Hegelianism is confessedly one of the most difficult of all philosophies. Every one has heard the legend which makes Hegel say, "One man has understood me, and even he has not." He abruptly hurls us into a world where old habits of thought fail us. In three places, indeed, he has attempted to exhibit the transition to his own system from other levels of thought; but in none with much success. In the introductory lectures on the philosophy of religion he gives a rationale of the difference between the modes of consciousness in religion and philosophy (between Vorstellung and Begriff). In the beginning of the Enzyklopädie he discusses the defects of dogmatism, empiricism, the philosophies of Kant and Jacobi. In the first case he treats the formal or psychological aspect of the difference; in the latter he presents his doctrine less in its essential character than in special relations to the prominent systems of his time. The Phenomenology of Spirit/Mind ("Geist"), regarded as an introduction, suffers from a different fault. It is not an introduction —for the philosophy which it was to introduce was not then fully elaborated. Even the last Hegel had not so externalized his system as to treat it as something to be led up to by gradual steps. His philosophy was not one aspect of his intellectual life, to be contemplated from others; it was the ripe fruit of concentrated reflection, and had become the one all-embracing form and principle of his thinking. More than most thinkers he had quietly laid himself open to the influences of his time and the lessons of history.
The Phenomenology is the picture of the Hegelian philosophy in the making - at the stage before the scaffolding has been removed from the building. For this reason the book is at once the most brilliant and the most difficult of Hegel’s works - the Phenomänologie - most brilliant because it is to some degree an autobiography of Hegel’s mind - not tile abstract record of a logical evolution, but the real history of an intellectual growth; the most difficult because, instead of treating the rise of intelligence (from its first appearance in contrast with the real world to its final recognition of its presence in, and rule over, all things) as a purely subjective process, it exhibits this rise as wrought out in historical epochs, national characteristics, forms of culture and faith, and philosophical systems. The theme is identical with the introduction to the Enzyklopädie; but it is treated in a very different style. From all periods of the world - from medieval piety and stoical pride, Kant and Sophocles, science and art, religion and philosophy - with disdain of mere chronology, Hegel gathers in the vineyards of the human spirit the grapes from which he crushes the wine of thought. The mind coming through a thousand phases of mistake and disappointment to a sense and realization of its true position in the universe - such is the drama which is consciously Hegel’s own history, but is represented objectively as the process of spiritual history which the philosopher reproduces in himself. The Phenonlenology stands to the Encyklopadie somewhat as the dialogues of Plato stand to the Aristotelian treatises. It contains almost all his philosophy - but irregularly and without due proportion. The personal element gives an undue prominence to recent phenomena of the philosophic atmosphere. It is the account given by an inventor of his own discovery, not the explanation of an outsider. It therefore to some extent assumes from the first the position which it proposes ultimately to reach, and gives not a proof of that position, but an account of the experience (Erfahrung) by which consciousness is forced from one position to another till it finds rest in Absolutes Wissen.
The Phenomenology is neither mere psychology, nor logic, not moral philosophy, nor history, but is all of these and a great deal more. It needs not distillation, but expansion and illustration from contemporary and antecedent thought and literature. It treats of the attitudes of consciousness towards reality under the six heads of consciousness, self-consciousness, reason (Vernunft), spirit/mind (Geist), religion and absolute knowledge. The native attitude of consciousness towards existence is reliance on the evidence of the senses; but a little reflection is sufficient to show that the reality attributed to the external world is as much due to intellectual conceptions as to the senses, and that these conceptions elude m when we try to fix them. If consciousness can not detect a permanenr object outside it, so self-consciousness cannot find a permanent subject in itself. It may, like the Stoic, assert freedom by hold in aloof from the entanglements of real life, or like the sceptic regard the world as a delusion, or finally, as the "unhappy consciousness" (Unglückliches Bewusstsein), may be a recurrent falling short of a perfection which it has placed above it in the heavens. But in this isolation from the world, self-consciousness has closed its gates against the stream of life. The perception of this is reason. Reason convinced that the world and the soul are alike rational observes the external world, mental phenomena, and specially the nervous organism, as the meeting ground of body and mind. But reason finds much in the world recognizing no kindred with her, and so turning to practical activity seeks in the world the realization of her own aims. Either in a crude way she pursues her own pleasure, and finds that necessity counteracts her cravings; or she endeavours to find the world in harmony with the heart, and yet is unwilling to see fine aspirations crystallized by the act of realizing them. Finally, unable to iqipose upon the world either selfish or humanitarian ends, she folds her arms in pharisaic virtue, with the hope that some hidden power will give the victory to righteousness. But the world goes on in its life, heedless of the demands of virtue. The principle of nature is to live and let live. Reason abandons her efforts to mould the world, and is content to let the aims of individuals work out their results independently, only stepping in to lay down precepts for the cases where individual actions conflict, and to test these precepts by the rules of formal logic.
So far we have seen consciousness on one hand and the real world on the other. The stage of Geist reveals the consciousness no longer as critical and antagonistic but as the indwelling spirit of a community, as no longer isolated from its surroundings but the union of the single and real consciousness with the vital feeling that animates the community. This is the lowest stage of concrete consciousness—life, and not knowledge; the spirit inspires, but does not reflect. It is the age of unconscious morality, when the individual’s life is lost in the society of which he is an organic member. But increasi,ig culture presents new ideals, and the mind, absorbing the ethical spirit of its environment, gradually emancipates itself from conventions and superstitions. This enlightment ("Aufklärung") prepares the way for the rule of conscience, for the moral view of the world as subject of a moral law. From the moral world the next step is religion; the moral law gives place to God; but the idea of Godhead, too, as it first appears, is imperfect, and has to pass through the forms of nature-worship and of art before it reaches a full utterance in Christianity. Religion in this shape is the nearest step to the stage of absolute knowledge; and this absolute knowledge— ‘ the spirit knowing itself as spirit “—is not something which leaves these other forms behind but the full comprehension of them as the organic constituents of its empire; “they are the memory and the sepulchre of its history, and at the same time the actuality, truth and certainty of its throne.” Here, according to Hegel, is the field of philosophy.
(The text above was taken from the Hegel article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1911 and slightly edited by Hegel.Net)
The 'Phenomenology,' our philosopher's epic voyage of philosophical discovery, was written 1806 (foreword 1807) and published in 1807 during Hegel's final months of teaching at the University of Jena. It has twice been translated in full into English (first by J. Baille and then by A. Miller). The book attempts to show what is involved in saying "I know."
The 'Phenomenology of Mind' also appears in Hegel's encyclopedic System of Knowledge (1808-1830) as a stage of mental development between the merely immediate consciousness imprisoned in natural bonds ("Anthropology") and the mediated self-consciousness that verges, in its integrated activities, toward a destiny of freedom ("Psychology"). Some intellectuals confine themselves to Hegel's 'Phenomenology' and never progress to the encyclopedic Universal Science that it was intended to introduce. This is a mistake.
(Bibliographic note adapted from J. Burbidge, 'Historical Dictionary of Hegelian Philosophy' (Lanham/London, 2001), s.v. "Phenomenology").