International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 127 30th May 2007


I. 'Socrates Cafe' by Christopher Phillips

II. 'The Problem and the Promise of Consciousness' by Richard Schain

III. 'Hegel's Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit' by Alfredo Lucero-Montano



All three contributors to this issue grapple -- in different ways -- with the question of what philosophy is all about. What kind of activity is it? What is its point? There is surely something very remarkable about the fact that we are able to philosophize. It shows something about the kind of beings that we are. But what exactly is that?

Christopher Phillips, whose third book Socrates in Love was published by W.W. Norton last week, is the founder of the Socrates Cafe movement which encourages ordinary people all over the world to get together to engage in Socratic discourse. Philosophy, as thus conceived, is not characterized by any particular problems or subject matter but rather by its unique method. Philosophers discourse about 'everything under the sun'. This has a political dimension, because as citizens we have a duty to question and be engaged, and not accept what the powers that be thrust upon us.

Richard Schain was provoked to write his latest contribution by David Chalmers' interview in Issue 123. The nature of consciousness has always been a central question of philosophy. Yet philosophers in the Analytic tradition have come to see this in the narrow terms of understanding how consciousness as a phenomenon can be reduced to or explained by brain processes. This, in Schain's view, misses the point of the original interest in consciousness -- or 'higher consciousness' -- which is concerned with the nature of values and our place in the universe.

Alfredo Lucero-Montano has written a useful and surprisingly easy to follow account of a text which has inspired and infuriated generations of philosophy students -- the Preface which Hegel wrote after completing his Phenomenology of Spirit, first published in 1807. According to Hegel, there is no way to explain a philosophical theory or system except by working through it. Hegel would therefore object to any expositor's attempt to say what his philosophy is 'about'. A clue, however, lies in the label 'idealism'. All knowledge is ultimately self-knowledge, because the very activity of investigating reality is nothing other than a process of discovering our true selves.

Geoffrey Klempner



I first came across Plato's Socratic dialogues when I was an adolescent. I plucked my mom's mildewed collection of the ancient scribe's work from a bookshelf (my mom, born and raised in a coal-mining camp, nonetheless received a great education in the classics). I became smitten by this persona -- it didn't even really matter to me whether he definitely existed or not -- who 'proselytized' that each of us, particularly citizens of an open society, is capable of becoming our most expert questioner and critical and creative thinker, in the name of advancing arete (the Greek term for 'an excellent all-rounder'), someone who developed and cultivated those talents that best contributed to both individual and societal excellence at once. I held my first dialogue when I was a junior high school student. I was hooked.

Fast forward to college -- I was a political science student at the College of William and Mary -- and my political philosophy professor often took us after class to a local watering hole, where we'd continue with our discourses on matters philosophical until the wee hours. I loved it that strangers often would sidle over and join in. I thought, this is what life is all about, great public discourse as a means of creating greater human connectedness. But it wasn't till the mid-1990s, when Americans of diverse dispositions, it seemed to me, no longer engaged one another in healthy and respectful ways that I decided to make a firm commitment to advancing this form of discourse.

I was by no means the first person to bring philosophy 'to the people.' But it did seem to me that the efforts with which I was familiar in this regard all too often, in bringing philosophy out of academic environs, brought all of the stilted hierarchies along with them -- the facilitator or moderator was the teacher, the guide, and everyone else was the student or disciple there to learn from them. Moreover, there seems a great misconception that what distinguishes philosophy from other disciplines is the questions it interrogates (e.g., about existence, identity, being) and many most dedicated to bringing philosophy to the public have contributed to this myth.

My feeling, then and now, was that what distinguished philosophy, at its origins, from other disciplines was not so much the questions interrogated but the way one went about interrogating questions. There was a specific method, and the realm and range of discourse was unlimited to a philosopher, who was as comfortable in the world of physical sciences as he was in the world of aesthetics or ethics or professional inquiry, you name it. I hoped to do my bit to resurrect this original tradition, and also resuscitate a method as well as an egalitarian ethos of inquiry, one in which I and my fellow inquirers are all teachers and students at the same time, in which we each have something unique to contribute to any discourse, in which we each feel we're all in this together, no one above the other.

