Leaving Paradise As The Condition of Consciousness: Hegel's Theory of Hominisation

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The narrative of Paradise is an ancient, yet not only Christian, religious myth. As Ovid composed in his Metamorphoses, also in paganism the Golden Age, which was followed by the Silver Age, was regarded as the primordial time when humankind came into being, a time in which for several reasons it was impossible for humans to dwell forever. The reasons the Holy Scriptures of Christianity give for the end of man’s dwelling in Paradise can be summarized under the concept of “sin”, or “opposition to God”. The story of Paradise has been dealt with over and over again throughout the history of philosophy as well, not least by modern philosophy and especially by philosophers of German Idealism. Leaving aside Max Weber who thought that “the notion of the pious boredom of paradise” meant “hardly any temptation to an enterprising being” 1, the first question is why we devote our interest to Hegel and not to any other philosophical scholar. First of all, the striking factor in Hegel’s interpretation is that he does not understand the end of the paradisiacal state as a mere accident or a simple unforeseen incident in the history of humankind. For him, the exodus from Paradise is a necessary moment in the process of hominisation, of humankind becoming human. Therefore Hegel was repeatedly reproached of maintaining that the evil was “a necessary element in the creation continuingly developing towards its final goal.” 2 Thus Hegel’s interpretation of the narrative of Paradise as well as his evaluation of the story of the Fall are of interest because he tries to give an explanation of the evil which contradicts the Western, Christian understanding of the Paradise story. Before [48] investigating in the Hegelian interpretation of the Paradise story, let me point out that it is wrong to claim that Hegel thought the evil to be a necessary transition stage of the spirit, and sin to be a state of being that needs to occur for the sake of freedom 3.

Let us ask why, in the first place, Hegel refocussed time and again on the narrative of Paradise as told in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Remarkably, in Hegel’s interpretation chapters two and three of the book of Genesis are not dismissed as primitive, out-moded mythology. If, however, he still calls the story of the Fall a myth, we are interested to learn what made Hegel use this concept and how he used it. The concept of myth has a twofold meaning in Hegel: On the one hand, he calls myths “merely external stories” 4 which are only historical as far as their form is concerned, but on the other hand, myth for Hegel has a deeper meaning, which to uncover is the proper task of mythology as the scholarly consideration of myths. With this Hegel defends F. Creuzer’s understanding of mythology against reproaches from his contemporaries and at the same time attacks the Gцttingen Orientalist Heine’s attempt to tear apart image and meaning 5. For Hegel, myth neither is an artificially constructed poetic fiction, nor is it characterized, as in Heine, by a lack of knowledge about true facts and causal connections. Hence myth does not represent human imagination and expression at an early stage of its development. It is not “its external appearance that prevails” in the myth but its aetiological meaning in which a “timeless event, an absolute divine action” as the myth’s “interior” is expressed through an “external series of occurences and actions.” 6 The aim of the narrative of Paradise is to unveil [49] truthfulness, “presented in a sensuous creation, as if it had happened”, “as it were, masked in the form of a myth, of a parable.” 7 Truthfulness needs to be brought to light from the story in order to point out that it is “not just an accidental story,” namely that of Adam and Eve, but to show that their story is “the eternal, necessary history of humankind.” In its outer form in which this history is narrated as the story of conrete human beings the idea itself, according to Hegel, is described mythologically, and therefore it is inevitable that “this description bears inconsistencies in it”, namely the inconsistency of appearing to be a single course of events, a unique, singular occurence 8.

