Friday, April 27, 2007

Notes on the Preface to the Phenomenology

Preface to the Phenomenology


'These forms do not only differ, they also displace each other because they're incompatible. Their fluid nature, however, makes them, at the same time, elements of an organic unity in which they not only do not conflict, but in which one is as necessary as the other; and it is only this equal necessity that constitutes the life of the whole'

This is one of the most interesting and fateful paragraphs in Hegel's writings. In Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza, in Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, or in Kant we find no comparable conception of philosphical disagreement or the 'progressive development' of truth'. Different philosophies according to Hegel are not to be viewed as laid out next to each other in a spatial arrangement; they cannot be fully understood as long as their temporal relationship is ignored. Studying a single system is like studying, say, a blossom; the study of the whole plant and of living organisms corresponds to the study of the development of philosophy to the present time. Different philosophies represent different stages of maturity.

Here, then, at the beginning of his first book, Hegel announces the vision that led him about fifteen years later, as a professor at the Univ. of Berlin, to establish the history of philosophy as a subject of central importance for students of philosophy- which it had not been before.

'Necessary' and 'necessity' in the last sentence are questionable. Hegel means that philosophies should not be understood as capricious webs spun by wayward thinkers but as significant stages in the development of thought. When a philosopher disagreer with his predecessors, we should not reject the lot because they cannot agree with each other; rather we should ask how the later thinkers correct the partiality of the former, and how each contributes to the gradual refinement of knowledge. Hegel notwithstanding, this does not imply any genuine necessity. Hegel often uses 'necessary' quite illicitly as the negation of 'utterly arbitrary'. -Kaufmann.

'And when, in addition to all this, the seriousness of the Concept descends into the depths of the subject matter, then such knowledge and judgement will always retain a proper place in discussion'

'The seriousness of the Concept': der Ernst der Begriffs is one of Hegel's phrases. Some of the preceding might strike readers with no predilection for philosophy as an invitation to pedantry. But consider the Philistine who reads the final speech of Goethe's Faust, in the fifth act of Part II, and says 'I always knew that nothing good would come out of boundless striving; one has to settle down for a job and do it well'. He has got hold of a 'naked result' or a 'lifeless generality'. Real comprehension depends on a grasp neither of the play, but of 'the result together with its becoming'. In the case of a philosophical position, too, the becoming involves not only the detailed arguments but also the 'serious of life in its fullness' (Ernst der erfüllten Lebens). Yet this, however necessary, is not enough for philosophy which requires, 'in addition to all this, the seriousness of the Concept'.-Kaufmann.


'Philosophy, however, must beware of wishing to be edifying'

Hegel's polemic against mere edification and the wish to be 'edifying' (erbaulich) brings to mind Kierkegaard's 'Edifying Discourses'. Kierkegaard's many polemical references to Hegel are better known than the fact that Hegel published his critique of Kierkegaard six years before the latter was born. Kierkegaard's autorship of 'Edifying Discourses' and 'Concluding Unscientific Postscript' has to be understood against the background not only of Hegel's Logic, which is also cited in this connection, but also of the Phenomenology, which is too often ignored by Kierkegaard's expositors'-Kaufmann

'The strength of the spirit is only as great as its expression; its depth is only as deep as it dares to spread and lose itself in its explication'

'empty depth': a splended phrase, by no means applicable only to the Romantics of whom Hegel was thinking primarily. The last sentence offers a superb formulation of one of Sartre's central ideas: 'for the existentialist, there is no love apart from the deeds of love; ... there's no genius other than that which is expressed in works of art. The genius of Proust is the totality of the works of Proust... In life, a man... draws his own portrait and there is nothing but that portrait....'You are nothing else but what you live'.-Kaufmann.


'But just as in the case of a child the first breath it draws after long silent nourishment terminates the gradualness of the merely quantitative progression -a qualitative leap- and now the child is born, so, too, the spirit that educates itself matures slowly and quietly toward the new form, dissolving one particle of the edifice of its previous world after the other...

The Phenomenology of the Spirit is the story of the Bildung of the spirit- Kaufmann.

'The first emergence is only its immediacy or its concept.'

Unmittelbarkeit means for Hegel quite literally that which has not been mediated or gone through an intermediate condition - Kaufmann.

'But the actuality is this simple whole consists in this, that these forms which have become mere moments now develop anew and give themselves form, but in their new element, in the sense that has emerged.'

Sometimes 'stages' comes a little closer to Hegel's 'Momente' than 'elements' would. The new 'element' is philosophy.What has developed must now be comprehended and developed all over again, in thought. Kaufmann.

'While on the one hand the first appearance of the new world is only the whole shrouded in simplicity or its general basis, the wealth of its previous existence is, on the other hand, still present to consciousness in memory'

The partisans of 'immediate knowledge' suffer from amnesia: what they claim to know immediately was in fact mediated by a long historical process. What seems self-evident now was not obvious in the past, and what seems simple is in fact the whole development 'shrouded in simplicity'. -Hegel.

'For the understanding is thinking, the pure ego; and the sensible is the already familiar and that which science and the unscientific consciousness have in common- that whereby the latter can immediately enter science'

intelligibility: Verständlichkeit; intelligible: verständlich; understanding: Verstand; the sensible: das Verständige. The basic idea of section 1.3 so far, and of this paragraph especially, is that time has come for all men to demand equal access to philosophy; and to become common properly philosophy must become scientific. To become exoteric and democratic, philosophy must be available to every intelligent person who is willing to shirk no effort -regardless of whether he belongs to some special group or clique, whether the romantic circle or a religious denomination. The time for special privilege is past.

On the fact of it, it is ironical that this insistence on universal intelligibility should appear in the preface to a work of legendary difficulty which even professionals have the greatest trouble in understanding. And after all is said, this irony remains striking. But it should be noted that Hegel's position does not commit him to popularization. Science, including higher mathematics and advanced physics, is exoteric and democratic in the sense here at stake; and Hegel constantly insists that philosophy requires the most serious exertion and hard work. Indeed, this is part of what he means when he speaks of elevating philosophy to the level of science.-Kaufmann.

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