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The Fall of Man

G.W.F. Hegel
When we compare the different forms of ascertaining truth with one another, the first of them, immediate
knowledge, may perhaps seem the finest, noblest and most appropriate. It includes everything which the
moralists term innocence as well as religious feeling, simple trust, love, fidelity, and natural faith. The
two other forms, first reflective, and secondly philosophical cognition, must leave that unsought natural
harmony behind. And so far as they have this in common, the methods which claim to apprehend the
truth by thought may naturally be regarded as part and parcel of the pride which leads man to trust to his
own powers for a knowledge of the truth. Such a position involves a thorough-going disruption, and,
viewed in that light, might be regarded as the source of all evil and wickedness the original
transgression. Apparently therefore the only way of being reconciled and restored to peace is to surrender
all claims to think or know.
This lapse from natural unity has not escaped notice, and nations from the earliest times have asked
the meaning of the wonderful division of the spirit against itself. No such inward disunion is found in
nature: natural things do nothing wicked.
The Mosaic legend of the Fall of Man has preserved an ancient picture representing the origin and
consequences of this disunion. The incidents of the legend form the basis of an essential article of the
creed, the doctrine of original sin in man and his consequent need of succour. It may be well at the
commencement of logic to examine the story which treats of the origin and the bearings of the very
knowledge which logic has to discuss. For, though philosophy must not allow herself to be overawed by
religion, or accept the position of existence on sufferance, she cannot afford to neglect these popular
conceptions. The tales and allegories of religion, which have enjoyed for thousands of years the
veneration of nations, are not to be set aside as antiquated even now.
Upon a closer inspection of the story of the Fall we find, as was already said, that it exemplifies the
universal bearings of knowledge upon the spiritual life. In its instinctive and natural stage, spiritual life
wears the garb of innocence and confiding simplicity: but the very essence of spirit implies the
absorption of this immediate condition in something higher. The spiritual is distinguished from the
natural, and more especially from the animal, life, in the circumstance that it does not continue a mere
stream of tendency, but sunders itself to self-realisation. But this position of severed life has in its turn to
be suppressed, and the spirit has by its own act to win its way to concord again. The final concord then is
spiritual; that is, the principle of restoration is found in thought, and thought only. The hand that inflicts
the wound is also the hand which heals it.
We are told in our story that Adam and Eve, the first human beings, the types of humanity, were
placed in a garden, where grew a tree of life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God, it is said,
had forbidden them to eat of the fruit of this latter tree: of the tree of life for the present nothing further is
said. These words evidently assume that man is not intended to seek knowledge, and ought to remain in
the state of innocence. Other meditative races, it may be remarked, have held the same belief that the
primitive state of mankind was one of innocence and harmony. Now all this is to a certain extent correct.
The disunion that appears throughout humanity is not a condition to rest in. But it is a mistake to regard
the natural and immediate harmony as the right state. The mind is not mere instinct: on the contrary, it
essentially involves the tendency to reasoning and meditation. Childlike innocence no doubt has in it
something fascinating and attractive: but only because it reminds us of what the spirit must win for itself.
The harmoniousness of childhood is a gift from the hand of nature; the second harmony must spring from
the labour and culture of the spirit. And so the words of Christ, `Except ye become as little children, &c.,
are very far from telling us that we must always remain children.
Again, we find in the narrative of Moses that the occasion which led man to leave his natural unity
is attributed to solicitation from without. The serpent was the tempter. But the truth is, that the step into
opposition, the awakening of consciousness, follows from the very nature of man: and the same history
repeats itself in every son of Adam. The serpent represents likeness to God as consisting in the

knowledge of good and evil: and it is just this knowledge in which man participates when he breaks with
the unity of his instinctive being and eats of the forbidden fruit. The first reflection of awakened
consciousness in men told them that they were naked. This is a nave and profound trait. For the sense of
shame bears evidence to the separation of man from his natural and sensuous life. The beasts never get so
far as this separation, and they feel no shame. And it is in the human feeling of shame that we are to seek
the spiritual and moral origin of dress, compared with which the merely physical need is a secondary
matter.
Next comes the Curse, as it is called, which God pronounced upon man. The prominent point in
that curse turns chiefly on the contrast between man and nature. Man must work in the sweat of his brow:
and woman bring forth in sorrow. As to work, if it is the result of the disunion, it is also the victory over
it. The beasts have nothing more to do but to pick up the materials required to satisfy their wants: man on
the contrary can only satisfy his wants by himself producing and transforming the necessary means. Thus
even in these outside things man is dealing with himself.
The story does not close with the expulsion from Paradise. We are further told, God said, `Behold
Adam is become as one of us, to know good and evil. Knowledge is now spoken of as divine, and not, as
before, as something wrong and forbidden. Such words contain a confutation of the idle talk that
philosophy pertains only to the finitude of the mind. Philosophy is knowledge, and it is through knowledge that man first realises his original vocation, to be the image of God. When the record adds that God
drove men out of the Garden of Eden to prevent their eating of the tree of life, it only means that on his
natural side certainly man is finite and mortal, but in knowledge infinite.
We all know the theological dogma that mans nature is evil, tainted with what is called Original
Sin. Now while we accept the dogma, we must give up the setting of incident which represents original
sin as consequent upon an accidental act of the first man. For the very notion of spirit is enough to show
that man is evil by nature, and it is an error to imagine that he could ever be otherwise. To such extent as
man is and acts like a creature of nature, his whole behaviour is what it ought not to be. For the spirit it is
a duty to be free, and to realise itself by its own act. Nature is for man only the starting point which he
has to transform. The theological doctrine of original sin is a profound truth; but modern enlightenment
prefers to believe that man is naturally good, and that he acts right so long as he continues true to nature.
The hour when man leaves the path of mere natural being marks the difference between him, a selfconscious agent, and the natural world. But this schism, though it forms a necessary element in the very
notion of spirit, is not the final goal of man. It is to this state of inward breach that the whole finite action
of thought and will belongs. In that finite sphere man pursues ends of his own and draws from himself
the material of his conduct. While he pursues these aims to the uttermost, while his knowledge and his
will seek himself, his own narrow self apart from the universal, he is evil; and his evil is to be subjective.
We seem at first to have a double evil here: but both are really the same. Man in so far as he is
spirit is not the creature of nature: and when he behaves as such, and follows the cravings of appetite, he
wills to be so. The natural wickedness of man is therefore unlike the natural life of animals. A mere
natural life may be more exactly defined by saying that the natural man as such is an individual: for
nature in every part is in the bonds of individualism. Thus when man wills to be a creature of nature, he
wills in the same degree to be an individual simply. Yet against such impulsive and appetitive action, due
to the individualism of nature, there also steps in the law or general principle. This law may either be an
external force, or have the form of divine authority. So long as he continues in his natural state, man is in
bondage to the law. It is true that among the instincts and affections of man, there are social or
benevolent inclinations, love, sympathy, and others, reaching beyond his selfish isolation. But so long as
these tendencies are instinctive, their virtual universality of scope and purport is vitiated by the subjective
form which always allows free play to self-seeking and random action.
Hegel, Logic. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Part I, trans. William Wallace. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2nd edn, 1892, 24 addition