Hegel on Identity

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit explores his views of identity. Like previous philosophers such as Kant and Descartes, he forms his own definition of what identity consists of. He deduces that the first knowledge we obtain is immediate and therefore the attempt to describe its identity is also immediate (90). He defines “sense-certainty” as the genuine feeling that comes from sensory experience. In Hegel’s view, sense-certainty seems to be the most certain form of gaining information because it provides the most truth to the individual. However, he attacks this “certainty” in the next sentence because he knows that out of this certainty, it makes it impossible to determine a deviance from this certainty. From this, Hegel also deduces that “consciousness, for its part, is in this certainty only as a pure ‘I’” (91), which means that the ability of self-consciousness is the purest form of knowing oneself. When you know yourself, you can place qualities on yourself. As you find out about the world around you, the objects in the environment can also contain qualities that you first learned by knowing yourself. He concludes his paragraph that “on the contrary, the thing is, and it is, merely because it is” (91). This statement sounds rather amusing and oversimplified but it provides a thought-provoking idea that the qualities of an object are present and that the reason the qualities are present is irrelevant.

Later in his philosophy paper, Hegel proposes a simple thought experiment to examine if qualities are universal. Suppose it is night time right now and “we write down this truth; a truth cannot lose anything by being written down, any more than it can lose anything through our preserving it. If now, this noon, we look again at the written truth we shall have to say that it has become stale” (95). In this thought experiment, Hegel proves that not every quality is everlasting or universal. Some things we label as qualities are not what someone else would consider. While it may be nighttime right now in this side of the world, it is bright and sunny on the other half of earth. Based on the perspective of the person, the qualities we give to objects around us can be contrary to the qualities based off of a different person’s perspective. Ultimately, this provides some relativism and uncertainty when we set out to define the qualities of the world around us.

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