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.

Misreading Literally, the Best Language Book Ever – I

Paul…Paul, Paul, Paul… I really do n’t think you understand what constitutes an adverb – at least, not on this occasion.  Your description: “In a basic sense, adverbs are words that answer the questions How?, When?, Where?, How much?, Why?, and to What extent? (Yeager, Best Language Book: p. 3)”  Yes, an adverb will usually answer such questions, but the core understanding of adverbs is that they modify verbs or other modifiers (adjectives and other adverbs).  I ‘m honing in on how what they do distinguishes them.

You take this to mean that ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, and ‘lastly’ are poor form.  You may not like the sound of it, but your argument that ‘first’, ‘second’, and ‘last’ are adverbs is a bit unsound (to your credit, the likes of ‘Grammar Girl’ agrees with you).  In sequencing, I can nearly agree with your point; it ‘s superfluous and I ‘d be unlikely to use them in such a context.  Her argument, however, diverges from yours in that she sees ‘First’ at the beginning of a sequence referring to ‘the first point is’ ,in which case, we are dealing with an adjective.

I know I ‘m sifting too finely…but so are you.  It should be easy to recognize that ‘first’ and its counterparts function primarily as adjectives, but may be used as adverbs also without the need to add -ly.  I would much rather see you criticizing errors concerning function – you are n’t displaying much imagination in this aspect.

Finally, or the final point is, both you and Grammar girl bemoan where ‘common parlance supercedes proper usage’ as though written grammar is primary and spoken is derivative.  Again, language serves communication – communication may be constrained by linguistic norms, but grammar should serve us – not the other way around.  Your idea that common acceptance crystallizes errors is fair, but should n’t we primarily concern ourselves with that which blocks communication?

Misreading Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

Congratulations Paul Yeager for catching my eye with Literally, the Best Language Book Ever (Perigee, NY: 2008).  I have merely waded through the introduction to your humorous work.  I share your disdain for the trite and despise a certain subset of redundancies.  But before I give you any glowing marks, there ‘s a matter or two we should see to (I hope you are n’t one of those who think the split infinitive confuses communication in the slightest, or we ‘re going to have issues).

You bring up the verbifying of nouns with the examples of ‘tasking’ instead of ‘assigning a task’, ‘dialoguing’ instead of ‘having a dialogue’, and ‘transitioning’ instead of ‘making a transition’.  I ‘m nearly convinced that you think language is static and that there persists a right and wrong in lingual (or written) communication.  Are you well aware that language serves us, not we it?   Certainly there are better and worse normalcies in communication by means of language, but until all communicants die out any specific tongue will continue to change.  There is enough of a grand return that you should n’t be distressed — ‘breakfast’ is the nounified form of ‘to break (one’s) fast’ (and we still pay homage to this when we employ ‘breakfast’ as a verb).

Further, redundancies naturally creep into language.  Sure ‘completely finished’ and ‘absolutely essential’ are unnecessary – especially for those liberally applying Ockham’s razor.  You ‘re right to note that our speech has become overly dramatic (with the profusion of an absolute like ‘ever’), but I ‘m afraid here you ‘re picking one nit too many.  One might display mental laziness by choosing one’s words poorly (and so be passed over for promotions) – but we should more clearly define when errors are truly leading to communication distress.  So, let ‘s be a bit more careful what errors we spend energy pushing back against.

Let me finally agree that ‘I could care less’ is an unhelpful statement.  I do sincerely hope that those items you have chosen to pick at are actually helpful ones.  I must say I ‘m a bit put off at the beginning – shall we redeem what is left of your work?  Otherwise, I might take issue with your title selection.


*update: this is the only book both picked up and completely put aside in twenty-twelve.  I feel I ‘ve forgotten more useful concepts and insights than were available herein.  Of course, it ‘s difficult to keep up the false self-righteous reading for diatribe’s sake and this was a necessary casualty.  But am I the casualty of myself in this case? that is, am I merely exercising my own pretentiousness without stepping towards exorcism?