Absolutiveness of the Absolute

Aesthetic theory exists for the sake of insatiable knowledge acquisition in a system of human ontology. Introspection may help construct beneficial subjective narratives. A strategy of implementation involves concise but intricate erudition. In this regard, how does Hegel build and expand on Kant’s philosophical project?

Hegel takes Kant’s formulation of epistemology primarily based on Form and puts it into a constant dialectical state of dynamic change based on Time as a universal. He is perhaps the first major philosopher of history, recognizing change as essential to the realm of the ideal/absolute. History is the process in which geist (mind/spirit or consciousness) comes to absolute self-realization, like fractal geometry branching into an infinitely endless pattern. Hegel describes universal reason as a progression that unfolds dialectically through time, as concepts develop relentlessly in a discourse with their opposites. By virtue of this very dialectic process, Hegel is logically unable to resolve some of his subsequent philosophic claims, i.e., the end of art/history. The Hegelian dialectic demands we embrace the opposite to synthesis new possibilities. Conceived as interrelated polemic structural arguments, Hegel postulates history as a dynamic movement towards the absolute, analyzed in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis categories. An initial thesis concept contains within itself incompleteness that stimulates antithesis opposition, a conflicting proposal or movement. As a result of this conflict, a third synthesis perspective ascends, which overcomes the conflict by reconciling at a higher level validity contained in both the thesis and antithesis. Thus, the synthesis is the process product preserving all subsumed component thoughts or stages. This is a limitlessness and free process, always infinitely expanding. The universal is an interplay of the finite and infinite as the dialectic resolves itself. Knowledge is what is known or is knowable, perceived, or understood, as fact or truth. There is no unknowable thing itself, everything either exists or might exist. For Kant, there is a difference between reason and imagination. Syntheses of the imagination under concepts of understanding provide us with empirical and pure judgments about existence. Hegel sees no division between reason and imagination. Imagination is reason essential to every product that belongs to the beautiful, in whatever form.

The geist (mind/spirit) through experience organically unifies reality in the process of its self-development. Articulating association, aesthetic response discriminates and relates sensuous elements both to each other and to the greater accord as a function of time. Over time, the mind/spirit comes to define itself as reality, to understand itself and to become what it understands.

Art represents geist. However, the geist is constituted as ‘absolute inwardness’ and thus eludes sensory representation. Sensuous representation of the mind/spirit as it historically unfolds is hierarchical, based on either time or spiritual development. The hierarchy of art based on time development is triadic. Each stage defines the internal relationship between idea and form relative to the absolute/ideal. Idea here is a concept joined with the reality of that concept.

Symbolic: Potent ideas are expressed in an assortment of forms that are felt as inadequate to their expression. The attempt to accommodate the conceptual (spiritual) nature of the idea is distorted.
Classical: Here the perfect, idealized human form embodies the ideal without apparent concept distortion. Nevertheless, while the spirit is manifest, the intensity of the idea expressed is limited.
Romantic: Stresses inwardness emphasizing the inadequacy of the material to transmit the idea’s spiritual component.

The hierarchy of art is based on physical material manifestation dominating spirituality in ascending order as follows: architecture - external crystallization, sculpture - objective organic modeling, painting - subjective colored surface and line, music - space into time, content within itself, and poetry - external depressed into insignificance. In its highest phase, art transcends the medium of a harmonious embodiment of mind in “sensuous form and passes from the poetry of imagination into the prose of thought.” (96)

In terms of valuation of the beautiful, Hegel agrees with Kant that there are no universal laws of beauty or taste, that beauty is a manifestation of freedom. In opposition to Kant, as an embodiment of sprit/mind transcending the material, Hegel considers the artworks of man to surpass mere nature, which is devoid of thought and geist. Thus, objects made by man have more potential value than objects of nature, but only as far as they not attempt to imitate nature. While for Kant beauty is for something but without an identifiable purpose, Hegel’s beauty is a means to express the consciousness of humanity dynamically through time. The true content of art is imagination stimulation traversing the medium of perception and ideas. Thought is the spiritual component of human existence, and sensation is our connection with external reality. Wisdom is formed by reflection.

