Hegel on the Unconscious Abyss: Implications for Psychoanalysis.
Jon Mills ©
Published in The Owl of Minerva, 1996, 28 (1), 59-75.
In all his works, Hegel makes very few references to the unconscious. In fact, his account is limited to
only a few passages in the Phenomenology and the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. While Hegel did
not explicitly develop a formal theory of the unconscious, nor include it as a cardinal element of his anthropology
or psychology, he certainly did not ignore the issue. From the Encyclopaedia, as outlined in Petry's (1978)
presentation of Hegel's Philosophy of Subjective Spirit,(1) Hegel describes the unconscious processes of intelligence
as a "nightlike abyss." It is important to understand what Hegel means by this nocturnal "abyss" in relation to
subjective spirit. Despite a few noteworthy exceptions centering on Hegel's theory of mental illness,(2) Hegel's
treatment of the unconscious has been largely overlooked. In this essay, therefore, I will explore Hegel's treatment
of the abyss in mental life and explain how this constitutes a position on the unconscious.
Hegel himself did not originate the notion of the unconscious abyss. Rather he took it over in large
measure from Boehme, neo-Platonism, and Schelling. The concept of the abyss (Ungrund) derives from Boehme's
theosophic Christianity. Inspired by the study of Plotinus,(3) Boehme radically reconceptualized God as the ens
manifestativum sui, "the being whose essence is to reveal itself."(4) Boehme developed an elementary form of
dialectic. In this dialectic, positive and negative polarities emerge out of the Godhead's original undifferentiated
non-being (das Nichts), and these unfold through orderly stages of manifestation as it ascends toward absolute self-consciousness.(5) At one time, scholars thought that Boehme's term Ungrund originated in the Gnostic 'abyss,'
since there are shared similarities between the two.(6) But Koyré has cogently disputed this claim, interpreting
Boehme's notion of the abyss as the "ground without a ground."(7) Before the divine Ungrund emerges, there is no
source of determination, there is nothing; the Ungrund is merely "unfathomable" and "incomprehensible."
The Ungrund is the uncertainty which precedes the divine will's arousing itself to self-awareness.(8)
Furthermore, Boehme's Ungrund acts as a subject who desires: "it 'seeks,' it 'longs,' it 'sees,' and it 'finds'."(9)
While Hegel does give testimony to Boehme,(10) he probably owes more to Proclus (through Creuzer), Plotinus, Erigena, and Schelling.(11) Boehme's impact on Schelling was considerable; and Schelling was among the very first philosophers to underscore the importance of the unconscious and the role of irrationality in human experience.(12) However, it was two arch-rationalists, Leibniz and Kant, who paved the way for this development. In the New Essays on Human Understanding, Leibniz propounded a theory of unconscious petits perceptions. Kant, in his Anthropology, discussed the nature of "obscure presentations" (dunkele Vorstellungen) that remain just below the level of conscious awareness.(13) Schelling's revision of Kant's and Fichte's transcendental idealism together with Schelling's own philosophy of identity (Identitätsphilosophie) and philosophy of nature (Naturphilosophie) led to one of the first systematic conceptualizations of the unconscious.(14)
In order to understand Hegel's position on the unconscious modes of subjective spirit, we must focus
repeatedly on the dialectical organizations, operations, contents, and intrapsychic structures that are developed in
the evolutionary process of the unconscious. I will show that Hegel's account of the contents and operations of the
mind as Aufgehoben is also the structural foundation of the unconscious. On this point, the role of subjectivity in
Hegel's philosophy, as this applies to the unconscious mind, is especially important. Throughout his philosophy,
Hegel insists that a subjective ground is the necessary precondition for any cognition that experiences something as
objective.(15) Although the drive toward the Concept as authentic reason progressively seeks objective truth,
subjectivity as such is never abandoned for a new truth; it is however, preserved within its new forms and co-exists
with universality. Therefore, at various levels of the phenomenology, the subjective components of the dialectic
will have greater unconscious influence on the vicissitudes of the self in its ascendance toward the Absolute. By
virtue of its implicitness, the realm of the abyss is a central principle in the phenomenology of spirit.
