There is some agreement among scholars over the place of

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There is some agreement among scholars

over the place of
The Phenomenology of
within the Hegelian co
rpus. It is maintained
that in th
is work Hegel is concerned
with the problem of scientific justificati
on as a prelude to the

elaboration of his
system (the Logic, the Philosophy of Nature, and the Philosophy of Spirit)
, the argument conti
nues, is intended to concretely illustrate

that a
scientific proof procedure demonstrates the non
existence of a
gap between the subject
in its knowing and the object as known on the way to the absolute which is the subject
as substance and
vice versa
It demonstrates the inherent inadequacy of alternative
standpoints and provides an introduction to the complete syst
em as well as something
of a preview of its contents.
Having accomplished this

reparatory end, Hegel then can

set about the business of enunciating the absolute in

the self
reflection of pure thought

that is his Logic
the justificatory ground for doing

having been

, and it is the
Logic that underlies
the other parts of his complete system.

While this strikes me as a
plausible argument, its merits are not my principal concern here. In my view, the
can be read all on its own and is eminently instructive in its own right.
Indeed, Hegel himself thought of it in this way, as a "ladder" from ordinary
consciousness to the self
revelation of

as absolute knowledge.
sense of Hegel's overar
ching project is important
, and I have drawn upon numerous
writings of Hegel when they seemed appropriate in clarifying the
some respect, but I have here wholly dedicated myself to t
he closest possible reading of

rather c
ircumscribed b
ut crucial portion
s of the book
the introduction and the
address self
consciousness in its
unfolding toward

the determinate
negation of the master
servant dialectic.


I have delimited my project in this way for a number of

reasons. First, the sections
on self
consciousness, life, desire and recognition are


the most contested in
Hegel scholarship, but they can only be understood in terms of what Hegel speaks of as
scientific philosophy, which he explicitly treats i
n the introduction
Second, these
portions of the


in my view the true locus of entire traditions of
misreading Hegel.
Their misappropriation
belongs to the attempt to make Hegel
relevant to the contemporary preoccupations of acad
emic philosophy, while blinding
almost everyone inv
olved to the extent to which, very considerable
, Hegel is far in
advance of these preoccupations. In other words, against the almost universal
consensus on the subject, it is my view that Hegel so belonge
d to the past that he is
coming at us from out of the future, something that would be more widely appreciated if
openness and care were exercised in readi
ng him. It isn't that Hegel

so embedded in the contingency of history that he

o longer has much to say to us or
that, like positivist interprete
rs, we have to dismiss all
in him that is "obviously"

It is that we ourselves are so embedded
in the contingency of the present
that we can no longer hear him.
As Frederick
C. Beiser comments,

Hegel demands our attention for more than historical reasons. If we

consider any fundamental philosophical problem, we find that Hegel

has proposed an interesting solution for it....He held that [his syste

preserves the strengths, and cancels the weaknesses, of
realism and

idealism, materialism and dualism, relativism and absolutism, skepticism

and dogmatism, nominalism and Platonism, pluralism and monism,


and conservatism (
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel.

Frederick C. Beiser. 1993. p. 1).

Third, if Hegel is to be preserved for contempor
ary thought, and indeed for
life, there is no alternative but to enter fully, submerge oneself completely, in the
sometimes tortuous details of these passages in the production of a reading that is

actually Hegelian.

narrower focus allows one to descend to the kind of dept
h at which
the true
, remarkably intricate

coherence of the
can be demonstrated.
Fourth, I believe that Hegel can be preserved in that a close reading is in fact possible,
in that the reader is not the plaything of every historical current an
d eddy, and this
preservation is valuabl
e in that
Hegel remains the most

fertile imaginable resource for

philosophic medi
ation, if contemporary academic philosophy
only could itself become
more self

By so becoming, it might
d that the problems it
finds of the upmost moment are in fact pseudo
Fifth, Hegel's greatness has
almost entirely been eclipsed from view by all kinds of factors (e.g. prejudice,
groupthink, instinctive antipathy, and all manner of p
existing and typically
dogmatic agendas
that have long lost faith in
reason and
truth), and therefore a
meticulously close reading is the only possible remedy.

Sixth and lastly, a close reading of the kind I am undertaking here of the entire
so rich are Hegel's insights, so dense his prose
would require the
labors of a lifetime and a book several times the length of the
That is, the relatively few sections I have chosen are critical to any genuine
g of Hegel, a
nd I have settled upon them for that reason
, but their close
reading has vast implications for
the interpretation of the

as a whole
and of Hegel in general
The truly rare genius of Hegel has itself constituted an
obstacle to
his proper reception. In fact, he is all too frequently dismissed as hopelessly
antiquated or even as simply incoherent

in the readings of
Rudolf Haym, Theodor
Otto Poggler, Robert C. Solomon)
, but only by those who have not in fact
ed themselves to the kind of patient

labor requir
ed to read what he has written,

to follow his argument as he intended it to be followed

rather than deciding upon its
merits in advance

according to some widely accepted but ultimately unjustified criterio

We then must begin this reading, one that I hope will not readily be confused with

(e.g. Kantian, Marxian, historicist, holist
, analytic, post
, with the
introduction to the
. We will then turn to the transition from
natural or
ordinary cons
sness to self
om the subject in its immediacy
through the master
servant dialectic.

As we proceed
, it will be necessary to retrace our
, to demonstrate how natu
ral con
lays the groundwork for the
emergence of subjectivity and life, and to look forward to many
of the stages on the way
absolute knowledge,
to the very conclusion of the

work, so that we can see how
subsequent developments



to make self
, and with self
consciousness natural consciousness,

possible. It is only in this way, with respect to
the section

under consideration, that a close reading is possible, for the
is in fact

a coherent system but, as Hegel explicitly says, it is both
linear (a scientific progression) and recursive (a retreating into the ground).
One is
perhaps not used to reading in this way, but I hope that my explication will be an aid in
doing so. Ultima
tely there is no choice, for there is no other way in which the
can be read
So let us summon the requisite
openness and
quite considerable, and get about the business of actually reading.

Hegel's i
ntroduction to the
Phenomenology of Spirit

is an indispensable prelude to
the work and, as such, it is worth dwelling at some length upon it. As Hyppolite
observed, it "seems to contain the original thought from which the whole work emerged"
(GS 3
4). In it Hegel presents
an account of his speculative method, his manner of

proof, and distinguishes philosophy as science, with all of its claims rigorously proven,
from the philosophy, all other kinds, that can only pretend to scientificity. He sets forth
what it means for the


to be a "Science of the Experience of
Consciousness,” as he planned originally to title the work. He describes the
phenomenological method by which experience elevates sensory or natural
consciousness through determinate stages to spirit, w
hich is possible only because
each shape of consciousness is subject to despair, the frustration of its peculiarly
human mission, the attainment of absolute knowledge

or complete freedom in knowing
But from the very start,
the inaugural shape of con
sciousness as sensible intuition,
there is science and what Hegel calls the "coming into being of knowing," and it is for
this reason that speculative philosophy, as Hegel continually repeats, is circular
result inseparable from the activity of its re
alization, the appearance of knowledge
in its
progressive self
from what is in itself rational. The
that comes to know the object comes to know itself ultimately as the self
knowledge that
is at once subject and sub

or the absolute
, but it only comes to this realization by
passing through diverse shapes (
) of consciousness or
knowledge in its appearance.

Hence what Hegel achieves in his presentation of the
Idea is not a metaphysical monism or t
he identity of subject and object

in an infinite self
. There is only
an identity of subject and object in their non
identity, and the
dualism of subject
object intrinsic to our experience is retained within the Idea.

