1. Life, Work, and Influence
2. Hegel’s Philosophy
2.1 The traditional “metaphysical” view
2.2 The non-traditional “post-Kantian” view
3. Hegel’s Works
3.1 Phenomenology of Spirit
3.2 Science of Logic
3.3 Philosophy of Right
1. Life, Work, and Influence
Born in 1770 in Stuttgart, Hegel spent the years 1788-1793 as a theology student in nearby Tübingen, forming friendships there with fellow students, the future great romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) and Friedrich W. J. 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 modernising and reforming educator, in the image of figures of the German Enlightenment such as Lessing and Schiller. Around the turn of the century, however, possibly under the influence of Hölderlin, his interests turned more to the issues in the “critical” philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) that had enthused Hölderlin, Schelling, and many others, and in 1801 he moved to the University of Jena to join Schelling. In the 1790s Jena had become a centre of both “Kantian” philosophy and the early romantic movement and by the time of Hegel’s arrival Schelling had already become an established figure, taking the approach of J. G. Fichte (1762-1814), the most important of the new Kantian-styled philosophers, in novel directions. In late 1801, Hegel published his first philosophical work, The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, and up until 1803 worked closely with Schelling, with whom he edited the Critical Journal of Philosophy. In his “Difference” essay Hegel had argued that Schelling’s approach succeeded where Fichte’s failed in the project of systematising and thereby completing Kant’s transcendental idealism, and on the basis of this type of advocacy was 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 closed the university and Hegel left the town. 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” 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. Then 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. 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 “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 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 developed among a generation of students. Since the early period of his collaboration with Hegel, Schelling had become more religious in his philosophising and criticised 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 “left-” and “right-wing” factions; from out of the former circle, Karl Marx was to develop his own “scientific” approach to society and history which appropriated many Hegelian ideas into Marx’s materialistic outlook. (Later, especially in reaction to orthodox Soviet versions of Marxism, many “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 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 most of the twentieth century, interest in Hegel became limited to the context of his relation to other more popular philosophical movements like existentialism or Marxism, or to his social and political thought. In France, a version of Hegelianism came to influence a generation of thinkers, including Jean-Paul Sartre and the psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, largely through the lectures of Alexandre Kojève, an important precursor to the later “post-modern” movement. A later generation of French philosophers coming to prominence in the late 1960s and after, however, 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, interest in Hegel was revived early in the century with the historical work of Wilhelm Dilthey, and important Hegelian elements were incorporated into the approach of thinkers of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno, and later, Jürgen Habermas, as well as the “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, especially in North America, with important works appearing such as those by H. S. Harris, Charles Taylor, Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard.
2. Hegel’s Philosophy
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 raised to the level of thought.”
On the one hand we can clearly see in the phrase “its own time” the suggestion of an 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 contemporary culture. On the other, there is the hint of such contents being “raised” to some higher level, presumably higher than other levels of cognitive functioning — those based in everyday perceptual experience, for example, or those characteristic of other areas of culture such as art and religion. This higher level takes the form of “thought” — a type of cognition commonly taken as capable of having “eternal” contents (think of Plato and Frege, for example).
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,” has led to Hegel being regarded in different ways by different types of philosophical readers. For example, an historically-minded pragmatist like Richard Rorty, distrustful of all claims or aspirations to the “God’s-eye view,” could praise Hegel as a philosopher who had introduced this historically reflective dimension into philosophy (and setting it on the characteristically “hermeneutic” 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. 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, for example, tended to ignore the Phenomenology and the more historicist dimensions of his thought, and found in Hegel a systematic metaphysician whose Logic provided a systematic and definitive philosophical ontology of an idealist type. This latter traditional, “metaphysical” view of Hegel dominated Hegel reception for most of the twentieth century, but has over the last few decades been contested by many Hegel scholars who have offered an alternative, “post-Kantian” view of Hegel.
