Win Corduan

One of my main goals here is to emphasize that, in order to understand Hegel, we need to recognize his roots in the philosophical method initiated by Kant: the transcendental method. If your reaction to that statement is "duh," you may be well on your way to a correct understanding of Hegel yourself. Unfortunately, as obvious as that statement sounds, you will also find yourself in a minority. Hegel continues to be understood by and large in any possible way except the most obvious.

I want to thank Mark Linsenmayer, whom I do not know personally, for a blog post in which he used my picture of Hegel (and--I hasten to add lest anyone misunderstand--gave proper credit). His selection method was to google for images of Hegel and copy the weirdest looking thing that presented itself to his visual perceptive faculties. I would agree that he made a good choice, and I'm flattered that of all the pictures he cared to scan, he chose my cartoonish carricature. How proud Herr Finke would be if he knew that I had become an "artist."

Herr Finke was my art teacher in the first few years of Gymnasium (German High School). His philosophy of art was somewhat avant garde. One day he came to class excited about a piece of tarred roofing shingle that he had found on his way to school. He told us that it was a wonderful piece of art in itself, and that he would frame it and decorate his home with it. Herr Finke used to have us recite in unison: "Mathematic regularity is the death of art," a sentiment with which Hegel would thoroughly agree, and I cannot be accused of violating it.

Part 1

Not that there was an overwhelming flood of affirmation, but one person said that Hegel might be a good break from reading Heidegger, an assessment with which I'm in solid agreement, so, I'll take a few entries to clarify Hegel's philosophy, which isn't all that hard if only you put him into his proper context. That means that Hegel won't come up for a while.

Philosophers can be extremely weird at times. Somewhere I have a xeroxed copy of an article by someone who concluded that Meister Eckhart's (1260?-1327?) belief system really was grounded in the thought patterns of the middle ages. Wow! Who would have thought? With Hegel, things tend to go in the other direction; people attempt to transfer his thought into some alien environment. Any number of scholars try to extricate him from his setting in the early 19th century. For example, there is a persistent strain of people who write books about Hegel depicting him as an Aristotelian philosopher (e.g, Alfredo Ferrarin, Hegel and Aristotle, 2001). That does not work. No wonder people don't comprehend Hegel if they try to read him yanked out of his place and time.

I understand that a lot of philosophers are under pressure to write "important" works that contribute to the "conversation" (aka "publish or perish"), but I don't think it's an unreasonable stipulation for someone writing on a particular philosopher that he or she should analyse their subject from within the subject's own conceptual life-world, and Hegel is certainly no exception. Sure, you can force all kinds of schemes on him, but in that case you'll never really get what he's saying. In order to understand Hegel, you have to understand Kant, maybe Fichte, and definitely Schelling, and, if you do, Hegel will virtually fall in place for you. However, all-too-few people seem to understand Kant, and, consequently, his philosophical heirs are a total enigma to them.

Kant, we frequently hear, was a skeptic who taught that we could not know reality. He barred us from knowledge of things-in-themselves; he declared that all knowledge is subjective; he cut us off from the external world. Christian apologists frequently put him into the same category as David Hume, the enfant terrible of modern philosophy. Now, Hume was that, but he and Kant belong into very different boxes. We all know that Kant said that Hume awakened him from his "dogmatic slumber," but then surely it was not to start imitating Hume, but to solve the problems bequeathed to the world by Hume. He sought to neutralize Hume, along with everyone else, by means of his "Copernican Revolution." Here's the difference: Hume began with a method, a rather simplistic empirical positivism, and on the basis of that method, he delineated what is and what is not knowable, with the category of what is knowable being pretty tiny. On the other hand, Kant began with the assumption that there are all kinds of things that we do know, and then developed a theoretical mechanism that would explain how it is possible for us to have that knowledge. Given the world's honeymoon with Isaac Newton at the time, he hoped to bring the same degree of certainty to philosophy as the natural sciences appeared to be enjoying.

In numerous ways, what Kant actually did was to restore the complexity of the epistemologies of the Middle Ages that had been lost in modern philosophy, in which perception seemed to be a passive process, not all that different from a camera taking a picture and the mind performing subsequent operations with the picture, but the picture per se is given. This simplicity applied to the empirical idealist George Berkely just as much as to the rationalist Leibniz. There is a lot that Kant and St. Thomas Aquinas have in common. In fact, in the twentieth century there was a movement among Thomistic philosophers who attempted to develop Thomistic philosophy from a Kantian perspective, initiated by Joseph Maréchal, and propagated particularly by Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner. This "transcendental Thomism" went too far, but there is no question that Aquinas agreed with Kant on the basic idea that we do not have knowledge of any item apart from the active contribution made by the mechanisms of our minds. See, for example, Summa Theologica, 1, q.84.

So, let's start with the simple example of knowledge of an object by acquaintance. I know that here is a book. I know the book. I know the book by means of the mechanism of my mind that facilitate my knowing the book. I do not know the book apart from the way that I know it. There is a book. My mind apprehends it, and so I know it, thanks to my mind. Do I know the book apart from the mechanisms of my mind that make it possible for me to know the book? Of course not. I can only know the book by means of my faculties of knowledge. Do I know the book-in-itself? Well, I don't think so, but I don't know what that means. Maybe if someone could explain the difference to me between knowing the book and knowing the book-in-itself, I could make sense of the question, but it seems to me that the question entails the possibility of knowing-the-book-apart-from-knowing-it, and that I cannot do.

Kant turned things inside out by saying that the knowledge that we have of things is made possible by the forms of space and time and the pure concepts of the understanding, which are contributed by our minds and not contained in the external world. Does the book know, for example, that it is a single and particular book, that it was caused by an author, publisher, and printer, and that its identity is different from another book? No, those judgments are applied by our minds; they don't come with the book. So, Kant ascribed to the workings of the mind what previous modern philosophers naively thought was incorporated in the substance of the book. Kant did not say that we cannot know reality. He did say, however, that we cannot know reality apart from the mechanism of knowledge, and if that's being skeptical, we have taken the sting out of the term "skepticism." Furthermore, Kant also declared that, if we try to take those mechanisms and turn them into objects of knowledge themselves, we are going to run into contradictions (the so-called antinomies of reason, of which Kant also said that they awakened him from his dogmatic slumber). For example, I can say that the book is singular and particular, but if I try to establish whether singularity is particular, that doesn't make any sense and is, thus, off-limits. (It is a part of the "noumenal," which makes knowledge of the "phenomenal" possible, but it it cannot be treated as though it were a phenomenal reality itself.)

 So, this is how Kant thought knowledge comes about. There is an external world. Just to reassure ourselves, the external world consists of things-in-themselves, but we cannot know those things apart from knowing them. We know them by packaging them with the faculties of our minds. First, we apply the forms of space and time to them, so that they are in their proper geographical and temporal locations, and then subject them to judgment by means of the categories of logic. After all, we need to maintain the differences between one and many, cause and effect, and so forth, and our minds do that for us.

More on Kant next time.






Part 2

So, I insisted last time that Kant is widely misunderstood because people read him along the same lines as Hume, who invented a method for knowledge and then applied it to the point where he was stuck with skepticism. Kant, on the other hand, started with the certain knowledge that we have and then established a method that makes this knowledge possible. Let me emphasize several points:

Now, here comes the important point of distinction between Kant and his successors. Let us look at another example of knowledge by acquaintance. There is a flower, and I know that flower. In the background of that knowledge of the flower is the flower-in-itself, but I only know the flower insofar as knowledge of it is mediated through my mind. Kant's successors raised the question of what, if anything, the flower-in-itself contributes to our knowledge of it. They concluded that it just seemed to be a nothing-burger stipulation, which Kant would not relinquish because he was afraid of losing the objectivity of knowledge. Kant's successors did not share his Angst. Let's follow their lead and assume that you do have knowledge of the flower, even though there is no flower-in-itself.

To demonstrate their answer, let us once again raise Kant's transcendental question, but with a twist. Let's do this slowly, first by reiterating Kant's approach.



Kant's successors were called the "German Idealists." Idealism here stands in contrast to "realism." Whereas realism, as it is used in this context of modern philosophy, posits an external world that exists apart from my mind, idealism dispenses with a separately existing external world and claims that all knowledge, even the apparent empirical content, has its source in our minds.


If that supposition is true, it sure seems to leave us with incredibly cluttered minds. And so it does. Some philosophers try to use the sheer number of possible imaginary objects as an argument in itself against those who espouse a view such as this one, or, say, that of Alexius Meinong (1853-1920), who came from a different direction. But why should the number of possible ideas, images, fantasies, etc. be limited? Who decides what is the correct number and what counts as excessive? We can't do philosophy by abacus or clicker.

There is another problem, however, that does need to be addressed. Something must create order within all of those potential appearances. Unless there is some kind of a regulative mechanism that holds the content together and structures it, our thoughts have the potential of being totally chaotic. Kant's forms and categories cannot help the idealist because Kant left the external world as storehouse, limiting the mind's intake to one sensory intuition at a time, whereas the idealist locates it all in our minds, and if all of the possible content would present itself all at once, viz. everything that we could conceivably know or imagine came to our consciousness in one instant, . . . well, I'm thinking of heads exploding, skulls on fire, serious incurable psychoses; again, there seems to be no limit to the frightening possibilities. But actually, I don't really have to worry about such a contingency if, with the German idealists, I approach the issue transcendentally. I only have to account for the knowledge that I do have, not for some bizarre scenario of cosmic cognitive overload that is not a reality. So, since my mind is (relatively) orderly, there must be an intrinsic means of regulation. Fichte came up with an idea towards that end, namely by emphasizing human beings as moral agents as well as thinkers, and that's what we'll talk about next time.


Part 3

When other explanations don't work, resort to the Absolute. This is a time-honored principle in philosophy, going back to the beginnings of Greek philosophy when Anaximander argued that Thales' understanding of the universe did not hold water. Well, actually it did, but too much of it.

Thales---in case this attempt at humor is confusing you---apparently believed that the basic substance underlying everything that exists is water. I am saying "apparently" because what we have of the writings of the pre-Socratic philosophers consists mostly of so-called fragments, viz. quotations and attributions by other philosophers, such as Aristotle. So, we need to be careful in attempting to reconstruct what they may actually have believed into  coherent patterns. Given this understanding of Thales' cosmology, all objects in the universe are formed to varying degrees of water, which manifests itself as a highly adaptive kind of stuff. From the rocks of the Gobi desert to the content of your plastic bottle, it all merely depends on the concentration or thickness of the water. Thales also said that the entire universe consists of gods, so what he meant by "water" may be something more refined than physical H2O.

In any event, Anaximander thought that this notion of limiting yourself to one substance as substrate to everything is far too limiting. If you want to explain everything, you must look for something that will, in fact explain everything. The idea that water is the substance of dry things does not make any sense. The ultimate stuff of the universe must be able to clarify both wet and dry. In fact, it must encompass all mutually exclusive attributes: {wet--dry}, {hot--cold}, {long--short}, {sweet--bitter-- sour}, {light--dark--murky}, {happy--unhappy-sober}, and so forth. So, the ultimate principle of all must be all-encompassing, unbounded, infinite, or--to use the most relevant term for us at the moment--an Absolute.

In the standard sequence of the Presocratics, the next philosopher is Anaximenes (I distinguish the two by reminding myself that "a" comes before "e"), who, in turn, criticized his predecessor Anaximander. Remember, in philosophy it's not usually the conclusions that are half as important as the arguments used to support the conclusions. Anaximenes thought that Anaximander's idea was too open and vague. Why is this fire hot? Because of the Infinite. Why is this ice cold? Because of the infinite. Why is this color red? Because of the Infinite. Why is this color not red, but blue? Because of the Infinite. If you can explain everything and its contraries with the same explanation, you're really not explaining anything. The obvious question becomes, why does the Infinite make one thing red and another blue? And so you're back to the starting point. Let Anaximander stand as an example, then, of the futility of positing something Absolute or Infinite as the ultimate explanation; it is too unspecific to explain anything. Nevertheless, he is the first example of similar attempts off and on throughout the history of Western philosophy. (As well as Eastern philosophy, though they dealt with it differently.) --- Anaximenes, by the way, stipulated air as the basic substance, which also did not work all that well.

It is the idea of the Absolute that became the means for Kant's successors to cope with the lack of a thing-in-itself, which they considered unnecessary. As we said last time, if there is no flower-in- itself in the external world, it must be in our consciousness, but if the entire world actually exists in my mind, that's not only a lot of stuff to carry in my head, but I need some regulative principle to keep it coherent, and Fichte thought that he had found it.

Johann Gottlieb FichteJohann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) began his philosophical explorations as a follower of Kant, but then branched out with his own system, which incorporated some of Kant's principles, but dispensed with others, notably the thing-in-itself. What Fichte retained from Kant was an inclination to substitute morality for metaphysics.

This gets complicated because Fichte tried to be not only logical and philosophical, but edifying as well. So, everything that he stipulated had a moral dimension with a basis in agency, in a deed.

So, Fichte had us begin by stipulating an absolute self, the "I," that posits itself as an action. That's right; I am absolute. I am everything. The world is I, and I am the world. What an easy way of solving all philosophical problems. So, the stipulation of the flower in my mind is only a small part of my self-consciousness.

But wait! Am I really the flower? I don't experience the flower as myself; I experience the flower as other than myself. In order for this explanation to work, I need to posit a not-I in opposition to my absolute I.

So, I am a free and morally accountable "I." But so are you. And you and you. And just like the flower, I experience all those other "I's" as "not -I's." And so, a synthesis emerges: a finite, limited "I."


Okay, let me draw my conclusion: Fichte came up with the idea of positing an Absolute "I." From the Absolute I he then deduced the limited I, subject to moral and epistemological strictures. Now, Hegel thought that this was a pretty bad idea. He actually mentioned the phrase "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" only once, and he called it geistlos ("mindless").

Part 4

Virtually everything that is being written on Fichte and Schelling these days, berates the practice of treating them simply as transitions from Kant to Hegel, and counsels us to read them as philosophers who had a lot to offer in their own right. I must confess that I'm guilty of pursuing the "transition approach." Frankly, if asked to study or teach either Fichte or Schelling just for themselves, I'm not sure I'd be terribly intrigued by them. However, as I discovered at one conference quite a while ago, in German philosophy the war of superiority, Schelling vs. Hegel, is either still going on or has been revived.

It has been said that Friedrich Joseph Wilhelm Schelling (1775-1854) got his education in public. He started out as a follower of Fichte and then slowly moved away from him (and even from transcendental philosophy) to establish his own system in stages. Every time that he gained a new insight, he would write and lecture about it as the final truth of his system until the next time that he changed his mind. To a large extent, these transitions also manifested themselves in the erosion of various friendships, e.g. with Fichte and Hegel, though in the latter case, it's pretty clear that Hegel took the initial shot at Schelling. But a part of the problem with Schelling has always been that he presented himself as a moving target. Since I'm using the "transition approach," I will confine my efforts of trying to represent Schelling to his transcendental phase. I must say, though, that it's not easy for me to give a short summary of Schelling in any of his phases; consequently I welcome informed corrections.

Remember the meaning of "transcendental." This word describes the type of philosophy that begins by stipulating knowledge as a given and then asks, what are the conditions that make knowledge possible? We saw how Kant answered that question with the existence of a thing-in-itself, the sensory intuition of the empirical world, and the synthetic a priori faculties of the mind: the forms, concepts, and categories, without which we could not have knowledge. Fichte, as we saw last time, dispensed with the thing-in-itself and posited an "absolute I," that, in reaction to the fact that there are many instances of "not-I," limits itself and makes knowledge and morality possible. Schelling thought that this was an arbitrary move by Fichte.

How can there be an "absolute I"? Or, to put a different spin on the question, How can I know that there is an "absolute I"? I certainly never experience myself as absolute or unlimited. In order to justify the existence of an "absolute I," we need, first of all, to have a framework that allows us to speak of an "Absolute." So, a necessary condition of all knowledge is that there is an Absolute that presents itself in the multiplicity of facts of consciousness. Consequently, Schelling takes us back all the way to the thought of Anaximander, according to whom contraries are explained on the basis of an all-inclusive Infinite. I need to find myself and all other particulars in the Absolute. There is an identity between the Absolute--the One--and nature--the many--which it is necessary to embrace. So, on one level, all particular things are the same, insofar as we look at them merely as integrated into the Absolute, but on another level, they are distinct. You will not be surprised to learn that, when Schelling espoused this view, he was enamored by the pantheism of Spinoza. Later in his life and thought, several stages past this one, he repudiated Spinoza.

As you know if you've read No Doubt About It, or perhaps some other excellent book on apologetics, the Achilles Heel of pantheism is that one and the same thing cannot be both infinite and finite. Schelling attempted to get around this problem by pointing out that the law of contradiction only applies to a thing when it is itself, not when it is something else. Now, please bear with me; this point can be confusing, (undoubtedly because it is confused), but we need to understand what Schelling was trying to say. So let me repeat slowly what I take to be Schelling's reasoning. In general,the law of contradiction applies to a thing (or a proposition concerning a thing). But Schelling found (or invented) an exception to this rule. Thus:

I can imagine two--come to think of it, actually three--reactions on the part of someone reading the above. We'll begin with the one that came to me as an afterthought.

Assuming that I understand Schelling correctly, this line of argumentation constitutes the way in which he attempted to maintain the identity of the particulars with the Absolute. Every particular thing is identical with the Absolute, either in its own form or in another form. Schelling accused Fichte of making an arbitrary leap by assuming the absolute I, but it seems to me that his exposition of the Absolute out-leaps Fichte by a long distance.

We're beginning to get close to the point when we are ready to see how Hegel attempted to re-integrate transcendental philosophy without any arbitrary leaps. Just one more preliminary entry.

Part 5

Kant, Fichte, Schelling

This is the last preliminary post for "Understanding Hegel." In the animated picture I have summarized the three philosophers whom I am using, quite unfairly and only for this series, merely in the role of antecedents to Hegel. By the way, I don't personally carry a torch for Hegel. Well, okay I do, but in the sense of aesthetic admiration, not as agreeing with him. As hopefully most people know, I strongly favor the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition. It's just that Hegel's system is incredibly intriguing, and, since he certainly had a lot of influence, we should get his philosophy right. So, in the insert, we see a summary of the prior three transcendental philosophers. Let me emphasize again that the transcendental approach inherently makes all knowledge heuristic. It can never say, "X is Y," but only, "if we know Y is true, then X must be true." So, to apply this method to Schelling, for example, if we stay true to the transcendental method (which Schelling himself eventually did not), we should not read him as saying, "The Absolute exists," but, "given our knowledge of ourselves and our place in the universe, we must stipulate the idea of an Absolute." Ontology gives way to the criteria for self-knowledge.

Let me mention one philosopher and his system in order to try to stress the difference. This is John Scotus Erigena, or variations thereof, such as Scottus Eriugena; the meaning is basically John of Ireland (815?-877?). Ireland had been a refuge for classical learning during the early middle ages. For example it was one of the few places in Europe where Greek was being taught, and Greek works were being read and copied. During the short-lived Carolingian Rennaisance, Charlemagne and his grandson, Charles the Bald, attracted some of the better scholars of the day, and Erigena apparently spent most of his life at the Frankish court. The legend that his life was ended at Oxford, where his students supposedly stabbed him to death with their writing quills, is most likely fictional. Nevertheless, I'm just as happy that lap tops have replaced sharp pointy objects for the most part.

Contemporary with Erigena, there was a monk named Gottschalk of Orbais (808?--867?). Gottschalk (lit. "God's Fool") had studied the works of Augustine and had come to agree with Augustine's notions of predestination and election, which he began to preach, teach, and promote with his writings. In fact, he insisted that predestination was double-edged; if there is an election to salvation for the saints, there must also be an election to damnation for the reprobate, as John Calvin would argue much later.