Hegel commences in

the i
roduction by addressing
natural representations
natϋrliche Vorstellung)
of the human capacity for knowledge that preclude a proper

appreciation of the phenomenological method and of the proof procedure requisite to a
genuinely scientific philosophy

that would set about the business of knowing what is

In other words, he is interested in the question of how philosophy can get
underway in the acquis
ition of knowledge, of truth

claims free from contentiousness.
What is crucial to appreciate at the outset is that thwarting speculative philosophy are
pervasive, commonsensical and indeed natural representations or presuppositions
rather than rigorously or systemically demonstrated

epistemic principles, and as such
Hegel can easily expose them as self
contradictory, which he sets about doing.

It is
rather ironic that many of those today who still maintain these presuppositions in
academic philosophy have attempte
d to make Hegel con
form to them (e.g.
Hartmann, Robert Pippin,

The first of them Hegel addresses is the claim that before philosophy can begin its
actual task, cognizing the truth, the philosopher must somehow occupy a critical
position remove
d from cognition and make an evaluation of it (
M: §73). Locke,
Hume, Kant, Fichte and many of Hegel's more philosophically insignificant
contemporaries endorsed this view. However, it should be borne in mind that although
Hegel characterizes it vario
usly as commonsensical or as
der gesunde
(healthy human understanding), he also designates it
, as a
belief that arises with inevitability, and hence he will undertake to incorporate such
commonplace understandings into
hilosophy rather than assume a special
epistemological prerogative for the latter. Knowledge i
n its appearance is no illusion,
and the Idea is only rendered concrete by way of knowledge in its successive

appearances or
by way of
the negation of the negati
Knowledge in its appearance is
what it is in its finitude, in falling short of the absolute.

Despite the distinct impression created in much of the secondary literature, Hegel
isn't principally concerned with the philosophers themselves wh
o espouse the view that
there is a critical remove from cognition. Those who see the

Kantian, for instance, have as little basis for this reading as those who see it as anti

or anti
Robert Pippin in
Hegel's Idealism
nts Hegel as
continuing the Kantian project, and
Kenneth R. Westphal is convinced that Hegel's
presentation of the shape of consciousness called perception is "all about Hume's
epistemology in the
Treatise of Human Nature,
specifically, in 'Of Scepticism w
ith regard
to the senses'" (HE 1). Tom Rockmore has it that Hegel "typically arrives at his own
approach through criticism of other views," especially Kant (C 23). It would be more
accurate, I think, to say that Hegel, while obviously a product of a trad
ition he has
thought through, actually has a rather radically different philosophical agenda, a
scientific one. He will do nothing less, by his own lights, than transcend every finite
claim to knowledge on the way to absolute knowing, and that means exhau
sting, by way
of inclusion rather than exclusion or criticism, every alternative possible epistemic

position as absolute.

In the introduction


addresses obstacles to speculative philosophy. In these
unscientific passages, his tone is more critical, but his objective is to prepare the way for
the philosophic science that must make a proper beginning, unfold with the strictest
possible necessity,

and that he would like to have taken seriously in its ambitions. Kant
is present in these passages, of course, but Kantianism isn't really the issue. Nor is


Hume. The issue is the determination of a starting point for scientific philosophy that
begging or dogmatic and then setting about the business of systemically
disclosing knowledge to itse
lf in the fu
llness of its truth as the Idea, in the system that
reaches its result only as the process by which it was attained.
The universe that

speculative philosophy explicates is an orderly happening.

The postulation of the existence of a removed critical position from which cognition
can be surveyed and found wanting causes concern [
] on a couple of counts,
both for
those who posit it and for Hegel. From a Hegelian perspective, it isn't

clear how
there can exist a non
cognitive vantage from which one could critically assess cognition.
It would seem that one would always already be engaged in the very cognizing one i
endeavoring to evaluate. Hegel does not assume that there is a difference between
cognition and consciousness, and he declines to begin his
with the
assumption of a privileged philosophic overview or seat of arbitration that, by virtue of
very introduction or bare self
evidence, establishes scientific philosophy in its superiority
to ordinary consciousness. He is unprepared to maintain that ordinary knowing is
inadmissible on th
e basis of its being ordinary, as was Schelling's wont.
science can only validate itself in its result
, in the demonstration of the infinitude of

Nonetheless, given the ordinary assumption of a critical evaluative remove from
cognition, it is commonly held that cognition is analogo
us to an "instrument" or a
"medium" (

This analogy, however natural, is both in itself probl
ematic and a
barrier to the
phenomenological method. It ass
umes that the absolute or the
itself is
other than and exterior to cognit
ion and that the whole endeavor to

know what is in itself is directly suspect given a cognition that is always in advance
excluded from it. Cognition conceived as an instrument taking hold of its object
externally would seem invariably bound to affect tha
t to which it is applied, to impose
itself upon a content which is thereby altered, and thus to disclose the object to
consciousness as other than what it is in truth. Likewise, if cognition is conceived as a
passive medium or means, "we do not receive th
e truth as it is in itself, but only as it
exists through and in this medium" (
M: §73). That is to say, rather than knowing
the object as it actually is, it can only be known as it presents itself in the cognit
ion that
is naturally inadequate to

objective actuality and thus obfuscating. Consciousness
would experience the cognizing medium of conduction rather than that which is
conducted. Merold Westphal describes this view as belonging to "a philosophy which
assumes we can know knowledge but que
stions whether we can know anything else"
(HT 3). And for Hegel there is an obvious problem in the claim to knowledge of
knowledge but not of "anything else," for what could be the veridical status of the
knowledge that is perhaps ignorant of this “anythi
ng else,” of the object of cognition?
And given these very lucid passages in the introduction, it is extraordinary that Hegel is
so often interpreted as a proponent o
modern idealism in the style of Berkeley and
Kant, as arguing tha
t the object is
dependent for

its existence upon
the individual
subject's or a supra
individual subject'
s cognizing, as if the object were

simply what
some subject, some historical collection of subjects, or some metaphysical spiritual
entity thinks it. The Hegelian proj
ect is not transcendental, as Klaus Hartmann in his
influential category theory believes. Hegel is not attempting to depic
t seemingly
mysterious entities (e.g.
of Charles Taylor

or to elucidate and systematize the

fundamental categories by whic
h thinking about objectivity is possible. Instead Hegel is
wholly committed to scientifically
demonstrating the thinking about objecti
vity that is
objectivity itself, the for itself that is in itself. The depiction of the absolute and of spirit
as "myste
rious entities" is both contentious and literally false. They are not mysterious
at all if they are in fact rational, which for Hegel they are, and they

are not entities but
. Cognition simply cannot be investigated by Hegel or anyone else in the m
Hartmann proposes. Scientific philosophy cannot elucidate the concept except in terms
of the in itself, and those who fail to see this involve themselves in the problem of
positing a non
cognitive vantage from which to reach judgments about cognitio
n. The
transcendental appropriation of Hegel is every bit as guilty of this fundamental error as
the historicist and holistic appropriations are.
Whether analogized to an instrument or a
medium, cognition thus represented does not permit access to the tr
uth of the object
itself, and the whole problem of what would constitute the truth has ostensibly been
obviated in advance in such a way that there would be no prospect of a philosophy
intent upon the absolute
getting underway.