Hegel first makes reference to the unconscious within the stage of presentation (Vorstellung), which
belongs to the development of theoretical spirit. He refers to a "nightlike abyss within which a world of infinitely
numerous images and presentations is preserved without being in consciousness" (EG § 453, p.153). Hegel offers
no explanation of the nature of this nocturnal abyss; he says only that it is a necessary presupposition for
imagination and for higher forms of intelligence to occur.(16) In fact, these more complex forms of the psychological
would not be possible without the preservation of presentations and images in the "nightlike abyss." Prior to this
stage in the development of subjective spirit, Hegel makes no specific reference to the unconscious abyss. But even
if it is not explicitly mentioned, the occurrence of the abyss is already prepared, its existence already implicit in the
most archaic forms of the individual, that of the feeling soul and immediate consciousness. Although not
formalized, Hegel anticipates the abyss:
. . . spirit attains to absolute being-for-self, to the form which is completely adequate to it. Through this alone it rouses itself from the somnolent state in which it finds itself as soul, since in this state difference is still shrouded in the form of lack of difference and hence unconsciousness. (EG, Zusätz to § 389, p. 9)
In the Phenomenology,(17) Hegel initially defines consciousness as the manifestation of the being of the
world to a subject who is not self-conscious or reflectively aware of oneself as Self. "Consciousness is 'I', nothing
more, a pure 'This'; the singular consciousness knows a pure 'This', or the single item" (p.59). In the
Encyclopaedia phenomenology, he says the same thing:
Initially, consciousness is immediate, and its relation to the general object is therefore the simple
unmediated certainty it has of it. (EG § 418, p. 19)
The presence of subjective spirit, particularly in its initial unfolding as soul and then as consciousness, is what I
shall refer to as the primal domain of unconscious spirit. The movement of subjective spirit has its genesis in the
unconscious, i.e. spirit originally manifests itself as the unconscious. Without equivocation, the abyss is the birth
of spirit. Hegel makes this clear:
Spirit has determined itself into the truth of the simple immediate totality of the soul and of
consciousness . . . The beginning of spirit is therefore nothing but its own being, and it therefore
relates itself only to its own determinations (EG § 440, p. 79).
For Hegel, the unconscious is merely the immediate determinateness of spirit which manifests itself in two
primary modes, namely, as soul and as consciousness. Initially, spirit remains hidden to itself, an enigma, asleep
within the abyss of its own inwardness, and thus the unconscious is its presupposition.(18) As incarnate, the soul is
the core totality of the nascent Self as the permeation of spirit, making itself known as consciousness, which is
spirit's presence as such. Hegel articulates, "As soul, spirit has the form of substantial universality" (EG § 414, p.
9); which then assumes its immediate shape as consciousness. However, consciousness as ego is spirit's ability to
make itself an object or reify itself within its own being. Hegel explains:
As ego, spirit is essence, but since reality is posited in the sphere of essence as immediate being, .
. . spirit as consciousness is only the appearance of spirit. (EG § 414, p. 9)
Sensuous consciousness only knows itself as being , a "singular," an "existing thing" (EG § 418). Hegel
refers here to the subjective existence of the Self as a personal, singular 'I,' with the character of "self-identity"
(EG §§ 414, 415). From this standpoint, spirit in its initial shape takes the form of 'mine,' a subjective ownership
in the mode of personal identity. Within this context, the unconscious is the subjective ground of the most
primitive levels of individuality. This pure or original consciousness, the formal 'I,' resides within the realm of the
abyss, outside our immediate self-conscious awareness of such activity. Although this immediate form of
consciousness is not yet elevated to perceptive or understanding consciousness, it contains the primal content of
feelings which is the "material of consciousness" and "what the soul is and finds in itself in the anthropological
sphere" (EG §§ 418, 446, p. 19). Hence, within the realm of the subject, unconscious spirit resonates within the
soul as feeling and consciousness. The feeling soul becomes the initial domain of the abyss. Not yet explicit or
developed, lacking in articulation and structure, what remains is for it to become explicit in theoretical spirit.
Hegel considers feeling in relation to three different stages in the evolution of subjective spirit. First,
feeling belongs to the soul awakening from its self-enclosed natural life to discover within itself the "content-determinations of its sleeping nature" (EG, Zusätz to § 446, p. 119). The soul comes to feel the totality of its Self
and awakens into consciousness as ego. Secondly, in consciousness, feeling becomes the material content of
consciousness, distinct from the soul and appearing as an independent object. In the third instance, feeling
becomes the "initial form assumed by spirit as such" which is the truth and unity of the soul and consciousness
(EG § 446, p.119). Before spirit's final transition from feeling to reason, every content of consciousness originally
exists and is preserved within the mode of feeling. Thus, for Hegel, the life of feeling is inextricably associated
with the domain of the unconscious abyss in all its archaical shapes.
Hegel's account of the feeling soul unfolding dialectically is tantamount to the nascent Self as unconscious
spirit unified in the soul and expressed as consciousness. Therefore, the natural soul is the heart of unconscious
spirit, intuiting itself as such, and feeling its own being. The unconscious awakening of spirit within its own
internal slumbers and thus the feeling of its totality as its essence in consciousness unites the soul and spirit in the
abyss of its own determinations.
