Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Along with J.G. Fichte and, at least in his early work, F.W.J. von Schelling, Hegel (1770–1831) belongs to the period of German idealism in the decades following Kant. The most systematic of the post-Kantian idealists, Hegel attempted, throughout his published writings as well as in his lectures, to elaborate a comprehensive and systematic philosophy from a purportedly logical starting point. He is perhaps most well-known for his teleological account of history, an account that was later taken over by Marx and “inverted” into a materialist theory of historical development culminating in communism. While idealist philosophies in Germany post-dated Hegel (Beiser 2014), the movement is commonly known as German idealism effectively ended with Hegel’s death. Certainly, since the revolutions in logical thought from the turn of the twentieth century, the logical side of Hegel’s thought has been largely forgotten, although his political and social philosophy and theological views have continued to find interest and support. Since the 1970s, however, a degree of more general philosophical interest in Hegel’s systematic thought and its logical basis has been revived.
1. Life, Work, and Influence
Born in 1770 in Stuttgart, Hegel spent the years 1788–1793 as a student in nearby Tübingen, studying first philosophy, and then theology, and forming friendships with fellow students, the future great romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) and Friedrich von Schelling (1775–1854), who, like Hegel, would become one of the major figures of the German philosophical scene in the first half of the nineteenth century. These friendships clearly had a major influence on Hegel’s philosophical development, and for a while, the intellectual lives of the three were closely intertwined.
After graduation, Hegel worked as a tutor for families in Bern and then Frankfurt, where he was reunited with Hölderlin. Until around 1800, Hegel devoted himself to developing his ideas on religious and social themes and seemed to have envisaged a future for himself as a type of modernizing and reforming educator, in the image of figures of the German Enlightenment such as Lessing and Schiller. Around the turn of the century, however, under the influence of Hölderlin and Schelling, his interests turned more to issues arising from the critical philosophy initiated by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and developed by J.G. Fichte (1762–1814). In the 1790s the University of Jena had become a center for the development of critical philosophy due to the presence of K.L. Reinhold (1757–1823) and then Fichte, who taught there from 1794 until his dismissal on the grounds of atheism at the end of the decade. By that time, Schelling, who had first been attracted to Jena by the presence of Fichte, had become an established figure at the university. In 1801 Hegel moved to Jena to join Schelling, and in the same year published his first philosophical work, The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, in which he argued that Schelling had succeeded where Fichte had failed in the project of systematizing and thereby completing Kant’s transcendental idealism. In 1802 and 1803 Hegel and Schelling worked closely together, editing the Critical Journal of Philosophy, and on the basis of this association, Hegel came to be dogged for many years by the reputation of being a “mere” follower of Schelling (who was five years his junior).
By late 1806 Hegel had completed his first major work, The Phenomenology of Spirit (published 1807), which showed a divergence from his earlier, seemingly more Schellingian, approach. Schelling, who had left Jena in 1803, interpreted a barbed criticism in the Phenomenology’s preface as aimed at him, and their friendship abruptly ended. The occupation of Jena by Napoleon’s troops as Hegel was completing the manuscript restricted the activities of the university and Hegel departed. Now without a university appointment, he worked for a short time, apparently very successfully, as an editor of a newspaper in Bamberg, and then from 1808–1815 as the headmaster and philosophy teacher at a gymnasium (high school) in Nuremberg. During his time at Nuremberg, he married and started a family, and wrote and published his Science of Logic. In 1816 he managed to return to his university career by being appointed to a chair in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, but shortly after, in 1818, he was offered and took up the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, the most prestigious position in the German philosophical world. In 1817, while in Heidelberg he published the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, a systematic work in which an abbreviated version of the earlier Science of Logic (the Encyclopaedia Logic or Lesser Logic) was followed by the application of its principles to the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of spirit. In 1821 in Berlin Hegel published his major work in political philosophy, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, based on lectures given at Heidelberg but ultimately grounded in the section of the Encyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit dealing with the objective spirit. During the following ten years up to his death in 1831, Hegel enjoyed celebrity at Berlin and published subsequent versions of the Encyclopaedia. After his death versions of his lectures on the philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were published.
After Hegel’s death, Schelling, whose reputation had long since been eclipsed by that of Hegel, was invited to take up the chair at Berlin, reputedly because the government of the day had wanted to counter the influence that Hegelian philosophy had exerted on a generation of students. Since the early period of his collaboration with Hegel, Schelling had become more religious in his philosophizing and criticized the rationalism of Hegel’s philosophy. During this time of Schelling’s tenure at Berlin, important forms of later critical reaction to Hegelian philosophy developed. Hegel himself had been a supporter of progressive but non-revolutionary politics, but his followers divided into factions broadly groupable as those of the left, right, and center (Toews 1985); from the left, Karl Marx was to develop his own purported scientific approach to society and history which appropriated many Hegelian ideas into a materialistic outlook. (Later, especially in reaction to orthodox Soviet versions of Marxism, many so-called Western Marxists re-incorporated further Hegelian elements back into their forms of Marxist philosophy.) Many of Schelling’s own criticisms of Hegel’s rationalism found their way into subsequent existentialist thought, especially via the writings of Kierkegaard, who had attended Schelling’s lectures. Furthermore, the interpretation Schelling offered of Hegel during these years itself helped to shape subsequent generations’ understanding of Hegel, contributing to the orthodox or traditional understanding of Hegel as a metaphysical thinker in the pre-Kantian dogmatic sense.
In academic philosophy, Hegelian idealism had seemed to collapse dramatically after 1848 and the failure of the revolutionary movements of that year but underwent a revival in both Great Britain and the United States in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In Britain, where philosophers such as T.H. Green and F.H. Bradley had developed metaphysical ideas which they related back to Hegel’s thought, Hegel came to be one of the main targets of attack by the founders of the emerging “analytic” movement, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. For Russell, the revolutionary innovations in logic starting in the last decades of the nineteenth century with the work of Frege and Peano had destroyed Hegel’s metaphysics by overturning the Aristotelian logic on which, so Russell claimed, it was based, and in line with this dismissal, Hegel came to be seen within the analytic movement as a historical figure of little genuine philosophical interest. To some degree, analogous things could be said of Hegel’s reception from within the twentieth-century phenomenological tradition that developed in continental Europe, but although marginalized within such core areas of mainstream academic philosophy, Hegel nevertheless continued to be a figure of interest within other philosophical movements such as existentialism and Marxism. In France, a version of Hegelianism came to influence a generation of thinkers, including Jean Hyppolite, Jean-Paul Sartre, and the psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, largely through the lectures of Alexandre Kojève. However, a later generation of French philosophers coming to prominence in the 1960s tended to react against Hegel in ways analogous to those in which early analytic philosophers had reacted against the Hegel who had influenced their predecessors. In Germany, having lapsed in the second half of the nineteenth century, interest in Hegel was revived at the turn of the twentieth with the historical work of Wilhelm Dilthey, and important Hegelian elements were incorporated within the approaches of thinkers of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno, and later, Jürgen Habermas, as well as within the Heidegger-influenced hermeneutic approach of H.-G. Gadamer. In Hungary, similar Hegelian themes were developed by Georg Lukács and later thinkers of the Budapest School. In the 1960s the German philosopher Klaus Hartmann developed what was termed a non-metaphysical interpretation of Hegel which, together with the work of Dieter Henrich and others, played an important role in the revival of interest in Hegel in academic philosophy in the second half of the century. Within English-speaking philosophy, the final quarter of the twentieth century saw something of a revival of serious interest in Hegel’s philosophy with important works appearing such as those by H.S. Harris, Charles Taylor, Robert Pippin, and Terry Pinkard in North America, and Stephen Houlgate and Robert Stern in Great Britain. By the close of the twentieth century, even within core logico-metaphysical areas of analytic philosophy, a number of individuals such as Robert Brandom and John McDowell had started to take Hegel seriously as a significant modern philosopher, although generally within analytic circles a favorable reassessment of Hegel has still a long way to go.
Hegel’s own pithy account of the nature of philosophy given in the Preface to his Elements of the Philosophy of Right captures a characteristic tension in his philosophical approach and, in particular, in his approach to the nature and limits of human cognition. “Philosophy”, he says there, “is its own time comprehended in thoughts” (PR: 21).
On the one hand, we can clearly see in the phrase “its own time” the suggestion of a historical or cultural conditionedness and variability which applies even to the highest form of human cognition, philosophy itself. The contents of philosophical knowledge, we might suspect, will come from the historically changing contents of its cultural context. On the other, there is the hint of such contents being raised to some higher level, presumably higher than other levels of cognitive functioning such as those based in everyday perceptual experience, for example, or those characteristics of other areas of culture such as art and religion. This higher level takes the form of conceptually articulated thought, a type of cognition commonly taken as capable of having purportedly eternal contents (think of Plato and Frege, for example, who both have the truths of mathematics in mind). In line with such a conception, Hegel sometimes referred to the task of philosophy as that of recognizing the concept (Der Begriff) in the mere representations (Vorstellungen) of everyday life.
This antithetical combination within human cognition of the temporally-conditioned and the eternal, a combination which reflects a broader conception of the human being as what Hegel describes elsewhere as a “finite-infinite”, (SL: 114) has led to Hegel being regarded in different ways by different types of philosophical readers. For example, a historically-minded pragmatist like Richard Rorty, distrustful of all claims or aspirations to the so-called God’s-eye view, could praise Hegel as a philosopher who had introduced this historically reflective dimension into philosophy (and set it on the characteristically romantic path which has predominated in modern continental philosophy) but who had unfortunately still remained bogged down in the remnants of the Platonistic idea of the search for ahistorical truths (Rorty 1982). Those adopting such an approach to Hegel tend to have in mind the (relatively) young author of the Phenomenology of Spirit and have tended to dismiss as “metaphysical” later and more systematic works like the Science of Logic. In contrast, the British Hegelian movement at the end of the nineteenth century tended to ignore the Phenomenology and the more historicist dimensions of his thought and found in Hegel a systematic metaphysician whose Logic provided the basis for a definitive philosophical ontology. This latter traditional metaphysical view of Hegel dominated Hegel reception for most of the twentieth century, but from the 1980s came to be challenged by scholars who offered an alternative non-metaphysical, post-Kantian view. By “non-metaphysical” these thinkers had in mind metaphysics in the sense that Kant had been critical of, a point sometimes missed by critics. But in turn, this post-Kantian reading has been challenged by a revised metaphysical view, critical of the purported over-assimilation of Hegel to Kant by the post-Kantians. In the revised metaphysical view, the appeal is often made to Aristotelian or Spinozist conceptual realist features of Hegel’s thought, as well as to features of recent analytic metaphysics.
Before surveying these competing views, however, something needs to be said about the confusing term “idealism”, and about the variety of idealism that is characteristic of Hegel and other German idealists.
