That’s Hegel lecturing to a bunch of students up above.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011


With Hegel I’m returning to the St. John’s reading list, so I’m confining myself to the assigned readings, which in the case of Hegel are selections from The Science of Logic and The Phenomenology of the Spirit. The first is not available in a cheap printed edition, but there is a cheap e-book edition. Since the assigned reading there is relatively brief, only about 10 paragraphs, I’m not putting up a link to it. There are numerous cheap editions of The Phenomenology, and I’ve put up a more recent one on the right.

Hegel seems to attract devotees, almost worshippers, and it’s hard to see why. He seems to me to be prolix, egotistical, and needlessly obscure. A good deal of Hegel’s problem as a writer stems from his writing hurriedly in order to meet deadlines. He has what are apparently deep thoughts, or at any rate he thinks that they’re deep thoughts, and rather than thinking them through so that each idea can be clearly and simply stated, he writes down every thought as it occurs, and the result is long, a hundred words or more, sentences that meander around before finally terminating.

Hegel wrote The Science of Logic after The Phenomenology of Spirit, but because it’s shorter I’ll be giving a brief discussion before moving on to my totally uncomprehending comments on The Phenomenology.

Hegel says of logic, “In accordance with that result logic was defined as the science of pure thought, the principle of which is pure knowing, the unity which is not abstract but a living, concrete unity in virtue of the fact that in it the opposition in consciousness between a self-determined entity, a subject, and a second such entity, an object, is known to be overcome; being is known to be the pure Notion in its own self, and the pure Notion to be the true being.” Whatever Hegel means here, and presumably he means something, it is clear that he has failed to think through the best expression of this idea. I think he is saying that being is nothing other than our idea of being, but I’m not sure.

Hegel divides logic into three different logics: that of being, that of essence, and that of the Notion.

I am afraid that I found most of The Phenomenology to be utterly incomprehensible, despite having listened to one lecture on it, which failed to elucidate it. So my comments will be brief, and where I have no idea what Hegel was talking about, I shall simply make a brief note.

Introduction (§73–89). Hegel begins with this assertion, “The absolute alone is true, that is, it is the true which is alone the absolute.” So an equivalency is asserted between the true and the absolute. Not just an equivalency though, it is also an assertion of interchangeability.

Hegel also introduces the distinction between being-for-an-other and being-in-itself.

Sense Certainty (§90–116). Hegel, in §98 discusses what happens when attention is turned from one object to another: "The same case comes up in the other form of the “this,” namely, in the here. For example, here is the tree. I turn around, this truth vanishes, and it has turned itself topsy- turvy into its contrary: Here there is not a tree but rather a house. The here itself does not disappear, but it persists in the disappearance of the house, the tree, etc., and it is indifferent to being a house, a tree. The ‘this’ shows itself to be a mediated simplicity, that is, universality.” I think that what we’re supposed to gather from this is that despite the tree not being held in our consciousness at the moment, it persists in existence. Now the commonsense explanation for all of this is that the tree continues in existence because it really exists, but Hegel seems committed to the idea that reality is a mental construct, and that it is the mind that determines the nature of reality.

I’m afraid, as I’ve already said, that I found most of the rest utterly incomprehensible. If the reader is interested enough to pursue the topic, these are the relevant topics and sections. If you understand any of this, feel free to explain it to me.

Lordship and Bondage (§178-96).

Stoicism and Skepticism (§197–206).

Unhappy Consciousness (§207–30).

The Beautiful Soul (§632–58).

Absolute Knowing (§806–8).

Next up, books by the bad Marx, Karl, (the good one is Groucho).