Philosophy as practiced by Socrates and his lot was the inquiry into anything and everything over and under and through the sun. And there was, at least in some versions of Plato's dialogues, an ethos of empathy -- a sense that we all mattered and counted, and that we all deserved a chance to air our views, not only saying what we think, but why we think what we think, by supporting our views with cogent, compelling reasoning and evidence. I try my best to emulate this approach.

When I started in 1996, even the most sympathetic friends told me that Americans were simply not used any longer to engaging one another in thoughtful discourse. I luckily proved them wrong. My grandiose ambition had been to start just one group, in Montclair, NJ, but to my surprise there now are more than 500 groups, and more seem to form all the time. I think participants love the fact that this is 'their' group -- participants propose and choose the question, and they take turns facilitating, so there's a wonderful egalitarianism, as well as a great sense of suspense at the outset, because at Socrates Cafe, you never know what question you're going to discuss until you arrive on the scene and choose a question.

Thus, instead of picking a question beforehand -- so that folks can go read up on the topic ahead of time, and then, at the gathering, engage in a lot of pretentious name-dropping and quote-dropping from the so-called experts -- the participants bring to the discussion whatever types of knowledge and experiences they've accumulated up that moment, and they draw upon their own areas of expertise, often surprising themselves in the process in terms of how much they know and have experienced in relation to the topic du jour.

Clearly, not only Americans, but people the world over, yearn to be more connected -- at least, those who take part in a Socrates Cafe-type confab and other types of discussion groups. What I find continually amazing is the fast friendships formed among Socrates Cafe-goers who are clearly polar opposites in so many ways. But what connects them is their unquenchable childlike but childish love of questioning, and of coming up with sorts of forward-looking answers that help them further discover answers to those questions of questions, namely, 'Who am I?' and 'Who can I still be?' So many great friendships form among these motley groups, among people who otherwise would never have had a chance to meet, much less intimately get to know one another.

I recently heard that a couple who met at a Minnesota Socrates Cafe got married! And I fell in love with my wife Ceci at one gathering when she was the only person who attended -- our precious baby girl Caliope amazingly, was born exactly 10 years to the day Cecilia and I first met. Caliope is named after my Greek grandmother, or Yaya, who was the first Greek teacher in Tampa, Florida, and who inculcated me in all things Greek, particularly Socrates. (My grandmother and grandfather, after whom I was named, emigrated from Athens to the United States, where their last name was summarily changed by bureaucrats from Philipou to Phillips.)

I think in the times of ancient Greece, as now, too many citizens of relatively open societies have shirked their duty to actively immerse themselves in public issues and affairs. Those on the left, right and in the middle too often just follow the lead of their representatives. Socrates, on the other hand, believed that it was incumbent upon each of us to be continually engaged citizens, that we each must cultivate a type of constructive and healthy skepticism, questioning our leaders at every turn, lest they lead us down a blind alley or over a precipice.

There's still so many people who care so deeply about the direction our country is heading, and who see many of the same patterns repeating themselves today -- great intolerance among too many people of all political and philosophical persuasions, a pervasive fundamentalism in thinking that makes it impossible for people of diverse views to engage one another -- at a time when what is needed, particularly in open society that supposedly is the beacon of the free world, great openness and inclusion and willingness to engage with those with divergent views.

Socrates, holding dialogues in the public marketplace or agora, embodied the type of paradigmatic individual who invited all comers to take part, as a principle means of advancing democracy -- and he did this at a time when people had become fearful of engaging in public discourse, of saying what was really on their minds. Socrates tried bravely to buck the tide by engaging more then ever in inquiry in the agora, to exchange thoughtfully their ideas and ideals. I think all or at least most of those today who take part in a Socrates Cafe-type discourse have a good deal of Socrates within them, and share his desire to advance the cause of democracy as they at the same time advance possibilities for individual excellence.

