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Aidan Powell
Hegel Seminar
Professor. Jared Russell

Hegels Preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit and The Cognitive Process

In Hegels preface to Phenomenology of Spirit, he goes in great depth explaining
the absurdity of the need for a preface at the start of a philosophical text- he presupposes
that in order for a preface to be accurate in its heeding to the completed text afterward, it
must be written after the text is completed- but this he said, creates a false distinction
between the reader and the work ahead- if a work can be summarized in a preface, then
what is the readers incentive to read the whole text, to work through it and come to their
own conclusion- Hegel uses the preface as a kind of anti-preface outlining his plan as
such; the work of true philosophy for Hegel is through its experiential value outside of
the realms of true and false (the structures of thought that we inevitably bring to a text- to
compare it to something else we know, to think of it as either right or wrong in line with
our beliefs and/or the beliefs of the works we have read) it is a process of radical anti-
abstraction, and in his writing this book he tries to in essence put thought into motion
from its state of fixity in line with the ways of mundane society (society without true
Hegel paints the world as an alive and malleable force, a process of history
unfolding, the development of a self-conscious infinite being- god- as a notion free of
religious imagery and distinction. History is the process of god becoming god.
Hegel ultimately is trying to prove that the difference between phenomena (how things
appear to us, finite beings on earth) and noumena (how things would appear to an
omnipotent infinite force, removed from earth, or God) is a false opposition, and that
through understanding this we will be able to grasp (begriefen) the true nature of the
Spirit (Geist), that time and eternity are both illusions. The Spirit (Geist) has lost itself,
we must arrive at the knowledge of the Spirit and it must exist in thought, and these
thoughts must be communicable in words.

The analysis of an idea, as it used to be carried out, was, in fact, nothing else
than ridding it of the form in which it has become familiar. To break an idea up
into its original elements is to return to its moments, which at least do not have
the form of the given idea, but rather constitute the immediate property of the self.
This analysis, to be sure, only arrives at thoughts which are themselves familiar,
fixed, and inert determinations. But what is thus separated and non-actual is an
essential moment (18)

Central to understanding Hegels process is in giving up the notion that what I am
is consistent over time. Instead what I am is the fluidity of thought itself. However, one
cannot start with the insight that the self doesnt exist, that there is no ego- we must first
get there by putting thought into motion. The most basic immediate experience that I am
myself, I am I, is one moment in a myriad of others- Im thinking about this, about that,
about the moon, about food, about television. These are all forms of consciousness. Its
not that there is first an immediate ME and then I have these thoughts, but in each
moment I am a particular shape, a shape of consciousness- a particular relationship
between a subject, I, and a thing that is being thought about. In thinking about something,
its not that I am thinking about that thing- the moment of the relationship between self,
thought, and the thing I am thinking about, that is where consciousness exists, and that is
the cognitive process.
Thought becomes fluid when pure thinking, inner immediacy, recognizes itself
as a moment, or when the pure certainty of self abstracts from itself, not by
leaving itself out or leaving itself aside, but giving up the fixity of its self

Is self positing not a form of mediation? It is, but here Hegel is opposing the
Cartesian ideal of I think therefore I am, an unmediated experience of self, the
therefore (in the statement) implying that this is the basis for our experience, and
everything happens on top of it. Hegel does not believe this; while Descartes might have
put forth what can be more obvious than that I am myself or I AM a mind but I HAVE
a body, Hegel calls this into question saying that in actuality, any independent notion of
self is an illusion, and that our cognition of an object, a lamp for example, wouldnt be
whole without a body to experience the lamp, suggesting that this opposition is a
relationship- where there appears to be a negation between you and a thing, there is
actually a relationship, when you reach the moment of consciousness in which you
contemplate the existence of the lamp, you are the lamp in that moment, just as when
you are consumed with a thought that seemingly comes from the ether and has you typing
away all through the night like a madman, you are nothing more than the spirit of the
thought that consumes you. Where there appears to be negation, to Hegel, there is
actually a relationship.
The relationship between mind and body is the most obvious form of the
opposing forces that are actually un-separated according to Hegel. We are not just
conscious subjects who happen to have bodies, we do not have bodies, we are bodies. We
are nothing but our embodied living experience, there is no mind/body experience,
simply because what separates them (/) is a false opposition. Hegel views the world as an
infinite myriad of differences, but differences that intrinsically connect us, what appears
to separate us connects us, and there are only relationships. Interestingly, the body does
on a biological level exactly what the mind does- when we eat, whatever we bring into
our body becomes us. This is what the mind does, takes things from outside and
incorporates them and synthesizes them into ourselves. Eating is also an act of negation,
seeking to destroy something to make it a part of one. Knowledge works the same way
and this is the nature of desire for Hegel, what we want, the inherent void in the pit of our
being that drives us to do what we do, is actually an openness to the world and is there for
us to receive true knowledge of the absolute.

Pure thoughts become notions, only now what they are in truth, self movements,
circles, spiritual essences

Hegels notion of the true substance of being is really that of an awareness of
process. The immediate existence of spirit in the world (Geist) is the collective
consciousness of the people, and this consciousness consists in two moments- knowing,
and the objectivity negative to knowing- So thus what is science for Hegel? Getting
involved with thought and transforming along with it, reaching the absolute truth. But
what is absolutely true? A hand claps, a door shuts, a car horn sounds- these are true, but
they are elementary forms; Hegel is trying to take us through all the shapes of
consciousness, from the most immediate and indisputable, towards a spiritual notion of
the absolute, in that consciousness ultimately will be identifiable with the world itself.

Spirit explicates its moments- these moments contain the antithesis- and all
appear as shapes of consciousness

For Hegel, shapes are just another way to think about simply having a thought-
the experience of having a thought. Each thought I have is a particular shape in that its
relationship between self and an object is distinguished from other shapes. The science
of this pathway is the science of experience (21) we must go through all the stages and
processes of the shapes of consciousness in order to arrive at an understanding of the
absolute truth, and thus be living in the ideal figure of the spirit in the world.
The cognitive process for Hegel goes something like this; first human
consciousness is rather simple- taking itself as object, it is immediate and one with itself,
however the way it becomes itself is becoming other than itself. Consciousness is our
everyday experience of the world- self-awareness is becoming enlightened and
conscious, and in that moment I take myself as not just a conscious subject, but also as
object, and it is this moment when we become other than ourselves that we actually
become ONE with the true notion of self as fluid, at every moment we are becoming other
and Hegel says that once I fully grasp that, I become more invested in the world because
it is no different than I; the moment I become other than myself, I then come back to
myself at a higher level in each cycle- the world appears as a part of my own self. An
experience is something we give to this movement- experiencing something is to be
moved by it.
I can only change and become other, by moving- I have to undo my fixity and
through this become other- we must become alienated from, and then return to ourselves
from this alienation and it (the absolute) is only then revealed for the first time in its
actuality in truth. Hegel describes an individual experience of cognition and the cyclical
process of self awareness, but he is also talking about something that goes on a macro
level in the world expressed in history- here he makes an indirect point regarding the
future of humanity; in the modern world we exist in a state of alienation, a sense that we
are not at home in the world- but it is this that is necessary as a part of the movement to
us coming back to the world- we are in a dark early phase of world development where
we all feel like we are not a part of it- Hegel says we will return from this alienation and
sense that we belong to something, just as consciousness does in its relation to the self
and object.