“Idealism” is a term that had been used sporadically by Leibniz and his followers to refer to a type of philosophy that was opposed to materialism. Thus, for example, Leibniz had contrasted Plato as an idealist with Epicurus as a materialist. The opposition to materialism here, together with the fact that in the English-speaking world the Irish philosopher and clergyman George Berkeley (1685–1753) is often taken as a prototypical idealist, has given rise to the assumption that idealism is necessarily an immaterialist doctrine. This assumption, however, is mistaken. With the possible exception of Leibniz, the idealism of the Germans was not committed to the type of doctrine found in Berkeley according to which immaterial minds, both infinite (God’s) and finite (those of humans), were the ultimately real entities, with apparently material things to be understood as reducible to states of such minds—that is, to ideas in the sense meant by the British empiricists.
As Leibniz’s use of Plato to exemplify idealism suggests, idealists in the German tradition tended to hold to the reality or objectivity of ideas in the Platonic sense, and for Plato, it would seem, such ideas were not conceived as in any mind at all—not even the mind of Plato’s god. The type of pictures found in Berkeley was only to be found in certain late antique Platonists and, especially, early Christian Platonists like Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. But especially for the German idealists like Hegel, Plato’s philosophy was understood through the lenses of more Aristotelian varieties of neo-Platonism, which pictured the thoughts of a divine mind as immanent in matter, and not as contained in some purely immaterial or spiritual mind. It thus had features closer to the more pantheistic picture of divine thought found in Spinoza, for example, for whom matter and mind were attributes of the one substance.
Even for Leibniz, whose later malacological metaphysics was perhaps closer to Berkeley’s immaterialist philosophy, an opposition to materialism didn’t necessarily imply immaterialism. Leibniz had resisted Descartes’ postulation of distinct spiritual and material substances, treating corporeal bodies as inseparable combinations of form and matter after the manner of Aristotle. The materialists to which he was opposed (mechanistic corpuscularists of his time) conceived of unformed matter as a type of self-subsistent substance, and it seems to have been that conception to which he was opposed, at least in some periods of his work, not the reality of matter per se. Leibniz’s combination of Platonic and Aristotelian notions played a role in the thought of the later idealists, giving their opposition to materialism its distinctive character. These anti-immaterialist features of the idealism of the Germans became more prominent in the post-Kantian period as the moved progressively away from the more subjectivistic features of Leibniz’s thought (Beiser 2002).
Given the understanding of Hegel that predominated at the time of the birth of analytic philosophy, together with the fact that early analytic philosophers were rebelling precisely against Hegelianism so understood, the interpretation of Hegel encountered in discussions within analytic philosophy is often that of the late nineteenth-century interpretation. In this picture, Hegel is seen as offering a metaphysical-religious view of God qua Absolute Spirit, as the ultimate reality that we can come to know through pure thought processes alone. In short, Hegel’s philosophy is treated as exemplifying the type of pre-critical or dogmatic metaphysics against which Kant had reacted in his Critique of Pure Reason, and as a return to a more religiously driven conception of philosophy to which Kant had been opposed.
There is much that can be found in Hegel’s writings that seem to support this view. In his lectures during his Berlin period, one comes across claims such as the one that philosophy “has no other object but God and so is essentially rational theology” (Aes I: 101). Indeed, Hegel often seems to invoke imagery consistent with the types of neo-Platonic conceptions of the universe that had been common within Christian mysticism, especially in the German states, in the early modern period. The peculiarity of Hegel’s form of idealism, on this account, lies in his idea that the mind of God becomes actual only via its particularization in the minds of “his” finite material creatures. Thus, in our consciousness of God, we somehow serve to realize his own self-consciousness, and, thereby, his own perfection. In English-language interpretations, such a picture is effectively found in the work of Charles Taylor (1975) and Michael Rosen (1984), for example. With its dark mystical roots, and its overtly religious content, it is hardly surprising that the philosophy of Hegel so understood has rarely been regarded as a live option within the largely secular and scientific conceptions of philosophy that have been dominant in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
An important consequence of Hegel’s metaphysics, so understood, concerns the history and the idea of historical development or progress, and it is as an advocate of an idea concerning the logically-necessitated teleological course of history that Hegel is most often derided. To critics, such as Karl Popper in his popular post-war The Open Society and its Enemies (1945), Hegel had not only advocated a disastrous political conception of the state and the relation of its citizens to it, a conception prefiguring twentieth-century totalitarianism, but he had also tried to underpin such advocacy with dubious the-logico-metaphysical speculations. With his idea of the development of spirit in history, Hegel is seen as literalizing a way of talking about different cultures in terms of their spirits, of constructing a developmental sequence of epochs typical of nineteenth-century ideas of linear historical progress and then enveloping this story of human progress in terms of one about the developing self-conscious of the cosmos-God itself.
As the bottom line of such an account concerned the evolution of states of a mind (God’s), such an account is clearly an idealist one, but not in the sense, say, of Berkeley. The pantheistic legacy inherited by Hegel meant that he had no problem in considering an objective outer world beyond any particular subjective mind. But this objective world itself had to be understood as conceptually informed: it was an objectified spirit. Thus in contrast to Berkeleian’s subjective idealism, it became common to talk of Hegel as incorporating the objective idealism of views, especially common among German historians, in which social life and thought were understood in terms of the conceptual or spiritual structures that informed them. But in contrast to both forms of idealism, Hegel, according to this reading, postulated a form of absolute idealism by including both subjective life and the objective cultural practices on which subjective life depended on the dynamics of the development of the self-consciousness and self-actualization of God, the Absolute Spirit.
Despite this seemingly dominant theological theme, Hegel was still seen by many as an important precursor of other more characteristically secular strands of modern thought such as existentialism and Marxist materialism. Existentialists were thought of as taking the idea of the finitude and historical and cultural dependence of individual subjects from Hegel, and as leaving out all pretensions to the Absolute, while Marxists were thought of as taking the historical dynamics of the Hegelian picture but reinterpreting this in materialist rather than idealist categories. As for understanding Hegel himself, the traditional metaphysical view remained the dominant interpretative approach of Hegel scholars throughout much of the twentieth century. In the last quarter of the century, however, it came to be vigorously questioned, with a variety of interpreters putting forward very different accounts of the basic nature of Hegel’s philosophical project. While a number of interpretations of Hegel have emerged during this period in an effort to acquit him of implausible metaphysical-theological views, one prominent tendency has been to stress the continuity of his ideas with the “critical philosophy” of Immanuel Kant.
Least controversially, it is often claimed that either particular works, such as the Phenomenology of Spirit, or particular areas of Hegel’s philosophy, especially his ethical and political philosophy, can be understood as standing independently of the type of unacceptable metaphysical system sketched above. Thus it is commonly asserted that implicit within the metaphysical Hegel is an anti-metaphysical philosopher struggling to get out—one potentially capable of beating the critical Kant at his own game.
More controversially, one now finds it argued that the traditional picture is simply wrong at a more general level and that Hegel, even in his systematic thought, was not committed to the bizarre, teleological spirit monism that has been traditionally attributed to him because he was free of the type of traditional metaphysical commitments that had been criticized by Kant. Prominent among such interpretations has been the so-called post-Kantian interpretation advanced by North American Hegel scholars Robert Pippin (1989, 2008, 2019) and Terry Pinkard (1994, 2000, 2012). From an explicitly analytic perspective, broadly similar views have been put forward by Robert Brandom (2002, 2014, 2019) and John McDowell (2006, 2018). Thus while the traditional view sees Hegel as exemplifying the very type of metaphysical speculation that Kant successfully criticized, the post-Kantian view regards him as both accepting and extending Kant’s critique, ultimately turning it against the residual dogmatically metaphysical aspects of Kant’s own philosophy.
In Hegel, the non-traditionalists argue, one can see the ambition to bring together the universalist dimensions of Kant’s transcendental program with the culturally contextualist conceptions of his more historically and relativistically-minded contemporaries, resulting in his controversial conception of spirit, as developed in his Phenomenology of Spirit. With this notion, it is claimed, Hegel was essentially attempting to answer the Kantian question of the conditions of rational human mindedness, rather than being concerned with giving an account of the developing self-consciousness of God. But while Kant had limited such conditions to formal abstractly conceived structures of the mind, Hegel extended them to include aspects of historically and socially determined forms of embodied human existence.
Not surprisingly, the strong post-Kantian interpretation of Hegel has been resisted by defenders of the more traditional approach, who have argued against the plausibility of attempting to rehabilitate Hegel’s philosophy by divesting it of any purportedly unacceptable metaphysical claims (see, for example, Beiser 2005 and Horstmann 2006). Proponents of the post-Kantian view, it is commonly said, are guilty of projecting onto Hegel views they would like to find there rather than what is actually to be found. However, the strong post-Kantian interpretation has also been challenged by a somewhat different version of the metaphysical reading by interpreters who, while recognizing the influence of Kant’s critical philosophy of Hegel, emphasize Hegel’s critique of Kant and affirm the irreducible role played by a form of metaphysics in Hegel’s philosophy. Nevertheless, they share the post-Kantians’ attempts to separate Hegel’s views from the extravagant views traditionally ascribed to him and generally argue for the broad acceptability of Hegel’s views from the perspective of the present. Here one tends to find interpreters attributing to Hegel some type of conceptual realism, sometimes appealing to contemporary analytic metaphysics for the legitimacy of metaphysics conceived as an inquiry into the fundamental features or structures of the world itself. Among the interpreters advancing something like this revised metaphysical view might be counted Stephen Houlgate (2005b), Robert Stern (2002, 2009), Kenneth Westphal (2003), James Kreines (2006, 2008), and Christopher Yeomans (2012).
On a number of points, the proponents of the revised conceptual realist metaphysical interpretation will agree with advocates of the post-Kantian non-metaphysical approach. First, they tend to agree in dismissing much of the extravagant metaphysics traditionally ascribed to Hegel. Generally, they don’t find in Hegel the type of classical teleological spirit monism central to, say, Taylor’s interpretation. Next, they stress the importance for Hegel of Kant’s critique of metaphysics. Both think that Hegel took Kant’s critique seriously, and in turn subjected that critique itself to a telling meta-critique, showing that Kant himself was not free from the sorts of ungrounded metaphysical assumptions he criticized in others. However, while the post-Kantians interpret Hegel’s criticisms of Kant as suggesting that Hegel thereby realized or completed Kant’s critical intention, creating a form of philosophizing purged of metaphysics, proponents of the revised metaphysical interpretation typically see his criticism of Kant as involving a rejection of Kant’s anti-metaphysical attitude, and as reestablishing, on a new basis, a metaphysical program originally derived from Aristotle (e.g., Stern) or Spinoza (e.g., Houlgate).
