G.W.F. Hegel
Philosophy of Religion
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Concerning the Relation Between Man and God in Hegel's Philosophy

Ken Foldes and Mike Marchetti

Mike Marchetti

Ken Foldes and I agreed to present what we consider an important controversy concerning the actual interpretation of Hegelian philosophy as regards the nature of the relationship between Man and God. Ken wants to argue for the oneness of God and Man, with the unity and exclusive Being of God as the Absolute Truth, making all being other than God illusory. On the other hand, I want to show the simultaneous identity and difference of Man and God dynamically integrated as a variegated system that is chiefly characterized as pure negative activity, or self-thinking-thought, in which God and Man and the World each have a distinct yet harmonized relationship when considered in their negative or sublated significance with respect to God.

There are a few fundamental concepts that require being comprehended before anyone can claim to understand the relationship between Man and God.

1. Being-for-self, which is essential in order for Absolute to be Subject, i.e. God.
2. The Speculative Conception of a propositional statement.
3. The nature of the concrete Infinite.


In order for the Absolute to be Subject, which is what we mean by God, there must be genuine Otherness [1] within the Absolute so that Being-for-Self may present itself. [2] The Being of the Self, in other words, is not the same as the Self; it is its negation. Likewise the Self is the negation of its Being. This negative or oppositional character of Self and its Being is what allows Being-for-self to exist. If Being were merely the same as Self then there could be no Being-for-Self, which essentially involves being-for-other, or pure difference. Being-for-other may never be zero or it would destroy the existence of Being-for-Self.

When Being and its Self are one and the same, we have the concept of Substance, i.e. being-in-itself, or that which causes itself or produces itself out of itself. Here the Self that is the producer produces Being which is only itself again, and thus this never reaches Otherness from itself thereby failing to become Subject. In order to be Subject it is requisite that Being be different from Self. However, since it is Being-for-Self that characterizes Subject, the Other or Being is negated, i.e. its independent Being-for-itself is nullified. Thus Being or the Other opposed to Self is negated as being independent, but its being as such is not dissolved, otherwise it could never be Being-for-Self or being for other than itself as being.

The question now arises, how does Self negate this Being opposed to itself in order to be Subject? It is here that we must recognize that a process is involved. Because Being must be different from Self in order for Subject to be, Being must also be negated in order to become Being-for-Self. But the negation of Being is Self,

thus in Being-for-Self, Self is only for Self, yet there is still a distinction or negation that differentiates the two sides. On one side we have Self, and on the other negated Being, which may be Self but it is not the same as the unmediated Self. Self that is the negation of Being is different from Self that is unmediated. A person who travels out 10 miles and back to the same starting point, is quite different from a situation in which he remained stationed in one spot, although the end result in both cases is the same. In the same way, the Self that is negated Being is distinct from the Self that does not undergo mediation.

This distinction, which is essential for the Absolute as Subject, must be further understood: How is Being negated? Because Being is Other than Self, it is in the element of otherness, or being-other, and thus it is a multiplicity. In other words, Being as Other is its own negation - a multiplicity that in its totality is negated Being or mediated Self. This mediated Self is the same and different from the immediate or universal Self and returns to itself in that identity. The question that most concerns us here, however, is how do we understand from all of this the relation of Man to God?

An individual human being is one of the numerous individuals of the multiplicity. The being-for-self of each atomic particle of that Being or otherness is what we mean when we say "I." To then say that "I" am God or the original Self does not seem conceivable from this perspective.

The Nature of the Propositional Statement

In the proposition "I am God" or "We are God" thinking begins with the "I" in its difference from God (as a being-for-self opposed to the Being-for-Self of God) and then goes over into God through the copula 'is' or, in this case, modified forms of being such as "am" and "are." Ordinary thinking, which is abstract or formal since it stands as a subjective agency over against its object, allows the "I" to loose itself (its separated being-for-self) within God and thus proclaim itself to be identical with God. But this loss of self has not been made by any rational identification of its being-for-self with God Who has His own Being-for-Self. Speculative thinking destroys the propositional form of thinking because it allows thought to go forward from "I" to God, but then traces the movement back to the "I" upon the recognition or shock at the loss of itself. In returning back to itself it preserves its own being-for-self in the movement that connects it with God. The overall movement in its returning circularity is considered the Truth, not just the one-sided forward thrust and consequent loss. It is the dynamic movement as a whole that is the Absolute Truth, but this is not static Being that stands over and opposed to its moments, but a continuous Becoming. In this way the opposition between I and God is harmonized through the movement between them, or in the case of self-consciousness, the relationship they share. It is inherently both a oneness and diversity. [3] This whole process is concisely explained in the Preface to the Phenomenology. [4]

The Concrete Infinite

The concrete Infinite is not what is merely other than or beyond the finite. The finite, itself, grasped as the negation of itself is qualitatively infinite. To see the finite as merely what is opposed to the infinite (God) in its independence is what has to be eliminated. In other words it is not the being of the finite that is to be eliminated but only its independence. Thus there is dependence of the finite upon the infinite and that may be called the service of the infinite. The finite as the negation of itself is impermanent or vanishing, in the negative sense, as much as it is positively its connection with the true infinite as sublated by or surrendered to it. Thus it is said that "Die to live" is the nature of the finite or determinate negative activity of the true self. The Infinite is not something that IS, it is Becoming or pure restlessness - Divine Life. One can call that God, but then it is conceived as an already existing One, which reifies the Deity. God simultaneously is and is not in that He is a becoming and not mere static Being. The Absolute is this pure restlessness or absolute negativity.

