that they were instances of generals is now explicitly taken as the truth of the object of Perception Wahrnehmung —in German this term having the connotations of taking nehmen to be true wahr. But this can be conceived in a variety of ways: first, as a simple bundle of indifferent qualities a picture associated with Plato , or as an underlying substrate in which these qualities somehow inhere a picture associated with Aristotle. Predictably, problems will be revealed in these various different ways of thinking of the nature of those everyday objects of our experience.

In fact, such collapse into a type of self-generated skepticism is typical of all the shapes we follow in the work, and there seems something inherently skeptical about such reflexive cognitive processes. But this is not the type of skepticism that is typical of early modern philosophy, such as that used by Descartes in his attempt to find some foundation of indubitability on which genuine knowledge can be built Forster As is clear from his treatment of ancient philosophy in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy , Hegel was attracted to the type of dialectic employed by Socrates in his efforts to get his interlocutors thinking about something beyond that given immediately in sensation LHP II: 51 , and implicit in the ancient form of skepticism that had been employed after Socrates LHP II: For Hegel, the ancient skeptics captured the skeptical moment of thought that is the means by which thought progresses beyond the particular categories that have given rise to contradictions.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Just as in the way a new shape of thought, Perception, had been generated from the internal contradictions that emerged within Sense-certainty, the collapse of any given attitude will be accompanied by the emergence of some new implicit criterion that will be the basis of a new emergent attitude. In the case of Perception, the emergent new shape of consciousness, the Understanding, explored in Chapter 3, is a shape identified with the type of scientific cognition that, rather than remaining on the level of the perceived object, posits underlying forces involved in the production of the perceptual episode.

The transition from Chapter 3 to Chapter 4, The Truth of Self-Certainty, also marks a more general transition from Consciousness to Self -consciousness. It is in the course of Chapter 4 that we find what is perhaps the most well-known part of the Phenomenology , the account of the struggle of recognition in which Hegel examines the inter-subjective conditions which he sees as necessary for any form of consciousness. Such complex patterns of mutual recognition constituting objective spirit thereby provide the social matrix within which individual self-consciousnesses can exist as such.

But this is only worked out in the text gradually. So we have to see how the protagonist self-consciousness could achieve this insight. It is to this end that we further trace the learning path of self-consciousness through the processes of reason in Chapter 5 before objective spirit can become the explicit subject matter of Chapter 6 Spirit. Thus Hegel might be seen as adopting the viewpoint that since social life is ordered by customs we can approach the lives of those living in it in terms of the patterns of those customs or conventions themselves—the conventional practices, as it were, constituting specific, shareable forms of life made actual in the lives of particular individuals who had in turn internalized such general patterns in the process of acculturation.

It is not surprising then that his account of spirit here starts with a discussion of religious and civic law. But for non-traditionalists it is not obvious that Hegel, in employing such phrases, is in any way committed to any metaphysical supra-individual conscious being or beings. The idea seems to be that humans in society not only interact, but that they collectively create relatively enduring cultural products repeatable stories, stageable dramas, and so forth within which members of that society can recognise patterns of their own communal life as so reflected.

Furthermore, such cultural products themselves provide conditions allowing individuals to adopt particular cognitive attitudes by appropriating their resources. For Kant, the practical knowledge of morality, orienting one within the noumenal world, exceeds the scope of theoretical knowledge, which had been limited to phenomena. Hegel, however, thought that philosophy had to unify theoretical and practical knowledge, and so the Phenomenology has further to go. Again, this is seen differently by traditionalists and revisionists. Revisionists, on the other hand, tend to see Hegel as furthering the Kantian critique into the very coherence of a conception of an in-itself reality that is beyond the limits of our theoretical but not practical cognition.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

However we understand this, absolute knowing is the standpoint to which Hegel has hoped to bring the reader in this complex work. For most of the 20 th century it was not received with the enthusiasm that often marked the reception of Phenomenology of Spirit. First, as a work of logic most have regarded it as radically outdated and relying on an Aristotelian approach that was definitively surpassed in the later nineteenth century—a view promoted especially by Bertrand Russell in the early years of the twentieth.

Recently, this skepticism has started to change. Some advocate that the Science of Logic be read as a first-order ontological doctrine Doz or as a category theory that simultaneously represents structures of being and thought Houlgate b , and so as having very little to do with what has traditionally been known as logic. In short, taking the logic as a category theory opens up two general lines of interpretation: should the categories be understood as primarily ontological categories, as found in Aristotle, or as primarily categories revealing the necessary structure of thought , as in Kant?

Those, such as the advocates of the revised metaphysical interpretation, interpreting Hegel as basically a metaphysician, typically stress the former, while post-Kantian interpreters typically stress the latter. A glance at the table of contents of Science of Logic reveals the same triadic structuring among the categories or thought determinations discussed that has been noted among the shapes of consciousness in the Phenomenology. At the highest level of its branching structure there are the three books devoted to the doctrines of being, essence, and concept, while in turn, each book has three sections, each section containing three chapters, and so on.

Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit
Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit
Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit
Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit
Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit
Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit
Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit Hegels Theory of Mental Activity: An Introduction to Theoretical Spirit

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