While it is for the most part clear what sets both post-Kantians and conceptual realists against the traditional view, it is still not clear which issues dividing them are substantive and which are ultimately verbal. Brandom, for example, while often classed with the post-Kantians, also construes Hegel as a conceptual realist (Brandom 2019), while Redding, appealing to the earlier work of J. N. Findlay, attempts to combine the post-Kantian approach with what he calls an actualist rather than a realist interpretation of Hegel (Redding 2017). In recent work, both Pippin (2019) and Pinkard (2014), the major representatives of the post-Kantian position, have insisted that their own interpretations are compatible with many of the Aristotelian features of Hegel to which conceptual realists allude.
In relation to such debates, it must be remembered that Kant himself was not critical of metaphysics per se. His claim was that existing (so-called dogmatic) metaphysics was in a state analogous to that in which, say, physics had been in before the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Rather than wanting to eliminate metaphysics, after the style, say, of Hume or the modern logical positivists, Kant had wanted to put metaphysics itself on a secure scientific basis analogous to what Galileo and Newton had achieved for physics. Thus the very idea of a Hegelian metaphysics is in no way straightforwardly incompatible with the project of a post-Kantian completion of Kant’s critical program.
We may think of there being five different types of work that makeup Hegel’s published corpus. First, there are Hegel’s two major stand-alone books written for publication already mentioned—Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and Science of Logic (1812–18). In the next category are works that were published at the time as handbooks for use in student teaching such as the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences first published in 1817 while he was teaching at Heidelberg and subsequently revised and republished in 1827 and again in 1830, and Elements of the Philosophy of Right, effectively an expansion of a section of the Encyclopaedia and published in 1820 after his move to Berlin. (Transcripts of his earlier lectures on this topic delivered in Heidelberg have also since been published.) Along with the Encyclopaedia and the Philosophy of Right might be added similar teaching-related writings from the Jena period, prepared as lectures but only published as such much later. The third major category is formed by posthumously published lecture courses from his time at the University of Berlin, which, after Hegel’s death, were assembled by editors from his lecture notes and from student transcripts of the lectures as delivered—these include his lectures on the Philosophy of Nature, Philosophy of Spirit, Philosophy of History, Aesthetics, Philosophy of Religion, and History of Philosophy. Next might be considered various miscellaneous essays and short works published during his career, and finally, we can count Hegel’s early works, written in the period between his student years at Tübingen and his move to Jena, and predominantly on religious and political themes (ETW). Here we will restrict the discussion to the first three categories.
The term “phenomenology” had been coined by the Swiss mathematician (and Kant correspondent) J.H. Lambert (1728–1777) in his The New Organon of 1764, and in a letter to Lambert, sent to accompany a copy of his Inaugural Dissertation (1770), Kant had proposed his own project of a “general phenomenology” as a necessary propaedeutic presupposed by the science of metaphysics. Such a phenomenology was meant to determine the “validity and limitations” of what he called the “principles of sensibility”, principles he had (he thought) shown in the accompanying work to be importantly different to those of conceptual thought. The term clearly suited Kant as he had distinguished the phenomena known through the faculty of sensibility from the noumena known purely conceptually. This envisioned phenomenology seems to coincide roughly with what he was to eventually describe as a critique of pure reason, although Kant’s thought had gone through important changes by the time that he came to publish the work of that name (1781, second edition 1787). Perhaps because of this he never again used the term “phenomenology” for quite this purpose.
There is clearly some continuity between Kant’s notion and Hegel’s project. In a sense, Hegel’s phenomenology is a study of phenomena (although this is not a realm he would contrast with that of noumena) and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is likewise to be regarded as a type of propaedeutic to philosophy rather than an exercise in or work of philosophy. It is meant to function as induction or education of the reader to the standpoint of purely conceptual thought from which philosophy can be done. As such, its structure has been compared to that of a Bildungsroman (educational novel), having an abstractly conceived protagonist—the bearer of an evolving series of so-called shapes of consciousness or the inhabitant of a series of successive phenomenal worlds—whose progress and set-backs the reader follows and learns from. Or at least this is how the work sets out: in the later sections the earlier series of shapes of consciousness becomes replaced with what seems more like configurations of human social life, and the work comes to look more like an account of interlinked forms of social existence and thought within which participants in such forms of social life conceive of themselves and the world. Hegel constructs a series of such shapes that maps onto the history of western European civilization from the Greeks to his own time.
The fact that this progression ends in the attainment of what Hegel refers to as Absolute Knowing, the standpoint from which real philosophy gets done, seems to support the traditionalist reading in which a triumphalist narrative of the growth of western civilization is combined with the theological interpretation of God’s self-manifestation and self-comprehension. When Kant had broached the idea of a phenomenological propaedeutic to Lambert, he himself had still believed in the project of a purely conceptual metaphysics achievable by the use of the regressive or analytic method, but this project conceived as an exercise in theoretical reason was just what Kant in his later critical philosophy had come to disavow. Traditional readers of Hegel thus see the Phenomenology’s telos as attesting to Hegel’s pre-Kantian (that is, pre-critical) outlook, and his embrace of the metaphysical project that Kant famously came to dismiss as illusory. Supporters of the post-Kantian interpretation of Hegel obviously interpret this work and its telos differently. For example, it has been argued (e.g., Pinkard 1994) that what this history track is the development of a type of social existence which enables a unique form of rationality, in that in such a society all dogmatic bases of thought have been gradually replaced by a system in which all claims become open to rational self-correction, by becoming exposed to demands for conceptually-articulated justifications. As Pinkard had pointed out in that work, this was a conception of the normatively structured practices of human reason found in the American pragmatist Wilfrid Sellars, the inspiration behind the Hegelian dimensions of analytic philosophers such as Willem deVries (1988), Robert Brandom, and John McDowell.
Something of Hegel’s phenomenological method may be conveyed by the first few chapters, which are perhaps among its more conventionally philosophical parts (Westphal 2009). Chapters 1 to 3 effectively follow a developmental series of distinct shapes of consciousness—jointly epistemological and ontological attitudes articulated by criteria which are, regarded from one direction, criteria for certain knowledge, and from the other, criteria for the nature of the objects of such knowledge. In chapter 1, the attitude of Sense-certainty takes immediately given perceptual simples—the sort of role played by the so-called sense-data of early twentieth-century analytic epistemology, for example, with which a subject is purportedly acquainted as bare thises—as the fundamental objects known. By following this form of consciousness’s attempts to make these implicit criteria explicit, we are meant to appreciate that any such contents, even the apparently most immediate ones, are in fact grasped conceptually, and so, in Hegel’s terminology, their reception is actually mediated by the concepts with which they are grasped. Hegel is clear that these contents are not merely qualitative simples that are immediately apprehended, but comprehended instances of the conceptual determination of singularity [Einzelheit] (Phen: §91). Such a simple this, then, can also be understood as an instance of what the Medievals discussed as thisness—a general property of an individual thing’s being identical to itself. One might compare Hegel’s point here to that expressed by Kant in his well-known claim from Critique of Pure Reason (A51/B75), that without general concepts, intuitions (singular [einzeln] purportedly immediate mental representations), are blind. However, Hegel seems to want to make this point without relying on Kant’s formal distinction between concepts and intuitions as different species of representation. The idea seems to be that for Hegel, the same content can play the roles played by both concepts and intuitions in Kant. (The lessons of this chapter have sometimes been likened to those of Wilfrid Sellars’s famous criticism of the empiricist myth of the given.)
By the end of this chapter our protagonist consciousness (and by implication, we the audience to this drama) has learned that the nature of consciousness cannot be as originally thought: rather than being immediate and singular, its contents must have some implicit universal (conceptual) aspect to them. The general truth that was learned about the apparent qualitative simples in Sense-certainty (that they were instances of generals) is now explicitly taken as the truth of the object of Perception (Wahrnehmung—in German this term having the connotations of taking (nehmen) to be true (wahr)). In contrast to the purported single object of Sense-certainty, the object of Perception is taken as instantiating general properties: it is “a thing with many properties” (Phen: §112). But this can be conceived in a variety of ways: first, as a simple bundle of indifferent qualities (a picture associated with Plato), or as an underlying substrate in which these qualities somehow inhere (a picture associated with Aristotle). Predictably, problems will be revealed in these various different ways of thinking about the nature of those everyday objects of our experience.
As in the case of Sense-certainty, here in the case of Perception, by following the protagonist consciousness’s efforts to make this implicit criterion explicit, we see how the criterion generates contradictions that eventually undermine it as a criterion for certainty. In fact, such collapse into a type of self-generated skepticism is typical of all the shapes we follow in the work, and there seems something inherently skeptical about such reflexive cognitive processes. But this is not the type of skepticism that is typical of early modern philosophy, such as that used by Descartes in his attempt to find some foundation of indubitability on which genuine knowledge can be built (Forster 1989). As is clear from his treatment of ancient philosophy in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy, Hegel was attracted to the type of dialectic employed by Socrates in his efforts to get his interlocutors thinking about something beyond that given immediately in sensation (LHP II: 51), and implicit in the ancient form of skepticism that had been employed after Socrates (LHP II: 344). For Hegel, the ancient skeptics captured the skeptical moment of thought that is the means by which thought progresses beyond the particular categories that have given rise to contradictions. Just as in the way a new shape of thought, Perception, had been generated from the internal contradictions that emerged within Sense-certainty, the collapse of any given attitude will be accompanied by the emergence of some new implicit criterion that will be the basis of a new emergent attitude. In the case of Perception, the emergent new shape of consciousness, the Understanding, explored in Chapter 3, is a shape identified with the type of scientific cognition that, rather than remaining on the level of the perceived object, posits underlying forces involved in the production of the perceptual episode.
The transition from Chapter 3 to Chapter 4, The Truth of Self-Certainty, also marks a more general transition from Consciousness to Self-consciousness. It is in the course of Chapter 4 that we find what is perhaps the most well-known part of the Phenomenology, the account of the struggle of recognition in which Hegel examines the inter-subjective conditions which he sees as necessary for any form of consciousness. This is a topic that had first been taken up by Alexandre Kojève (1969), and which has been appealed to in non-Kojèvean ways recently by a number of non-traditional interpreters in order to give quite different accounts of Hegel’s notion of Spirit (Honneth 1995; Ikäheimo and Laitinen 2011; Pippin 2008; Williams 1992, 1997).
Like Kant, Hegel thinks that one’s capacity to be conscious of some external object as something distinct from oneself requires the reflexivity of self-consciousness, that is, it requires one’s awareness of oneself as a subject for whom something distinct, the object, is presented as known (a result emerging in Chapter 3). Hegel goes beyond Kant, however, and expanding on an idea found in Fichte, makes this requirement dependent on one’s recognition (or acknowledgment—Anerkennung) of other self-conscious subjects as self-conscious subjects for whom any object of consciousness will be thought as also existing. One’s self-consciousness, in fact, will be dependent on one’s recognition of those others as similarly recognizing oneself as a self-conscious subject. Such complex patterns of mutual recognition constituting objective spirit thereby provide the social matrix within which individual self-consciousnesses can exist as such. It is in this way that the Phenomenology can change course, the earlier tracking of shapes of individual consciousness and self-consciousness effectively coming to be replaced by the tracking of distinct patterns of mutual recognition between subjects—shapes of spirit—that forms the ground for the existence of those individual consciousnesses/self-consciousnesses.
