On Integrity in an Extramoral Sense

On Integrity in an  Extramoral Sense


A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines.  With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

R. W. Emerson


Why do we philosophers care so much about integrity?  Should we?  Or is this a sham value that we are attempting to foist onto the masses?

Usually, people use the word “integrity” to mean something like moral uprightness, honesty, or reliability.  This meaning is based on a more fundamental sense:  to be integrated.  When a person’s actions are consistent with each other, with the principles he or she professes and (usually) the values of society, we say that person “has integrity.”  The person holds together, his or her life is of a piece, and we admire this.  It may be an esthetic admiration before it becomes a moral one.

If anyone admires consistency, it is the philosopher.  Most people say they admire the person of integrity, but it is hard to find much evidence.  Most people value social harmony more than personal integrity; those who support the values and goals of the rest of us are “good” even if those values are inconsistent with each other, or if those values espoused conflict with the “good” one’s personal actions.  But to the thinker, consistency of thought is the very defining characteristic.  If you can’t or won’t put thoughts together consistently, you aren’t a thinker.  And while the mathematician can be a consistent thinker but a dissolute fellow, the philosopher deals in ethics.  Ethics is the marriage of rationality and behavior; to be a philosopher is not only to have thoughts, but to have thoughts about life and values.  So the philosopher values integrity in behavior as a manifestation of consistency of thought.  From an amoral love of rational consistency, the philosopher developed this moral evaluation of integrity.

Kierkegaard argues that truth (particularly truth about life) is paradoxical, so it may seem inconsistent.  However, he does offer the first argument in favor of integrity of thought and action.  In the Concluding Unscientific Postscript he has the fictitious author Johannes Climacus argue that “Truth is Subjectivity.”  This is not a claim that truth doesn’t matter, that it’s all opinion and that all that matters is sincerity.  As argued in Kierkegaard on Sin and Salvation, “subjectivity” means first of all moral subjectivity:  the striving to find what is true and good and then to live accordingly.[1]  Primarily, it is a plea for integrity.  Again, though, this sort of lack of integrity seems so universal that we must ask whether there is anything wrong with it.  It may even be the human norm.  But Kierkegaard goes further, in the first volume of Either/Or.  There, the esthetic person is the one who lives on whim, and is unable to find one unifying goal or principle for his or her life.  Lacking this, the self dis-integrates:  the person collapses to a mass of conflicting and contradictory psychological forces.  Kierkegaard’s writings use several words to describe this condition, including “despair,” “perdition,” “insanity” and “the demonic.”  Only when the person chooses to live reflectively and to adopt rational, universal values does he or she find integration and fulfillment. [2]

From another direction, the Objectivist says the same thing:  “To introduce into one’s consciousness any idea that cannot be so integrated…. an idea that clashes with the rest of one’s concepts and understanding of reality—-is to sabotage the integrative function of consciousness, to undercut the rest of one’s convictions and to kill one’s capacity to be certain of anything.”  (Nathaniel Branden, “Mental Health versus Mysticism,” in The Virtue of Selfishness).  Or as Rand puts it, “Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy” (“The Objectivist Ethics,” in The Virtue of Selfishness).  Happiness is impossible without integrity, since without it one is at war with oneself; and ultimately, to reject reason is to reject the means we humans have to pursue life itself.  To reject integrity is to reject survival.

I think Rand would agree with Kierkegaard that such integrity is in fact rather rare.  Most people simply believe whatever the group around them believes, or what gives them the most comfort and confirms their own prejudices. Many, including most self-appointed leaders (whether the TV preacher, the politician, the campus prophet or the water-cooler maestro) don’t even know the truth; they just say what will have the best results.[3]  The result is that both the individual and the group dis-integrate.  Truth is reality, and while reality is at times paradoxical or obscure, it is what it is.  Contradictory ideas cannot both be true in the same way at the same time; that’s simple logic.  Integrity, in the epistemological and extramoral sense, means that truth matters; and that is to say that reality is real.  Integrity is sanity.


[1] W. Glenn Kirkconnell, Kierkegaard on Sin and Salvation:  from Philosophical Fragments to Two Ages (London:  Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010) p. 91

[2] W. Glenn Kirkconnell, Kierkegaard on Ethics and Religion:  from Either/Or to Philosophical Fragments (London:  Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008) pp. 20-23

[3] See Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2005) for more on this

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20 Responses to “On Integrity in an Extramoral Sense”

  1. Nemo Says:

    The word “integrity” is derived from the Latin root meaning literally untouched or undivided. So it’s essentially the same as purity, imo, I got the impression from reading Kierkegaard’s “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing” that purity is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. A divine attribute.