Subjective spirit, in its modes of the theoretical, expresses itself in the forms of intelligibility as cognition
actively concerned with finding reason within itself (§ 445, Vol.3). As the stages of the forms of theoretical spirit
unfold, the unconscious abyss appears to be the primary domain of this activity constituted in and through such
forms of intelligibility. Hegel points out that intelligence follows a formal course of development to cognition
beginning with knowledge as (a) intuition of an immediate object, to (b) presentation, as a withdrawal into itself
from the relationship to the singularity of the object and thus relating such object to a universal, leading to (c)
thought in which intelligence grasps the concrete universals of thinking and being as objectivity. In the stage of
intuition as immediate cognizing, intelligence begins with the sensation of the immediate object, then alters itself
into attention by fixing on the object while differentiating itself from it, and then posits the material as external to
itself, or as "self-external," which becomes intuition proper. The second main stage of intelligence as presentation,
is concerned with recollection, imagination, and memory, while the final stage in the unfolding of intelligence is
thought which has its content in understanding, judgement, and reason.
As the dialectical forms of intelligence progress, unconscious spirit posits intuition as its own inwardness,
recollects itself within it, becomes present to itself, and thus by passing into itself raises itself to the stage of
presentation (§ 450). From the standpoint of presentation (§ 451), the various forms of spirit manifest as
"singularized and mutually independent powers or faculties" (p.147, Zusätz to § 451, Vol.3). Within recollection,
the unconscious content is "involuntarily" called forth "at which intelligence activates itself within presentations"
(p.147). The presented content is that of intuition, not only intuited as being, but also recollected and posited as
"mine." This unconscious content of intuition is what Hegel calls "image." At the sphere of imagination, the
presented content enters into opposition with the intuited content, in which "imagination works to gain for itself a
content which is peculiar to it" and thus seeks to universalize it (p.147). As presentation enters into the stage of
memory, the unification of the subjective and the objective constitutes the transition to thought.
Within its initial recollection, however, the "image" that becomes the focal point of intelligence is posited
as the feeling within its inwardness in its own space and time (§ 452). This is spirit's taking up what has been put
forth by intuition and then posited as its own content.
Intelligence is not, however, only the consciousness and the determinate being, but as such the
subject and implicitness of its own determinations; recollected within it, the image is no longer
existent, but is preserved unconsciously (p.153, § 453).
Here, Hegel is pointing to the Concept of intelligence as the being-for-self, capable of presenting itself to itself as a
determined object, and preserving such image within the most remote regions of the abyss. "In another respect
therefore, it is intelligence as this unconscious abyss" (p.153). Unconscious spirit first becomes aware of its
existence as feeling, it feels its very life and senses itself as such united in the most rudimentary forms of its
intelligibility. Hegel continues:
The image is mine, it belongs to me: initially however, this is the full extent of its homogeneity
with me, for it is still not thought, not raised to the form of rationality,...and being not free but a
relationship according to which I am merely the internality, while the image is something
external to me. Initially, therefore, I still have an imperfect control of the images slumbering within the abyss of my inwardness, for I am unable to recall them at will. No one knows what an
infinite host of images of the past slumbers within him. Although they certainly awaken by
chance on various occasions, one cannot, - as it is said, - call them to mind. They are therefore
only ours in a formal manner (pp. 153-155, Zusätz to § 453).
Hegel's characterization of the unconscious life within the subject points to the activity of the unconscious
which on one hand becomes unified in consciousness as the "internality" of the self, and yet is a distinct form of
consciousness in which the subject has little or no control over. Hegel acknowledges the activity of the
unconscious abyss, as limitless, infinite, and inaccessible to the conscious will. This conceptualization lends itself
to be compatible with a psychoanalytic account of the unconscious in which the primacy of instinctual impulses in
the form of wishes as "image" simultaneously press for expression, yet remain repressed within one's "internality"
as the abyss of "inwardness," unavailable to immediate introspective self-reflection.
As theoretical spirit continues on its journey from intuition to thought, the role of imagination within
presentation becomes important in understanding the influence of the abyss.(19) For Hegel, as for Kant, imagination
mediates between intuition and thought. Therefore, imagination belongs to spirit. More precisely, imagination
has its place almost exclusively within psychological spirit. Within presentation, imagination is an intermediate
faculty of spirit, surfacing between recollection and memory. As Hegel noted in recollection, the content of
intuition in its new form as "image" is "preserved" as "unconsciousness" (§ 453, Vol.3). Therefore, images
sleeping in the depths of the abyss can be called forth, related to an intuition, yet separated from both the abyss and
intuition. Thereby, the birth of the image for us becomes the contents of imagination. From this standpoint,
imagination determines images, first in reproductive imagination (§ 455), as reproducing images called forth by
intuition, secondly, in associative imagination (§ 456), by elevating images as representations to the level of
universality, and thirdly, in phantasy (§ 457), as a determinant being in the forms of symbols and signs. Hegel
ultimately sees imagination through to its end. Following a dialectical course, the image becomes surpassed and
integrated into higher shapes of theoretical spirit.