Gottschalk taught his doctrine wherever he went, which is a significant way of putting the matter because he went a lot of places, finding himself kicked out of one area, he would have to move on to somewhere else. Nobody much liked his doctrine, and apparently his personal disposition also had the potential to annoy people. Any number of ecclesiastical figures tried to get him to recant or suffer the punishment due to heretics (which, at the time, included physical violence, but not yet necessarily being burned at the stake). So, King Charles the Bald, together with his trusted advisor, the archbishop Hincmar, called on Erigena to write a refutation of Gottschalk's teaching.

Erigena went right to work on this project, but when it was done, nobody was particularly pleased with the book or the man, who had written it. The Irish sage did indeed defend a position different from that of Gottschalk, but he had gone in the opposite direction from what had been expected of him. He expounded on the idea that there is, indeed, no double-predestination. Instead, all of creation is predestined eventually to be united with God.

The title of Erigena's books was De Divisione Naturae, "On the Divisions of Nature." Following his grounding in neo-Platonic philosophy, he thought of all of reality as ultimately being unified, originating with the One, or God, emanating from him into the multiplicity of particular things, and eventually returning to him. he described "Nature" as the totality of all that exists, which is gradually moving in a cycle. The four stages are:

On the Divisions of Nature 


If you are at all familiar with Hegel's system, you may immediately recognize the similarity between the ninth-century Irishman and the nineteenth-century German. If not, hang in there, it'll be quite obvious shortly. For now, let me just say that Hegel's system is also a huge circle that includes God as not-creating, creating, and then again not-creating. But there is a huge difference. What we see in Erigena is a description of what is real according to his neo-Platonic vision of things. His circle moves forward, from God's uncreated being through his creation, returning to his uncreated being once again. But Hegel's system, being transcendental moves backwards, as it were. In the pattern we described above, he begins with our consciousness, shows that it cannot be true consciousness unless it is self-consciousness, moves on from there to show that true self-consciousness is not possible without God, makes the case that God could not be possible without an Absolute, argues that the Absolute could not exist without there being consciousness, which is ultimately self-consciousness, and so on. I'll supply details as we move on.

So, my point is simply to highlight the two different ways of building a system. In Erigena's case we begin with a reality that produces a further reality, including conscious creatures. In Hegel's case, we will begin with our consciousness, which--as something that is a given--demands the stipulation of a "God-idea" and the "reality-idea" to make it work. Thus, to overstate it without refinement, Hegel's God and reality are all in our minds.

Ouch! "Overstatement without refinement" is putting it mildly, but hopefully that description is crass enough to clarify the difference between metaphysical philosophy and transcendental philosophy. Next time, we'll begin actually looking at Hegel.

Let me summarize what we are supposed to have learned from all of the preparatory matter:

Hegel's philosophy

  • is transcendental, viz. it does not build up a metaphysical system from an objective foundation, but it builds up a system in response to the question of what are the conditions that make knowledge possible?
  • dispenses with Kant's "thing-in-itself" and makes the content of knowledge a part of the structure of knowledge;
  • objected to the Fichtian idea that philosophy can make progress on the basis of a thesis, opposed by an antithesis, which will then establish a synthesis;
  • accepted the idea of an Absolute, but would not accept Schelling's idea of the identity of everything, based on the misuse of the law of contradiction;
  • resembles the system of Scotus Erigena, which cycles from God to creation and back to God again. However, as indicated above, whereas Erigena worked on the basis of neo-Platonic emanationism, Hegel's system is transcendentally motivated.

Part 6


Since this is the sixth installment of this series called "Understanding Hegel," it is time that we actually address Hegel's own philosophy. Nevertheless, I will start slowly, with some biographical material, and that means talking about the relationship between Hegel and Schelling. The possibly annoying animated picture on the left is based on a picture I took in January of 1991, when I taught at Neues Leben Seminar in Wölmersen, Germany, for a few weeks. (BTW, unless they've changed in the meantime, which I doubt, I would strongly recommend them as the most outstanding evangelical seminary in Germany in terms of their faculty, curriculum, and philosophy of education. The times I was there, at least, I always came away thinking that they were not just giving their students intense content, but they were giving them the tools to continue to acquire content after they had graduated. I would love to hear from my FB friends from that institution. But I digress). At that time three students from the newly reunited Eastern part of Germany took me on a whirlwind tour of Thüringen and Saxony, including a stop at Jena; I don't mind telling you that I got goosebumps several times on that trip. Jena was an important city for this series. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel had taught there.

G. W.   F. HegelBorn in 1770, Hegel was a few years older than Schelling. Nevertheless, the precocious Schelling was in the same school year with Hegel, as well as his contemporary, the poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1842) as they were attending a Protestant seminary in Tübingen. If they had had Facebook back then, they would have clicked the "like" link for "Kant" and the "French Revolution."

After receiving their degrees in 1893 they went their separate ways, all three of them starting out as private tutors for wealthy families. Eventually, Hölderlin found his calling in poetry, though by 1805 mental illness had wrapped its chain of unwieldy, stiff links around his creativity. Schelling, continuing his role as Wunderkind  had landed an appointment at the University of Jena; Hegel spent four years as private tutor to a family in Bern, Switzerland. When that particular situation became unbearable, Hölderlin, who lived in Frankfurt, found Hegel similar employment there. For a time, two of these musketeers were reunited and mutually stimulated each other's intellectual growth. Although (or maybe because) the job as house teacher was stressful and unpleasant for Hegel at times, he managed to write some book-length essays. Nevertheless, I hasten to add that one takes them seriously at one's peril. None of them were published, except much, much later, and then more for their biographical interest than their philosophical content. To mention one example, Hegel wrote a "Life of Jesus," which consisted of rewriting Jesus' teachings into the various forms of Kant's categorical imperative. ("Always act so that you can will your maxim to be universal law.")

Finally, in 1801, Hegel rejoined the other member of the threeseome when Schelling assisted Hegel in finding him an academic position at the University of Jena as Privatdozent, a title that meant that he could list his courses in the university catalogue and would be paid per student who enrolled in his lectures. During that time in Jena, this number averaged below ten, though a few semesters it soared into the twenties. Hegel was far from attaining wealth or fortune. He also needed to take time off from teaching in order to pursue the research and writing necessary to advance his career, an activity that universities and colleges commonly expect of you, but hardly ever count towards your work load, whether we're talking about Jena at the beginning of the 19th century or liberal arts colleges or medical schools in the twenty-first. Together with Schelling, he edited a journal entitled Critical Journal of Philosophy, out of which arose a full- length monograph with the catchy title of The Difference between the Systems of Fichte and Schelling. It obviously was of great interest to Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, but it did not propel him into the scholarly limelight of his day.

Some of the articles that Hegel contributed to that journal are fascinating, if for no other reason than their audacity in ridiculing philosophers who had been critical of the transcendentalist philosophers. To give just one example, a gentleman named Wilhelm Traugott Krug (1770-1842) had taken over the chair vacated by the late Immanuel Kant. He was not a transcendental philosopher and criticized Fichte and Schelling. Krug means "pitcher," as in a container for liquids, not as in Sandy Kofax. In his response, which was not entirely devoid of substance, Hegel started to wax eloquent about various substances one can pour into a pitcher. Hilarious, to be sure, but one cannot help but think that, considering the fact that Hegel desperately wanted to find a better academic position, alienating various professors of philosophy across Germany by his sarcasm would have worked against him. (In a later entry, I will give you an example of how that story has been utterly distorted.)

In 1803 Schelling left for Würzburg, where he would continue to teach as well as to pursue an affair that eventually led to marriage with Caroline, by then the ex-wife of the Romanticist, August Wilhelm Schlegel.

The First Review of the Phenomenology    

From the Jenaer Allgemein Literatur Zeitung
in Kaufmann, [hereafter K], 327)

"Whether we have completely understood Herrn Hegel, we leave for him to judge. We have understood ourselves, but this is precisely the author's most profound intention in his work. Regarding the author's manner, however, we have often missed that necessity which should strike us as we consider each moment in turn. His manner is often harsh, dry, and more difficult to cope with than the subject matter; nor is it rare for it, this this is easily comprehensible at the beginning of such a work, to move around the subject uncertainly and hesitate anxiously before it finally hits it squarely. The fruit is delectable enough: the shell will fall off by itself as it grows ripe."
(K. J. H. Windischmann (1775-1839), who crowned his career as professor of philosophy in Bonn)

For financial reasons, as well as in order to get ahead in his career (I guess that's redundant in many cases), Hegel needed to publish a decent book, and so he started to work on The Phenomenology of Spirit. "Phenomenology" basically means "appearance," so the title communicates something along the line of "Ways in which the Spirit manifests itself." One of those ways is, of course, the Absolute, with which Schelling was heavily enamored at the time, though not apparently at the expense of paying the necessary attentions to Caroline Schlegel. The Phenomenology is a rather thick volume; the edition I hold in my hand is about 590 pages of German written with Greek grammar (or so it has been claimed), and it took Hegel a while to write it and to inject sufficient complexity into it for it to be worthwhile. Actually, as shown by his earlier articles, Hegel could write clearly, succinctly, and engagingly. For some reason, he suspended most of those attributes in the Phenomenology-- most of the time. Some people claim that they find him rushing his argumentation a bit toward the end, but, if so, it is certainly not noticeable to me. The original plan was that Schelling would write a foreword to it, which would greatly foster its success. Hegel hoped that in the Phenomenology he could teach philosophy to speak German.  If he succeeded, it is speaking a dialect not native to any recognizable region.  

What happened with this book can, to some extent, be traced by following the correspondence between Hegel and other concerned parties that has been printed up in the documentation section of Walter Kaufmann's magisterial book Hegel: A Reinterpretation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1965). Why "magisterial"? Because it's a Walter Kaufmann book; all his works are magisterial by authorial fiat. Some of them actually are; this one was, indeed, groundbreaking for scholarship on Hegel in the English-speaking world.  It was not, of course, the final word, which you are reading here, as you realize.

Hegel finished the Phenomenology in 1806. By this time, the political situation in Europe was chaotic, thanks to Napoleon trying to turn it all into the Greater Paris Metropolitan area. Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer (1766-1848) , who had come to know Hegel and friends while studying at the same seminary, but had finished before them, had been in Jena from 1790 to 1804, first as student, and then as professor of philosophy. He mediated between Hegel and the publisher, a man named Göbhardt, who lived and worked in the town of Bamberg, and Niethammer paid for the upfront costs of printing the book, a practice that still seems to be more common in Germany today than in the United States. Doing so was very generous of him, but it put a great amount of stress on both him and Hegel, who was struggling to meet the publisher's deadlines. Napoleon Bonaparte seriously lessened the reliability of mail delivery in the course of his attempt at conquering the world (little did Bonaparte know that he would eventually be succeeded by Dr. No, Mr. Goldfinger, and similar pathetic figures). Only after Hegel and Niethammer had committed themselves, did they find out that Herr Goebhardt had a reputation for interpreting a contract in ways that surprisingly earned him more money (and the author less) than had been anticipated. The book was printed roughly in halves, and Hegel needed to correct the page proofs of the first half at the same time as to finish writing the second half of the manuscript, all the while counting down the days to the deadline and to the almost-certain arrival of Napoleon and his army.

In August of 1806, Hegel asked Niethammer to make sure that Goebhardt was printing the correct number of copies (of the first half), so as not to cheat him of potential royalties (K, 317).

On October 3, 1806, Niethammer reminded Hegel to be punctual about mailing his work. He wrote (K 317-318), "So the matter stands pretty well, and everything depends on this, that you do not fail to send me the manuscript at the right time. But on this point I have to remind you again and again not to offer Herrn G. the least loophole, for I consider him wholly capable of insisting quite literally on my bond. . . . The last possible date for dispatching the final shipment . . . is Monday, October 13".

On Monday, October 13, Napoleon entered Jena.

To be continued.

Part 7

Lundi, 13 Octobre 1806, Napoléon est entré Iéna. Monsieur le Professeur Dr. Hegel ne savait pas si son manuscrit serait se rendre à l'éditeur à l'heure. Il avait beaucoup d'anxiété.

Hegel sees Napoleon in JenaHold on. Let me clarify something. I was going to spend more time on Hegel's relationship to Schelling last night, but then I just caught up in some of the other biographical material, and I'll continue (I almost said "finish"--fat chance) the story tonight. As I was reviewing various materials on Hegel, I once again was struck by the way he has been treated in so many undergraduate texts. It's not just that his philosophy has been miscontrued, but--as I shall demonstrate below--the accounts of his life are frequently also narratives that someone could have produced as a project in Creative Writing 101.

So, Hegel had to get the last part of the Phenomenology of Spirit mailed no later than October 13, 1806. If not, Goephardt, the publisher, could have, and probably would have, kept all of Niethammer's money for nothing (cue the Inside Straight), and Hegel's dreams and passions would be gone forever. Hopefully nothing would stand in his way.

Unfortunately, there was something standing in his way, namely a decisive battle, "The Battle of Jena," which ended the thousand-year Holy Roman Empire of German Nations, truly a world-historical event. The "Holy Roman Empire," as it is usually referred to somewhat dismissively in American historical circles (Better: Das Heilige Römische Reich Deutscher Nationen or HRRDN) had been inaugurated by Charlemagne a thousand years earlier, and now came to an end at the hands of the Corsican overachiever. Hegel saw Napoleon ride through Jena in person, and he couldn't help but be amazed at having a direct view of this individual, around whom the whole Western world revolved at the time. Here he was, right before his eyes, appearing as normal flesh-and-blood, and yet what force was concentrated in this one human being! In a letter to Niethammer on that same fateful day of October 13 Hegel referred to the Emperor as a "world-soul" (K, 318-19), an expression that certainly conveys awe and respect, given the power contained in that one single person, but it has no no direct metaphysical import. [The picture is a drawing from Harper's Magazine from 1895, copied from Wikimedia. I don't know about anyone else, but I had a hard time making out the persons of Napoleon and Hegel in the grey-scaled version, so I colorized Napoleon and Hegel at intervals to be able to see them a little better.]

As a boy in Bonn, Germany, I got to see some very important people at various times, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and Charles DeGaulle. I was aware of the fact that these were men at whose command the map of the world could be changed, and this amount of power brings with it an aura that goes beyond what fame, lesser forms of social power, financial status, or anything else could produce. Undoubtedly, this is what Hegel was experiencing. In subsequent generations, as the innovative and creative process of misconstruing Hegel began the climb along its long and winding road, some nincompoop turned the the word "soul" (Seele) into "spirit" (Geist), a horrendous mix-up! This goof then, quite naturally, led to the ridiculous idea that Hegel claimed to have seen the Absolute Spirit riding on a horse.

No, Hegel did not see the Absolute on horseback. But, even though he admired Napoleon, the Corsican certainly caused him a lot of anxiety. Still, that's par for Hegel's life; uncertainty and suspense were never far away.

That reminds me of the observation made by Henry D. Aiken in the popular Mentor series anthology: The Age of Ideology (New York: Mentor, 1956), p. 73:

As a human being Hegel is uninteresting; he lived apparently, for no other purpose than that of playing secretary to the Absolute.

What an absurd, untrue, and demeaning statement! Admittedly, I can't specify for you what an "interesting" person is in general, but I assume that, since Aiken singled out Hegel and didn't apply the same label to other philosophers, that they constituted the standard against which he measured Hegel for his level of interestingness. Well, if so, he was definitely wrong. I'm sorry if this is hurtful to people who loved and admired Henry D. Aiken, but what he was really saying was

I, Henry D. Aiken, did not bother to look up any sources on Hegel's life, and so I felt free to put Hegel down with a witty sentence.

Whether his motivation was laziness, a predisposition against Hegel, or ignorance that there were any sources around, I cannot say.

Then again, do you remember when I wrote about Hegel's article criticizing W. H. Krug, who was well known since he was the successor to Kant's chair of philosophy in Königsberg. Hegel was a young philosopher, struggling financially and professionally, looking for a paying academic appointment, with the completion of the Phenomenology a distant dream. Still, he had the nerve to attack Krug personally with satire. One of Krug's arguments had been that, if transcendental idealism places the origin of the content of our knowledge in our minds, then a transcendental philosopher should be able to apparate a pen into his hand by sheer transcendental deduction. Gordon Clark in From Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1957), pp. 446-47, for some reason sets the story many years later and invents a response on Hegel's part that comes purely from someone's imagination.

He crushed the obscure professor by the pomp of his position. Did he not occupy the chair in the University of Berlin? Was he not the official philosopher of the Prussian state? To be sure, he did more than throw his weight around. He could refer to the first chapter of the Phänomenologie, written years before Krug asked his question. The argument showed that it is impossible to speak of an individual that we mean. . . .

What?! Where could Gordon Clark possibly have gotten this nonsense? This is rot. I'm tempted to say "absolute" rot, but, unlike Fichte, Schelling, or Hegel, I'm never quite sure what the term "absolute" adds to a characterization. According to Clark's own philosophy, which centered around the notion that all of our beliefs, whether true or false, are the direct product of individual divine revelation, I guess he must have gotten this information from God. But I doubt it. ---Gordon Clark was a committed Christian philosopher with a heart for demonstrating that Christianity could compete in the world of the ideas of the twentieth century. He attempted to show that philosophies not built on divine revelation were incapable of presenting a coherent system. So far so good.

However, in trying to accomplish this goal, Clark went a step beyond the level of maintaining credibility as a serious philosopher. It is one thing to claim that you perceive things in the world, but that, apart from a divine organizing principle, your perceptions can never add up to coherent knowledge; it is another to deny the reality of having perceptions altogether. Clark's intent was to show that, since there can be no genuine knowledge based on external sensory input, then internal divine input is the best alternative to account for our knowledge. Then, in the course of making this unnecessarily overblown case, his antics of pretending not to be aware of any sensory perceptions, actually turned his own argument against him as a reductio ad absurdum. The obvious divide between his philosophy and life as we all must live it came out clearly one evening when he gave a lecture. Right beforehand, in casual conversation, he asked Norm Geisler for a "physical description of the town of Northwood, Illinois," which at the time had produced several gold medal winners in speed skating. So, in his day-to-day life, empirical information clearly played as important a role for him as it does for any other ordinary person. But then, a few minutes later, behind the rostrum, he started to argue that sensory or empirical knowledge were utterly useless and unreliable, and I'm afraid that his demeanor became downright embarrassing. When my good friend Phil Payne held up a Bible in front of his face and asked him whether "this" was revelation, his answer was that he didn't see anything. Norm Geisler asked him if he got off the train tracks if a train was coming; surprisingly he said, yes, because he would "surmise" the coming of the train. I believe it may have been in response to Clark Pinnock's question of how, if all knowledge were the direct result of revelation to an individual, it could be possible for us ever to make errors, he explained that in such cases God was deceiving us. Dorothy Pinnock, Clark Pinnock's wife, broke out in tears.

Still, knowing of this disjunct between his actual life and his philosophy, does not explain why he reproduced an utterly inventive version of the exchange between Krug and Hegel, and furthermore a version which, even back then, could have been corrected easily.

Sorry, at this rate we're not making much progress, but I'm having fun venting my spleen and pointing out the plenitude of unclothed emperors.

Plus tard.