2.1 The traditional “metaphysical” view of Hegel’s philosophy
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 “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 metaphysico-religious view of “Absolute Spirit” which draws on pantheistic ideas of the identity of the universe and God, together with theistic ideas concerning the necessary “self-consciousness” of God. The peculiarity of Hegel’s view, on this account, lies in his idea that the mind of God becomes actual only via the minds of his creatures, who serve as its vehicle. It is as distributed bearers of this developing self-consciousness of God that those finitely-embodied inhabitants of the universe — we humans — can be such “finite-infinites.”
An important consequence of Hegel’s metaphysics, so understood, concerns 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 decried. To many critics Hegel not only was an advocate of a disastrous political conception of the state and the relation of its citizens to it, a conception prefiguring twentieth-century totalitarianism, but had tried to underpin such advocacy with dubious logico-metaphysical speculations. With his idea of the development of “spirit” in history, Hegel is seen as literalising 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, as it were — it was objectified spirit. Thus in contrast to Berkeleian “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 within the dynamics of the development of the self-consciousness and self-actualisation of God, the “Absolute Spirit.”
It is hardly surprising, given the more secular character of much twentieth-century philosophy, that Hegel, so understood, would be generally regarded as of merely historical interest. Nevertheless, Hegel was still seen by many as an important precursor of other more characteristically modern strands of 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 leaving out all pretensions to the “absolute,” while Marxists were thought of as taking the historical dynamics of the Hegelian picture but understanding this in materialist rather than idealist categories. But while the traditional view of Hegel remained a commonplace throughout the twentieth century it has come to be increasingly questioned as an accurate account of Hegel’s philosophy within Hegel scholarship itself. In the last quarter of the century, an increasing number of Hegel interpreters argued that such an understanding was seriously flawed, and while various quite different philosophical interpretations of Hegel have emerged which attempt to acquit him of implausible metaphysico-theological views, one common tendency has been to stress the continuity of his ideas with the “critical philosophy” of Immanuel Kant.
2.2 The non-traditional or “post-Kantian” view of Hegel
Least controversially, it has been 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. Somewhat more controversially, it has also been argued that the traditional picture is simply wrong at a more general “metaphysical” level and that Hegel is in no way committed to the bizarre “spirit monism” that has been traditionally attributed to him. While these latter views often differ among themselves and continue to take exception to various aspects of Hegel’s actual work, they commonly agree in regarding Hegel as being a “post-Kantian” philosopher who had accepted that aspect of Kant’s critical philosophy which has been the most influential, his critique of traditional “dogmatic” metaphysics. Thus while the traditional view sees Hegel as exemplifying the very type of metaphysical speculation that Kant successfully criticised, the post-Kantian view of Hegel sees him as both accepting and extending Kant’s critique, even of turning it against the residual “dogmatically metaphysical” aspects of Kant’s own philosophy.
To see Hegel as a post-Kantian is to regard him as extending that “critical” turn that Kant saw as setting his philosophy on a scientific footing in a way analogous to the work of Copernicus in cosmology. With his Copernican analogy Kant had compared the way that the positions of the sun and earth were reversed in Copernicus’ transformation of cosmology to the way that the positions of knowing subject and known object were reversed in his own transcendental idealism. Objectivity could no longer be thought as a matter of mental representations “corresponding” to an object “in itself” . Having posed the question of the ground of the relation of a representation to an object, Kant had answered that where a representation was not made possible by the process of sensory affection, it could be justified as objective only if through it it became possible to cognise something as an object.
No sooner had Kant’s philosophy appeared then many objections were raised, among which were complaints about the apparently irreducible gap between the mind qua universal discursive intelligence and the mind as individual psychological reality. Kantian ideas were quickly integrated by Schelling with extant Spinozist ideas concerning mind and body as different aspects of an underlying substance to yield a type of philosophical biology. Others, such as Wilhelm von Humboldt and Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher joined Kantian ideas about the mind with philological ideas linking thought to the structures of historically variable languages. Other critics pointed to internal inconsistencies in Kant’s picture in which the world in itself seemed to be thought of on the one hand as the cause of its appearance, and on the other, as beyond knowledge and its constituent categories such as “cause.” Among the ambitions of many of Kant’s successors, including Hegel, was that of somehow “completing” Kant. In Hegel especially, many argue, one can see the ambition to bring together the universalist dimensions of Kant’s transcendental program with the culturally particularist conceptions of his more historically and relativistically-minded contemporaries. This resulted in his controversial conception of “spirit,” as developed in his Phenomenology of Spirit. With this notion, it has been argued, Hegel was pursing 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” structures of the mind, Hegel extended them to include aspects of historically and socially determined forms of embodied existence.
