Richard Dien Winfield: Lecture Course in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Richard Dien Winfield‘s lectures on Phenomenology of Spirit (from Spring of 2011) are available for free on here. I am assuming these are related to his published commentary which is not free (of course) but you can read it by buying this book:

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: A Critical Rethinking in Seventeen Lectures

Also see his Hegel’s Science of Logic: A Critical Rethinking in Thirty Lectures (2012) – audio course here.

Also see this helpful resource on Phenomenology of Spirit: PhG Bibliography.

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(Heidegger can take a break on this), I wonder if it is entirely fair for the future generations to have access to the “unpublished” texts? I mean they were left unpublished for a reason.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?

Early Hegel on Labor

Randomly ended up reading Harris’s introduction to this wonderful book of early Hegel texts: Hegel: System of Ethical Life and First Philosophy of Spirit

An introduction takes almost half of this volume which is great since a) Harris is great at explaining all things Hegelian, b) the text is too odd to sort of just get into it. Harris summarizes the System of Ethical Life text thusly:

1) “According to Hegel, ethical awareness begins as the self-awareness (the “intuition”) of a single individual in the controlling environment of nature as a whole… Nature rewards or disciplines our efforts, and in this way we come to know what we naturally are and what we need. This is the ‘subsumption’ of our own singular existence or self-awareness under the ‘concept’ which is objectified or realized in the organic totality of nature as a whole.” [20]

2) “…the mastery over nature that is requisite to our existence as free rational agents we can only achieve through membership in a wider community, the Volk. Thus the ‘subsumption’ of our singular ‘intuition’ under the concept of rational humanity requires for its proper fulfillment the contrary subsumption of the concept of humanity under the ethical intuition of the Volk.” [21]

3) “We subsume nature under our own feeling by acting upon it. Thus work or labor will be the crucial moment of this stage. But work is the negation of feeling as the spontaneous awareness of our own living energy. Thus within the overall subsumption of concept under intuition labor is the moment of opposition, the moment when intuition is subsumed under concept.” [23]

4) “Labor occurs when we change what is there in space for our intuition into something else that we envisage in our minds.” [26]

5) “For the moment Hegel is only concerned to clarify his own version of the labor theory of property. ‘Possession’ is the synthesis of two moments, the conceptual moment of taking possession and the real moment of labor.

6) “So when labor is ‘subsumed’ in the object produced, the singularity of the subject gets its ‘rational place as ‘implicit concept. Labor is the active concept, the Begriff für sich; the product is the resting concept, the Begriff an sich; but both of them have this conceptual status as aspects of the practical subject… labor is basically subsumption of intuition (subjective image of what may be, and objective impression of what is) under concept (the thought-guided activity that transforms desired image into real impression and real impression into remembered image).” [27, 28]

Once More on Hegel’s Lectures on History of Philosophy

I am reading the introduction to this (as a commenter kindly pointed out, modern English translation, although prohibitively expensive, of Hegel’s lectures does exist). An interesting opening issue: apparently “the relation of these lectures to his philosophical system as such is today a matter of dispute. Some doubt that they form a part of the system at all, whereas others, in agreement with some of his students, view them as the system’s crowning achievement or culmination.” [1] It’s interesting how this could be a matter of dispute as framed by the sentences. Of course these are not “part of the system” – Hegel talks about what is part of the system fairly clearly, I think. Are they “culmination” of the system? This is also an odd way of putting it since it raises a question: what does the system do? Is it supposed to have any result as such? If it does, then we can see what that result is or is not. If it does not, then how can something be its “culmination.”

Fun fact: when Hegel lectured in Jena – he began during the winter term of 1801-02 (at the age of 31) – he already had a system and he announced that he would teach it. So the lectures on 1803-04 and 1804-05 present two versions of the system. Whatever that system was, and we have texts, of course, it was a system, or an attempt as a system. Do you have a system? I didn’t think so.


G.W.F. Hegel, System of Ethical Life (1802/3) and First Philosophy of Spirit (Part III of the System of Speculative Philosophy 1803/4)

Marcuse, Hegel’s First System (1802-1806)

Sections from Georg Lukács’ The Young Hegel

Where Does Hegel’s Philosophy Come From?

The answer is fairly simple: close reading of the history of philosophy. Reading Hegel’s lectures on the history of philosophy (of which there is still not modern English translation, only an old version republished with new covers and a volume of “important bits”) makes this point also fairly obvious. Hegel’s comments regarding his own philosophy are found throughout the lectures. For example, when he gets to Heraclitus, he says quite clearly that “es ist kein Satz des Heraklit, den ich nicht in meine Logik aufgenommen.” [Werke, 18:320]. Most of the discussions related to Greek philosophy ends up in some middle between the philosophical views of those under investigation and Hegel’s own views. Reading his reflections on, say, Xeno or Heraclitus while also reading the first sections of the Logic (Sein – Das Dasein – Das Fürsichsein) is rather informative.

