Philosophical Theory

In the Beginning There Was Only Spirit

In the Beginning There Was Only Spirit

The Traces of Phenomenology | Jena

Ludwig Siep | AmirAli Maleki

Can the period of Jena for Hegel be considered the beginning of the maturity stage of his thought? In other words, was the foundation stone of phenomenological and encyclopedic ideas laid in the era of Jena? What is your reasoning in this regard?

 LS: At the end of the Jena period (1806/07) the elements of Hegel’s later system are there: the tripartite system of philosophy of nature, spirit, and the logic as pure analysis of categories of thinking and (at the same time) being. The proof of this unity and the genesis of its self-understanding (spirit) in nature and history is presented in Hegel’s first major book, the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). Later, however, Hegel distributes the functions of the Phenomenology as introduction, proof, and presentation of the system to different parts of the Encyclopedia. In the 1805/06 fragments of the philosophy of spirit, even the outlines of the Philosophy of Right (1820) are already visible: the constitutional monarchy with a rather liberal civil society. However, there are important developments ahead, especially within the Science of Logic, the Encyclopedia and the elaboration of the Philosophy of arts, religion and history.

 In a chapter of your book, you talked about “the shape and development of the system of philosophy”; Is it possible to open this discussion in a complete language for our audience? What is Hegel’s division of science and what is his interpretation of the science of ideas?

LS: For Hegel the true sense of “science” is philosophy, uniting and systematically comprehending the principles and contents of every particular science (in the normal and present-day sense). This is possible because he understands these principles as the self-differentiation of an all-encompassing idea underlying all reality and coming to reflect itself in science, history and philosophy. Philosophy is the reverse reconstruction of the rationality within (not beyond) the natural and social world. If this rationality – as in the Greek “logos” – is the true reality, then the religious picture of god`s self-reflection in his created world and its scientific understanding is a “narrative” presentation of the truth: the idea exteriorizing itself in nature and history and coming back to itself in philosophy.

Is Hegel close to Plato or Kant in the concept of the idea of science that he proposes? Or maybe the Hegelian approach is a positive reception from both of them. In other words, Hegel’s idea of science has been influenced by what intellectuals?

LS: There are Platonic and Kantian strands (and Aristotelian and Spinozistic as well) in his conception of “idea”. In the Platonic sense, ideas are not simply human thoughts but the true essence of reality. In the Kantian sense (transformed by Hegel) the unity of the ideas is “subjective” in the sense of a process of dividing itself (the I observing itself, but also the categories of comprehending like identity and difference etc.) and unifying them by self-reflective cognition. But you have to give up both the Platonic reification of the ideas (at least suggested by the early and middle Plato) and the Kantian conception of ideas as only “regulative” for human understanding. Ideas (all variations of “the Idea”) are rather processes of division and unification structuring reality as well as thought.

What does “existence in itself”(Ansichsein) mean for Hegel?

LS: “An sich” in the Kantian tradition means what beings are “in themselves” in opposition to what they look for the human understanding. For Kant the “thing in itself” is never to be completely known by human understanding with its spatio-temporal perspective and categories appropriate only for objects given to the senses. For Hegel all attempts to withhold this distinction are shown to be contradictory in the Phenomenology. The “An-sich-sein” and “Für-uns-Sein” are only aspects of the same. Since the essence of objects is their conceptual-subjective structure (see question 3), there is a fundamental unity with a fully developed human subjectivity. This, however, demands a new understanding of the categories as well as of time and space.  There is a second meaning of “an sich” in Hegel referring to the undeveloped, unexplained, not yet analyzed concept or fact, as against their explicit and reflected form (“an und für sich”).

What is the relationship between metaphysics and God for Hegel? Does Hegel believe in God as a theological element like the Christian understanding of it or is he trying to create a new God for the earth?

LS: Neither. He claims to have philosophically understood the traditional concepts of God developed in the history of religion. But the “absolute” or the absolute idea differs from most of them. The main difference (at least to the popular, not the mystic view of “Abrahamitic” religions): It is not outside the world but immanent as its inner logical structure and the self-reflection of its elements. Since the basic development of the concept is syllogistic, individuality, particularity (middle term) and universality are its main elements (analogous to the Christian trinity in Hegel’s interpretation). Even the concept of divine personality is “reconstructed” at the end of the Science of Logic as the “concentration” of the whole conceptual development in a single self-intuition. However, it remains controversial up to this day whether this is a refined apology for religious images or a far-reaching “translation” into rational thought completely independent from religious revelations.

Ludwig Siep

In my opinion, one of the topics that should be discussed in Hegel is the absolute. Is man absolute or spirit? Is the soul something beyond man or is its wholeness hidden within man himself?

LS: For Hegel as for Kant, there is something absolute immanent in the human being. For Kant it is the moral law, binding for every rational being even beyond the human “hardware” (if they exist, “Martians”, angels or gods). To be able to “hear” and follow the moral law (a “secular” one, demanding universal acceptability for every action-guiding maxim) gives the human being its inviolable dignity. For Hegel, not only practical but theoretical rationality and its conditions in the human body and psyche participate in the absolute. “Soul” is immanent in animal nature, but in the human being the rational soul can reach a unity with absolute spirit or the self-understanding of the world order. You can call it “Wholeness hidden in man (and woman) him/herself”, but for Hegel it can become completely self-transparent and unified with the universal logos.

