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Jake Boyle

PHIL230 –Nineteenth Century Philosophy



Hegel Exam 2009


Section One – Comment on Princeton grad student blog post

              This blog post did two things very well: first it very clearly gave an explanation of Hegel’s use of Geist and, secondly, explicitly set up where Hegel’s break from Kant occurs.  The metaphor that the author uses to describe Geist – that it is a “historical sediment or residue containing the various meanings… that have existed for beings” – sets up a basic notion of the idea of Geist.  The fact that Geist is a product of history changing and growing various meanings, adding on to itself over the years, is laid out very clearly using this geological metaphor.  The move that the author makes next, however, is what makes this blog post’s argument very successful in terms of its description of Geist.  He breaks down the weak geological metaphor and expands on it by saying that the afore mentioned sedimentary layers “need to be fluid to be conceived correctly.”  That is they aren’t so much years of rock piled one on top of the other but in actuality more akin to various liquids combining together in a glass to form something new.  To make a Caribou Lou, for example, you need to mix 151 proof rum, Malibu coconut rum, and pineapple juice.  Each ingredient doesn’t pile on top of each other but instead mixes together “in such a way that each top layer that gets added takes up all of the lower layers and reasserts them as themselves in its own existence there.”  In short, Geist is more cocktail than pile.

              The second, and more important to the class, success of the blog post was the author’s underscoring of the break between Kant and Hegel.  This break, the author argues, comes from both philosophers theory on the source of meaning in the world.  He says, “For Kant and many Christian scholars, the meaning of the world is guaranteed to exist irrespective of any actions of beings within that world of beings – namely the world is guaranteed to exist in and by God.”  For Kant and company what people do has no significance to affect the meaning of the world.  Since God created the world and bequeathed meaning onto us, “the question as to why the world of beings exists instead of nothing is always already decided in advance or a priori… by God, who knows or keeps in reserve… the powerful and sublime activity that is the answer.”   The difference for Hegel is the complete opposite, that “there is no meaning outside the meaningful actions of beings themselves, and the accumulated mass of these meanings.”  This difference underscores the separation between Kant and Hegel philosophies.  For Kant there is meaning but you can never get to it; as for Hegel there is meaning but you have to create it and may not realize it in your lifetime.  This underlying difference is the backbone of the incompatibility of the two philosophers works.


Section Two – Parsing of paragraphs 228FF

              Self-consciousness only exists if it’s recognized.  We perceive this recognition as our self-consciousness always realizing itself.  This perception is multi-faceted and has various parts that are more or less important than others.  Therefore its mechanisms have to be independent of each other while at the same time being part of a greater whole.  This paradox is naturally part of self-consciousness, since self-consciousness is limitless and can never be established exactly.  Recognition is the extensive attempt to explain this paradox.

              Self-consciousness faces another self-consciousness outside of itself.  The meaning of this is two fold.  First by being another being it loses its own self.  Secondly it assimilates the other because it considers the other not real but a reflection of itself.   Self-consciousness must cancel this other self-consciousness.  This action is the assimilation of that first paradox into itself and is thusly a second paradox.  First it must assimilate the other self-consciousness, in order to convince itself that it’s a true being.  Secondly it then has to assimilate itself into itself, for this other self-consciousness is now itself.  This assimilation in two ways of its otherness as a paradox is also a return in two ways into itself.  For, first of all, through assimilation, it gets itself back because it unifies with itself through the canceling of its own otherness, while at the same time giving the other self-consciousness back otherness because it removes itself from the other and lets the other go free.

              The relation of one self-consciousness in relation to another has so far been represented as if only one had been doing anything.  In reality both self-consciousnesses have been doing the same thing the whole time.  The other self-consciousness is its own being.  The first self-consciousness does not force the second to do anything except what the first makes it do.  The second is also doing things on its own that the first has no power to manipulate unless it does exactly what the first self-consciousness wants it to do. This process relies on both self-consciousnesses working in concert.  They have to work together; otherwise the actions of both self-consciousnesses would be meaningless.  This action then has a double meaning, not only because it’s an action done to itself as well as the other self-consciousness, but also because that act simply is the act of both self-consciousnesses.

