19th century philosophy

Are we doing the right thing?

In everyday life we are shown one thing or concept and in tangent told another opposite a thing or concept, that when thought about in a directed sense such as Hagel, makes us all seem slightly mad. For example, anyone that has flown on a commercial airliner could tell you a few of the many directives given to you before your flight takes off such as “pre boarding”. Of course, we understand this to be a privilege given to certain passengers such as the disabled, people with young children, and VIP passengers being allowed onto the plane to situate themselves before anyone else gets on the plain. But when thinking about the true nature of what it means to “pre board” is displayed best in this clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46fOtLfYC4Q&t=861s&pp=ygUWZ29yZ2UgY2FybGluIGFpcnBsYW5lcw%3D%3D) by Gorge Carlin.

“What does pre boarding mean anyway? To get on before you get on?” in this line we can see more Hegelian terminology and, in the Phenomenology, concerning “dialectical movements” (p.57, §86), ideally if we were to pre board the plane we would get on the plane, situate ourselves, and then get off the plane and wait for the present and final boarding process to begin. In the same stand-up routine, we see that the flight attendants ask passengers to get on the plane, in which case the comic says that they won’t get on the plane but instead will in fact get in the plane; after all the police might be called if someone were to get on top of the plane before the flight is to take off. But if we take this case further and in fact did get on the plane, we would be right in the sense that we followed the directives given to us, but in the same way we would be wrong given our intuition that the flight attendants most definitely want us to get in the plane. But again, if we take this a step further what do they mean by getting in the plane? Would I be wrong by opening the luggage racks and taking a nap in the overhead luggage bins? Or maybe I should get into the fuel tanks and go for a swim during my flight? Surely this is not what’s meant either, instead if we were to follow the directions given and be in the right sense while doing the right thing, the directive must be corrected. A new corrected directive would be something along the lines of “please enter into the plane, situate your luggage into the overhead bins, and then sit in your assigned seat until crewmen instruct otherwise”, of course this doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it would allow us to hear what to do, do what our intuition tells us, and be right in the mind and in reality.

The Ambiguity of Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is a famous portrait that has fascinated people for a long time but its true meaning is still debated. Despite several interpretations, it’s hard to say what’s the painting meaning or what message the artist(Da Vinci) is attempting to convey. For example, one person might describe Mona Lisa’s smile as enigmatic and mysterious but another person can also see Mona Lisa’s expression as unhappy, but both are still seeing the same painting. However, despite trying to express their thoughts, they’ll discover how difficult is to capture the true meaning of the painting. This struggle emerges from the ambiguity of the Mona Lisa’s expression, which makes it hard to find a true interpretation.
The difficulty of capturing the true meaning of the Mona Lisa mirrors Hegel’s idea of the difficulty of capturing what we say or truly mean. Just as people struggle to explain the Mona Lisa expression, people also find it difficult to express clearly their thoughts.

“These hoes don’t be mad at Megan, these hoes mad at Megan’s Law”

Hegel’s aim in “Phenomenology of Spirit” is to ultimately achieve a sense of absolute knowing by dissecting the role of consciousness (quite meticulously) in the different forms of perception. He also touches on many different angles of knowledge, religion, power dynamics, etc. One of the ways he does this is by highlighting the subjective nature of reality and therefore the deception of human senses, more specifically the deception of certainty. This essay discusses Hegel’s idea of this contrast in a controversial lyric by Megan the Stallion. 

The line “These hoes don’t be mad at Megan, these hoes mad at Megan’s Law” was notoriously received as a jab at fellow rapper Nicki Minaj for her husband’s failure to abide by “Megan’s Law” when he neglected to publicly register as a sex offender. The atrocity itself aside, when I heard the line, I took it completely as a play on words that had no target or direction at anyone. Rappers are known to use their names in unique ways that either bend the mind or evade logic completely, which is why many listeners assumed nothing of the line at all. This is a rather fun example of one of Hegel’s focuses on the distinction of reality based on senses. He declares that there can be a twofold interpretation of the same thing which implies that the object’s (or line in this case) significance relies on determinateness and is not in and of itself a truth. In passage 126 Hegel remarks, “it is posited as the absolute negation relating only itself to itself, but negation relating itself to itself is just the sublation of itself, or it has its essence in an other.” In this line he notes that something that appears self contradicting is merely a subjective object with external perception that truly defines it. Moreover, Hegel argues that during object perception, an idea like this can have “essentially one” meaning and “inessentially many” meanings in relation to outside influence. He concludes by stating that understanding the subjective nature of an idea or object therefore relies not solely on perception but on its context. This is seen very acutely in this now semi-infamous line when its interpretation varied depending on the circumstances of the listener.

