Chapter 5

The Similarity Between Hegel and Berger


            Next, the thinkers that come closest to being Hegelian will be examined. By making the comparison between them and Hegel, clarifies Hegel's conception of Geist and shows that the relationship between collective and individual Geist is problematic for them. The thinker most similar with respect to the concept of Geist is the sociologist Peter Berger. His conception of Social Structure is so similar to Hegel's conception of Geist, apart from vocabulary, that it is surprising that there has been no mention of this previously.


            In his book The Social Construction of Reality Berger develops a sociological theory in two parts, "Society as Objective Reality" and "Society as Subjective Reality."[1] They could actually be considered descriptions of collective Geist and individual Geist. Berger's conception of Social Structure is unmistakably similar to Hegel's conception of Geist. For both, language is the key element.


            Berger feels that language, as "the most important sign system of human society," maintains the "common objectivations of everyday life." According to Berger, human beings are not born to a set, "closed" relationship to their environment as are all other living things. The stability of human existence is dependant on socio-cultural and psychological formations. These formations are maintained and evolve by means of language.[2] Through language the dialectic proceeds. "Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product."[3] Hegel also has said much in associating Geist with language.


Both in the sphere of the social order (Sittlichkeit),

where language embodies laws and commands,

and in the sphere of actual life, where it appears as

conveying advice, the content of what it expresses is

the essential reality and language is the form of that

essential content.[4]


...For it is the existence of the pure self qua self; in

speech the self-existent singleness of self-consciousness

comes as such into existence, so that its particular individuality is

something for others. Ego qua this particular pure ego is

non-existent otherwise.; in every other mode of expression

it is absorbed in some concrete actuality, and appears in a

shape from which it can withdraw; it turns reflectively back into

itself, away from its act, as well as from its physiognomic

expression, and leaves such an incomplete existence (in which

there is always at once too much as well as too little) lying

soulless behind. Speech, however, contains this ego in its purity;

it  alone expresses I, I itself.[5]


As each stage of Geist is examined, that stages' language is examined as well. Hegel discusses the part language plays in the development of an individual.[6] He discusses "the language of the ethical spirit of society" and "the language of conscience."[7] He describes language as the medium of embodiment of "the god."[8] Again and again, "we see language to be the form in which spirit finds existence."[9]


            It must be pointed out that neither Hegel nor Berger believe language is the sole form Geist or social structure takes. There are for Hegel other signs through which Geist becomes "Concrete Spirit," i.e. concrete Geist. In making objects, whether it be religious art of carpentry, "the activity of the artificer, which constitutes self-consciousness, comes face to face with an inner being equally self-conscious and giving itself expression."[10] Indeed, Hegel goes so far as to say "Spirit is Artist."[11] What is created by an individual becomes self-consciousness, not simply in the sense of seeing himself in his work but in the broader meaning of affecting all others who come in contact with it. It is part of collective Geist. Still for Hegel, the "...higher element is that of language - a way of existing which is directly self-conscious existence. When individual self-consciousness exists in that way, it is at the same time directly a form of universal contagion; complete isolation of independent self-existent selves is at once fluent continuity and universally communicated unity of the many selves."[12] That is Geist existing as Geist.


            In Berger's view, there are objectifications other than language but these are in some sense created by language.


The language used in everyday life continuously provides me

with the necessary objectifications and posits the order within which

everyday life has meaning for me. I live in a place that is

geographically designated; I employ tools, from can openers

to sports cars, which are designated in the technical vocabulary

of my society; I live within a web of human relationships, from

my chess club to the United States of America, which are also

ordered by means of vocabulary. In this manner language marks the

co-ordinates of my life with meaningful objects.[13]


            Hegel almost outrageously brings home his point that an individual's creations become permanent bits of reality, as self-conscious entities. Berger too claims that, once created, whether art, tool, or idea, an objectification becomes part of the socially constructed reality, or part of the social structure. This, for Berger, is the process of reification. Reification is "...the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something else than human products - such as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws or manifestations of divine will."[14]


            Central to Berger's work is the relationship between society and the individual. In the analysis of society as objective reality, Berger studies the mechanism by which individuals have produced and keep producing reality. His analysis of society as subjective reality studies how reality has produced and keeps producing individuals. For Berger, there is no individual apart from the internalized language of identity of a social structure, i.e. it is formed by social processes.[15] Within language, both society and individual exist.


            So it is for Hegel, within language lies both collective Geist and individual Geist. Further, it is in his description of the evolution of Geist from stage to stage in the dialectical process that he studies the relationship of collective and individual. The relationship varies with the stage Geist has reached. Indeed, it is the very nature of the relationship between the collective and individual Geist that distinguishes each stage from the other stages.


            Both Hegel and Berger see the relationship of individual to society as culturally dependent. Each cultural group defines the relationship differently. The similarity is the description of the relationship between the collective and individual as an evolving process. Hegel traces the changes of this relationship through history in religious and philosophical movements. Berger examines different definitions of this relationship in different types of societies, industrial, agricultural; and through different types of religious world-maintenance. Berger, too, describes the phenomenon of society as fundamentally a dialectical movement between "externalization, objectivation, and internalization."[16] This relationship changes as a society turns from one type to another.


            In many respects Hegel's and Berger's analyses are very different. Berger's analysis is much clearer than Hegel's because he does not accept the distinction between the social structure and the individual as unproblematic. It is instead the problematic for Berger. It is in this light that Berger has gone another step past Hegel. But in taking this step, Berger has had many other thinkers since Hegel who have supplied the ladder he climbs on. Since Berger is the thinker most similar to Hegel in respect of the relationship between the collective and the individual, he has been examined first. However, other thinkers who have been much more influential, perhaps even influencing Berger, have been directly influenced by Hegel and can also be used to clarify the nature of Geist.


Contents         Chapter 6


[1] Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (New York, 1966)

[2] Ibid. p. 47

[3] Ibid. p. 61

[4] Hegel. Op. cit. Phen. P. 530, Phan. P. 390

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. Phen. P. 340 f. Phan. P. 242 f.

[7] Ibid. Phen. P. 661, Phan. P. 499

[8] Ibid. Phen. P. 714 f. Phan. P. 539 f.

[9] Ibid. Phen. P. 660,  Phan. P. 499

[10] Ibid. Phen. P. 707

[11] Ibid. Phen. P. 708

[12] Ibid. Phen. P. 716-717

[13] Berger. Op. cit. p. 22

[14] Ibid. p. 89

[15] Ibid. p. 173

[16] Peter Berger. The Sacred Canopy (New York, 1969) p. 81