Hegel, in h
is discussion of cognition as an intermediary, is setting up the key contrast
by which he will propound the proper task for scientific philosophy. This task is by no
means the elaboration of a theory of knowledge that would compete against others in

of an unjus
tified standard
however self
, natural or "scientific"
and that
would attend to cognition rather than the acquisition of truth. Hegel isn't interested in
merely criticizing other views. He agrees with Schelling that philosophy must b
e the
science of the absolute, and he sees the inadequacy of the reflective philosophies of
Locke, Kant and Fichte in their character as meditations upon cognition rather than

earnest e
ndeavors to cognize what is, and

it is the self
contradictory character

of the
latter and the vacuousness of

the former that he exposes
. Indeed, with the suspect
assumption of a pre
knowing evaluative distance from knowing, or a difference between
consciousness and cognition, a whole set of problems swims into view, and Hege
elicits their thoroughly self
incompatible nature.
That is, he exposes their self
so that they can later, in the workings of the system itself, be revealed in
their finitude, the finitude that the absolute requires in its infinitude.
he proposition
that the
" Hegel notes. "The idealism of philosophy
consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite has no veritable being. Every
philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has
idealism for its principle, and the
only question then is how far this principle is actually carried out" (SL, 154
5; 5, 172
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel
p. 105). Speculative philosophy will demonstrate
that it can include all possible standpoints in

that the finite is i
nherently infinite and only

to be scientifically established as such.
The finite is that which ceases to be or is
bounded in some way, but becoming and boundedness have to be thought, and in
being thought they a
re overcome as ulti
mate claims to truth
. The world is not an
aggregate of isolated contents or the perpetual passing away into nothingness. The
finite is the dependent which, in its dependence depends on something else

With ordinary conceptions of cognition, t
e comes into view "different types of
cognition" about which endless debate is possible, absent a stable criterion of truth,
over the one that is best adapted to the ostensibly elusive object of knowledge (
§73). The strengths and weaknesses of each

type would have to be carefully assessed
so that the wrong type not be privileged, so that the types may be hierarchically

ordered, even though it remains

unclear what standard, given the inaccessibility of the
object in itself, would be employed for the
purpose. In that cognition is considered "a
faculty of a definite kind and scope," its possibilities and limitations must somehow be
disclosed and strictly observed, without knowing that against which it reveals itself as
limited, so that one doesn't overr
each and "grasp clouds of error" (
M: §73). In
other words, the natural assumption is that philosophy must proceed cautiously, ever
qualified in its claims, and without the assurance that it ever can know what truly is and
without being entirely sure o
what its proper business is. This assumption involves one
directly in irresolvable difficulties. It isn't clear how one
would acquire knowledge
without providing any basis for the determination of

what genuine knowledge in fact is

and hence
, absent su
ch a standard, it also isn't clear what it is that causes the
advocates of this assumption so much timorous concern. That is, without a standard
how could they know the nature of the error they so strenuously seek to avoid?

, analytic
, non

readers of Hegel
of numerous stripes
have simply given up all
concern on this subject and have mischaracterized him as
proposing the "truth" of ungrounded systems or of contingent, communal

or of language games that "work

In the process, these readers have
given up on the truth itself
at is, the possibility of an in itself that can be in and for
Their antipathy to "metaphysics" in the wake of Kant and positivism gives way to
rofound equivocation as to what the metaphysical is and to the abandonment of truth,
or at least any robust conception of it, for the jazzy improvisation of commonly held


Hegel says that the dubious representation of cognition as an inst
rument or as a
medium seems to justify concern (
die Besorgnis scheint gerecht)
on the part of those
try to philosophize on its basis

34). However, this concern is premature, for it
is the product of an incoherent assumption that asserts a claim t
o truth about cognition,
a claim that has never been and never can be established in its validity. In addition, the
first precipitous step determines the course of what follows. Hegel speaks of this
concern being "transformed into the conviction" that the
re is a wall dividing knowing
from its object and cognition from the absolute. What Hegel is describing

in these
opening lines of the i
ntroduction is what he rather passionately deplores, a contempt for
reason (e.g. with the declaration of propositions co
ncerning what knowledge can't be in

the absence of any demonstration of what it is), a preference for an irrational rather
than a rationally sound methodology as part and parcel of doing the work of authentic
philosophy, the acquisition of genuine knowledge, which only need secure for itsel
f the
proper starting point and a self
evaluative procedure. Philosophy, thinks Hegel, must be
the activity of acquiring knowledge in full recognition of what truth requires rather than
an endless reflection upon the inaccessibility of the absolute by whic
h philosophy goes
without both truth and its own proper activity.
Indeed the problem with the historicist
appropriation of Hegel is its methodologi
cal incoherence. G
iven the care with which
Hegel has introduced both his method and his justification for it
, one
knows how to respond to critics like R. C. Solomon, who claim that "Hegel has no
method" (
In the Spirit of Hegel.
Oxford, 1983. p. 21).

Hegel's proof procedure cannot be set forth in an introduction for it must be
ted in the
itself, achieve justification in its development, but

he can warn his readers in the i
ntroduction against unwarranted prejudices that might
deter them from further inquiry. He can

present the problem of the justification of claims
to truth, provide a general description of scientific procedure, and point the way to
speculative philosophy and its proper task, actu
al knowing of what is. In the
ntroduction Hegel can make the case th
at the only alternative to scientificity is
irrationality, whether natural or otherwise, a pseudo
philosophizing that lacks rigor and
secure truth claims because it lacks faith in reason. Although he doesn't explicitly
formulate this requisite faith until

1818, it is foundational for the
Hegel’s faith, which he puts to the test in the
, is that experience will
disclose itself to rationality because of its inhe
rently rational nature. The in
itself isn’t
, like the God
of Deism
; it is an object of the experience of consciousness,
and as such consciousness need only consult itself for a standard of truth and in self
consultation determine the adequ
acy of its own defining criterion
. Consciousness in
each of its shapes de
clares what the absolute truth is as what is in itself, and it then
enters into an experi
ence by which it learns that what

it took to be
itself w
as in fact
only what it was for
consciousness. Consciousness looks to its epistemic self
conception and the

object that it expects to conform to it. The question as to the best
type of cognition for the task doesn’t even arise.
Hegel doesn't concern himself with
a priori
categories of reason, with clear and distinct ideas, with the indubitability
of t
a posteriori
or with the somehow manifest superiority of one network of categories
or cultural ethos over another. Instead he immerses himself in the matter at issue itself
so that he can disclose its internal intelligibility and the manner in which thi
s intelligibility
gives rise to the rationality of t
he whole in all of its parts.


Hegel begins, for instance, with sense certainty's this as the criterion of truth. The
this is posited in its unwitting conceptual isolation as the absolute itself or
as itself the
truth that is pure being. In sense certainty's experience of the object in itself, the this is
revealed to the reader (rather than to sense certainty) as impossible in its adequacy as
absolute knowledge.
"Every individual being is some aspe
ct of the Idea," Hegel

in the
Encyclopaedia Logic
. "The individual by itself does not correspond to its
concept. It is this limitation of its existence which constitutes the finitude and the ruin of
the individual" (
213; 8, 368
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel
p. 106). The
limited inherently presupposes the unlimited.
That is, the beginning of the
is already determined in advance by the end, the demand for absolute
knowing as a condition equally binding on all sha
pes of consciousness

or the irresistible
injunction that flows directly from the nature of consciousness as consciousness (the
injunction to know)
, and the this discloses itself in the determinate negation of sense
as indeed

an isolated, s
imple content that must be sublated in light of
what has been learned, the internal relationality of the this or the this that is not isolable
in its simplicity. The reader knows that the criterion of truth that is the concept of the
this has burst its li
mits, for it is finite, in the experience that then, in the transition to
perception, takes up the this both differently and more adequately. One can see, as
such, that Hegel's logic does indeed inform the progressive movement of the
. The m
ovement, the reader is able to know, is from the greatest
conceptual finitude to conceptual infinitude or the Idea.
It is for this reason that Hegel
can speak of the knowledge supposed by sense certainty as apparently

the richest
while is in fact

the very

poorest (PhG 91).
We can know, as Hegel has it, that the "true is

the whole. But the whole is nothing other than the essence consummating itself through
its development" (PS 11/20; 3, 24
Cambridge Companion to Hegel
. p. 107).
Reality is self
izing in that its teleological movement is immanent, in that the
standpoint that of necessity posits pure being must be sublated on the way to the all
encompassing truth of being. Hegel's logic provides the developmental structure of the
Idea. His philoso
phies of nature and of spirit provide the developmental structure of the
Idea within these determinate spheres of existence. As such, Hegel can only be
understood from the perspective of the system as a whole.

