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In Search of Lost Teleology: Hegel’s Remembrance of Things to Come

In Search of Lost Teleology: Hegel’s Remembrance of Things to Come



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Published by Christopher Brown
'To expose Hegel’s fundamental flaw, this essay will first explicate the end of history as presented in “Absolute Freedom and Terror”; then, via two critics of Hegel and a comparison with Darwin, the “mechanistic” model of reality will be shown to supersede the “teleological” model.'
'To expose Hegel’s fundamental flaw, this essay will first explicate the end of history as presented in “Absolute Freedom and Terror”; then, via two critics of Hegel and a comparison with Darwin, the “mechanistic” model of reality will be shown to supersede the “teleological” model.'

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Published by: Christopher Brown on Apr 08, 2009
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Christopher BrownRecent PhilosophyDr. P. Rosemann6 March 2009
In Search of Lost Teleology: Hegel’s Remembrance of Things toCome
Hegel posited that the end of history had come—that his own era wasthe end of time, serving as the unshakable sociocultural regime that wouldlast forever. The French revolution represented the culmination of theEnlightenment, wherein tension lay between “Utility” and “being-for-self,”and thus “from this inner revolution there emerges the actual revolution of the actual world, the new shape of consciousness, absolute freedom” (70). Yet Hegel was wrong; the utopian Prussian government that he advocatedhas not encompassed the globe during the two centuries since he wrote. Hiserror lies in his insistent teleology, which surpasses the purely systematic,scientific notion of mechanism. He cannot but speculate, but his speculationsrun awry as his future has enacted a reality far different than the one heenvisioned. To expose Hegel’s fundamental flaw, this essay will firstexplicate the end of history as presented in “Absolute Freedom and Terror”;then, via two critics of Hegel and a comparison with Darwin, the“mechanistic” model of reality will be shown to supersede the “teleological”model.In “Absolute Freedom and Terror,” Hegel comments upon the problemsof the Enlightenment’s distillation of consciousness into “Utility,” which fallsshort of a comprehensive, stable solution to the problem of holisticunderstanding (70). Even this utility is not fully “attained,” nor does itcompletely grasp the object which the consciousness approaches; although if one ignores the “being-for-self” which is the true “substance” of things, anduses “Useful[ness]” to interpret those things, then this mode of thoughtindeed seems sufficient (70). Yet the disclosure of substance beyond utilitycreates the “inner revolution” from which Hegel claims “emerges the actualrevolution of the actual world” (70). The tension of ontological disputematerializes in the real world in order that change may come about, whicheventually delivers “the new shape of consciousness,
absolute freedom
(70).Hegel notes the similarity between this reduction and religion (“groundand spiritual principle”), because both religion and seeing things throughtheir utility are returns “into simple determinism” (70). As this narrowontological vision seems to recede backward, it self-destructs, because theconsciousness’ own regard of everything else’s “being-for-an-other” (that is,being-for-consciousness), ends with the consciousness recursing over itself,because being self-aware (which is unavoidable, since the consciousness isnot a “passive self”) necessarily renders the consciousness “being-in-and-for-itself” (70). Obviously, the idea of utility cannot sustain itself independently and cohesively.Hegel describes the interplay between consciousness and the object,
which becomes in its being-for-another (being-for-consciousness) a being-for-self entirely via the insight of consciousness. When this dichotomous modelis applied to consciousness and the idea of consciousness as perceived byconsciousness, what previously was “no longer [in possession of] anything of its own,” now achieves blissful, solipsistic completion: “the gazing of the self into the self, the absolute seeing of 
doubled; the certainty of itself isthe universal Subject, and its conscious Notion is the essence of all actuality”(70-1). The past contemplation of things via usefulness appears to be justone “moment,” which was disunited but now has become something elseentirely, that is, this self-contained “knowing” that surmounts any onemoment, but cohesively “is itself the movement of those abstract moments”(71). Knowing, now unconcerned with the problematic “being-in-itself” of other things that was lost on Utility, becomes able to forego the limitations of the narrowness of Utility because by turning in upon itself it incorporates all“being-for-an-other” quality of other objects (71). Thus, knowledge becomes“the universal self, the self of itself as well as of the object and, as universal,is the self-returning unity of this movement” (71). This last comprehensive accomplishment of knowledge seems theeffortless, if not instant, result of the disunity that Utility makes of ontological exploration. Furthermore, it results in the arrival of Spirit and
