What are you doing at this moment? Well, of course, you’re reading my blog post. But, what were you doing yesterday at this time? Were you watching Netflix, reading a book? What will you be doing tomorrow at this time? Will you be eating some Easy Mac, doing homework? I’ll go out on a whim here and say your answers to each of these questions will be different. And even if I’m wrong, and you’ll be doing the same thing three days in a row, you’d agree that each of the instances of what you’re doing are different, right? Well, Hegel would sure have some things to say to you.
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.
In Phenomenology of Spirit, G.W.F. Hegel discusses the meaning of “here” and “now” to determine how they relate to truth and “universality” (95, 96). Hegel indicates that at the exact moment of “now,” that is the “truest knowledge” because at that exact moment it is true that we are in the “now,” but he goes on to indicate how “now” simultaneously lacks all aspects of truth (91). Continue reading
“‘Here’ itself does not vanish; on the contrary, it abides constant in the vanishing of the house, the tree, etc., and is indifferently house or tree. Again, therefore, the ‘This’ shows itself to be a mediated simplicity, or a universality” (61).
I think that Hegel’s theory concerning “Here” is absolutely fascinating for its implications with regards to “universality” and “consciousness.” Hegel claims that “Here” is a term used to describe the placement or position in which a certain object resides. The word is constant. Just because its fixation changes, such as shifting from defining the placement of a dog to the placement of a cat, does not mean that “Here” “vanishes,” or takes on another meaning. It merely shifts focus from one object to another.
The theory of “Here” is imperative in the explanation of Hegel’s belief in universality, or the essence of a thing. Although “Here” can be used to describe many different objects, its meaning does not change based off of its fixation. With whatever object it references, “Here” refers to the placement of position of a thing not the thing in which is describes. Therefore, “Here” in itself never disappears or changes in meaning; rather, its focus shifts depending on the way in which it is being used to define the placement of an object. Its essence is never transformed.
The theories of “Here” and “universality” all tie into Hegel’s overarching theme of consciousness or cognitive awareness. As humans, we are constantly using our senses to gain knowledge and data from our environment. In order to quantify and then analyze such information, we need markers such as “This” and “Here.” These terms allow us to determine the meaning of and interpret the details our senses recognize. Such techniques provide us with the ability to ascertain the essence of the things we run into during our travels so that we may be cognitively aware of the environment surrounding and our placement in such an environment. Therefore, “Here” serves not only as a way in which to define the position of objects near and around us but also as a facilitator of the discovery of our own placement in the world.