Andy Blunden. November 2010
This is only the second English-language, book-length treatment of Hegel’s Subjective Spirit in a century, a century in which focus on the Phenomenology of Spirit has come to completely overshadow interest in all of Hegel’s mature work. In Winfield’s words:
“analyses [of philosophical psychology] are pre-eminently located in Hegel’s investigation of “Subjective Spirit” in his Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, an investigation ignored almost as much in the vast literature on Hegel as in contemporary philosophy of mind. Attention has instead focused upon Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, where Hegel does not give a positive account of mind, but instead provides an internal, immanent critique of the misguided approach of modern epistemology, which takes the opposition of consciousness as definitive of knowing.” (p. xi)
Dominant recent uses of Hegel for psychology and social theory have relied on interpretations of the paragraphs of the Phenomenology on the master-servant relation, to the extent of those like R. R. Williams and Axel Honneth who reduce all of Hegel to unmediated intersubjectivity and recognition. On the other hand, the Subjective Spirit may have been the only work of Hegel’s with which Vygotsky had any familiarity (see Blunden 2009), and Winfield is absolutely correct in directing our attention to the Subjective Spirit as the source for Hegel’s psychology.
In his opposition to recent pragmatic interpretations, however, Winfield does somewhat bend the stick the other way. While it is true that the master-servant dialectic in the Phenomenology was but an immanent critique of state-of-nature discourses, not to be overtheorised, the relation between immanent critique and systematic presentation is not as cut-and-dry as is implied in Winfield’s reference to the “immanent critique of the misguided approach of modern epistemology.”
Winfield’s exposition is aimed at the ‘philosophy of mind’, an arena of specialist philosophical discourse dominated by analytical philosophy, in which Hegel is either unknown or dismissed. This is an intervention which is very much to be applauded. On the other hand, it is evident that Winfield’s reading of Hegel is very much in the spirit of the modern philosophy of mind: it ignores material culture, is entirely blind to practical activity as components of mind, and takes subjective mind to be inside the body. The subject matter is Hegel’s logical reconstruction of the necessary faculties, capacities and potentialities of mind in individual natural organisms from the simplest creature up to the creature which makes mind actual through the creation of private property - the actuality of free will, opening the way for objective mind.
Winfield’s readable and succinct exposition of the Subjective Spirit is very much to be welcomed. Let us run through the Subjective Spirit as Winfield interprets it for us, and then afterwards reflect on it.
The three divisions of the Subjective Spirit are, in German, Seele, Bewußtsein and Geist, which Winfield translates as Psyche, Consciousness and Intelligence.
The Psyche encompasses the entire organism of an animal and registers the neurophysiological totality of the organism as its own given being; its determinations are feelings, but the psyche does not register the feelings as intuitions of an object nor take itself as a subject. The psyche forms habits and becomes habituated to repeated feelings, giving the organism a degree of detachment from its environment and regularity to its behaviour, whilst remaining in continuous metabolic relationship to its environment. The psyche produces expressive ‘gestures’ as an integral part of its own neurophysiological existence: outward behaviour, distinct from its feelings which are inward.
Consciousness, on the other hand, relates to its content as something other from which it has extricated itself. Whereas feeling provides no reference to another, feeling becomes sensation, which it counts as the determination of an object, with a unity of its own distinct from and opposed to that of its own conscious awareness. Since consciousness still must relate to its own content to be aware of anything, consciousness presupposes and incorporates the psyche.
Thus consciousness is a development of psyche which is distinguished by the ascription of its feelings to an object outside and independent of the organism. This consciousness enters into the mental life of the organism and restructures it, but consciousness does not initially entail self-consciousness, which arises in the course of the development of consciousness.