              In this part of the process, we see what was discussed before happen as the actual engagement of these actions.  What we’re talking about, however, is found in consciousness.  What before was only us thinking about what was happening, now the terms themselves are in the process of doing just that.  All the terms have on thing in common: a self-consciousness that breaks up into extremes.  Each of these extremes is the changing of its exact from into its opposite form.  While being consciousness it no doubt comes outside itself while, still being outside itself, it is at the same time restrained within itself, existing for itself, and its action of giving external form to itself is for consciousness.  Consciousness discovers that it both is and isn’t another consciousness, in the sense that this other is existing for itself only when it stops existing for itself, and exists itself only while the other exists.   Each consciousness is the connecting force to the other, through which each connects while at the same time existing by itself only through this connection.  They recognize their own existence as both recognizing the other’s existence. 

              The perfect appearance of recognition, or the multiplying of self-consciousness within the whole of the self-consciousness, must now be thought of in the way its process appears to the self-consciousness.  It will first show the differences between the multiples, or the break-up of the commonality in to the extremes, which, upon becoming extremes, oppose one another. One of these oppositions will only recognize the other, while the recognized will only be recognized, but not recognize the first, and vice versa. 

              Self-consciousness is mainly the basic existence, the identity of the self, independent of everyone and everything else.  It takes its absolutely necessary features and total material thing to be Ego, or its conscious thinking subject; and in this immediacy it is individual.  But another person is also self-consciousness; an individual makes its appearance in opposition to another individual.  Appearing this way they are, for each other, appearing like ordinary objects.  They are individual forms of self-consciousness independent from the subject’s self-consciousness.  They exist as modes of consciousness that have moved beyond the basic level of being alive.  Additionally they are forms of consciousness that haven’t helped each other in the process of absolute abstraction.  What this means is the eradication of all immediate existence and only being simply a self-individual.  In other words, they haven’t begun to exist purely as an individual self-consciousness. Each self-consciousness is aware of its own self-individual but not of the other.  Therefore it can’t be certain that it truly is itself, because that truth could only come from an object independent of the self-consciousness revealing that truth to it.  This achievement of the pure abstraction of existence isn’t possible unless both selves recognize each other.

              This presentation of self-consciousness as pure abstraction of itself consists in showing itself as the opposition of its objective form; in other words by showing it isn’t restrained to a limited existence or individuals qualities of existence, or a limited life.  Making this happen requires both the other and the self to do something.  Both are trying to destroy the other.  But this implies that there must also be self-activity because the aforementioned action implies that the self risks its own life.  The way self and other interact is designed so that they establish themselves as having reached the level of objective truth, as well as established the other to the same level.  Freedom can only be obtained by risking the life of the self because that is the only way to prove that the basic nature of self-consciousness is not basic existence.  Instead it is guaranteed that there is nothing else present except the pure self.  The person who hasn’t risked his life is still a person, but he just hasn’t attained the truth that comes from recognizing himself as an independent self-consciousness.  Similarly, this person must aim at the death of the other as it risks its own life, because with out aiming at each other’s destruction, neither can attain the truth of an independent self-consciousness.

              This risking of life, however, cancels both the truth that came from it and the certainty of self as well. If life is where consciousness is supposed to be then death is the negation of consciousness, a denial of independence that is what remains before the recognition of one’s self.  After death arrives the certainty that both self-consciousnesses risked their lives and held little regard for; but this is not true for either self-consciousness that risked their lives.  They cancel their consciousness that was part of the unknown part of natural existence; in other words they abolish themselves and are assimilated into a greater whole as a term or extremes seeking to have existence on their own.  But in addition to this essential moment, namely when these consciousnesses break up into extremes with opposite characteristics, disappears from the mechanism through which change occurs; and the commonality collapses into a lifeless unity that is broken up into lifeless extremes, that only exist and aren’t opposed.  And the two self-consciousnesses do not both give and receive on another back from each other through consciousness; they let one another go with out any concern, like they would normal things.  This is a non-physical negation, not the negation befitting consciousness, which negates something while preserving and marinating what it assimilates.  Instead it negates everything, preserving nothing and assimilating everything into itself.