It is thus that Hegel has effected the transition from a phenomenology of the individual’s subjective mind to one of objective spirit, thought of as culturally distinct objective patterns of social interaction to be analyzed in terms of the patterns of reciprocal recognition they embody. (“Geist” can be translated as either “mind” or “spirit”, but the latter, allowing a more cultural sense, as in the phrase “spirit of the age” (“Zeitgeist”), seems a more suitable rendering for the title.) But this is only worked out in the text gradually. We—the reading or so-called phenomenological we—can see how particular shapes of self-consciousness, such as that of the other-worldly religious self-consciousness (Unhappy Consciousness) with which Chapter 4 ends, depending on certain institutionalized forms of mutual recognition, in this case, one involving a priest who mediates between the self-conscious subject and that subject’s God. But we are seeing this “from the outside”, as it were: we still have to learn how actual self-consciousnesses could learn this of themselves. So we have to see how the protagonist’s self-consciousness could achieve this insight. It is to this end that we further trace the learning path of self-consciousness through the processes of the reason (in Chapter 5) before the objective spirit can become the explicit subject matter of Chapter 6 (Spirit).
Hegel’s discussion of spirit starts from what he calls Sittlichkeit (translated as “ethical order” or “ethical substance”—“Sittlichkeit” being a nominalization from the adjectival (or adverbial) form “stitch”, “customary”, from the stem “Sitte”, “custom” or “convention”.) Thus Hegel might be seen as adopting the viewpoint that since social life is ordered by customs we can approach the lives of those living in it in terms of the patterns of those customs or conventions themselves—the conventional practices, as it were, constituting specific, shareable forms of life made actual in the lives of particular individuals who had, in turn, internalized such general patterns in the process of acculturation. It is not surprising then that his account of spirit here starts with a discussion of religious and civic law. Undoubtedly it is Hegel’s tendency to nominalize such abstract concepts in his attempt to capture the concrete nature of such patterns of conventional life, together with the tendency to then personify them (as in talking about spirit becoming self-conscious) that lends plausibility to the traditionalist understanding of Hegel. But for non-traditionalists, it is not obvious that Hegel, in employing such phrases, is in any way committed to any metaphysical supra-individual conscious being or beings. To take an example, in the second section of the chapter on the spirit, Hegel discusses human culture as the “world of self-alienated spirit”. The idea seems to be that humans in society not only interact, but that they collectively create relatively enduring cultural products (repeatable stories, stageable dramas, and so forth) within which members of that society can recognize patterns of their own communal life as so reflected. We might find intelligible the metaphor that such products “hold up a mirror to society” within which “the society can regard itself”, without thinking we are thereby committed to some supra-individual unitary mind achieving self-consciousness. Furthermore, such cultural products themselves provide conditions allowing individuals to adopt particular cognitive attitudes by appropriating their resources. Thus, for example, the capacity to adopt the type of objective viewpoint demanded by Kantian morality (discussed in the final section of Spirit)—the capacity to see things, as it were, from a detached or universal point of view—might be enabled by engaging with spirit’s “alienations” such as the myths and rituals of a religion professing a universal scope.
We might think that if Kant had written Hegel’s Phenomenology he would have ended it in Chapter 6 with the modern moral subject as the telos of the story. For Kant, the practical knowledge of morality, orienting one within the noumenal world, exceeds the scope of theoretical knowledge, which had been limited to phenomena. Hegel, however, thought that philosophy had to unify theoretical and practical knowledge, and so the Phenomenology has further to go. Again, this is seen differently by traditionalists and revisionists. For traditionalists, Chapters 7, Religion and 8, Absolute Knowing, testify to Hegel’s disregard for Kant’s critical limitation of theoretical knowledge to empirical experience. Revisionists, on the other hand, tend to see Hegel as furthering the Kantian critique into the very coherence of a conception of an in-itself reality that is beyond the limits of our theoretical (but not practical) cognition. Rather than understand absolute knowing as the achievement of some ultimate God’s-eye view of everything, the philosophical analog to the connection with God sought in religion, post-Kantian revisionists see it as the accession to a mode of self-critical thought that has finally abandoned all non-questionable mythical givens, and which will only countenance reason-giving argument as justification. However we understand this, absolute knowledge is the standpoint to which Hegel has hoped to bring the reader in this complex work. This is the standpoint of science, the standpoint from which philosophy proper commences, and it commences in Hegel’s next book, the Science of Logic.
Hegel’s Science of Logic is divided into three books, dealing with the topics of being, essence, and the concept, which appeared in 1812, 1813, and 1816 respectively. For most of the 20th century, it was not received with the enthusiasm that often marked the reception of the Phenomenology of Spirit. First, as a work of logic, most have regarded it as radically outdated and relying on an Aristotelian approach that was definitively surpassed in the later nineteenth century—a view promoted especially by Bertrand Russell in the early years of the twentieth. Thus many readers sympathetic to particular doctrines in Hegel have attempted, contrary to Hegel’s insistence, to quarantine his philosophical approach to particular areas from it. Recently, this skepticism has started to change.
Some advocate that the Science of Logic is read as a first-order ontological doctrine (Doz 1987) or as a category theory that simultaneously represents structures of being and thought (Houlgate 2005b), and so as having very little to do with what has traditionally been known as logic. Others argue that in contrast to the project of formal (or general) logic, it is best understood as a version of what Kant had called “transcendental logic” (di Giovanni 2010). In this sense, it should thereby be thought of as a successor to Kant’s “transcendental deduction of the categories” in the Critique of Pure Reason in which Kant attempted to derive a list of those non-empirical concepts, the categories, which he believed to be presupposed by all empirical judgments made by finite, discursive knowers like ourselves. In short, taking the logic as a category theory opens up two general lines of interpretation: should the categories be understood as primarily ontological categories, as found in Aristotle, or as primary categories revealing the necessary structure of thought, as in Kant? Those, such as the advocates of the revised metaphysical interpretation, interpreting Hegel as basically a metaphysician, typically stress the former, while post-Kantian interpreters typically stress the latter.
A glance at the table of contents of Science of Logic reveals the same triadic structuring among the categories or thought determinations discussed that has been noted among the shapes of consciousness in the Phenomenology. At the highest level of its branching structure there are the three books devoted to the doctrines of being, essence, and concept, while in turn, each book has three sections, each section containing three chapters, and so on. In general, each of these individual nodes deals with some particular category. In fact, Hegel’s categorial triads appear to repeat Kant’s own triadic way of articulating the categories in the Table of Categories (Critique of Pure Reason A80/B106) in which the third term in the triad in some way integrates the first two. (In Hegel’s terminology, he would say that the first two were sublated [aufgehoben] in the third—while the first two are negated by the third, they continue to work within the context defined by it.) Hegel’s later treatment of the syllogism found in Book 3, in which he follows Aristotle’s own three-termed schematism of the syllogistic structure, repeats this triadic structure as does his ultimate analysis of its component concepts as the moments of universality, particularity, and singularity.
Reading into the first chapter of Book 1, Being, it is quickly seen that the transitions of the Logic broadly repeat those of the first chapters of the Phenomenology, now, however, as between the categories themselves rather than between conceptions of the respective objects of conscious experience. Thus, being is the thought determination with which the work commences because it at first seems to be the most immediate, fundamental determination that characterizes any possible thought content at all. (In contrast, being in the Phenomenology’s Sense-certainty chapter was described as the known truth of the purported immediate sensory given—the category that it was discovered to instantiate.) Whatever thought is about, that topic must in some sense exist. Like those purported simple sensory givens with which the Phenomenology starts, the category being looks to have no internal structure or constituents, but again in a parallel to the Phenomenology, it is the effort of thought to make this category explicit that both undermines it and brings about new ones. Being seems to be both immediate and simple, but it will show itself to be, in fact, only something in opposition to something else, nothing. The point seems to be that while the categories being and nothing seem both absolutely distinct and opposed, on reflection (and following Leibniz’s principle of the identity of indiscernibles) they appear identical as no criterion can be invoked which differentiates them. The only way out of this paradox is to posit a third category within which they can coexist as negated (Aufgehoben) moments. This category is becoming, which saves thinking from paralysis because it accommodates both concepts. Becoming contains being and nothing in the sense that when something becomes it passes, as it were, from nothingness to being. But these contents cannot be understood apart from their contributions to the overarching category: this is what it is to be negated (aufgehoben) within the new category.
In general, this is how the Logic proceeds: seeking its most basic and universal determination, thought posits a category to be reflected upon, finds then that this collapses due to a contradiction generated, like that generated by the category being, and so then seeks a further category with which to make retrospective senses of those contradictory categories. However, in turn, the new category will generate some further contradictory negation and again the demand will arise for a further concept that can reconcile these opposed concepts by incorporating them as moments.
The method Hegel employs here, determinate negation, is often compared with Spinoza’s principle that “all determination is negation”, but while Hegel’s is related to Spinoza’s thought, it cannot be identified with or reduced to it. Spinoza’s top-down determination starts with a single category (in his case, divine substance) that is then progressively divided by the application of concepts—the model being Plato’s method of division in which a genus concept is divided into particular species by the presence or absence of some differentiating property. From Hegel’s point of view, however, this cannot capture individuals as other than parts of that greater whole—a metaphysical picture in relation to Spinoza he refers to as acosmism. So Hegel will balance this type of determination by negation, with a different type of negation modeled on that which holds between incompatible properties of some object (for example, red and blue as incompatible colors) and that is reflected in the term negation of Aristotle’s logic. This allows Hegel to go beyond the determination of something as particular (suggesting the part-whole relation) to a more robust sense of singularity [Einzelheit]—the sense of the pure thisness seen initially in the Phenomenology’s Sense-certainty chapter, the truth of which was then shown to be Aristotle’s idea of an individual thing’s substantial form in the Perception chapter. It is in terms of this category that we can think, along with Aristotle, of a thing having an underlying substrate within which properties inhere and which, unlike the properties themselves, cannot be thought in general terms, but only in terms of the category of singularity. And yet this will encounter a problem for the determinacy of this underlying substrate—it will have to find determining contrasts that allow it to be determinately conceived. (In Book 2 of the Logic we will learn that the category of singularity will rely on particularity just as particularity has been shown to rely on singularity. Singular substrates or “essences” can only be known in relation to the general properties that constitute their appearances.)