According to Hegel, what is the philosopher’s duty towards the darkness of the world? Is philosophy actually useful and necessary in Hegel’s thought or is it pointless?

LS: For Hegel, philosophy is absolutely necessary and useful. It has to explain the coherence of all human knowledge and to understand the rationality reached in modern institutions – and their possible crises. The main obstacles for this understanding are mistakes in concepts and behavior: the oppositions and dualisms between, for instance, individual and community, god and world, nature and spirit. However, the differences must not simply disappear, but be transformed in an organic way. Thus for instance body and soul, understanding and emotion, individual rights and state sovereignty, secular (impartial) state and religious freedom etc. must form a unity with internal differences. Hegel is clear about terrible historical crises – calling history a “slaughterhouse of nations”. But he sees an overall progress in knowledge and institutions, even if interrupted by radical backlashes.

What can Jena’s era help us and do you suggest what Hegel’s works from that time should be studied at the beginning?

LS: I do not think that one need to follow the temporal development of Hegel’s work. If you are a historian of philosophy and know a bit about Kant, Fichte, and Schelling – but the movement of modern skepticism as well – the Jena writings are good “bridge” to Hegel’s thought. Especially the project of the Phenomenology of Spirit is more accessible if you start with this development. But without this context, most of the Jena writings are particularly difficult. The Philosophy of Right, the Introduction of the Encyclopedia (“Three positions of thought towards objectivity”) or the Lectures on the Philosophy of History are probably easier for the beginning. Without the “early Hegel”, however, they may appear rather dogmatic. It depends on your interests or background – a mathematician or logician might find the Science of Logic more accessible.

Somewhere in the book, there is talk about a “Das älteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus”, unfortunately, there is no information about it in Iran. Please tell your readers a little about this work.

LS: This is a short manuscript (4 pages) in Hegel’s handwriting but apparently the result of discussions between Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin. It was written down at the end of their common studies in the (protestant) theological seminary of Tübingen. Apparently it combines ideas of all of them. It is not really a program for a system and the phrase “German idealism” is controversial as well. The main ideas are directed against the science and philosophy of the late enlightenment: a “mechanistic” concept of nature and state, the separation between emotions and understanding, science and art. Some of the leading ideas seem closer to Schelling and Hölderlin than to Hegel, especially regarding the philosophy of nature and the relation between science and art. On the other hand, some passages are close to Hegel’s manuscripts and ideas in the 1790ties. Above all, the foundation of metaphysics on “ethics” in the sense of Kant’s postulates of practical reason and the critique of dogmatic religion as subjection of the people to the priests. Overall it is a fascinating testimony of the “birth” of post-kantian German philosophy.

What is “science of the reality of the idea”? Talk a little about the “heaven system” and the “earth system”. What exactly does Hegel mean by these topics?

LS: Whereas the Science of Logic analyses the development of the holistic system of concepts as the internal “realization” of the idea, the philosophy of nature and spirit deal with the external realization in time, space, matter and cultural history.  Nature is the material embodiment of this system. The other “realization” is spirit it’s self-understanding in the human mind (subjective spirit), in the works of human social practice (objective spirit) and in his cultural expressions (art, religion, science – absolute spirit). In his philosophy of nature Hegel follows – among other more “modern” parts – the Greek distinction between the movements, forces and laws on earth and in the realm of the heavenly bodies. This is hardly compatible with the homogeneous space and laws of the Newtonian world – Hegel, like Goethe, was critical of parts of Newton’s mechanistic physics. One should, however, not overestimate Hegel’s difference between the two systems – although modern physics distinguishes in a somewhat analogous way between laws, movements and properties of particles in the microsphere and in the meso- and macrosphere.

It may be a very comprehensive question, but I strongly believe that talking about it is helpful. What is the Hegelian spirit? What can be interpreted in the most complete and best possible way of the Hegelian spirit?

LS: I do not know whether I can give you an answer in the most complete and best possible way. One must try to grasp the common meaning of spirit within the differences. This holds as well for the everyday use (team spirit, spirit of a certain age, spirituality etc.) and for Hegel’s different forms. The individual is both formed by the spirit (customs, institutions, religions) of the community and of an historical epoch and at the same time able to understand this formation and its sources. This, however, is a long recursive path from (“blind”) customary identity with cultural patterns to complete philosophical self-understanding. It is possible, because all these “patterns” are structured by a network of categories – and because the spirit of a particular individual and the spirit of collectives, epochs and even the laws of nature, share the same essence or structure (cf. above 3.). Even the progress of history (“world spirit”) is a process of self-objectivation (even alienation) and discovery of just constitutions and habits. Hegel’s own abbreviated formula for spirit is: Recognizing itself in the (seemingly) total otherness. This otherness is “blind” nature as well as despotic domination in society. Spirit is generating itself by coming back from this otherness in nature, society and history to a full philosophical understanding of their rational order and destination. This seems a paradoxical self-creation or “Werden zu sich”. It is, however, a process happening in every individual life gaining full self-consciousness and understanding of one’s situation – certainly not always completely successful. But to understand the works and the history of mankind as such a process is a long and winding path – as the Phenomenology of Spirit and later the complete Encyclopedic system prove.

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