This article is the next in a series articulating why Christians need to take the Bible as their sole ground of knowledge, on the one hand, but on the importance of scientific inquiry, and how it ought to be articulated and practiced, on the other.
Hegel begins with the commonsense realism typically of many empiricists. The empiricist takes immediate intuitions as truth. The object is experienced in terms of the principle of identity. The object is a “this.” Consciousness itself is, at this point, a pure “this” and it knows a single “this” or item. But what is “this”? Indeed, the “this” differs from one moment to the next. “Here” and “now” is thus indeterminate. Therefore, sense experience cannot produce knowledge.
How does one experience qualities as the properties of an object? How does one experience the properties of a “this”?
“Essentially, it is perceived either as a unity or a diversity of primary/secondary or essential/unessential properties but this activity does not fully explain the complexity of our experience of objects either. Experience would be a distorted “manifold” of sensations but for the apperceptive self that determines which set of primary and secondary properties it selects. Hegel concludes no immediate truth could come from sense intuition because the object is not what it was “supposed to be for sense-certainty,” a particular “this” a subject could now fully upon perceiving.”
Hegel denies that experience is basically the apprehension of properties and objects. Instead, he sees experience as involving application of concepts. This means that the subject has very much an active role in articulating experience. Hegel refers to this application fo concepts as an “unconditioned universal.” It is this unconditioned universal that is the ground of consciousness. This is a precondition from both rational intuitions and sensory intuitions. It is the basis of consciousness of any sort.
“This unconditioned universal, as Guzman points out, “is the apperceptive self that spontaneously unifies qualities of objects and is consciously aware that it is doing so for itself. Unless we were implicitly aware we were doing so, we could not in fact determine an object, nor represent its qualities. Thus, sense experience could not be sufficient for knowledge because it fails to adequately describe the complexity of our relations in apprehending objects. Hegel concludes that sense certainty cannot be rejected outright, but rather must be preserved in the ideas of perception and understanding as elements of a more complex description of objectivity.”
Indeed, mere sense certainty does not suffice as a description of the activity of knowledge acquisition. Even cognitively very primitive animals have sense certainty, though one would be reluctant to say that they have knowledge. Human understanding of knowledge, rather, is a much more sophisticated set of operations. Nevertheless, Hegel does not agree with Kant that the a priori categories is the set of categories on which sense experience must rest. This is because sense experience itself has to set the process in motion. Thus, for Hegel, it cannot be an unconditioned universal, because it is conditioned by experience. Instead, the unconditioned universal, for Hegel, is pure thought.
“Thought is the activity of the apperceptive self and Hegel argues that both perception and unerstanding are mediated by a subject’s involvements with the world and other subjects as well as being mediated by its attempts to satisfy its desires. t is for this reason that Hegel refers to thought as the unconditional universal as Begriff. It is traditionally tanslated as “Notion,” but this translation ignores the homonomous relation Begriff has with the verb greifen which means to grasp or seize…it also means “to understand,” and can be used to indicate a concept of the verb “to conceptualize.” Hegel’s choice of this word would indicate his goal of characterizing this unconditional universal as an activity, and this activity is about a self that creates concepts.”
When it comes to the relation of subject and object, modern epistemology has tended to presuppose a distinction between subject and object. But for these two things to be separate, Guzman points out, opens the door to skepticism. How does one know whether or not the reality which the mind represents is accurate? How does one bridge the gap between consciousness and that which is outside of consciousness? Hegel solves this problem by insisting that object-referring is an essential component of consciousness. It is in this respect that he anticipates the insights of the modern phenomenological movement of Husserl and his disciples.
“As such, the intentionality of consciousness suggests that all that is perceived by consciousness is reality. Judgments are not separate from consciousness and any skepticism about those judgments is not separate either. Skeptical dilemmas are not to be avoided but become a necessary aspect of what a subject does to work or resolve the dilemma. Hegel’s goal is to demonstrate that objectivity should be understood as a subject’s experience of self-opposition that leads, in a succession of moments, to Absolute Knowing – a subject who consciously and implicitly apprehends objects for itself.”
Hegel thus bridges the gap that troubled the empiricists, who forged a distinction between subject and world, such that it was unclear how one could be certain that the impressions one received truly represent the real world. “The world is given status as the ultimate reality and this undermines the value of sense impressions and any knowledge we might derive from them. What results is the inability to get outside the mind to see what objects really are out there. This further implies a similar distinction between the subject’s sense impressions and the subject herself. Subjects are essentially “locked in” and consequently have no access to the real world and thus have no guarantee of objectivity.”