Hegel Wiki
Log in

Difference between revisions of "Subjective Spirit/Mind"

From Hegel Wiki
(New page: == General Preface == One fruitful place to begin an encounter between Anglophone analytic philosophy and Hegel is the latter's philosophy of Subjective Spirit. Hegel's views are found in...)
(No difference)

Revision as of 10:47, 31 August 2008

General Preface

One fruitful place to begin an encounter between Anglophone analytic philosophy and Hegel is the latter's philosophy of Subjective Spirit. Hegel's views are found in Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences. In volume three on Philosophy of Mind, subjective spirit forms the first of three sections, the others being objective and absolute spirit. In German of course, "mind" and "spirit" are both expressed by the word Geist.

Here, Hegel deals directly with the mainstream mental analysis which is the core of pre-Hegelian British philosophy in Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding (1689), Berkeley's Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), Hume's Treatise of Human Nature (1739) and Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764). The above texts have done much to create common reference points, stores of arguments and even vocabulary for many later writers. It is therefore important to see how Hegel appropriates and engages with the subject matter of what became known as Psychology (not to be confused with the current empirical discipline).

The rest of this commentary takes the form of revisions of posts on subjective spirit submitted by myself to Kai Froeb's Hegel list. --Stephen Cowley 23:21, 15 September 2006 (IST)

Hegel's Introduction and Subdivision


Hegel claims at the outset of his text that the mind has an organic unity, which he compares to a plant, but one whose final product, in the case of a mind, is only itself. From this follows his critique of the "empirical psychologists" that they reduce the mind to a play of mental "forces" (memory, imagination, will, etc). He is mistaken in saying that there is no sense of the unity of the mind in the work of the British psychologists. As he himself admits, there is a striving after "harmonious development" that is the same thing by another name, though without the claim an absolute rational form.

Hegel asserts that a necessary structure is discernible in the mind, but this is presumably an essentialist de re necessity only knowable after the fact. It is a fact that we have memory, for example, and that insects and goldfish don't, or less so. No a priori deduction could say that we have memory, but insects don't for example. I think Hegel must be relying on some adapted form of Kant's unity of consciousness, but is perhaps trying to make it do too much work.

The rejection of "rational psychology", Hegel also shares with Locke, Condillac,etc. He mentions Wolff and Fichte as rational and empirical psychologists, and prefers Aristotle to both. I think there would be agreement here. Locke too praises Aristotle (see Chapter on Reason in Essay, book 4) , and like Hegel wishes to reinterpret him for modern times. Locke would agree also that the uncritical application of medieval categories (simplicity, unity) to mind is inappropriate. Yet he finds these categories in experience/sensation as Reid does later in the form of common sense. The idea of simultaneity, for example is experienced in the common property of immediate presence of different objects, e.g. of sight and touch. There is surely then, a considerable measure of agreement between the two schools. One could even claim Descartes, Locke, etc, as examples of "great men" whom Hegel claims embody the "idea of mind" devoid of particular conceits, etc. Hegel says:

What we have said above about the nature of mind 
is something which philosophy alone can and does demonstrate. 
It does not need to be confirmed by our ordinary consciousness.

The question arises then: what does philosophy in its entirety rest on epistemologically, if not the oft-derided "ordinary consciousness"? It would be better for philosophy to stress its closeness with ordinary life, rather than its difference alone.

There follows a description of mind in terms of freedom, negation, and what Wallace translates as "manifestation" (para 383). All this however, is contextualised in terms of nature and in the theological language of the Absolute Idea/Notion. Indeed, "manifestation" turns into "revelation" - another shift towards religious language(Offenbarung?).

These principles though - freedom, negation and "manifestation" - can all be readily confirmed by analysis of ordinary experience. Hegel suggests though, that he can offer a broader context - roughly a kind of Christian Aristotelian one - for understanding these mental phenomena. There is also preliminary reference to the Kantian theme of the unity of consciousness (transcendental unity of apperception, in Kant's clumsier formulation).


Hegel distinguished Subjective Spirit distinguished from the Objective (chiefly legal/political) realm, and the Absolute realm (art, religion and their interpretation in philosophy).

In the first paragraph, we already see the text saturated by Hegel's theological view of Mind. Simple phenomena are to be studied on the hypothesis that they already contain the "ideal totality of the Idea". However, philosophers such as Hume also aim to cover "Morals, Politics and Criticism" in their philosophical projects as a whole. There is the image of setting out to circumnavigate the globe in a leaky vessel at the end of Hume's Treatise for example. However, in the empiricist method, the conclusions about the capacities of the individual mind are used to control political/theological debate.

Hegel operates with a living sense of religion bolstered by a knowledge of its history, and to read back the capacities of the mind that would be necessary to generate this historical process. His prose is saturated by his technical vocabulary from the outset and this may blunt the independent critical force of his analysis of the mind.

In para 386, Mind seems to refer to a principle of the world - something like the nous of Anaxagoras (or Aristotle's final cause). Only finite mind, in which there is a "disproportion between concept and reality" matches the familiar concept of mind as a substance or set of properties connected with the contingent mental activities of an individual person.