The Blog Is Dead, Long Live the Blog

Blogging is so over, only a few old blogs keep going, and only one or two are still worth reading on a daily basis. Ah, the ever-changing fortunes of an online medium! Now that this blog is properly dead (although we still get a decent amount of hits on “How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel” post from last summer), why not pick it back up, as I have already tried on so many occasions, and drag it out a little longer?

I’m reading two Hegel things at the moment – his Lectures on the History of Philosophy (finally got around to reading those in their entirety, got to around Heraclitus right now after several weeks) and his Science of Logic (again, decided to reread this monster from start to finish, i.e. properly). Maybe I’ll have some random thoughts to share – it’s not like I am doing it for any other reason than just to do it.

Did Lenin save Hegel from the dustbin of history?

An interesting review of Lars Lih’s Lenin biography (I posted about that book already) here. In this passage Mark Bergfeld, the reviewer, writes:

In a quite unusual move, Lenin turns to Hegel’s Science of Logic which forces a break with the deterministic, “scientific” Marxism of the Second International which placed its emphasis on gradualism and the ‘iron laws of economics’. By rescuing the dialectic from the intellectual dustbin, Lenin also reasserts the primacy of human agency in the revolutionary process, which finds its highest expression in the “April Theses” which proclaims “All Power to the Soviets” rather than proclaiming all power to the Bolsheviks or the Provisional Government for that matter. Lih does acknowledge that this represents a major shift in Lenin’s outlook but falls short of developing how theory consistently informed Lenin’s political and revolutionary practice.

This is an interesting take on the matter. Much of course has been made of Lenin’s decision to study Science of Logic while others struggled to understand the crisis of WWI but I have never seen it put quite this way – Lenin basically changed his position from “scientific Marxism” to what exactly? If humans makes history, then surely they do so in Marx more than they do in Hegel. The oddness of the picture – Lenin changes course by reading Logic – seems to be that found in this rather peculiar point: Lenin “believed” things would unfold in a deterministic way before he realized it’s the individual revolutionaries that matter and thus, being a revolutionary, he acted on this insight and changed the world. But is going back to individual human agency from the more advanced positions of “scientific Marxism” (with all of the latter’s insights into the role of material base and socio-economic development) a step forward? Were not the Populists already there? Going to the people, teaching them, trying to change their views and achieve a new state through slow gradual change of the “human agent”?

Does Lenin “rediscover” Hegel and thus succeeds at bringing about the Russian Revolution? Did Hegel make Russian Revolution possible? It seems unlike that a lonely fellow at a library reading a turgid book would somehow discover something so significant that it would change the world – too much power given to one human subject…

Reading Žižek’s Less Than Nothing (2)

I am sure that the future reviewers of the book will point it out, but the first three chapters (constituting “The Drink Before” = Part One) are supposedly preparing us for the encounter with Hegel and Lacan (with a final section – “The Cigarette After” = Part Four). Having finished Part One I am not entirely sure what is about to happen in Parts Two and Three. So if it is indeed a “drink before,” than it is entirely unclear what is to follow. I think there is always a general discrepancy in Žižek between the announced structure of the book and the actual content, but in this case we are witnessing a grandiose structure basically coming to nothing, perhaps on purpose, but I doubt it. So we are getting ready for something with a drink – obviously sex, but with who? Hegel or Lacan? Both? Part Three is Hegel, Part Four is Lacan – so we are having sex with them one after another? The reader than is a kind of prostitute, prepared by the pimp (Žižek) with a “drink before” (and maybe some drugs to dull the obvious humiliation) for the encounter with two of his most important johns. Continue reading

How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel

Look, it’s the Hegel age – you know it and I know it. It’s been the Hegel age for the past 200 hundred years, but only recently have we come to realize that in all the recent attempts to “overcome Kant” there is no overcoming Kant like the Hegelian overcoming of Kant. Thus Hegel is back (because he never left).

Now, the problem with Hegel is that, well, he is too Hegelian – too difficult to understand, too German and inaccessible, too time-consuming. Fear not, dear future Hegelians! Here are a few useful tips on faking your way through Hegel – if you follow these, you will surely come across as the most intelligent and thought-provoking expert on all things Hegelian.  Continue reading