Whatever one's meta
cognitive assertion as to the best type of cognition, assuming
the difference between consciousness and cognition that Hegel addresse
s in the
ntroduction, the claim is forever vulnerable to counter
assertion, and this will be the
case for as long as one's methodology is not scientific. Absent secure justification,
there is only philosophic sprawl, as some endorse the self
evident, others the powers of
intuition, the sentiments of the heart, clear and distinct ideas, ideas traceabl
e only to
sensory impressions, the cate
gories of the understanding
, the ungrounded
coherence of
a system of concepts

or the relativity of all truth
each involving all
manner of givens. It
is in this fashion

that reason is brought into disrepute, and the

proper work of philosophy
deferred. Once (pseudo
)philosophy has discovered its exaggerated concerns and
ful precautions to be warrantless
, it is possible to set about the task of acquiring
knowledge on the basis of a truth criterion that is secure i
n that it is rigorously self
testing. It isn't a weakness of the
that the work proper begins with a
truth criterion (sense
certainty's "it is") that is self
refuting. On the contrary, the self
testing nature of every truth criterion that co
nsciousness presents in each of its shapes

is precisely the basis of the dialectical movement by which the absolute can be known
in its truth. The negative movement involved is neither skeptical in the ancient sense,
as the refutation of all claims to tru
th, nor in the modern sense, as an en
dorsement of
transcendental philosophy
, and this is because every negation is at the same time
positive, the proposal of a position. As Quentin Lauer observes,

Once the fact of rational knowing has been estab
lished, one can quite legitimately

ask for the inevitable starting point in the elaboration of that knowing, and one can

equally legitimately state that since the object of thinking is, at the very least,

being, we can begin th
ere, and then systematically work out all the implications of

that first object of thought

or, to be more Hegelian, let the implications work

themselves out

(RH 23).

Hegel’s faith is that the object presented to consciousness is rif
e with rational
implications and that these implications can be disclosed phenomenologically and
articulated systematically in

their dynamic logic. His faith is that speculative philosophy
can make a beginning because it

has an end that is att
ainable, bec
ause the c
oncept is
always implicitly in advance of the

appearance of knowledge characteristic of each
shape of consciousness. The task of the


is to demonstrate how in all
of its concrete details Hegel’s faith in reason is not

misplaced and
that otherwise merely
subjective certainty can be realized substantively as tru
th and is only truth as thus

Against such an approach, one can simply assume that all true knowledge is
derived from and traceable back to sensory i
mpressions and that cognition is the
instrument of
its derivation.
One can assume likewise that somehow a concept or the
identification of things in their kinds is constructed and that this concept is (or is not) a
mere construct.
Or one can assume that t
here are innate or clear and distinct ideas
which in the transparency of the cogni
tive medium guarantee knowledge and underwrite

the even most baroque metaphysical structures.

It was Kant who tried to save
philosophy from
the excesses of the latter specie
s of assumption
and who thereby
restricted knowledge to the empirical order. However, in the process Kant closed down
epistemological acces
s to the thing in
itself and consigned knowledge to
an ostensibly

inherent finitude, positing in place of actual kno
wledge so
called regulative ideas.

"Thoughts, according to Kant," says Hegel

in the
, "although universal and
necessary categories, are
only our
separated by an impassable gulf from the
thing, as it exists apart from our knowledge" (
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel
Hegel sees another alt
ernative to the excesses of
like Wolff and

Leibniz and

like Locke and Hume
, an internal criterion of truth that
thoroughly evaluates itself on the way to a knowledge that is both absolute and
justified in all of its moments as the immanent sublation of finitude in all of its

e proposes
a scientific method in t
he attainment of the concrete universal, the
unity that is intrinsic to
all diversity, and he will demonstrate the priority of the concept.
Hegel writes

in the
Encyclopaedia Logic

It is a mistake to imagine that the objects which form the cont
ent of

our mental ideas come first and that our subjective agency then super

venes, and by the aforesaid operation of abstraction, and by colligating

the points possessed in common by the objects, frames concepts of

them. Rather the concept is the genuine first; and things are what they

are through the action of the concept, immanent in them, and revealing

itself in them (
163 Z2: 8, 313
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel


Aristotelian abstraction could not account for how identific
ation takes place
Something must be identified so that abstra
ction can be made and so that the
abstracted concept

can i
ndeed refer to the same kind. In addition, a
bstraction is always

only a means to the concept which relies on the givenness of the object.
It suggests
that a thing be conceptualized as belonging to a kind in terms of its specific
characteristics or properties which, however, require for their identification the very
ds or universals that are to be derived. The object is thus external to the
consciousness that, on Aristotelian grounds, is
in fact, whatever Aristotle says,
powerless to grasp it.
In the


achieves a thorough integ
ration of
reason and

by presenting consciousness as the rationality that

through its experience of the object. He demonstrates that experience must be
inherently rational and that what is in itself is demonstrably available to knowledge as a
necessary object

of consciousness. There is only an object
for consciousness
in that
there is an object
in itself
, and hence any given criterion of truth is internally evaluative.
One needn’t somehow leap clear of cognition to compare the object in itself with the
t as it is known, a misguided temptation which arises when knowing is asserted to
be external to truth. Truth articulates itself in the dial
ectical interplay of the object for
consciousness and the object in
itself, and it is this that Hegel calls experie
). The object that reveals itself to consciousness cannot be reconciled with
the truth consciousness had anticipate
d, its advance conception of the object in
and the object thus revealed inaugurates a new shape of consciousness and a

conception of its truth. No instrument is required, and appearance (
) is no
barrier to knowledge.
Knowledge is in fact the process of the conversion of appearance
into truth as the self
revelation of the

absolute to itself as it is in and

knowledge is possible in that there is no consciousness absent an object of
consciousness, and there is no consciousness which is not, even if at first cognizant of


itself as
essential, self
consciousness. That is, the mere existence
of consciousness
sures the existence
of the object in its
elf as well as the epistemological availability

the object in itself as the

consciousness of consciousness, a truth of which natural
consciousness can know nothing short of its sublation as self