(c) Christopher Phillips 2007




     'The emergence of an individual consciousness from the void
     is, after all, the most amazing fact of human life...'
     Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border, 1917

In a recent interview with David Chalmers conducted by Seher Yekenkurul (Philosophy Pathways Issue 123), it was stated that the 'basic question in the philosophy of mind is the mind/ body problem.' The term body really refers to the brain since it is the connection of mind to brain that concerns a large number of philosophers who are attempting to decipher the mystery of this relationship. The vast majority of these individuals accept the materialist thesis of modern science, namely, that all reality is reducible to materia. Lately, however, because of the intractability of the problem of reducing the conscious mind to brain processes, the dichotomy between monism and dualism has been fudged by philosophers like David Chalmers and John Searle who say that consciousness is an 'emergent property' of the brain and is not reducible to specific neuronal events. A growing literature exists on the merits of this idea.

The concept of philosophy as an aspect of the human condition refers to one's consciousness of the nature of the self and of the universe, the so-called higher consciousness. This is a primary datum, first arising in the western world within the Ionian societies of Greek-speaking peoples. Philosophy came to be valued by these peoples as a unique aspect of their culture. Subsequently, it was adapted by the Romans and then by all later European civilizations. The establishment of philosophy in universities rather than solely within church institutions resulted in the widespread dissemination of philosophic thought in western culture. It became an independent branch of European culture, intimately associated with the Enlightenment movement in Europe.

However, coincident with the Enlightenment and the rise of an independent philosophy, a distractive phenomenon began to emerge, namely, the preoccupation of philosophers with the mind-brain relationship. It had been known since the days of Hippocrates that the brain was intimately connected to the psyche, but not much importance was given to this realization except in certain disease states like epilepsy or brain damage. Philosophers did not concern themselves with the mundane issue of the mind-brain relationship. They concentrated on the development of their minds. The establishment of the Christian doctrine of duality of spirit and body strengthened this approach. Descartes was perhaps the first philosopher to concern himself closely with the nature of the mind-brain relationship. His infamous assertion that the pineal gland was the site of interaction of soul and brain irreparably damaged his reputation in the modern era. Soon afterwards, Leibniz asserted that brain processes and mental processes unfolded simultaneously, but without any connection other than that in the mind of the Creator. Here was the ultimate dualism looked upon now with derision by hardheaded scientists.

These questions were peripheral to mainstream philosophy until the nineteenth century when the scientific revolution extended into detailed studies of the human brain. Scientists began to wonder about the significance of higher consciousness if it could only arise from an inauspicious-looking three-pound lump of grayish, gelatinous substance in the cranial cavity. The eminent German neuropathologist Rudolf Virchow joked that after examining hundreds of human brains, he had never found any evidence of a soul. Gradually philosophers began to turn their attention to the brain, especially since the prestige of scientific investigation could be used to bolster the reputation of a field that many thought of as worthless, unscientific rumination. The discovery of the microscopic complexity of the brain underneath its undistinguished physical appearance lent fuel to their interest. Somewhere, amidst the billions of neurons making up the human brain and their complex interactions must lie the secret of consciousness.

Actually, from the point of view of rigorous science, there is no more knowledge today about the relationship of consciousness to the brain than there was in the era of Vesalius in the sixteenth century. Vesalius was a Flemish anatomist who was the first to carefully describe the anatomy of the brain, based on his many dissections of that organ. He knew that the living brain was necessary for the mind to function but could say no more than that. What more has been added by all the variegated descriptions of neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters and brain electrical phenomena? Much has been learned about the fine structure of the brain and associated neural mechanisms. However, there is virtually no connection of all these details to an understanding of the conscious mind.