Attempting to unravel the intricacies of the patterns of dependence between such categories will be the task of this mammoth work, but here a general point might be made. If Hegel’s thought here is considered to be, like Spinoza’s, holistic, it is only so at a higher level of abstraction, such that these determinations of singularity, particularity, and universality cannot themselves be understood in isolation from each other but only via their complex interactions. Hegel only explicitly explores the details of the interactions of these determinations of conceptuality in his discussion of judgments and syllogisms in Book 3, The Doctrine of Concept, suggesting that concerns of logic as traditionally conceived are not as irrelevant to the Science of Logic as often thought. However, the general point separating his approach from that of Spinoza clearly emerges earlier on. Determinate negation is not Spinoza’s principle as Spinoza’s presupposes a whole that precedes its parts, and that all negations are negations of something that is primitively positive. In contrast, Hegel’s negations will be negations of determinations that are already to be conceived as themselves negations.
The other basic methodological principle of the Logic will be that this categorical infrastructure of thought is able to be unpacked using only the resources available to thought itself: the capacity of thought to make its contents determinate (in a way somewhat like what Leibniz had thought of as making clear but confused ideas clear and distinct), and it’s capacity to be consistent and avoid contradiction. Again, for some readers, this makes Hegel’s logic akin to Kant’s transcendental logic that, rather than treating the pure form of thought abstracted from all content, treats thought as already possessing a certain type of self-generated content, (in Kant’s terminology, “transcendental content”) that is presupposed by the subsequent acquisition of all empirical content. But if Hegel’s is akin to Kant’s transcendental logic, it has clear differences to it as well. For Kant, transcendental logic was the logic governing the thought of finite thinkers like ourselves, whose cognition was constrained by the necessity of applying general discursive concepts to the singular contents given in sensory intuitions, and he contrasted this with the thought of a type of thinker not so constrained—God—a thinker whose thought could directly grasp the world in a type of intellectual intuition. While opinions divide as to how Hegel’s approach to logic relates to that of Kant, it is important to grasp that for Hegel logic is not simply a science of the form of our thoughts. It is also a science of actual content as well, and as such has an ontological dimension.
The thought determinations of Book 1 lead eventually into those of Book 2, The Doctrine of Essence. Naturally, the logical structures and processes implicit in essence-thinking are more developed than those of being-thinking. Crucially, the contrasting pair essence and appearance of Essence-logic allow the thought of some underlying reality that manifests itself through a different overlying appearance, in the way that the forces posited by the operations of the Understanding (explored in the Phenomenology’s Chapter 3) are grasped through the appearances they explain. In contrast, the categories of Being-logic seem to govern thought processes that are restricted to qualitative phenomena and their co-ordinations. But the distinction between essence and appearance must itself instantiate the relation of determinate negation, and the metaphysical tendency to think of reality as made up of some underlying substrates in contrast to the superficial appearances will itself come to grief with the discovery that the notion of essence is only meaningful in virtue of the appearance that it is meant to explain away. (In terms of the ultimate conceptual categories of singularity, particularity, and universality, this discovery would be equivalent to grasping the idea that the singularity of the underlying, non-perceivable substrate or substantial form is meaningful only in relation to something that can bear the particular qualities that constitutes its worldly appearance.) For Hegel it is the complex modern, but pre-Kantian, versions of substance metaphysics, like those of Spinoza and Leibniz, that bring out in the most developed way the inherently contradictory nature of this form of thought.
Book 3, The Doctrine of Concept, effects a shift from the Objective Logic of Books 1 and 2 to Subjective Logic, and metaphysically coincides with a shift to the modern subject-based category theory of Kant. Just as Kantian philosophy is founded on a conception of objectivity secured by conceptual coherence, Concept-logic commences with the concept of the concept itself, with its moments of singularity, particularity, and universality. While in the two books of objective logic, the movement had been between particular concepts, being, nothing, becoming, etc., in the subjective logic, the conceptual relations are grasped at a meta-level, such that the concept treated in Chapter 1 of section 1 (Subjectivity) passes over into that of judgment in Chapter 2. It is important to grasp the basic contours of Hegel’s treatment of judgment as it informs his subsequent treatment of inference.
Reprising an etymological point made by Hölderlin, Hegel notes that a judgment (Urteil) involves a separation (Teilung) of parts: in basic terms, a predicate is said of some subject giving the judgment the grammatical form “S is P”, but in saying “S is P”, the judging subject affirms the unity existing between the parts. S and P are thus meant (1) to be diverse, but (2) to form a unity—a situation we are now familiar with in terms of the Aufhebung of parts as a whole. Hegel takes this as signaling two ways of thinking of the relation of subject and predicate in the judgment. One can take subject and predicate terms as self-subsistent entities that are joined in the judgment, or one can take the judgment itself as the primary unit that splits into the subject and predicate terms. This in fact coincides with the two different ways in which logical relations have been conceived in the history of philosophy: the former represents the term-logical approach characteristic of Aristotle, while the latter represents the propositional approach characteristic of the Stoics and much recent philosophy. From the former point of view, one thinks of the subject term as designating a substance, typically grasped as an instance of a kind, in which properties, designated by predicate terms, inhere. From the latter point of view, one thinks of predicate terms as abstract universals that subsume or are satisfied by entities to which the subject terms refer, an approach which conceives of the propositional content, in Stoic terminology—the election, the what-is-said—as having primacy over the parts. Using a distinction from the Medievals, we can describe the first type of judgments as de re (about things) and the second as de dicto (about sayings). These alternative joining and splitting approaches can in turn be applied to the relationship of judgments within inferences or syllogisms. While it is more common for inferences to be thought of as composed of judgments which have their own true values, the judgments themselves can be thought of as gaining their meaning via the role they play in inferences, parallel to the way that the parts of the judgment can be thought of as resulting from the judgment’s splitting. Within the recent semantic theory, Robert Brandom has argued for such an inferentialist analysis and has suggested this way of understanding Hegel’s logic (Brandom 2014), a view that fits with Hegel’s idea that the syllogism is the “truth of the judgment” (SL: 593). Thought of in terms of the framework of Kant’s transcendental logic, Hegel’s position would be akin to allowing inferences—syllogisms—a role in the determination of the transcendental content of judgments, a role that is not allowed in Kant.
As we have said, Hegel’s logic is meant somehow to generate content—to produce a type of ontology—and this comes into explicit focus with Hegel’s puzzling claim in Book 3 concerning a syllogism that has become “concrete” and “full of content” that thereby has necessary existence (SL: 616–7). In contrast with Kant, Hegel seems to go beyond a transcendental deduction of the formal conditions of experience and thought and to a deduction of their material conditions. Traditionalists will here point to Hegel’s allusions to the ontological proof (SL: 625) of medieval theology in which the existence of God is seen as necessitated by his concept—an argument undermined by Kant’s criticism of the treatment of existence as a predicate. In Hegel’s version, it is said, the objective existence that God achieves in the world is seen as necessitated by his essential self-consciousness. Non-traditional readings, in contrast, would have to interpret this aspect of Hegel’s logic very differently. Brandom’s inferentialist interpretation of Hegel, when joined to ideas taken from Hegel’s treatment of self-consciousness in the Phenomenology, suggests a way forward here.
The first thing to be emphasized here is that we shouldn’t think of judgments and their contents as something like mental content—subjective or psychological states of a thinker’s mind. Such a psychologistic attitude was opposed by Hegel just as it was opposed by a figure as central to modern logic as Gottlob Frege. For Frege, thoughts are not mental, rather they are abstract entities like numbers, so the problem facing us is not how to go from mental contents to the concrete world, it is how to go from abstract to concrete ones. But here we must keep in mind Hegel’s two-fold way of thinking about judgments, de dicto and de re, and while it is usual to think of the contents of de dicto judgments as abstract (here to think of the content as propositional is usual), some have thought of the contents of de re judgments as including the thing itself (the “re”) that the judgment is about. (In fact, Bertrand Russell had, at points in his career, entertained such an idea of propositional content itself.) Thus when Hegel characterizes some judgment structures (typically perception-based judgments) as judgments of existence one might take the perceived thing itself as straightforwardly part of the content of the judgment. It is a concrete object, but not grasped as a concrete simple, but grasped in relation to what is judged of it in the predicate. And to the extent that judgments can be considered components of syllogisms, we might appreciate how syllogisms might have become contentful in a process that has culminated in the concrete syllogism of necessity.
If the concrete object of a de re judgment is effectively what had been under consideration in Chapter 2, Perception, in the Phenomenology (the thing with properties), we now might envisage where Hegel’s thought is headed in these sections of the subjective logic. In the Phenomenology, it turned out that the capacity for a subject to entertain objects of consciousness such as perceptual ones was that such a subject was capable of self-consciousness. It then turned out that to be capable of self-consciousness the subject had to exist in a world with other embodied subjects whose intentions it could recognize. It is here that we might pick up Robert Brandom’s suggestion, following Sellars, that we should think of the existence of inferential processes or processes of reasoning as presupposing participation within social-communicative interactions in which the making of an assertion is considered as a move in a language-game of the “giving and asking for reasons”. In short, we may think of Hegel’s syllogism of necessity, which constitutes the ground or “truth” of the earlier formal conception of syllogisms, as a type of inter-subjective practice embodying thought—a type of syllogizing practice that is by necessity inter-subjective and recognition. Formally considered we might think of this syllogism as the logical schematization of the most developed form of recognition in which thinkers acknowledge others as free thinkers.
I have suggested that in the syllogism of necessity with which Hegel’s treatment of inference terminates we get a glimpse of a type of contentful and dynamic rational process unfolding in the midst of the recognition and communicative interactions between finite living and intentional beings. What we see here is a reprise of the conception of logos as an objective process running through the world as had been conceived by the ancient Stoics and neo-Platonists. But it is now embedded not simply in the world as such—in nature—but in objectivized spirit, in human communities of thinkers. We are now returned to the domain of objectivity that had characterized Books 1 and 2 of the Science of Logic, but we might expect such a return from subjectivity to have effected a change in objectivity as earlier understood.
To cross straight into a consideration of the objectivity of the human world of action and thought—spirit—would be to break the developmental pattern of the logic because thought about such a complex form of objective existence will presuppose thought about simpler forms. And so the starting point for the consideration of objectivity will again be that of the simple object as something immediately grasped by thought. But this object can now be developed with that elaborate conceptual apparatus that has emerged in the preceding section. The progression here will be from a naïve and immediate concept of an object as a simple self-sufficient thing, a thing with its identity centered on itself, through the more complex idea of an object as grasped from within the interstices of physical and chemical thought, to the models of teleological and living systems. The Logic then transitions into a consideration of the “adequate concept, the objectively true, or the true as such” (SL: 670). This adequate concept is the Idea, which, after tracking through considerations of the living individual and theoretical and practical cognition, emerges as the Absolute Idea.
As we have mentioned, Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences was written as a teaching manual, various parts of which were later expanded upon in lecture courses devoted to specific parts of the system. The first part of the Encyclopaedia is essentially a condensed version of his earlier Science of Logic, considered above. We will pass over consideration of this work to the next component of the Encyclopaedia, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature.
Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature (first published as such in 1842, and based on §§245–376 from the 1830 Encyclopaedia, supplemented by material and student transcripts from Hegel’s Berlin lectures) has often been damned by the contention that Hegel had simply dismissed the activity of the natural sciences, especially Newtonian science, as based upon the inadequacies of the Understanding, and in their place had tried to somehow deduce the natural world from philosophical first principles. Recently, however, defenses of Hegel’s philosophy of science have started to emerge, especially from the side of Hegel’s reformed metaphysical interpreters. Thus, it has been argued by Westphal (2008) for example, that Hegel’s philosophy of nature actually represents a sophisticated attempt to think through epistemological assumptions that are presupposed by the development of Newton’s theory. Defending Hegel’s philosophy of science from a similar point of view, James Kreines (2008) has argued for the relevance of Hegel’s logical categories for the biological sciences of his times. We won’t here attempt to present such arguments, but before any such reassessment of Hegel’s work here could be undertaken, the fundamental criticism raised above of a project that attempts to base a philosophy of nature on his logic rather than the empirical sciences must be addressed. Was not Hegel simply trying to pre-empt the work of empirical scientists by somehow attempting to anticipate the very contents of their discoveries from logical considerations alone?
This objection is often summed up under the slogan of “deducing Krug’s pen”, in that in 1801 the philosopher W.T. Krug had accused Schelling’s idealist philosophy of nature of aiming to deduce the nature of all contingent phenomena, even that of the pen with which he, Krug, was writing his critique. Hegel responded to Krug’s accusation in the following year, claiming that Krug had made the common mistake of conflating the understanding with reason and treating the Absolute as something on the same level as finite things.
Hegel was, at this time, closely aligned with Schelling’s views, and would separate his own views from Schelling’s in subsequent years leading up to the writing of Phenomenology of Spirit. Nevertheless, Hegel clearly thought that his point held regardless of the relation of his own views to Schelling’s as he was to make similar points against Krug in a remark added to the Philosophy of Nature from the Heidelberg and Berlin periods. While logic must not be restricted to the “form” of an externally given “matter”, nevertheless,
In keeping with the more general idea that that philosophy attempts to discern or recognize concepts in representations (Vorstellungen) or empirical appearances, philosophy of nature investigates the conceptual structures that are manifest in the products of the scientific work that is done on the basis of those appearances.
Clearly, the philosophy of nature is not in competition with the empirical natural sciences; it takes as its subject matter the results of those sciences in order to discover within them the particular ways in which the necessary categorial structures deduced in the logic are expressed.
In terms of topics treated, the Philosophy of Nature largely coincides with those treated in the third book of the Science of Logic when the logical processes and relations in question have returned to objectivity after the excursion into the subjectivity of formal logic at the outset of Book 3. In Mechanism, Hegel had reconstructed a movement in thought from a primitive cosmology in which all objects are conceived in relation to a central object (the sun) that exemplifies objecthood per se, to a system of objects within which any such self-sufficient center has been eliminated. In this Newtonian world, that which gives the order to the whole now has the ideality of law, but this is itself thought of as external to the system of objects.
After an Introduction, Section One of the Philosophy of Nature, Mechanics, expands on this progression through considerations of space and time, a matter considered as the diversity of individual bodies distributed in space and time, and finally, the idea of universal gravitation as the determinate concept of such corporeal matter realized as an idea (PN: §270). In the Newtonian laws of mechanics, however, the unity of matter is still only formal, and in Section Two, Physics, the determinateness of form is now considered as immanent within such corporeal matter.
While Mechanics clearly reflects the more space-filling conception of matter dominant in British thought, Physics is consistent with the more dynamic continental European conception of matter originating in Leibniz with his idea of living forces. Within this framework, Hegel attempts to organize a vast array of areas of contemporary physical investigation including meteorology, theories of sound and heat, light and electricity up to and including chemical processes which stand on the threshold of Organic Physics, dealt with in Section Three. The study of organics represents a return to the consideration of the individual body with which Mechanics had started but now considered as an “infinite process in which the individuality determines itself as the particularity or finitude which it also negates, and returns into itself by re-establishing itself at the end of the process as the beginning”. The body is now “an impregnated and negative unity, which by relating itself to itself, has become essentially self-centered and subjective” (PN: §337). From such a conception, the first body to be considered is that of the earth itself, along with its history. Chapter Two moves to a consideration of the plant and Chapter Three, the animal organism.
From the point of view of the actual content of scientific theories and approaches that Hegel summarizes and locates within his system, his Philosophy of Nature is clearly a product of his time. Nevertheless, many of the underlying philosophical issues dealt with are still now far from settled. Thus, while Newtonian physics clearly became established in ways that made Leibniz’s dynamic physics seem obsolete as empirical theory, debate still goes on as to whether conceptions of space-time in post-Newtonian physics is to be conceived in Newtonian or Leibnizian ways.
In the Encyclopaedia, Philosophy of Nature is followed by Philosophy of Spirit (Geist). Hegel’s usual triadic pattern when applied here results in sections devoted to the philosophies of subjective spirit, objective spirit, and absolute spirit. Philosophy of subjective spirit constitutes what is closest in Hegel’s philosophy to a philosophy of mind in the contemporary sense, while the philosophy of objective spirit concerns those objective patterns of social interaction and the cultural institutions within which spirit is objectified in patterns of human life we have seen at work in Phenomenology of Spirit. Within subjective spirit, we may anticipate that the first division, Anthropology, will follow on from topics with which Philosophy of Nature ends—the animal organism—and so it does. Thus here Hegel is concerned with what he terms “Seele”, “soul”—which seems to translate more the ancient Greek term, “psyche”—and hence the mind-body relation:
The Seele of Anthropology should therefore not be confused with the modern subjective conception of mind, as exemplified by Descartes and other early modern philosophers. Aristotle had conceived of the soul as the form of the body, not as a substance separate from that of the body, and had attributed lesser souls to animals and even plants. (Again, Aristotle’s notion of substantial form comes into view.) Concomitantly, in this section, Hegel describes the spirit as sunk in nature, and treats consciousness as largely limited to what now might be described as sentient or phenomenal consciousness alone—the feeling soul. Consciousness is the sense of the modern subject-object opposition only makes its appearance in the following second section, Phenomenology of Spirit, which, reprising key moments from the earlier book of that name, raises a problem for how we are to understand the relation of phenomenology and systematic philosophy: is it a path to it or part of it? Given that the cognitive approach to self-consciousness presupposes that potential self-consciousnesses are in fact embodied and located in the world, we would expect the mind as treated in Psychology to be no less embodied as the way in which it is conceived in Anthropology. What in fact distinguishes the mind of Psychology from that of Anthropology is its rational capacities, considered in terms that would now be described as normative rather than simply naturalistic, and this for Hegel clearly signals a difference in the way in which an actual psychological subject relates to his or her own body. The type of abstractive thinking found in Psychology does not, of course, as in mythical images of metempsychosis—a favorite trope of Platonists—involve the mind leaving the body. This would count for Hegel as a piece of mythical picture thinking—a Vorstellung. Rather, it involves a certain capacity of the psychological subject to suspend unreflected-upon endorsement of the claims made on behalf of his or her body, for example, to subject the evidence given by the senses to rational scrutiny.
Given the dialectical mode in which Hegel’s texts progress, as seen already in both Phenomenology of Spirit and Science of Logic, we will expect the capacities examined in Psychology to ultimately depend upon those that come under consideration in the context of objective spirit. In this sense, we are witnessing within another mode, the type of progression seen in the movement in Phenomenology from shapes of consciousness to shapes of spirit. The internal Phenomenology of Spirit seems to play an important role in setting up this transition from Psychology to Objective Spirit (Williams 2007), but it might also be seen as crucial in relating the more cognitive dimensions of Psychology back to the theme of embodiment prominent in Anthropology (Nuzzo 2013a). Thus any naturalistic analysis is ultimately surpassed by a social and historical one, which itself cannot be understood as anti-naturalistic.
The philosophy of subjective spirit passes over into that of objective spirit, which concerns the objective patterns of social interaction and the cultural institutions within which spirit is objectified. The book entitled Elements of the Philosophy of Right, published in 1821 as a textbook to accompany Hegel’s lectures at the University of Berlin essentially corresponds to a more developed version of the philosophy of objective spirit and will be considered here.
Elements of the Philosophy of Right
The Philosophy of Right (as it is more commonly called) can be read as a political philosophy that stands independently of the system (Tunick 1992), despite the fact that Hegel intended it to be read against the background of the developing conceptual determinations of the Logic. The text proper starts from the conception of a singular willing subject (grasped from the point of view of its individual self-consciousness) as the bearer of abstract right. While this conception of the individual willing subject possessing some kind of fundamental rights was in fact the starting point of many modern political philosophies (such as that of Locke, for example) the fact that Hegel commences here does not testify to any ontological assumption that the consciously willing and right-bearing individual is the basic atom from which all society can be understood as constructed—an idea at the heart of standard social contract theories. Rather, this is simply the most immediate starting point of Hegel’s presentation and corresponds to analogous starting places of the Phenomenology and the Logic. Just as the categories of the Logic develop in a way meant to demonstrate that what had at the start been conceived as simple is in fact only made determinate in virtue of its being a functional part of some larger structure or process, here too it is meant to be shown that any simple willing and right-bearing subject only gains its determinacy in virtue of a place it finds for itself in a larger social, and ultimately historical, structure or process. Thus, even a contractual exchange (the minimal social interaction for contract theorists) is not to be thought simply as an occurrence consequent upon the existence of two beings with natural animal wants and some natural calculative rationality, as in Hobbes, say; rather, the system of interaction within which individual exchanges take place (the economy) will be treated holistically as a culturally-shaped form of social life within which the actual wants of individuals, as well as their reasoning powers, are given determinate forms. Hegel is well aware of the distinctive modernity of this form of social life.
Here too it becomes apparent that Hegel, taking up themes from the Phenomenology, follows Fichte in treating property in terms of cognitive analysis of the nature of such a right. A contractual exchange of commodities between two individuals itself involves an implicit act of recognition in as much as each, in giving something to the other in exchange for what they want, is thereby recognizing that other as a proprietor of that thing, or, more properly, of the inalienable value attaching to it (PR: §§72–81). By contrast, such proprietorship would be denied rather than recognized in fraud or theft—forms of wrong (Unrecht) in which right is negated rather than acknowledged or posited (§§82–93). Thus what differentiates property from mere possession is that it is grounded in a relation of reciprocal recognition between two willing subjects (§71 and remark). Moreover, it is in the exchange relation that we can see what it means for Hegel for individual subjects to share a common will—an idea which will have important implications with respect to the difference of Hegel’s conception of the state from that of Rousseau. Such an interactive constitution of the common will means that for Hegel that the identity among wills is achieved because of not in spite of co-existing differences between the particular wills of the subjects involved: while contracting individuals both will the same exchange, at a more concrete level, they do so with different ends in mind. Each wants something different from the exchange. Without this difference, the type of absorption of individual subjects into the collective substance of the type of Hegel worries about in relation to Spinoza would occur (§258 remark).