              In this experience self-consciousness becomes aware that life is equally important to it as unadulterated self-consciousness.  In intuitive self-consciousness, the simple ego, or thinking thing, is absolute object, which, however, is for us or in itself complete mediation, and has at its shortest moment in time important and concrete independence.  The break down of that simple unity comes from the first experience; because of this first experience there is a pure self-consciousness and a consciousness that isn’t entirely meant for itself but another, like as a consciousness that appears as an ordinary thing.  Both effects are important because, in the first effect, the two self-consciousnesses are different and it isn’t apparent that they’ve unified so therefore they exist as opposed forms or modes of consciousness.  The one is independent, and it is meant to exist for itself; the other is dependent, and it is meant to exist for another.  The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman.


Section Three - The three-way discussion

              In this three-way discussion I am forced to side somewhere in between Hegel and the Darwinist/Pragmatists, leaning more to the latter.  By this I mean that, first of all, I do not believe whatsoever in Kant’s concept of reason as a fixed character.  I agree with Rorty in qualifying this as Kant’s “God replacement”, an attempt to say that there is a God without really using the word God.  Kant’s philosophy requires a leap of faith and I would go so far as to say any philosophical notion based on faith and God is faulty because it’s proof lies in the afterlife.  I disagree completely with any notion of an independent spirit or reason.

              So why then do I stake my claim between the Darwinist/Pragmatists and Hegel instead of only in the formers camp? I agree completely with the Darwinist/Pragmatists that reason is a set of strategies that developed over the long course of the human/nature interaction.  I also, like I said earlier, disagree with Hegel that reason manifests itself through a spirit independent from what humans create.  I do however think that there is a spirit; it is just a manmade spirit – more in line with Hegel’s conception of Zeitgeist.  I would not go so far as to say along with Hegel that spirit is transcendent, but instead generated by humans themselves.  If you, for example, were to go to a political rally where every one is unified in their excitement for one single cause you would most likely feel certain energy buzzing through the crowd; ethereal but no less real.  A Hegelian would argue that this is spirit manifesting itself in this crowd.  I would argue that that notion could just as easily be classified as a “God replacement” as Kant’s Reason.  Instead I would say that this spirit is instead generated by the crowd alone; again, no less real, but manmade instead of independent from human life.


Section Four- The Zeitgeist in music

              Right now I am diligently typing out my Hegel Exam in the Armacost Library.  I have all my books and necessary papers.  I’m on track to finish all my work for the semester today.  Tomorrow, my last full day here, will most likely not be spent struggling to complete my work but instead relaxing with what friends are left on campus and then heading home for the holidays.  Why, then, am I so angry with myself?

              I forgot to bring my headphones to the library for the second day in a row.  That means that that the next multitude of hours I will be spending here will be devoid of music of any sort, minus the occasional ring tone jerking me out of a Zen-like state of work.  I am and always have been a music geek.  My iPod wakes me up every morning, my iTunes is always open on my computer, most of my t-shirts were purchased at concerts (currently Hot Chip) and I’ve spent the equivalent of a small island nation GDP on concert tickets in my life. 

I mention all this to establish the fact that I know music like a rabbi knows the Talmud.  And I am here today to discuss the Musikalischer Geist der Zeiten, or musical spirit of the times (full discretion: I translated that on the internet and do not speak a word of German).  I was lucky enough to have been born at the dawning of the Internet age.  Being part of the first generation of human beings to have had a computer in their house for as long as they can remember, I am in a unique position to be both a firsthand witness to watching music evolve with the internet and also expertly benefit from these changes the way most adults cannot. 