Part 8

In our last episode, you will remember, our hero, G. W. F. Hegel, had to surmount the obstacles posed by the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Holy Roman Empire, in order to get his manuscript of the Phenomenology of Spirit to the publisher on time. On Tuesday, October 8, he had written to his go-between, Professor Niethammer:

Here is half of the manuscript, Friday you will receive the other half; and then I shall have done what could be done on my side. If any part of this got lost, of course, I should hardly know what to do; I should hardly be able to reconstruct it, and then the work could not appear this year . (K, 318)

However, he did not have the last pages of the manuscript ready until Monday, the 13th, the last likely date for it to get to the publisher on time. In the same letter in which he called Napoleon a "world soul," which is not at all the Absolute Spirit, he expressed his frustration:

From the whole appearance of things I must doubt whether my manuscript, dispatched Wednesday and Friday, arrived. . . . But since the mail left from here I had to risk the dispatch. God knows with what a heavy heart I now risk this one, yet I do not doubt that the mails circulate freey now behind the armies. (K, 319)

Somehow it worked out. Niethammer tendered the manuscript and proofs to Goephardt, the publisher and printer, and, if any of the material came in late, we do not know, but Hegel's lawyer had assured him that the apocalyptic war with Napoleon was sufficiently important to count as special circumstances, so that Goephardt could not weasel out of his contract.

On January 3, 1807, Hegel informed Schelling,


. . . but now I finally anticipate the conclusion of the printing and shall be able to send it to you--but it is only the beginning, though voluminous enough for a beginning--this Easter. It will interest me especially if you will not disapprove of my thought and manner. (K, 320)

Schelling replied enthusiastically on January 11,

I am full of suspense and expectation concerning your finally appearing work. What must result when your maturity still takes time to mature its fruits! (K, 320)

The next letter written by Hegel to Schelling among the ones reproduced in Kaufmann's (K) selections came from Bamberg, where Hegel had written it on May 1, 1807. Technically, the university at Jena could have continued functioning, but most of the students left for places where they were not directly eye-to-eye with Napoleon's soldiers all day, and so the institution was forced to close, at least for the moment. Hegel had to find some other means of subsistence. He became the editor of a newspaper in Bamberg. Goephardt was printing and distributing the Penomenology, but only sporadically. He even sent some bound, but cover-less, copies to Hegel. Hegel had wanted Schelling to write a foreword to the book, but, even though there were printed copies available now, Schelling had not yet received one. Still, even before Schelling could read the book, Hegel attempted to downplay the way in which he had represented Schelling's philosophy in the preface. He tried to persuade Schelling that he was not attacking Schelling or his philosophy, but only Schelling's incompetent followers, and he allowed himself to judge that he had not gone too far in his critique of Schelling's supposed imitators. One might get the feeling that Hegel was already trying to defend himself against the possibility that Schelling could be offended by what Hegel had said. One reason might just be that Hegel's remarks were, in fact, offensive.

In the preface you will find that I have not gone too far against the shallowness that does so much mischief especially with your forms, reducing your science to a bare formalism. ---Moreover, I need not tell you that if you approve of some pages of the whole this will mean more to me, than if others should be satisfied or dissatisfied with the whole. Nor do I know anyone from whom I should rather see something to introduce this essay to the public and a judgment for my own benefit. (K, 323)


Not too soon thereafter, Schelling did receive a copy of Hegel's book, but he put it aside for a while. By the time that Schelling wrote to Hegel again, it was already November 2, 1807, and Schelling had just barely made it past Hegel's preface. He had not liked what he had read. His letter to Hegel is a masterpiece of diplomacy:

So far I have only read the preface. Inasmuch as you yourself mention its polemical part: having a just standard in my opinion of myself, I should have to think too little of myself to relate this polemic to myself. So it may and should strike, as you say in your letter to me, the abuse and babble of the imitators, although in this essay itself, the distinction is not made. (K, 324)

To be sure, Hegel does not mention Schelling by name, and it was gracious of Schelling to play along with Hegel's claim that he was only referring to Schelling's minions. However, there can be little doubt that Schelling's own philosophy was the target of Hegel's criticism, and, based on further documents, we know that Schelling was deeply stung. When we look at Hegel's observations themselves, we find that they did not lack his customary wit.

As you may recall, Schelling argued that all things were identical in the Absolute, and that he had found a way of sneaking past the law of contradiction in order to bring this off. If I may repeat the summary: The night in which all cows are black.

A cannot be not-A,

but if A can also be B,

and B can be not-A,

then it is possible for A to be not-A after all.

Thus, every particular thing can be subsumed under the Absolute, which, as we intimated earlier, makes the philosopher's life easy, but empty. A is in the Absolute., and not-A is also in the Absolute.

The same thing is true for B and not-B, C and not-C, and so forth. All distinctions are blurred and merged. In Hegel's memorable phrase, "this is the night in which all cows are black."

Despite his diplomacy, Schelling felt that Hegel had overstepped the boundaries of friendship. Needless to say, he did not supply Hegel with a foreword to the Phenomenology. The relationship between the two was permanently strained. They did not abandon all contact, but on the few occasions that they got together, neither one of them broached the subject of philosophy.

What was missing in Schelling's thought, according to Hegel, was the "toil of the negative." You can't just declare all things to be identical in the Absolute. The Absolute must be earned, as it were, and to get there you must traverse a long road, in which each paving stone contains its own negation.

But if you're now thinking "thesis-antithesis- synthesis," as tempting as it is, that's not what Hegel has in mind either. Later on in the preface to the Phenomenology, Hegel also criticizes Kant and Fichte for organizing all thought in triplets. We have seen Fichte's Absolute I, non-I, and limited I. In Kant, the triads show up in how the pure concepts of the understanding are organized. For example, the unity of a plurality is a totality.

In Hegel's opinion, this triadity is a pure formalism, a philosophy without any depth. A toddler can memorize groups of three and repeat them, but there is no further value in applying such a scheme.

"If Hegel's philosophy is not 'thesis-antithesis-synthesis,' then what is it?" I have been asked this question countless times, presumably the idea being that there must be some other simple pattern that subsumes his thought. But why should that be? How many philosophies can be summarized with a simple three-word pattern? Hegel's system is far more complex and organic.

Part 9

Have you ever tried to touch a rainbow? It's a futile procedure, of course. Rainbows are not the kind of thing that you can touch. As the sunlight hits the gentle rain drops, the water reflects the light in an arc, the width of which covers the entire spectrum of colors visible to the human eye. In fact, if you manage to place yourself right into the area where the rainbow seems to have appeared, you will find it gone. Instead, you'll stand there in the midst of a gray drizzling rain.

Now, please don't make the mistake of asserting what the rainbow "really" is, the beautiful spectacle in the sky, the optical phenomenon, or nothing except the precipitation. They're all real. It's a matter of what point of view you take. Thus, when Wolfhart Pannenberg preached my own sermon to me he said that that's what Hegel was all about: You look at a thing, and it's one thing; you look at it again, and it's something else.

Well, that's a good start, more or less, but left to itself, it's not quite enough. That summary is actually more applicable to Schelling than to Hegel; it's the way in which Schelling attempted to adapt the Law of Contradiction. What's missing in that description is that the analysis of the first look reveals the thing's own negation, and that's why it looks like something else the next time.

So, isn't what I just said the scheme I said earlier was inappropriate for Hegel, namely a thesis being opposed by an antithesis? No, not at all. There is no opposition, which is then resolved by bringing in a third thing. It is a self-negation that emerges from the thing, which then requires another thing to prop it up. The pattern you have in Fichte, you remember, is that you start with the Absolute I, which is then opposed by the reality of the other Absolute I's, so to speak, which constitute the non- I. --- In case the jargon is getting to you, let me try to put it in plain language. I am "me." Theoretically I'm not only the center of my universe, I am my own universe. But when I get too impressed with myself, I get reminded that there are millions of people who have the same grandiose self-perception. Those are all people who are not me. So, I encounter everything that is not me or non-I, and I need to clip the wings of my exaggerated self-consciousness. The limited I is hammered together, chastened and humbled, but now also made capable to serve in the world. So, in Fichte's thought, you start with one idea (Abs. I) which is then opposed from the outside by a contrary idea (non-I). Here's an illustration.

Fichte's Thesis and Antithesis
Fichte's Thesis and Antithesis

Now, when Hegel talks about the "toil of the negative," he's not referring to a thing finding itself "attacked" by its opposite from without. He's talking about a thing that--speaking in extreme terms now--is self-destructive, or, to put it more correctly, were it left to itself, would be self-negating. Here's an easy example. Let's say that you're home alone, and you're getting cold. You love the out-of-doors, but it's too cold to spend too much time out there, so you decide to bring a little outdoor fun inside of your house. You go out and collect sticks and branches of wood, pile them together in teepee shape in the middle of your living room carpet, add a few crumpled pages of newspaper, strike a match, and have yourself a great camp fire right there in your home. Maybe you can bring some marshmallows or, better yet, add some crackers and chocolate to the marshmallows and make s'mores. Now you can get nice and warm, if not downright toasty.

Bad idea. The fire you made keeps you warm, but starts to spread, and pretty soon, your entire dwelling is one huge blaze. So, the idea itself generated its own annihilation. The same fire that may have seemed good for a few moments turned out to be destructive a few minutes later . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . unless you had availed yourself of one of the many devices available to maintain a contained fire in your house, such as a stove or a fire place.

So, you have an idea that at first glance looked good, then turned out to be bad, but could be rescued if the conditions were changed (such as by using a stove).

At this point, I need to remind us that we are looking at transcendental philosophy, which begins with the question, "What are the conditions that make knowledge possible?" Even though the system becomes extremely complicated, that was Hegel's question as much as Kant's. Kant responded by claiming that the necessary conditions include a thing-in-itself, a sensory intuition, the forms of space and time, and the categories of logic. Hegel's answer is: the entire universe as Absolute Spirit manifests itself, but not all at once, as Schelling would have it. We have to work backwards, starting with one shape of consciousness, but find that it negates itself unless it relies on another one. So, we stipulate (it's transcendental philosophy!) the necessary new shape of consciousness. But then we realize that this one also negates itself unless it relies on another one. I like to think of the mechanism of Hegel's system as nesting cups or stacked blocks, as shown in the illustration.


Hegel's Transcendental Method or Dialectic

To make the illustration really accurate, rather than having a vertical stack of blocks, ultimately the system moves backwards in a circle, where your starting point also becomes your ending point.

"Where, then, is the starting point?" someone asks.

"Wherever you want it to be," I answer. "It's a circle, remember?"

In fact, in his Encyclopedia (which is nothing like an encyclopedia, the term refers to the circle), Hegel begins with "The Eternal Idea Before Creation"--God in himself--and ends up there again. In the Phenomenology he starts with our simplest form of knowledge, "sense certainty," and that's where we'll pick up next time.

Part 10

Let's go on with Hegel tonight, specifically the first three chapters of the Phenomenology. Please keep in mind that I'm summarizing Hegel here, not stating my own views, which are drastically different.

Sense CertaintyBirch Tree in Winter 

Remember now, the topic is knowledge, the method is transcendental: What are the conditions that are necessary to make knowledge possible? A good way to start would be with sensory immediacy. After all, seeing is believing, right? So, Hegel started the Phenomenology with the shape of consciousness he called Sense Certainty, the experience of the moment.

I look outside of my window and see a tree. Observant person that I am, I say to myself, "There is a tree." I see it; therefore, my statement must be true.

Now it is night. I know that it is. It's dark out; I can read the clock; the right programs are playing on TV. I'm certain that it is night. Just to make sure I write it down on a post-it-note: "Now it is night."

After a while, I'm done staring at the tree. I turn my back to the window and no longer see it. So, what does that do to the truth of my earlier statement? If it was based purely on my visual contact with the tree, it should be false now. Similarly, the statement, "Now it is night," should have a pretty short life expectancy as well. If I read my note in the morning, it is no longer true. But does that mean that I wrote down a falsehood last night?

[Before going on with this little story, let me interrupt and reiterate that this is how negativity works in Hegel. The shape of consciousness (in this case, sense certainty), if pushed a little, reveals an inconsistency, or maybe just an inadequacy. That's all.  There's no "antithesis" thundering down like a meteor in a B movie or a bolt of lightning from the gods in a B myth. In this case, any insufficiency is already sufficient to lead us on in the transcendental quest.  All we need is enough warrant to find that the present shape of consciousness is dependent on another shape of consciousness.]

So, sense certainty is good for the moment, but the truth of our beliefs is not that ephemeral. The tree is still there, and I can know that it is still there, even if I no longer see it. If I write down tonight, "Now it is night," I'm not writing down something that is true now and false tomorrow because tomorrow it will still be true that tonight, when I wrote the sentence, it was night. There must be something to knowledge that persists beyond the immediate sense certainty. Something immaterial continues beyond the moment; we can think of it as a "universal," such as a Platonic or Aristotelian form. The specific nature of it doesn't matter as much right now as its reality beyond moments of direct sense certainty. Thus, we have arrived at our second shape of consciousness, which Hegel called Perception.

PerceptionNow it is night. 

Perception provides the support to make sense certainty possible. Because there are universals connected to the things we perceive, we can have knowledge of them, even when we don't have direct sensory connection with them. In other words, because the universal of the tree abides in my mind, I can tell you all about it, even without seeing it. It is a birch tree with just a few branches and, since it's still winter, there are just a few withered leaves clinging to the twigs. Come to think of it, that means that we also need universals for each of the branches, each of the twigs, and all of the leaves. But wait! For the branches, we need universals for the bark and the various segments of wood. For each leaf, we need a universal for each vein, and so forth. So, is the tree a single thing, covered by a single universal, or a composite consisting of a multiplicity of universals? This is the celebrated problem of "the one and the many," and it constitutes the second negation, this one arising out of perception. Something cannot be one thing and many things at the same time in the same sense.

Now, that doesn't seem to be an insurmountable problem. Surely our minds can differentiate between a tree and its leaves, or--for that matter--between anything else and its components. But now we are already giving our minds an active role in the process of knowledge, and so we have to stipulate a third shape of consciousness that makes perception possible. It goes by the name of Understanding.


Understanding becomes a little more complex. First of all, in order for the mind to be able to sort out things, it has to have power. It must be able to distinguish between the universal, the general, and the particular, among other things. And, it would appear that with this power, the mind can just as easily create an unreal world for itself as a real one. To keep that from happening, we need to bring up another power, that will control the first power. But who is to say that the second power will actually reveal reality and not unreality? This interplay of powers needs to be regulated by laws in order to keep our minds from going into chaos.

So, bring on the Laws of Science. They will make sure that everything is nice and orderly. Gravity holds things on the ground. Lightning is electricity.---Wonderful. Isn't it great how applying nomenclature makes us feel informed? But we're really not learning anything except to substitute one set of words for another. When we give supposedly scientific explanations, all we're doing is unpacking the meaning of words that scientists have given to various phenomena. In that case, the laws of science are really mere tautologies. Tautologies are always true. (That's what "tautology" means, a statement that will always be true, such as "Circles are round.") If the tautologies are based on the meaning that we happen to give to words, they are also arbitrary because you could change around all the meanings of the words. As long as you are totally consistent and comprehensive, you could reverse all of the attributes of the world. Thereby you could create an "upside down" world, as it were, and its description would also be tautologically true. "Hot" is "cold"; "sweet" is "sour"; "north" is "south," and so forth.

Once again we're stuck. How is it posssible for our minds to discern what is true? There appears to be a curtain between us and reality. Let us move the curtain a little to the side and take a look at what's behind it. And what do we see behind the curtain? We see ourselves.

That was a (very) quick summary of the first three chapters of the Phenomenology. The first few shapes of consciousness have led us to realize that consciousness is actually self-consciousness. But, of course, that's just the start.

Part 11

CrocusesLet's get back to Hegel. Actually, I wanted to launch right in without further transition because that seemed aesthetically preferable, since, once you've raised the topic of crocuses, Hegel's philosophy should come to mind automatically, but I need to make sure you understand what's about to happen. Last time I summarized the first three chapters of the Phenomenology, and I'm going to pick up from there. But things are going to get somewhat confusing, and you need to realize that that's the point. It's neither you, nor me, nor even Hegel, except insofar as Hegel's argument takes him through this confusing argumentation, but eventually it'll get him past it as well. Remember that in Hegel's methodology the negative generates itself out of a given shape of consciousness, and these constant appearances by "the negative", can really spoil things if you had thought that you had arrived at the final stage. If it helps, think of what follows as an Abbott and Costello word-play routine, hold on, and enjoy the ride.

 So, Hegel said that, if we peak behind the curtain of our consciousness, what we find is ourselves. Not what I would have wanted to see. But can we ignore the man behind the curtain? Not a chance. Consciousness is self-consciousness, Hegel tells us. The subject/object distinction has been overcome. Time to celebrate a job well done? Sorry, but still no. This is barely the beginning. And there's an obvious problem staring us in the face.

That's right, if we're the surprise behind the curtain, then the problem staring us in the face must be us (or we) as well. Let me try to put it plainly. Here's the problem, stated in the form of a question: "How can consciousness be self-consciousness when I am conscious of a crocus, Alex?" I am not a crocus, I'm pretty sure. But if consciousness of a crocus is my self-consciousness, then it must also be the crocus's self-conscious, and that's where I lose me. For that matter, I'm fairly clear on what it means for me to have self-consciousness, but for a crocus, not so much. So, how can my consciousness of a crocus be my self-consciousness?

Obviously, once again, something needs fixing. We need to recognize a distinction within our self-consciousness. [Forgive me for using simpler terminology than Hegel does, but if I don't break this stuff down into words that make sense to me, I won't understand it any longer, and then I can't communicate it to you.] Let's say that self-consciousness has two parts: awareness of myself and awareness of something other than myself (10 bonus points to anyone who immediately recognized that this sounds somewhat like Fichte, but at this point, the "other" is not necessarily a subject). Now my "self-awareness" is in charge, but, as we shall see momentarily, it also relies on "other-awareness." Clearly, I couldn't have "other-awareness" if I didn't first have self-awareness. But in order to have self-awareness, I need to have awareness, pure and simple. So, what, I might ask, is pure awareness? Well, in one sense, you might say, it's total awareness of everything without any impairments. That's great, but if we stopped here, we'd be right back with Anaximander and his infinite explanation that explains everything and, therefore, nothing, or Schelling's nocturnal melanized bovines. Pure awareness would be awareness of everything all at once, which may sound like divine omniscience, but it isn't because it wouldn't recognize any distinctions. It would just be awareness of this big ball of "everything," and, as a result, if pure awareness is not aware of individual entities, it would actually be no different from awareness of nothing.

This is hardly the end we were hoping to achieve, but we've learned a lesson: You can't just have awareness, you also need something of which you are aware. Awareness is nothing without an object. Therefore, my self-awareness must have an "other" to be aware of, and that "other" must be my "self." But then my self-awareness is also a form of other-awareness, and, consequently, just as my other-awareness needs my self-awareness to exist, so my self-awareness needs my other-awareness to exist.

[Time-out from the summary. I don't know whether we've made progress or not, but I'll pretend that we have and move on in a second. I'll stick with my simplified terminology so that I can follow my argument as I try to reproduce Hegel's. The next step in this argument became quite famous in its own right. That's the kind way of saying that people yanked it out of its context in the Phenomenology and treated it as though it were an essay in social politics. The topic is the relationship between a master and his slave, but these are merely illustrations, similes perhaps, of Hegel's ongoing transcendental deduction. Hegel is still looking for an answer to the question of "what are the conditions that make knowledge possible?", not, "when will serfdom be abolished in Eastern Europe?"]