The Challenges of Sensuous-Certainty Illustrated by Trick Candles

Trick birthday candles illustrate the difficulty of capturing the truth of sensuous-certainty through language which is discussed in the passage from The Phenomenology of Spirit below:

To the question: “What is the Now?”, we answer, for example, “The ‘now’ is the night.” In order to put the truth of this sensuous-certainty to the test, a simple experiment will suffice. We write down this truth. A truth cannot be lost by being written down any more than it can be lost by our preserving it, and if now, this midday, we look at this truth which has been written down, we will have to say that it has become rather stale. (p. 62)

The experiment of writing down the truth shows words fail to capture the immediacy and wealth of the truth. Language may capture a fleeting moment of truth, but it will dissipate with the passage of time, leaving a “stale” remnant of the truth. Trick candles, which defy our attempts to extinguish them, mirror the elusive quality of the truth. While we may momentarily succeed in extinguishing the flames, they inevitably reignite. Capturing the truth with language is like attempting to blow out trick candles– we can try, but both the truth and the candles will leave us unsatisfied with our attempts to make them yield to us.

Furthermore, the deceptive quality of the trick candles, which may initially be mistaken to be regular candles, mirrors sensuous certainty’s misguided presentation of itself. Sensuous-certainty claims that the truth that it offers is direct, unmediated access to the essence of an object. However, once we investigate the supposed truth of sensuous-certainty (i.e., the essence of the object) by language or the candles by blowing on them, we discover both things are not as they initially seem. The issue is that we realize both the candles and the essence of the object are capable of changing their state. This means the essence of the object cannot be sense certainty’s truth, but rather universality is the truth. Both the trick candles and the truth of sensuous-certainty deceive our expectations.

Overall, the cycle of the candles being extinguished and reignited in defiance of our attempts to blow them out represents the dynamic and elusive quality of the truth of sensuous-certainty.

The Best Worst Movie

I was scrolling through Instagram while in bed and this meme struck me as funny, initially for the shock factor of devaluing someone’s entire argument with such a silly argument. But as I was sending it to my friends and rereading the original argument the dialectical nature of what it was saying sunk into me. Whether or not this is true is beside the point, the idea that we want to experience bad things instead of good things is counterintuitive but it makes sense in a bad-faith sort of way. We have anxiety about thoughts, especially of tastes, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to talk down on Morbius than it is to give a thoughtful and well-thought-out analysis of Casablanca. Moreover, the idea that we turn to YouTube for validation of those bad things is interesting because it’s almost denying us the freedom of forming our original thoughts while virtually (literally and metaphorically) simulating having those thoughts, “that YouTuber or movie critic is thinking exactly what I’m thinking” this may be true, or it might be a form of copium that people tell themselves instead of forming genuine opinions that could put their SELF-generated thoughts and opinions on display to be criticized. In that sense they were slowly moving away from Sarte and into the man of the hour Hegel (cheers). 

“They must engage in this struggle, for each must elevate its self-certainty of existing for itself to truth, both in the other and in itself. And it is solely by staking one’s life that freedom is proven to be the essence….

The individual who has not risked his life may admittedly be recognized as a person,12 but he has not achieved the truth of being recognized as a self-sufficient self-consciousness. As each risks his own life, each must likewise aim at the death of the other,” (187) 

In this sense the person who watches a YouTube video, movie critic, etc, and virtually has those thoughts and opinions escapes from this death battle with an artificial sense of victory over some other self-counciness while never actually putting anything on the line. They don’t have any risk but reap the psychological reward. This person is just that person, they are not self-sufficient self-consciousness. This also parallels the broader structure of the meme itself, we are avoiding the death battle(remember I said it didn’t matter if it was true or not), the “good” argument that the original user posted is not the one we saw or enjoyed, it was the “bad” response that was promoted and recommended by the black box of the Instagram algorithm. I can’t for certain say that if the counter to the original user was a good argument it would be less popular but it most likely would be. Instagram recommends memes not well throughout arguments in a format that allows for context. Moreover, given the context that I am showing you this meme and I got it from a meme page, I am both the nodding person to the meme page and the YouTuber to the person currently reading this. 

In addition, the use of the words BAD and GOOD have inverted meaning in this scenario. While usually, a good movie is something we would want to watch and a bad movie is something we don’t want to watch, this implies the opposite and thus flips the meanings of what makes a good and bad movie. A bad movie is good because you can virtually nod your head along to its critiques and a good movie isn’t good anymore because we don’t want to watch them. Moreover, YouTube can be thought of as the mediating middle here because it is what causes bad movies to become good. Ultimately we can’t mean what we say. 