Hegel’s interest in the claim that cognition is an external instrument is its status as
the merest assertion, and a self
contradictory one, that in its persuasiveness stands in
the way of genuine philosophy. An instrum
ent cannot help but "reshape and alter" what
it would lay hold of. If one thinks of a pair of pliers gripping a bolt, Hegel's objection
might not seem obvious, for the bolt seems to be retrieved exactly as it is.
But, then
again, one is left holding the
pliers with the question unanswered, "Now what are these
Indeed, taking the figure in this way (namely, just as the figure suggests)
reveals how slapdash metaphorical or representational thinking can be. Cognition is
nothing whatever like a pair

of pliers and, conceived instrumentally, it would forever be
the extraneous element that is nonetheless always commingling with the truth of what
is, adulterating it, as an intermediary that cannot remain extraneous.
For the bolt is only
now "here" rathe
r than "there" or known rather than unknown by way of the operation of
the pliers.
Nonetheless, even this representation of knowing, as extraneous but
inescapably meddlesome, reveals cognition as quite real, though such an instrumental
knowing could never

yield knowledge of the truth of the absolute, and the undeniable
reality of cognition is
precisely what is so strenuously evaded in the name of
truth. What goes ov
erlooked is very precisely the c

and the strict necessity by
which all knowing

is human knowing
, but not at all patently
suspect on that account
Hegel concludes that "we employ a means which immediately brings about the opposite

of its own end; or rather, what is really absurd is that we should make use of a means at
all" (

§73). That is, must we represent cognition in this way and suppose a
difference between consciousness and knowing? Might it not be instead that a
phenomenology of consciousness would reveal consciousness as inherently and
essentially cognizing? Might w
e not begin without presuppositions and start with
appearances rather than end with them
, thereby settling for finite knowing
which, if it
can only be knowing in terms of what it does not know (i.e. the infinite) can hardly be
called knowing at all

In t
he process, representational thought will be overcome but
only in its sublation or meaningful retention as properly contextualized. The dualism of
representational thought will not collapse before the supposed identity of the absolute
with itself as known
, but the conceptual underpinnings of all representational thought
will be revealed as necessary moments in the achievement of the absolute as perpetual
return t
o itself from its own otherness or as the absolute truth of difference. Those who
have seen He
gel as a metaphysical monist as well as those who have read Hegel in
reaction to this supposed monism would do well to consider that the absolute truth of
difference is indeed a metaphysical conception but that the very last thing it can
possibly be is a m
onistic one.

In the introduction

Hegel is working his way toward a declaration of the

the scientific journey of knowledge toward

the absolute on the basis

to truth which can only be secured given the nature of conscious
Scientific knowledge will culminate in the "absolute knowing" in which knowing and the
absolute coincide

in formative tension
, but absolute knowing is meaningless absent the
movement of knowing by which it is attained, a movement that can only be fol

phenomenologically or

the direct disclosure of consciousness

to the reader
. Hegel
is interested in something altogether different from an instrument or a medium. The
is not a Kantian refi
nement, fulfillment or critique, as Jon S
wart has it.

"[Throughout his life, Hegel's] conception of the
as a transcendental
argument never changed
claims Stewart
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and
Century Philosophy.
Ed. Frederick C. Beiser. p. 83).

makes manifestly clear that Hegel had no interest or belief in the possibility of a
scientific presentation of a transcendental argument.

Jacques Derrida's repeated

to his critics that they take the trouble to read what he has written

is likewise the
proper response in this case.
No reading is possible unless one is open to what is

read as an event that is

in no way
closed down in its possibility, unless one
remains open to the future

as the unanticipated
, to what one

might learn in spite of
one's cultural situatedness.


proceeds by way of the


of consciousness in its
cognitive ascent to absolute knowledge, in the self
overcoming of finitude, for which
disclosure it is essential that nothing whatever be interpo
Reading the
the ability to read it, depends
as Heidegger quite rightly observed
the reader's capacity for the suspension of premature judgments, the capacity to
actually follow the unfolding of a demonstration on the terms that the demonstration
proposes for itse

in this way can the c
oncept manifest itself to the reader as that
which is always beyond its appearance as knowledge, beyond a
ny given shape of
consciousness, only in the sense of being immanent to each and every appearance of

y by

evading this truth of the c
oncept did
Descartes, Kant, Fichte,

numerous contemporary
immure knowledge in the barrenness of the I.
As Hyppolite puts it, “Every consciousness is properly more than it thinks it is, and
because of this
its knowledge divides: i
t is certainty (subjective) and
as such is
contraposed to [itself as] truth (objective)” (GS 16).
object dualism is necessary
to the truth.
It is this, the nature of experiential consciousness, that makes the
possible, and it for this reason that Hegel addresses natural
representations of cognit
ion at the very outset, in his i
ntroduction. They provide him
with a scientific beginning that is


g without being merely
that is
, without relapsing into skepticism.
It is only because what Hyppolite
claims is true that Hegel can begin with the most minimal concept of knowledge, pure
being, and unfold from it the absolute or the being that is non
being, the positivity that is


To grasp Hegel’s point in this regard, one must be sensitive to its original formulation
in German, to the significance of the phrase "
eine natürliche Vorstellung
" (rather than
Miller's translation "natural assumption"), to the repr
esentation's metaphoricity

necessary externality
, and one must be aware also of the precise nature of the Hegelian
project, for it is not a his
torical commentary in any ordinary

sense. At issue is a
representation, but a natural one, a representation
that is also an inescapable
experience. I must disagree with Merold Westphal when he observes that "the source
of the difficulty of importing into philosophy two metaphors [of cognition as instrument
and as medium] for knowledge which derive from the know
power tradition" is
that philosophy should be concerned with the truth of the absolute (HT 5). I mention
because a close reading of the i
ntroduction depends upon the co
rrect appreciation

of what the i
ntroduction proposes in terms of what the
strives to
achieve, and
the realization

is not a critical meditation upon the
tradition from a privileged historical distance, for which grounds would have to be
provided, but a

rigorous exposition of knowledge in its dialectical engagement with
experience in the ascent to the truth of the absolute. (It is almost needless even to

observe, in this respect, that Hege
l says nothing whatever in the i
ntroduction about a
power tradition," and the historical allusions that do appear ar
e not in
themselves germane
to the actual unfolding of scientific philosophy.)

Westphal is right to note that the "thoughtless use of the instrument and medium
metaphors is not an iso
lated inadvertence within the critical tradition. That tradition is
pictured, not as a miscellaneous conclusion here and an isolated pronouncement there,
but rather as a network of interrelated elements" (HT 5). However, Westphal’s
implication is mislead
ing, for Hegel is not

this tradition at all, and he is
concerned neither with the pervasive nor the inadvertent manifestation of a certain set
of propositions in history but very exactly with the
of the representation, its
necessary i
nvolvement in the dialectical unfolding of knowledge as revealed
phenomenologically. For Hegel to present a critique of a certain historical formulation of
these matters, even in an introduction, would be to depart from the spirit of science,
which he is
painstakingly anticipating, and it would be to render his supposed critique as
unjustifiable as the very formulations he would criticize; it would be to ground himself in
the shifting sands of history rather than in the necessary movement of epistemic
ciples. The "interrelated elements" that Hegel exposes as self
contradictory are
inherently rather than historically incoherent, and they have profound implications for

speculative science in its very possibility, but criticism

of them would be useless

the contingency of historicized philosophical recollection, for Hegel is interested in a
point of departure that is free from dogmatism of any kind, scientific or non
Hegel's preoccupation, for the moment, is not with history but with th
e nature of
consciousness in terms of its object and the implications of this for knowledge. It seems
to me that Lauer has it right when he comments,

Hegel simply rejects all attempts to set up an antecedent critical apparatus for

rmining what is or is not to be called knowing, as doomed never to get off

the ground. Thus, Hegel’s question about how to begin boils down, really, to

something like: let us begin, but let us make sure we begin at the beginning

neither before nor after it. This will require two things: (a) the elimination of

false starts, and (b) the recognition that every beginning is the beginning of a

process which reveals itself for what it is only as it processes (RH


Hegel isn't ransacking the history of philosophy for epistemic principles. He is starting
from the most minimal claim for knowledge possible and describing what "reveals itself
for what it is only as it processes." Given this, it strikes on
e as a rather cloistered
lament that, as Kenneth Westphal observes, "Hegel unfortunately tends to refer to
passages from the history of philosophy the way Medieval philosophers referred to
Aristotle. They would write 'the philosopher says...,' expecting,
and knowing they could
expect, the reader to know exactly which passage from which work of Aristotle's was
being quoted or paraphrased" (HE 1). I don't think Hegel wants to even put the reader
in mind of such passages. His method is phenomenological and
for th
e moment, at this
point in the i
ntroduction, he is concerned with the problem of the access of cognition to
its object.
Hegel doesn't want the reader distracted by what Westphal apparently finds
so unfortunately distracting.
Hegel isn't writing the
for academics who,

in preference to following its argument, would loot it for historical references that could
only be of casual interest.