At this point, then, there is a mutual dependence between self-awareness and other-awareness, both of which are constituents of self-consciousness. The relationship between the two can be likened to the relationship between a master and his slave. Self-awareness, the master, relies on other-awareness, the slave, for contact with the (albeit self-constituted) other. So, picture a rich man who has an extremely reliable slave. The slave is able to do things, such as to go and meet with people in the outside world, which the master cannot do because for some reason the master is house-bound. But, not to worry, the slave does everything exceedingly well. The master regularly sends the slave to the market to engage in trade on his behalf, and the slave does so, reporting faithfully to the master. Eventually, since the slave is being so obviously responsible, he holds on to the purse and keeps the records, but he still reports faithfully to his master. However, when things have gotten that far, the master no longer has any way of checking up on the truth of the slave's reports. He has become totally dependent on the slave. So, who is really the master now, and who is the slave? Anytime that the slave wants to, he can turn the tables on his owner, declare himself free and the (former) master bound.

In terms of the transcendental project then, if self-awareness becomes totally dependent on other-awareness, then other-awareness can turn around and declare itself in charge, in which case, if self-awareness has become totally subservient to it, there is no way of telling any more whether other-awareness is telling us the truth or lies.

Well, that's not good. After all of this back-and-forth maneuvering, all we've done is to land in skepticism. By the way, in the course of this long argument Hegel states what you have probably noticed as well, namely that, for all practical purposes, what we see here behind the curtain is the same shtick that we saw in front of the curtain in the first three chapters. We just can't seem to get our faculties together sufficiently to arrive at knowledge with certainty. Skepticism, Hegel says, leads to the "unhappy concsciousness," because our desire for knowledge is not being met.

However, there is a way out. We are, after all, not mechanical entities, who are impotently subject to inevitable laws that lead to skepticism. The key to the door out is the concept of "doing." We can make decisions, and thus we need not accept either of the extremes--oscillating between virtual omniscience and total skepticism- -as final. By the action of our minds we can take control of our consciousness/self-consciousness and clear a middle path to knowledge. Specifically, the "doing" involves a Fichte-like taking into account the reality of the "other," this time recognizing the other as subjects with self-consciousness like ourselves. By joining our self-consciousnesses together, we can create a standard for truth, and the unhappiness vanishes. The knowledge that emerges is an idealism, but not a private one. Our self-consciousness constitutes the world, but there is no danger of solipsism, since we are acting together with the "other." So, we have finally made significant progress after all. In the first chapters of the Phenomenology Hegel overcame the subject-object distinction. Doing so did not seem to solve any problems, but it appears that the problems can be solved by overcoming the subject-subject distinction by looking to humanity and not individual selves. Is that enough? Not by far. To arrive at the Absolute, Hegel will now have to overcome the distinction between humanity and God as well.

More on that rather ambitious undertaking later.

Part 12

Okay, I've been trying to think of a way of doing the "This is your brain on Hegel"-thing, but it doesn't seem to work.  I draw a brain,  I put a diagram of the system in it, and then immediately the brain realizes that it needs a skull, and so it turns itself into a skull, then the skull realizes that it needs a skeleton, but the skeleton would not exist, unless there were a body. So, my drawing changes from skull to skeleton to a person, and so forth.  Eventually it winds up with Absolute Spirit, and I can't possibly upload that on the web. There's no way that I would have enough band width for Absolute Spirit, and even if I did, it would take you way too long to download it.

So, without an accompanying brain picture,  Here is a fairly simplified schematic of Hegel's system:

Hegel's System 

Before getting into a lot of specifics, note that it is round, and that there are arrows pointing in the clockwise direction.  It has three parts, which are of disproportionate size and importance.  We entered the system at the top, where the Phenomenology starts, though it is at the very bottom that the most significant transition occurs when the system has attained Absolute Spirit, but then dissolves itself in order to begin once more with the ideas of Logic.  

Hegel's LogicWe begin with God, but in a very abstract sense. The first part of the system is "the Logic," the main exposition of which Hegel wrote subsequent to his time in Jena, when, thanks to Bonaparte, the university closed its doors.  Actually, Napoleon had given it permission to stay open, but the students weren't so keen on remaining there, and they couldn't concentrate on their studies with all those French and Corsican soldiers running around putting hot milk in their coffee and eating long skinny loaves of bread.  Thus, without students, there wasn't a lot for the school to do.  Consequently, Hegel also became unemployed, so he moved to Bamberg, where he worked for the local newspaper for not any time longer than it would take him to find a job that he disliked less. Eventually he became a school administrator in Nuremberg, had a wife and three kids (two by his wife, the other by a lonely friend who died shortly thereafter--all three of them eventually being included equally in the Hegel Bunch), and wrote the aforementioned Science of Logic.

Now when I say "logic," presumably you may be thinking of syllogisms, modus ponens, and other ways of testing the validity of arguments.  Well, that's not what Hegel's Logic is all about.  It's really more like a transcendental search for the concepts behind logic.  Let's ask what we need in order to have logic. Well, something has to exist (or to be), so that we can say such things as, "x is y" or "x is not-y" or "if x is y, then y is z." At a minimum, such statements presuppose the hypothetical  existence or non-existence of x, y, or z.  But what does it mean to exist? It means to be. Thus, as Hegel begins his conceptual analysis he starts with Being.  And, pure Being is God. So, Logic begins with God alone, which is to say,  before he created anything.  

Again, we follow the method of looking at something closely enough to realize that it contains its own negation, unless it's supported by something else.  In this case, Hegel says (and we saw a very similar argument last time as well), if you look at Being, this concept is so huge, so all-inclusive, that it cannot accommodate any internal distinctions.  But in order to have actual entities, you need to be able to distinguish between, say, entity A and entity B.  As I described last time, Hegel's view of Being is total unmitigated Being, so devoid of any distinctions that you can't find any particular beings in it. Everything exists, but no entities exist, so actually nothing exists. So, if you're looking at Being, you might as well be looking  at Non-being.  Hegel Being BecomingOf course, you can't look at Non-being or even analyze it because, by nature and terminology, it does not exist.  But that's crazy; "Being as Non-being" makes no sense.  For that matter, don't forget that Hegel is doing a transcendental deduction here, not a metaphysical description of reality.  So what we're really looking at is that there is Being, which appears to be  exchangeable with Non-being, and Non-being, which appears to be conceptually exchangeable with Being. So, as should be flitting easily into our minds by now, we need to look for a concept that keeps Being from morphing into Non-being. He finds the possibility of having both Being and Non-being in a transition which Hegel calls "Becoming." Not that Hegel is promoting Aristotelian philosophy, (as I said a long time ago), but this concept of Becoming functions very much like potential being in Aristotle's metaphysics.  

And we're off!  The entire Logic consists of this kind of unpacking of concepts, which generate their own negations if left alone, and for which we find further concepts to support them, and so on.  But, please, remember that there is no antithesis that's being brought up against a thesis, but that the negation generates itself out of the concept, thereby leading us to find the concept underneath it that makes it possible.  In fact, there are times when the interplay is between four, not three, concepts, which led the British Idealist J. M. E. MacTaggart (1866-1925) to "correct" Hegel's use of the "dialectic"  (Studies in Hegelian Dialectic, 1896), rather than to re-evaluate the triadic method.  The past of the system that is Logic is self-contained insofar as it starts with God as Eternal Idea and ends up with God as Absolute Idea, but throughout the progression, it remains on the level of the purely conceptual without taking material creation into account.  

Hegel's Philosophy of NatureBut God did create a material world.  So, the second part of Hegel's system is a philosophy of nature.  This discussion consists of abstract science, displaying the way in which the world develops and grows. As I've mentioned before, the philosophical world anticipated Darwin by many decades. Other than that, the discussion is scientifically not particularly of interest, though it would probably be fascinating for a historian of science. At least that's my assessment.  It's neither real science nor good metaphysics, and from a transcendental perspective it only provides a transition to the next stage.  This section occupies itself with the material world apart from spirit.  It grows and develops, again along the line of finding the conditions that make a previous condition possible. but eventually it exhausts its potential, so to speak. For there to be any further advancement, we need to extend our transcendental inquiry back into spiritual dimension. So, we need to find exactly where it makes sense to stipulate the transition from the purely material to the combination of spirit and matter.

Human Beings combine spirit and matter.The point of contact is the human being who is both material and spiritual.  However, the spiritual side dominates, because a person's knowledge of the world is ultimately self-consciousness.  So, here is where the Phenomenology  begins and then takes us down the rest of the circle to Absolute Spirit, in a manner that we have yet to trace.  Once we have attained Absolute Spirit, we are back where we started.  But that doesn't mean that we can now rest, put our feet up, and call it a day.  We can still ask, "What are the conditions that make Absolute Spirit possible?" We conclude that there could not be Absolute Spirit unless, well, first of all there would be the Eternal Idea.  The circle never stops.  If you are looking for a label for this kind of system, I would suggest that it is a kind of panentheism, though certainly very different from Whiteheadian process philosophy.  God and the world are mutually dependent on each other.  I also need to keep the method in mind. Thus, I would call it a "transcendental panentheism."  

Hegel Eternal Idea Absolute Spirit

More on the right side of that circle next time we talk about Hegel.  

Part 13

Hegel for AuditorFirst, you might like to know that I have started to put the entries for "Understanding Hegel" into a single combined website so as to make it easier for anyone to go back and double- check something, or if someone is just now getting into the series and wants to see how it all began.

The "Hegel" referred to in the picture on the left is with high probability not "our" Hegel. Actually, before I moved the placard with the indispensable aid of Paintshop Pro 7, it stood outside of Wabash, Indiana, probably sometime in the early 80's, though I do not remember exactly. I was on some sort of committee at Taylor U., and we were going to Wabash for a day-long (or even overnight) meeting at the Honeywell House*, and when I saw it, I said something along the line of wishing I had a camera along. I'm not sure I even owned a functioning one at that point, but the late Dwight Mikkelson, Professor of History, overheard me, and about a week later, he stopped by my office, having gone back to Wabash and taken the picture for me. Dwight was a wonderful guy, and a Professor-John- Keating-style teacher. (Reference anyone?)Hegel Philosophy of Spirit I would love to tell you about how he once spirited me away from a class I was supposed to be teaching because he needed one more male person for his class on early American history to assist in a demonstration of square dancing. What was he thinking? I'm not worried about my class, but, really, me demonstrating square dancing? But we don't have time for that now. --- Anyway, the picture had gotten pretty degraded by now, so I took the sign (so to speak) and placed it (so to speak) in front of some flowery bushes somewhere around Palos Verdes, CA.

What we need to do tonight, if I can keep myself on topic, is to annihilate God and Humanity so as to clear the way for Absolute Spirit. So, we need to look at the right side of the circle that represents Hegel's system. There you see in red the various progression of "the spirit," as it grows evermore encompassing. Under the heading of "Subjective Spirit," we focus on the conditions necessary for the individual to have knowledge, which finally leads us to recognize that the reality of knowledge relies on an individual's participation in a social community. Then under the heading of "Objective Spirit" Hegel begins with the smallest community, the family, and looking at the conditions necessary for spirit to function, he increases the size of the social unit step by step (or page by wearying page) until he arrives at Humanity-as-a-Whole. There really is no term in any language that by itself does justice to the meaning of "Objective Spirit" as Hegel uses it here. In German, of course, it is der Mensch, in Latin it would be homo in contrast to vir or anthropos, which totally goofs things up since anthropos is Greek and not Latin. In previous times, we might have said "man," or maybe capitalized it, "Man," but, gender sensitivity aside, none of those general terms totally catch the intent because it's a transcendental category, not a Platonic or Aristotelian form. It is a universal, and it represents corporate humanity, but it functions on the same level of reality as "the human individual," who is also an abstraction, come to think of it. So, I'll stick with humanity, with the request that you think of it as an abstraction that is not a metaphysical reality, but a transcendental necessity.

Now something truly remarkable happens. God becomes human. Just to make sure that we understand each other, this is not quite the Definition of Chalcedon on the Hypostatic Union, which declares that God, the second person of the Trinity, joined himself to a human nature in such a way that the two natures (human and divine) are born by one person without being totally separate units or totally comingled with each other. Jesus Christ is one person who is both God and a man.  The man, in the orthodox setting is Jesus of Nazareth. But for Hegel, Jesus Christ's historical existence or metaphysical description are not of much value in contrast to his function in the system. There God, in the incarnation, dissolved himself into humanity. So, for Hegel, the incarnation consists of God, not just limited to the second person of the Trinity, and humanity (objective spirit), not just limited to an individual human person.  

And then God died. Hegel was not the first person to make use of the phrase "the death of God"; some obscure person (and I don't mean to be offensive, but I have forgotten who, and neither you nor I would most likely recognize the name) had already referred to "le dieue perdue," but Hegel was the first influential person to incorporate the phrase. By the time Nietzsche picked it up, it was already pretty worn and patched. However, Nietzsche used the "death of God" as a description of his atheism, whereas for Hegel, it was merely a stage towards the God-behind-God, as it were, namely Absolute Spirit.

Both God and Humanity died on the "speculative Good Friday." Was there a resurrection? I think I've already given it away. Indeed, there was. This virtually inconceivable execution of humanity and deity gave rise to Absolute Spirit.

 So--one might inquire politely--what? Why is this such a great achievement, particularly in light of the fact that we already know that Absolute Spirit, whatever it may be, is not permanent, but must give way so that we can travel around the circle once more? That's the question we'll take up in the next episode.

*Not to be confused with the Honeywell Center, an auditorium, though both are named after the thermostat maker. The H. House is the former residence of Mr. and Mrs. Honeywell, which their foundation made available at the time to groups like ours (free of charge) to hold lengthy meetings in surroundings other than the usual long table and hard chairs. That included sumptuous meals and overnight accommodations, if requested. I don't know if they're still doing so, but it was a great service. It was also a very short distance from one of the best used book stores I've seen.- -And, of course, Wabash is an interesting city: the first town in the U.S. to be completely lighted by electricity, and the hometown of Crystal Gayle. Her life was significantly different (though I'm not saying "easier") from that of her older sister, Loretta Lynn. Don't it make your brown eyes blue?

Part 14

A lot of footnotes tonight, as I'm trying to avoid stacking. The pictures are not tied into Hegel. They are intended to show that spring is slowly coming to Indiana.

Siberian Squill It is not impossible that this may be the last blog entry on Hegel. We'll see how far I get. Actually, the body of this post has been scanned from two sources, my chapter on Hegel in the book Biblical Errancy, edited by Norm Geisler[1], and my paper "In Defense of Kant," which was actually my official address as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society way back in 1985. [2]

[Later insertion: As a matter of fact, in this entry I wound up reworking whatever material I used out of the paper on Kant, and I have only made scanty use of the chapter in Biblical Errancy so far. I'm only mentioning this just in case someone might go on a futile quest for something that's not there. Furthermore, as you can see, this was anything but the last post on Hegel.]

We left off the last entry on Hegel by celebrating his system's attainment of the Absolute, but our party didn't last very long. What's the use of throwing an "Absolute" party when we realize that, while it is true that the Absolute is the last stage in the system, it's also the first stage as we go around the circle again? Having arrived at the Absolute, we cannot pause too long because, just as the system is dependent on the Absolute, the Absolute is dependent on the system. Now, even as I write down this point, a big question mark arises before my eyes with an uncanny similarity to a pre-migraine floater, and I'm sure you're asking the same question: How can you have a "dependent Absolute"? Something can be dependent or absolute, but isn't a "dependent Absolute" self-contradictory? There's obviously a definite need for critique here.

Before I pursue this point further, let me address some popular, but bogus, criticisms leveled at Hegel, aiming at his political views. The worst of the two is the idea of Hegel as "proto-Nazi." I shall take up that one after I have directed myself to the more moderate version that accuses Hegel of being reactionary in his laudatory comments on the Prussian kingdom. In fact, if the moderate, Prussian-kingdom, version does not work, the more extreme, proto-Nazi, one has no chance at all. [Note: In the original post, I did not address the proto-Nazi critique because I thought it was too absurd to deserve any bandwidth, but, on second thought, there is still a lot of Hegel-hatred around, based on that conception.]  

Prussian SoldierHowever, we cannot ignore the constant harping by critics on Hegel's view of the Prussian state, which he admittedly thought to be the last expression of the Absolute in human society (so far). Hegel believed that a government should protect and enhance human freedom, with the goal of recognizing that a human is free simply by virtue of being a human, and he considered the Prussian kingdom to be the best embodiment of this concept to date. Now, in many people's minds, the word "Prussian" immediately conjures up images of blue-clad robotic soldiers marching in lock-step, mindlessly obeying the government's every command. Thus, these critics make Hegel out to be the epitome of the right-wing reactionary philosopher, putting his efforts into the service of an authoritarian and oppressive regime (as Heidegger actually did about a century later). Here are some problems with this pseudo-criticism:

  1. In general, Hegel did not assert that his system was the final word on any one topic in the history of thought, but--as presumably every philosopher does, particularly relativists in denial, such as Richard Rorty--he believed that his arguments superseded previous ones in terms of truth and validity, though subject to correction in the future. There's a difference between the "latest" word, the "last" word, and the "final" word. The "last" word could take on the meaning of either, and it may not always be easy to figure out, whether Hegel's intended meaning is "latest" or "final," particularly if one's reading of Hegel is limited to excerpts in an anthology. However, below we're going to talk about the very brittleness of Hegel's Absolute and the system. That fact alone, even without looking at particular sections, should already lead us to recognize that the "latest" is probably the correct meaning that Hegel intended.
  2. A similar caveat applies to Hegel's view of the Prussian state. As fond as he may have been of it, he did not think that it could not be improved as history moved on. Roadside Forsythia
  3. As I have pointed out numerous times, one must understand Hegel's thought on every subject, including history and government, as extra-large transcendental categories; they are steps on the way to the Absolute. Even though it would be silly not to infer Hegel's own political views from the images he uses, it would also be silly to think of them as direct expositions of the subjects, such as political science, rather than as conceptual stages in the service of the system. Just today I saw a video on YouTube where the person lecturing (Rick Roderick[5] ) clearly had not been able to put together the "liberal" Hegel and the "conservative" Hegel. He didn't make an issue of it, but apparently he could not reconcile Hegel's insistence on freedom with some of his other statements. Serves him right for yanking Hegel's alleged ethical and political thought out of his transcendental system! ---Whoops, I'm stacking again!
  4. Now, consider the world political situation in, say, the 1820's. Prussia certainly was a kingdom that expected compliance with its laws, as governments usually do. It was also the home of Goethe, Schiller, Schelling, Hölderlin, the Schlegels and other rather emancipated thinkers. Now ask yourself which countries exceeded Prussia in the freedom of its residents.
    • Of course, we want to say "The United States!" Well, not yet. Not by a long shot as long as there is such a large population of slaves. In many areas, the freedoms which we cherish and trace back to the founding fathers, had not yet been put into practice. And Hegel pointed to America as the country of the future, meaning the country that would excel all others in genuine freedom. He was right, but he was also right that these ideals were  not yet  did not exist applied during Hegel's lifetime.
    • England had not yet abolished slavery either. And it was spreading itself out all over the world, establishing colonies that deprived the local people of their freedom.
    • France was not even close to being in the running. The French revolution celebrated liberté, but the revolution turned into the reign of terror, followed by the absolutist regime of Napoleon. Hegel admired both the ideals of the revolution and the capability of Napoleon, but he was as realistic as we should be on how non-functional the French government was at the time in promoting human freedom.
    • Surely we can rule out Czarist Russia, and I think that there is not much point in going on.
  5. Now, here's the real kicker. There were several movements towards democracy in Germany, and one could ask why Hegel did not identify with them. The answer is that they all had something in common that Hegel found repugnant, namely anti-Semitism, which was definitely not an ideology that recognized all human beings as free. For example, Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), to whom I will return in a later entry, was a constant thorn-in-the-flesh for Hegel.  He has been widely recognized and celebrated for his "liberal" views in contrast to Hegel's alleged reactionary ones.
    He also called for the extermination of all Jews.  
    Hegel preferred a kingdom in which all subjects had equal rights to a so-called democracy that would be built on genocide.  
  6. In short, Hegel's idea of Prussia as a state that offered freedom and equality is far from absurd.  To be honest, I'm worried that the question of which country had the most freedom at the time is really too vague and parochial to be entirely meaningful or answerable. However, the burden of finding some clear and objective ground for assessment so as to make a significant response to Hegel, not just based on rhetoric, lies with those who criticize Hegel without having lived in nineteenth-century Prussia, as Hegel did.  If one allows the question to stand, liberates oneself from the goofy stereotype of Prussia, and considers the best known alternatives, Hegel's conclusions surely are not without some important insights.  
  7. In the light of the above, we finally can no longer get around dealing with the ideas advocated by Karl Popper in his The Open Society and Its Enemies, and emulated by many others.  Popper claimed that Hegel advocated totalitarianism, and that his philosophy constituted one of the main intellectual pillars of Nazism.  Popper, who was a German Jew and a logician and philosopher of science par excellence,  found refuge from the Nazis in England and apparently vented his anger against all-things-German in the chapter on Hegel in this book, most likely having no idea that he was attacking someone who took his side in his day--in fact, undoubtedly not having much of an idea of Hegel at all.  For the entire sad story see Walter Kaufmann, "The Hegel Myth and Its Methodology" in Alasdair MacIntyre, ed., Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1972), pp. 21-60. His citations of Hegel are for the most from an anthology, which is already a problem because the source material inevitably has been subject to the choice of the editor. But then Popper chopped off even more context from the texts he chose to cite and often conflated these quotations together, at times skipping  multiple pages between two quoted segments. By that method, one can prove anything from any author. Popper also used some paraphrased material attributed to Hegel, and at times felt free to paraphrase it further without any warrant other than his own preference. One can understand Popper's negative attitude toward Germany, but using the methods of totalitarianism in fighting totalitarianism is counterproductive.
  8. With regard to German philosophers, the Nazis were in a bind.  Their own philosophy was a mystical pantheism focusing on a divine force running through the blood and soil of the Aryans, which manifested itself particularly in the Germanic hero figure. They preferred the Vedas and Nordic mythology to the Bible and claimed that Jesus was not Jewish, but part of an isolated Aryan group sequestered in Galilee, fighting against Judaism.  The official Nazi idealogue, Alfred Rosenberg, advocated slowly eliminating Christianity by fostering a revival of German paganism and in the meantime replacing the present negative, Jewish-oriented Christianity with a positive-Aryan centered Christianity.  Rosenberg had nothing good to say about Hegel.  However, it would not do for the Nazis to ignore totally the outstanding philosophers of Germany, even though their thought ran totally counter to their own ideals. A nationalist ideology cannot simply spit on the cultural heritage of its own people.  The Nazis recognized that the mature Hegel's over-arching principle for political matters was that all human beings were free simply because they were human, and that there was no way in which they could turn him into a proto-Nazi without doing violence to his writings.

