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For Hegel the unhappy consciousness (German: das unglückliche Bewußtsein) is associated with a stage in the history of the development of the freedom of self-consciousness. This stage of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit follows after the phase of the master-slave consciousness.
The three phases are: Stoicism, followed by scepticism or cynicism, followed by the ascetic unhappy consciousness.
Stoicism, Epicureanism and Hedonism
For Hegel the resolution of the master slave dialectic in stoicism, hedonism and epicureanism is not lasting. The period in history Hegel associates with this is from the time of Alexander the Great on through the times of the Roman Empire.
This Roman Stoicism is for Hegel something of a false resolution of the master-slave dialectic, it emphasises only the freedom of thought. In the Stoic's distancing of himself from the world of desires, of pain and pleasure he achieves a freedom of conscience, but that he ignores the concrete reality is apparent in the unsatisfactory resolution of the master slave dialectic. He is ignoring the reality of the dissatisfaction apparent for both master and slave.
Scepticism and Cynicism
So for Hegel history shows that stoicism is replaced by scepticism and cynicism. Here again the complete disbelief in society, rather than the reasoned and calculated disbelief of the stoic, eventually leads to a dissolution of oneself. The comedy of the cynic that is directed against society, eventually begins to turn against the comedian. The idea of goodness is seen as completely foreign to mankind.
The Unhappy Consciousness
In this externalisation of the good from human affairs we see forming what Hegel calls the unhappy consciousness. This, Hegel associates with much of the early Christian era when people turned away from the world through ascetic and monastic life and prayer.
Of course, for Hegel, each of these stages is an attainment, the achievement of the unhappy consciousness is the truth of the will, which has been trained and nurtured though the ascetic life.
The contradictions in the unhappy consciousness are given some resolution in the person of Jesus Christ. Here the temporal and eternal are combined and held up toward a higher plane wherein life now posits an afterlife. Yet it remains an unhappy consciousness since all goodness is alienated in God or in the afterlife.