Hegel IRL, Confusion Concerning the Present

Hegel IRL

  1. “What is the Now?”, we answer, for example, “The ‘now’ is the night.” In order to put the truth of this sensuous-certainty to the test, a simple experiment will suffice. We write down this truth. A truth cannot be lost by being written down any more than it can be lost by our preserving it, and if now, this midday, we look at this truth which has been written down, we will have to say that it has become rather stale.

Real-life example: Sayings such as “cherish the present moment” “focus on the present” and “stay in the present”. All real-life common phrases directing people to take an action toward the present can be the topic of my analysis. For my purposes, the Present and the Present Moment serve the same purpose in meaning.

These real-life examples are Hegelian not because they contain the word Present which is quite similar to the word Now which Hegel speaks directly about, but because these phrases have the potential to cause the same type of confusion that Hegel claims the Now has built into it. The confusion arises from the fact that Present can be somewhat of an ambiguous term. When Hegel says Now he refers to what seems like all night or all day which could also be understood to contain many Nows themselves.  For my purposes, I’ll take Now or the Present to be the thinnest slice of time one can actually conceive of. With this understanding of the Present, it is clear that one cannot manage to do anything aside from observing and being a part of it. This means that cherishing it is not only futile, for enough time doesn’t lapse for one to conjure up a substantial feeling about it, but also unproductive since as soon as you can acknowledge a single moment (slice in time) long enough to act upon it, itself and most likely a couple other moments have past and you are now left to conjure up the mental frame of cherishment about the next present moment you find yourself consciously aware of and the cycle of failure to capture ones aim shall repeat. Without getting into the discussion of what it means to focus, I will take it to be a mental frame as is cherishment, and apply the same reasoning towards it. Any mental action taken toward the present moment will face these issues of futility and unproductivity.

The phrase “stay in the moment” might be the most problematic because one quite literally cannot accomplish the task of the phrase. In one manner of thinking about this phrase, we might say one cannot help but be in the present, for time travel is not real yet so the past and future, which are all the moments aside from the present one, are unavailable to us. Telling me to stay in the present is like telling me to keep being myself. Well, I couldn’t be someone else if I wanted to and if I was being someone else, for example, suppose I am Being Thomas instead of Richie, well, I would Be Thomas, and remaining myself would require me to remain Thomas because, like while I’m Being Thomas I am indeed Thomas. Putting this slight digression aside we can assume that by staying in the present one means something along the lines of keeping your attention or awareness attentive or aware of the present rather than the past or future. This trouble here is still that once one finds themselves aware of a particular moment, they are immediately moved into the preceding one and so on, continuously, forever. These phrases have the best chance to be made sense of if we assume the word Present, as it functions in these phrases, to mean the universal present, which is not any particular Present, but the concept that they all apply to. (The phrase might still be hard or even impossible to make sense of this way, but it’ll be fun to at least ponder this possibility) The Present or the Now is the thing present to our senses and we clearly can’t stay in any one particular slice of time that my senses capture but I can Be in all the presents available to me and all the Presents include many non-Presents relative to each other. By this I mean that when one moment is the true sensuous moment, call this moment Alf, all the others that shall come after it, are not the true Presents while Alf is the Present, but if one ‘stays’, as in remains mindfully aware of each moment one after the other they are closer to staying in the universal Present than they are to any particular Present simply because they stay in contact or application of the universal Present. By doing this they can at least constantly Be ‘Present’. While of course, one cannot actually stay in a concept, it can apply itself to the concept and stay in a mindful mental frame which allows one to do this. If this is how we interpret all three of these phrases then it might be the case that this is a rare instance where we don’t completely fail in saying what we mean. Our language cannot escape referring to the universal and thus not capturing the true sensuous this, however, these phrases aren’t trying to capture the sensuous this they are trying to capture the universal. The phrases might still fail in saying what they mean so far as what they mean is unintelligible but at least here, what they say is also unintelligible.

  1. “We thereby of course do not represent to ourselves the universal This or being as such, but we express the universal; or, in this sensuous-certainty we do not at all say what we mean. However, as we see, language is the more truthful. In language, we immediately refute what we mean to say, and since the universal is the truth of sensuous-certainty, and language only expresses this truth, it is, in that way, not possible at all that we could say what we mean about sensuous being.”

Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”

In Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, in immediate self-consciousness, the “I” is the absolute object. It is “absolute mediation” and has self-sufficiency “as its essential moment”. It is through the “dissolution of that simple unity” that brings forth the experience by which we arrive at the two constructing shapes of consciousness. In this clip from HBO’s series “Game of Thrones”, we witness King Joffrey speak of his desire to server his future wife, Sansa, her father’s head at a wedding feast. When met with criticism, Joffrey validates his authority and makes threats. This is met by defense of the King by others who fear the reprisals if they were not to condemn any statements made against Joffrey’s desires. This clip does a great job at conveying Hegel’s dialectic.