In order to make this clearer, the following quote from Hegel's Encyclopedia ( 274) will be helpful,

"The Concept of the infinite as it first presents itself is this, that determinate being in its being-in-itself determines itself as finite and transcends the limitation. It is the very nature of the finite to transcend itself, to negate its negation and to become infinite. Thus the infinite does not stand as something finished and complete above or superior to the finite, as if the finite had an enduring being apart from or subordinate to the infinite."

The finite does not have a being that is independent of the infinite. It has its own being as finitude but no independence. In other words, it has being-for-self that is negated, i.e. a being-for-self that is for God, which is what is called the service of God. However, this is not to be understood as merely being subordinate to God for that would specify only a one-sided abstract relationship. The constitutional nature of the finite is to be for God, so there is no question of subordination in genuinely being what its true nature is, i.e. in being at home in its own true element. In this sense it is not servitude but the freedom of the sublated finite within the infinite.

Furthermore, God, as God, does not exist as mere or abstract Being but is Real or Actual only in His Becoming - literally in His own Activity. The Reality of God, of course, is what we are interested in, not the Ideality of His Being, which is mere universal indeterminacy. Thus the affairs of Man in his supercession of himself, i.e. in his qualitatively infinite life, is the real connection with the pure negativity or movement of God in becoming Himself. It is in this sense that Man or the finite "serves" the purpose or becoming of God in his qualitatively infinite or true constitutional position.

Why is God becoming? Is He not already perfect in Himself? God is alive or active Self-conscious knowing of Himself. It is His nature to find satisfaction only in Himself. But He can only know Himself in the full penetration of his Substance or what is Other than Himself. Thus He endures the struggle that is the manifest destiny of the finite living entities, in order to come to know Himself in History (His - story). The oneness of God and Man is not compromised by their difference from each other, rather it is vitalized by such difference, so that it is the eternal, ongoing systematic development of that difference as an organic whole that is the life of God.

The reader is asked to closely consider the two texts presented on the next page and draw his or her own conclusions as to the truth concerning this matter.



1. "That the Absolute is Subject means that there must be an OTHER to itself in order to be-for-itself. This other is not merely a predicate of which the Subject is the basis. Rather the predicate is the living soul of which the Subject is the body." (Enc. Logic 172 Zu.) [back]

2. "The true and positive meaning of the antinomies is this: that every actual thing involves a coexistence of opposed elements. Consequently to know, or, in other words, to comprehend an object is equivalent to being conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations." (Enc. Logic 48 Zu.)[back]

3. "The actual is one: but it is also the divergence from each other of the constituent elements of the Concept; and the Syllogism represents the orbit of intermediation of its elements, by which it realizes its unity."(Enc. Logic 181.) [back]

4. "[For ratiocination the] ... subject constitutes the basis to which the content is attached and on which the process moves to and fro. Conceptual thinking goes on in quite a different way. Since the concept or notion is the very self of the object, manifesting itself as the development of the object, it is not a quiescent subject, passively supporting accidents: it is a self-determining active concept that takes up its determinations and makes them its own. In the course of this process that inert passive subject really disappears; it enters into the different constituents and pervades the content; instead of remaining in inert antithesis to determinateness of content, it constitutes, in fact, that very specificity, i.e. the content as differentiated along with the process of bringing this about. Thus the solid basis, which ratiocination found in an inert subject, is shaken to its foundations, and the only object is this very movement of the subject. The subject supplying the concrete filling to its own content ceases to be something transcending this content, and cannot have further predicates or accidents. Conversely, again, the scattered diversity of the content is brought under the control of the self, and so bound together; the content is not a universal that can be detached from the subject, and adapted to several indifferently. Consequently the content is in truth no longer predicate of the subject; it is the very substance, is the inmost reality, and the very principle of what is being considered. Ideational thinking (vorstellen), since its nature consists in dealing with accidents or predicates, and in exercising the right to transcend them because they are nothing more than predicates and accidents--this way of thinking is checked in its course, since that which has in the proposition the form of a predicate is itself the substance of the statement. It is met by a counter-thrust, as we may say. Starting from the subject, as if this were a permanent base on which to proceed, it discovers, by the predicate being in reality the substance, that the subject has passed into the predicate, and has thereby ceased to be subject: and since in this way what seems to be predicate has become the entire mass of the content, whole and complete, thinking cannot wander and ramble about at will, but is restrained and controlled by this weight of content."(Phenomenology 60.) [back]