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"An individual cannot know what she is till she has made herself real by action."

Wayne Ferguson

The following text is from Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. It is actually a selection of texts from the section entitled:


I'm not sure I understand the title, but the excerpts which follow express very well--indeed, greatly influenced--my understanding of the self and the process of self-knowledge and self-actualization.

-------------------begin excerpt from Hegel-----------------------

We have to see how this conception of substantial individuality is
made explicit in its various moments, and how it comes to be
conscious of its true nature.

Individuality confronts us . . . as an original determinate nature:
original, in virtue of its being implicit...

This determinate original nature of consciousness . . . appears as
the immediate and only proper content of the purpose of the

[The individual] contains this [determinate original nature] within
[himself or herself], and is to begin with taken as existing, but not yet as

The simple "original nature" now breaks up, in action and the
consciousness of action, into the distinction which action implies.

[1] To begin with, action is here an object, an object, too, still
belonging to consciousness; it is present as a purpose, and thus
opposed to a given reality.

[2] The other moment is the process of this statically presented purpose,
the process of actualization of the purpose, bringing the purpose to bear
on the entirely formal reality, and hence is the idea of the transition
itself. In other words, this second moment is the "means."

[3] The third moment is, finally, the object, no longer as
immediately and subjectively presented purpose, but as brought to
light and established as something other than and external to the
acting subject.

At the outset . . . the nature of individuality in its original
determinate form, its immediate essence, is not yet affirmed as
active; and in this shape is called special capacity, talent,
character, and so on.  This peculiar colouring of mind must be
looked at as the only content of its purpose, and as the sole and
only reality.  If we thought of consciousness as going beyond that,
as seeking to bring into reality another content, then we should
think of it as a nothing working away towards nothing.

This original nature is, moreover, not merely the substance of its
purpose, but implicitly the reality as well, which otherwise
assumes the appearance of being a given material on which to act,
of being found ready at hand for action to work up into some
determinate form.

That is to say, action is simply transferring from a state not yet
explicitly expressed to one fully expressed; [T]he inherant being of
that reality opposed to consciousness has sunk to the level of a
mere empty appearance, a mere seeming. This mode of consciousness,
by determining itself to act, thereby refuses to be led astray by
the semblance of reality on the part of what is presented to it;
and has likewise to abandon its dealings with idle thoughts and
purposes, and keep hold on the original content of its own nature.

No doubt this content first exists as a fact for consciousness,
when it has made that content actual; but the distinction between
something which while for consciousness is only inside itself,
and a reality outside consciousness existing in itself, has broken

Consciousness must act solely that what it inherently and
implicitly is, may be for it explicitly; or, acting is is just the
process of mind coming to be qua consciousness. What it is
implicitly, therefore, it knows from its actual reality. Hence it
is that an individual cannot know what he is till he has made
himself real by action. [!!!]

Consciousness, however, seems on this view to be unable to
determine the purpose of its action before action has taken place;
but before action occurs it must, in virtue of being consciousness,
have the act in front of itself as entirely its own, i.e. as a

The individual, therefore, who is going to act seems to find
himself in a circle, where each moment already presupposes the
others, and hence seems unable to find a beginning, because it only
gets to know its own original nature, the nature which is to be its
purpose, by first acting, while in order to act it must have that
purpose beforehand.

But just for that reason it has to start right away and,
whatever the circumstances are, without troubling further about
beginning, means, or end, proceed to action at once.

For its essential and implicit nature is beginning, means, and end
all in one.  [!!!]

As beginning, it is found in the circumstances of the action; and
the interest which the individual finds in something is just the
answer to the question, "whether he should act and what is to be
done in a given case."

For what seems to be a reality confronting him is implicitly his
own original fundamental nature, which has merely the appearance of
an objective being--an appearance which lies in the notion of
action involving as this does self-diremption, but which expressly
shows itself to be his own original nature by the interest the
individual finds therein.

Similarly the how, the means, is determined as it stands. Talent
is likewise nothing but individuality with a definite original
constitution, looked at as the subjective internal means, or
transition of purpose into actuality. The actual means, however,
and the real transition are the unity of talent with the nature of
the fact as present in the interest felt.  The former [talent]
expresses that aspect of the means which concerns action, the
latter [the fact found of interest] that which concerns content:
both are individuality itself, as a fused whole of acting and

What we find, then, is first circumstances given ready to hand,
which are implicitly the original nature of the individual; next 
the interest which affirms them as its own or as its purpose; and
finally the connexion and sublation of these opposite elements in
the means.

This connexion itself still falls within consciousness, and the
whole just considered is one side of an opposition. This appearance
of opposition which still remains is removed by the means. For the
means is a unity of inner and outer, the antithesis of the
determinate character it has qua inner means (viz. talent): it
therefore abolishes this character, and makes itself--this unity of
action and existence--equally an outer, vis.: the actually realized
individuality, i.e. individuality which is established for
individuality itself as the objectively existent.

---------------------end excerpt from Hegel--------------------------

Hegel, G.W.F. The Phenomenology of Mind.  J.B. Baillie, trans.  New York:
   Harper & Row, 1967

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