Hegel's account for the movement of spirit within presentation ultimately ends with spirit discovering and
sublating itself within "phantasy as reason." Thus, for Hegel, imagination is subordinated to cognition as spirit
recovers itself in the image. At this point, Sallis(20) raises the question: "Does phantasy exceed reason? Or, more
generally, is imagination in excess of spirit?" (p.152). This question leads one to envision imagination as being
out of the realm of the dialectic, on the periphery of spirit, not susceptible to its movement, transcending spirit's
powers to determine the activity and content of the abyss. This has greater implications for understanding the
potential faculties of the abyss, independent from spirit. Is it possible that the nocturnal pit of images is beyond the
call of spirit? Is it possible that the unconscious abyss can influence the very course of imagination and resist
integration into spirit? And even if the abyss were to become subordinated to spirit, would not the pit bring with it
its own material, its nightness that would be absorbed in spirit's universalization? Is not the pit bound to leave its
residue? And what would this residue be? Could it perhaps be fragments of inclinations and passions that co-exist
with spirit in its transcendence toward reason? Is the host of images drawn from the pit susceptible to the sway of
desire that seeks life and fulfillment of its own? To what degree is spirit itself influenced by the psychological?
As unconscious spirit dialectically proceeds from consciousness to self-consciousness, desire becomes its
new shape as drive. Hegel states, "...desire still has no further determination than that of a drive, in so far as this
drive, without being determined by thought, is directed toward an external object in which it seeks satisfaction" (p.
45, Zusätz to § 426, Vol.3). For Hegel, like Nietzsche and Freud,(21) the subjective nature of the unconscious, as
unconscious spirit, is indissolubly linked to the body, nature, or instinct. Hegel foresees Freud in that he alludes to
the instinctual motivations of the unconscious.
Feeling subjectivity is the totality of all content and the identity of the soul with its content.
Although it is not free, neither is it bound, what is bound, what is present being merely a
limitation of it. What we called genius is instinctive, active in an unconscious manner, in
opposition to particular determinations. Other oppositions fall within reflection, within
consciousness. - What we have before us here is feeling subjectivity, which realizes itself, is
active, proceeds forth from simple unity to liveliness. This activity belongs to the determination
of the liveliness, and although it awakens opposition within itself, it also preserves itself by
sublimating it and so endowing itself with a determinate being, with self-awareness. This activity
is the expression of drive, of desire, its determination or content being drive, inclination, passion,
or whatever form this content is given (p.325, Zusätz to § 407, Vol.2).
In this passage, Hegel points to the dialectical activity of the unconscious as telic in generating its own
oppositions and transcending itself within itself as sublimation. Hegel also tacitly suggests that self-awareness is
born out of such unconscious activity, thus giving the unconscious a primary role in psychic organization and
conscious motivation. Furthermore, Hegel states that the nature of unconscious content is itself the activity, as
drive or desire. This points to the primacy of psychic (unconscious) determinism providing the structural
organization and the content of its own determinateness which transcends itself in conscious determinism. Hegel
has paved the way to understanding more precisely the organization, structural integrity, and telic operations of the
At this juncture, it should be clear that unconscious spirit is the very structural foundation of the Self, as
pure activity always in flux and in a psychic state of turbulence. "It is just this unrest that is the self."(22) This
unrest which Hegel is referring to is Aufhebung, as dialectical process continuously annulled, preserved, and
transmuted. As Hegel would contend, the dialectic is both the inner organization and the content of unconscious
spirit. It is the dialectic that provides the Self with intrapsychic structures and operations that can never be
reduced or localized, only conceptualized as pure activity. This pure activity of the dialectic as Self is constantly
evolving and redefining itself through such movement. The unconscious forms of spirit (initially as feeling soul
and sensuous consciousness) are thereby necessarily organized around such dialectical activity of the abyss. These
structural operations however, are not mechanistic, reductionistic, or physical as in the natural science framework
of traditional psychoanalysis. They are mental, telic, and transcendental; always reshaping its inner contours and
its internalized representational world within the night of the mind. Therefore, as a general structure, the
unconscious is Aufgehoben.
As the very foundation, structure, and organizing principles of the unconscious are informed by the
movement of the dialectic, the architecture of the abyss is continually being reshaped and exalted as each
dialectical conflict is sublated by passing into a new form, that in turn restructures, reorganizes, and refurbishes the
interior contours of the core Self. Therefore, the structural foundations of the self are never static or inert, but
always in dialectical movement, equiprimordially as spirit, having its origin and source in the unconscious,
revamping the framework in which spirit emanates. This self-generating dialectical movement of the unconscious
is the evoking, responding, sustaining, and transcending matrix that is itself the very internal system of subjective
The concept of the Self as subject in Hegel is of particular importance in understanding the unconscious
nature of spirit. Essentially, the stage progression of the dialectic is an epigenetic theory of self development. As
Aufgehoben, Hegel's notion of the self encompasses a movement in which the subject is opposed to an object and
comes to find itself in the object. During the dialectical movement of spirit, the subject recognizes or discovers
itself in the object. This entails the mediation of its becoming other to itself, with the reflection into otherness back
to itself. The process of the development of the self, is therefore, a process of differentiation and integration. For
Hegel, Being is characterized by an undifferentiated matrix that undergoes differentiation in the dialectical process
of becoming that in turn integrates into its being that which it differentiated through its projection, reclaiming it
and making it part of its internal structure.(23) The outcome of the integration is once again differentiated then
reintegrated in that unification is always reunification. Therefore, it comes to be what it already is, it is the process
of its own becoming.