    • philosophicalscraps Says:

      Thanks for the etymology. The call to integrity seems to go back as far as Judge William, when he criticizes the aesthete for being a mass of contradictory passions while the ethical person has a single telos. We cannot fulfill the ethical task without grace, according to Kierkegaard. Anxiety, guilt and despair overwhelm us. But the ethical task is one we ought to fulfill and which even the ethical person recognizes. So it can be considered from the human, ethical angle or from the religious, theocentric perspective. IMHO

      • Nemo Says:

        I tend to think that the ethical person is often confronted by contradictory obligations, and therefore does not really have a single telos. The tragic hero, for instance.

      • philosophicalscraps Says:

        Judge William (Kierkegaard’s ethical persona) says that the ethical person has one telos: to realize the universal. And when de Silentio discusses the tragic hero in Fear and Trembling he discusses three tragic heroes. Each is said to have sacrificed a lesser telos to the greater one, even though in each case the cost is horrific (killing one’s own child or children). While the tragic hero does have contradictory obligations, they are resolvable by objective, rational standards. From the ethical perspective, then, there is no problem (although obviously it is painful for the individual). The problem is that the ethical telos is coming into conflict with the personal (aesthetic) telos of individual happiness.

      • Nemo Says:

        Are there objective, rational standards by which contradictory obligations can be resolved? How and why do we recognize them as such?

        Take the tragic hero Agamemnon, for instance. He sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia for the honor of his country and the Greeks. But, why should an innocent young woman be sacrificed so that the Greeks and the Trojans can wage a war in which thousands more lives are lost?

        OTOH, if there are greater and lesser telos, then the standards by which we evaluate the telos would become telos themselves, wouldn’t they? ad infinitum

      • philosophicalscraps Says:

        De Silentio defines the ethical as the universal. The war with Troy represents the project of an entire nation; Agamemnon’s daughter concerns one family. The conflict is resolved by subordinating the individual to the universal. The paradox of Abraham is that his offering of Issac not only has no higher (i.e. more universal) justification, it actually undermines the ethical; by murdering Issac, Abraham would effectively be murdering the whole nation of Israel which is to be born from him. If Abraham is praiseworthy (as de Silentio and Kierkegaard believe) then it is because his individual relationship to God is higher than the universal.

        The thousands of lives lost in the war don’t seem to enter into the equation. I assume this is partly (at least) the influence of Hegel, who would have said that the nameless thousands killed were simply grist for the mill of history. What matters are the big developments of Absolute Spirit, which are seen in the stories of nations and the stories of truly extraordinary heroes. The ethical task for the ordinary individual is to subordinate himself or herself to the ethical, universal task.

      • Nemo Says:

        Kierkegaard spent his life battling Hegel’s “System” and the notion of subjecting the Individual to the Universal. I’d be surprised and amused if he turns around and makes a strong case for the Universal.

        If I understand Postscript correctly, Kierkegaard argues that the ethical person doesn’t exist in the System, precisely because it takes the individual out of the picture.

        Nations are made up of individuals. If the latter are insignificant, then so are the former. Empires rise and fall, and heroes live for a short time and die, just like other people. What is so extraordinary about the Universal that it should be elevated above the Individual?

      • philosophicalscraps Says:

        Well, first, we’re juggling at least three pseudonyms here: Judge William, de Silentio, and Johnannes Climacus. Each is at a different existential stage and each has a different take on the ethical. William doesn’t know there is anything beyond the ethical, so to him “integrity” (or “purity of heart”) precisely and completely is to realize the universal in one’s own life. De Silentio knows there is a religious stage, but has not yet reached faith. He defines “the ethical” largely in Hegelian terms, and then contrasts faith against that. He repeatedly says something like, “In that case, Hegel is right when he writes….. But if that is true, then Abraham is lost.”

        Climacus is a much more difficult case. The one thing he tells us up front is that he does not intend to tell us anything up front. The other two pseudonyms deceive out of ignorance; Climacus deceives deliberately, as part of his task of indirect communication. So with Climacus we have the level of mystification created when Kierkegaard chose to write about Christianity using the persona of a non-Christian, doubled when that persona is himself being mysterious.

