Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Gathering and Dispersing: The Absolute Spirit in Hegel's Philosophy

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Gathering and Dispersing: The Absolute Spirit in Hegel's Philosophy

Article excerpt

   The subsistence of the community is its continuous, eternal
   becoming, which is grounded in the fact that spirit is an eternal
   process of self-cognition, dividing itself into the finite flashes
   of light of individual consciousness, and then re-collecting and
   gathering itself up out of this finitude--inasmuch as it is in the
   finite consciousness that the process of knowing spirit's essence
   takes place and that the divine self-consciousness thus arises.
   Out of the foaming ferment of finitude, spirit rises up
   fragrantly. (1)

How might the reader of Hegel's system prepare to engage with 'spirit's eternal process of self-cognition'? How might the finitude of one's individual consciousness come to form part of the story of spirit's 'recollecting and gathering itself ' so as to ground 'the eternal becoming' of 'the community'? In what follows I elaborate the ideas of gathering and dispersing as a way of preparing to engage with Hegel's absolute spirit. (2)

My purpose is not to develop an argument to the conclusion that we should understand the absolute spirit in terms of its powers of dispersal and gathering but instead immanently to approach the difficult question of the meaning and being of the absolute spirit in Hegel's thought by reflecting through the idea that spirit is the activity and being of gathering through dispersal. To appreciate the role of the absolute spirit by way of preparation for reading Hegel's system I will elaborate its links to the idea of the gathering worked out from three different angles in varying degrees of complexity. In the first section of the paper I approach the tentative formulation of a definition of the absolute spirit by association with the idea of 'the gathering-we' and its key manifestations in the history of the western world as a philosophical project. In the second section I approach the absolute spirit's gathering power through the analysis of the implications of the command to finite spirits to 'know thyself ' and in the final section I approach the absolute spirit through the gathering and dispersing activity in the logical inter-relations of its moments of universality, particularity and individuality. I take the view that this sort of exercise positions the thinker to appreciate the immanent connection between the unfolding of the absolute spirit in Hegel's system and the fundamental work of spirit understood in the terms of the power of gathering and the activity of gathering finite spirits. I contend that in the absence of this positioning the thinker understandably fails to engage fully with the categories of universality, particularity and individuality as a complex differentiated unity that informs the absolute self-determination. (3)


From a speculative perspective 'the gathering-we' is fundamental for humans as thinking beings. For Hegel the gathering-we is the 'community of minds'. (4) For the poet, Tasos Livaditis, it is the 'great mystery': 'the beautiful mystery of being alone, the mystery of the two, or the great mystery of the gathering of us all'. (5) The gathering-we is the 'voyage into the open, where nothing is below or above us, and we stand in solitude with ourselves alone'. (6) This aloneness is the universal opening in which the gathering-we unfolds and re-folds as alone. The gathering-we is thus an infinite intensifying in the limitless stillness of its immediacy. It is 'self-moving self-sameness' (PS [paragraph] 21). The gathering-we is pulsating; it implodes in its formlessness in order to (re)create form out of itself.

Towards a First Definition of Absolute Spirit

If the gathering-we happens as absolute power it also happens as love. Hegel speaks of 'free power' as 'free love' and 'boundless blessedness' (SL 603). The poetic word insists that 'whatever we don't love does not exist' or that 'we dwell, not where we are, but where we love'. …

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