The Opening Arguments of the Phenomenology

Taylor, Charles. “The Opening Arguments of the Phenomenology,” in Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Alasdair MacIntyre. New York, 1972.


Hegel’s aim in the Phenomenology is to move from the “natural,” i.e. commonsense, view of consciousness to his own. He makes clear in the Introduction that he intends to take nothing for granted, that he does not intend to present his way of thinking over and against that of “natural consciousness” and let his case rest on assurances that it is better founded. His method will be to start with ordinary, “natural” consciousness and show that on examination it transforms itself into another “figure” (Gestaltung). But how transform itself? Because, says Hegel, “natural consciousness,” or the ordinary commonsense notion of consciousness, comes to see its own untruth or inadequacy. 

But how can natural consciousness come to see its own inadequacy? Our ordinary notion of experience is that of a knowing subject who has a certain vision of things; the notion of experience is characterized by the notion we have of what is experienced, sense-data (sensible qualities), particulate data (fields), and so on. Now, it is no use going outside this notion of experience and judging it by what we know (or think we know) to be effectively there in the world. For this would be introducing a “yardstick” (Maszstab) from outside this notion of experience; and moreover, it would be irrelevant, since experience is not just a function of what there is in the world to be experienced.

But how, then, can a false notion of experience be shown to be wrong from the inside? It can, Hegel claims, because a notion of experience contains its own “yardstick”; it contains, that is, an idea of what it is to know an object. Now, with this we can compare experience as it effectively is, and see if they agree; if effective experience fits the model projected for it.