Hegel’s Preface – Part III

What is the Phenomenology of Spirit?

Phenomenology is the study or science of what appears. Hegel here, distinguishes between two terms:

Knowledge Sense

Refers to what is immediately conscious or apart of the conscious. Things like sense, pain, pure a priori, etc.

Genuine Knowledge

That which does not water down the content of the subject matter. E.g. Adam Smith believed people weren’t only self-interested, Hume did take into account a priori synthetic truths, the Hegelian Dialectic does not always use a thesis, antithesis, synthesis, etc. It is also not functionalist i.e it does not believe that we can have a foundation to build our knowledge out of.

For Hegel, knowledge sense eventually leads to genuine knowledge. It is a work is progress, where we will eventually gain the pure notion of science. We niether start at the begining, or at the end of knowledge. Instead, we start in the middle of things.

Spirit and Science through History

For Hegel, we don’t have to constantly reinvent our knowledge every single generation. We use parts of and modify that which has already been encountered i.e. different ideas, notions, theories, ways of looking at things, etc. Throughout history, people are going through different forms of consciousness. A new generation incorporates from the old. In formal education for example, we do not go through the labour which people in the past did to come up with these theories. Think how long it would have taken people like Newton, Darwin, etc., to come up with their theories. Meanwhile, we can learn what must have taken them years to master and discover what they discovered in a single reading of a text book.

Science sets out formative process, via trial and error. The development of science happens in stages, whereby the necessity of something happening at a certain point, reveals where we are and how we have come to this place today. The industrial revolution in Britain would not have happened for example, if there wasn’t an abundance of coal in the Isles and we weren’t running short on other natural alternatives, such as charcoal and wood. The discipline of history which we learn, is nothing more than a narration of what has changed and what has happened. It is more of a process then a product in itself. In the present, we think people in the past are not truly human. i.e. Slavery, Feudalism, Racism, Homophobia, etc. Yet people who see us in the future, will probably think the same thing about us. Yet these prior stages were and are necessary to get to where we are now!

This is not to say that history depends on a single particular, event or person. The figures we focus on in history represent certain ideas, values, concepts, etc. We should stop focusing on the people or events themselves, but rather on the ideas which we imbed in them. If we are going to understand reality, we are going to have to understand all of it. We need to understand all the means, before we can get to a presupposed end. We cannot resort to a single equation or proposition for everything, without reducing the content. If I were to say ‘Everything is All’, would I be telling people anything actually useful to them?

There are usually a multitude of factors going on in history which can’t be reduced to a single explanation. Stalin for example, might have died before he secured his power, yet we still would have had what was essentially Stalinism. The events of World War One, could also have triggered another way rather than the assassination of the Ferdinands. The atomic bomb would have been (most likely) dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even if the Japanese surrendered. Why? Because there are a whole load of other factors happening in the background which lead to these events happening. If it didn’t happen this way, it would most likely have happened another way. The old if often preserved in the new. Philosophy always means something different after we pass different points in history. What was philosophy in Plato’s time, is different from what Philosophy is today. There are cultural transgressions which lead to cultural orientations.

Familiarity and the cognitively known

We assume that something is familiar. However, by confining ourselves to what we think we know of it, we fail to dig deeper into the subject matter. Axioms are familiar, so we take them as fixed points. Yet this is problematic, as we do not learn anything when we think we know something, or when we are questioned on our assumptions. If we cognitively know something, we don’t take it for granted. If we are familiar, we take it for granted. Because of this, Hegel wants to get rid of the idea that ‘this is what Philosophy is doing’.

Analysis – Break down/Apart

Analysis means to breaks something down into its constitutes. When breaking things down into the simplest parts, you don’t necessarily need to understand the whole. However, you do gain something from understanding these parts. We cannot take elements for granted. Even though they do not yet realise themselves in the whole, they are what make the whole what it is. For Hegel, both the holistic and the atomistic are important for our understanding. Even so, we can separate the element from the whole. Yet even when it has become abstracted, the element can still come to understand spirit. This is done through the process of mediation, which is what we are. I.e. a mediated subject.