Intros to European Philosophy: Hegel


Previously read: Nothing, but I ‘ve wanted to.  After reading Spinoza for the first time I was interested to see how Hegel and Spinoza might compare as interpreters/appropriators of Aristotle.

Key texts: Introduction to the Philosophy of History and Logic (Part I of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences), Ch. 7, A

Overall impression: Similar to when I first encountered Nietzsche (in European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, ed. M. Beardsley), I expected a bit more naivete from Hegel.  I had heard little past thesis-antithesis-synthesis; his perspective seems more careful than I had heard from the textbooks.

Unconscious participation in the unfolding Idea – it’s an interesting conception (European Philosophers, p. 563).  For Fichte to be conscious of it and wend not where it may go…unforgivable.


“Every writer of history proposes to himself an original method… Instead of writing history, we are always beating our brains to discover how history ought to be written. (ibidem, p. 540)”

And, perhaps more brilliantly:

“But what experience and history teach is this: that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it. (ibidem, p. 541)”

Concerning the historian:

“One Reflective History therefore, supersedes another.  The materials are patent to every writer: each is likely enough to believe himself capable of arranging and manipulating them; and we may expect that each will insist upon his own spirit as that of the age in question. (p. 542)”

`It is too easy to read history and say “why didn’t he or she see X”.  One often smacks the forehead in amazement; but fails to see the very shortsightedness with which the reader of history is himself plagued.  In reading, one sees oneself reflected and too few are appropriately disgusted.  If they were, they would be slower to read their perspective in the age in question.


“The only Thought that Philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of Reason; that Reason is the Sovereign of the World; that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.  This conviction and intuition is a hypothesis in the domain of history as such. (ibidem, p. 544)”

`Precisely what Foucault is seeking to avoid in Archaeology of Knowledge; that intuition is moreso the product of experience-histories than the means by which to construct a history.  The result is closer to the previous quote about Reflective History.


“Even the ordinary, the “impartial” historian, who believes and professes that he maintains a simply receptive attitude, surrendering himself only to the data supplied him, is by no means passive as regards the exercise of his thinking powers.  He brings his categories with him, and sees the phenomena presented to his mental vision exclusively through these media. (European Philosophers, p. 546)”

`So much for aspirations to doing history objectively.


“Reason is Thought conditioning itself with perfect freedom. (p. 548)”  `That seems a mite naïve.  It is continued on p. 553 of European Philosophers as such:

“The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom…”


“But even regarding History as the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individuals have been made victims, the question involuntarily arises: to what principle, to what final aim these enormous sacrifices have been offered. (ibidem, p. 554)”

`I love the imagery here – its poetry.  See also:

“The History of the World is not the theatre of happiness.  Periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony, periods when the antithesis is in abeyance. (p. 560)”


“If we go on to cast a look at the fate of these World-Historical persons whose vocation it was to be the agents of the World-Spirit, we shall find it to have been no happy one.  They attained no calm enjoyment; their whole life was labor and trouble; their whole nature was nothing but their master-passion.  When their object is attained they fall off like empty hulls from the kernel.  They die early, like Alexander; they are murdered, like Caesar; transported to St. Helena, like Napoleon. (p. 564)”

`Perhaps we ought to be a little more careful of that urge to raise our children to greatness; happiness will be far off (and it won’t be a joy to the family either, but a sorrow).  It is not that nothing is worth the sacrifice, but too many want greatness without knowing to what end.

“No man is a hero to his valet de chamber…but not because the former is no hero, but because the latter is a valet. (p. 565)”

Concerning language & grammar:

“For Grammar, in its extended and consistent form, is the work of thought, which makes its categories distinctly visible therein… Exercises of memory and imagination without language are direct [non-speculative] manifestations. (p. 593)”

Grammar is the medium which orders thought and the pre-lingual is communicated only by means of such language ordered by grammar.


“Time is the negative element in the sensuous world.  Thought is the same negativity, but it is the deepest, the infinite form of it, in which therefore all existence generally is dissolved… (p. 606)”

`I ‘m not sure what exactly constitutes a ‘negative element’ in this sense.  We recognize the motion of objects and call this the progression of time.  How existence is dissolved in thought…I ‘m less clear on; but for both cases I believe I ‘ve failed to understand Hegel on these points.  As a reader the imagery appears pregnant, but to what end?