The absolute is the process of phase transition development. It includes all the stages of the historical dialectic leading up to it, and is a result of its own development in which it gives itself its own content. It is an absolutely comprehensive, theoretical, practical, and concrete concept of all knowledge. For Hegel the absolute plays the same kind of role as a deity. As such, it culminates to a disembodiment of thought. 1

Strangely, Hegel takes the position that the idealistic dialectic is ultimately directed towards a finite end - the realization of the absolute. History comes to an end as the universal experience of self-recognition completely understands reality and frees itself. Art comes to an end because in its physical manifestation it no longer continues the dialectic towards the absolute. As mind/spirit reaches its complete self-realization, the value of images and symbols withers away, and with it goes the need for art that employs physical expression resources. Thus, art’s contribution to spiritual self-striving would be excised.

However, unlike Hegel we can rationally infer that the totality of absolute knowledge is an unattainable ideal. The absolute can only be approached, never fully realized, because the dialectic is open-ended. To transmute language from Kant, this condition is the absolutiveness of the absolute.

In summary, Hegel was an idealist, believing that all thought is relational; things are as they relate to other things, and to understand anything you must understand everything. He asserts that known reality is mentally constructed and immaterial; all that truly exists is rationality. In this, he disagreed with Kant, for whom consciousness (thought) is first, with space and time as categories of understanding a priori. Thus for Kant, the absolute is always beyond the limits of human capacity. For Hegel, however, experience is first. In this regard, time is a process that shapes thought through the dialectic cascading to the absolute (entirety of all). Thus, the absolute is obtainable through the historical dialectic.

Hegel’s absolute (latent unity) is the totality of all knowledge in which all disparity is subsumed. The absolute is the essence or meaning of existence. Art reveals the absolute by rendering the human mind/spirit. Thought and knowledge are not fully formed until we express them. The represented absolute corresponds to the stage of dialectic development attained at that temporal position. Thus, the absolute is a process of development. At its apex, the absolute becomes self-conscious and returns to itself a tightly unified articulated whole.

Hegel’s main contribution to philosophy refutes his own proposition of the end of art/history. The dialectic process means that imagination is free to conjure up new antitheses for every thesis, and then formulate a new synthesis based on reconciliation thereof. This synthesis is now open for antitheses construction. The ‘end of art/history’ must be countered by ‘history/art has no end,’ with infinite new potentialities.

Responding to sensation is dependent on previous experience tempered by self-awareness. This mental state of thinking about your own thought processes is the ground for spiritual freedom, leading towards an artistic absolute, reaching its unity through the progression of its own development. The mind/spirit organically unifies the various elements of reality through relationship articulation in temporal sequence. Each succeeding synthesis increases the range of understanding while opening up potential for additional development. Experience is cumulative. Fortunately, there is always room for more understanding, as the absolute can only be approached and never breached.

Appearance versus actuality is a universal philosophical problem. The fact that we are able to question sensation in terms of its relationship to reality is a defining aptitude of humanity. Thinking about our own capacity for thought fuels creativity. Universal forces repeat at different scales, manifesting as similar natural pattern formations. Things do exist outside of the reach of our subjective minds, yet we can only observe existence in the context of personal cognitive interpretation. After mental processing, all experience is immaterial, spiritual rather than physical. Reality is malleable in imagination, the ultimate manifestation of freedom and associated morality. Life is for learning, and for unlearning.

Works Cited

Hegel, Georg W. F, Bernard Bosanquet, and M J. Inwood. Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics. London: Penguin Books, 1993. Print.

1 Just like the Organians (from the original TV series Star Trek, episode #26 "Errand of Mercy”), a race of beings that evolved into pure conceptual creatures, comprising only essence of thought with no corporeal bodies.

The Absolute
"The Absolute" by wilson hurst 2013