It would be more than safe to say that the Internet changed how people access and create music.  First there was an Internet musical boom.  With Napster and the advent of file sharing, as well as the MP3 player, any one could get any song ever recorded ever if they knew where to go.  Soon you had middle-class white kids listening to hip-hop, poor black kids listening to heavy metal, kids in Japan starting alt-rock bands, in addition to seemingly every single European becoming a Techno DJ.  I wouldn’t be so rash as to say that this wouldn’t have happened with out the Internet, but it would be naïve to argue that it could never have happened on the level it did unless every one and the mother had access to the World Wide Web. 

With this new exposure music began to change in ways that no one could ever have expected.  Bands began to experiment across genres and to invent new ones in ways never seen before.  Allow me to give an example.  Conveniently Pitchfork Media just released their list of the Top 50 Albums of 2009.  I took the top 10 albums and went to the artists Last.fm pages to find the ways listeners classified, or “tagged”, their music: 

10. Girls – Album (yes that’s the name of their album) – lo-fi, indie-pop

9. Fever Ray – Fever Ray – electronic, ambient

8. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – electronic, indie-pop

7. Bat For Lashes – Two Suns – alternative, folk

6. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest – psychedelic/experimental pop

5. Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx... Pt. II – hip-hop, east coast rap

4. The Flaming Lips – Embryonic – experimental rock

3. The xx – The xx – post-punk, electronic dance

2. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca – experimental, freak folk

1. Animal Collective – Merriwether Post Pavilion – avant-garde, freak folk


The one thing that is clear is that the basic genres “rock”, “pop” and “hip-hop” are as dead as disco is alive these days (and disco is back).  If I were to classify the musical Zeitgeist as one thing it would be genre bending and expansion of newer forms of music.


Section Five – The most interesting Hegel

              Last night Carlos, the former Johnston Associate Director, dropped by Bekins and spent close to three hours in the Jimmy Room talking to us about what was going in his life.  Part of this was his explanation of the Baha’i faith, of which he is a member and employee.  I happen to live about fifteen minutes from the Baha’i temple in Wilmette, Illinois, the only one like it in North America, so the religion was always an interest to me.  Part of this faith is the notion of progressive revelation, that God will reveal religious truth progressively and cyclically over time through a variation of ways.  What struck me about this was the similarity to Hegel’s Geist.  Although Hegel’s vision is God realizing truth over time as opposed to revealing it, the similarities between Hegelian thought and this particular tenant of Baha’i have been the most interesting thing I thought about having read and discussed Hegel.  

              In terms of what I know now that I didn’t know before reading Hegel was his influence on Marx and the Pragmatists.  Being able to look back at the source of these philosophies that I have studied quite extensively over the past few years gave me fresh perspective on not just Marxism and Pragmatism but also Philosophy in general, which is what I hoped to accomplish from this course.


Section six – Garden of quotes

“Art’s vocation is to unveil the truth in the form of sensuous artistic configuration, to set forth the reconciled opposition just mentioned [the common world of earthly temporality, and a realm of thought and freedom], and so to have its end and aim in itself, in this very setting forth and unveiling.”

Introduction to the Lectures on Aesthetics (1826)

              This quote is particularly interesting in lieu of what I was just discussing about regarding the Zeitgeist reflected in music.  I chose to focus on music for that particular piece because it is one of my areas of great expertise but, in reality, there is more to what I was talking about in terms of the greater Zeitgeist.  If Hegel is right and art’s job is to reveal the truth through itself then one of the great truths of our age is completely reflected in the music we listen to.  Our music is a reflection of the Internet age and a mirror towards how we live our lives.  The instant access that any musician has to any other musician is universal for any person in any field of work.  The music we listen to holds up a mirror to us and says, “Look, we’re just like you!  We spend all of our days connected to the Internet and it has helped us grow and develop in ways we could’ve never expected.”


“The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.”

              During the Bush years I found myself pulling my hair out in frustration with my spoiled upper-middle class peers who were complaining that because we had a neo-con in the White House we suddenly were no longer “free”.  In retrospect I should have been carrying around a history book to show how even one hundred years ago in our very own country there were people who were much less free than we all are today.  I am a card-carrying member of the Green Party but I am not naïve enough to trade 8 years under Bush for one under, say, Caligula. 

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