3. Hegel’s Works
3.1 Phenomenology of Spirit
The term “phenomenology” had been coined by the German scientist and mathematician (and Kant correspondent) J. H. Lambert (1728 — 1777), and in a letter to Lambert, sent to accompany a copy of his “Inaugural Dissertation” (1770), Kant had proposed 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 conceptually. This envisioned “phenomenology” seems to coincide roughly with what he was to eventually entitle 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 this Kantian 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 it — a type of induction or education of the reader to the “standpoint” of purely conceptual thought of philosophy itself. As such, its structure has been compared to that of an “educational novel,” having an abstractly conceived protagonist — the bearer of an evolving series of “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 seem more like configurations of human social existence, and the work comes to look more like an account of interlinked forms of social existence and thought, the series of which maps onto the history of western European civilization from the Greeks to Hegel’s own time. The fact that it ends in the attainment of “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, but this was a project that in his later critical philosophy he came 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 non-metaphysical Hegel obviously interpret this work and its telos differently. For example, some have argued that what this history tracks 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.
Something of Hegel’s phenomenological method may be conveyed by the first few chapters, which are perhaps among the more conventionally philosophical parts. Chapters 1 to 3 effectively follow a developmental series of “shapes of consciousness” or conscious attitudes which seem to be based upon distinct criteria for epistemic certainty. Chapter 1, “Sense-certainty” considers an epistemological attitude involving an appeal to some immediately given perceptual contents — the sort of role played by “sense data” in some early twentieth-century approaches to epistemology, for example. By following the protagonist’s attempts to make these implicit criteria explicit we are meant to appreciate that any such contents, even the apparently most “immediate,” in fact contain implicit conceptually articulated presuppositions, and so, in Hegel’s terminology, are “mediated.” One might compare Hegel’s point here to that expressed by Kant in his well known claim that without concepts, those singular and immediate mental representations he calls “intuitions” are “blind.” In more recent terminology one might talk of the “concept-” or “theory-ladenness” of all experience, and the lessons of this chapter have been likened to that of Wilfrid Sellars’s famous criticism of the “myth of the given.”
By the end of this chapter our protagonist consciousness (and by implication, we the audience to this drama) has learnt that the nature of consciousness cannot be as originally thought, rather its contents must have some implicit universal (conceptual) aspect to them. Consciousness thus now commences anew with its new implicit epistemic criterion — the assumption that since the contents of consciousness are “universal” they must be publicly graspable by others as well. Hegel’s name for this type of perceptual realism in which any individual’s idiosyncratic private apprehension will always be in principle correctable by the experience of others is “perception” (Wahrnehmung — in German this term having the connotations of taking (nehmen) to be true (wahr)). As with the case for “sense-certainty,” here again, by following the protagonist consciousness’s efforts to make this implicit criterion explicit, we see how the criterion generates contradictions which eventually undermine it as a criterion for certainty. In fact, such collapse into a type of self-generated scepticism is typical of all the “shapes” we follow in the work, and there seems something inherently skeptical about such reflexive cognitive processes. But Hegel’s point is equally that there has always been something positive that has been learned in such processes, and this learning is more than that which consists in the mere elimination of epistemological dead-ends. Rather, as in the way that the internal contradictions that emerged from sense-certainty had generated a new shape, perception, the collapse of any given attitude always involves the emergence of some new implicit criterion which will be the basis of a new emergent attitude. In the case of “perception,” the emergent new shape of consciousness Hegel calls “understanding” — a shape which he identifies with scientific cognition rather than that of everyday “perception.”
The transition from Chapter 3 to 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 intersubjective conditions which he sees as necessary for any form of “consciousness“.