Intelligence relates to its content as both subjective and objective, able to withdraw from its immediate relation with the object, mediating its relation to the object with a universal. Intelligence is the mental domain in which signs are produced and thinking arises, but thoughts cannot be objects of intelligence unless they can have an object-like form, ... freed from the externality that burdens intuition and the images that recollect them. To be able to apprehend signs at all, intelligence pre-supposes both consciousness and psyche, just as pre-linguistic intelligence, relying on representations and mental images, is a precondition for the use of concepts and words.
Before looking more closely at the development of each of these three Gestalten, it will be very helpful to spell out more closely the relationships in which they stand to one another, and the sense in which they constitute a new whole, the individual mind.
Each Gestalt acts upon itself, not some other; mind does not act upon the body as cause of effects, but rather acts upon itself as an embodied living subjectivity, a specific mind/body unity. Each is a whole, but consciousness pre-supposes and incorporates psyche, just as intelligence pre-supposes and incorporates consciousness. They are not distinct entities. But nonetheless, each is an integral whole which has developed from a simple relation produced by the underlying structure; the irritability which underlies the feelings of the psyche is a product of organic nature, the sensations which consciousness counts as an object are nothing other than the self-feeling of the psyche; the signs which make up the content of intelligence are representations of objects supplied by consciousness.
This is not a modular view of mind; the human mind is an integral whole of multilayered processes, each layer of which is a complete individual organism, with its own unity, in itself. Let us look at the structure and development of each ‘layer’ in turn.
Action is not the result of an immaterial agency acting upon the body, but the self-activity of a being that always involves animal physiology, and the feelings which make up the psyche are simply the physical processes which manifest the sentience which constitute organisms and mediate between the environmental and organic effects acting on the organism and the organism’s behaviour. The psyche is an integral whole which embraces the entire body. Habituation to repeated feelings, and the development of habits (what Activity Theory calls “operations”) allows the psyche to distance itself from the immediacy of its feelings and develop complex behaviours. Hegel here anticipated the concept of conditional reflex. Outwardly, the organism may take on the appearance of a conscious being, but the creature is responding to its own feelings in simple communion with itself.
Whereas the psyche relates to its own mental content without drawing any subject-object distinction, consciousness makes the decisive step of taking its content as something exclusively objective, with its own independent unity. Consciousness rests upon and unfolds from this opposition of subject and object. Consciousness acts upon its own embodied self while engaged with the objectivity from which it distinguishes its own awareness.
This does not as such amount to self-consciousness, because consciousness cannot stand outside itself and observe itself as an object. “Consciousness of consciousness is only concretely possible when consciousness has as its object another consciousness” (p. 73). Self-consciousness arises in the course of the development of consciousness, but the simplest level of consciousness is not self-conscious. Small children and animals may for example recognise objects and other creatures as having a unity, independence and dynamics of their own, without being aware of their awareness of that objectivity.
The crucial relation is desire. When consciousness is not only aware of an object, independent of itself, but desires it, then the crucial step of ascribing meaning to the object has been taken, and the most elementary form of self-consciousness attained. With desire, the organism is not only aware of the object as independent of it, but acts to annul that independence rendering it a means of satisfying its own desires. Thus the subject apprehends its own subjectivity in the form of an object, but cancels its objectivity by consuming it.
The destruction of the object of desire means that the subject has to begin all over again; the desire is continuously regenerated and satisfaction eludes the subject. However, if a subject can subordinate another subject so as to have that other subject labour to satisfy the subject’s needs then its desire may be satisfied in an enduring way.
This leads to dialectic of recognitive self-consciousness: the subject sees its own need and its satisfaction manifested in the activity of another subject, objective to it, but subordinated to it. But this is a defective reflection of the subject’s consciousness, since it reflects only the subject’s desire in the form of a subordinate consciousness which lacks self-consciousness, since it does not desire what the subject desires. The subordinated consciousness acts to meet the needs of the dominant subject, but at the expense of its own desire. This discrepancy is removed when one party desires in relation to the other what that other desires in relation to it, and reciprocated recognition is only achieved through the emancipation of the subordinate consciousness so that the other also satisfies its needs in satisfying the needs of the subject and is recognised by the subject as another consciousness, in which their own consciousness can be given objectivity. It is this objectivity of subjectivity, or universal self-consciousness, which lays the basis for intelligence.