Hegel raises the question, What basis is there in actual fact for assuming the
separation of co
nsciousness and the object of knowledge? Scientific knowledge, as
proposed by Schelling, would be the true and justified knowledge of what is in itself.
Moreover, it would be the knowledge of actuality in the identity of subject and object
which is to s
ay, knowledge of the absolute. And it is to establish this coincidence
of the object of knowledge and
knowing that Hegel begins the

with the very separation of consciousness and object that

he calls into
question in the i
roduction but which nonetheless exists as a real experience, and
hence one subject to phenomenological exposition, as well as natural
(mis)representation. I speak here of the separation of

and object
because the

does not begin
with subjectivity in the sense of a human
subject, the human subject in fact only emerging after considerable development of the
concept of experience from its

most primitive shape (as sense
That is, sense
certainty is indeed a shape of human
consciousness, but humanity is not realized in its
concrete truth until much later in the work, and it is only from this subsequent vantage
that the reader can see with scientific validity that consciousness was from the first
human. Hence Kojeve is quite

incorrect to speak of the pure subject of the determinate
negation of natural consciousness as "man." It is instead a certainty (of certainty) that is
a necessary condition for the realization of "man" as human.

A beginning must be made with the
most minimal, rudimentary concept of
experience possible, one which can then be tested against what subsequent experience

reveals concerning the object of consciousness so as to account for all the possibilities
of finite knowing in its progression to abso
lute knowledge. As such, Hegel does not
commence with a human subject, and human subjectivity has not even been achieved
much later on, in the chapter on self
consciousness, which is so frequently
mischaracterized as a Hegelian state of nature. ¹ Hegel b
egins with consciousness as
that which, to be consciousness at all, must have an object, and consciousness is the
truth it anticipates in the object. A given shape of consciousness is a certain
appearance of knowledge. Hence when sens
certainty discover
s that the t
is not
the immediate particular

it sough
t, that the t
his involves sense
certainty in an
irresolvable contradiction between the immediacy it

expects and the se
object in

itself as disclosed in experience, there is perception
the propertied thing.
The t
his that could not be designated as expected is, with perception, the subject of
predication. The implications at every point are what they are, as reason reveals them,
and the reader’
s only task is to attend closely

as intelli
gible experience generates them
through the determinate negation that presents a more educated and thus
adequate criterion of truth and with it other possibilities for experience, a more e
field of objectivity. Finite knowledge insures the exp
erience of a finite world, for the
object that is inherently rational cannot appear in its character as unknowable. Thus
one can be quite sure that Hegel is not in search of all of the supernatural entities that
have been ascribed to him. Hegelian ideali
sm is a naturalism, a lesson that Hegel
learned quite well from Spinoza, without thereby falling into a
ll of the undigested

of Spinozistic metaphysics.


Once again, genuine philosophy cannot be content with anything less than
ledge of what is in itself, but it can only make a beginning toward such knowledge
on the basis of consciousness and the necessity that consciousness have an object, on
the basis of this most minimal condition

that the object
. It must begin with the mo
elementary definition of experience possible. One cannot, like Schelling, simply open
with the proclamati
on of the truth of the absolute, and then perform the incommunicable
labor of raising the particular to universality through intellectual intuition

or by
abstracting all marks of particularity from the particular in mute meditation
releasing it into the absolute

There is no crossing the finish line out of the gate. One
must start with experience as it emerges in consciousness, with knowle
dge as it
appears, and secure the absolute for knowledge by demonstrating how experience
leads inexorably to a scientific totality of justified claims, and that means that one begins
with the most minimal claim to knowledge possible
the claim that
it is
that the object is.
But for the readers of the
to appreciate precisely how this claim, that
, unfolds toward a determinate negation, they must assume the perspective of the
consciousness at issue, and for that no instrument is required
or indeed desirable. “The
concept,” notes Lauer, “is not a means employed in order to grasp; it is the very activity
of grasping the object” (RH 26).
Cognition is an activity, not the existence of static
concepts in their application.
But the figuration

of cognition as instrumental is also on its
own terms untenable, and hence something that can be addressed in an introduction.
Lauer sees it as necessary to “eliminate any notions [e.g. the natural representations] of
knowing (knowledge) which would obvi
ously render impos
sible the grasp of the

(RH 25
26). B
ut it should be said that Hegel does not

these notions

He demonstrates that they are self
contradictory and, as established principles beyond
question, not the proper starting poi
nt for speculative philosophy, but

is actually
eliminated, especially in an introduction, on the way to absolute knowing. The
addresses knowledge in all of its possible appearances; its procedure
is maximally inclusive, not exclusive.

Indeed it is for this very reason that the
is arguably the most ambitious work of philosophy ever produced.
Nonetheless, Hegel is quite clear that he must begin his science at the proper point, and

this is not the representation of cognit
ion as intermediary, so the latter in its assumed
irrefutability is eliminated
as a self
justified beginning

for phenomenological science.
One does not start a scientific project with
das Mittel
, and in the i
ntroduction Hegel
presents his reasons.

It seems that if cognition is conceived as an instrument, it would be possible to
consciously allow for the influence of the instrument on the object and by correcting for
this influence reclaim truth u
nimpaired. Cognition would then be a reparable
modification of the truth. However, this is an impossible expectation, for if the truth is
restored by subtraction of the addition or by correcting the distortion caused by
instrumental application, by facto
ring out the activity of cognition, truth is returned to
what it was prior to our having it and cognition itself becomes a wholly "superfluous
effort" (
überflüssiger Bemühung
). If we compensate for the defacement of the object by
cognition, the compensati
on directly renders the object unknowable, and it isn't clear
what non
cognitive agency is ministering to the truth. If, on the other hand, cognition is
envisioned as the instrument that merely conducts truth into our proximity while leaving
the truth una
ltered, "like a bird caught by a lime
twig," we could only know of this state

of affairs if truth were in fact present to us all along. One would always already be in an
"immediate and therefore effortless relationship" to the absolute (
§73). Cogniti
thus represented, would set consciousness apart from itself and render the latter
incapable of remedying the supposed deficiencies of the former or it would invest
consciousness, thus exalted in its remove, with an impossible non
e knowledge. If cognition is conceived as active, its very activity is
problematic as a reworking or a working over of what is otherwise present in its truth. If
cognition is conceived as passive, its very passivity is problematic in that the truth would

always already be available and cognition would then be the merest afterthought. If
cognition is modifiable in its inherent falsifications, there is a phantom supervisory
cognition at work that must be accounted for but that never can be.