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. Hegel goes beyond Kant, however, in making this requirement dependent on one’s recognition (or acknowledgment — Anerkennung) as a subject by other self-consciousnesses whom one recognises in turn. In short, one’s self-consciousness is in no sense direct, as it was for Descartes, for example. It comes about only indirectly via one’s recognising other conscious subjects’ recognition of oneself! It is in this way that the Phenomenology can change course, the earlier tracking of “shapes of consciousness” being effectively replaced by the tracking of distinct patterns of “mutual recognition” between subjects.
It is thus that Hegel has effected the transition from a phenomenology of “subjective mind,” as it were, to one of “objective spirit,” thought of as culturally distinct patterns of social interaction analysed 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, “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, depend on certain institutionalised forms of mutual recognition. But we are seeing this from the “outside” as it were, we still have to learn how real in situ self-consciousnesses could learn this of themselves. So we have to see how the protagonist 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 “reason” (in chapter 5) before “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 nominalisation from the adjectival (or adverbial) form “sittlich,” “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 forms of life. 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 nominalise such abstract concepts as “customary” in his attempt to capture the concrete nature of such as 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 is in any way committed to any metaphysical supra-individual conscious beings with such usages. To take an example, in the second section of the chapter “Spirit” Hegel discusses “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 (stories, dramas, and so forth) within which they can recognise their own patterns of life reflected. We might find intelligible the idea 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 social “mind” achieving self-consciousness. Furthermore, such cultural products themselves provide conditions allowing individuals to adopt particular cognitive attitudes. 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 “universal” point of view — is bound up with the attitude implicitly adopted in engaging with spirit’s “alienations.”
We might think that if Kant had written the Phenomenology, he would have ended it at 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 which 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 analogue to the connection with God sought in religion, 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 knowing 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.
3.2 Science of Logic
Hegel’s Science of Logic, the three constituent “books” of which appeared in 1812, 1813, and 1816 respectively, is a work that few contemporary logicians would recognise as a work of logic, but it is not meant as a treatise in formal (or “general” ) logic. Rather, its provenance is to be found in what Kant had called “transcendental logic,” and which is more akin to what now is termed “epistemic” logic. In this sense it stands as a successor to Kant’s “transcendental deduction of the categories” in the Critique of Pure Reason in which Kant attempted to “deduce” a list of those non-empirical concepts, the “categories,” which he believed to be presupposed by the empirical judgments of finite, discursive knowers like ourselves.
A glance at the table of contents of Science of Logic reveals the same triadic structuring noted in the Phenomenology. At the highest level of its branching structure there are three “books,” devoted to the doctrines of “being,” “essence,” and “concept” respectively. In turn, each book has three sections, each section containing three chapters, and so on. In general each of these nodes deals with some particular category or “thought determination,” sometimes the first subheading under a node having the same name as the node itself. To some extent, the treatment of the syllogism found in Book 3 (and following Aristotle’s three-termed schematism of the syllogistic structure) might be seen as providing a retrospective justification for this structuring, Hegel’s idea being that all rigorous thought about anything must grasp it in terms of the fundamental thought determinations of “singularity,” “particularity,” and “universality.” (This combination may, in fact, reflect the post-Kantians’ re-interpretation of Kant’s taxonomy of the basic components of cognition — the division of mental representation into “singular” intuitions and “general” concepts. Fichte had understood that Kant equivocates over the relation of “sensation” to “intuition” : sometimes Kant treats sensations as parts of intuitive representations (their “matter” ) and sometimes as non-representational states of the subject somehow “corresponding to” such matter. Kant’s two-termed account therefore gets rearticulated as a three-termed account. In the later nineteenth century, no less a logician than Charles Sanders Peirce came to a similar idea about the fundamentally trinary structure of the categories of thought.)