Hegel passes from the abstractly individualistic frame of Abstract Right to the social determinacies of Sittlichkeit or Ethical Life (PR: §142) via considerations first of wrong, the negation of right, (§§82–96) and the punishment that such wrong entails the negation of wrong, and hence the “negation of the negation” of the original right (§§97–104), and then of morality, conceived more or less as an internalization of the external legal relations presupposed by punishment. Consideration of Hegel’s version of the retributivist approach to punishment affords a good example of his use of the logic of negation. In punishing the criminal the state makes it clear to its members that it is the acknowledgment of right per se that is essential to develop social life: the significance of acknowledging another’s right in the contractual exchange cannot be, as it at first might have appeared to the participants, simply that of an instrumental means by which each gets what he or she wants from the other.
Hegel’s treatment of punishment also brings out the continuity of his way of conceiving of the structure and dynamics of the social world with that of Kant, as Kant too, in his Metaphysics of Morals had employed the idea of the state’s punitive action as a negating of the original criminal act. Kant’s idea, conceived on the model of the physical principle of action and reaction, was structured by the category of community or reciprocal interaction and was conceived as involving what he called real opposition. Such an idea of opposed dynamic forces seems to form something of a model for Hegel’s idea of contradiction and the starting point for his conception of reciprocal recognition. Nevertheless, clearly, Hegel articulates the structures of recognition in more complex ways than those derivable from Kant’s category of community.
First of all, in Hegel’s analysis of Sittlichkeit, the type of sociality found in the market-based civil society is to be understood as dependent upon and in contrastive opposition with the more immediate form found in the institution of the family: a form of sociality mediated by a quasi-natural inter-subjective recognition rooted in sentiment and feeling—love (PR: §§ 158–60). (This dependence shows how anthropological determinations do not simply disappear with the development of more psychological ones—they are preserved as well as negated as in the pattern of what is aufgehoben. It also shows the mutual dependence of the determinations of the singularity of the atomistic subjects of civil society and their particularity as members (parts) of holistically conceived families.) Here Hegel seems to have extended Fichte’s legally characterized notion of recognition into the types of human inter-subjectivity earlier broached by Hölderlin and the romantics. In the family the particularity of each individual tends to be absorbed into the social unit (one is a part of one’s family), giving this manifestation of Sittlichkeit a one-sidedness that is the inverse of that found in market relations in which participants grasp themselves in the first instance as singular [einzeln] self-identical individuals who then enter into relationships that are external to them.
These two opposite but interlocking principles of social existence provide the basic structures in terms of which the component parts of the modern state are articulated and understood. As both contribute particular characteristics to the subjects involved in them, part of the problem for the rational state will be to ensure that each of these two principles mediates the other, each thereby mitigating the one-sidedness of the other. Thus, individuals who encounter each other in the external relations of the market place and who have their subjectivity shaped by such relations also belong to families where they are subject to opposed influences. Moreover, even within the ensemble of production and exchange mechanisms of civil society individuals will belong to particular estates (the agricultural estate, that of trade and industry, and the universal estate of civil servants (PR: §§199–208)), whose internal forms of sociality will show family-like features.
Although the actual details of Hegel’s mapping of the categorical structures of the Logic onto the Philosophy of Right are far from clear, the general motivation is apparent. Hegel’s logical categories can be read as an attempt to provide a schematic account of the material (rather than formal) conditions required for developed self-consciousness for whom rationality and freedom are maximized. Thus we might regard the various syllogisms of Hegel’s Subjective Logic as attempts to chart the skeletal structures of those different types of cognitive inter-subjectivity necessary to sustain various aspects of rational cognitive and conative functioning (self-consciousness). From this perspective, we might see his logical schematization of the modern rational state as a way of displaying just those sorts of mediating institutions that a state must provide if it is to answer Rousseau’s question of the form of association needed for the formation and expression of the general will.
Concretely, for Hegel, it is a representation of the estates within the legislative bodies that are to achieve this (PR: §§301–14). As the estates of civil society group their members according to their common interests, and as the deputies elected from the estates to the legislative bodies give voice to those interests within the deliberative processes of legislation, the outcome of this process might give expression to the general interest. But Hegel’s republicanism is here balanced by his invocation of the familial principle: such representative bodies can only provide the content of the legislation to a constitutional monarch who must add to it the form of the royal decree—an individual “I will …” (§§275–81). To declare that for Hegel the monarch plays only a symbolic role here is to miss the fundamental idealist complexion of his political philosophy. The expression of the general will in legislation cannot be thought of as an outcome of some quasi-mechanical process: it must be willed. If legislation is to express the general will, citizens must recognize it as expressing their wills; and this means, recognizing it as willed. The monarch’s explicit “I will” is thus needed to close this recognition circle, lest legislation looks like a mechanical compromise resulting from a clash of contingent interests, and so as actively willed by nobody. Thus while Hegel is critical of standard social contract theories, his own conception of the state is still clearly a complicated transformation of those of Rousseau and Kant.
Perhaps one of the most influential parts of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right concerns his analysis of the contradictions of the unfettered capitalist economy. On the one hand, Hegel agreed with Adam Smith that the interlinking of productive activities allowed by the modern market meant that “subjective selfishness” turned into a “contribution towards the satisfaction of the needs of everyone else” (PR: §199). But this did not mean that he accepted Smith’s idea that this “general plenty” produced thereby diffused (or “trickled down”) though the rest of society. From within the type of consciousness generated within civil society, in which individuals are grasped as bearers of rights abstracted from the particular concrete relationships to which they belong, Smithian optimism may seem justified. But this simply attests to the one-sidedness of this type of abstract thought, and the need for it to be mediated by the type of consciousness based in the family in which individuals are grasped in terms of the way they belong to the social body. In fact, the unfettered operation of the market produces a class caught in a spiral of poverty. Starting from this analysis, Marx later used it as evidence of the need to abolish the individual proprietorial rights at the heart of Hegel’s civil society and socialize the means of production. Hegel, however, did not draw this conclusion. His conception of the exchange contract as a form of recognition that played an essential role within the state’s capacity to provide the conditions for the existence of rational and free-willing subjects would certainly prevent such a move. Rather, the economy was to be contained within an over-arching institutional framework of the state, and its social effects offset by the welfarist intervention. Some of Hegel’s most telling criticisms of the unmediated effects of modern civil society concern those on the psychological lives of individuals. Recently, an approach to social reality with Hegelian provenance that uses the notion of recognition to articulate such pathologies has been developed by Axel Honneth (2010), testifying to the continuing relevance of Hegel’s analyses.
Philosophy of History
The final 20 paragraphs of the Philosophy of Right (and the final 5 paragraphs of the objective spirit section of the Encyclopaedia) are devoted to world history (die Weltgeschichte), and they also coincide with the point of transition from objective to absolute spirit. We have already seen the relevance of historical issues for Hegel in the context of the Phenomenology of Spirit, such that a series of different forms of objective spirit can be grasped in terms of the degree to which they enable the development of a universalizable self-consciousness capable of rationality and freedom. Hegel was to enlarge on these ideas in a lecture series given five times during his Berlin period, and it was via the text assembled on the basis of these lectures by his son Karl, that many readers would be introduced to Hegel’s ideas after his death.
World history is made up of the histories of particular peoples within which spirit assumes some “particular principle on the lines of which it must run through the development of its consciousness and its actuality” (PM: §548). Just the same dialectic that we have first seen operative among shapes of consciousness in the Phenomenology and among categories or thought-determinations in the Logic can be observed here. A historical community acts on the principle that informs its social life, the experience, and memory of this action and the consequences it brings—a memory encoded in the stories that circulate in the community—results in this principle becoming available for the self-consciousness of the community, thus breaking the immediacy of its operation. This loss of immediacy brings about the decline of that community but gives rise to the principle of a new community:
It is a dialectic, however, which only passes through some communities. Hegel’s is a clearly Eurocentric account of history.
It is thus that “the analysis of the successive grades [of universal history] in their abstract form belongs to logic” (PWH: 56), but once more, it must be stressed that, as with philosophy of nature, philosophy of history is not meant to somehow magically deduce actual empirical historical phenomena, like Krug’s pen; rather, it takes the results of actual empirical history as its material and attempts to find exemplified within this material the sorts of categorial progressions of the logic. Thus the activity of the philosophical historian presupposes that of “original” and “reflective” historians (PWH: 1–8). The actual world is full of contingencies from which empirical historians will have already abstracted in constructing their narratives, for example, when writing from particular national perspectives. To grasp history philosophically, however, will be to grasp it from the perspective of world-history itself, and this provides the transition to absolute spirit, as world history will be understood in terms of the manifestation of what from a religious perspective is called “God”, or from a philosophical perspective, “reason”. Hegel clearly thinks that there is a way of cognitively relating to history in a way that goes beyond the standpoint of consciousness and the understanding—the standpoint of what we now think of as informing scientific history. From the perspective of consciousness, history is something that stands over against me qua something known, but from the standpoint of self-consciousness, I grasp this history as the history of that which contributes to me, qua rational and free being.
The subject matter of the final 25 paragraphs of the Encyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit, Absolute Spirit, came to be expanded massively into the contents of three different lecture series on the philosophy of art, religion, and history of philosophy given multiple times during Hegel’s decade in Berlin. Assembled and published in the years immediately following his death, these were the works through which Hegel was to become known as perhaps the most significant synoptic theorist of these cultural phenomena. Rather than to attempt to capture the richness of his thought here in a few paragraphs, which would be bound to be futile, I will simply try to allude to how this material is meant to draw upon the conceptual resources noted so far.
Hegel was writing in a time of intense development of ideas about the arts. Kant had treated aesthetic experience largely in relation to the experience of the beauty of nature, but Hegel aesthetics becomes primarily about art. The reason for this is simple: art is an objective medium in which a community collectively reflects upon itself, and the art of historical peoples is to be understood in as the attempt to bring before the consciousnesses of its members the totality of what is. It is as art that “consciousness of the Absolute first takes shape” (PM: §556). The peculiarity of art lies in the sensuousness of the medium in which its content is objectified.