For H
egel, the absolute is not something to be conveyed into one's proximity. It is
present in its latency at the start, though this presence must be articulated, scientifically
verified and philosophically conducted to its realization or manifestation as the
knowledge that is self
knowledge. Certainty must become concrete knowledge.
Joseph C. F
lay is correct
in his observation that "the
must show that
the absolute standpoint claimed by absolute idealism lies
the natural attitude
(QC 9). The requisite minimal claim to knowledge with which Hegel begins his
, the (proto

knowledge of the this
of sense
certainty, is retained
to the end, as it must be, for the sense world he describes of day alternating with night,
of a house with a tree nearby, is enduring. Indeed, Hegel's point is that spirit does not
belong to a beyond but is in the sensuous here and n
ow that even animals obey
. Our
existence as sense
informed corporeal beings needn't be overcome on the way to tr

for otherwise there would be no reading the

at all. As Henry Harris
observes, "The primitively natural consciousness does not know (for instance) that its
earth is 'turning.' That is a discovery of Understanding [the third shape of
sciousness in the progression]. But the Sun comes and goes to light the world of
the natural self's house and home. So that is where the 'appearance of knowing' [in the
] begins" (HL 174). This is where it begins, but it is also, in a sense
where it ends, for the experience of house and tree presenting themselves variously by
day and night are not somehow eclipsed in a much loftier or
more ethereal experience.
The c
oncept is always in excess

of its finite shape, and Hegel is not in pursuit

of Kant's
transcendent God.

Consciousness is always beyond itself, and it is this rather obvious
fact, one that Hegel enunciates quite clearly, that makes it rather difficult to see how
Tom Rockmore finds
in the determinate negation. "Rejectio
n of the result
attained at any given stage in the knowing process leads," writes Rockmore, "not to the
rejection of the whole series [of shapes], but merely to the rejection of a particula
r view"
(C 27). However, sense
certainty is not rejected, and neit
her are any of the other
shapes of consciousness.
If they are rejected, it is only in their pretension to absolute
After all, the Terror of the French Revolution really did occur and it is hard
to imagine what form the rejection of this histor
ical fact with its underlying spiritual self
understanding would take. Likewise, what would the rejection of sense
certainty's "it is"
amount to? It is hard to see how there could be a phenomenological method at all if it
proceeded by way of rejection, w
hich is Hegel's problem with the position of ancient
skepticism, and that is wh
y it is so crucial to read the i
ntroduction in terms of nature of
the philosophic wor
k that it anticipates, that one trust to some extent that Hegel knows

what he is talking abo
ut in the depiction of what he is about to undertake. The only
alternative, a rather grandiose one, is the substitution of what one knows oneself for
what Hegel claims to know
, and Hegel is far too formidable a figure to be treated so
lightly. It is like
wise rather grandiose to speak for one's
own time as if it
, in all of its
luxuriant contingency
one might even say in all its luxuriating in contingency
discovered all that need be known
in the way of topics of

philosophic interest. What else
is bein
g said by those who attempt to make Hegel conform to contemporary philosophic
preoccupations? Would it not be more philosophical, evidence of a more properly
philosophical attitude, to allow Hegel to emerge from out of the future, all surprisingly?
as I have already argued, this is in fact the only attitude that permits one to read
Hegel at all. The Hegel that fails to surprise the reader i
s not Hegel at all. T
he non
metaphysical interpreters who create Hegel in their own image
select and then

extract a yet relevant core, an intended but
unrealized content

or Hegel's
"true" intention
, or a still relevant theme from the
are wholly unlike
, who

himself rejects nothing and is committed to a presuppositionless beginning.

In the i
ntroduction Hegel addresses certain representations of cognition, but by
refusing to begin his philosophic science by grounding it in their irrefragable truth he
does not thereby reject them. He does, however, show them to be self
both informally in the i
ntroduction and formally in the
. He has to put
them aside, demonstra
te their insufficiency, in the i
ntroduction so that he can take
up scientifically and thereby assign them their proper place in the articulated totality of
ute knowledge. He must in the i
ntroduction informally deconstruct the
representation of cognition as an intermediary to open up wider vistas, if only as

pedagogy, as the necessary preparation for the proper reception of the science that
aspires to absolute knowledge.
If including the
introduction was something Hegel found
necessary though
unscientific, it was in part because he so fully apprec
iated the
proper attitude for the pursuit of truth, and t
here was much to dismantle if his

were to find themselves educable before speculative science.

If cognition is conceived as a medium which refracts the light of the truth, to use

Hegel's own metaphor, it would seem the refraction could be corrected for, rather as
with prescription lenses, to bring us into the direct light of what is in itself. But cognition
cannot circumvent , thus conceived, its own "l
aw of refraction" and
n only be
supposed that

the truth is only the truth in its luminous directness. To determine the law
of refraction, one would have to be already in advance under the full influence of the
truth, for if cognition is refraction there would be no way to know

the law or general
tendency of this refraction except in terms of the directness of the truth from which it
deviates systematically. Hence the subtraction of the refracting cognition would leave
us with only "a blank space" (
M: §73). The straightene
d ray of the truth would not
yield an object but the direct circumvention of

the object that would yield

unilluminating emptiness. Once again, the contradiction that arises is occasioned by the
postulation of a consciousness that looks on knowingly apar
t from cognition but that has
committed itself to the neces
sity of the truth as cognized, and the informed reader
knows that for Hegel cognition is mediation and thus the bending of light into truth. The

of the ordinary understanding
reveal in
insically how it is that the in
tends to vanish given such insufficiently examined representations, and Hegel obviously
cannot begin
with the assumption that the in
itself is inaccessible to knowledge, for what

then would a science of knowledge in its appearance be intent upon? If appearance
only gave way to
appearance, what could an appearance
appearance be?
Furthermore, what would even induce someone to beat such a retreat from truth?
Mustn't one have

a certain faith to even make a beginning?
Mustn't even those who
scoff today

at Hegel's truth claims have
faith in the possibility of truth
so that they can
scoff? For what otherwise are they scoffing
Surely they do not understand their own


Whereas Hegel had spoken of a "concern" (
) which flows from the "natural
representation" of cognition as intermediary, he now mentions "the concern for falling
into error" and it is absolutely cl
ear, even th
is early on in the i
ntroduction, that
convictions generated without any secure met
hod of justification
in a certain

are a theme. Hegel argues that if it is only a question of a
groundless "mistrust of Science" (
ein Mißtrauen in die Wissen
schaft setzt)

and not a
more reasoned consideration of the issue of epistemic justification, by the same
unsubstantiated suspicious thinking (
dergleichen Bedenklichkeiten
) why not "mistrust
this very mistrust"? That is, if it is only mistrust that makes u
s look askance at the
possibility of a genuinely scientific philosophy, why not doubt the sort of thinking that is
only wariness about the truth and actually see what can be done along scientific lines?
Why not see what the

can actually acco
mplish, whether faith in reason
might not bear fruit? For any claim to truth with its originary basis in mistrust can be
challenged on precisely the same basis, and the only alternative
that is, for getting
is trust or faith.