    Please let me continue with this theme for a moment.

    Then there was Nietzsche.  Oh, how easy it could have been, to turn his "superman" (Übermensch), who surpasses humanity and is no longer bound by the old distinction between good and evil, into a prototype of Hitler's supposed Aryan master race.  If only his thought had allowed such an interpretation! Unfortunately for the Nazi idealogues , a basic reading of Nietzsche reveals that, if there was one thing that he disliked more than nationalism in general, it was German nationalism, and that he considered anti-Semitism to be just as bad.  Neither anti-Semitism nor German nationalism fared well under the tip of Nietzsche's pen as he was composing his aphorisms. This sentiment of his was the reason why Nietzsche broke off his earlier friendship with Richard Wagner, who glorified Norse Mythology with his operas in the name of Germanic superiority.  Nietzsche's Übermensch was an individual, never an ethnic group, let alone a whole nation, and--purely hypothetically--if Nietzsche would have been forced to pick one nation as the one most likely one to produce the Übermensch, Germany would probably have been at the bottom of his list.  He was a German, but no patriot. In his case as well, the Nazis knew that there was no way in which they could turn him into a proto-Nazi without doing violence to his writings. Still, if the Nazis did not want to repudiate prior German culture, which would have been created an unwanted image, they needed to force both Hegel's and Nietzsche's philosophies into apparent compliance with theirs.  

    So, the Nazis did what totalitarians always do; they rewrote history, in this case intellectual history, and published especially "redacted" excerpts from the great German philosophers. In short, they perpetrated violence on their writings. And then, of course, they prohibited anyone from expressing an opinion in contradiction to the views published in their misappropriated versions. However, I need to add that we cannot excuse Popper's work on the basis that he knew Hegel from those slanted Nazi productions. His sources, as I said, were English translations and adaptations of Hegel.

    This is an important matter that goes far beyond the quality of Hegel-scholarship.  There is something invidious in the mentality behind a work such as Popper's.  Here is an extremely competent scholars doing unbelievably shoddy work for the sake of making an ideological point. This is hard for me to understand, particularly since Popper could have made his point in so many other ways. Like it or not, after a few years of academic work in my area, the cross-over between religion(s) and philosophy and a little bit of in-depth study on both sides, I have become used to seeing the various levels on which truth is regularly compromised. Moving up (or down) the ladder, I see:

Now let me return to the question of the whole point of Hegel's Absolute, particularly in light of the fact that the Absolute was not nearly as Absolute as the name might suggest. Be prepared for a little surprise now. I have maintained throughout this series of entries that Hegel needs to be understood as a transcendental philosopher expanding on the thought of Immanuel Kant. Hegel continued to raise Kant's transcendental question: "What are the conditions that make knowledge possible and certain?", though he believed that Kant did not provide a conceptual structure that permitted certainty, and so Hegel, just as Fichte and Schelling had, set up an idealist system that would improve on Kant. I'm not about to retract any of that, but I need to make a serious qualification now.  I emphasized when I first introduced Kant that a critique of him that involved asking for knowledge apart from the minds mechanisms for knowledge was confused because to do so would involve asking for something impossible. However, I'm afraid that Hegel was guilty of making precisely that absurd demand on Kant and faulting Kant for not being able to provide this impossible kind of knowledge-beyond-knowledge. Not that Hegel could do so any more than Kant--or any other human being--could.

We need to return to a section of the Phenomenology that we had skipped before. We talked about the preface and then launched into a summary of the first three chapters, but there’s also an “introduction” wedged in between the two. Hegel began this introduction by calling our attention to what he considered to be a natural conception of knowledge, namely that it is "a 'means' of appropriating the absolute."[6] If that claim is news to you, I’m happy to reassure you that it is also foreign to me. But we don’t need the word “absolute” in order to make this line of thought intelligible. In this instance, Hegel could simply have said that, when we commonly think of knowledge, we assume that it constitutes an objective acquaintance with reality.

Even though Hegel did not mention Kant by name here, it is clear that he had Kant in mind as he proceeded with his argument. There would be nothing gained by saying that he was only targeting Kant's disciples since the apparent problem he brought up is precisely the standard misunderstanding of Kant. The apparent flaw that he exposed is that the processes of knowledge appear to intervene with objective knowledge. Hegel gives us two option with which to look at this complication, either one of which makes his point. The first idea is that knowledge is a tool with which we attempt to appropriate the essence of the absolute. But we realize that "using a tool on an object never leaves the object as it is by itself, but brings about formation and change."[7] Alternatively, one can look at knowledge as a passive medium through which one attempts to receive the "light of truth." But the truth never reaches us "as it is, but only as it is through and in the medium."[8] (We can call this the “Heisenberg Objection,” but since there is no time for stacking tonight, if you want that term clarified and developed, feel free to ask and it shall be given in a subsequent post.)

Forsythia Frogs Now, Hegel states that it makes little difference whether or not you are aware of this problem with knowledge, not even in order to make adjustments for it. For, to be aware of the fact that the process of knowledge distorts the object of knowledge does not bring us any closer to the object itself. In a further analogy, Hegel illustrates this problem with the picture of a ray of light which is refracted in some kind of a medium, such as a sheet of glass some transparent water. To know of its refraction may enable us to describe the refraction and even to calculate its angle, but (ignoring Snell’s law, I guess) we could not get any closer to the original vector of the ray, and therefore, we cannot trace it back to its source. We would only be given "the bare direction or the empty location."[9]

It does no good to plead the possibility of partial knowledge, says Hegel. If the "absolute alone is true, and the true alone is absolute,"[10] there can be no such possibility. We can only measure the extent to which our knowledge of the absolute is partial if we know the absolute as a whole first, but this is precisely the issue in question.[11]

We know that Hegel’s solution was to question the presupposition that there is a gap between the knower and the object of knowledge. As we saw in his system, he wound up arguing that the knower, the object of knowledge, and the instrument for acquiring knowledge are all three aspects of our own self-consciousness. So, then, we have an answer to our question of what the point of the whole quest for Hegel's Absolute was. no matter how ephemeral (and thus non-absolute) the Absolute might turn out to be. For that magic moment when we have attained the Absolute, at least, Hegel believed that he had overcome the perceived deficiency in Kant’s philosophy so that not only would knowledge be possible, but that it would also provide certainty, which Kant’s epistemology could not give us. 

But did Hegel really make good on that promise?

Well, as usual, it looks as though we’re needing to have another part to a series. It’s getting late, and my head is starting to hurt once again.  I hope that these excursions don't give you a headache. In any event, more Hegel to come!

[1] "Transcendentalism: Hegel" in Norman L. Geisler, ed., Biblical Errancy: An Analysis of Its Philosophical Roots (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pp. 79-101.

[2] "In Defense of Kant." Bulletin of the Evangelical Philosophical Society 8 (1985): 1-10. In case you're wondering, the "defense" consists ultimately of approving of Kant insofar as he resurrected Aristotelian/Thomistic epistemology, but criticizing so-called Transcendental Thomism, which has given up its life-blood to Kantian presuppositions. The Bulletin was the precursor of Philosophia Christi

[3] He does so quite nicely, by the way. He's a captivating speaker as well as a master at tossing gratuitous, unanalyzed and misleading liberal barbs into his talk. One might call him "opinionated," but only as long as that term is construed to represent a virtue. The people who went to hear him undoubtedly wanted to hear his opinions, even if they were wrong. The so-called humility that some academics practice by withholding their views is most likely a) a cover-up for ignorance, b) based on fear of repudiation of one's ideas, or c) deliberately misleading. At least that's my unfounded opinion.

[4] Phenomenology, p. 63.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, p. 64.

[8] Ibid, p. 65.

[9] Ibid.


Part 15

This is definitely not the last entry on "Understanding Hegel. " The faucet is flowing and, as long as in my estimation the water is potable (no, that does not mean you can carry it), I can't bring myself to shut it off, and I think I will be able to judge when I'm scraping too much to continue with Hegel.


There has been no shortage of criticisms of Hegel as a pantheist, but, given my understanding of pantheism, it seems to me that they miss the mark. Hegel's view can perhaps best be characterized as a panentheism, the view that God and the world are contained within each other. "Pantheism," in its more precise definition, means that God (or whatever is considered to be the Absoute) and the universe are identical; the words "God" and, say, "world" are just different ways of referring to one entity. But for Hegel, the contributions made by the lowliest of finite entities in the universe are just as important to the system as the Absolute, and thus, have the same degree of reality as the Absolute. Insofar as it makes sense to speak of "existence" in the context of a transcendental, rather than metaphysical, system, both God and the finite world have their own existence. Still, since the system is one large circle of interdependence, they cannot exist apart from each other. Hence, "transcendental panentheism" seems to be the most accurate characterization of Hegel's system.

Absolute Spirit, as the ultimate transcendental category that makes knowledge possible and certain, is simply not identical with the world. For Hegel, as we saw in conjunction with his logic, being in its purest form is indistinguishable from nonbeing, and thus, identity-in-being is always identity-in-becoming. The Absolute contains the world, but it cannot be said that the world is the Absolute or vice versa The transcendental process establishes a relationship of mutual containment, but it does not infringe on the distinctiveness of either contributing party, God or the world.

Nor does it make a lot of sense to call Hegel an atheist in the most common understanding of the term, namely as someone who rejects the existence of any God or Supreme Being whatsoever. To be sure, there is another way of using the term "atheist," namely literally as the denial of classical or biblical theism, so that it stands for a- theism in that specific sense. Cornelio Fabro has built his masterpiece, God in Exile: Modern Atheism, around that latter definition. He defines atheism as the "displacement of transcendence by immanence," and, given that definition, Hegel fits the category perfectly. Think about it: A "transcendental" idealism, viz. one that locates the content of knowledge in the mind by transcendental deduction, is paradoxically the epitome of an immanentist philosophy. Nevertheless, even though I thoroughly endorse many of Fabro's work and conclusions, there is also often a need for greater specificity as to the nature of a non-theistic world view, and then "panentheism" is more appropriate than "pantheism."

Having insisted that Hegel was neither a pantheist nor an atheist, let me now tell you that about ten years after Hegel's death, in 1841, there appeared a scathing critique of Hegel entitled, The Trumpet of the Last Judgment on Hegel the Atheist and Pantheist.

Woops! ---- Did I miss something, or did the author of the book, whose identity was not known at first, get things all wrong?

This short book attempted to demonstrate that Hegel's philosophy was thoroughly anti-God, anti-religion, and anti-establishment by going through Hegel's system point-by-point. The philosophical reading public (is that an oxymoron these days?), those who agreed with the diatribe as well as those who did not, at first interpreted it as a sharp rebuke of Hegel, and a denunciation of all of Hegel's followers who blindly attempted to understand Hegel in a more conservative fashion.

The Trumpet is a good representation of the fact that Hegel's followers after his death had divided into two camps, the "Right Wing Hegelians" and the "Left Wing Hegelians." The termininology is due to David Strauss the well-known biographer of someone he called "Jesus." , though you or I might not recognize him in his writings. The Right Wing Hegelians were those who interpreted Hegel as supporting theism and a basic Christian orthodoxy, even if it was expressed in flamboyant philosophical terminology. Left Wing Hegelians, who are by far the better known of the two groups, claimed that Hegel, in fact, advocated a philosophical system which demonstrated that theology had been overcome, and that, consequently, Hegel's philosophy is ultimately atheistic. The Left Wing Hegelians, such as Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 -1872) and Karl Marx (1818-1883), who rejected the classification for himself, then sought to extend this atheism further.


As a matter of historical fact, there should be little question as to which side of this posthumous debate Hegel himself would have defended because he already expressed his point of view without equivocation during his life time. A theologian named Karl Friedrich Goeschel (1784-1861) lived in Berlin at the same time as Hegel, and even though they were mutually supportive of each other, they never met in person, most likely because Hegel spent much of his last year (1830-31) outside of Berlin, trying to evade the cholera epidemic, to which he eventually succumbed anyway when he returned too early. Goeschel wrote a book called Aphorismen über Nichtwissen und Absolutes Wissen, this title being traditionally translated as Aphorisms on Ignorance and Absolute Knowing, which is technically accurate, but totally takes the fun out of it. The spirit of the piece as well as its title would be far better captured with something along the line of "Aphorisms on those who know nothing and those who think they know everything." [Help! I'm beginning to think I'm Walter Kaufmann again!.] In this book, Goeschel writes from a Right Wing Hegelian perspective against the Left Wing Hegelians. Among his points is that the pronouncements of the Left Wing Hegelians are frequently entirely tautological or platitudinous, so that, after someone has expressed them, there is nothing left to say other than perhaps, "Supper is served," or some similar inanity so as to break the awkward silence. Goeschel is considered by many to be the ultimate instantiation of a Right Wing Hegelian. And thus we come to the point: In 1830 Hegel published a review of Goeschel's book, in which he thoroughly endorsed Goeschel's perspective. Hegel considered himself to be an orthodox Lutheran and, as odd as it might sound to some, we would have to count him among the Right Wing Hegelians.

I just found some excellent corroboration for this fact, which I have defended for a long time, as narrated in footnote . However, I was ignorant of this piece of information which I found by running across an outstanding blog. Its author is one Daniel Lindquist, about whom I know nothing except what he declares about himself on his site. His blog gives me a little bit of an eerie sense, though, because I almost feel as though I'm looking into a mirror by the way he expresses himself, such as the somewhat humorous self-depracatory tone and the freedom to say what needs to be said. For example, in the same entry he labels J. N. Findlay as a "theosophical nutcase." Nicely put, though perhaps a little redundant. And, despite of its negative tone, not a bad key for understanding the philosophical ambiguity that is J. N. Findlay.

Anyway, the obviously brilliant Mr. Lindquist referred to the book Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Magee. Those of you who have followed this series and click on the link will recognize from the first page on that the book is bilge, and I'm not sure how or why Cornell University Press, assuming it uses peer reviews prior to publishing a book, has allowed this one to slip by. Be that as it may, Lindquist, quite aware of the book's shortcomings, states that in the introduction, in a footnote, Magee quotes from Hegel's letters. I'll just reproduce this entire segment of Lindquist's entry.


In the introduction, in a footnote, Magee quotes from Hegel's letters. I'll just reproduce the entire footnote:


In a July 3, 1826, letter to Friedrich August Gottreu Tholuck (1799- 1877), Hegel writes, "I am a Lutheran, and through philosophy have been at once completely confirmed in Lutheranism." See Hegel: The Letters, trans. Clark Butler and Christianne Seiler [citation details omitted]. In 1826 a small controversy erupted in Berlin when a priest attending Hegel's lectures complained to the government about allegedly anti-Catholic statements made by Hegel. Hegel responded: "Should suit be filed because of remarks I have made from the podium before Catholic students causing them annoyance, they would have to blame only themselves for attending philosophical lectures at a Protestant university under a professor who prides himself on having been baptized and raised a Lutheran, which he still is and shall remain."

Pro Tip: Don't respond like this when someone threatens to take you to court for being a bigot.

I'm not sure about the "pro-tip;" it all depends on what you have said and what they mean by "bigot." But we can come back to that point on some other day. Lindquist's conclusion concerning the debate on Hegel's own position is not surprising, given the fact that the evidence is unequivocal:

It's become clear to me that many of Hegel's interpreters simply want him to not be a Lutheran. For if they regard themselves as Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as endorsing Christianity (or religion generally -- certainly not any sort of orthodox Protestantism); if they regard themselves as anti-Hegelians, they don't want to be seen as opposing Christian thought.

Excellent work, Mr. Lindquist! Hegel thought of himself as in line with what later became Right Wing Hegelianism, though without the label, and (Karl Rahner and C. S. Lewis notwithstanding) I don't think that it is possible for a person to be mistaken about the content of his beliefs, though one can be mistaken about the label of what one believes.


But now, the question of what's up with the "Trumpet of Judgment over Hegel" becomes even more urgent. Did Hegel express a philosophical system of which he himself was ignorant? As we just said, that shot is not on the board. I need to add that one could be mistaken about the further implications of what one believes, but to use that maneuver to declare that a person does not believe what he thinks he believes, as opposed to his simply being inconsistent, is highly precarious and should best be attempted only by highly trained Freudians or professional mind readers. But then, why take him to task for something that he himself abjured? Why accuse him of an unacceptable line of thought when, on his own testimony, that was not his line of thought?

Well, Lindquist has given us a good leg up in trying to understand what may have been the case. He stated in so many words that depicting Hegel as non-Christian or non-theist has served frequently as a legitimation for one's own point of view, either by claiming him and, thereby distancing oneself from Christianity, or by renouncing him so that one's affinity to Christianity is immune from being tainted by Hegel's philosophy.