        But Climacus does write that the only way to relate to God is through the ethical. While he distinguishes between the ethical and the religious, he also often hyphenates them as the ethical-religious in contrast to the esthetic. And he says that everything that occurs in the ethical is reduplicated in the religious, though centered now on the God-relationship instead of on the individual’s relationship to the universal.

        So to back up, it is the Hegelian notion of the ethical that places nations and heroes over the majority of individuals. They are the vessels through which Absolute Spirit is expressed; the rest of us are at best pale, shallow imitations of Spirit. While de Silentio does claim that the individual is higher than the universal, he does not really dispute this notion of the ethical; instead, he is saying that there is an absolute telos (God) beyond even the universal. But as far as the Hegelian is concerned, your statement “Empires rise and fall, and heroes live for a short time and die, just like other people,” is completely wrong. Empires and heroes are expressions of Absolute Spirit, and are the evolution of Absolute Spirit towards full expression; they never die. The rest of us only have significance as we are bit players in their story.

        Climacus has a much more individual notion of the ethical, but he would describe the striving for integrity as an ethical task even when it is realized in the context of the religious life of an individual. For example, when he discusses the struggle of the faithful individual to “always remember” that “apart from God we can do nothing” while going to the Deer Park, he notes that even after having made the resolution an individual might have second thoughts. Perhaps I don’t really need to relax, and I am merely being lazy and succumbing to an esthetic temptation? “Now it is decided to seek diversion; at the very same moment the task is changed. If a little later the thought goes through his soul that it was after all a mistake, then he simply sets an ethical consideration in opposition to it, because in the face of a decision made after honest deliberation, a fleeting thought must not play lord and master. he disarms this thought ethically in order not to arrive again at the highest relationship, whereby the meaning of the diversion decided upon would be destroyed…… The ethical consideration is quite simply this, that when worst comes to worst it is worse to become maundering than with decisiveness to carry out what has been decided, which perhaps was less properly considered, because maundering is the absolute downfall of every spiritual relationship.” (CUP p. 497 of the Hong translation)

        Here, Climacus is identifying decisiveness as an ethical category, which is being put to the service of the religious life of the individual. More generally, this seems to be just one expression of how the basic characteristics of the ethical are expressed in the religious, though with a new meaning as they are now placed in the context of the religious life. And you are right; Climacus, and Kierkegaard himself, both reject Hegel’s subordination of the individual to the universal. However, most of Kierkegaard’s contemporaries in the Golden-Age Denmark salon circles tended towards just this sort of Hegelian understanding. His adoption and subversion of Hegelian ethical assumptions was part of his campaign to introduce Christianity into Christendom, by putting his argument and drawing his distinctions in terms the Hegelian (self-proclaimed) elites would recognize and initially accept. TTFN

      • Nemo Says:

        Thanks for reminding me to distinguish the pseudonyms of Kierkegaard. It amazes me how one person can present so many different personae consistently. I guess it is following the ancient tradition of arguing an issue fully from all different perspectives. I should keep that in mind when reading Kierkegaard.

        Decisiveness is both an ethical and religious category, according to Kierkegaard, because faith is a matter of decision, not reason.

        I haven’t read Hegel yet, so I’m not clear about his conception of the Universal. What is it that distinguishes the nations and heroes from the ordinary individuals, that the former are expressions of Absolute Spirit, while the latter aren’t? To say that empires and heroes never die is to contradict the facts, ISTM.

      • philosophicalscraps Says:

        I’m not sure I’d wish Hegel on my worst enemy. Philosophy of Right wasn’t too bad, but Phenomenology of Spirit was torture. I have never read anything so slow in my adult life.