Reading into the first chapter of Book 1, “Being,” it is quickly seen that the Logic repeats the movements of the first chapters of the Phenomenology, now, however, at the level of “thought” rather than 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 characterising any possible thought content at all. It apparently has no internal structure (in the way that “bachelor,” say, has a structure containing further concepts “male” and “unmarried”). Again parallel to the Phenomenology, it is the effort of thought to make such contents explicit that both undermines them and brings about a new contents. “Being” seems “immediate” but reflection reveals that it itself is, in fact, only meaningful in opposition to another concept, “nothing.” In fact, the attempt to think “being” as immediate, and so as not mediated by its opposing concept “nothing,” has so deprived it of any determinacy or meaning at all that it effectively becomes nothing. That is, on reflection it is grasped as having passed over into its “negation” . Thus, while “being” and “nothing” seem both absolutely distinct and opposed, from another point of view they appear the same as no criterion can be invoked which differentiates them. The only way out of this paradox is to posit a third category, “becoming,” which seems to save thinking from paralysis because it accommodates both concepts: “becoming” contains “being” and “nothing” since when something “becomes” it passes, as it were, between nothingness and being. That is, when something becomes it seems to posses aspects of both being and nothingness.
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, but then seeks a further category with which to make retrospective sense of that contradiction. This new category is more complex as it has internal structure in the way that “becoming” contains “being” and “nothing” as moments. But in turn the new category will generate some further contradictory negation and again the demand will arise for a further concept which will reconcile these opposed concepts by incorporating them as moments.
In this way the categorical infrastructure to thought becomes unpacked with only the use of those resources available to thought itself, its capacity to make its contents determinate (i.e., clear and distinct) and its refusal to tolerate contradiction. As has been mentioned, Hegel’s logic might best be considered as a “transcendental” not a “formal” logic. Rather than treating the pure “form” of thought that has been abstracted from any possible content, transcendental logic treats thought that already possesses a certain type of content that Kant had called (predictably) “transcendental content.” This was that non-empirical but nevertheless intuitive element of “content” that was implicit in our thought, given that it was the thought of a particular kind of thinker, whose cognition about the world was restricted to the capacity to apply general concepts to singular and immediate empirical “intuitions.” It would seem to be this difference to traditional formal logic that underlies the contrast between the conceptual structure generated here, and that of the traditional “Tree of Porphyry” that results from the Platonic “method of division.” In the traditional structure, a more general concept is divided into more specific ones by means of some differentiating characteristic, in the way, for example, that the more general concept “animal” can be differentiated into “vertebrates” and “invertebrates.” In such a structure, the direction of conceptual specificity, and conceptual containment are reversed: a concept at any level will “contain,” as sub-concepts, all members of the chain of more abstract concepts standing “above” it. Thus if the concept “animal” is divided into the contraries “vertebrate” and “invertebrate,” each will in turn “contain” the superordinating concept “animal” and thereby in turn contain every concept that is contained within (and stands above) “animal.” In contrast, in Hegel’s conceptual structure, reflection on a concept produces its negation in a type of internal division, and then both concept and negation become contained as “moments” in the more specific concept that is posited to resolve the paradox of that internal negation.
If Hegel’s is a transcendental logic, however, it is clearly different from that of Kant’s. 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 kept open the possibility that there could be a kind of thinker not so constrained — God, for example, whose thought could apply directly to the world in a type of “intellectual” intuition. Again, opinions divide as to how Hegel’s approach to logic relates to that of Kant. Traditionalists see Hegel as treating the finite thought of individual human discursive intellects as a type of “distributed” vehicle for the classically conceived infinite and intuitive thought of God. Non-traditionalists, in contrast, see the post-Kantians as removing the last residual remnant of the mythical idea of transcendent godly thought from Kant’s approach. On their account, the very opposition that Kant has between finite human thought and infinite godly thought is suspect, and the removal of this mythical obstacle allows an expanded role for “transcendental content.” Regardless of how we interpret this however, it is important to grasp that for Hegel logic is not simply a science of the form of our thoughts but is also a science of actual “content” as well, and as such is a type of ontology. Thus it is not just about the concepts “being,” “nothing,” “becoming” and so on, but about being, nothing, becoming and so on, themselves. This in turn is linked to Hegel’s radically non-representationalist (and in some sense “direct realist” ) understanding of thought. The world is not “represented” in thought by a type of “proxy” standing for it, but rather is presented, exhibited, or made manifest in it. (In recent analytic philosophy, John McDowell has presented an account of thought with this type of character, and has explicitly drawn a parallel to the approach of Hegel.)