As the darker side of spirit, the unconscious educates itself as it passes through its various dialectical
configurations. Parallel to the path of natural consciousness that ascends toward the Absolute, the unconscious
also comes to reason a unity constituted by such bifurcation and rigid opposition that it generates from within
itself. Furthermore, it is precisely through such opposition that the unconscious becomes and brings itself into
reunification. Thus, the abyss undergoes a violence in its evolution at its own hands. By entering into opposition
with itself, it raises this opposition to a higher unity and thus sublates to a new structure. As each unconscious
shape or content is confronted with radical opposition, each shape is made to collapse when its non-absolute form
is exposed. Indeed, it is always driving the movement on from one shape to the next. Thus, the character of the
unconscious is that of negativity and conflict; it is tempestuous, feral, powerful, and dynamic. As such, the
unconscious is the source of its own negativity as inversion and destruction pave its progression forward.
There is a necessity of the dialectic that informs the internal structures of the abyss. That is, there is a
certain determinism to negation; the operation of such determinant negativity is through the collapse of each
shape. As the negation of a certain content takes place within the realm of the abyss, it itself has a certain content
as the result of such negation. Therefore, it links shapes into a necessary progression as each form turns into a new
one. However, as each form is surpassed, the experience of its alteration is that of death, its end. But for Hegel,
death always leads to rebirth. The dialectic is therefore the oscillation between life and death, never separate from
one another. Hegel (1807) elucidates this point:
...what is bound and is actual only in its context with others, should attain an existence of its own
and a separate freedom--this is the tremendous power of the negative; it is the energy of thought,
of the pure 'I'. Death, if that is what we want to call this non-actuality, is of all things the most
dreadful, and to hold fast what is dead requires the greatest strength...But the life of spirit is not
the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that
endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds
As determined negativity, the unconscious vanquishes itself as it destroys itself. It kills itself as it gives
itself life. As each shape alters however, one assumes that the most primal regions of unconscious spirit, that of
the feeling soul, experiences, retains, and preserves such destruction. It would follow that the abyss itself
undergoes a loss of self, and as feeling soul it enters into despair over its death; a suffering it must endure and
preserve, a mourning it perpetually encounters. Indeed, it destroys itself in the service of raising itself, albeit it
remembers and feels its suffering. Yet, it is precisely through such negativity that there is progression. Perhaps it
needs to hold onto its suffering, its death, in order to advance or take pleasure in its elevation?
From this standpoint, we might say that the unconscious is masochistic, it must suffer in order to gain.
Perhaps the double edge of the dialectic, (as negativity resulting in higher unity), posses a dilemma even for spirit
itself. Does spirit fight within itself such a process, thereby leading spirit to retreat back into the nocturnal pit, to
withdraw itself from its suffering and return to the warm blanket of the abyss? Is this dilemma a natural
inclination of spirit or is it merely the result of disease, that of madness?
Perhaps the implicitness of the abyss has been made most clear in its relation to mental illness. In
reference to the role of the unconscious, Hegel's theory of mental illness has received the most attention in the
literature.(24) For Hegel, the unconscious plays a central role in the development of insanity (Wahnsinn), or more
broadly conceived, mental derangement (Zerstreutheit). Hegel explains:
...the spiritually deranged person himself has a lively feeling of the contradiction between his
merely subjective presentation and objectivity. He is however unable to rid himself of this
presentation, and is fully intent either on actualizing it or demolishing what is actual (p.367,
Zusätz to § 408, Vol.2).
Hegel explains madness in terms that modern psychiatry and psychology would label as thought disorder; the
inability to distinguish between inner subjective states of psychic conflict from the objective reality of the external
world. In madness, the person attempts to cling to the belief that his or her subjective presentation is objectively
valid despite the contradictory evidence against it, thus, delusional. Hegel continues:
The Notion of madness just given implies that it need not stem from a vacant imagination, but
that if an individual dwells so continually upon the past that he becomes incapable of adjusting to
the present, feeling it to be both repulsive and restraining, it can easily be brought about by a
stroke of great misfortune, by the derangement of a person's individual world, or by a violent
upheaval which puts the world in general out of joint (pp.367-369).
