The Owl of Minerva 42 (1–2):18–40 (2010)
Putting it very crudely, it might be said that in the much discussed opening three chapters that make up the section “Consciousness” of his Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel sketches and “test-drives” various models for a consciousness able to experience and know the world.1 Kant had thought of objects of experience as necessarily having conceptual (as well as spatio-temporal) form, but non-conceptual (“intuitional”) content. But for Hegel, that objects show themselves to have a conceptual form emerges as one the first lessons of experience as tracked in Chapter 1. Moreover, in contrast to Kant’s focus on the unity and stability of such form, Hegel wants to display a series in which successive “shapes of consciousness” emerge from the resolution of contradictions affecting their predecessors.2 We might say that while Kant had famously asserted the identity of “the conditions of the possibility of experience in general” and the “conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience”,3 Hegel points to the ever-present tension between them, examining the fate of particular conceptions of the constitution of objects in the light of the “experience” based upon those conceptions, and with this transforms philosophy’s task, as Kant conceives it. Thus in the place of the reconfigured metaphysical project signalled by Kant which gives a definitive map of “what reason brings forth entirely out of itself” via the discovery of “reason’s common principle”,4 Hegel radically historicizes reason into a series of particular finite forms, each driven to selfovercoming because of the constitutive contradictions at its centre
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