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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Nature of Evil
By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831)
 
        
From the ‘Philosophy of History’
  
  [This free individuality, founded on the ownership of property, was not balanced by a freedom in the Roman imperial government. In relation to the Emperor everything was uncertain. All the nations of Europe, Asia, and Africa were brought under the yoke of the Roman law. Deprived of his local religion, of his local rulers, and of all his special aims, Rome and the Roman Empire were placed before man as supreme object of his will, and there arose a feeling of longing, an unsatisfied aspiration. Hegel compares this feeling to that expressed in the Psalms of David and in the Prophets. This is a remarkable commentary on the expression “The fullness of time was come.” He makes a discrimination between the consciousness of sin revealed in the Old Testament, and the shallow idea of error or evil, giving a profound significance to the idea of the Fall.]

THE HIGHER condition in which the soul itself feels pain and longing—in which man is not only “drawn,” but feels that the drawing is into himself [into his own inmost nature]—is still absent. What has been reflection on our part must arise in the mind of the subject of this discipline in the form of a consciousness that in himself he is miserable and null. Outward suffering must, as already said, be merged in a sorrow of the inner man. He must feel himself as the negation of himself; he must see that his misery is the misery of his nature—that he is in himself a divided and discordant being. This state of mind, this self-chastening, this pain occasioned by our individual nothingness,—the wretchedness of our [isolated] self, and the longing to transcend this condition of soul,—must be looked for elsewhere than in the properly Roman World. It is this which gives to the Jewish People their World-Historical importance and weight; for from this state of mind arose that higher phase in which Spirit came to absolute self-consciousness—passing from that alien form of being which is its discord and pain, and mirroring itself in its own essence. The state of feeling in question we find expressed most purely and beautifully in the Psalms of David, and in the Prophets; the chief burden of whose utterances is the thirst of the soul after God; its profound sorrow for its transgressions, the desire for righteousness and holiness. Of this Spirit we have the mythical representation at the very beginning of the Jewish canonical books, in the account of the Fall. Man, created in the image of God, lost, it is said, his state of absolute contentment, by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sin consists here only in Knowledge; this is the sinful element, and by it man is stated to have trifled away his Natural happiness. This is a deep truth, that evil lies in consciousness: for the brutes are neither evil nor good; the merely Natural Man quite as little. Consciousness occasions the separation of the Ego, in its boundless freedom as arbitrary choice, from the pure essence of the Will,—i.e., from the Good. Knowledge, as the disannulling of the unity of mere Nature, is the “Fall”; which is no casual conception, but the eternal history of Spirit. For the state of innocence, the paradisiacal condition, is that of the brute. Paradise is a park, where only brutes, not men, can remain. For the brute is one with God only implicitly [not consciously]. Only Man’s Spirit [that is] has a self-cognizant existence. This existence for self, this consciousness, is at the same time separation from the Universal and Divine Spirit. If I hold in my abstract Freedom, in contraposition to the Good, I adopt the standpoint of Evil.  1
 
 
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