Spirit/Mind

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Philosophy of Spirit/Mind (Geist)

The third part of Hegel's system is the Philosophie des Geistes (System, Part 3).

See http://hegel.net/en/e3.htm

The meaning of Geist

Geist is a German word which has all the meanings of the English words spirit, mind and soul and the French word, esprit.

The German language makes no distinction between spirit and mind: for both, Germans use the same word, Geist. While Geist is usually translated either as spirit or mind (e.g. Philosophy of Spirit, Phenomenology of Mind), the English-speaking reader should think of Geist as both together, i.e. Spirit/Mind. To attain brevity without endorsing either term, this article will use the original Geist.

The Goal of Geist

According to Hegel's Science Of Logic, the goal (or aim) of Geist is Freedom. This Freedom needs to be expressed and reflected in order to be really free. (See System, Part 1.3.1 on the Concept or Notion [Begriff], and Part 1.3.3 on the Idea).

Geist can only uncover the full meaning of Freedom progressively, and this process of uncovering becomes clearer in the lives of individuals and of societies as they evolve or develop, as well as in the development of humanity in general. Corresponding to these three areas in which the meaning of Freedom becomes clearer come the three divisions of Geist which Hegel explains, examines and analyzes: subjective, objective, and absolute Geist, respectively.

By the way, this idea of Freedom is also included in a superior understanding of the Science Of Logic (so one could say that the full meaning of the Science of Logic must also be discovered progressively).

One possible criticism of this conception of Freedom is that the actualization of Freedom could be an endless process. Trying to respond to this concern has been a project for many interpreters of Hegel, both Hegelian and anti-Hegelian. Some Hegelian readers reply that a process of increasing freedom already is the full actuality of freedom. Historically, some Hegelians have also tried to posit some point or condition which Geist would definitively obtained Freedom.

The Subdivisions of Geist

For Hegel there are three divisions of the philosophy of Spirit/Mind (Geist):

   * The Subjective Geist -- which deals with, among other things, Anthropology and Psychology. 
   * The Objective Geist -- which explores the philosophical questions of Law/Jurisprudence, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, History and more. 
   * The Absolute Geist -- which explores Fine Arts, Religion and Philosophy itself, as the Science of the General. 

The philosophy of Subjective Geist deals with the concept of Geist as subjectivity, as for-itself, while the philosophy of Objective Geist recognizes that the human Geist expresses itself in the world, and without the world subjectivity is only an abstraction.

A helpful way to think about the relation of Subjective to Objective Geist is to look at the parallel between these two types of Geist and the internal divisions of Subjective Geist. From the standpoint of anthropology, Geist is framed in its direct (or unmediated) inclusion as a feature of Nature. From the standpoint of habituation (Gewöhnung) and "actual soul" (in which Geist shapes itself, body and mind, according to its concepts), Hegel presents Subjective Geist modifying and mediating itself. Just as the subject of habituation and "actual soul" is the self-mediation of the immediately natural Geist of anthropology, so the subject of Objective Geist is the further self-mediation of Geist and transformation of Nature relative to the Subjective Geist.

In these processes of mediation between Nature and Geist, people reflect on the reasons for their reasons, the goals behind their goals. At the most basic level, fundamental values and concepts govern human lives. Human freedom can examine these reasons and goals, judge them, and thereby come to an even greater freedom in them. Freedom is related to the truth and correctness of Geist's judgments about reasons. Hegel situates this process within Absolute Geist, in which Geist is not limited by anything other than itself and its own stage of development. Absolute Geist naturally includes Hegel's complete system, including its foundation, the Science of Logic.

Summary of the three divisions of Geist

a. Subjective Geist is a force with a certain potential for freedom, while Objective Geist is that force in action, and Absolute Geist is the goal, aim or telos of the force as well as the reflection (realization) of the telos.

b. There is a continuous cycle between Objective Geist and Absolute Geist: the goals that are established, understood and represented by the Absolute Geist govern, lead and motivate the actions and dynamics of people in the Objective Geist. Absolute Geist concern's people's reflection upon their own practice, the lessons they learn from it and overcomes any limitations.

c. Some of the common misconceptions of Hegel examined in the FAQ stem from misunderstandings of Hegel's concept of Geist. In particular, even a casual reader might already see how and a why a Hegelian would answer these questions:

Didn't Hegel say the modern age is the End of History? (No, not really.)

Didn't Hegel see the history of Philosophy coming to its conclusion with himself alone? (Nope.)

How might Hegelians explain Philosophy after Hegel? (Good question...)


Relation of means, limited goals and freedom

In their individual lives, the lives of their families, and in the management of enterprises, institutions and governments, peoples are concerned with both daily problems and long-term problems. We might say that the type of reflection (realization) that helps to fulfill daily and long-term goals is a 'technical reflection' (understood in its broadest sense, as a 'means'). Insofar as people reflect upon their means and develop better means (e.g. better tools, better ways to use tools, better rules or institutions for the provision of collective aims), they expand their freedom. Both technical progress and progress in research on social problems form part of the progress of humanity towards increasing freedom.

Yet even at such conventional levels, people have a hierarchy of prioritized aims, within which short-term goals correspond with long-term goals. Therefore, real freedom also includes reflection upon the goals and their relation to one another; how to realize the goals is important and worthy of deliberation, but which goals deserve to be realized (and thus which goals are subordinate to other goals) is also worthy of deliberation.

Therefore, the real progress of a person, a given society and humanity as a whole is not to be reduced to merely 'technical progress' (tools, means, at any level) but also occurs at the more fundamental level of improving reflection and understanding of personal, social, and humanitarian goals. (Of course, even when the most appropriate goals are selected, this alone is not sufficient. Freedom is not a question of EITHER developing the right goals OR developing the right tools. Both are necessary.)


- Original article by Kai Froeb, 2003-2005

(The reviewed content of this article will be used in future versions of http://hegel.net/en/spirit.htm)