        I think you can get a pretty good feel on this if you get hold of Bruce Krimmse’s Kierkegaard in Golden Age Denmark and read the first section: “Kierkegaard’s Denmark.” There, he discusses the major intellectual players in Denmark’s so-called Golden Age, distinguishing them by their attitudes towards history and the individual. Hegelianism is described as “Mandarin” in that it holds that there is a spiritual elite, the poets and the intuitive genius, while the rest are simply spiritual have-nots. It is also optimistic regarding history, as it believes that history is inevitably progressing. The poet is (in the Golden Age version of Hegel) the creative force who expresses new insights and realizations of Spirit. Often in the poetry of Oehenslåger and Heiberg, the intuitive genius appears as a figure who naturally expresses Spirit breaking into the mundane world. For example, in “The Golden Horns” two divine artifacts are found by two uneducated peasants; these gifts of Odin are later reclaimed when modern society shows itself to be too shallow and unworthy of them. This is meant to express the Hegelian (and earlier Romantic) idea that the immediate person can be closer to the Truth than an over-cultured philistine. The poet, who praises and interprets the intuitive genius to the rest of us, is something of the high priest of Spirit. (By contrast, actual priests are just royal employees, too philosophically unsophisticated to be truly spiritual and too socialized to be truly intuitive.)

        “To say that empires and heroes never die is to contradict the facts, ISTM.” You’re still thinking like a nominalist. Spirit doesn’t die, and the development of Spirit expressed through the heroes and empires does not die. When Napoleon conquered the city Hegel was in, he wrote in his diary, “I just saw Absolute Spirit riding through the town on a white horse.” The man Napoleon may die, but history is not a man; history is what has changed and grown and become conscious and explicit for the first time through that man. Likewise, Greece is said by Hegel to represent the moment when humans began to conceive of God not as a diffused divine force (as in pantheism) or small mischeivious and mysterious imps of nature (as in animism) but as essentially like us. The Olympians are basically human nature writ large, and thus an inevitable step towards the realization of Christianity that God and Man can be one; and this Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is itself a step towards the final development of human consciousness, Absolute Spirit, when we all realize that not just Jesus but in fact every individual spirit is essentially identical with Absolute Spirit. The fact that Homer’s society long since vanished from the Earth is irrelevant; what they achieved and the higher spiritual consciousness they expressed has not and cannot die. The Greek thesis “God is exactly like us” and the Hebrew antithesis “God is absolutely unlike us” had to exist, and collide, and from them emerged the synthesis, Christianity: God is absolutely unlike us, and became absolutely like us so we could understand Him. History advances through these collisions of thesis and antithesis, leading to ever more insightful syntheses until Absolute Spirit is finally expressed. Absolute Spirit is the expression of all truth, explicitly and consciously expressed, all the interrelations exposed, so that there is nothing more to be explained—it is, after all, Absolute. This is what Hegel claimed to have achieved in his philosophy. By making the mythological expression of truth in Christianity into a rational system of thought, Hegel had basically announced the end of history. There was nothing left to do, he thought, but completely explain the System and get everyone to understand and accept it. Once that was done, human spirit would be fully mature and there would be no need to really change anything. Society, too, would become fully rational, as “the real is the rational and the rational is the real.” Therefore, there really would be no need for conflicts between nations, or between the individual and society; all would be expressions of the one truth, Absolute Spirit.

        I’m not an expert on Hegel; maybe someday a real Hegelian will read this, laugh or sigh, and then post a better explanation. But while it probably is rather shallow and may fudge some details, I think it is a tolerably good exposition. At least, it should be enough to answer the question. Nations represent the understanding of Absolute Spirit attained by that people at that moment in history, as human consciousness is evolving from an unconscious and undifferentiated awareness to a conscious and explicit awareness of truth. Heroes are those individuals who advance the process of the unfolding of Absolute Spirit. They are also products of their time, and thus not so much creators of the new truth as they are creations of it. The new awareness of Spirit breaks from the collective unconscious of humanity and is expressed in the life of the hero, whether that hero is Jesus or Napoleon or Socrates. In the hero’s life, some new spiritual insight is expressed or made explicit, and the world is never the same after that. (By contrast, of course, I will live and die and history will not notice; the most I can hope to do is throw my lot in with the movement of Absolute Spirit and live accordingly, doing my tiny part to make Absolute Spirit more explicit by expressing it in my life.)

        I am sure you can see most or all of the areas Kierkegaard would want to attack in all this. He rejects the idea that anyone is born innately more “in the truth” than another; he rejects the idea that history is evolving so that someone born in Christendom is more spiritual than someone born a few years or centuries ago (he compares that to thinking that since generations have studied dance, now you should be able to skip the first steps and start in on advanced ballet); he rejects the idea that society can ever perfectly express the truth, so that one could attain full spiritual development simply by being a good citizen and follower of the culture; and he most importantly rejects the idea that whatever is past is less developed than whatever is present, so that Danish Christendom’s conflation of mass society and religion is a better expression of the Truth than was New Testament Christianity. (That last point is the essence of Philosophical Fragments.