Neuroscientists who study the brain are much more inclined to relate their findings to disease states originating from pathological processes. Infinitely more is known now about the pathophysiology of neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, paralytic strokes and encephalitis. Motor and sensory functions and, to a lesser extent, speech mechanisms have been localized to specific brain areas. Most neuroscientists, however, avoid the problem of the mind-brain relationship. Those few who have done so, like Charles Sherrington, John Eccles and Wilder Penfield, have often ended with a position of frank dualism. For a long time, reputable British and American neurophysiologists confined themselves to studying the reflex systems of the spinal cord. Moving above this locus would expose them to the charge of mysticism.

There is probably no one in the history of philosophy who thought more deeply about the problem of the relationship of the mind to the brain than did William James, longtime professor of psychology and philosophy at Harvard University. It is worth quoting from him. After the most detailed consideration of all the possible relationships of consciousness to brain, he concluded that 'nature in her unfathomable designs has mixed us of clay and flame, of brain and mind, that the two things hang indubitably together and determine each other's being, but how or why, no mortal may ever know' (Principles of Psychology, Chap. VI, The Mind-Stuff Theory, 1890). I cannot see how this situation has changed any since James penned his profound thought on the matter.

In recent decades, however, philosophers have moved in where angels feared to tread. It is in the modern era of analytic philosophy that intricate speculative webs have been spun about ways in which consciousness may make its appearance in individuals. Utilizing behavior theory, cybernetics, quantum mechanics or recent advances in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, philosophers have rivaled medieval scholastics in speculating about the nature of consciousness.

One of the leaders in this modern day scholasticism is John Searle who is explicit that 'Consciousness is caused by lower-level neuronal processes in the brain and is itself a feature of the brain' (The Mystery of Consciousness, 1997). Intuitive thought does not permit one to conceive how billions of individual neurons, modifying billions of synaptic structures secreting myriads of neurotransmitter substances can give rise to a unitary sense of self with a unitary consciousness. Recognizing this problem, some contemporary 'neurophilosophers' like Searle have resorted to the metaphysical idea of consciousness as an 'emergent property' of the brain. In other words, it is still a mystery from the point of view of scientific monism.

Thus the difficulty in imagining any way in which even an elementary consciousness can be reduced to neuronal processes -- not to speak of the higher consciousness out of which philosophy itself has emerged -- has forced philosophers with a broader scope to acknowledge that the traditional concept of dualism has some merit albeit they will rarely acknowledge themselves as dualists. Instead, the idea is put forth of 'property or emergent dualism' in which subjective experiences ('qualia,' a resort to the time-tested scientific habit that if you don't understand something, think up a new name for it) represent a different ontological reality from the material brain. Stubbornly, however, philosophers like Chalmers and Searle maintain that they are not really dualists because they conceive of the conscious mind as a feature or property of the brain. All this may seem like pedantic quibbling to the ordinary observer. But such is the ingrained resistance against dualistic thought in an academic philosophy imbued with the worldview of scientific monism.

I fail to see any logical contradiction to the concept of dualism except there is no reason to believe that reality is limited to only two realms of existence. Physicists now talk of an eleven dimensional universe instead of the conventional three or four, if time is included. The notion of a concrete material reality is ever more blurred by advances in sub-particle physics. Even the apparent phenomenon of absolute time and space has disappeared, to be replaced by relativity theory. Philosophers, more than others, should realize that our awareness of reality is as much determined by our own perceptual apparatus than by what is actually out there beyond our selves. It is all well and good to confine oneself to strict materia-oriented, causality-determined scientific principles when building a bridge or repairing the plumbing but when it is a question of higher consciousness, it is philosophic insight not scientific methodology that is needed.