In the 1790s, Friedrich Schiller and Friedrich Schlegel had given aesthetics a historical dimension, distinguishing the forms of ancient and modern art in terms of the contrasts naïve–sentimental and classical–romantic respectively. Hegel adopts Schlegel’s terminology to distinguish as classical the art that thrived in the Greek and Roman worlds from the romantic art of post-classical times. Again, the romantic or modern here will be characterized by the depth of a form of individual subjective consciousness that is largely missing in antiquity. But those in Greek antiquity, where psychological determinations were closer to anthropological ones, had lived with a comfortable felt unity between spirit and body and between the individual and society. A characteristic of the Greeks was their Heimatlichkeit—their collective feeling of being at home in the world as they were each at home in their bodies. Modern subjectivity is thereby purchased at the expense of a sense of abstraction and alienation from the actual world and from the self—a consequence of the way the modern subject has become related to his or her body in a different way.
Hegel, influenced by the work of a former colleague, the Heidelberg philologist Friedrich Creuzer, adds to Schlegel’s categorization of art forms by positing a further category of symbolic art, characterizing the material cultures of ancient Eastern civilizations such as Persia, India, and Egypt. The symbolic art of pantheistic religions of the East used natural elements to symbolize the gods of their cultures: Zoroastrianism had taken light, for example, to symbolize the divine (Aes I: 325), and animal worship was found in the Egyptians (Aes I: 357). But such actual things had to be distinguished from what was meant to be symbolized by them, so violence had to be done to such natural forms in attempts to represent the absolute—such cultural products thus becoming “bizarre, grotesque, and tasteless” (Aes I: 77), This, however, undermined their initial function, and the Greeks were able to offer a dialectical solution to this contradiction. They gave expression to the Absolute or the Idea by taking as its material the specifically human form, but only on condition of its being rendered “exempt from all the deficiency of the purely sensuous and from the contingent finitude of the phenomenal world”. But even as idealized in Greek sculpture, say, the represented Greek god is still an object of “naïve intuition and sensuous imagination” (Aes I: 77–8), and as such the classical gods contained the germ of their own decline as they could not evade
A new form of art will be needed to resolve these contradictions, and this is provided by romantic art. But the material for this form will not come from within art itself. While Greek art can be understood as simultaneously belonging to aesthetic and religious realms, romantic art results from fission within the symbolic realm of what in the Phenomenology Hegel had treated as a single category, Art-Religion. The transition from classical art to romantic art represents both a liberation of art from religion and of religion from art and the sensuous. Thus Christianity, whose rituals centered around the myth of God becoming a man in the person of Jesus, had avoided the type of reliance on the beautiful productions of art in the way that characterized Greek religions. The shift from classical to romantic art, then, represents a broader shift between a culture whose final authority was an aesthetic one and a culture in which this authority was handed over to religion, and thus represents a shift in the authoritativeness of different cognitive forms. This loss of ultimate authority is the meaning of Hegel’s often misunderstood thesis of the death of art.
For further discussion, see the entry on Hegel’s aesthetics.
It is well known that after Hegel’s death in 1831, his followers soon split into the left, center, and right factions over the issue of religion. A dispute over an appropriately Hegelian philosophical attitude to religion had been sparked by the publication in 1835–6 of David Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined—the conservative right claiming that Hegelianism reflected Christian orthodoxy, the left seeing it as a humanistic doctrine concerning the historical emancipation of mankind. In fact, the implications of Hegel’s philosophy for religious belief had been contentious since his rise to prominence in the 1820s. While officially declaring that philosophy and religion had the same content—God—Hegel claimed that the conceptual form of philosophy dealt with this concept in a more developed way than that which was achievable in the imagistic representational form of religion. Many opponents were suspicious that the concept of God was emptied of its proper meaning in the process of Hegel’s philosophical translations and Hegel was suspected by some of pantheism or atheism. Ultimately, then, the source of the corrosive effects of Hegel’s philosophy on religion indeed could appear to be the insistence that the content of religious belief, like everything else, be grounded on rational, in fact logical, considerations—the logical coherence of the system of philosophy itself—rather than on anything like a revelation.
In the writings he had produced in the 1790s Hegel had shown a clear attraction to the type of folk art-religions of ancient Greece in contrast to Christianity, whose other-worldly doctrines did not reflect the kind of Heimatlichkeit he valued in the ancient world, and it is common to see Hegel’s later embrace of the Christianity he described as “the consummate religion” as an expression of a cultural and political conservatism of his later years. This under-estimates the complexity of Hegel’s evolving views on both philosophy and religion, however. The limitations of Greek at-homeness in the world had to do with the inability of Greek life and thought to sustain that dimension of human existence that is reflected in the category of the singularity of the subject. The fate of Socrates had thus represented the ultimate incompatibility with the Greek form of life itself of the type of individual, reflective individual who could reflectively bring any belief into question and take a stand against convention. Similar incompatibilities could be seen reflected in Greek tragedies such as Antigone.
With the decline of the Greek world and the rise of the Roman one, movements such as Stoicism and Christianity would come to give expression to an individual point of view, but under the social conditions of Rome or the Middle Ages, such a subjective point of view could only be an alienated one attracted to what, in contrast to Greek concreteness, would be seen as abstractions. Prior to the modern world, there would be no real place in either everyday life or in philosophical culture for any non-alienated versions of the reflective or subjective position that had first emerged with Socrates—no form of life in which this individual dimension of human subjectivity could be at home. But Christianity marked a type of advance over Stoicism in that its doctrines of the nature of a good life had this-worldly exemplar. Thus in describing the doctrine of the Stoic sage, Hegel seemed fond of quoting Cicero’s dictum that nobody can say who this sage is (LHP II: 250–1, 256). It was the abstractness of the Stoic’s conception of the good man that was answered by the new religious cult centered on the life of the historical Christ.
In this sense, Christianity marked a definite advance over the more intuitively based religious cults to which Hegel had been attracted in his youth, but it would only be in the modern world that the content of the core ideas of Christianity could be given proper expression. Thus Hegel treats medieval Catholicism as still caught in the abstractions of a transcendent realm and as caught up in a type of literal reading of this religion’s Vorstellungen—its pictures. These need to become conceptualized, and this happens under modern Protestantism, and this, for Hegel, requires a type of demythologization of the religious content handed down from the past. Christ must somehow come to stand as an example of humankind in general, which is the ultimate bearer of the status of being the son of God. Once more, it is the purported singularity of the category son of God that must be brought back into relation to the universality of the human genus. It is the nature of this result that divided Hegel’s followers into their right and left camps. The understanding of what Hegel means by the concept of religion in turn becomes tied to understanding what he means by philosophy. Appropriately the Philosophy of Religion thus passes over into the final form of Absolute Spirit, Philosophy—a science that is the “unity of Art and Religion” (PM: §572). The mere six paragraphs devoted to this science in the Encyclopaedia and dealing almost exclusively with the relation of philosophy to religion were to be expanded into the massive posthumously published three volumes on the (philosophical) history of philosophy based on various sources including student transcripts for his lecture series given in Berlin.
History of Philosophy
In Hegel’s time, the idea that philosophy had a historical development had only recently come into focus. Both Fichte and Schelling had discussed the idea of a history of reason following Kant’s allusion to such a notion in the closing pages of Critique of Pure Reason, and systematic approaches to the history of philosophy had emerged like that of W.G. Hennemann, who presupposed a type of Kantian framework. Clearly Hegel’s history of philosophy would be a present-centered one, in which the philosophical narrative would reveal a development up to the point represented by his own philosophy as its culmination. It is thus predictably Eurocentric: philosophy “commences in the West” because the West is where “this freedom of self-consciousness first comes forth” (LHP I: 99). There is an important caveat to add here, however. Philosophy is often identified with the capacity for abstract thought, and this is not confined to Europe and its history. Rather, it is typical of eastern cultures like those of India and China. As we have seen in the context of art, Hegel identifies Greek culture with a type of at-homeness in the world—what we might think of as the opposite of a tendency to abstraction and its typical attraction to the transcendent or other-worldly.
Greek philosophy, and so philosophy itself, starts with Thales and Ionian natural philosophy. When Thales chose water as the “the principle and substance of all that is” (LHP I: 175) he has abstracted the concept water from the stuff immediately encountered in puddles and so on. Subsequent attempts to specify what it is that underlies all things show influences of eastern abstraction as in Pythagoras’s numeric, which is static and “destitute of process or dialectic” (LHP I: 212) but later thinkers such as Zeno and Heraclitus grasp that which is at the heart of things in more dynamic ways. This type of dialectical thought which grasps the unity of opposites, familiar from the Phenomenology and the Logic, comes to fruition in Plato’s dialogue Parmenides (LHP I: 261). What we are witnessing here, of course, is meant to be a progression that in some sense mirrors the progression of categories in Hegel’s own Logic, but this progression of objective content gets joined to another dynamic with the appearance of Socrates.
Socrates was more than a philosopher: he was a “world-historical person”—a “main turning-point [Hauptwendepunkt] of spirit on itself” exhibited itself in his philosophical thought (LHP I: 384). In short, Socrates had added a subjective dimension to the otherwise natural moral lives of Athenian citizens, in that he had challenged them to find the principles not of worldly things but of their own actions, and challenged them to find these within the resources of their own individual consciousnesses.
With this we see “moral substance [Sittlichkeit] turn into reflective morality [Moralität]” and “the reflection of consciousness into itself”. “The spirit of the world here begins to turn, a turn that was later carried to its completion” (LHP I: 407). This completion would be only achieved in modernity because, as we have seen, Socrates’s challenging of the convention in terms of resources taken from individual consciousness itself was incompatible with the immediacy of Greek Sittlichkeit.
Plato and, especially Aristotle, represent the pinnacle of ancient philosophy, but this philosophy, no matter how great, represents its time, that is, the time of the Greek form of spirit, raised to the level of thought. Neither Plato nor Aristotle can break free in thought from the contradiction between the conception of autonomous subjectivity represented by Socrates and the essential collectivity of Greek culture. Classical Greek philosophy will succumb in the same way that the Greek polis succumbs to its own internal contradictions, and what will eventually replace it will be a type of philosophizing constrained within the doctrinal constraints of the new religion, Christianity. But Christianity, as we have seen, gives representation to a solution to the problem of subjectivity encountered in the form of Socrates.
Philosophy proper only thrives under conditions of at-homeness in the world and such conditions obtained in neither the Roman nor medieval world. Hegel then sees both periods of philosophy as effectively marking time, and it is only in the modern world that once more develops. What modern philosophy will reflect is the universalization of the type of subjectivity we have seen represented by Socrates in the Greek polis and Jesus in the Christian religious community. Strangely, Hegel nominates two very antithetic figures as marking the onset of modern philosophy, Francis Bacon and the German Christian mystic, Jacob Böhme (LHP III: 170–216). In the 1825–6 lectures, from there Hegel traces the path of modern philosophy through three phases: the first period of metaphysics comprising Descartes, Spinoza, and Malebranche; a second treating Locke, Leibniz, and others; and the recent philosophies of Kant, Fichte, Jacobi, and Schelling. Of course, the perspective from which this narrative has been written is the absent final stage within this sequence—that represented by Hegel himself. Hegel concludes the lectures with the claim that he has
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