The Phenomenon of Existence (part8)

By Will Baker


Of Weltgeist and the Collective

In Part 7 I suggested that perhaps the Collective is an organism unto itself. And when I consider the implications associated with Arendt’s ideas that I previously discussed throughout this series concerning intersubjectivity, and Hegel’s notion of World Spirit (that I shall touch on below), it seems to me that one could use this as a basis to argue in favor of the thesis.

The German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), attempted to synthesize Continental Rationalism with British Empiricism and then reconcile the two with Metaphysics. To paraphrase what he wrote in his Philosophy of History, "the Absolute Spirit, as manifested in history through human consciousness is the World Spirit (Weltgeist). And all of human history is a process whereby this World Spirit comes to self-consciousness." To take things further, Hegel suggests that this Weltgeist is transformative in nature.

When Arendt describes the dynamic that exists between the Public and Private and articulates the mechanisms at play, these ideas resonate with me. But it occurs to me that in a basic sense, one implication is that the Private and the Public cannot exist independent of each another. The Public can not be without Private subdivisions experiencing intersubjective interaction. Conversely, it is beyond our experience to imagine a purely Private existence; even the act of birth requires Other. Along the same lines, in The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel argues that only by acknowledging the Other is self-consciousness possible.

Maybe the Collective, this organism unto itself I spoke to in the previous part is like a living cell. Perhaps from the subject’s perspective we are each like the nucleus (read: the Private), surrounded by cytoplasm (read: the Public). As an important aside, it seems to me that perhaps one should keep in mind that each individual is not truly the nucleus of the Collective. It is only our perspectives, our sense of self that makes it appear that way; in much the same way that folks once thought that the sun revolved around the earth. I would argue that, since the Private cannot exist independent of the collective (in much the same way as a cell’s nucleus) there is no such thing as Absolute I, there is only Relational I.

In previous parts of the series I stated my belief that we seem to be compelled to organize ourselves into greater and greater sized political units and that the attributes of the individual might be transferable to the Collective. However if the individual is actually a sort of structure within a greater organism (which is maturing along history’s timeline) perhaps the attributes of the individual are the attributes of the Collective. Hegel wrote, "What is real is rational and what is rational is real. " It seems to me that in stating this he is indicating his belief that metaphysical reality (read: the Real) is Idea/Sprit/Mind (that which knows). Hegel argued that all things that exist relate to Idea or Spirit or Mind. Could this explain how human consciousness and what I have previously described as Existential Empathy are active within a transformative Weltgeist dynamic?

It seems to me that this could explain such things as the changing views towards ideas such as murder that I detailed in this series of essays. As regards murder and changing social mores, I discussed how convenience and morality drives societal transformation and the role played by Existential Empathy. I believe if the Collective is an organism unto itself the above might speak to the organism’s will to live.

And what are the limits of this collective consciousness? As I previously stated, it seems to me that the door is not closed to a greater understanding of our place in the universe and whatever (if anything) might be beyond.



 (Essay Collection)




Life's meaning