“It will now be understood that Logic is the all-animating spirit of all the sciences, and its categories the spiritual hierarchy… But things thus familiar are usually the greatest strangers.  Being, for example, is a category of pure thought; but to make “Is” an object of investigation never occurs to us. (p. 609 from Logic (Part I of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences))”

`At least till Heidegger…


“In common life truth means the agreement of an object with our conception of it.  We thus presuppose an object to which our conception must conform.  In the philosophical sense of the word, on the other hand, truth may be described, in general abstract terms, as the agreement of a thought-content with itself. (p. 610)”

`Perhaps I might gloss the difference as facticity (at this moment, I would define this as relation to the world of experience) versus internal consistency (in this sense, we might speak of truth as grammatical).  I do n’t know if I ‘ve done this justice, but philosophers often mean something other than common people (and often ought to; but they should meet at some point).

“The foundation of all determinateness is negation (as Spinoza says, Omnis determinatio est negation). (p. 622)”  Actually, that is n’t quite the case.  Strange that something which is Spinoza out of context becomes so key to Hegel’s logic.

Doubt Mis-Placed

My current nightly reading is cycling between Descartes and Foucault: well, at least they were both French.  My reasons and reading choices aside, I ‘ve come through the Meditations on First Philosophy wherein we are led through Descartes’ search for the “true Method of arriving at a knowledge of all the things of which my mind was capable.  (Meditations, translated by E.S. Haldane & G.R.T. Ross, from The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (2012), Modern Library, edited by Monroe Beardsley: p. 15)”  Noting that everyone seems to think they have sufficient good sense that most do not desire more of it (ibid, p. 5), Descartes chooses to sort between those reasons manifest as good sense according to method; namely, an adaptation of methodological skepticism which has come to be known as Cartesian doubt.

A full critique of such methods, or more specifically a critique of the reliance on methods to alleviate one doubt by choosing systemically choosing another and the dualism necessary to accept the Cartesian result, is not of interest here.  Descartes has been scoffed at enough.  What has interested me instead has been how the results of Descartes’ project so diverged from his purposes.  An example: Descartes hoped, in the introduction to his Meditations to show how his method frees reason from prejudices.  But Descartes was not truly interested in letting go of his central prejudices.  The two that remained were his identity as a thinking being and being equally sure that God exists.  Instead of liberating philosophy from all prejudices, Descartes hoped instead to free from all prejudices that were of lesser importance.

Of course, the first of these prejudices embodied in Je pense donc je suis or cogito ergo sum fails to answer either what it means to be, who I am, or that of which thinking is truly comprised.  It did, however, add questions not asked in isolation (methodological skepticism was not original to Descartes – see Pyrrho of Elis, Sextus Empiricus, and, if you ‘re feeling adventurous, I really recommend al-Ghazali’s al-Munqidh min al-Dalal or Deliverance from Error but his use of it was unique) and the results went well outside the bounds of Descartes’ purpose.  Instead of accepting the Cartesian presupposition, the subject ‘I’ became the locus of reason with the illusion that right thinking freed one from prejudice.  The prejudice against prejudice must be dealt with another time, but I follow Gadamer enough to distrust such claims.  Needless to say (why is this considered an appropriate segue ever?) Descartes sought to answer such questions as I have raised, but the success of his project was ineffective for effecting his purpose while its reliance on the definition of man as rational animal was reinforced by his project.

But the second is equally important to Descartes!  Interestingly the idea of the ‘natural light’ rings of al-Ghazali as I read this, but my point holds: existence is not imagined apart from the being above the realm of thought.  Here:

“[T]he idea by which I apprehend a supreme God, eternal, infinite, immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, and the creator of all things which are in addition to Himself, has certainly in it more objective reality than those ideas by which finite substances are represented.”

~Meditation III, p. 45

Because Descartes is so assured of God’s existence, and recognizes that such an idea cannot originate from himself, so he holds that not only does something other than himself exist, but that being must be the cause of that idea (ibid, p. 46).

“Consequently, the idea I have of Him is the most completely true, the most completely clear and distinct, of all the ideas that are in me.”

~Meditation III, p. 49

He then goes on to consider, in Meditation IV, truth and falsity which necessarily includes some discussion of error by way of an Augustinian theodicy.  In the Supplementary Passages attached, Descartes concludes:

“And though the wisest minds may study the matter as much as they will, I do not believe they will be able to give any sufficient reason for removing this doubt, unless they presuppose the existence of God.”

~Metaphysical Doubt and Certainty from The European Philosophers, p. 82

This should be all that is necessary to demonstrate that Descartes’s purpose in discourse cannot be easily divorced from a belief in God.  Taking away this second assumption would remove the meaning in defense of Whom Descartes doubted.  In a similar way, no one ever deconstructs purely for deconstruction’s sake, but does so with the hope to be consulted in the rebuilding.  Otherwise, one does not write.  That ‘s speech-act theory at its core: we speak and write to communicate a purpose.  So, to avoid plunging further into terms, I here wish to expound on my own research project – that of mis-understanding as it relates to the thoughts of one or many coming to serve purposes contrary to those for which the author publishes.  I ‘m no less haunted.  If I stoop but a little to look at the mis-purposed corpses of thought – meditative projects whose methods are made to serve, whose lives must be animated by something other than the purposes which were their origin – that for which they were conceived and sewn together.

