“Human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds.” – Hegel

Just wanted to note the line, from the Preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit (§69), for later use and overuse.

I’m quite fond of the larger passage:

Since the man of common sense makes his appeal to feeling, to an oracle within his breast, he is finished and done with anyone who does not agree; he only has to explain that he has nothing more to say to anyone who does not find and feel the same in himself. In other words, he tramples underfoot the roots of humanity. For it is the nature of humanity to press onward to agreement with others; human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds. The anti-human, the merely animal, consists in staying within the sphere of feelings, and being able to communicate only at that level.

…will have to dig up the original German sometime in search of any lost nuances…


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5 comments on ““Human nature only really exists in an achieved community of minds.” – Hegel

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  1. I’ll be interested to see how you make use of this. To me, it seems like a straw man argument. “The man of common sense” as described, resembles my drunken relatives trying to have a political discussion during a holiday dinner. Sober, most of them were reasonably reasonable people. Yet I came to recognize their humanity in both modes. The “roots” and “nature” of humanity surely include both impulses, manifesting at different times, to different degrees, in the same individual according to the ebb and flow of both nature and nurture.

    • I’d invite you to read the larger-larger context.

      ¶   69. On the other hand again, when instinctive philosophy follows the more secure course prescribed by healthy common sense, it treats us to a rhetorical mélange of commonplace truths. When it is charged with the triviality of what it offers, it assures us, in reply, that the fullness and richness of its meaning lie deep down in its own heart, and that others must feel this too, since with such phrases as the “heart’s natural innocence”, “purity of conscience”, and so on, it supposes it has expressed things that are ultimate and final, to which no one can take exception, and about which nothing further can be required. But the very problem in hand was just that the best must not be left behind hidden away in secret, but be brought out of the depths and set forth in the light of day. It could quite well from the start have spared itself the trouble of bringing forward ultimate and final truths of that sort; they were long since to be found, say, in the Catechism, in popular proverbs, etc. It is an easy matter to grasp such truths in their indefinite and crooked inaccurate form, and in many cases to point out that the mind convinced of them is conscious of the very opposite truths. When it struggles to get itself out of the mental embarrassment thereby produced, it will tumble into further confusion, and possibly burst out with the assertion that in short and in fine the matter is settled, the truth is so and so, and anything else is mere “sophistry” – a password used by plain common sense against cultivated critical reason, like the phrase “visionary dreaming”, by which those ignorant of philosophy sum up its character once for all. Since the man of common sense appeals to his feeling, to an oracle within his breast, he is done with any one who does not agree. He has just to explain that he has no more to say to any one who does not find and feel the same as himself. In other words, he tramples the roots of humanity underfoot. For the nature of humanity is to impel men to agree with one another, and its very existence lies simply in the explicit realisation of a community of conscious life. What is anti-human, the condition of mere animals, consists in keeping within the sphere of feeling pure and simple, and in being able to communicate only by way of feeling-states.

      Hegel, Georg. Phenomenology of the Spirit (Kindle Locations 1096-1114). Pettis-Lovell Independent Publishers Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

      Eventually, you might have to read the three paragraphs on “Natural philosophizing”… and then the entire Preface, and then the entire Phenomenology of Mind, and so on, and so on, in the effort to reach a fair judgment, but, failing that, the type to which Hegel is here referring seems familiar enough to me. The end of the passage points to what MacIntyre calls “emotivism” and what in our own time further underlies the “post-Truth” political world (and the “post-modern” stance and condition often mis-attributed to Hegel via uses of “historicism” against which Hegel warned). Nor in that passage does Hegel question the “humanity” of the common man, but rather the latter’s commitment to the human as Hegel (somewhat like Aristotle and somewhat anticipating Heidegger, among others) defines the human.

      In an event, my intended uses for the main sentence have to do with my theory of discourse, a subject or one subject in which my interests as a web developer, writer, and political observer happen to coincide. I’ve outlined or begun to outline the framework at other times – for instance in the Read the Comments series (as much in the accompanying diagrams as in the argument), and have intermittently begun work on more direct treatments that would need to be gathered together, from fragments deposited over decades (ever since that etymological diagram first occurred to me…), occasionally re-expanded whenever I ran across something, like Levinas’s ideas on dialogue or Hegel’s description of the reception of a work of art or literature in a later section of the Phenomenology, but there always seems to be a mountain of lesser supporting tasks to climb over first… having to do with keeping body and soul together…

      So… back to the grindstone for now…

  2. Thanks for contextualizing the context. It reminds me of a discussion I’ve been running across that places philosophy in the same inferior position to neuroscience as Hegel places common sense to philosophy.

    In this discussion, philosophy become an extension of the heuristic approach begun by common sense. This approach, as subtle and nuanced as it may be in some of its iterations, is still armchair thinking about thought. This is the source of thinking of consciousness as the “hard problem”.

    Neuroscience tends toward a reductionism toward consciousness that renders the skeptic-centerism of philosophy as only another heuristic.

    So here, Hegel’s observation, as resonant as it is (and even I think it is), falls in on itself as an example of what it criticizes.

    So for example, that fellow is a pure example of Hegel’s common sense man as we are likely to find. And he indeed is frightening and anti-the-human as we are likely to find. To analyze him as a neuroscience specimen is unsatisfying and probably useless. So we are left only with our common sense.

    • I assume you’re joking a bit with the last: Hegel doesn’t express any noticeable fear regarding the common sense man, just rejects the significance as philosophy of his statements. They might be categorized as non-philosophic in this sense, and become anti-philosophic or inimical to philosophy only to the extent that anyone insists on treating them otherwise, in particular as a substitute or replacement for philosophy.

      Hegel devotes much more time in the Preface to critiquing the precursors or different types of precursor of contemporary “scientific realism” or materialism or scentism, etc., and returns to the subject in the main text and in other works. It qualifies as a if not, understood broadly, the major theme of his work, as to what is authentically “scientific.” Even the difference between the English and German words for “science” or “Wissenschaft” point to the division, or struggle for superiority, apparent in your example, since the etymology in the German is so much closer to the surface – a compound of two common words, Wissenschaft suggesting “enterprise/way/art/project/making of knowledge/knowing” vs. the to English speakers more obscure derivation from “scientia” (i.e., a loan word from Latin). You could say the Anglo-American tendency is to idealize (or even spiritualize) materialism, to transubstantiate substance, while the Continental tendency is the reverse. Absolute knowing as grasped by Hegel obviously would encompass both tendencies and the motion from one to the other… and other things and non-things.

      • NB: A bit of initial research suggests that wissen refers back etymologically to seeing and brightness – “enlightenment” – while “scientia” refers back to “separating,” “distinguishing.” Though eventually the two are inseparable – since to be seen a thing must be distinguished/separated from what it isn’t (Hume devotes significant attention to this) – they do seem to me to suggest two different orientations toward orientation or perspectives on perspective. It is in this sense not possibly a coincidence that Hegel devotes the first section of the Phenomenology to explaining or questioning (Hegel-splaining!) the problems with notions of a simple seeing or sensing of a thing, or the fallacy of immediate mediation of being, or the nonsense of common sense about sensation…

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