Contrary to the common interpretation of the story, for Hegel the exodus from Paradise, that is the separation of humankind from God, is the condition of humankind becoming human. And contrary to Augustine who regards the so-called Fall to be human’s gliding down to a lower stage of being 9, Hegel does not interpret the separation from God itself as the evil, and therefore does not spoil any tears over the loss of Paradise. Rather, he argues, the mere idea that paradise was lost shows that such a notion cannot contain truthfulness. The loss of paradise shows us that paradise as a state of being is not absolutely essential, for “in the divine history … there is no contingency.” 10 Even though Hegel stresses that paradise as a state of being is not absolutely essential, he still clings to the idea of paradise as a notion which is necessary in its essential meaning. In this essential meaning the human being is seen in “unity … with God,” 11 and at the same time humans are recognised as not being natural beings, animals, but as being spirit. Being spirit is to say that humans are meant to be becoming, hence Hegel can say: “Spirit is nothing but that which it makes of itself” 12. The destiny of human existence is to become out of him- or herself, to bring forth that which humankind has been created for. But what is it human beings are created for? For freedom and the concretization of freedom. For Hegel it is only through this that humans are not natural beings, not animals, but spirit. Referring to the Bible, this means for Hegel that the human being is created “with and in the image of God,” which is to say that in accordance with the proper concept of being human as spirit in freedom, humans are “God’s mirror” 13. Freedom, however, is not a [50] property humans “possess” and can make use of deliberately. Being free is to seize oneself in one’s freedom. Inasfar as freedom is the nature and essence of being human, human beings have to constitute and manifest themselves in their freedom in order to be human. Constituting oneself in one’s freedom does not mean that man has created himself. Even the essentially free human being is and remains a finite being — a created being. Thus Hegel says that man as he has been created, namely as being for freedom, is good, or in other words: that “the human being as such is good.” 14 But humans do not only have to be good as such, in accordance with the idea of being human, but also in their reality. That which is good as such is not necessarily good in reality. Hegel says, the fact that the human being as such is good is only half the truth. But the other half of this truth is not that man is bad in his reality. Eating from the tree of knowledge, and consequently being separated from God, is not evil in itself but is “divine necessity” for humankind 15. It is necessary to leave the state of innocence as the state of naturalness. “Man shall be guilty,” Hegel emphatically exclaims, “insofar as man is good, he shall not be good as a natural thing is, but [his actions] shall be his guilt, his will, shall be imputable to him.” 16 Contrary to Kant, guilt, for Hegel, is simply imputability, and innocence is will-lessness without being either good or bad. For Hegel, the separation from God, leaving Paradise, is not the evil but an absolute necessity for man’s self-realisation as spirit. Remaining in paradisiacal innocence, that is remaining in naturalness, however, for Hegel, would be the evil.

Yet, the separation from God, the exodus from Paradise, is part of the notion of spirit. But this separation is not a point “on which humankind is supposed to remain.” 17 Separation itself is not the aim since remaining in naturalness would be evil, which means that it is not the separation which is evil, but allowing the separation to be independent is evil. According to Hegel the human being is created for communion. The precondition of communion is freedom, but communion also is the way in which freedom can manifest itself.

The Paradise story of Genesis as Hegel interprets it, on the one hand, tells us about humankind’s necessary separation from God so that humans may become independent and self-determined. But on the other hand, it also says that the freedom gained through the separation is abused by humankind inasfar as man refuses to live in communion but prefers particularity to communion. In the Paradise narrative this all [51] is paradigmatically described as the human being’s refusal to be God’s image, to acknowledge God as what He is: God.

Referring to this theme in his Philosophy of Law, in pointing out that in the mythological religious understanding the origin of the evil is not understood properly, Hegel is disturbed by the deficiant insight which does not realise that good and evil spring from one source and mutually presuppose each other’s possibility. Mythological understanding is characterized by thinking in terms of subsequence and co-existence, thus the negative — by means of the snake — approaches the positive from outside. What is unthinkable in this understanding is the necessity of the negative, that is, that the idea, or more exactly: the human being, “essentially entails the differentiation and negative self-assertion”.

This, however, is to say that both the good and the evil have their source and origin in the will, but it does not mean that the will is evil as such. Only the natural will, the will which clings to the stage of separation and carries the “determination of non-freedom” in it, is evil. The naturalness of this will is “no longer mere naturalness but the negative against the good.” 18 However, this negativity against the good needs to be differentiated from that negativity which we characterized as self-differentiation and separation. The latter is not to be equated with the evil. Occasionally Hegel characterizes the negativity of the evil as “negativity being in itself” 19. It corresponds with the consciousness which “in its self-reference does negatively refer to other things” and which characterizes man “who wants to affirm himself in his separation from God.” 20

Referring to chapters two and three of the book of Genesis, Hegel interprets eating from the tree of knowledge as “the coming to know, the disunion, the separation which first entails the good for man, but also the evil.” 21 Both are real in their possibility. In picking the fruit Eve took the step to becoming spirit and being human; this is a merit she has over Adam, the man, whose indolence and dullness might have prevented him from becoming human up to today.

