Thursday, March 24, 2011

Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface, paragraph 51

Instead of the inner life and self-movement of its own existence, such a simple determinateness of view [Anschauung] – which means here sense-knowledge – is predicated in accordance with a superficial analogy, and this external and empty application of the formula is called the construction. The same thing happens here, however, as in the case of every kind of formalism. A man’s head must indeed be dull if in 15 minutes he cannot be taught the theory that there are asthenic, sthenic, and indirectly asthenic diseases and as many cures, and who could not – since not so long ago instruction of that sort sufficed for the purpose – in as short a time be turned from being a man who works by rule of thumb into a theoretical physician? Formalism perhaps teaches that understanding is electricity, animals are nitrogen, or equally north or south, and so on, representing such in such bare terms as here expressed, or even fitted out with more substantial terminology. Such force, capable of comprehending together things apparently so widely divergent – such power suffered by stable matters of sense by connecting them in this way, conferring upon them the semblance of a concept, yet sparing itself the trouble of doing what is after all the important thing, expressing the concept itself, the significance of sensorial representations – all this sort of thing may strike anyone who has no experience with admiration and wonder. He may be awed by the profound genius he thinks it displays, and be delighted at the jauntiness of such characterizations, since they fill the place of the abstract concept with something discernible, and so make it more cheerful; and he may congratulate himself on feeling an instinctive mental affinity for that glorious way of proceeding. The trick of wisdom of that sort is as quickly acquired as it is easy to practice. Its repetition, when once it is familiar, becomes as insufferable as the repetition of any bit of sleight-of-hand once we see through it. The instrument for producing this monotone formalism is no more difficult to handle than the palette of a painter, on which lie only two colors, say red and green, the former for coloring the surface when we want a historical piece, the latter when we want a bit of landscape. It would be difficult to settle which is greater in all this, the agreeable ease with which everything in heaven and earth and under the earth is plastered with that botch of color, or the conceit that prides itself on the excellence of its means for every conceivable purpose; the one lends support to the other. What results from the use of this method of sticking on to everything in heaven and earth, to every kind of shape and form, natural and spiritual, the pair of determinations from the general schema, and filing everything in this manner, is no less than an “account as clear as noonday” of the organized whole of the universe. It is, that is to say, a synoptic index, like a skeleton with tags stuck all over it, or like the rows of boxes kept shut and labeled in a grocer’s stall; and is as intelligible as either the one or the other. It has lost hold of the living essence of the matter; just as in the former case we have merely dry bones with flesh and blood all gone, and in the latter, there is shut away in those boxes the lifeless thing. We have already remarked that the final outcome of this manner is, at the same time, to paint entirely in one kind of color; for it turns with shame from the distinctions in the schematic table, looks on them as being sunk in reflection pertaining to the emptiness of the absolute, so that pure identity, pure formless whiteness, can be restored. Such uniformity of coloring in the schema with its lifeless determinations and this absolute identity, and the transition from one to the other, is just as dead an understanding as the other, and an equally external cognition.

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