H. S. Harris in Hegel’s Ladder I points out that Hegel took an unprecedented view of the relation between time and eternity in the Phenomenology. He argues that Hegel’s later advertisement of his logic as characterizing “the mind of God before creation” is extremely misleading with respect to Hegel’s actual views. According to Harris, detailed examination of texts suggests Hegel retained the novel view of time and eternity expressed in the Phenomenology.
Harris notes that from around 1801, Hegel came to agree with Reinhold and Bardili that logic should be “objective” in the sense of being neutral with respect to subject-object distinctions, even though he sharply rejected their formalism. Logic for Hegel should not be subjective in the sense of Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre or Schelling’s work before his break with Fichte.
“Hegel was able to make history subordinate in his speculative Logic precisely because he allowed it to be predominant in the lengthy formation of subjective consciousness for truly logical ‘objectivity’, which is the theme of the Phenomenology…. ‘The experience of consciousness’ is necessarily a psychological experience of the singular subject, since only singular subjects are ‘conscious’, but the ‘phenomenology of Spirit’ is the biography of God, the metaphysical substance who becomes ‘as much subject as substance’ when He is comprehended as ‘Spirit’. The ‘experience of consciousness’ must happen in a single lifetime; the ‘phenomenology of Spirit’ cannot happen so.”
“We might remark that neither can become ‘Science’ except through the recollection in a singular consciousness of a historical process that is necessarily not confined (or confinable) within a single lifetime. This is a way of saying that God cannot be ‘spirit’ without man being ‘spirit’ likewise — which is, of course, quite correct…. [N]ot the comprehension of ‘self’ but the comprehension of the whole social history of selfhood [is the topic of the Phenomenology]” (p. 11).
Harris says the Phenomenology was Hegel’s “decisive divergence” (p. 13) from the whole tradition of intellectual intuition and cognitive immediacy.
“The implication is that ‘the eternal essence of God’ is not ‘outside of time’ in the way that God’s thought and action have traditionally been supposed to be.”
“We cannot mediate the problem of how logic is in time, unless we shift our attention from the ‘real philosophy’ that comes after logic (in every sense) to the ‘real philosophy’ that goes before ‘logic’, as a comprehension of the time in which it was shown finally that logic itself is as much in time as out of it and that it must come to be self-consciously ‘in’ time in order to be properly ‘out’ of it…. [F]rom Heraclitus and Parmenides to Kant and Fichte, no one has managed to formulate a consistent theory of human experience as a rational whole on any intuitive basis. Instead of simply taking it for granted that eternity comprehends time, just as ‘possibility’ comprehends ‘actuality’, we must start from the other end and ask how time comprehends eternity.”
“There is no intuitive answer to this question” (p. 14). The project of the Phenomenology “involves a total inversion of the intuitive assumption of all the ‘philosophers of experience’ before Hegel…. But the history of religion is more important to the argument than is the history of philosophy, in any case, because it is in religion that the natural assumption is inverted for the natural consciousness itself. It is Hegel’s predominant concern with the actual experience of the natural (i.e., nonspeculative) consciousness that makes it hard for us to see and understand what happens to Descartes, and to the ‘philosophers of experience’ proper, in Hegel’s argument” (pp. 15-16).
Harris speaks of an “explicitly Fichtean self…. But his self makes no Fichtean assumptions, and has no absolute ‘intuitions’. It merely observes; and what it learns, in the end, is precisely what the standpoint of philosophical ‘observation’ is and means. This observing consciousness leaves Fichte behind decisively when it leaves moral judgment to the valets and aligns itself with the Weltgeist [world Spirit] in its evaluation of all the experience it recollects.”
“This all-accepting and all-forgiving alignment with the Weltgeist is the logical standpoint, the eternal standpoint concretely established in time and now, at last, comprehensively understood” (p. 17). What is shown is “Spirit’s eternity in time” (p. 18), but “The ‘hero’ is the finite consciousness — Jacob wrestling with the angel” (ibid).
Harris is here using the word “consciousness” in an equivocal way to refer to something that is far beyond what Hegel described as the standpoint of Consciousness. It is already Spirit. The standpoint of Consciousness is inseparable from assumptions of immediacy and of what philosophers from Locke to Schelling have called “intuition”, as some sort of immediate grasping. Emphasizing some underlying continuity where something underwent a transformation is a common way of speaking, but I would rather identify the continuity with “us” rather than an abstracted property like consciousness.
Harris properly distinguishes between “natural consciousness” and “the philosophers of experience” who purport to speak on its behalf. Hegel sharply rejects the philosophers of experience as propounding a bad notion of experience focused on immediacy, but he wants to entice common sense to become philosophical.
The Fichtean self is already a difficult topic. Fichte, in his better known early writings at least, propounded a very extreme “subject-centered” point of view, but he was a brilliant writer and serious philosopher who cannot be simply reduced to that. His “self” is certainly not an empirical matter of fact, and seems constitutionally incompatible with petty egocentrism or self-seeking (certainly a far cry from the acute vulgarization of Max Stirner in The Ego and His Own), even though it seems like he had some bad ideas about German cultural superiority. I think the Fichtean self not so much “has” intuitions as Harris suggests, but rather is itself an “absolute intuition” (the only one) for Fichte. But Fichte also in his later writings formulated a notion of ethical mutual recognition.
Harris alludes to Hegel at a certain early point turning back from Schelling’s mystical intuitionism toward Fichtes’s practical philosophy. Although I think this is historically accurate, if taken out of context or connected with stereotypes of Fichte, it could lead to serious misunderstanding.
Harris himself does not make this mistake. He clearly indicates that Hegel cannot be reduced to Fichtean subjectivism, as the young Marx and some others have done or precipitously claimed others had done. He goes on to discuss the fundamental role of “otherness” in Hegel’s thought, particularly in regard to constitution of self. This is as far from an “absolute intuition” of self as could be. But Fichte’s practical-ethical orientation and sharp mind tower above not only the woolly-minded forgotten Schellingian epigones who so irritated Hegel, but also the superficial dazzle of Schelling himself. I would also note that to ground the social in concrete relations rather than abstract collectivity is in no way to reduce the social to actions of individuals.
Fichte was accused of atheism and drummed out of Jena for identifying God with the moral order. Now I can’t find the passage, but I think Harris somewhere says Hegel put God as the moral order historically in between God as law and God as love.
The explicit idea that the eternal is constituted in time that Harris highlights is, I think, original to Hegel. Others had denied the eternal, but I don’t recall anyone arguing that a genuine eternal originates in time. Harris relates this novel aspect of Hegel’s thought to his inversion of the Kantian priority of possibility over actuality. Aristotle of course also maintained that actuality comes first, but never explicitly suggested a temporal origin of the eternal.
I think a temporal constitution of the eternal — especially when connected with logic, as Harris suggests it was for Hegel — actually makes a lot of sense. After a temporal process of experience and learning that may involve reversals and twists and turns, it is possible to construct a static logical theory (not logical in Hegel’s sense, but in the formal sense) of all the lessons learned, but not before. What Hegel calls logic is a lot closer to the twists and turns of experience. Formal logic obviously has no temporal element, but the “logic” of experience and learning does. Formal logic comes “after” Hegelian logic. Hegelian logic can be read as an account of the constitution of formal logic, through the constitution of meaning.