A Brief Comparison of Kantian Consciousness to Hegelian Consciousness
After reading the Introduction to Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”, I must admit that Hegel’s bold accusation of Kant’s transcendental philosophy was a little off-setting (perhaps because I find myself, in many ways, partial to Kant’s philosophy). Essentially, Hegel’s accusation against Kant stems from what Hegel finds to be a fallacy of infinite regression inherent in Kant’s transcendental philosophy. Although Hegel employs Kant’s early notion of consciousness, his ultimate goal is to develop his own system of consciousness from Kant’s alleged shortcomings. Seeing as Hegel makes such an accusation about Kant, I find it important to review the differences thus far between both philosophers’ conception of consciousness; despite our early entry into Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit”.
Let’s begin with Kant’s epistemology. Kant argues that knowledge is only possible from experience by means of the mind’s faculties. Such faculties include the mind’s consciousness and its capacity of apprehension. Kant’s condition for experience is the conjunction of two salient features: the “unity of consciousness” with “the unity of apprehension”. For Kant, experience is both possible and complete only upon the conjunction of consciousness and apprehension. In order to gain knowledge by means of experience, one’s consciousness must apply concepts with their intuitions as they appear to the mind. In short, because the mind is capable of grasping space and time, it is also passively conscious of the particulars which come from space and time. Such particulars Kant denotes as intuitions. This is where Kant begins to employ his notion of apprehension.
One of the example’s Kant uses to re-enforce his notion of apprehension come the cause-and-effect relationship between a rock and a window. When a rock is thrown at a window causing the window to break, the mind is conscious of the rock breaking the window, but the mind can only apprehend what appears to it by applying the intuition of a rock breaking a window, with its concept as a cause-and-effect relationship (causation). Thus “the unity of consciousness” with “the unity of apprehension”, completes experience and ultimately makes knowledge possible.
Hegel’s dispute with Kant’s epistemology comes from Kant’s understanding of consciousness as faculty of the mind. If consciousness is assumed to be a faculty of the mind, then it would require examining it’s own faculty an so forth, which then leads to an infinite regression. Instead, Hegel argues that consciousness is a naturally progressive and in itself a phenomenon. Thus Hegel notes that since consciousness moves itself, “all that is left for us is to simply look on” (54). Despite Hegel’s scientific interpretation of consciousness, I have trouble seeing how Kant’s epistemology fails. For me, Kant’s epistemology is slightly more assuring because he applies what is inherent to the mind (i.e. the minds faculties of apprehension and consciousness) to reality, instead of applying an abstract system that appears incomplete and never-ending.