Christopher Brown Recent Philosophy Dr. P.

Rosemann 6 March 2009 In Search of Lost Teleology: Hegel’s Remembrance of Things to Come Hegel posited that the end of history had come—that his own era was the end of time, serving as the unshakable sociocultural regime that would last forever. The French revolution represented the culmination of the Enlightenment, 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 advocated has not encompassed the globe during the two centuries since he wrote. His error lies in his insistent teleology, which surpasses the purely systematic, scientific notion of mechanism. He cannot but speculate, but his speculations run awry as his future has enacted a reality far different than the one he envisioned. 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. In “Absolute Freedom and Terror,” Hegel comments upon the problems of the Enlightenment’s distillation of consciousness into “Utility,” which falls short of a comprehensive, stable solution to the problem of holistic understanding (70). Even this utility is not fully “attained,” nor does it completely grasp the object which the consciousness approaches; although if one ignores the “being-for-self” which is the true “substance” of things, and uses “Useful[ness]” to interpret those things, then this mode of thought indeed seems sufficient (70). Yet the disclosure of substance beyond utility creates the “inner revolution” from which Hegel claims “emerges the actual revolution of the actual world” (70). The tension of ontological dispute materializes in the real world in order that change may come about, which eventually delivers “the new shape of consciousness, absolute freedom” (70). Hegel notes the similarity between this reduction and religion (“ground and spiritual principle”), because both religion and seeing things through their utility are returns “into simple determinism” (70). As this narrow ontological vision seems to recede backward, it self-destructs, because the consciousness’ 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 is not a “passive self”) necessarily renders the consciousness “being-in-andfor-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-forself entirely via the insight of consciousness. When this dichotomous model is applied to consciousness and the idea of consciousness as perceived by consciousness, 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 itself doubled; the certainty of itself is the universal Subject, and its conscious Notion is the essence of all actuality” (70-1). The past contemplation of things via usefulness appears to be just one “moment,” which was disunited but now has become something else entirely, that is, this self-contained “knowing” that surmounts any one moment, 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 the effortless, 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-consciousness is comprehensive and fully grasps “essence and actuality” (71). This perfection of knowledge, because it realizes “all spiritual reality,” removes the individual from consciousness, so the “will of all individuals” becomes a “real general will” (71). The whole of this global will becomes inextricably linked to each “personality,” “and what appears as done by the whole is the direct and conscious deed of each” (71). The objectification that had previously limited this massive, irresistible “knowing” was the “diremption into separate subsistent spheres,” which eventually collapsed, forcing the displaced denizens of those spheres to seek out the more stable structure of the “absolute Notion” (71). The individual, Hegel claims in the perfect verb tense, “has put aside its limitation” and become “universal” (71). All that seems to remain to threaten this universality is the “antithesis… between the individual and the universal consciousness,” but Hegel claims that this antithesis is only the false conception of the individual consciousness (71). “Beyond” the deluded self-conscious “hovers” the universal consciousness, disconnected and intractable. Eventually and inexorably, the universal will will envelop the multiplicity of individual wills, folding them all into a “single, individual will” (71). Oddly, however, this collective, singular will “cannot achieve anything positive”; because change and difference are impossible for this will; it cannot progress (72). Yet change is unstoppable, and Hegel propounds on the inevitable refragmentation hypothetically via verbs of possibility like “would” and “might” (72). Nevertheless, universal freedom (the great will) remains a single “existent Substance” while its constituents would take up a variety of roles within 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 truth universal self-consciousness”; furthermore, as they act, they regress or progress, but not in universally significant ways (72). The paradox of “universal freedom,” as stated above, is that it “can produce neither a positive work nor a deed; there is left for it only negative action; it is merely the fury of destruction” (72). In other words, universal will only accomplishes anything substantial (besides its own existence) through its decomposition and re-assimilation. After reveling in the irresistibility of universal freedom, Hegel finds it impossible not to return to the paradox of the “freedom and individuality of actual self-consciousness itself” (72). It seems the stasis of universality, even while it maintains “itself in an unbroken continuity,” generates “distinction within itself,” that is, a self-contradiction (72). These newly freed parts enjoy the “self-willed atomism of actual self-consciousness” as “absolutely pure and free individual self,” because they have “completed the the destruction of the actual organization of the world” (72). The universal freedom has one “sole work and deed”: death; its end is to decompose—to negate “the empty point of the absolutely free self”—to abandon the individual (72). Death is the end of universal freedom, and the beginning of the individual’s autonomy. This “individuality,” then, becomes the 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 no authority but by virtue of being the “victorious faction”; it has no higher justification) (73). So that this system should not be considered entropic or cyclical, Hegel explains that there is “no reciprocal action” between the fractured parts and the whole, but that the operation of the “external 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 toward the “passing away” of its “pure, simple reality” (73). All the nuances of the individual seem then simply to be residual effects of the “universal will,” as an 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” qua “pure knowing and willing” (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 and successive philosophy, such as Kant and Darwin, whose philosophies are mechanistic in nature. Burleigh Wilkins writes that Hegel disagrees with Kant because, for Kant, “Reason becomes a ‘wholly formal, merely regulative unity of the systematic employment of the understanding’” (85). Contrarily,

for Hegel, “mechanism is ‘sublated’ in teleology,” and while both are true, “the truth of teleology is more complete” (Wilkins 90). He finds mechanistic ways of thought insufficient, since they cannot “explain certain phenomenon,” and furthermore that “in teleology the Concept which was ‘present only in the germ’ in mechanism… is liberated” (Wilkins 95, 102). Hegel insists on positing an end despite mechanism’s insufficiency in determining that end. Similarly, as Charles Taylor notes, mechanism’s weakness is that it “recognizes only efficient causation,” and indicates an endless chain of events extending dolefully to the “bad infinite” (320). Admittedly, “the intrinsic relation to other is still not in the very stuff of the object at this stage,” but as a relationship between the proximate “centres” of individual objects (Taylor 321). Teleology, on the other hand, accounts for this “totality,” which he finds supersedes the “contingency” of mechanism (Taylor 322-323). Taylor claims that Hegel does not advocate an “External Teleology,” which usurps reason, but an “Internal Teleology” inherent in all things (322). Yet, Hegel stretches this internal teleology into something that functions much like external teleology, but without the drawback of unfounded postulation. However, seeing internal teleology in this way necessitates a “change of standpoint altogether, whereby we see the whole as purposive,” which means that the teleology lies not in things’ internal substance but in this self-privileging observer, whose “cunning of Reason” empowers him to translate internal to external teleology (Taylor 325). Just as the liberal reassignment of internal teleology to function practically as external teleology is an illogical misstep, the convergence of all wills is a utopian delusion. Imposing a telos on some unified aspect of the universe is necessarily a supposition, and the longer the duration of testing, the more likely it is to prove wrong. Darwin, as opposed to Hegel, was content with a system of mechanism that overlaid the world; yet the theory of evolution presupposes nor depends on any ends, but only on a manner of being of all living organisms. Evolution, in Darwinian theory, is more like natural physical law (such as Newtonian physics) than a manner of interpretation that facilitates understanding and predictability. Hegel’s theories go one step further, giving meaning and prognostication to the epistemology of history, which is why, at least in their particulars, they eventually fail. Works Cited Hegel, G. W. F. “Absolute Freedom and Terror.” From Modernism to Postmodernism. Ed. Lawrence Cahoone. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. 70-74. Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1975. Wilkins, Burleigh Taylor. Hegel’s Philosophy of History. London: Cornell U P, 1974.