Again I put the question to myself, so I shall put it to you as well: what thought is more horrifying for the thinker?  Rejection is far better than this mis-projection, this misuse of energies.  Put the question to yourself – what is worth being not only misunderstood for, but what is worth putting your energies into and subsequently being completely misunderstood and misdirected?

Misunderstanding as Distortion {and following note on Paralysis}

The conclusion to Nietzsche’s final work, Ecce Homo: Wie man wird, was man ist (How One Becomes What One Is), famously, if pathetically, cries out:

Hört mich! denn ich bin der und der. Verwechselt mich vor Allem nicht! (Ecce Homo, 1888: Vorwort 1as found in Project Gutenberg:

“Hear me!  For I am such and such a person.  Above all, do not mistake me for someone else.”  (from Peter Gay’s introduction to Basic Writings of Nietzsche (2000), Modern Library, USA: p. xiv [as translated by Walter Kaufmann])

I feel I ‘ve long been fascinated with misunderstanding, not only how frequently we misunderstand one another but how we misunderstand ourselves.  I ‘m not meaning to boil matters down to some list of Freudian urges or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  These psycho-archaeological diggings unveil something of the unconscious, the unspoken, and that is valuable to a point.  It reminds us of that we are reading of thoughts and images which grabbed the attention of their transmitters, that at some point they too were arrested by that which is expressed in language in general, and in this case in writings.

But then we neither encounter directly these images nor the voice of the author at those particular moments wherein the release that is authorship took place.  The ‘why’ which arrested that author is never the ‘what’ we encounter in each reading.  Even as the author strives to be understood, even this petty thinker at this very moment, misunderstanding also is at work.  There is much the author does not say, and perhaps much she should have said but failed to.  In other words, discourse goes beyond exhuming the corpse of that author’s state of mind, an ultimately impossible task even when attempted honestly – even though it benefits the reader to be mindful not only of the woven structure of the text, but the humanity of the weaver and the particularity of those moments which led to the finality of authorship.  In writing, the author truly loses control – the medium worked in determines what may be said even as the author tries to connect the reader to that set of ideas.  While the aims of authors vary, inevitably there is some intended encounter – some confrontation that goes beyond the author’s state of mind.

The angst of being misunderstood, being misstated, and even having one’s words distorted is embodied in Nietzsche’s words here.  Foucault avers that this distortion has in fact already occurred in his day such that the decentring operations of both Nietzsche and Marx are twisted completely.  In his analysis of the history of thought, Foucault descries the attempts of the nineteenth century to preserve the ‘sovereignty of consciousness’ and “the twin figures of anthropology and humanism” from the decentrings offered by Nietzsche and Marx.

“One is led therefore to anthropologize Marx, to make of him a historian of totalities, and to rediscover in him the message of humanism; one is led therefore to interpret Nietzsche in the terms of transcendental philosophy, and to reduce his genealogy to the level of a search for origins…”

~Foucault, the Archaeology of Knowledge (1972) Pantheon Books, NY: p. 13 – translated by A.M. Sheridan Smith from the French

He goes on to remark that where Marx was first criticized and Nietzsche opposed, the totalitarianizing historians and structuralists came to ‘travesty’, or I think in this case distort the representation of, Marx’ purposes and ‘transpose’ Nietzsche.  That is, intellectual violence was done to the works of two antagonists such that their works were made to appear, at least in the normative discourse, as though both Marx and Nietzsche were really still working within the same framework of discussions.  It is far easier to distort your opponent’s than it is to understand it, for she is working from another basis than you.  While neither Nietzsche nor Marx worked in a vacuum or were immune from the Geist of their time, their interpretations do not easily serve to perpetuate those discourses whose foundations they tore at the foundations of.  Foucault continues:

“All the treasure of bygone days was crammed into the old citadel of this history; it was thought to be secure; it was sacralized; it was made the last resting-place of anthropological thought; it was even thought that its most inveterate enemies could be captured and turned into vigilant guardians.  But the historians had long ago deserted the old fortress and gone to work elsewhere; it was realized that neither Marx nor Nietzsche were carrying out the guard duties that had been entrusted to them.”