Is then the entir
e non
metaphysical tradition of misreading
Hegel, as spawn by Bertrand Russell's supercilious observation that Hegelianism arises

y out of a rudimentary

logical clumsiness

to McCumber's insistence that Hegel seeks
merely a reformation of language, only
a faith in the inappropriateness of faith?
Knowledge of the External World.
London: Unwin, 1914. pp. 48

faithful faithlessnes
s is one of its driving


It follows then that cognition needn't be conceived as an intermediary. Hegel's task
will be to scientifically esta
blish cognition as the c
oncept, as the truth that confronts

in the experience of the
itself, rather than in the immediacy of
certainty, and that achieves realization with the self
knowledge that knows its own
otherness as an identity in difference. He will demonstrate what results from the
mistrust of the critical presupposition that mistrusts reason. In the
Hegel will reconcile the truths of the naive (e.g. the religious intuitions of the lettered and
unlettered alike) and
the more sophisticated ancient
and modern skeptical thinkers
that witti
ngly or unwittingly call

out for a secure standard
of knowledge within the
systematic articulation of self
evaluating claims to truth. Gullibility and fastidiousness
are in themselves beside the point, and a backward
looking critique of the tradition, of
this or that philosophy or religion, or a dismissal
of contemporary trends in thought,
would be a departure from speculative science. After all, the goal of Hegelian
philosophy, the absolute, excludes nothing and is not attained by way of the assumption
of a privileged critical vantage, and it is necessary

to mistrust the mistrust that is natural
if only so that science may get underway, if only to clear the field of the prejudices that
have decided the matter in advance, that mistrust the very reason requisite to
philosophic productivity. Hegel counters d
oubt with faith, but this is by no means a blind
faith, and a ground
less mistrust is as self
refuting as the Russellian theory of types that

has its genesis in the assumption of the impos
sibility of thoughtful self
reference only to
expatiate self
ially on the theory of types

Hegel has already given us cause to doubt the conclusions generated by the
mistrust of philosophic science. In one longish paragraph Hegel has demonstrated that
the mistrust described is only possible on the basis of

epistemological representations
or figures that are in fact self
contradictory trut
h claims that serve as the ground

inference. Hegel seeks a unified body of knowledge in which merely subjective
certainty arr
ives at the scientific elucidation

of trut
h as the knowledge that is justified in
itself as self
knowledge or as knowledge of the substance that is subject and
vice versa
s such, he has to begin in the i
ntroduction by addressing the problem of justification, of
proceeding from a principle that
however apparently unavoidable, fruitful or self
is never actually immune from contradiction, a lack of immunity that he drives
home so that the proper activity of philosophy, the business of acquiring knowledge

precisely by way of contradiction

may commence. It is important not to separate
consciousness from cognition if the only truly reliable way to proceed is in fact internal
to consciousness, a consciousness that can know both itself and its object
and is
nothing apart from this knowledge
and thus can learn from experience (even if it is left
to the reader alon
e to appreciate the

trajectory of
the learning curve).

The mistrustful not only assume the existence of knowing as an intermediary, but by
setting up a suppositious position of critical remove they also assume that "there is a
difference between ourselves

" (
M: §74). These assumptions
well short of philosophic science in that they are ultimately unsupportable, in that the
unresolved problem of justification, as most explicitly formulated by Sextus Empiricus,

still plagues them in the form of claims to

truth that haven't any indefea

right to
The subject
that does not know of itself as a
subject is not a subject
at all, and knowledge of the subject is knowledge of knowledge.

"I am not just this, that,
or the other," Hegel writes in VG, but what I know myself
to be" (
The Cambridge
Companion to Hegel
p. 286).
For the cognition that is intermediate and contaminative
of the truth by mixing with it, in its power to "reshape and alter," could only do so as
something real, as the real object of the supposed critical

overview of knowing, and that
means, as such a real object, that cognition has itself a claim on truth and that it cannot
be merely a means to it (

It means that cognition belongs to what is.

Cognition is not something to be gotten around

or corrected so that there may be
truth. Indeed the effort to find

a way around cognition or the c
oncept, which is posited in
its reality by natural representation itself, points to a motive of a distinct kind. As such,
one can only conclude, with Hegel,

that " what is really absurd is that we should make
use of a means at all" and that "what calls itself fear of error reveals itself rather as a
fear of the truth" (
M: §74). In that it is
das Mittel
that stands between ourselves and
the truth and given

that the belief in this intermediary is self
contradictory, what would
induce one to hold to the belief unless the operative motive were in fact the opposite of
the one trumpeted? Hegel has taken the representations that would bar the door to
truth out o
f a supposed reverence for it and has demonstrated that they are actu
convertible into their
an unnecessary obstruction, a resistance to or

fear of the truth. The c
oncept that insists upon itself with each representation

is the true
urce of anxiety
the non
being of being.


Hegel is right about the existence

at large
a fear of the truth, this would explain
why the subject is conceived of as walled off from the absolute. The fear of the truth
that is the fear of the a
bsolute discloses "the fact that the absolute alone is true, or the
truth alone is absolute" (
M: §75). A possible way of escaping Hegel's indictment is
by claiming that while the absolute remains inaccessible it is still possible to know "other
of truth." But, thinks Hegel, this would be transparent quibbling, for what could be
the veridical status of a truth that in proclaiming itself as such confesses itself
incomplete or deficient? What would it be to assert that, for instance,
is true but

entirely? Quibbling could only achieve its illusory end via confusion, by rendering
hopelessly ambiguous the meaning of "words like 'absolute,' 'cognition,' etc." (

§75). As Merold Westphal aptly observes, those who adopt this maneuver set "out
examine the categories and principles of knowledge, but [employ] categories whose
meaning has not been clarified and principles whose truth has not been established"
(HT 6).

What is noteworthy is that Hegel does not say that he hereby simply dism
isses the
related ideas of an intermediary cognition and the inaccessibility of the absolute, for that
would be the unjustified displacement of one set of claims by another. He says instead
that "we
[if we ourselves were going to fall back into an u
nscientific method] reject
them out of hand" [emphasis mine,
: §76]. Merold Westphal is certainly right to
observe that "conclusions based on arbitrary presuppositions can have no normative
force." However, I cannot agree with his conclusion, however
preliminary and later
qualified, that "we are [therefore] entitled immediately to dismiss the whole business"
(HT 6). Hegel does not commit himself to dismissal. Such a dismissal would make a

hash of his scientific pursuit of the absolute, and it is simp
ly the case that sense
certainty is characterized by its passivity, by its pure reception of the object in its
independence of cognition as the truth, and the consciousness presented as "the
understanding" elaborates all manner of forces and laws, employs
thought, albeit
unwittingly, as a means to the truth of an objective order as described largely by
physical science. Once a
gain, allow me to say that the i
ntroduction can only be read in
terms of the work for which

it prepares the way, and the reader must

approach the work,
if he or she is to make sense of it, with some reliance upon what Hegel says about it in
the introduction.

Additionally, while Hegel faults the frightened for playing fast and loose with the
meaning of terms like "absolute" and "cognition," he doesn't assert the semantic self
evidence of the terms for philosophic science by virtue of familiarity just as he

does not
dismiss them on the these same grounds. Rather he introduces the characterization of
scientific philosophy as "hard work" (
: §76). When Hegel contends that the positing
of truths that don't aspire to the absolute but which pretend to be in s
ome sense true
involves one in a semantic shell game, he is not saying that the true meaning of these
terms "is generally well known," for making this meaning definite and thus, after much
hard labor, available to a more general or widespread knowledge is
exactly the project
he proposes for philosophy. Both the shell game of the fearful and the assumption that
the meaning of the words "absolute" and "cognition" are known in their familiarity are
deceptions and ways of avoiding genuine philosophy, as would
be the dismissal of them
in their familiar acceptation. It is then that Hegel states the object of all his labors: "For
to pretend that their meaning is gener
ally well known, or that their c
oncept is available


to all, looks more like an attempt to avoid

the most important matter, whic
h is precisely
to provide this c
oncept" (
35). And this is a c
oncept that Hegel cannot possibly
provide if he is dismissive of anything, especially anything
, and especially in that
he must begin the

with the most minimal definition of experience
possible and proceed systematically through
the diverse possibilities of conscious
epistemic self
conception in the dialectical necessity of their orderly generation. What
indeed could be more ordinary o

familiar than sense