For Hegel the biblical narrative of the Fall is the mythological story of the self-constitution of the spirit as the withdrawal from the immediate relationship with God and nature. As we have heard, the stage of separation which belongs to the spirit is not the one in which man is supposed to remain. One side of the separation is that it frees [52] the spirit to be what it becomes through itself. Thus God can affirm the snake’s words: “eritis sicut Deus,” and add: “behold, Adam has become like us” 22. These words refer to the separation as the source of man’s becoming human as the precondition which alone renders possible that the human being can be God’s mirror, that is: God’s Thou. The other side of the separation, however, is the possibility of remaining within the separation, of not wanting to be the mirror and God’s Thou, which Hegel calls “the hybris of freedom … which ought not be.” 23 Even in this hybris the snake’s promise “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” is fulfilled, yet only in the form of rejection which in its self-assertion does not seek the free relationship with God but only separation from God.

If Genesis 2:17 is not understood as forbidding to aquire the ability to discern good and evil, the question may be raised what Adam and Eve had done to provoke the expulsion from Paradise. With the help of exegesis we note that the tree of knowledge of good and evil is only mentioned twice in the story. First, from verse 2:9 we learn that God made grow many a tree, and among them the tree of life in the midst of the Garden and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In the second passage, verse 2:17, as interpreted above, mention of the tree of knowledge is connected with the sentence “thou shalt not eat …”. In verses 3, 5 and 6 Eve reports God’s words to the snake, but only mentions that it is forbidden to eat from the tree in the midst of the Garden. And it is exactly this unspecified tree that she finally takes the fruit from. Holding Adam accountable for what happened, God, too, only speaks in general terms about the tree. Westermann, and most exegetics with him, are convinced that the Yahwist writer of the story moulded the expression (cf. Gen 3:5b) of “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” and left the expression in chapter three as it was, only mentioning “the tree in the midst of the Garden” 24. In verse 3:11 God asks Adam: “Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten of the tree whereof I commanded that you should not eat?” The answer expresses that the separation, the knowledge of good and evil, is connected with a misdemeanour against God. Being under the impression of the Fall the Yahwist writer identifies the event of man’s becoming human with the event of the Fall. Written post factum, the story of Genesis no longer conceptually distinguishes between the necessary negativity, on the one hand, which is the [53] separation or self-constitution as an essential of becoming human, and on the other hand, the negativity being in itself as the No against God.

If we asked the protagonists of the narrative what had brought along the Fall, we would not get any further answer than they had eaten the fruit. It is, however, striking that the Yahwist writer always connects the prohibition to eat the fruit with death. If death in verse 2:17, as the exegetics see it, “is not a real peril” 25, the mention of death may be understood as rendering conscious the consequence of the withdrawal from nature and the entry into the development of the spirit. Whether sinful or not, the finite spirit hence cannot say “I am who I will be”, but the price of its becoming is death. Thus in verse 3:4 the snake may soothe Eve saying: “ye shall not surely die” — we would have to add: “at least not because of what you are afraid of to die.” The woman, thus freed from her anxiety, and her companion Adam can now help themselves without any worries, which is, as we know, what they did, but surely they did not do it to know good and evil. Now, due to the dialogue with the snake, obtaining knowledge for them is only a side-effect in the process of becoming human. Adam and Eve take the fruit in order to be of themselves what they ought to be only in relationship with God: God’s image or, as the snake called it, being like God. God’s affirmation is given in verses 22 and 24: God makes the Cherubim the Garden’s guardians to keep the humans from the tree of eternal life.