~Foucault, Archaeology (1972): p. 14

Here a layer is added to our considerations.  In discourse, when an author or thinker’s works have been distorted so that they speak with but a sad and hoarse caricature of their former voice – the voice is voided of its true patheticisms and forces so that it becomes tamed as the imprisoned lion – when such has occurred, that discourse which has distorted these voices and stripped them of all rigor or lasting ability to object, then those who might better understand the nature of either Nietzsche’s or Marx’ personal discourse, those hills which they chose to be bruised on in their climbs and travails – those voices which might again break into that closed discourse are signaled by their strangeness.  Worse, they are taken as beginning from a basis of misunderstanding where instead they are confronting the worse misunderstanding – that which has taken the methods of Marx and Nietzsche but left all they sought fit to say by means of their methods!  Ironically, Nietzsche spoke of this very matter in his Mixed Opinions and Maxims (1879) where he avers:

“The philosopher supposes that the value of his philosophy lies in the whole, in the structure; but posterity finds its value in the stone which he used for building, and which is used many more times after that for building—better.  Thus it finds the value in the fact that the structure can be destroyed and nevertheless retains value as building material.”

~Nietzsche, Mixed Opinions and Maxims from Basic Writings of Nietzsche, p. 156 – emphasis in the text

I shall put off to another hour what Nietzsche has to say about being both understandable, and therefore not easily understandable to the wrong sort of reader.  Rather, I prefer to consider what personal horror Nietzsche or Marx might feel to find that their works and thoughts and broodings which bore upon their selves with their full weight were then, rather than simply dismissed which is harmless, twisted to serve purposes largely opposite their own.  I feel there are few greater horrors for the scholar.  One may forgive some misunderstanding, or petty dispute, if it does not go too far or distract too far from the goals for which one writes.  But to be made to serve that which you are most opposed to – to not only be dismissed by the Spirit of your age, the Geist, but to first see it take up your own weapons against you and finally to see your shadow, that you which exists only through readings, and therefore misreadings as well, take up those very weapons in service of that which you with so much effort and will opposed.

Already I have tried to accomplish too much in this post.  Partly that is because I expect this aspect to be least understood, although it is most central to my periphery at the moment.  True, no one ever seeks to be misunderstood, unless it is so that another purpose may be effected by means of that misunderstanding and in that case one is at least being followed truly, even if those who follow are not aware that they are truly understanding.  I feel the urge to elaborate ad nauseum concerning this point although I know it to be perhaps the less interesting aspect for many.  Instead of seeking to paralyze, I see considering such aspects of history as descriptive of that which is most likely to happen.

That is, if one is truly committed to not only changing something small for a few, but wishes to effect change on a mass scale, one must be a student of history in this matter.  Whatever you think of Foucault or Nietzsche or Marx, it should be evident to their readers that their actual voices must be heard through listening and listening well.  I do not speak of uncritically accepting what they say, for that is a disgrace to both the thinker and the one who wishes to understand their thoughts.  If you do not see strengths and weaknesses you are not in their discourse – you have not begun to enter a meaningful discussion.  Returning, however, to our point: to meet Marx or Nietzsche or Foucault in a classroom through a few powerpoint slides and a rough discussion is not even an introduction.  How could anyone understand your thoughts in such environs?  Even in writing this I realize that I may serve a similar function.

To clarify, I have given examples which enliven my own discourse, rather than sought to explain in depth more than a spare thought from these.  To understand their values in depth, and that is the understanding I truly seek when I read – to understand the core even as it changes and attempts to express itself and to encounter others on the same planes of discovery (or uncovering) is the best picture I have as yet of such aims.  Even in this, misunderstanding is inevitable.  I shall not here trot out my examples of disciples as distorters (Socrates->Plato->Aristotle does the trick for my mind at the moment) but rather would speak to the psychological results briefly, again to swat away a distraction.

In no way do I wish to paralyze.  I consider such examples because it seems to me that to ignore such items when they are dis-covered to me is to choose naivete.  It would seem that the other choice is to cower in a corner afraid of the counter-effects of whatever actions I should choose as one who is afraid to pull at the oars because they shall only excite the waves around the vessel.  In-action is not the aim, but neither is naive action.  Surely there are actions worth taking – actions of some significance, and the results are to some extent indeterminate at this point.  But still, some eye to the general predictable elements is prudent in my estimation.  Even as I am learning a new language, I am continually finding false connections and laying these aside as corrected.  Such seems most in line with how our actions and their significance are revealed to us.  I would that more would consider the subject of misunderstanding well, and the nature of distortion in discourse, and welcome others to interact with me particularly as I explore this plane, but not so that one fails to speak in favor of purposes worth being misunderstood for.