Hegel spells out an initial division into anthropology, phenomenology and psychology. These divisions have double titles:

  • Anthropology Soul
  • Phenomenology Consciousness
  • Psychology Mind

In trying to nail down the meaning of 'Anthropology' etc, we can also consult Hegel's use of Soul, Spirit and Mind in identifying the rationale behind this tripartite division of the material. This rationale is not without its obscurities. For example, soul is defined as "immediate" (para 387) and consciousness as "mediate". You would think from this that "soul" and "consciousness" are exclusive opposites, so that a division into these terms would be exhaustive. Yet Hegel adds a third term, "mind", which he describes in different terms altogether - "defining itself in itself, as an independent subject". Presumably then, both immediate and mediate terms (soul and consciousness) lack this self-defining quality attributed to mind. We have to bear in mind though, that for Hegel, some things are both immediate and mediate (see Enc Logic Chapter 4 on Immediate knowledge). Let us turn then, to anthropology (the study of soul) for clarification.


This long section comprises three section on: the physical soul, the feeling soul and the "actual" soul (in which last physical and feeling components are integrated at a prereflective level). It contains much empirical matter and some insightful essays, though the material is not always of much significance for mental philosophy as it moves little beyond its immediate subject matter.

The Physical Soul

This section is the occasion for three discussions on the embodiedness of the soul in the world, described as qualities, alterations and sensibility. Under the first, he considers external and bodily characteristics; under the second, the ages of life; and under the third, begins to address the condition of waking consciousness.


1. The first subject is the influence of external material factors on mental functioning. He discusses these under extraterrestrial and terrestrial titles. The first encompasses the sun and planets (including a rejection of astrology!), and the second the climate. He makes the point that our moods are affected by the weather and the time of day. This influence however, is confined mostly to subrational mental functions, and indeed is most conspicuous in the life of plants and animals, which depend on the seasons. Where reason is at work, these influences take a backseat. He does not deal with the central nervous system as the seat of consciousness, but assumes that souls is present in some form in all matter, in line perhaps with the Naturphilosophie of his day.

Obviously, this concept of "soul" is no longer beyond criticism on scientific grounds. There is a tendency in science though, to assume that all natural processes are mechanisms. Indeed, for scientists like Clerk Maxwell, a non-mechanistic explanation was simply not science. Perhaps we need to reject this assumption about living creatures at least. There are "anti-reductionist" biologists who take this line and what they are rejecting is still hypothesis rather than fact.

2. The second form of embodiedness is internal to the human organism - i.e. race. (For some reason gender is not discussed at this point.) There are three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa - and three races. So far there is no progress beyond Aristotle: America and Australia are not allowed to interfere with the tripartite division. He seems to rely on the work of someone called Blumenbach, whose works I do not know. Differences are only at the level of the "natural soul", not of rational capacity. Thus he writes:

Man is rational in himself; 
herein lies the possibility of equal justice for all men 
and the futility of a rigid distinction between races 
   which have rights and those who have none. (para 393).

As for the detailed treatment of the races, this certainly contains factual errors on non-rational racial characters. It is hard to assess how blameworthy Hegel was in this respect. As he read British Parliamentary debates, he would have been exposed to anti-slavery arguments and he certainly quotes Henry Brougham, an into-slavery parliamentarian, responsible both for abolition and for naval actions against the slave traders. However, the status of group character sketches as a litarary genre need not be seen exclusively in "post-colonialist" terms, despite the importance of this standpoint. All in all, there is probably a blameworthy lack of empathy and insight into the historical realities of the modern slave trade: Hegel's great strengths as a political theorist here failed him.

3. Turning from this important subject, Hegel then discusses European national characters (large countries only) in a none-too-serious way, and finally turns to individual and family "dispositions, temperaments and characters". There is little in these latter sections of much philosophical consequence, though they are interesting to read.


Here Hegel discusses the ages of life. There is little of philosophical substance here, though I have always greatly admired this essay, as it shows his empathy with his students at the start of their adult lives.


Here Hegel discusses sleep and waking, but moves on under the latter to discuss the state of mind of mere sensuous awareness. As in the outset of the Phenomenology of Spirit (1806), this is characterised by an immediacy that finds it must transcend itself.

The Feeling Soul

Here Hegel speaks of immediate feeling, before moving on to self-feeling and habit.

Actual Soul

Here Hegel takes the body as a whole as a sign, in the sense that a sculptor can use the posture and physique of the body to suggest emotional and other mental attitudes. In this, the inner and outer aspects of humanity are integrated, ot their unity discerned.


Here again we see the tripartite division so typical of Hegel's approach to any subject: the immediate facts are broken into particular aspects and divisions inherent in the subject matter are evoked before a synthetic standpoint is reached.

Here the division is into consciousness, self-consciousness and reason.


Under this heading, Hegel discusses: theoretical mind, that is, the faculties of knowledge including perception, memory and thinking; practical mind; and the integration of the two in free mind.

Once again the tripartite division is maintained and the individual described now stands on the threshold of the public social roles and activities of objective mind.

Mental Philosophy since Hegel

Hegel's thought would find many echoes in the nineteenth century, though in this era empirical psychology grew up to rival or supplement philosophical understandings of mind. William James' Principles of Psychology (1890) was a key text here.

In the twentieth century, the Hegelian theme of the correspondence of inner facts and outer expression has taken many forms. The dogmatic view of behaviourism sought to interpret "inner facts" solely in terms of outer actions and this had its philosophical supporters.

For some time though this has been felt to distort our natural sense of the validity and reality of our "inner" lives, though the standpoint of action in a more general sense has not been abandoned. In different ways, philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Macmurray and Martin Heidegger have sought to give an integrated account of the physical context of mental life.

Perhaps then, the conditions for a new reading of Hegel's views on subjective spirit are preparing themselves.