Second nature and spirit: Hegel on the role of habit in the appearance of perceptual consciousness

Southern Journal of Philosophy 48 (4):325-352 (2010)
Abstract
Hegel's discussion of the concept of “habit” appears at a crucial point in his Encyclopedia system, namely, in the transition from the topic of “nature” to the topic of “spirit” (Geist): it is through habit that the subject both distinguishes itself from its various sensory states as an absolute unity (the I) and, at the same time, preserves those sensory states as the content of sensory consciousness. By calling habit a “second nature,” Hegel highlights the fact that incipient spirit retains a “moment” of the natural that marks a limitation compared to “pure thought” but that also makes perceptual consciousness possible. This makes Hegel's account analogous in important respects to John McDowell's “naturalism of second nature.” But Hegel's account of habit can be seen as a version of a Kantian synthesis of the productive imagination—and hence presupposes a given material that can become one's own by means of habit. This does not mean that Hegel falls into the Myth of the Given, but it does suggest that an appropriate account of second nature might be committed to something McDowell wants to deny: that nonconceptual states of consciousness play a role (even if not a justificatory role) in perception
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