It seems to me that with respect to the question of consciousness, much of contemporary philosophy has lost itself in the pursuit of trivia. What is to be gained by the continuous pursuit of newly discovered brain functions that correlate with conscious states? The philosophic fallacy referred to by Aristotle as a metabasis eis allo genos (Posterior Analytics), a passing from one realm of being to another in philosophic discourse, is constantly being committed. Now that neurologists have learned with the use of radioisotopes to convert metabolic activity of the brain into brightly colored visual images, one can foresee a whole new domain of brain correlates to be related to conscious states. Perhaps we will be confronted with a new form of phrenology that will connect characteristics of the mind to images generated by positron emission tomography (PET) rather than to bumps on the cranium. But all this is so much trivial pursuit. One thought from Plato is worth a thousand PET scans. For the philosopher, the temptation to sell one's philosophic soul for a mess of neurological pottage is best avoided. Anyway, since philosophers do not engage in laboratory studies, they will never be more than camp followers of the neurosciences.

The history of conceptions of a higher consciousness in the western world goes back thousands of years to what Bruno Snell called 'the discovery of the mind' in Greek-speaking civilization. Subsequently, philosophy as a manifestation of higher consciousness continued its development in the west, even with the restrictions laid upon it by Christianity and the backwardness of the Middle Ages. The European Enlightenment gave rise to a flowering of philosophy that could be compared to the heyday of the Greek polis. A new phenomenon in philosophy arose in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the emergence of a remarkable group of 'existentialist' philosophers, the most notable of which were Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.

But after that, a blight seems to have descended upon philosophy. Instead of fresh insights into the nature of man and the universe, there has appeared an obsessive preoccupation with science -- cognitive science, computer science, neurological science, critical thinking science -- anything to avoid the challenges of philosophical thought as it was known to Plato and his successors in the history of western philosophy. Perhaps Nikolai Berdyaev, Teilhard de Chardin and Abraham Joshua Heschl were the last important philosophical minds of our era not to be intimidated by the sciences. Today the old physical tyrannies of Christianity have been replaced by the psychological tyranny of scientific thinking. The models of creative metaphysical thought seem to be confined to representatives of churches, albeit still constrained by Christian or Judaic dogmas. This is a sad situation for philosophy.

Since the neurosciences have given no insights into the basic phenomena of consciousness such as wakefulness or intentionality, it is hardly to be expected that they will shed light on higher consciousness; e.g. ideas about the significance of man in the universe, about the nature of time and creativity, and on the traditional areas of philosophy -- axiology, epistemology and eschatology. These are the substance of philosophy; their importance lies in their intrinsic content, not their connection to the brain. Philosophic thought is a dimension of reality in its own right and not merely a vehicle for some other purpose. There is a certain Quixotism inherent in philosophical activity. No pragmatic or sophistical benefits should be expected of it. The unique mix of intuition, rationality and passion that enters into philosophy represents the highest achievement of the human condition.

Individuals may die, the whole human race may come to an end; but with the growing awareness of the relativity of time, it is reasonable to envision that the phenomenon of a higher consciousness will find its place embedded in the canvas of eternity (R. Schain, In Love With Eternity, 2005). With such a perspective, consciousness does not represent a problem of cognitive or neurological science but a promise of personal fulfillment. If I may paraphrase an assertion by that unique philosophical mind of antiquity, Jesus of Nazareth, the kingdom of heaven is to be found within the mind of every authentic philosopher.

(c) Richard Schain 2007


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Hegel wrote, as it is well known, the Preface to his Phenomenology of Spirit [New York: Oxford University Press, 1977] after the rest -- where it clearly refers to the progressive manifestation of spirit as having already taken place. The Preface can be seen as an introduction to his entire system. Of course, it is the whole Phenomenology, and not merely its Preface, that serves as an introduction to the whole of the Hegelian system. But this does not mean that the Phenomenology is simply a propaedeutic dissertation of the whole system; it is the work where the spirit has been moving toward a comprehension of itself in 'Science.'

Here the concept of 'philosophical science' finds its justification. Hegel has presented the method capable of penetrating to the interior of reality, rather than standing outside of it and inferring what that interior must be. He has sought to come to terms with reality's only locus of manifestation, that is, consciousness, where he has explored the 'logic' of reality's self-revelation to consciousness. In other words, if the Phenomenology may be seen as an 'introduction' to the Hegelian system (the first part of the system), and it plays an active role throughout the system; by the same token, we can acknowledge the active role of the Preface throughout the Phenomenology.