If there is a weakness in this deontic constructive dilemma, it is that it only works on the assumption that "Right Wing Hegelians," such as Goeschel, who appealed to Hegel in their support of Christianity, have had a negligible effect on how Hegel has been interpreted later on. Like it or not, that assumption did become a fact of history. So, one could be tempted to stop here and say that the "Trumpet" is one of the first instances of interpreting Hegel in a particular way guided by the desire to promote one's philosophical preference. Specifically, then, here we would have an anonymous theistic writer vituperating Hegel in order to clarify to the world that his own philosophy is free of Hegelian encroachments.

However, that line of thought, though a good appraisal of what happened in the course of the history of philosophy after Hegel, cannot apply to a point in time that close to Hegel's death. After all, there are Goeschel and his fellow Right Wing Hegelians. They are visibly alive and they are appealing to Hegel in favor of their conservative Christian views. They certainly did not denounce Hegel as pantheist or atheist, and their work, even if not convincing to non-Hegelian conservatives, would at least demonstrate that there is no logical necessity to divorce Hegel from Christianity.

So, let's think creatively here for a moment. The following idea may strike you as improbable and implausible, but, what if the "Trumpet" had actually been written by a Left Wing Hegelian? Then it would be a satire on the Right Wing and might even be used in support of the Left Wing view. Too far-fetched, you say? As a matter of fact, this highly unusual scenario appears to be what actually took place. I mentioned that the author of this pamphlet was at first unknown, but it came out eventually that it was written by a theology professor named Bruno Bauer (1809-1882) in Bonn, the beloved city of my earlier youth, together with his protegé, Karl Marx.

Gotta stop here for tonight.


Strauss's Life of Jesus, sought to establish a historically credible picture of Jesus, devoid of all supernatural attributes, a major initiative in the never-ending so-called quest for the historical Jesus, which has always meant the "quest for a Jesus without miracles." These quests are by their very nature condemned to be unsuccessful, except in the eyes of their their authors.

  1. Historically, there are no accounts of Jesus that do not associate him with miracles in some way; at a minimum they report that his disciples were convinced that he did miracles.  Consequently, such a search must do the one thing that historians should never do: establish hypotheses apart from documentary support.
  2. From the point of view of the gospel narratives, eliminating the supernatural elements robs their plots of any meaningful motivation. It would be like Treasure Island without pirates or Moby Dick without a whale--unless one makes up a whole new story that, even though it has no historical source, trumps the story based on the historical sources.  Questors such as Strauss have typically done exactly that. 
The result is then, as it was with Strauss, a work of history that violates the most basic principles of historical writing. Still, as I keep reminding myself and you, many people who have adopted a world view that prevents them from accepting anything supernatural, will prefer to indulge in irrationality to whatever extent it is necessary in order to protect their assumptions.

I used this expression, "Supper is Served," as the title for my paper at Trinity's first-ever-though-eventually-hatcheted Conference on Philosophy of Religion, to which Norm Geisler had graciously invited me as a presenter. (I think that particular series of conferences lasted about seven or eight years, and I may have attended all of them, a number of them with some of my best students at the time.) This was my second-ever public paper presentation, and I had culled material from my dissertation, which I was about to defend a few days later. The other person on the program was the celebrated Alvin Plantinga, who at the time was promoting his version of the Ontological Argument and the earlier stages of his so-called Reformed Epistemology. Listening to my exposition of Hegel, he found Hegel's argument concerning Being and Non-being, as I described it earlier in conjunction with Hegel's Logic, to be absurd, and I could not get him to follow the logic, which seems clear to me, even if one doesn't share the premises or want to accept the conclusion. However, I can't claim that--at least at the time--I totally followed Plantinga's arguments either. I understand that for years afterwards, when Dr. Plantinga accidentally misspoke in class and unintentionally said something that struck him as contradictory, he would say, "Whoops! I just pulled a Hegel." I do not know whether my presentation was what initiated his use of that little witticism.

One may wonder why, if Lindquist is right (and I think he is), this description of Findlay is not widely understood, and he has been taken more seriously than he probably deserves. I'm thinking here not just of his peers in the academy, but the Christian philosophers, who ever-so-agonizingly felt the need to respond to Findlay decades after he had written his anti-theistic material. The answer probably lies in the fact that theosophy, the "poor person's adaptation" of Advaita Vedanta, had gained, and to a great extent still holds a respected place in Western thought. In its original and proudest form, starring Madame Blavatsky and her accomplices [sic!], it made up for the lack of philosophical refinement, as we find it in, say, Shankara's writings, by inserting large components of magic and the occult. That's why I said that Lindquist's epithet may be somewhat redundant. Stripped of the most bizarre elements, it has managed to establish itself as the supposed philosophia perennis in human thought, and has thus carried the intrinsic authority of something untainted by the authoritarian Church. (Let's all join in rejecting conformity!) Some notable writers who have represented philosophical theosophy were W. T. Stace (sane) and Aldous Huxley (sanity not yet certified). Theosophy has become the standard description of mysticism to the point where other forms of mystical thought or experience are considered to be "less authentic." For a more extended discussion of this issue and others connected to it, please see my Mysticism: An Evangelical Option?. Furthermore, at a time when being an orthodox Christian was definitely an exception, if not a peculiarity, in English-speaking philosophy outside of the Catholic schools, Findlay positioned himself on the accepted side of the ledger. What he called his "rational mysticism" was atheistic and stridently anti-Christian. He even managed to link up with the cluster of post-verificationist positivists by supplying his "ontological disproof of God's existence" in Flew and MacIntyre's New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: SCM Press, 1955), pp. 47-75. This article, whose basic strategy was to create and then criticize an equivocation where there wasn't one, may have served as his ticket for the acceptance of his other writings in some circles.

 Part 16

Bruno Bauer and Karl MarxBauer's Strategy. Since it's been a while since we've been on this topic, let me recap where we left off as we found ourselves briefly looking at Hegel's legacy in order to increase our understanding of him. .  The so-called Right Wing Hegelians (RWH from hereon out, both as noun and as adjective), were fighting it out with the Left Wing Hegelians (LWH).  The RW believed that Hegel was an orthodox trinitarian theist, while the LWH maintained that whatever orthodox views Hegel might have expressed theologically only existed in his writings as stages to be transcended by his philosophy.  When you came right down to it, they argued, Hegel was an atheist and pantheist. (I'm not sure how you can apply both labels meaningfully; they appear to me to be either contradictory or redundant.)

I left off last time by revealing to you that the little work, The Trumpet of the Last Judgment over Hegel the Atheist and Pantheist had actually been written by Bruno Bauer, a Left Wing Hegelian. This booklet, as I mentioned, was a scathing denunciation of Hegel from the point of view of a conservative Christian who methodically exposed the anti-theistic and anti-Christian premises underlying Hegel's thought.  If you think about it a little longer, you may realize that publishing this pamphlet in this particular style was about as brilliant a move as a Left Wing Hegelian could make in support of his case.  If he were simply to give an exposition of Hegel that supported his own point of view, everything he said would be questionable as to content and motive. His opponents could accuse him of deliberately slanting his interpretation of Hegel so as to suit his case.  In fact, as we mentioned already, the debate between the left and right wings was a noisy and passionate one. Now, a number of interpreters, including your bloggist at foggy moments, have claimed that the Trumpet represents a critique of LWH from an alleged RWH point of view.  However, come to think of it, since an RWH would insist that his interpretation represents the correct reading of Hegel, it makes no sense to think that he would write an exposé of Hegel's supposed atheism.   The recognition of Hegel's alleged perniciousness would have to be attributed to someone outside of Hegelianism altogether, let's call him Jerry Dobson. Then Bauer's case would really be strengthened.  He could say,

"Look, it's not just me, the liberal, who's saying this, but even Jerry Dobson acknowledges that this is the correct reading of Hegel.  Only, he repudiates it, while I embrace it, but we're both agreed on the fact that this is the message that Hegel is really conveying."  

This is the pinnacle of good rhetorical strategy. Whenever you can mine the opposition's records for expressions that validate a premise of yours, particularly if your opponent rejects what you do with that premise, you have gained a lot of plausibility for your case. So, if you can find such indirect support for your view in the opposition's writing, that's great.  If not, you can always make like Bauer and invent one.

Flashback: Hegel's Move to Berlin. Bruno Bauer had finished his studies at Berlin, Hegel's academic home for the last thirteen years of his life. Please let me quickly insert a reminder of the latter segment of Hegel's career.  After the multi-dimensional fiasco at Jena in 1806, Hegel had left for Bamberg, where he worked for the local newspaper, a job that he utterly detested. Then, for a few years he found a niche within the school system of Nuremberg, where he quickly advanced on the administrative ladder.  Still, even though his days of poverty were now over, the bread he was bringing to his family's table came from work for which he did not have a passion.   His heart was in academics. During this time he wrote the Science of Logic, which was widely read, and which may have retroactively endowed the Phenomenology with greater respectability.  In fact, during this time of working outside of the academic framework, Hegel's reputation within academics grew. He also increased in stature among his contemporaries in Nuremberg (and perhaps beyond).  Never mind the misery of the Jena years; his friends and acquaintances knew only that he had once been a professor at a major university and had published articles and books. His connection to Schelling, whose star of fame was pulsing but not vanishing, could not have been unknown.  And, most importantly, Hegel longed for a time when he would be "Herr Professor" once more, not for the sake of the title, but for the sake of philosophy.

Finally, in 1816, the University of Heidelberg invited him to accept a position, and Hegel agreed to it immediately. Furthermore,  I can't imagine otherwise than that he must have done so gleefully because Heidelberg had probably had left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. ----Back in Jena, Hegel had a professional rival named Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), who had joined the faculty at Jena somewhat later than Hegel.  Both of them started on the level of Privatdozent, which, as I mentioned before, only allowed the instructor to list his courses in the university catalogue, with any remuneration coming strictly from the number of students who enrolled.  The next step up, "extraordinary professor," was an advancement in rank, though not in emolument. It still came without a salary, but the increased prestige might raise the number of students attending your lectures, and--I'm purely speculating--maybe the amount of money per student may have been higher. For some unknown reason, Fries received that promotion ahead of Hegel, and Hegel only became "extraordinary professor" after lodging a grievance. Still this so-called promotion did nothing to alleviate Hegel's financial troubles.  If anything it may have contributed to his not teaching some semesters because he was now under increased pressure to have a serious book in print, and not-teaching would mean  a decrease in net wealth acquired. Then Hegel had received word of an apparent opening at the University of Heidelberg, most likely an "ordinary" position, providing a salary.  When Hegel wrote letters applying for this position and rounding up recommendations, he received the cold shoulder, informing him that there was no suitable opening for him at this time, etc. (If you've never received one of those, may God continue to bless you. ) A short while later, Heidelberg tendered that very appointment to Fries. Hegel was chagrined.----  Now, ten years after leaving Jena, Heidelberg offered a solid professorship to Hegel, and Hegel wasted not time accepting it.  Whether that opening was created by the fact that Fries had accepted an invitation to return to Jena, I cannot say.  I might mention as a not-so-aside that Fries was one of the many German intellectuals, to whom I referred earlier, who were not necessarily enamored with the Prussian kingdom, but who were overtly anti-Semitic in their outlook and their proposed courses of action, the reason why Hegel rejected such movements and preferred the Prussian state in which Jews were equal to Gentiles.

Shortly thereafter, before the term in Heidelberg had even begun, Hegel was invited to the University of Berlin, a position that far exceeded Heidelberg in money, prestige, and professional exposure.  Nevertheless, Hegel had already given his word to Heidelberg, and so he informed Berlin that, if it was amenable with them, he would teach at Heidelberg for a year and then move to Berlin the next year. And so it was agreed. Thus, after a one-year stint at Heidelberg, Hegel moved to Berlin.  He was now well-known, highly respected by many and vilified by some.  But even the negative reactions to Hegel in Berlin demonstrated that people were now reading his writings and taking them seriously.

The Rise and Fall of Bruno Bauer. One of Hegel's best students in his later year was the "trumpeter," Bruno Bauer. After Bauer had completed his degree, he stayed around Berlin for a while, teaching a few courses.  He was a theologian by label, not a philosopher, and he was a devoted member of the Hegelian Right.  Among his students and friends was the somewhat younger Karl Marx (1818-1883).  [Thus, if there were a flaw with my picture of the "Bauer Ensemble" above, it could only be that I depicted Marx somewhat older than he would have been at the time. If so, I may have gotten a mistaken impression after viewing a number of photographs, all of which showed Marx approximately looking like this. Bauer was nine years his senior.]

It is not clear how or why Bauer switched from RWH to LWH, but the transformation was thorough. It coincided roughly with the time of his move to Bonn, his first (and last) official teaching job. In Bonn he and Karl Marx apparently collaborated on the clever Trumpet, though the main credit usually goes to Bauer, and Marx's only contribution may have been to giggle along as Bauer was sharing what he had written. ---Allow me a quick personal comment please.  I don't know that it would be fair to say that I grew up in Bonn, because I don't want to be presumptive about having grown up. I did spend a quite a few years of my childhood there since Bonn, previously a "sleepy" university town, had been chosen to be the provisional capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, and my dad's job was to make sure that the government kept running.  The university was there, but, of course, at the time, it had little impact on my life--or vice versa.  Then, in 1986, when we spent a semester in Germany on sabbatical, while I was teaching at Neues Leben Seminar, I made a number of trips to the university in order to make use of their theological library.  At that point, being aware of the many significant people in Western intellectual and theological history who had passed those halls as students or professors (let me quickly add Friedrich Nietzsche, Albrecht Ritschl, and Karl Barth, but spare myself any further stress on my brain), it was a little moment of stunning awareness to be in the same location, pursuing my own projects at the time. ----So, Bauer was now professor of theology in Bonn, contributing to the theological formation of Catholic priests (since the Rhineland was overwhelmingly Catholic.) [1]

One can find a lot of interesting, but ultimately unimportant, complexities in the immediately ensuing events.  Apparently, the Prussian minister of education was a fan of Hegel's, and, consequently, Bauer, who was known as a devoted RWH in Berlin, may have been designated for Bonn in order to provide a broader audience for the "Gospel according to Hegel." This minister died soon thereafter, and his successor was thoroughly anti-Hegelian.  Just about then Bauer pupated into a strident LWH, and he proclaimed at the top of his voice the "Gospel according to Hegelian Atheism."  Political machinations or not, any number of people found Bauer's new message to be inappropriate on principle. They thought that atheism, Hegelian or otherwise, was incompatible with the theological preparation for the priesthood in the best Catholic tradition. It seems to me that the affiliations of the various ministers of education, and whatever other political maneuverings may have been a part of the story, had become irrelevant.  You do not educate priests to be atheists; it's just not done. In the distant future, an indoctrination into atheism would become an accepted part of the curriculum for many Protestant clergymen, but Catholic theology has traditionally held the line at this point.  

Furthermore, we're not talking about the kind of pseudo-atheism that would be advocated in the twentieth century by, say, Thomas J. J. Altizer, who wanted to dismiss God and retain Christianity.  The newly emerged Bauer was not fond of Christianity at all.  He saw it essentially as a poor appropriation of the Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism, and he believed that Judaism actually had not much of a role in the formation of Christianity.  Not that such an association would have improved Christianity in his eyes, because, as Bauer continued to teach and write privately, he, too, became increasingly vocal in his anti-Semitism.  Thus, despite his attempts to become a test case for academic freedom or to depict himself as martyr to the Prussian government's infringement on academic freedom, he was deprived of his lectern.---Academic freedom means that, if I'm hired within the bounds of the clearly stated principles of my institution as, say, professor of history, there is no limit as to what I may study, teach, or publish as academic work in history, even if others consider my conclusions to be false, unfounded, or absurd.  This freedom is maintained with the practice of granting academic tenure.  However, I would not have a license to step outside of my area and start to provide instruction in, say, dentistry or chemistry.  Academic freedom has no vertical limit, but of necessity it must have lateral boundaries, if you can follow that description. 

Bruno Bauer and Edgar BauerBauer's association with Marx was not to last forever either. In fact if "forever" is a long time, it didn't even come close.  Bauer was not a socialist, and, thus, particularly when Marx's association with Engels had solidified further, the split became inevitable, and it came fast.  The Trumpet was published in 1841; in 1844 Marx and Engels wroteThe Holy Family, or, The Critique of the critical Critique: Against Bruno Bauer and his Accomplices, a howling satire of LWH as embodied by Bruno Bauer and his brother Edgar, who constitute the  "Holy Family" in the title. Bauer received the title "St. Bruno," and other leading members of the LWH were endowed with the same canonization. Edgar Bauer (1820-1886) was politically by far the more radical of the two brothers, promoting anarchy in word and deed. (After some time in jail and exile, followed by a stint of working for the Danish secret police, Edgar was able to return to Germany, becoming increasingly conservative. He ended his days as editor of a Church paper.)  Marx and Engel's point, as one can guess, is that neither the theoretical expostulations by Bruno Bauer nor the random acts of terrorism that "St. Edgar" advocated at the time, would take the world any closer to improving the economic lot of the proletariat.  And , thus, we can leave Bruno Bauer, the trumpet having been sounded over him by the same man who, only three years earlier, had played in the same brass duo with him (so to speak).

Gilson on Philosophical Masters and their Disciples. With a bit of hesitation, I bring up a quotation by Etienne Gilson (1884-1978).  At the end of a discussion on Kant, he remarks concerning philosophers who have attempted to model their thought on the methods of natural science: "Yet there is for them still another punishment--their disciples. At the beginning, master and disciple find nothing but pure joy in their mutual intercourse. . . . What usually brings such friendships to an end is that, whereas a master holds his conclusions as conclusions, his disciples receive them as premises, with the consequence that their conclusions can never be the master's conclusions." Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1937, 1964), pp. 192-93.  Gilson rightly included Hegel among those disciples of Kant who began with some of his assumptions and extended them far beyond what Kant would have recognized as his thought any longer. However, my trepidation in bringing up this statement at this time has two reasons: 

  1. I'm not sure whether Gilson meant to extend this statement all the way to Hegel in the role of "master." Obviously, Kant's relationship with Fichte was the proto-type.  He clearly applied it further to Fichte as master to Schelling, the disciple. If Gilson meant to include Hegel and his disciples, I think he might be exceeding his criterion of those who are eligible for this punishment because I'm not sure that Hegel belonged among those philosophers who, to use Gilson's exact phrase now, "have been misled by the lure of positive science."  Unquestionably, Kant's self-proclaimed "Copernican Revolution" was an attempt to emulate Isaac Newton and to transplant the order and certainty of natural science to philosophy. Hegel, as we have seen, called his philosophy "science" and was critical of Kant for not providing certainty for the knowledge of the Absolute; however, I'm not sure we can say that the natural sciences were in a significant way the role model for Hegel's method. Then again, I don't know that this principle should be limited to positivist philosophers, who want to imitate the method of natural science in philosophy.   
  2. Also, it pains me to say anything critical of Etienne Gilson because I have a deep respect for him and all of his work that contributed to the neo-Thomist revival of the twentieth century (sharing credit with Jacques Maritain (1882-1973).  Once, when I chatted with Peter Kreeft (1937-) about Thomism in the twentieth century, he mentioned that he had met Gilson, and when I asked him what Gilson was like as a person, Kreeft used a single French word, formidable.  Gilson's work on the whole certainly bears out that it was written by a person who merited that adjective.  I'm saying all of this in order to clarify that, unlike other detractors of Hegel, he was far from someone who made up for his own deficient philosophy by beating up on Hegel. Yet, when a few pages after this quote Gilson launched into a summary of Hegel's thought, he came up with what may possibly be the worst misrepresentation (I can't even call it a "caricature.") of Hegel that I have ever read, far more so than the distortions by Aiken or Clark that I mentioned earlier, possibly even worse than Popper's because of the rhetorical impact due to its relative brevity. I was not surprised to see that his references are to page numbers in an anthology.  Gilson would have had no patience for anyone who treated Aquinas, Bonaventure, Anselm, or Augustine in that fashion.  Why would he even have thought that he could come to a fair, let alone accurate, understanding of Hegel in this manner?

