Why did he feel that it was appropriate to start philosophy by examining the immediate sensual certainty?

  • cos he wanted to prove the truth (get to the other side?
    – user25714
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 11:44

1 Answer 1


The Phenomenology of Spirit is at least according to Hegel a preparatory work that is not a part of Encyclopedic system of philosophy (which he explains in detail in two different versions). The system is supposed to explain everything in all of its details and with a certain type of necessity (Hegel is coincidentally an originator of the idea of historical progress towards a necessary future).

I'm not sure how much justice I can do to "appropriate", but Hegel follows a basic methodological pattern just about everywhere (you can find one version of how to describe it in Taylor, Hegel, 1975, you can find others in Lauer's Hegel's Idea of Philosophy (1983)).

The basic pattern runs something like this:

  1. Take an idea or approach
  2. Present it with a problem case or resolve a built-in tension in the idea or approach.
  3. Amend or replace the idea based on two.

Hegel calls this Aufhebung which is a verbal noun from aufheben, which has as its English cognates Upheaval and upheave, but since in nearly all cases that turns the sentence into gibberish in English, it is translated as "sublation", a word which was coined for this purpose.

In general, but not always, step 1 at the beginning of any topic is supposed to be ordinary experience in its most immediate form. This then will need to be mediated to reveal its truth.

Okay all of that is background really.

The Phenomenology of Spirit is meant to be a study that looks at the nature of Spirit; it is simultaneously a study of the theory of knowledge. This makes better sense if you understand what Hegel means by Spirit, but it's hard to explain that without knowing the end game of the book to begin with. (In the briefest possible definition, Spirit = thought thinking itself but no longer Aristotle's quarantined God but instead an entire universe that thinks about itself -- with the thinking part being rational beings in it).

Roughly speaking the book progresses through the following stages:

  1. What does it mean to know something? (consciousness)
  2. What does it mean that I know something? (self-consciousness)
  3. What is this faculty that is asking these questions? (reason)
  4. What has this sort of reason? (Spirit)
  5. What is the truth? (Religion)
  6. What is the truth in all of its fullness? (Absolute Knowing)

Given that this is the basic road map, sense certainty is the antithesis of this, because (in the formulation Hegel gives it the first time it comes up) it lacks any sense of itself as conscious and is barely even a claim to knowledge.

At its most primitive, it's the idea that knowledge is just out there waiting to be perceived. It then has to differentiate itself into ideas about the permanence of the world and the existence and truth of things that we don't see. All of this propaedeutic to any thought of a knower or any more elaborate system of knowledge.

Thus, Hegel uses this as the start of his project about Spirit.

I am not quite sure if that addresses "appropriate" but that's at least how starting the book in this way fits into the project of the book.

  • Thank you for your answer, you da man. As for the appropriate part, perhaps it should be said that it kinda follows from Fichte and the relation with Kant? The condition for the truthfulness of all statements is the existence of a subject for which they are true. So we can’t put the absolute in brackets and talk purely about the possibility of knowledge, because by presuming the possibility of knowledge we already affirm something of the absolute, that a consciousness exists in it, so he doesn't agree with how Kant handled this. Perhaps he began like this because there would be...
    – Ebin
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 13:03
  • no way to mend the dualism between the mind and the world if he didn't start by affirming their immediate connection? Thanks again.
    – Ebin
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 13:03
  • (1) I really don't even know how one would address "appropriate" but maybe that's because I'm taking it to mean something like "it's appropriate to wear clothing to work" which I can't really relate to the ideas of philosophers. (2) what you say in the rest of your first comment is an interesting sort of argument, but I don't know how to relate "put the absolute in brackets" which sounds like Husserl to what Hegel is doing here.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 14:52
  • Hegel accepts there's an apparent opposition but no dualism between mind and world. They are symmetric and mutually implicative for him (thus he's no Kantian on that point -- but a giant caveat is need wrt to the use of the word "world").
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 14:52
  • He is of course a Kantian in believing that we know the world through categories of mind.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 14:53

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