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phenomenology of the spirit – Book by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The Phenomenology of Spirit is a renowned book written by Hegel. It was published in the year 1807, and is based on a philosophical notion: consciousness cannot be deemed a completed institution, rather it is created, or transformed, in order to become something different than itself.

Hegel, in the book, through its 539 pages, tracks the flow of the consciousness through its multiple phases which it evolves too. He also analyzes the consciousness’ growth and evolution, becoming absolute spirit, from sensitive consciousness.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Hegel, here, takes an attempt to describe all the different dimensions of human experience such as consciousness, history, perception, interactions, morality, culture, knowledge, subjectivity, religion etc.

Through Phenomenology, he aims to create a philosophical construct, desiring to enclose and encompass the entirety of human existence, and also answering all the questions about the universe, including questions regarding God, man, and the world.

Short Summary of Phenomenology of the spirit

The book is structured into three parts as regards its subject matter:

  1. The initial phase of consciousness is awareness of an object as a sensible entity existing over and against the subject matter.
  2. The second phase which follows the initial one is that of self-consciousness, which involves awareness associated with others i.e. social or communal consciousness awareness.
  3. The final phase is the one of Reason which is amalgamation objectivity and subjectivity on a much greater level.

The Preface of Phenomenology of the spirit

The Preface of the book acts as a preamble to human cognition, and the prevalent scientific system. It aims to offer designs/ideas on the scientific cognition, thereby making any effort to understand it, easier. It may be considered as an exploratory effort at producing the requirement of philosophy.

Thus, involving an elucidation on the subject matter and viewpoint/standpoint of philosophy, i.e., the real structure of truth and the element of its existence.


The Preface of the book was written post the completion of the book by Hegel; however, the Introduction was written beforehand. It entails more or less the same subject matter, but from a different vantage point.

Herein, Hegel discourses about the inconsistency that one cannot gauge one’s faculty of knowledge vis a vis one’s ability to comprehend the Absolute without first possessing an explanation for what Absolute is, one which is superior to one’s knowledge of the Absolute. Despite this, one could only gain such an explanation if one already possesses the enhanced knowledge sought.

In the introduction, Hegel deals with the paradox, and with the subsequent issues that follow due to the same.

Abstract Idealism

This concept is the philosophy mainly linked with Hegel and Schelling. It was, however, chiefly associated and developed by Hegel. The same was also explored in this book. It was his view/understanding of how being is ultimately comprehensible as an ultimate and all-inclusive whole.

Hegel was of the view that for the thinking of the subject i.e. reasoning, to be able to identify its object, which is the world, at all, there must be present, in a sense, an identity of being. In the absence of which, the subject would be incapable to gain access to the object and the subject would then possess no certainty about any knowledge of the world.

Philosophy of History and Sense Certainty

This philosophy is the most developed theory of history. It aims to determine the meaning or direction in history. Hegel considers history as an intelligible and understandable process moving towards one condition, which is the awareness/realization of human freedom. Hegel integrates a deeper historicism into his theories.

He regards the connection of history and the spirit as an ultimate and intimate one, this way of thought is the primary philosophy present in his Phenomenology of Spirit.

Sense Certainty is the primary form of awareness/consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit. It theorizes itself as an entirely passive philosophy that relates to its objects of knowledge by the method of pointing either literally or linguistically.

Hegel’s Works

Hegel had 4 publications during his lifetime, namely: The Phenomenology of Spirit, the Science of Logic, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, and Elements of the Philosophy of Right. During the final years of his life, Hegel was unable to publish any other work.

Books about Hegel

Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit is a book published in 1947, written by philosopher Alexandre Kojève. Herein, the author amalgamates Marx’s labor theory with Martin Heidegger’s Being-Toward-Death.

The author develops multiple themes that prove to be central to existentialism and French theory like the conclusion of history and the Master-Slave Dialectic.

Terry Pinkard wrote the first major biography of Hegel in English. The biography offers a complete, account of Hegel’s life, along with providing for the crucial philosophical notions present in his work.

The Critique of Pure Reason is a book by Immanuel Kant, a German Philosopher. Herein the author aims to control the scope of metaphysics. This book is also known as Kant’s “First Critique”. The book was later succeeded by two other books: The Critique of Practical Reason, and the Critique of Judgment. This book also influenced multiple Hegelians

Philosophical Investigations is the book written by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, published in 1953 posthumously. Herein Wittgenstein deliberates about the multiple problems fields of logic, semantics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of action, and philosophy of psychology, putting forward, the opinion that conceptual confusions are at the source of most philosophical problems.

Quotes from the Phenomenology of Spirit

– Since it is necessary that each of the two self-consciousnesses, which opposes one to the other, strives to demonstrate and affirm before the other and the other as a being-for-itself absolute, hence one who preferred the life of freedom and is powerless to do by itself and ensure its independence, apart from its sensible reality shows, and in the ratio between servitude

– Everyone tends to the death of the other

– For if knowledge is the instrument to capture the absolute essence, he has to mind that the application of an instrument to a thing does not leave as it is for itself, but introduces in her transformation and alteration.

Hegel Quotes

  • The spirit of a nation is reflected in its history, its religion, and the degree of its political freedom. The improvement of individual morality is a matter involving one’s private religion, one’s parents, one’s personal efforts, and one’s individual situation. The cultivation of the spirit of the people as a whole requires in addition the respective contributions of folk religion and political institutions.

Prospects for a Folk Religion (1793)

  • Knowledge of the Idea of the absolute ethical order depends entirely on the establishment of perfect adequacy between intuition and concept, because the Idea itself is nothing other than the identity of the two. But if this identity is to be actually known, it must be thought as a made adequacy.

System of Ethical Life (1803-4)

  • In the tool the subjectivity of labour is raised to something universal. Anyone can make a similar tool and work with it. To this extent the tool is the persistent norm of labour.

System of Ethical Life (1803-4)

  • The master is in possession of a surplus of what is physically necessary; the servant lacks it, and indeed in such a way that the surplus and the lack of it are not accidental aspects but the indifference of necessary needs.

System of Ethical Life (1803-4)

  • This ideal and rational middle term is speech, the tool of reason, the child of intelligent beings.

System of Ethical Life (1803-4)

  • The spoken word unites the objectivity of the corporeal sign with the subjectivity of gesture, the articulation of the latter with the self-awareness of the former.

System of Ethical Life (1803-4)