Here Hegel comes remarkably close to Freud's general theory of neurosis as the unconscious fixation of conflicted
libidinal impulses, feelings, and experiences from the past that are transferred onto the present as this projected
conflict ultimately attenuates ego capacities that preclude the individual from effectively adapting to one's objective
environment. Hegel's notion of madness hinges on the dialectical tumult that ensues between desire and reason,
emphasizing the struggle to gain mastery over the mind's experience of pain and suffering. Ironically, insanity is a
regressive withdrawal back to the abyss; rational consciousness reverted to the life of feeling as a therapeutic effort
to ameliorate the "wounds of spirit."(25)
For Hegel, the phenomenon of mental illness is primarily associated to the domains of the feeling soul,(26)
as the result of irreconcilable oppositions between the subjective and the objective. In the face of perpetual
contradiction and disunity, unconscious spirit engages in a retrogressive withdrawal back to the primordial
tranquility of the abyss, and thus projects a sense of unity from within itself. Berthold-Bond has labeled this
phenomenon as the "second face of desire," which constitutes a regression to an earlier nostalgia, a yearning
calling consciousness back to the most archaic depths of its peacefulness. In madness, the archaic world of the
unconscious draws the mind back to its original shape; subjective spirit is once again an undifferentiated oneness,
as a return to the primitive merger within the symbiosis of its blissful inwardness. No longer driven by rational
consciousness in its search for unity within the external world, spirit resorts back to its earlier form projecting its
desires within fantasy. Perhaps on the most primitive level, spirit seeks to go to sleep once again, to return to a
tensionless state and recover its lost unity with the Absolute. Therefore, the fundamental striving for unity leading
to the movement of withdrawal back into the abyss, is the basic structural dynamic of madness.(27) From the abyss
spirit emanates, and from the abyss madness is informed. Thus, the unconscious becomes the playing field in both
mental health and psychopathology.
Throughout this project, I have been primarily concerned with the realm and range of the unconscious
abyss and its manifestations in the phenomenology of subjective spirit. Although Hegel primarily gave attention to
the abyss in regards to theoretical spirit in the stage of recollection, by way of its anticipation we have seen that the
unconscious plays a central role in his overall philosophy. Throughout the evolution of spirit, (1) there is
unconscious spirit, asleep within its nocturnal abyss only to be awakened from its internal slumbers to discover
itself (2) as soul, as the "life of feeling," and then (3) it takes yet another shape as consciousness. As consciousness
ascends toward the Absolute, every content of consciousness originally exists and is preserved unconsciously
within the mode of feeling. Thus, the life of feeling is primordially associated with the domain of the abyss in all
its archaical shapes. Therefore, originally, spirit manifests itself as the unconscious.
As a general structure, the unconscious is Aufgehoben, continually being annulled, preserved, and elevated. The unrest of the dialectic perennially provides and reprovides the intrapsychic structures, operations, and contents of the unconscious as it redefines and reconfigures itself through such movement. As a telic structure, "intelligence as this unconscious abyss," unconscious spirit is grounded in the subject. Thereby, the subjective ground of the abyss continually informs the dialectic throughout spirit's unfolding; transforming into new shapes in its drive toward unity and Truth, preserving old ones within the domain of the psychological.
There is a preponderance of evidence in traditional and contemporary psychoanalytic theory to conclude that the unconscious is dialectical both in its structural organization and its internal content.(28) This discussion, however, is beyond the scope of this investigation. In general, psychoanalysis would contend that the modes of the dialectic are themselves ego mechanisms of defense. For example, the process of the self returning to itself due to its own self-estrangement is what in psychoanalysis is called, projective identification. This defensive maneuver of the ego or self is generated by the projection of a certain aspect of the self onto the object world, which is then identified with and finally reintrojected back into the subject. In effect, the self rediscovers itself in the product of its own projection and then reintegrates itself within itself as reunification. The fundamental theoretical incompatibility, however, between the Hegelian unconscious and traditional psychoanalysis is that psychoanalysis seeks to reduce the dialectical functions of the mind to mechanistic properties of defense, as the distinct operations of an independent agent within the mind, not as a unified and singular agent. The unconscious is overshadowed by negativity in both Hegel and psychoanalysis, however, for Hegel, the tempestuousness of the nocturnal abyss as the dialectic is in the service of elevating spirit to higher forms, while in classical psychoanalysis, the dialectical maneuvers of the ego is in the service of defending itself from the monster within.
Despite fundamental differences in theory and method, Hegelian and psychoanalytic conceptualizations of
the unconscious share many similarities, particularly in reference to the nature of desire and instinct, madness and
neurosis, and the role of the dialectic. While Freud's metapsychology has incurred criticism due to its mechanistic
and reductionistic natural science framework, its problematic epistemology, and its existential shortcomings,(29)
there is much room for a reinterpretation of the unconscious that preserves the integrity of the self, (and that of
spirit), as a telic agent without resulting in a conceptual scheme of the unconscious that is lost in biological
reductionism. Perhaps Hegelian and psychoanalytic theory can offer something to one another.
