This paper offers an outline of the central issue Hegel is concerned with in his discussion of spirit. The issue is: how can we possibly confirm our basic and comprehensive claims to validity? In the ‘Spirit’ section of the Phenomenology, Hegel focuses on what we nowadays would call ‘thick conceptions’. The corresponding claims to knowledge relate (a) to a general worldview and (b) to the objective norms embedded in this worldview. Furthermore, they also include (c) a claim to self-knowledge, which is correlated to both.
Hegel suggests that if we want to validate these claims we should not look at merely given facts but at the actions performed on the basis of these claims — it's the deed that matters. But in making claims, we are also addressing others. The resulting questions are: How can they possibly recognise the action as a manifestation of the underlying principles? What follows for my self-knowledge if I accept that the judgement of others contributes to what the action really is and thus what it says about me?
The first part of the paper explores the general framework underlying Hegel's discussion of spirit. The second part exemplifies Hegel's conception by referring to different cultural realisations of spirit put forward in the sixth chapter of his Phenomenology: the focus will be on Hegel's interpretation of Sophocles' tragedy, Antigone. In the brief, final part I would like to point to three features of Hegel's account of spirit that I take to be still worthy of consideration.