The thought determinations of Book 1 lead eventually into those of Book 2, “The Doctrine of Essence.” Naturally the structures implicit in “essence” thinking are more developed than those of “being” thinking. Crucially, the contrasting pair “essence” and “appearance” allow the thought of some underlying reality which manifests itself through a different overlying appearance, a relation not able to be captured in the simpler “being” structures. Given the ontological dimension of Hegel’s logic, its various stages are meant to coincide roughly with actual ontologies encountered in a history of metaphysics. Thus the metaphysics of Parmenides and Heraclitus, for example, line up with the thought determinations “being” and “becoming” at the beginning of Being-logic while Essence-logic culminates in concepts bound up with modern forms of substance metaphysics as found in Spinoza and Leibniz.
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 ontology of Kant. Just as Kantian philosophy is founded on a conception of objectivity secured by conceptual coherence, Concept-logic commences with the concept of “concept” itself! 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 “concept” treated in Chapter 1 of section 1 (“Subjectivity” ) passes over into that of “judgment” in Chapter 2, as judgments are the larger wholes within which concepts themselves get related to each other. When the anti-foundationalism and holism of the Phenomenology is recalled, it will come as no surprise that the concept of judgment passes over into that of “syllogism”: for Hegel just as a concept gains its determinacy in the context of the judgments within which it is applied, so too do judgements gain their determinacy within larger patterns of inference. When Hegel declares the syllogism to be “the truth” of the judgment, he might be thought, as has been suggested by Robert Brandom, to be advocating a view somewhat akin to contemporary “inferentialist” approaches to semantics. On these approaches, an utterance gains its semantic content not from any combination of its already meaningful sub-sentential components, but from the particular inferential “commitments and entitlements” acquired when it is offered to others in practices presupposing the asking for and giving of reasons. 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 “transcendental content,” a role which inference definitely does not have in Kant.
We might see then how the different ways of approaching Hegel’s logic will be reflected in the interpretation given to the puzzling claim in Book 3 concerning the syllogism becoming “concrete” and “pregnant with” a content that has necessary existence. 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 see here something akin to the “ontological argument” of medieval theology in which the existence of something seems to have been necessitated by its concept — an argument undermined by Kant’s criticism of the treatment of existence as a predicate. In Hegel’s version, it would be said, the objective existence that God achieves in the world has been necessitated by his essential self-consciousness. The revisionist reading, in contrast, would have to interpret this aspect of Hegel’s logic differently.
As already noted, for Hegel, the logic of inference has a “transcendental content” in a way analogous to that possessed by the logic of judgment in Kant’s transcendental logic. It is this which is behind the idea that the treatment of the formal syllogisms of inference will lead to a consideration of those syllogisms as “pregnant with content.” But for logic to be truly ontological a further step “beyond” Kant is necessary. For the post-Kantians, Kant had been mistaken in restricting the conditions of experience and thought to a “subjective” status. Kant’s idea of our knowledge as restricted to the world as it is for us requires us to have a concept of the noumenal as that which cannot be known, the concept “noumenon” playing the purely negative role of giving a determinate sense to “phenomenon” by specifying its limits. That is, for Kant we need to be able to think of our experience and knowledge as finite and conditioned, and this is achieved in terms of a concept of a realm we cannot know. But, the post-Kantian objection goes, if the concept “noumenon” is to provide some sort of boundary to that of “phenomenon,” then it cannot be the empty concept that Kant supposed. Only a concept with a content can determine the limits of the content of some another concept (as when our empirical concept of “river,” for example, is made determinate by opposing empirical concepts like “stream” or “creek”). The positing of a noumenal realm must be the positing of a realm about which we can have some understanding.
