Actualization of Rational Self-consciousness

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Transcript of Actualization of Rational Self-consciousness

Reason Part B: Actualization

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The Actualization of Rational Self-ConsciousnessThrough Its Own Activity:A Reading

1. To understand this middle section of the Reason chapter, VB, it is important to grasp its structure and the role that it is envisaged as playing in the work as a whole. This is a more complicated matter than it may at first appear to be. The section opens with a straightforward characterization:

Just as Reason, in the role of observer, repeated, in the element of the category, the movement of consciousness, viz. sense-certainty, perception, and the Understanding, so will Reason again run through the double movement of self-consciousness, and pass over from independence into its freedom. [348]We already saw how section VA, on Observing Reason, recapitulates some of the moves of the Consciousness section. The new information is that VB corresponds to IVA, the Independence of Self-Consciousness, while VC corresponds to IVB, the Freedom of Self-Consciousness. The passage continues by offering us a clue as to what sort of parallel is intended:

To begin with, this active Reason is aware of itself merely as an individual and as such must demand and produce its reality in an 'other'. Then, however, its consciousness having raised itself into universality, it becomes universal Reason. [348]The forms of phenomenal consciousness considered here correspond to a conception of the individual that one-sidedly identifies itself with the independence that the individual displays in action. Action is conceived as mastery or domination of given circumstances, the cancelling of their independence. In action what things are in themselves is supposed to answer to what things are for consciousness--the opposite direction of fit from that constitutive of consciousness. The moment of independence of the in-itself cannot be cancelled wholesale, by an abstract negation, however, but only retail, by determinate negation in the concrete cycle of action and experience. From the perspective of the whole chapter, what self-consciousness conceiving itself on the model of an active individual must eventually reconcile is the two sorts of relations that it has to the universal norms of the community in which it always already finds itself. On the one hand, those norms, as embodied in communal practice (the "vivified ordinance" of [374] or "the established living order" of [375]) provide the medium within which alone the individual agent can form contentful intentions and act so as to carry them out. In this sense the universal is given to or found by the individual who is constrained by or dependent on it. It is the experience of this aspect that is reconstructed in the dialectic of VB, whereby we come to see what is wrong with conceptions that attempt to ignore it. On the other hand, those norms embodied in communal practice are also the product of individual activity. In this sense they are made by the individual agent, and not just found. For apart from the concrete activity of applying those norms to particular actions, in practical deliberation and assessment, the universal is ideal rather than actual, something merely for consciousness and not something in itself. The first aspect, of the dependence of individuality on the universal, has been with us from the very beginning of the work. What is distinctive of the stage of phenomenal consciousness being considered here is the way in which it identifies its individuality with the second aspect, the dependence of universality on individuality. Accordingly, what we find in the three subsections of VB is a discussion of three forms of individualism: three ways in which individuality seeks to conceive itself as independent relative to the universals that in themselves (and so for us) in fact constrain it.

2. The structure of VB is architectonically overdetermined, however, and the most enlightening way to think of it is not the one forwarded in the passage just cited. As just pointed out, the first understandings of action considered here do indeed exhibit a structure of Mastery, and as we shall see, in VC analogues to the stoic and sceptical strategies of independence are presented as well. But the central lesson of VB is developed by means of a parallel to the stages of consciousness, not of self-consciousness. The three sections of VB are a) Pleasure and Necessity, b) the Law of the Heart and the Frenzy of Self-Conceit, and c) Virtue and the Way of the World. They should be understood as corresponding to sense-certainty, perception, and understanding respectively. The upshot is that the role that thought as the realm of purely inferentially significant claims was there discovered to play in language entries here is rediscovered in a strictly analogous fashion for language exits. Thus VBa discusses action conceived as the immediate expression of immediate impulses, inclinations, or desires. VBb then discusses those actions as the mediated, or universalized expressions of immediate impulses. VBc then discusses actions as the mediated or universalized expression of motivations that are themselves mediated or universal. The progression from immediate sensuous inclinations, to universals of sensuous inclination, culminating in purely theoretical motivation not traceable to immediate inclination accordingly corresponds on the side of exits from thought to actuality in practical activity to the progression from immediate sensuous appearance to classification according to universals of sense to understanding according to purely theoretical concepts on the side of entries from actuality to thought in empirical consciousness. It is this structural parallel that governs the discussion below.

3. The three main sections, Pleasure and Necessity, the Law of the Heart and the Frenzy of Self-Conceit, and Virtue and the Way of the World, are preceded by an overall introduction. It will not be discussed in detail here, but some general comments are in order, since that introduction can be positively misleading unless its expository relation to the body of the section is understood. We who are following the order of exposition are making the transition to considering a different sort of conception of the practical activity by which both individuals and the communities they recognitively constitute actualize themselves. In the discussion of Observing Reason we saw practical activity conceived as something objective and simply there--bodily motions, biological functions, neurophysiological activity. We are now to consider conceptions of practical activity as the expression of individuality, that whereby what an individual self-consciousness is subjectively, ideally, or for itself takes a form that is objective, actual, and for others.[footnoteRef:2] Although in the course of the dialectically reconstructed experience of these conceptions, along with those recounted in VC, an adequate understanding of action as expression will become available to us, all of the phenomenal forms we considered under the heading of Reason, like all of those considered under the headings of Consciousness and Self-Consciousness, are alienated forms. Individuality is misunderstood in terms of one-sided models of independence. This shows up in the difficulty of making explicit the dependence on the universal involved in determinate contentfulness of what is expressed while retaining categories independence regarding its expression. For us to know what to look for in the conflict between determinate contentfulness and independence as it shows up in the form of relations between the universal and the individual, it is useful for us to know something about the universality whose role as constitutive of and constituted by individuality is the ultimate explanatory target. For this purpose, rather than relying entirely on the exposition of alienated conceptions of the universals that govern practical activity by individuals, Hegel offers us a few remarks about the reality of which they are appearances. [2: Being for others turns out to be the mediated form of what being in itself is the immediate form. The latter is a one-sided or alienated conception of what is eventually revealed to us as the former.]

4. The fundamental thing to understand is, of course, the recognitive structure of both social substance and individual self-consciousnesses that are its actuality. This much Hegel takes it we have already learned[footnoteRef:3]: [3: Since this was not the lesson of either IVB or VA, he can only have in mind the discussion early in IVA, where we first hear about mutual recognition.]

If we take this goal--and this is the Notion, which for us has already appeared on the scene--in its reality, viz. the self-consciousness that is recognized and acknowledged, and which has its own self-certainty in the other free self-consciousness, and possesses its truth precisely in that 'other'...then in this Notion there is disclosed the realm of ethical life [Reich der Sittlichkeit]. For this is nothing else than the absolute spiritual unity of the essence of individuals in their independent actual existence; it is an intrinsically [an sich] universal self-consciousness that takes itself to be actual in another consciousness...[349]As constituted by its own and others recognitions, the individual self-consciousness is said to be in itself and for itself[footnoteRef:4] universal. What are these essentially social universals in terms of which we must understand individuals and in terms of which they ideally understand themselves and each other? The passage continues: [4: "Reason is present here as the fluid universal Substance, as unchangeable simple thinghood, which yet bursts asunder into many completely independent beings...which in their absolute being-for-self are dissolved, not merely implicitly, in t