Why So Interested?


As I am diving into early Hegel (for no other reason that it is what I found myself doing), I wonder why it is so fascinating to see someone’s work at these early stages? I have always had a weak spot for biographies and I’ve read plenty of accounts of Hegel’s life. In addition to the usual interest in the philosopher’s life (Heidegger can take a break on this), I wonder if it is entirely fair for the future generations to have access to the “unpublished” texts? I mean they were left unpublished for a reason. It would be one thing if, say, Hegel prepared the texts for publication and then suddenly died without being able to carry out the final act of submission. But when it comes to early (“young”) Hegel, we are talking about fragments of texts and thoughts that he himself judged to be inadequate. In fact, he abandoned certain formulations and approaches to his intent to produce a system because he found them to be false starts. Of course we benefit from those drafts because we can see where the later stuff was coming from and how he gained his own philosophical voice, but still there is a sense of unease here (or should be, I think). Hegel threw these ideas out as incorrect or underdeveloped – can we really learn anything from them, philosophically speaking? How important are one’s abandoned and erroneous ideas for the general view (totality) of one’s thoughts?

12 thoughts on “Why So Interested?

  1. I think they could be useful if you were looking at something confusing or ambiguous that came later, by letting you eliminate a possibility or two? (“well he couldn’t have meant X, cause that’s the old, rejected view”). maybe.

    • True. And also if it was so important for Hegel not to reveal his previous “errors” he would not have kept the unpublished texts, I suppose. There is still something odd about those. Wasn’t there a case with Nietzsche when they published his grocery list as unpublished text or something (or am I completely misremembering this)?

      • wow, wasn’t the nietzsche idea the hook for an old woody allen short story? i’m getting one of those fragmentary half-memories that are so frustrating.

  2. As far as I know it wasn’t Nietzsches, but Kant’s Schopping List and it was on the same Page as some Idea about the pure Reason or something.

    I think it is good to have acces to this kind of things, to see the “big philosophers” were humans too. Hegel actually commented on Schelling that he has “has undergone his philosophical education before the public”. He thought, that the constant publishing of a thinking system “in process” was kind of obscene. And I think that is actually a big problem. Many philosophers still try to get, like Hegel, the “absolute knowledge”, so thy tend to hide their process of writing and thinking and only present the finished, good build argument. The philosopher is seen as a kind of genius who posesses this true knowledge. Showing the process, like maybe Schelling did, is like a kind of practical critique on the genius idea and showing that philosophy is also just a kind of craftmansship and therefore delegitimizing a lot of the status and power the philosophers think of possesing rightfully.

    • I like this and I agree with you. Everyone wants to be so assured of adoration, and of course some people WOULD criticize and accuse of changing their mind (god forbid) any philosopher that they could prove was struggling with formulating his philosophical underpinnings. It’s all so serious – everyone takes themselves so serious, why not see a fledgling philosopher struggling with ideas, it is human. but you are right in that it seems pride will not let them do that. vulnerability means weakness to them, and to most of us actually. We need to evolve and stop being so defensive and closed in – even if the world threatens our reputations.

  3. This seems to me to be a profoundly un-Hegelian question. Of course we can learn something from “errors”– because the road of (and to) truth is paved with them. Is not every instance of growth and development fraught with false starts and “errors”? Is that not the very essence of dialectic? Isn’t the relationship between “Young Hegel” and “Old Hegel” analogous to that of a bud to a fully developed blossom?
    “The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole.”– Preface to the POS

      • I agree. This line of questioning is pretty “un-Hegelian” in that very sense you are pointing out. The problem is that Hegel himself here seems to be pretty un-Hegelian as he chooses not to publish his early system(s). He does that in Jena knowing very well it could cost him a promotion or a position. He pleads with Goethe to put in a good word for him promising he has a book in the works, and yet the book never comes out.

        We can certainly learn from Hegel’s drafts and “errors” – but what is it that we are learning, I wonder? Sure, the history of philosophy is philosophy, but is the history of individual attempts to articulate something also philosophy?

      • Good points. On a second approach, I think my quotation of the preface to the POS was contextually inappropriate, on account of the fact that Hegel was referring to the development of philosophy as a whole- not “individual attempts to articulate something.”
        How we are to interpret his failure to publish his early attempts at system is certainly up for debate. It surely tells us something about his idiosyncrasies/psycho-pathologies– he wanted to present himself as a blossom. But then, as you said– who wants (to be) a bud? We all want to “get an A in class,” to present ourselves as not not-all, as complete. We desire to be desired. So I guess “idiosyncrasy” isn’t appropriate here either since narcissistic concern for how one is perceived in the eyes of the “big-other” (to continue to throw around the Lacanian jargon) is universal.
        Perhaps the question of what the appropriate “place” of “individual attempts at articulating something” in our thinking can be answered by answering several other questions: Can Hegel’s failure to publish his early work be accounted for in the terms of his own philosophy? If not, why not? How about psychoanalysis? Perhaps it’s in a better position than Philosophy to “explain” such things. But then, where the hell is the line of demarcation separating psychoanalysis from philosophy? Didn’t Hegel anticipate many of the moves later made in psychoanalysis? I mean, his idea that the Individual’s participation in the Universal is mediated by the Particular seems almost ahead of Freud, at least in terms of conceptual sophistication and explanatory power (if my hazy understanding of these two giants is correct)…. I guess at the very least, I have some food for thought…. hopefully I don’t get indigestion.

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