        If you feel obliged to tackle Hegel, I started with a collection of his Early Theological Writings. They are probably his most readable productions, but they are “early” and not entirely consistent. They were written when he was a graduate student, still working out his theories. If you want to tackle the Phenomenology you might want to do what I was advised to do and begin with some sort of introduction. I used Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Commentary Based on the Preface and Introduction. Also, when you read the book, the beginning will seem almost incomprehensible; but as the book goes on and Hegel shows how the dialectic of Absolute Spirit manifests in history, it becomes much clearer. Then you might even want to go back and sort out the intro. You might be able to skip the Phenomenology and go straight to Philosophy of Right but I’m not entirely sure you would be able to fully comprehend the book if you read them out of order. On the other hand, I’m not sure you need to “fully” understand all the nuances of Hegel’s historical dialectic; just seeing how it plays out in ethics would probably make a lot of the Hegel-Kierkegaard feud clearer. TTFN

      • Nemo Says:

        Thanks for the lucid exposition on Hegel and the book recommendation. Reading Kierkegaard without familiarity with Hegel is like looking at things with only one eye, I miss not only the scope but also the depth of perception. So I feel somewhat obliged to read Hegel,and you have definitely piqued my interest. I always like to read a book firsthand.

        Now I’m beginning to see why Kierkegaard attacked Hegel’s System so vehemently and persistently, If I understand him correctly, from a Christian perspective, his argument could be summed up in one sentence, “If Hegel’s System is true, then Christ died in vain”; from a existential or ethical perspective, the System denies freedom of choice and personal responsibility, the foundation of ethics.

        Being a Platonist of some sort, I have no problem acknowledging the notion of Absolute Spirit. However, with regard to dialectic, it’s unclear to me how the hero or the empire relates to the Truth, how the Absolute Spirit manifests itself in a hero, not in an ordinary individual, and how the absolutely unlike become synthesized. To use a pop culture analogy, is the Absolute Spirit like the Borg in Star Trek, inexorably assimilating the heroes into its Truth?

      • philosophicalscraps Says:

        I’ll take a stab at the last one first. Absolute Spirit is manifest as the historical evolution of human consciousness. (It’s probably worth remembering that the German word “Geist” means either “spirit” or “mind.”) So the historically important people are the ones who advance history, in one way or another, since each advance in history is an advance in human consciousness. Hegel or Napoleon changed the way we see the world; they were historically significant, each in different ways. So Absolute Spirit was really manifest in them. The best I can claim, by contrast, is that I am participating in that process by imitating and supporting that advance which they (and others) originated.

        I’m not sure what to do with the Borg analogy, and usually I love Star Trek analogies. I think in this case, though, it is probably off. If I had to choose, I would say Babylon 5 is more Hegelian than is Star Trek. The overarching mythos of Star Trek is the struggle of the individual vs. the collective. It recurs in early episodes like “The Return of the Archons,” and is obvious in “Best of Both Worlds” and other Borg episodes. In Babylon 5 the most spiritual race (the Minbari) believe that consciousness is the universe attempting to figure itself out, and my individual thinking is just part of that process. Eventually, in the very distant future, humans will evolve into godlike beings (similar to the Vorlons) for whom such things as personal identity seem to be meaningless. But I digress.

        You’re absolutely right regarding Kierkegaard’s evaluation of the existential significance of Hegelianism. If Hegel is right, SK believes, then there is no personal responsibility since we are all just part of the System’s unfolding in history. For the modern citizen of Christendom, the highest moral act was to do whatever the law and other institutional authorities told you to do, since (in Hegel’s view) European civilization had evolved beyond the narrow individualism of Kantian Moralitat to the modern situation of Sittlichkeit (forgive my spelling) where the individual’s practical reason and the socially approved morality have become one. The thesis “obey all authority” and the antithesis “obey your personal practical reason” was subsumed in the synthesis where the opposition of arbitrary social authority and individual moral duty was overcome, as social duty and personal moral duty became one. Now that we live in a moral, Christian society, we don’t need to oppose our individual morality to the external world the way Kant did. So being a good society man is to be the highest moral ideal one can be; and you know what Kierkegaard said about that!