This need felt by the post-Kantians for having a contentful concept of the “noumenal” or the “in itself” can also be seen from the inverse perspective. For Kant, sensation testifies to the existence of an objective noumenal world beyond us, but this world cannot be known as such; we can only know that world as it appears to us from within the constraints of the subjective conditions of our experience and thought. But for Hegel this is to attribute to a wholly inadequate form of knowledge — sensation or feeling — a power that is being denied to a much better form of knowledge — that articulated by concepts. To think that our inarticulate sensations or feelings give us a truer account of reality than that of which we are capable via the scientific exercise of conceptualised thought indicates a type of irrationalist potential within Kantian thought, a potential that Hegel thought was being realised by the approach of his romantic contemporaries. The rational kernel of Kant’s approach, then, had to be carried beyond the limits of a method in which the conditions of thought and experience were regarded as merely subjective. Rather than restrict its scope to “formal” conditions of experience and thought, it had to be understood as capable of revealing the objective or material conditions. Transcendental logic must thereby become ontological. It may be significant here that, as some recent studies of Kant’s own later work (the Opus Postumum) suggest, Kant himself seems to have revised his own approach such that something like a deduction of the material conditions of thought was now considered as the proper province of transcendental philosophy.
3.3 Philosophy of Right
Like the Science of Logic, the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences is itself divided into three parts: a Logic; a Philosophy of Nature; and a Philosophy of Spirit. The same triadic pattern in the Philosophy of Spirit results in the philosophies of subjective spirit, objective spirit, and absolute spirit. The first of these constitutes Hegel’s philosophy of mind, the last, his philosophy of art, religion, and philosophy itself. The philosophy of objective spirit 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 which Hegel published as a textbook for his lectures at Berlin essentially corresponds to a more developed version of the section on “Objective Spirit” in the Philosophy of Spirit.
The Philosophy of Right (as it is more commonly called) can, and has been, read as a political philosophy which stands independently of the system, but it is clear 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 its own first-person point of view) as the bearer of “abstract right.” While this conception of the individual willing subject with some kind of fundamental right is 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 merely the most “immediate” starting point of Hegel’s presentation and corresponds to analogous starting places of 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 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 wants and some natural calculative rationality; 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.
Here too it becomes apparent in Hegel’s treatment of property and the exchange contract that the notion of recognition plays a crucial role in his general conception of the relation of individuals to each other and to society as a whole. 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, are thereby recognizing them as a proprietor of that thing, or, more properly, of the inalienable value attaching to it. By contrast, such proprietorship would be denied rather than recognised in fraud or theft — forms of “wrong” (Unrecht) in which right is negated rather than acknowledged or posited. Thus what differentiates property from mere possession is that it is grounded in a relation of reciprocal recognition between two willing subjects. 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 such an identity of will is achieved because of not in spite of a co-existing difference between the particular wills of the subjects involved: while contracting individuals both “will” the same exchange, at a more concrete level, they do with different ends in mind. Each wants something different from the exchange.
Hegel passes from the abstract individualism of “Abstract Right” to the social determinacies of “Sittlichkeit” or “Ethical Life” via considerations first of “wrong” (the negation of right) and its punishment (the negation of wrong, and hence the “negation of the negation” of the original right), and then of “morality,” conceived more or less as an internalisation of the external legal relations. 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 developed 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 being a way of each getting 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. In the family the particularity of each individual tends to be absorbed into the social unit, 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 separate 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 mediate 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), 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. As has been mentioned above, 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. Thus we might regard the various “syllogisms” of Hegel’s Subjective Logic as attempts to chart the skeletal structures of those different types of recognitive inter-subjectivity necessary to sustain various aspects of rational cognitive and conative functioning (“self-consciousness”). From this perspective, we might see his “logical” schematisation of the modern “rational” state as a way of displaying just those sorts of 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 representation of the estates within the legislative bodies that is to achieve this. 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, we might see how the outcome of this process might be considered to give expression to the general interest. But Hegel’s “republicanism” is here cut short 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 ….” To declare that for Hegel the monarch plays only a “symbolic” role here is to miss the fundamentally 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, recognising it as willed. The monarch’s explicit “I will” is thus needed to close this recognitive circle, lest legislation look like a mechanical compromise resulting from a clash of 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.” 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, Smithean 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 operations 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 socialise 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 welfarist state intervention.