I will begin by characterizing the task of philosophy as that of answering the following, familiar question: how can something objective ever become something subjective; how can a being for itself ever become something represented [vorgestellten]? No one will ever explain how this remarkable transformation takes place without finding a point where the objective and the subjective are not at all distinct from one another but are completely one and the same. Our system establishes just such a point and then proceeds from there. The point in question is “I-hood” [Ichheit], intelligence, reason – or whatever one wishes to call it.
This absolute identity of the subject and the object in the I can only be inferred; it cannot be demonstrated, so to speak, “immediately,” as a fact of actual consciousness. As soon as any actual consciousness occurs, even if it is only the consciousness of ourselves, the separation [between subject and object] ensues. I am conscious of myself only insofar as I distinguish myself, as the one who is conscious, from me, as the object of this consciousness. The entire mechanism of consciousness rests on the various aspects of this separation of what is subjective from what is objective, and, in turn, on the unification of the two [iv, 2].
The first way what is subjective and what is objective are unified, or viewed as harmonizing, is when I engage in cognition.