        And if Hegel is right, the modern European Christian does not really relate to the New Testament or to Jesus directly. The seed that was the early Gospel has now fully fruited in Christendom and the Lutheran Church. If you want to know what Christ means, look to what the Church is today. Once, Christianity taught that only one person was both God and Man, and to love God was enmity with the world. But the essence of Absolute Spirit is to overcome oppositions, to realize the essential unity of all opposites; so through the progression of history it was inevitable that this individual and inward unity of God and Man would become outwardly manifest in Christian society, overcoming the opposition between Christianity and Culture through the birth of a Christian culture. Now Hegel’s philosophy is making conscious what Protestant Christendom had made social but not fully articulated: that all of us are Absolute Spirit in just the same way that Christ was both individual and Absolute Spirit, and we can relate to Christ by relating to the new society which is the social manifestation of the Gospel; that is, Christendom. If the System is true, we no longer need Christ; we have the Church and that is better, truer and more complete. (See the last chapter of the Fragments.

      • philosophicalscraps Says:

        Since you are a student of the ancients, I would point out that there is a great deal of similarity between the beginning of The Phenomenology of Spirit and the writings of Plotinus. You could say that Hegel takes Plontinus’ account of the origin of the cosmos and then presents it as the origin of human thought. Human logic unfolds in time, following the pattern described by Plotinus in his account of the emanation of everything from the One. Having described this pattern of human logic, Hegel spends the rest of the book recounting how this pattern is expressed in human social history (such as his famous Master-Slave dialectic), in religion, and every other aspect of human activity.

      • Nemo Says:

        I would agree with Kierkegaard that the proper response to Hegel is to laugh, if the state of things is not tragic enough.

  2. Nemo Says:

    Just to clarify, I read your second to last comment as a elaborate parody of Hegelianism, hence the short reply, lest someone take your seriously. 🙂 If not, this could turn into a long discussion.

    Hegel seems to have “progressed” beyond both Christ and Plato/Plotinus. As I understand Platonism, Form or Idea is absolute, unchanging and everlasting. The world that seems to us to be changing or “evolving” in time, such as nations, heroes and individuals alike, are manifestations of the Everlasting that’s beyond time and change. I don’t know how Hegel’s Absolute Spirit undergoes change and evolution. If it truly is evolving, then the System would never be complete, there is always the next level. OTOH, if Hegel’s Absolute Spirit is the same as Form — I think this is the way Kierkegaard understood it as well, then Kierkegaard’s criticism is that Hegel is essentially playing God, because Hegel describes history from an eternal perspective, as God would see it, not as a human being existing in time. Kierkegaard uses the analogy of a theater, you cannot be both the audience and the actor on stage. Only God can be the audience.

    I’m afraid we’re not doing Hegel justice here, since neither of us is a real Hegelian. I haven’t read his books and I’m critiquing his ideas based on someone else’ interpretation of him. (My babbling quota is filling up quickly.)

    • philosophicalscraps Says:

      Well, it wasn’t intended as parody; maybe it came across that way because I only know Plotinus second-hand and abbreviated. What I was trying to suggest is that what Plotinus presents as the structure of Being, Hegel presents as the structure of thought.

      In Plotinus, the emanation of everything from the One is eternal. (Again, I’m working second-hand here; only mentioned it because I figured that if you were interested in Hegel then you might find the connection helpful.) But the universe is richer for the fact that there is diversity and interconnections (what I learned from Augustine as the Principle of Plentitude, which he learned from the Platonists). In Hegel, the immediate, primitive awareness is similarly undifferentiated; but consciousness becomes more reflective, more diversified and all the richer for it. In its final development, instead of being an undifferentiated, intuitive awareness of reality, Spirit has a fully differentiated knowledge of everything and how all the parts relate to each other. History is the social manifestation of this development of consciousness; as a people reaches a higher level of consciousness, this is expressed in their social arrangements, institutions and so on as well as through intellectual activity such as philosophy.

      It is true that, in a sense, this represents Form in the Kantian sense. In Kant, we know the world through the categories, which he believed to be universal and necessary presuppositions of human thought. We construct the phenomenal world as we receive sense data through the categories. For Hegel, the thought structures we use to organize and structure sense data are themselves the product of the historical development of Spirit. Kant’s transcendental idealism, therefore, was just one more stage in the evolution of Spirit, more reflective than previous ones, better able than, say, animism was at seeing the distinctions and connections between the different parts of reality (such as subject/object, animate/inanimate etc.). But for Hegel, even Kant’s categories are historically conditioned; earlier generations did not know them or use them to structure experience, and a later stage in the development of Spirit will move beyond Kantian polarities by finding the higher unity underlying those oppositions.