At this point I wish to raise the question once again: To what degree does the unconscious resist being
exalted or surpassed by the dialectic? Does the abyss resist being integrated into spirit? This would imply that the
abyss would seemingly appear to have a will and a purpose all to its own. Is the urge for unity as the drive towards
the Absolute simultaneously in opposition to a competing urge to withdraw in the face of nostalgia within the abyss
of spirit's unconscious beginning? As the soul passes through its various configurations on the latter towards
Truth, does it draw itself back toward the pit of its feeling life? Such tendency toward withdrawal, back towards
the pit, "could perhaps broach a wonder that one could never aspire to surpass."(30) And if the abyss resists the call
of spirit, to what degree does the unconscious inform reason yet remain "behind the back of consciousness?" Or is
there simply a duality of purpose that spirit fights in-itself? Does desire have a double edge, that of moving
forwards and backwards, of transcendence and descendence? Does spirit struggle between competing inclinations
of reason versus feeling, sublimation versus regression, elevation or withdrawal? Is the duality of desire spirit's
nature; does it belong to spirit as such, or is spirit its slave?
Perhaps spirit is merely returning to itself, to the symbiotic abyss of its immediate determinant being.
Does spirit merely seek to transform or to go to sleep once again? In this sense, the yearning for unity is a return to
unity, always its end. Yet for Hegel, this end is always its beginning, the eternal return of the same. Thus,
unconscious spirit remains a "riddle to itself."(31) Perhaps the greatest conflict is spirit surpassing itself. In this
sense, spirit resists itself, it resists the movement of its own becoming. Perhaps subjective spirit resists such
integration for it will lose its sense of self in the collective; it fights its own process for fear of the loss of its
individuality. From this standpoint, spirit can never rid itself of its desire for the recovery of its lost unity, of the
yearning to return to its primitive existence, as its original condition. Perhaps the Absolute is merely the
archetypal image of spirit's original unity. Perhaps spirit is even empathic to its own dilemma. I wonder. And
with wonder comes wonder, as the abyss redefines itself one more time.
1. Cf. M.J. Petry (Ed), Hegel's Philosophy of Subjective Spirit, Vol.1: Introductions; Vol.2: Anthropology; and Vol.3: Phenomenology and Psychology, (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1978). Hereafter, references to the Philosophy of Spirit (Die Philosophie des Geistes), which is the third part of Hegel's Enzyklopädia, will refer to EG followed by the section number as well as the pagination in Petry.
2. See Daniel Berthhold-Bond's, "Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud on Madness and the Unconscious," The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol.V, No.3, 1991, pp. 193-213; "Intentionality and Madness in Hegel's Psychology of Action," International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol.XXXII, No.4, 1992, pp. 427-441; "Hegel on Madness and Tragedy," History of Philosophy Quarterly, Vol.11, No.1, 1994, pp. 71-99; Hegel's Theory of Madness, (Albany: SUNY, 1995); and Darrel Cristensen, "The Theory of Mental Derangement and the Role and Function of Subjectivity in Hegel," The Personalist, Vol.49, 1968, pp. 433-453.
3. See Eric von der Luft's "Comment," in History and System: Hegel's Philosophy of History, Ed. by Robert L. Perkins, (Albany: SUNY, 1994), p.39.
4. Refer to David Walsh's, "The Historical Dialectic of Spirit: Jacob Boehme's Influence on Hegel," in Perkins' History and System, p. 16.
5. Cf. Edward Allen Beach, The Potencies of God(s): Schelling's Philosophy of Mythology, (Albany: SUNY, 1994), p. 70.
6. There are many different systems of Gnosticism that offer varying accounts on the nature of first principles and the coming into being of God and the universe. However, a cardinal element of Gnostic thought is a radical dualism that governs the relation between God and the world. Gnostics conceive of God as the "Alien" or the "first" "Life." This appears as a standard introduction of Mandaean compositions: "In the name of the great first alien Life from the worlds of light, the sublime that stands above all," and is reflected throughout gnostic literature such as Marcion's concept of the "alien God," "the Other," "the Nameless," "the Hidden," "the Unknown," and the "unknown Father." Belonging to another (nether) world, the divine 'alien' is "strange" and "unfamiliar," hence "incomprehensible." Estranged from the comprehensible world, the "great first Life" is conceived of as possessing both positive and negative attributes of superiority and suffering, perfection and tragedy, transcendence and alienation from its original being. Further competing dialectical forces are attributed to the godhead which are understood differently by various gnostic myths and theories on cosmology, cosmogony, and anthropology. The second century gnostic, Basilides, is said to have postulated a primal "non-existent god," which was later taken up by Valentinus who claimed that "there is in invisible and ineffable heights a pre-existent perfect aeon (i.e. a supernatural being), whom they also call Pre-beginning, Forefather and Primal Ground (Bythos), that he is inconceivable and invisible, eternal and uncreated (or: begotten) and that he existed in great peace and stillness in unending spaces (aeons)" (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 11). Due to the indescribable nature of the "divine Absolute," the Valentinians were content with using a few alchemical symbols as "Abyss" or "Silence" to represent the ineffable. See Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, 2nd Ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), pp. 42, 49-50, 199; Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and History of Gnosticism (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), p.62; Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, ed. W.W. Harvey, 2 vols., (Cambridge, 1857; reprint Ridgewood, New Jersey, 1965).