To begin, King Joffrey embodies the master, whose consciousness existing “for-itself”. He mediates this by being completely dependent on another consciousness, in order to present himself as the “immediate relation of being-for-itself”. We see this when Joffrey stating “everyone is mine to torment”. Furthermore making threats to his uncle when faced with retaliation. As Hegel had explained, when it comes to the consciousness of the master, it is one of “mediation”, meaning that the consciousness is through itself only through its complete reliance on another whose self-sufficiency is conveyed by “thing hood”. The servile consciousness is subordinate to that of the master, in a manner that is negative and “sublates the thing”. The master takes advantage of this and uses the servant in order to consume it, rather than work for it.
In the case of the servant, the anxiety brought about its entire essence is what allows for “self-sufficient consciousness existing for itself” but only as though servitude. We can see this in the clip by the manner in which the “Grand Maester” (The old bearded man) reacts to the uncle’s statement. He goes on to condemn his actions and quickly sides with King Joffrey. This speaking out occurred AFTER the king made threats. This clearly brought about fear to the Grand Maester, leading him to express his thoughts in defense. It is through work (submission/submitting to the desires of the master) by which the servant comes to “an intuition of self-sufficient being as its own self”. Through the activity of the servant and the negative meaning of fear, he becomes an existent being who possesses pure being-for-itself.

I felt as though this clip was great in conveying the clear contrast in the consciousness of the master and servant. King Joffrey’s exhibiting of the traits in which he relies on his subordinates, embodies Hegel’s notion by which the master mediates through another consciousness; thinghood. We further see the fear playing a role in the Grand Maester’s submission to, and working to, fulfill the desires of King Joffrey and it is by this means he attains self-sufficient consciousness.

Hegel’s Universality: The Mirror as a Philosophical Illustration

In the intricate tapestry of Hegelian thought, the mirror emerges as a compelling metaphor for the philosophical notion of universality which is deeply embedded in the self’s relation to the world. The passage “‘I’ is a universal and the object is a universal” (64) from Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit” suggests a profound kinship between the subject and the object, hinting at a shared fundamental essence that transcends individual differences. This notion of universality is further enriched by the assertion “In essence, the object is the same as the movement” (67), which implies that the essence of an object is bound up with the process of its continual becoming within the consciousness of the subject.

A mirror, a simple yet profound object in our daily lives, aptly embodies Hegel’s concepts. When we look into a mirror, we see more than our physical appearance; we see the universal ‘I’. The reflection is not our subjective experiences, but a facet of our existence that becomes a universal symbol and is recognizable to all who perceive it. This is a manifestation of not only our identity but the common experience of self-recognition, epitomizing Hegel’s idea of universality where the individual’s reflection becomes a shared human symbol. Moreover, the mirror’s reflection also serves as a universal object. It captures the universal act of reflection, where every individual’s encounter with their image in the mirror goes beyond personal identity and resonates with the universal nature of human reflection. Thus, the mirror serves as a unique object that mirrors our universal capacity for self-perception.

In Hegel’s dialectic, the mirror transcends its function as a static reflector; it becomes integral to a dynamic interplay of recognition and self-exploration. The act of reflection is more than physical—it’s a cognitive journey of seeing, understanding, and connecting with oneself. Hegel’s idea that the essence of an object is its continuous becoming is clear here: our reflection only truly exists as we perceive it, alive and responsive to our every move. This ongoing interaction is not just a passive observation but an active engagement, a dance of awareness where the ‘I’ meets its image, leading us toward deeper self-consciousness. Through this process, we grasp our consciousness, a universal experience rooted in the act of reflective perception.


§20. “The true is the whole. However, the whole is only the essence completing itself through its own development. This much must be said of the absolute: It is essentially a result, and only at the end is it what it is in truth. Its nature consists just in this: to be actual, to be subject, or, to be the becoming-of-itself”.

The growth of a seed into a tree illustrates the notion of becoming and the process through which the seed comes to be what it is fully meant to be. 

Essentially, the process of a seed growing into a tree represents a sort of completeness, or “the whole”. The seed itself, in its beginning stages, has the potential to become a tree, but it is only through the process of growing, which entails absorbing nutrients and energy, that it will eventually be realized as a whole tree. There is a non-linear natural process that occurs that ultimately results in the “absolute”, which highlights the “the true is the whole” idea that Hegel presents; in this sense, the whole (the tree) can only be acknowledged and appreciated once it has fully gone through its own development. Though the seed always had the potential to become a tree, it was only actualized once the becoming of itself was complete. 

This ultimately connects to Hegel abstract ideas because similarly, truth is something that is revealed over time through developmental processes, as the tree is something that is only acknowledged once it is fully developed.