Hegel, as he begins to write, poses a question: can a Preface be written at all? Here, we must understand, he is speaking of the preface to a philosophy -- to philosophy itself. The question then becomes, can philosophy be presented any other way than philosophy, that is, is it possible to 'talk about' philosophy or only to 'do' it? If the latter, then there is no 'preface-to' philosophy, there is only doing it. If the former, then there is an immediate danger in attempting to write a preface; the danger that it will seem possible to speak of the conclusions reached as they had meaning apart from the way of arriving at them (para 1).

A second danger is that a preface will attempt to enumerate the parts of the endeavor in a static way (analysis), and thus fail to grasp the dynamic interrelationship of all the parts to each other (synthesis); nor can synthesis simply follow upon analysis, if it did, both would be external to the internal unity of what is developing.

And a third danger is when a preface will seek to show how this philosophical approach differs from other approaches to the same subject matter. In doing so it introduces an alien interest to the search of truth; philosophies are presented as pursuits of truth 'in-order-that', and hence truth is relegated to a subordinate role. It becomes a question of simply distinguishing the diversity as evidence that they are contradictory (true/ false), and not comprehending the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive development of truth. The unity of truth, Hegel maintains, is organic, and each moment of it's developing -- although apparently opposed to another as the true and the false -- is necessary to the whole. Thus, internal contradiction is essential to the very 'dialectic' of knowing (para 2).

If we take the Preface as a prologue, we can say that it gives an explanation of why the phenomenological process is going to be so difficult. There can be no taking for granted that we do know, nor that we know what it is to know. What the Preface sets out clearly is what characterizes knowing -- 'Science'. The question then becomes: 'When is philosophy 'Science''? Here it is important to note in the Preface the insistence on the rigorousness of the philosophical enterprise. Philosophy cannot be regarded either as mere romantic intuition nor as common-sense.

The Preface contains Hegel's conviction that phenomenology introduces the philosophical 'system' by philosophizing; that the outcome will be the gradual working out of what the 'philosophical method' has arrived at in the Phenomenology of Spirit. In other words, that we know only at the end of the process, but the end means 'the result together with the process through which it came about' (para 3). In this context, it will be proper to assert that Hegel's most important contribution to philosophical development is the conceptual rigor which is available only on the level of reason, not on that of understanding -- 'feeling of the essence.' In examining consciousness, Hegel discovers thus an internal necessity in its development.

In the Preface Hegel is concern with three aspects of the phenomenological procedure: (a) the Absolute as subject; (b) the unity of consciousness and self-consciousness; and (c) the nature of philosophical truth.

(a) The Absolute as subject. It is in the Preface where Hegel makes a claim that only the full development of the system itself will validate: that the identity of consciousness and self-consciousness will make sense only when it is realized that 'everything turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject' (para 17). What is comprehended and expressed will be the dynamism of self-revealing activity, not merely an objective category. The unity of thought and being consists not in a correspondence of thought with the static being of 'substance,' but in a correspondence of being with the dynamic thought of 'subject.'

This means that substantiality must be conceived as including within itself the dynamic universality proper to 'knowing.' The notion of subject exhibits the same degree of universality concretely, as substance does abstractly. Thus, the 'self-objectification', the 'self-negation' and the 'self-realization', which are recognized as characteristic of consciousness, must be seen as characteristic of what consciousness is conscious of. Consciousness is activity; being is activity; and activity is one and the same. In this context the truth is its own becoming -- presupposed at the beginning, achieved at the end, but only by going through the whole self-movement. Here Hegel explains the intrinsic nature of consciousness in terms of a process in which subjectivity and substantiality are interrelated.