      The System would be complete if everything were completely developed. That is, of course, one of Kierkegaard’s criticisms. While Hegel thought his philosophy was the highest development of human spirit (since it had overcome the polarities in a higher unity, showing that God/and Man, Subject/and Object etc. are in fact one), the only way to know this to be true would be to see history from God’s perspective. It also assumes that because you live in 19th Century theocentric Denmark’s Lutheran Christendom when the System has been expounded, you are now eo ipso a full heir and participant in that glorious higher consciousness. As Kierkegaard said, it’s as if the rest of us need only hop on the bus and catch a ride with the rest of the age.

      But since my Plotinus comment was only meant as a hint and a proposal, I don’t think I will try to defend or explain it more. The closest I come to first-hand knowledge of Plotinus is what I picked up from City of God, expanded by second-hand descriptions. I actually know Hegel better. I do think there’s a connection between Hegel and Plotinus, and that Hegel was moving the Neoplatonic metaphysics into the realm of logic (and history); but I can’t make it any clearer than I have.

      • Nemo Says:

        Re: “the final development”

        So Hegel, according to your exposition, uses some sort of comprehensiveness as a criterion for the System. The System is complete when everything is synthesized into one. It’s very similar to the TOE that the physicists were after, except for one difference, the physicists can not deceive themselves into thinking that they had it, because the facts are always there to confute them, whereas it takes someone like Kierkegaard a lifetime to debunk Hegel’s System, but others still follow.

        For some reason it reminds me of “A Beautiful Mind”, a movie about the schizophrenic mathematician John Nash:
        “You can’t reason your way out of this! ”
        “Why not?”
        “Because your mind is where the problem is in the first place!”

        Having said that, I definitely see some similarities

      • Nemo Says:

        Having said that, I definitely see some connections between Plotinus/Augustine and Hegel (which gives me reason to believe that I’d probably enjoy reading Hegel. :))

        But again, there is a difference: Thought and Being don’t evolve in Platonism, there is unity in diversity, yes, but not “progress”, because the One is complete already. The “evolution” we see in time are like the unrolling of the scroll (the Latin root for evolution is to “roll out”). The script is complete, we only see the development of the thought in time as on stage.

        To apply this concept to the Church. The Church does go through changes in time, even as Augustine wrote in City of God, there is birth, growth and maturation. But all these are already accomplished in eternity, and the final development of the Church would be nothing but a full manifestation of Christ Himself.

    • Nemo Says:

      I was referring to your comment about “obey all authority” and “We have the church”. If you’re serious, this could take a while. Maybe I should come back after reading Hegel. 🙂

      • philosophicalscraps Says:

        Hey, that’s what Hegel says. In the modern age (19th Century Prussia) the inner moral reason of Kantian “moralitat” and the social, authoritarian and external morality earlier societies are synthesized in “Sittlichkeit” where the inner practical reason and the outer social institutions are the same, so the individual (in Hegel’s sense of “individual,” not Kierkegaard’s) need not oppose inner morality to outer society; to obey one is to obey the other. This would not be true in an earlier age, where the outer social reality was based on arbitrary will of some individual instead of reflecting the same Spirit as the individual’s own moral reason. In a much earlier time, there simply wouldn’t be an awareness of personal responsibility; “good” is what is noble and “evil” is what is shameful. (Modern anthropology has shown that indeed, in a preliterate society people tend not to judge their own morality, but to ask their neighbors, “Am I a good man?”) Later, the thesis “What is good is what society approves” gives rise to the antithesis of Kant, “Morality is completely a matter of one’s individual moral reason, in opposition to personal feelings and to social authority.” In the System, these two are synthesized in Sittlichkeit where the inner personal morality and the outer social morality are identical. It’s been a few years since I read Philosophy of Right but I think I’m summarizing it fairly well; I’m just not able to recall too many details (like how, exactly, Hegel overcomes the bifurcation of duty vs. happiness).

        “If you’re serious…” If you mean, do I believe this, then no; but if you mean, do I seriously think a committed Hegelian would say this, then yes. TTFN

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