absolute freedom
,” meaning the comfort of knowing that self-consciousnessis comprehensive and fully grasps “essence and actuality” (71). Thisperfection of knowledge, because it realizes “all spiritual reality,” removesthe individual from consciousness, so the “will of all
” becomes a“real general will” (71). The whole of this global will becomes inextricablylinked to each “personality,” “and what appears as done by the whole is thedirect and conscious deed of each” (71). The objectification that hadpreviously limited this massive, irresistible “knowing” was the “diremptioninto separate
spheres,” which eventually collapsed, forcing thedisplaced denizens of those spheres to seek out the more stable structure of the “absolute Notion” (71). The individual, Hegel claims in the
verbtense, “has put aside its limitation” and become “universal” (71).All that seems to remain to threaten this universality is the “antithesis…between the
and the
consciousness,” but Hegel claimsthat this antithesis is only the false conception of the individualconsciousness (71). “
” the deluded self-conscious “hovers” theuniversal consciousness, disconnected and intractable. Eventually andinexorably, the universal will will envelop the multiplicity of individual wills,folding them all into a “single, individual will” (71). Oddly, however, thiscollective, singular will “cannot achieve anything positive”; because changeand difference are impossible for this will; it cannot progress (72). Yet change is unstoppable, and Hegel propounds on the inevitable re-fragmentation hypothetically via verbs of possibility like “would” and “might”(72). Nevertheless, universal freedom (the great will) remains a single
Substance” while its constituents would take up a variety of roleswithin the greater will (72). These individual personalities, when they act in
autonomy as only one small part of the universal will, “cease to be in truthuniversal self-consciousness”; furthermore, as they act, they regress orprogress, but not in universally significant ways (72). The paradox of “universal freedom,” as stated above, is that it “can produce neither apositive work nor a deed; there is left for it only negative action; it is merelythe fury of destruction” (72). In other words, universal will only accomplishesanything substantial (besides its own existence) through its decompositionand re-assimilation.After reveling in the irresistibility of universal freedom, Hegel finds itimpossible not to return to the paradox of the “freedom and individuality of actual self-consciousness itself” (72). It seems the stasis of universality, evenwhile it maintains “itself in an unbroken continuity,” generates “distinctionwithin itself,” that is, a self-contradiction (72). These newly freed parts enjoythe “self-willed atomism of actual self-consciousness” as “absolutely pureand free individual self,” because they have “completed the the destructionof the actual organization of the world” (72). The universal freedom has one “sole work and deed”: death; its end isto decompose—to negate “the empty point of the absolutely free self”—toabandon the individual (72). Death is the end of universal freedom, and thebeginning of the individual’s autonomy. This “individuality,” then, becomesthe government, which is “nothing else but the self-established focus… of the universal will” (73). Government is the substantiation of the morbid,unprogressive universal will in the individual being (even though it has noauthority but by virtue of being the “
faction”; it has no higher justification) (73).So that this system should not be considered entropic or cyclical, Hegelexplains that there is “no reciprocal action” between the fractured parts andthe whole, but that the operation of the “
world” happens via the“universal will” and self-consciousness is merely “drawn” out of this world“into the simple self” (73). Individualization is surrogate and directed towardthe “passing away” of its “pure, simple reality” (73). All the nuances of theindividual seem then simply to be residual effects of the “universal will,” asan element of which this “self-consciousness” is both “pure positive” and“pure negative” (74). In the end, the consciousness’ demand to know itself as a “specific point in the universal will” results instead in the vanishing of that “insubstantial point” and apparent existence only of the “universal will”(74). The point vanishes only to itself, but nevertheless knows itself to be an“essential being” in unity with the “universal will”
“pure knowing andwilling” (74). This perfect synthesis of universal and individual will via“absolute freedom” is Hegel’s conclusion, which describes the extent of “Spirit” at the end of history.Hegel’s teleology differentiates him from much preceding andsuccessive philosophy, such as Kant and Darwin, whose philosophies aremechanistic in nature. Burleigh Wilkins writes that Hegel disagrees with Kantbecause, for Kant, “Reason becomes a ‘wholly formal, merely regulativeunity of the systematic employment of the understanding’” (85). Contrarily,

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