Hegel’s aim in his interpretation of the events of the Fall can easily be traced: responsibility for the reality of the evil is human responsibility alone, and not God’s. Hegel locates the origin of sin in the discerning knowledge of good and evil: Since man knows that he is a thinking being he can “distinguish good from evil; alone in thought is the source of evil and good.” This is the result of our considerations, as already mentioned. Yet, reading the complete sentence, we have to add the word “only”, for it reads: “It is because man is a thinking being that he can only know the difference of good and evil.” 26 The complete sentence expresses a restriction, and leads to raising the question of what human beings can not do or know. Hegel’s answer is given in the subsequent sentence: “That which is brought about by thought is rooted in thinking but also is the healing of the evil.” 27 The thinking which brings about healing of the evil needs to be distinguished from human thinking. It is divine thinking for which even the words: “Behold, Adam has become like us” hold a [54] “higher explanation” 28. The snake’s prediction of humans being like God, just restricted to knowing good and evil, does not only hold true in its literal sense. Since Hegel is a philosopher in the Jewish-Christian tradition, for him this „higher meaning” explicitly is “the promise and certainty of re-obtaining the image of God,” 29 or the coming of the Messiah. Since God spoke to Himself “behold, Adam has become like us”, it can also only be His, God’s, knowledge that humankind’s loss of Paradise is not the final word. In Christian terminology, that which only God knows and humankind can only ever believe in, is „that with this Adam [who has become like God] the second Adam, namely Christ, is referred to.” 30 According to Hegel, humankind rather remains “in disunion” thus that “the satisfaction of reconciliation is not yet real for him; the absolute final satisfaction of the whole nature of man has not yet been found, but for God only, up to now” 31. All that remains for man in his knowledge is to be deeply grieved over himself.

Footnotes


[*] Max Weber, Die protestantische Ethik I, ed. Johannes Winkelmann, Mьnchen, Hamburg 1965, p. 59. (This as well as all other quotations in this paper are translated directly from German for lack of access to editions in English.)
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[*] Wolfgang Trillhaas, Felix Culpa, “Zur Deutung der Geschichte vom Sьndenfall bei Hegel”, in: Probleme biblischer Theologie. Gerhard Rad zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Hans Walter Wolff, Mьnchen 1971, p. 594.
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[*] Ch. Freyd, Gott als die universale Wahrheit von Mensch und Welt (Diss.), Stuttgart 1982, p. 40. The thesis that Hegel teaches the necessity of the evil can also be found in: E. Lцcke, Der Sьndenfall in der Philosophie des deutschen Idealismus (Neue deutsche Forschungen, eds. Hans R. Gьnther, Erich Rothacker, vol 1/3), Berlin 1934, p. 122. The remark in Joachim Ringleben, Hegels Theorie des Sьnde, Berlin, New York 1977, p. 24, ann. 11, that Martin Metzger (Die Paradieserzählung, Bonn 1959) does not mention the exegesis of Gen 3, is wrong (cf. Metzger, p. 153f). Rainer Schanne, Sьndenfall und Erbsьnde in der Spekulativen Theologie, Bern 1976, pp. 135ff. W. Jaeschke, “Die Suche nach den eschatologischen Wurzeln der Geschichtsphilosophie”, in: Beitrдge zur evangelischen Theologie, Mьnchen 1976, p. 320ff. Eugen Drewermann, Struktur des Bцsen, Mьnchen, Paderborn, Wien 1978, part 3, pp. 98 ff. For a more differentiated interpretation cf. E. Schmid, Hegels System der Theologie, Berlin, New York 1974, pp. 160ff.
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[*] G.W.F. Hegel, Sämtliche Werke (Jubilдumsausgabe in 20 Bдnden), ed. Hermann Glockner, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstadt 1964, here: vol. 12, p. 416.
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[*] Cf. ibid., pp. 417-419.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 15, pp. 157f
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[*] Hegel, vol. 16, p. 73.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 15, pp. 85f.
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[*] Dietrich Ritschl, “Die Last des augustinischen Erbes”, in: Parrhesia. Karl Barth zum 80. Geburtstag, Zьrich 1976, p. 475.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 15, 287.
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[*] Ibid., p. 283.
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[*] Ibid., p. 284.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 16, p. 258.
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[*] Ibid.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 15, p. 288.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 16, p. 260.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 8, p. 96.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 7, pp. 203f.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 10, p. 456.
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[*] Michael Theunissen, Hegels Lehre vom absoluten Geist als theologisch-politischer Traktat, Berlin 1970, p. 272.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 16, p. 265.
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[*] Gen 3:22.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 15, p. 286.
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[*] Claus Westermann, Genesis, vol. 1 (Biblischer Kommentar Altes Testament, eds. Siegfried Herrmann, Hans Walter Wolff) Neukirchen-Vluyn 1974, pp. 289ff.
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[*] Ibid., p. 304.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 19, p. 105.
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[*] Ibid.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 16, p. 265.
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[*] Ibid., p. 266.
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[*] Ibid., p. 265.
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[*] Hegel, vol. 11, p. 413f.
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