It should be noted however that recognitive self-consciousness is attained without any call for language or signs, in fact without any call for intelligence, that is, thought as such. The relationships between subjects involved in recognitive self-consciousness hinge around subjectivity splitting in two with the activity of one satisfying the desire of the other, rather than the subject satisfying its needs immediately through its own actions.
Intelligence has intuitions, representations and thoughts, by relating to its various mental contents as both products of its own activity and as determinations of objects. Language arises in the domain of intelligence, but there is pre-linguistic intelligence.
Winfield describes the development of the use of signs as follows.
To produce and use a sign, intelligence must abstract something from the field of perception to which it can link a generalised representation. The problem which underlies the development of intelligence is the recollection and abstraction of images, leaving behind the particularities of the intuited configuration that was first linked with the sign’s meaning.
Initially, “symbolization associates sense and meaning through an imagined content common to both (for example, lion and courage). By contrast, sign production connects sense and meaning independently of their content and solely through mind. ... Thought cannot be without a particularity of its own, for concepts cannot be universal without being both determinate and unifying their own particularisations.. Nevertheless, whatever particularity concepts possess is contained within their universality. That is, the specificity of each concept is a thought determination, not an image” (p. 91).
This process of recollecting signs involves three successive forms of verbal memory: name retentive memory, reproductive verbal memory, and mechanical memorisation.” What is meant by this rather confusing term “mechanical” is that the image of words is memorised and according to the mind’s own forms of interconnection between words, external to visual similarities between words, i.e., according to their meaning, independently of their form. Words are thus “taken over” by mind, which deals with them independently of any residue of the external givenness of the word.
In this way intelligence creates a universe of signs which are both objective and subjective, which creates the foundation for the activity of reason, articulating meaning without representation, signifying concepts, that is, thinking. Individuals can thus apprehend in the verbal expression of others their own verbal intelligence and its universality.
Winfield also sketches the development of will in the Subjective Spirit. Each of the stages of development of the mind has a corresponding form of will whose ends reflect respectively intuition, representation, and thought. To begin with, these ends are immediately given rather than a product of volition, so the will is initially a natural agency, possessing drives, appetite, and inclinations through which it finds itself determined by nature. Free will develops from choice which is possible only on the basis of intelligence. But will still remains something inward, limited to choosing between givens in pursuit of universal ends which entail irreconcilable contingencies. This cannot be resolved through inward faculties and potentialities.
Winfield says that free will is the subject matter of the Objective Spirit, a.k.a. The Philosophy of Right. The will as treated in the Subjective Spirit is psychologically determined, via the subject’s appetites and needs, and is therefore not free. The will can be free only when the will goes beyond being an internal capacity of the individual and becomes actual. That is, the individual can achieve self-determination by realising its own concept, so that “what gets determined and what does the determining coincide in self-determination” (p. 120).
According to the Philosophy of Right, the outcome of the Subjective Spirit is a personality; a personality differs from a subject because it knows itself to be a subject, that is, free.
“Personality essentially involves the capacity for rights and constitutes the concept and the basis (itself abstract) of the system of abstract and therefore formal right. Hence the imperative of right is: ‘Be a person and respect others as persons.’ ... Right is in the first place the immediate embodiment which freedom gives itself in an immediate way, i.e. possession, which is property – ownership. Freedom is here the freedom of the abstract will in general or, eo ipso, the freedom of a single person related only to himself” (§§36 and 40).