For Hegel, there is a sense in which what is 'true' does not define what is known, but what is 'known' defines what is true. In this sense there is no knowledge short of total knowledge, and there is no truth short of the totality of what is known. This means that the 'wholeness' is essential to both knowledge and truth, and only the 'divine essence' in its development is whole. For consciousness, what is known will be true only by becoming true in a process of self-determination, which it is identical with the process of consciousness coming to know it; only as the 'result' of this process is the 'absolute knowing.'

(b) The unity of consciousness and self-consciousness. In the Preface is also pointed out a problem that the Phenomenology has to resolve, to wit, that the consciousness and the self-consciousness are not odds with each other, that a gain in one is not a loss in the other. Hegel asserts that science is a goal to be achieved, but achievable only when consciousness is conscious of itself as spirit, not merely of spirit as substance. That is, science is actualized self-consciousness. Objective consciousness must make the implicit explicit; it must make itself one with self-consciousness, which it can do only as spirit (para 26).

The real work of the Phenomenology is to lead 'the individual from his uneducated standpoint to knowledge... in its universal sense, just as it was the universal individual self-conscious Spirit, whose formative education had to be studied.' (para 28). The single individual must go through the same stages in the growth of the 'universal spirit.' This passing through is the process whereby substance as universal spirit gives itself nothing but 'its own acquisition of self-consciousness, the bringing-about of its own becoming and reflection into itself' (ibid).

Another issue in the Preface is that Hegel looks at consciousness as a phenomenon, where as such it has two 'moments': the cognizing (subjectivity) and the cognized (objectivity). As related to each other, each is the negative of the other (antithesis). But what consciousness does not initially realize is that subjectivity and objectivity both designate only what is contained in its 'experience,' and what is contained in experience shares the 'spiritual' nature of experience. 'Consciousness knows and comprehends only what falls within its experience; for what is contained in this is nothing but spiritual substance, and this, too, as object of the self' (para 36).

As object to itself, spirit is somehow 'other' in relation to itself. Then, experience is a 'movement' whereby whatever is experienced makes itself 'other' in becoming 'the property of consciousness' (ibid). If knowing is to be an 'identity' of the knowing and known, the dissimilarity (negation) between 'the I and the substance' would seem to be an obstacle to knowing. But, if knowing is, rather, a process of 'identification', then dissimilarity is essentially the moving force as the condition of movement.

(c) The nature of philosophical truth. The movement, which the Phenomenology examines as the movement of consciousness on its way to a scientific comprehension of the real, is a movement of distinguishing self from self (understanding) in order to make possible a return to self (reason). So to speak, the being of reality, like the being of consciousness, is to be a whole, which must articulate itself in order to re-integrate itself. The experience of consciousness -- which is a process of recognition of the an sich -- is the articulation of reality, which re-integrates itself into its wholeness (truth), and vice versa (para 53).

So the function of self-consciousness as 'reason' is to penetrate the heart of self-determining reality as opposed to the 'understanding' which simply imposes order in an external way, and thus 'a table of contents is all that it offers, the content itself it does not offer at all' (ibid). Therefore, only reason can be 'scientific.' As scientific, self-consciousness reason immerses itself in its content, from which it returns back into itself, and thus raised itself to a higher level of 'truth' -- of wholeness. In other words, for Hegel truth is a process which generates its own dialectical moments, and as such it is the positive reality which contains its own negation.

In short, the task of the Preface should not be seen as the preliminary working out of the whole Hegelian system and thus the mere justification of the phenomenological method, but rather as Hegel's emphasis on the study of philosophical 'science'. In the Preface we can see Hegel's recapitulation of the whole, where he lets us know that nothing makes sense, unless the reality to be known is an organic totality constituted by a dialectical relationship of 'moments,' that is, the developing of consciousness from sense-certainty to absolute knowing. This is what he means by the 'coming-to-be' of knowledge in the Phenomenology of Spirit.

(c) Alfredo Lucero-Montano 2007


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020