The Absolute and the History

The Absolute and the History: Statue of Jesus

The question of whether space is subjective or objective is meaningless in Hegel. We are spatial beings, this is the way we experience ourselves, and experience is the ‘final frontier’ in Hegel: you cannot go beyond it to see how this experience is made up.

Such an approach is very similar to what Kant calls empirical realism. Kant’s error consisted in splitting this realism and adding to it transcendental idealism, which tries to explain from outside how this empirical realism – in other words, this illusion – occurs. 

Hegel rebuts any approach to explaining the origin of our knowledge lying beyond historical experience in a transcendental structure of the human mind, a structure that cannot be reached and which is, therefore, pure speculation without any possibility of being proved.

This is why he also rejects any discussion about the conditions of knowledge other than historical. In this way, you can have a science of philosophy because you have historical facts before you and are not constrained to imagine all kinds of structures making possible our experience and knowledge. Those facts cannot either be denied or ignored.

Indeed, it sounds like radical phenomenalism and historicism. However, there is an essential difference from our usual historicism: the latter is a simple explanation of the present through the past. Hegel’s historicism acknowledges something that ours either ignores or denies, the fact that in that history, God himself occurred, showed himself, and spoke to man, telling him that man and God are the same. 

This is what Jesus said about himself: he was both the Son of Man and the Son of God. As such, he and his divine Father were the same. But what was more, was that Jesus said that all human beings are children of God, which means that all of them share the same nature as Jesus, and therefore they also share identity with God. 

Without that moment in history, Hegel could not have claimed the principle of identity of his absolute idealism because then, such an identity either would have been grounded on a subjective option (and then you could no longer have a ‘science’ of philosophy) or would have claimed the possibility of going out of the human being and knowing the essence of the world and having direct knowledge of God. However, such a revelation could no longer have been a matter of philosophy.

This approach would only sound odd for someone who leans involuntarily toward gliding back into the old type of interrogation concerning the true nature of Jesus. Who can know His true nature? Was he really God, as he claimed, or only a man who took himself to be more than he really was? But then you completely miss Hegel’s point.

Indeed, no one can know the true nature of Jesus, in the sense that no one can go beyond human experience and, from outside this experience, check the truth of what Jesus said. Hegel’s approach was completely different. He does not interrogate the true nature of Jesus, but the meaning of Jesus’ occurrence in history for human consciousness. And no one can deny that in European history, Jesus’ appearance was ground-breaking. 

Again, one could accuse Hegel of Eurocentrism. But we must take into account that at the time when he wrote, European culture was the most evolved, that it had reached the highest level of culture and civilization on Earth.

Only in Europe did there exist the notion of equal citizens, of a state that had to work for its citizens and not its rulers: of a consciousness and concept of freedom that were nowhere actualized as in Europe. The state of the European human condition in Hegel’s time made him say that it was the highest condition reached in history, and, therefore, one could say that the whole of previous history aimed at that moment. 

But this superior state of the European condition was the result of the event represented by Christianity. This religion introduced into the human way of thinking and self-understanding the seeds that grew to build that contemporary European consciousness.

Thus the contemporary European consciousness, the highest level of human consciousness reached in history until then, was rooted in Christianity and all its principles. And we must emphasize that the idea that something is the highest developed item in its kind is what Hegel considers allows us to understand the kind, the genus.

In the same way, humanity shows what it is in itself at the end of the historical process. It shows, in other words, what it really is in contemporary European culture and civilization, where the Christian seeds were fully developed and able to show, and especially confirm, the seeds of the past.

Jesus’ words in antiquity had been only the seeds. Those seeds could not be assessed as true or false at that time, but they proved their truth throughout the entirety of violent European history and especially through the goal that history reached in Hegel’s time.  

This Eurocentrism could be very repugnant to someone. However, we must take into account two aspects. First, Hegel considers that the goal of history is the actualization of freedom in society: in other words, to make all humans free human beings, that is to say, free citizens.

But freedom is not to be confounded with arbitrariness and self-will. It is freedom in the framework of the recognized liberty of others. When I am just self-willed, I ignore others’ freedom and make them into instruments to reach my egotistical goals. I dehumanize them and transform them into slaves (Aristotle defined slaves in antiquity as speaking instruments).

To be a real free person, you must be able to be responsible and spontaneous, that is to say, an autonomous person. You must be able to give yourself the law and then follow that law. But this law is not the law of self-will, but a rational law which is the same in every human person recognizing the freedom of others. 

This is something quite difficult to understand for an uneducated person. Such a person lives according to a law imposed on him from outside, by his community, or by the political rulers.

You can read here the continuation.

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