Thus Hegel unfolds Objective Spirit from abstract right, i.e., private property. This is not in contradiction to the claim that the Philosophy of Right is the development of free will, because rational free will and private property are, in Hegel’s view, simply two sides of the same coin, the subjective and objective aspects of one and the same form of life. But the Philosophy of Right begins with the free person, which is the culmination of the Subjective Spirit, i.e., it begins with private property which is, as Hegel well knew, the outcome of millennia of human history. What has happened to these millennia of history? We have gone from the Philosophy of Nature, through the Subjective Spirit which in Winfield’s reading is entirely taken up with inward faculties and potentialities of the individual mind, and suddenly we jump to modern society.
“Mind that is objective is a person, and as such has a reality of its freedom in property; for property ... is only the reality of the free will of a person ... (Hegel 1971 §385n.)
Winfield claims that “when Hegel develops intelligence, he refrains from explicitly involving intersubjectivity” (p. 8), and overall intersubjectivity is absent from Winfield’s account barring peripheral involvement of other subjects in the latter stages, demanding of the other nothing more than their existence, and he never goes to societal phenomena at all – no mention of forms of social life, labour or social practice, no mention of tools or domesticated nature. Just a big gap.
“Although Hegel does not develop the role that intersubjectivity may play in producing communicable signs signifying general representations ... individuals express their signs to one another in relation to commonly observed objects” (p. 101).
Artefacts, which are, after all, objectified thought forms, are for Winfield nothing more than “commonly observed objects.” Is it possible that objects produced by subjects which are thereby the content of the minds of others is simply outside the scope of the Subjective Spirit? This is belied by the fact that the leap from Subjective Spirit to Objective spirit is not only a leap from psychology to social theory but also straight from Nature to modern society. Also, the Subjective Spirit is self-evidently not just about subjectivity, since its principal stages are marked by different relations between subjectivity and objectivity. Clearly the Subjective Spirit is also about objective forms of mind given by social practice and artefacts, from domesticated nature and tools up to cooperative labour and language, about everything that separates the modern state from the state of nature.
Hegel puts it this way right at the beginning of the fits section of Subjective Spirit:
“We called the first form of mind we have to consider subjective mind, because here mind is still in its undeveloped Concept, has not yet made its Concept an object for itself. But in this its subjectivity mind is at the same time objective, has an immediate reality by overcoming which it first becomes for itself, attains a grasp of its Concept, of its subjectivity. We could just as well say that mind is, to begin with, objective and has to become subjective, as conversely that it is first subjective and has to make itself objective. Consequently, we must not regard the difference between subjective and objective as fixed. Even at the beginning, we have to grasp mind not as mere Concept, as something merely subjective, but as Idea, as a unity of subjectivity and objectivity. and any progress from this beginning is a movement away from and beyond the first, simple subjectivity of mind, a progress in the development of its reality or objectivity. This development brings forth a succession of shapes [Gestalten]; these, it is true, must be specified empirically, but in the philosophical treatment cannot remain externally juxtaposed, but must be known as the corresponding expression of a necessary series of specific Concepts, and they are of interest to philosophy only in so far as they express such a series of Concepts. However, at first, we can only assert what the different forms of subjective mind are; their necessity will emerge only from the specific development of subjective mind” (Hegel 1971 §387n.)
The point is that any given mode of internal, psychological functioning is possible only within a corresponding form of life and environment, and vice versa, any given form of social life both presupposes and reproduces individuals with a corresponding form of psychological functioning. What Winfield takes to be a description of internal faculties and capacities in the Subjective Spirit, is equally a description of forms of social life. The leap to social life based on private property presupposes a certain level of psychological development attained only in the final sections of the Subjective Spirit. But this does not mean that prior to this, human beings lived in a state of nature in the absence of social organisation. Not at all. But those earlier institutions lacked (according to Hegel) the concept of Right. Objective Spirit is the rule of law, not all those aspects of human life entailed simply in living in an objective material world. The forms of life described in the Subjective Spirit are those forms of life which are possible in the absence of the institutions of civil society and the state, in other words, forms of life in which people either lived in self-enclosed isolation or engaged with other communities only externally without the benefit of modern institutions resting on the rule of law.