7. Cf. Andrew Weeks', Boehme: An Intellectual Biography of the Seventeenth-Century Philosopher and Mystic, (Albany, SUNY, 1991), p. 148.
8. Weeks, p. 149.
9. Ibid, p. 148.
10. See David Walsh's essay in Perkins', History and System, Ch.2.
11. Cf. Eric von der Luft's "Comment," in History and System, pp. 37-39.
12. Cf. Edward Allen Beach, 1994, Ch.3.
13. Ibid, pp. 47-48 and footnotes 3 and 4 to Ch.3.
14. Ibid, p. 48.
15. See § 18, p. 10 of the Phenomenology. Cristensen (1968) also discusses in depth the role and function of subjectivity in Hegel's philosophy.
16. See Petry (1978), Notes to Vol.3, p.405.
17. Hegel, G.W.F., (1807/1977), Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. by A.V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
18. Hegel discusses this in the Introduction of the Philosophy of Nature, trans, A.V. Miller, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), Vol.2 of the Encyclopaedia. Berthold-Bond (1991) also discusses this point.
19. . John Sallis explores this issue in depth in Spacings of Reason and Imagination: In texts of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, 1987, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
20. . Cf. Sallis, Spacings, 1987.
21. . Berthold-Bond (1991) demonstrates how Nietzsche and Freud have parallel psychologies of the unconscious that are linked to the body as instinct.
22. . Hegel, The Phenomenology, p.12.
23. . Jermome D. Levin, in Theories of the Self, 1992, Washington DC: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation, also discusses this point.
24. . Cf. Berthold-Bond, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995; and Cristensen, 1968 for a review.
25. . Berthold-Bond (1991) points out how Hegel's notion of insanity is spirit's self-attempt at healing itself via regression and withdrawal. This notion may further be paralleled to Freud's theory of repetition compulsion as an expression of the death instinct. In contemporary psychoanalysis, the compulsion to unconsciously repeat traumatic past experiences may be generally interpreted as a means of gaining mastery and control over internal conflict.
26. . Cristensen (1968) interprets Hegel's central theory of mental derangement as centering on the dialectical opposition between the feeling soul and the physical soul.
27. . See Berthold-Bond's (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995) general review of Hegel's theory of madness.
28. . Freud's conceptualization of the unconscious is organized by the dialectical exchange of psychic forces that seek to maintain homeostasis within the closed system of the organism. Within all psychoanalytic disciplines since Freud, there appears to be a universal dialectical interplay between the subject and the object. Historically, the post-classical movement in psychoanalysis emphasized the role of the ego as agent of unconscious activity and focused on the ego's motives toward mastery and adaptation of inner forces via defensive construction and cognitive transcendence over instinctual demands. While the classical position emphasized the pleasure seeking aims of instinctual drives, object relations theories have emphasized the primacy of object (people) seeking as the central motive of unconscious activity oriented toward interpersonal involvement and relational attachment. Self psychology introduced the centrality of the self as agent unconsciously motivated toward fulfilling "selfobject" needs of empathic attunement and validation from others, mirroring of self-worth from the object world, and the pursuit of idealized relationships all in the narcissistic service of the self. While the field of psychoanalysis has radically departed from Freud's metapsychology and presently centers on theories of object relations and contemporary selfobject theory, Freud's psychoanalytic theory remains subsumed as the theoretical foundation of contemporary thought. However, whether unconscious motivation emanates from the influence of instinctual drives, the ego, object relations, or the self, all disciplines within the historical development of psychoanalysis observe the phenomenology of the dialectic. Cf. Howard A. Bacal and Kenneth M. Newman, Theories of Object Relations: Bridges to Self Psychology, 1990, New York: Columbia University Press; Steven A. Mitchell, Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis: An Integration, 1988, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; and Heinz Kohut, How Does Analysis Cure?, 1984, A. Goldberg and P. Stepansky, (Eds), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, for a review.
29. . Cf. Marilyn Nissim-Sabat, in "The Crisis in Psychoanalysis: Resolution through Husserlian Phenomenology and Feminism," in Human Studies, 1991 Vol.14, pp. 33-66; Paul Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 1970, New Haven: Yale University Press; and Charles Hanly, Existentialism and Psychoanalysis, 1979, New York: International Universities Press.
30. . Cf. Sallis, 1987, p. 157.
31. . Hegel, The Phenomenology, p. 220.