But let us return to Gilson's quotation and assume that it applies.  Were Hegel's disciples his "punishment"? If so, what were the "sins" for which Hegel was being punished?  Did he label his view of God correctly?  I'm trying to head towards a closing critique, and we'll continue in that direction next time on this topic.  


[1]When Bonn became the provisional capital, the influx of Protestants necessitated serious adjustments in the town's infrastructure.  For example, elementary schools were segregated by confession, so Protestant schools had to be built. For my first two years of school, we shared a building with a Catholic school, alternating between morning and afternoon shifts. The precarious balance received a serious test when the Catholic administration determined that apparently some of us Protestant children had been using the Catholic wastebaskets.  Somehow after special meetings and negotiations, the crisis was resolved, but the strain on the relationship endured for a time.  By my third year we had our own Protestant school, the Paul Gerhard Schule.

Part 17

Please remember that all of the previous installments of this series are collected in one site, to which you can get just by clicking here. Over the last few segments we have contrasted Hegel and the "Right Wing Hegelians" with the "Left Wing Hegelians" and we have loosely identified Hegel himself and the RWH's as conservative and orthodox, in contrast to the LWH's who were atheists, pantheists, communists, and just plain heterodox. Now, I need to clarify that labeling Hegel as "orthodox" is only relative. Please keep in mind that I also said a while back that he was a "transcendental panentheist," and panentheism is certainly not compatible with the genuine orthodoxy of biblical Christianity. The term refers to the belief that God and the world are mutually intertwined and interdependent, and we see it clearly exemplified in the fact that God (or the Absolute) is integrated into the system in such a way that he supports the system, while the system supports him (or it). Such is the nature of a transcendental system in which each element is there to support the previous one while simultaneously being in need of support by the next one. This is not the infinite God who lays claim to the attribute of aseity--existing by himself independent of anything else. A transcendental system, which is based on deriving the conditions that make our knowledge of the world possible, could never deduce such a God.

Furthermore, we have seen that, even though Hegel is "trinitarian," the persons of the trinity take on roles in his system that would have given nightmares to Athanasius, Eusebius, and the rest of the Early Church Boys. Hegel states that God becomes incarnate in the Son; this language, though precarious without further analysis, could represent an orthodox position. However, further analysis does not yield any such results. The incarnation involves the loss of God the Father, who, in the person of the Son, has merged himself with Humanity ("objective Spirit").

  • Compare this depiction with the orthodoxy of the Councils: God is one Nature eternally in three Persons; the second Person has permanently joined his divine Nature with a human nature. The Holy Spirit, the third person, is just as much eternally God as the Father and the Son.

For Hegel, on the other hand, God and humanity both die on his philosophical Calvary, and from there the system proceeds to the resurrection, which is really the birth of, Absolute Spirit. Yes, Hegel's system was trinitarian; you find all three Persons of the Trinity there: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, their nature and functions are far removed from Bible-based orthodoxy.

Obviously, I canot know whether Hegel's personal faith was better than his espoused theology; but when you look at what he wrote in his sytem, only someone who has already rearranged the boundaries of theology could consider Hegel's view to be orthodox. In The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer unsurpisingly misrepresented Hegel as well as anyone.  However, that's neither here nor there for point I want to make.  Later on in the book Schaeffer warned us of what he called "semantic mysticism," by which he meant the idea of someone using correct biblical expressions, but giving them a new, subjectively derived, meaning. Such is clearly the case with Hegel's view of God and the Trinity. And it's a phenomenon that is certainly not limited to Hegel; it is occurs over and over again.  But, let's not be smug about it. One can only stand up to "semantic mysticism" if one knows the originally intended meanings of the phrases.  How many Christians today can give an accurate description of the doctrine of the Trinity without resorting to absurd analogies? How many Christians today really embrace a view of God as infinite, independent, and sovereign?

I know I've said this before, but it is theoretically possible that the next installment, in which I will bring up some more critiques of Hegel, could be the last one of the series.

Part 18

This little segment is not so much a critique of Hegel, as pointing out a serious liability that comes with using a Kant-inspired transcendental method. The liability is this: if someone approaches Hegel metaphysically, as many interpretators continue to do, they're not only get a somewhat skewed version of Hegel, it will be impossible for them ever to connect up with Hegel properly.

Here is one example. From time to time various readers of Hegel have taken the section in the Phenomenology that deals with the Master and his Slave and interpreted it more or less as an independent stand-alone essay by Hegel on the idea of servitude and freedom. Well, if that is what it's supposed to be it's clever, but it also leaves out an awful lot of obvious content that should go with the topic.

The same apparent paucity of thorough engagement with an important topic shows up in many areas of the Phenomenology or the Encyclopedia: Hegel starts on a topic, works with it for a while, and then, while you're thinking, "But wait, what about . . ?" he is ready for his new topic. As a pure metaphysician, social analyst, historian of philosophy, theologian, ethicist, and so forth, his work is definitely second-rate.

However, this is the liability of the transcendental method. Remember how his method works. You examine a certain stage of consciousness. As you do so, you find the "fatal flaw" in this stage of consciousness. So you need to find the next shape of consciousness that rectifies the flaw and keeps alive the stage with which you have just worked. Now you analyze the next stage to find where it might conceivably self-destruct, and how presumably yet a third stage can avoid that from happening.

The nature of this method is such that there is little to be gained by returning to a stage once we have overcome it, viz. once we have found its internal liability for self-destruction and a new stage that salvages it, our work on this stage is done. Thereby we may leave a lot of significant questions unanswered because they do not directly address the transcendental question, and a shape of consciousness may have more than one point of negatvity. So, as long as we read Hegel's transcendental works as erecting a metaphysical system, we are bound to read something that is going to strike us as unsatisfactory. The transcendental approach has to leave a lot of potential holes, but its purpose is in no place to erect a collection of a complete metaphysical discussion, but to move us on from stage to stage so that we attain Absolute Spirit.

Next time: the connection between Hegel's transcendental system and the world that exists.

Part 19

Please let me give you an example of the issue that I was addressing in the last entry. Klaus Hartmann calls it the "linearity" of Hegel's system, namely he fact that, once Hegel has uncovered the intrinsic negative element in a shape of consciousness, he moves on to the next stage, without necessarily having explored all of the content and implications of the previous stage. As a case in point, Hartmann, in his essay, refers to the notorious problem of Hegel's claim for the inevitability of war in the progress toward the Absolute. Robbed of its place in the sequence ordered by his transcendental philosophy, this idea has led to all sorts of condemnations of Hegel as an incendiary instigator of wars. Etienne Gilson raised this notion to unprecedented levels in his critique that I earlier called such a bad misrepresentation of Hegel that it does not even deserve to be called a "carricature." Gilson asserted,

The dogmatic relativism of Hegel teaches . . . that, taken by itself, no particular thing can rightly assert itself except by destroying another, until it is itself destroyed. "War," says Hegel, "is not an accident," but an element "whereby the ideal character of the particular receives its right and reality." These are really and truly murderous ideas, and all the blood for which they are responsible has not yet been shed.

Unity of Philosophy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1937), p. 198. Gilson credits the quotation to J. Lowenberg, ed., Hegel Selections (New York: Scribner's, 1926), p. 464.

Etienne GilsonOh, the annoyance of quotations that consist of selections from selections of translations! Not having access to the Lowenberg anthology, I cannot trace this quote in Hegel's works, and I can't even know how helpful it would be even if I had it in front of me. Based on all that we know of Hegel, we can take it as given a) that it is hopelessly yanked out of context, and b) that, whatever it may be saying in context, it cannot be used as representing the inner core of Hegel's philosophy. As I said before, Gilson spent his life countering this kind of scholarship on medieval writers; I can only assume that it was the pre-war atmosphere of anti-German sentiment that was responsible for this bizarre depiction of Hegel's philosophy.

It is a fact that Hegel, in his analysis of history, referred to the necessity of war. But Hegel is not alone in doing so; explicitly or implicitly, no one can avoid designating wars as "necessary" once one has interpreted certain military events in retrospect as linchpins for subsequent happenings, such as, say, Charles Martel's victory at the Battle of Tours, which made the Carolingian empire possible. Thus, this war was "necessary" for the course of history, and thus, we can generalize that war is a necessary aspect of history as we have it (which is the only history that we have). However, the notion that a warlike destructiveness resulting in bloodbaths is the dynamic for Hegel's system is utterly alien to Hegel's thought. Please see the earlier discussion on Hegel's method.

To return to where this line of thought started, Hartmann uses Hegel's statements on the military as an example of the issues induced by the "linearity" of his system. He states,

Once Hegel moves to the next category, the previous one has been left behind. . . . Another example of this problem is Hegel's account of the state in external relationships. The consideration of this predicament leads him to introduce the military as a necessity. This may be perfectly sound, but, as a consequence of the sequential scheme of categories, the relationship of the state and the military, their subordination or non-subordination under civilian authorities, cannot be discussed, because that topic has been reliquished by the time Hegel comes to the military. Thus, concrete circumstances cannot be considered as making a difference to the thing categorized, and that failure to make a difference precisely makes a difference to the things categorized.

Klaus Hartmann, "Hegel a Non-metaphysical View" in Alasdair MacIntyre, Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1972), pp. 119 -120.

I believe that last sentence is intended to say that when you discuss a topic only partially, you may wind up distorting the topic.

To return to yesterday's point, then, without taking into account the nature of Hegel's transcendental methodology, which entails this linearity, one is bound to misunderstand Hegel. If one reads any part of his system as though it were an independent discussion of the topic rather than one concept that both supports a previous concept and is supported by a further topic, there will be omissions.

Now, it seems to me that we have two issues here, namely whether this method is the correct way to understand Hegel and whether this method is the best way to make sense of the world. To the first question, I have tried to make it a major point of this series that any other way to read Hegel except as a transcendental philosopher is wrong. I mean that as hard and fast as it sounds. Contrary to various contemporary hermeneutical movements, we don't have the luxury of choosing among various options on how to understand a writer, based on our preference. To read St. Thomas Aquinas as a theologian who wrote in the context of the rennaisance of Aristotle in the thirteenth century is right. To read Aquinas as a theologian using Cartesian methodology is wrong. To read Hegel as a metaphysician is wrong. To read him as a transcendental philosopher is right.

Hartmann applies the term "categorical philosophy" to Hegel, in the sense that Hegel's system in all of its gigantic fullness takes the place of the twelve synthetic a priori logical "categories" of judgment in Kant's epistemology. As I have argued throughout, whether we are talking about Kant's comparatively modest scheme or Hegel's highly complex system, the starting point for both is still the transcendental question: What are the conditions that make knowledge possible and certain?

However, once we we have come to grips with Hegel's method, it is legitimate to inquire from an external point of view whether he was successful with his project. Thus, the question remains whether his approach is the best approach for understanding the world.

Hegel's curtain

When we look behind the curtain, we see ourselves.

And here we come to the Achilles heel of Hegel's philosophy. When all is written and read, Hegel did not make good on the promise, voiced in the introduction to the Phenomenology, to put knowledge on more certain footing than Kant did. He amplified Kant's construction beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Absolute Spirit was supposed to provide the certainty that was not attainable due to the epistemological subjectivity of Kant's thought. But Absolute Spirit is still nothing more than a category that makes knowledge possible. And it is a category that only exists embedded in the all-encompassing, but subjective, cycle of the system. Hegel did not actually give us any understanding of the world; what he gave us was one understanding of our understanding of the world.

Just as we said with regard to Kant, we should not expect the impossible of a philosopher. Specifically, it is unfair to demand of him to give us knowledge of something apart from the faculties that make knowledge of that something possible. There is no knowledge beyond knowledge. But there is a vast difference between Kant and Hegel, namely, the vastness of Hegel's system in contrast to Kant's. Hegel, as idealist, included the entire content of knowledge in his equivalent to Kant's "synthetic a prioris." As I stated at the outset of this series, in contrast to Hume, Kant did not begin with a method only to find out what could eventually count as knowledge. He began with the assumption that some kinds of knowledge are possible (e.g. scientific knowledge) and then raised the transcendental question concerning them. Kant may have been too parsimonious in his selection, as evidenced by his premature elimination of the possibility of metaphysics. On the other hand, Hegel was too lavish, asking us to justify our knowledge by taking recourse to a system of colossal proportions that, in the final analysis, still originates with our subjectivity. Remember, when we peaked behind the curtain, what we saw was ourselves.

But wait! Before I get too carried away here, I must stop myself in my tracks and remember that Hegel asserted in the Philosophy of Right: "What is real is rational and What is rational is real."---"Was vernünftig ist, das ist wirklich; und was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig." (Vorrede zu Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, p. 17). Am I missing something when I confine Hegel's concepts to the realm of transcendental categories rather than metaphysical reality? I need to pick up here next time.

Understanding Hegel, part 20

I have ventured the critique of Hegel that, due to the fact that his philosophy is "transcendental" or "categorical" in nature, his system is ultimately not necessarily tied to reality. But then I brought up Hegel's statement that "What is rational is real, and what is real is rational." So, doesn't that statement count against my analysis?

Well, it might. Partially, it depends on what Hegel meant by that statement in context. Then again, just because he said so does not mean that his philosophy actually followed that dictum.

The statement comes from the preface of the Philosophy of Right. I am quoting from the on-line version provided by The topic that Hegel was pursuing in this context was not philosophical methodology, let alone metaphysics, but the sorry state of what was being published under the heading of philosophy, particularly political philosophy, in his day. It seemed as though everyone was advocating freedom, and that meant novelty, whether it was reasonable or not. Hegel stated sarcastically:

Thought then regards itself as free only when it is conscious of being at variance with what is generally recognised, and of setting itself up as something original.

. . .

The idea that freedom of thought and mind is indicated only by deviation from, or even hostility to what is everywhere recognised, is most persistent with regard to the state. The essential task of a philosophy of the state would thus seem to be the discovery and publication of a new and original theory.

One problem besetting these new and supposedly creative philosophies, which are actually mere opinions, is that they are usually idealistic and ignore the present for the sake of a fictional future.

When reflection, feeling or whatever other form the subjective consciousness may assume, regards the present as vanity, and thinks itself to be beyond it and wiser, it finds itself in emptiness, and, as it has actuality only in the present, it is vanity throughout.

It is in this context that Hegel wishes to call back philosophy, including political philosophy, to rationality. Philosophy needs to deal with the reality of the present and treat it with rationality. It needs to find the rationality that is intrinsic to reality, and it needs to apply rational categories, not wishful thinking, to its analysis. Thus,

What is rational is real,
and what is real is rational.

So far so good. Philosophy should be connected up with reality. But the question arises as to where that connection occurs. How do ideas hook themselves into reality?

Against the doctrine that the idea is a mere idea, figment or opinion, philosophy preserves the more profound view that nothing is real except the idea. Hence arises the effort to recognise in the temporal and transient the substance, which is immanent, and the eternal, which is present. The rational is synonymous with the idea, because in realising itself it passes into external existence. It thus appears in an endless wealth of forms, figures and phenomena. It wraps its kernel round with a robe of many colours, in which consciousness finds itself at home.

So, ideas are tied to reality because the Idea is ultimate reality. This is not a helpful declaration because it is merely a repetition of the nature of Hegel's system. Hegel's presupposition throughout is that his transcendental system reveals what is real, but this is exactly the idea that we are questioning. We can affirm that what is real is rational under any number of descriptions; but whether we want to say that "what is rational is real" depends on some closer analysis of what one might mean here by "rational" and "real."

Let us assume that "reality" refers to something that exists independently of our knowledge of it, but, insofar as we can have awareness of it, our beliefs concerning it are true insofar as they correspond to reality. Let us also continue to stipulate the first half of the slogan, namely that there is a rationality inherent in reality. By that I mean that the so-called laws of thought-- identity, contradiction, excluded middle--apply not only to our thoughts, but to reality as well. Finally, let us further interpret rationality as the conclusion of a sound argument, one in which the premises are true and the logic is valid. In that case, what is rational is real because a sound argument cannot have true premises and a false conclusion. But note that the idea of correspondence to reality assumes that reality exists, or, to put it another way, has being.

However, if we give a more limited definition for "what is rational," such as mere logical validity, the slogan does not hold. We can easily construct arguments with false premises and valid logic, in which case the truth of the conclusion (correspondence to reality) is not guaranteed. E.g.,

If I live in a tree house, then I live in Indiana.
I live in a tree house.
Therefore, I live in Indiana.

It is true that I live in Indiana, but this argument does not show it to be so. The logic of this argument is valid, but the premises are false. Worse yet,

If I live on West Street, then I live on the moon.
I live on West Street.
Therefore, I live on the moon.

Well, there's nothing wrong with the logic, but I'm quite certain that I don't live on the moon. So, if by "what is rational" we mean merely "logical validity," then what is rational is definitely not what is real.

How do I know that I do not live on the moon? To put it simply, not by a transcendental argument. I cannot even evaluate that notion without first stipulating that a reality exists (or has being). In short, it is my assessment that the statement that "what is rational is real" can only be maintained by engaging in some fundamental metaphysics. It is not sustainable in a transcendental system that relies on shapes of consciousness without an ontological foundation. Next: Summary and Bibliography.

Understanding Hegel, part 21--The End

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Pretty good
  • IN THE BACKDROP: Air conditioning
Dripping Faucet

Finally, I'm ready to bring this series to a close.  As I said earlier, as long as the faucet is producing potable water, I will leave it open to flow.  In my humble estimation, from hereon out the water may still be fit for drink, but it would be starting to drip.  So, after several abortive attempts turn the handle to "off,"  this will be it.  ---That is, as I always stipulate, unless there is a serious question or comment requiring an entry-long response, which would be fine with me.  

My over-all major point has been very simple:  The only way to understand Hegel properly is to understand him as a transcendental philosopher in contrast to a metaphysician.  Whereas a metaphysician asks, "What is the world like?" or "What is being?" or "What is reality?", the transcendentalist asks, "What are the conditions that make knowledge of reality possible and certain?"  Their answers may look very similar (cf. the systems of Scotus Erigena and Hegel's system), but they arrive at them very differently, the metaphysician (at least in the best cases) beginning with the fact that something exists, that there is being, the transcendentalist with the heuristic assumption that we can have knowledge of something existing, or that we believe that  there is being.  Skipping over all of the intervening explanations, digressions, and personal anecdotes, there are two points delineating the bottom line: 1) Ignoring the transcendental nature of Hegel's methodology will lead to a truncated and distorted understanding of his writings; 2) The use of the transcendental method, all protests notwithstanding, permanently divorces Hegel's philosophy from being able to make positive objective assertions concerning reality, except by accident insofar as his transcendental deduction (the dialectic logic of the system) leads him to such a point.  You cannot attain metaphysical truth if you do not begin with a metaphysical intent.  One can either lament this assessment as a defect in the system or accept it as a price worth paying (I would take the former option), but one simply cannot regain that from which one has intentionally detached oneself as one's starting point--the chronic disease of all modern philosophy.  