The relation between subjective and objective spirit, and this applies in general to successive sciences in Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, is a logical one, a relation in which subjective spirit is presupposed by objective spirit, but each constitutes a self-contained form of life. If taken as internal states of an organism, psyche, consciousness and intelligence certainly do provide the presuppositions for modern social life, but in the absence of the material natural and species environment, these do not constitute forms of life. They presuppose both Nature (as described in the Philosophy of Nature) and appropriate forms of social interaction with their own and other species. In the case of non-human life, what is presupposed are unique conditions with which the given species may form a symbiotic metabolic relationship. All forms of life presuppose some form of social organisation among their own species and only intelligent, human life on the other hand is able to shape their environment to their own needs, dependent instead on elaborate forms of social organisation, both before and after the advent of private property.
While in general each stage in development presupposes the foregoing stages, this by no means implies that forms of spirit do not reorganise and reshape forms of spirit that are presupposed. Even dumb animals do reshape their own natural environment. Feelings, for example, can be generated by concepts such as God and religion.
So the principal problem with Winfield’s exposition is that he takes the stages of the Subjective Spirit as stages in the development of internal psychological functioning, in isolation from the forms of activity, social life and material culture which are in every case an inseparable part of each given stage. This needs to be highlighted in a couple of key cases.
Hegel suggested in his 1802/03 system that what he would later call subjective spirit originates from when desire directed at an object is deferred and a labour process intervenes. This labour process develops through the creation and use of tools, which then supplant the originally natural object as the means of satisfaction. So when we are talking about the first stage of development of consciousness, the object in question becomes a universal ‘thought object’ not just a “commonly observed object.” The construction of the material environment in which human beings live, the inherited product of human labour down the millennia, then forms an integral component of the forms of activity in which psychological functioning is manifested.
Consider next the second stage of development of self-consciousness where the object is another subject. Winfield is quite correct to reject the literal interpretation of the master-servant dialectic, which makes sense only as a parody of state-of-nature narratives of the type given by Rousseau and Hobbes. Hegel’s aim was to reject the idea of modern society being some kind of fall from an egalitarian state of grace in the wild. On the contrary, claimed Hegel, modern society was in fact a step towards freedom and equality. The relationship with which the master-servant dialectic is concerned with is unmediated interaction between otherwise independent subjects. This is the situation of infants and newcomers, or contact between foreigners, and Hegel shows how even in this dangerous situation of interactions unmediated by language and custom, subjects find a means of mediating their interaction, namely by one meeting the other’s needs, initially by means of slavery. Again, Hegel provides a relatively transparent description of this in his earliest manuscripts. Winfield’s description is, in my view, superior to the usual reading based on Kojève, and explains, for example, how this relation can develop prior to linguistic communication and provides the preconditions for language and other forms of shared cultural life.
But altogether, isn’t it self-evident that the development of self-consciousness and universal self-consciousness is about social life, and social life cannot be led by an individual alone, The attainment of universal self-consciousness is both a development of psychological functioning and a development of social life, but developments which do not presuppose private property or any kind of legal framework standing above the life of a self-contained community.
Nonetheless, Winfield’s reading of the Subjective Spirit does well as an exposition of the stages of internal, psychological functioning implied in the development of human life. But to make sense of it, each stage needs to be supplemented such that it is understood as the internal aspect of a form of life which is both internal and material.
Hegel’s (1971) Philosophy of Mind, Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), translated by William Wallace, Together with the zusätze in Boumann’s text (1845) translated by A. V. Miller and a Foreword by J. N. Findlay, Oxford University Press
Blunden, A.. (2009) An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity, Leiden: Brill, p. 128.
Winfield, Richard Dien (2010) Hegel and Mind. Rethinking Philosophical Psychology. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.