This apparent deficiency (or intentional forteiture), becomes particularly clear in the context of Hegel's thought in relation to Christian theology.  This issue was obscured somewhat by the historical frenzy in the aftermath of Hegel's death, where the Left Wing Hegelians interpreted him as a virtual atheist and went on from there to stretch the alleged anti-Christian premises in Hegel's thought to extreme conclusions.  In contrast to them, Hegel himself and the Right Wing of his followers can be thought of as "conservative" and, possibly even, as "orthodox and trinitarian."  However, this characterization is true only by contrast, not by historical standards of biblical orthodoxy.  Hegel's God, by virtue of being embedded as one of the "categories,"--a shape of consciousness--of his self-sustaining system, which is grounded in transcendental subjectivity, can only be described as "panentheist," viz. a scheme according to which God and the world mutually depend on each other.  His trinity carries an important speculative function in the system, but it is not the God of the Bible, as described in the creeds of Nicaea and Chalcedon.  

So, what do I personally, your Thomistic bloggist, see in Hegel?

  1. As some of my students remember my having said in class once, I admire it as I would admire a beautiful pagan statue.  
  2. But more than that, given the unquestionable strong influence of Hegel on the last two centuries--some of it restricted to the speculative realm, some of it receiving practical (and usually unjustified and unjustifiable) application, Hegel is one of the many important figures of the history of Western thought whom I must know, and whom I must try to understand.  He is said to be of particular influence in providing the philosophical undergirding of a number of theologians.  Sometimes this is true; sometimes it isn't.  I need to understand the theologians, and so I need to be able to discern their philosophical assumptions, and thus I must be able to recognize the presence of Hegelian thought in their writings. 
  3. In trying to understand the nature of our present-day culture, I must be aware of its philosophical roots. And if I should engage in such intellectual archaeology, then I should do so with awareness of the turf in which I am digging. 
    • Thus, if I were to claim that  contemporary relativism arose from Hegel's dialectic, I should be sure that I understood the dialectic correctly--and I would not.
    • If I asserted that Hegel's philosophy was the fountainhead of various forms of totalitarianism, I should be certain that this statement would be consistent with Hegel's own writings--and it would not be.
    • If I intended to hold Hegel's political philosophy  responsible for the wars of the twentieth century, I should  make that accusation only if I had strong grounds for doing so--and I would not be able to find them.
    In short, accuracy in the history of philosophy is worthwhile for its own sake, it seems to me.  But in particular, to point out the obvious, if I'm trying to find the cause of one or more phenomena in contemporary thought and settle on the wrong one, I'm missing the right one. As obvious as that observation sounds, some contemporary writers appear to shrug it off with the excuse that, since there is no scholarly unanimity, and since Hegel has been singled out as the "culprit" so many times anyway, there is no harm in keeping one more issue at his doorstep [references on request at my discretion]. Aside from the dubious nature of such "scholarship," this attitude is lethal to any further advance in cultural analysis. Any subsequent  attempts to correct a problem that has a distinct philosophical origin are going to founder because we have identified the wrong cause to begin with. For example, when Francis Schaeffer named Hegel as the "doorway" to philosophical despair (The God Who Is There, IVP, 1967), by which he meant that his "synthesis" led to relativism, which, in turn, led to skepticism, he did more than misrepresent Hegel; he directed the  attention of his readers to the wrong person and, thereby, made them miss the right person to blame.  (Who was it who gave himself an exemption from the law of contradiction?  Do you remember?  It was not Hegel.)  

I need to clarify one more point before listing some books.  As I think we have seen, in Germany, the philosophy of Hegel was invoked and mutilated by the Left Wing Hegelians, with Hegel's own thought being left behind in the library stacks. As Andrew Seth (later called Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison) disovered, by the end of the nineteenth century, true Hegelianism in Germany was no longer a part of the larger philosophical conversation. [Andrew Seth, From Kant to Hegel (London: Williams and Norgate, 1882).] As American philosophy was emerging, it assumed its celebrated pragmatic character, which had little use for Hegel's cosmic deliberations.  The French were struggling with their own issues, which eventually led to the preeminence of Bergson--as well as the Neo- Thomisitc revival guided by Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson (whom I still admire, despite his absurd treatment of Hegel).  However, in England, particularly at Cambridge University, idealism became a powerful school for a time, and a number of these idealists, e.g. John McTaggart  (1866-1925), made heavy use of Hegel's philosophy.  However, they presented Hegel's thought as based on a very rigid logical methodology (thesis-antithesis-synthesis), which did not dovetail with Hegel's own writings, and which deprived Hegel's thought of its creativity and, quite frankly, of interest. If the Hegelianism of the Cambridge Idealists reflected Hegel's philosophy, I would never have been fascinated by Hegel.  Still, I needed to identify this school because in my subsequent notes, I will refer to it at times.  

What follows is an informal bibliography with comments and evaluations.  As everyone knows, my scholarly pursuits have led me in different directions since I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on "Elements of the Transcendental Method of G. W. F. Hegel in the Theology of Karl Rahner" (Rice University, 1977).  At the time, there were few books on Hegel in print in English, and a new appraisal of Hegel was still in its early stages; his major books had been translated into English, but frequently manifested dubious subtexts.  Today there are exponentially more books and articles on Hegel, though I'm not entirely certain that the situation concerning the accuracy of the translations is all that much better. What follows is a personal bibliography that may be a bit out-dated.  It includes a number of books that have been helpful to me, but which would not necessarily be found in other listings.  But that's okay.  This is neither a competition nor an exercise in copying one list of books from another. For example, there is a good bibliography attached to the article on Hegel in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and I urge you to consult it.  Here's mine:

Hegel's Works

How many books did Hegel write?  In German, there are two collections: the shorter Suhrkamp edition has twenty volumes.  The Meiner edition, not yet finished, will have more than that.  But the true answer is actually "four."  

  • The Phenomenology of Spirit,
  • The Science of Logic,
  • The Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences,
  • The Philosophy of Right.

The Phenomenology of SpiritWorks such as the History of Philosophy or the Philosophy of Religion are based on the lecture notes from quite a few students, assembled by his son Carl.  We can be sure that they reflect what Hegel said in his lectures, particularly since his style was slow and ponderous, giving the students ample time to copy his utterances, but Hegel did not publish those books.  Also, in some cases the work takes up three volumes where one might suffice.  This is true, for example, for the Encyclopedia. The reason is that its content has been greatly expanded by supplements from the students' notes. So, at present we have two collections of all of his writings in German:

  • Gesammelte Werke, Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften, ed., Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1968–. This series represents the restart of a restart.  It originated prior to World War II, when Felix Meiner still published books in Leipzig, which became a part of "East Germany."  After the war, he was able to pick up the pieces in Hamburg, but then his successors decided to start afresh with a complete critical edition.  ("Critical" here means making double-sure of the accuracy of the text and being aware of possible significant variations in printed editions or even manuscripts.
  • Werke in zwanzig Bänden, Moldenhauer, Eva and Michel, Karl Markus, ed., Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971. The difference to the Meiner edition is primarily that this collection is not "critical." However, it is much less expensive, sufficiently accurate for any but the most refined purposes, and has served me well, though my copy of the Phenomenology comes from the 1952 Meiner collection.  

The Encyclopedia of Philosophical SciencesAs indicated above, the translations into English still appear to me to be sporadic and uneven. I won't make reference to all of them.

  • Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. At this point, this seems to be the preferable one of the various translations, but I have been surprised by Miller's phrasings quite a few times.
  • Hegel's Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller, London: Allen and Unwin, 1969.
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • The Encyclopedia has been translated and published in three parts: Logic, Nature, Spirit (Mind).
    • The Encyclopedia Logic: Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991.
    • Philosophy of Nature (Part Three [sic!] of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences), trans. Michael John Perry, 3 vols, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1970.
    • Hegel's Philosophy of Mind: Being Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, trans. William Wallace, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

I assume that under Philosophy of Nature, the "Three" is supposed to be "Two."

Biographies of Hegel

In 1844 Johann Karl Friedrich Rosenkranz published a thorough biography of Hegel in German.  More accessible to us today:

  • Walter Kaufmann, Hegel: A Reinterpretation. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday Anchor, 1966. This book had a great amount of impact on the study of Hegel in the English-speaking world because Kaufmann had a broad, popular appeal, and his voice denouncing the interpretation of Hegel along the lines of dry, logical schemata was heard.  The book contains a collection of Hegel's letters.  Its original hardback version also included  a new translation of the preface to the Phenomenology, but when the paperback version came out, it was published simultaneously, but separately, under the title of Hegel: Texts and Commentary.  Kaufmann's book is a somewhat rhapsodic treatment of Hegel.  Having found liberation from the chains of formalism imposed on Hegel by the British idealists, thanks to the German scholar, R. Kroner, he resolutely refused to let Hegel be bound anew by anything systematic.  Allusions to the intellectual world surrounding Hegel abound, but there is no attempt to establish a principle of coherence in Hegel.  
  • Franz Wiedmann, Hegel: An Illustrated Biography, trans. Joachim Neugroschel. N.Y.: Pegasus, 1968.  A short, readable study that is not exceptionally philosophically oriented, but provides far more details than Kaufmann's book.  

Secondary Works

  • W. T. Stace, The Philosophy of Hegel.  N.Y.:  MacMillan, 1924.  An overview of Hegel's system, as distilled by the cream of British scholarship.  It even includes a fold-out chart, sized ca. 20" x 14", depicting the entire system (essentially a collation of the table of contents of the Encyclopedia).
  • J. N. Findlay, The Philosophy of Hegel: An Introduction and Re-examination. N.Y.: Collier, 1958.  A new understanding of Hegel for sure.  Influenced by Findlay's links to theosophy.  He modified his interpretation somewhat in the article that we shall list below.  
  • Hans Küng, Menschwerdung Gottes:  Eine Einführung in Hegels Theologisches Denken als Prolegomena zu einer künftigen Christologie.  (Freiburg: Herder, 1970).  ("The Incarnation of God: An Introduction to Hegel's Theological Thought as Prolegomena to any future Christology").  A detailed study by the famous Roman Catholic theologian of Hegel's philosophy.  Its object is to make the case that a static view of God as immutable and impassible needs to be replaced by a view of God as responsive and changing, which Küng sees in Hegel.  
  • Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Alasdair MacIntyre (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor 1972).  This anthology of articles spans the spectrum of views on Hegel, but it includes some of the most important pieces on Hegel written in the last century.  The following are the essays in this collection:
    • J. N. Findlay, "The Contemporary Relevance of Hegel."  In this essay, Findlay backs off from his earlier, almost purely intuitive, view of Hegel's system and takes steps in the direction of a transcendental reading of Hegel.
    • Walter Kaufmann, "The Hegel Myth and Its Method."  Kaufmann's refutation and indictment of Karl Popper's treatment of Hegel in The Open Society and Its Enemies.  Must Reading!
    • Walter Kaufmann, "The Young Hegel and Religion."  Why did Kaufmann get two essays in this book? I'm puzzled because I'm not sure I really understand what Kaufmann was trying to prove in this article, other than that Hegel progressed to a position where he gave philosophy a higher place than religion.  
    • Klaus Hartmann, "Hegel: A Non-Metaphysical View." A strong defense of the transcendental ("categorical") understanding of Hegel. Almost too strong; Hartmann insists on the connection between the "categories" of the system and reality, but he does not seem to be entirely convincing. In fact, I would suggest that the transcendental view of Hegel is best defended by admitting its liability, viz. the gap between the transcendental system and being.  One cannot develop a metaphysics from anti-metaphysical premises.  Must Reading!
    • R. C. Solomon, "Hegel's Concept of Geist." An essay that seems almost pedestrian for the first few pages and then grabs you, making the strongest case for the transcendental approach to Hegel yet.  Must Reading!
    • Charles Taylor, "The Opening Arguments of the Phenomenology." Taylor is comfortable with a transcendental approach to philosophy (and aware of its potential shortcomings), which turns this article into a very helpful tour of the beginning of the Phenomenology.  Must Reading!
    • George Armstrong Kelly, "Notes on Hegel's 'Lordship and Bondage.'" As I said much earlier in this series, it is a huge mistake to take Hegel's parables (such as "master" and "slave"), which actually merely illustrate epistemological concerns, into essays in sociology.  Nevertheless, the idea that the slave has more freedom than the master has been irresistible as a separate topic for myriads of writers, most prominently Marxists. This metaphor is certainly a clever idea on an important topic, but we should not read this segment of Hegel's Phenomenology as though it were intended to be primarily an essay on this important topic rather than a catchy illustration.  Kelly cannot quite decide which reading is preferable: the systematic transcendental one or the social commentary one.  
    • Hegel sleepingAlasdair MacIntyre, "Hegel on Faces and Skulls."  MacIntyre wades into Hegel's treatment of the alleged science of phrenology, an important discipline in his day.  
    • Michael Kosok, "The Formalization of Hegel's Dialectical Logic." A most ingenious article, applying symbolic logic to Hegel's method of negation, developed in great detail and at great length.  Very interesting to follow Kosok's innovations. Downright brilliant!   Unfortunately completely off the mark in terms of Hegel's actual method.  A throwback to the days when philosophers, such as  McTaggart, assumed that Hegel had a unique formal logic, completely out of sync with a transcendental approach.  
    • Richard L. Schacht, "Hegel on Freedom."  A good example of how to use an unwarranted (metaphysical) approach to Hegel, and still come out with something very good and positive.  Argues against Hegel's supposed support of totalitarianism.  
    • Shlomo Avineri, "Hegel Revisited."  Methodology is irrelevant in this essay since it deals with Hegel's legacy, particularly his appropriation for various philosophical views. Shows how the mature Hegel, rightly or wrongly,  thought of Prussia as a constitutional monarchy, a view that was held against him by both conservatives and liberals subsequently .  In this essay Avineri alludes to how great a role anti-Semitism played in politics during Hegel's time, both inside and outside of the academy, with Hegel going out on a limb by rejecting this form of prejudice.  

That's it.  Hope it helped.  Any questions?

Response to Questions

Here's one good comment from Jimm W.

Win, it would seem to me that a fair bit late 19th and 20th century philosophy does not so much stem from Hegel but is a reaction to his philosophy. It was so comprehensive that it would be hard not to react to it. One can see it both with the early existentialists. The later Schelling attempted to turn being and essence on their heads, Kierkegaard turned the whole thing inward. Nietzsche (wherever he fits in)wanted to chuck any grand scheme. Then there were the phenomenologists who gave us a more hermeneutical approach to philosophy where first interplay of ideas and then language became of supreme concern. This too, however, seems a reaction to Hegel. It seems that one can draw a pretty straight line from Kant to Hegel and then everything goes off in a hundred different directions. Perhaps this is why Heidegger seems to stand out. He managed to join existentialism with phenomenology and that seems dictated the trajectory of continental philosophy until recently.

First of all, let me make it clear that I'm not going to touch that reference to Heidegger. I know the limitations of my Dasein.

I think that Jimm was responding to this statement by me, "Given the unquestionable strong influence of Hegel on the last two centuries--some of it restricted to the speculative realm, some of it receiving practical (and usually unjustified and unjustifiable) application, Hegel is one of the many important figures of the history of Western thought whom I must know, and whom I must try to understand." As I said in my quickie-response, Jimm put his finger on the big problem with tracing "influences" in philosophy. It's almost impossible to falsify the statement that Philosopher X "influenced" Philosopher Y, who came after him. For one thing, this is rich territory for the fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc ("after this, therefore because of this"), which one commits when one infers that one event caused a second event because the first one came earlier in time. E.g. if I should find a four-leafed clover today and came into some good fortune tomorrow, I can't legimitately conclude logically that my finding of the clover caused my good fortune. So, it is highly tempting, but frequently wrong, to infer that, if philosopher X came ahead in time of philosopher Y, Y must have been "influenced" by X.

Furthermore, "influence" can mean 1) Y is using some concepts that he learned from X, or 2) Y not using X's categories because he opposes them for some reason. If one continues this pursuit of influences too far, one almost has to use a psychoanalytic methodology and look into the mind of the philosopher. Was Spinoza a rationalist because he was a lens grinder by trade and, therefore, he was in the habit of working with mathematical precision? Was he a rationalist in opposition to the faith and kabbalistic mysticism of the Jewish community that expelled him? Was he a rationalist because he was positively influenced by Descartes? I can't answer these causal questions. However, I can look at the conceptual issues and discover that his notion of substance is so similar to that of Descartes that, given the historical proximity, he probably derived it from Cartesian philosophy. Now, that still does not explain why he chose to accept rather than reject Descartes' idea of a subtance, but it definitely indicates Descartes' influence.

If I may continue with the example, Descartes' notion of the nature of a substance shows up consistently in the philosophers of the next two centuries, though given a slightly different twist by the empiricists and denied by Berkely and Hume for the very reasons that made it unique to Descartes to begin with. Thus, I think that it's fair to say that Descartes idea of a "substance" exercised quite a bit of influence on the Western philosophers after him.

Along similar lines, when I somewhat carelessly referred to Hegel's strong influence on the last two centuries, I certainly didn't mean that we have seen 200 years of Hegelianism or even a clear genealogy of successive permutations of Hegel's philosophy. I probably should have said "impact" rather than "influence" to make it a little more obvious that I'm intending to include negative reactions (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche) as well as dubious interpretations, such as those of the Left Wing Hegelians, misdirected adaptations, as exemplified by the Cambridge Idealists, or the stark and explicit rejection of Hegel by Rosenberg and company. So, I think that your statement that "a fair bit late 19th and 20th century philosophy does not so much stem from Hegel but is a reaction to his philosophy," fits in with what I had in mind. And when you add that,. "it was so comprehensive that it would be hard not to react to it," you've clinched my point. As the popular expression goes these days, he's been the "elephant in the room." Whether it's McTaggart's metaphysical elaborations or Kierkegaard's clever satires, the common denominator is Hegel.

Of course, I don't want to say anything meaningless and unfalsifiable, so I certainly have no intention of simply consigning everything non-Hegelian to the category of reactions against him and thereby slip Hegel some unearned credit under the table. Maybe you have some evidence that Husserl, Whitehead, or Schlick specifically reacted to Hegel; I can't say. A number of British Idealists were strongly influenced by Hegel, and G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell clearly reacted against Idealism, Moore to a greater degree than Russell, I think. Thus, one could perhaps say that Moore, in the process of refuting idealism, was indirectly also attempting to refute Hegel. That may be a going to far, but I think that for Russell that would be an even greaterstretch.

Thus, I would be going way too far if I said anything like "all of philosophy of the last two hundred years is a footnote to Hegel."As much as it is possible, it's best to limit my identification of Hegel's influence to a) those philosophers who specifically identified Hegelian philosophy in their background, b) those whose concepts are clearly those of Hegel, even if not specifically acknowledged, and for whom there is good reason to believe that there was a conceptual connection between them and Hegel, and c) those whose philosophy is, in line with the previous two standards, specifically a corrective to or refutation of Hegel. That adds up to a lot of people, and I'm not sure who would come close to Hegel in this time frame in this regard (ruling out Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas).

But, even though I used the word "influence" somewhat carelessly, I did pay attention and did not limit it to philosophy, particularly if you mean by it philosophy as a discipline in the academy. For example, Hegel had a profound influence on important theologians, including some who would strongly deny that philosophy has a significant role in theology. Karl Barth heads the list. Pannenberg is definitely off the list. Karl Rahner? Certainly. Altizer? Definitely. Moltmann? Maybe indirectly. Schleiermacher? Perhaps, if there is a "Locard's Principle for philosophers," and then not in his "Feeling of Absolute Dependence," but in his subsequent dialectic.

Well, I'm rambling on here. Let me summarize my two main points: 1) Establishing philosophical influence with credibility is not as easy as one can make it appear. To come to a meaningful conclusion, requires adhering to some strict criteria. 2) In the case of Hegel, we can conclude that, despite all of the distortions and misunderstandings, if we include those people who explicitly reacted against him, we find that he has had quite a bit of impact on the intellectual history of the Western world for the last two hundred years.

Any more comments or questions? E-mails are welcome!