Hegel Wiki
Log in

Is the Phenomenology needed or recomended as introduction to Hegel's System


About this text

This text was first written by Kai Froeb for the Hegel-Intro list. He explained his motivation for thsi text like this:

Given the relative weight the Phenomenology is given in the anglo-american and french reception of Hegel, my vote is indeed for lowering the relative importance of the Phenomenology towards the works of the post-Jena period (which especially include the "Science of Logic" and the Encyclopedia, but also the complete system including the various lectures).

The Phenomenology of Spirit is a "ladder". Its main reason of being is a critical one: Philosophy does not start out of the blue, but instead has a given world as its starting point, with given world views. So one needs to start with these and examine and criticize them.

Therefore, you will also find that later in his books and lectures, Hegel devotes a significant part of his forwords to sorting out misconceptions about his subject before he begins his subject (because such misconception can very effectively block your reception).

So instead of going thru the complete Phenomenology, Hegel choose to give a shortened (and often more specific to his respective subjects) critique as starting point of his lectures and books.

This is insofar appropriate as the contents of his books and lectures is already in itself an implicit and often also explicit critique of alternate conceptions and also, you otherwise would never come to the real meat, because you are always occupied with the foreword.

So when people read thru the Phenomenology of spirit as a foreword to the system in order to free their mind as precondition to a scientific approach to the complete system, this is very usefull.

When instead people take the Phenomenology for the real thing, use it instead of the later system (or even interpret the later system thru the looking glass of the Phenomenology) or get stuck in the Phenomenology, devote more time to the Phenomenology that they can not spare the adequate multiple time for the rest of the system (I know of many approaches to Hegel both at university and in the web which got stuck somewhere in the phenomenology, often even in its foreword) I think a serious reevaluation of the significance of the Phenomenology is more than appropriate.

Distinguishment between Phenomenology and its Foreword

When we talk about the Phenomenology, we need to distinguish between its foreword and the phenomenology (the "ladder") itself.

In the folowing text, I will discuss the role of the Phenomenology without its foreword.

The foreword of the Phenomenology was written by Hegel 1807, after the completion of the Phenomenology, and was intended to be not only the foreword of the Phenomenology, but of his complete system. So it has another status than the Phenomenology.

So when I talk about the phenomenology in this exchange, I usualy mean only the Phenomenology without the foreword, except when the context shows that I mean it otherwise, e.g. when I talk of publication dates etc).

Is the Phenomenology required? Philosophy before Hegel

Just from looking at the practice of either previous philosophers, Hegel himself when coming to his conmclusions and Hegel and his scholars when teaching his Philosophy, there is an overwhelming trace of the contrary:

First of all, of course all Philosophers before Hegel (including his recent precessors, Kant, Fichte and Schelling) did not use the Phenomenology, neither to come to their conclusions not to teach them.

This is of course trivial, but it means, that at least Philosophy before Hegel had means to come to results and teach Philosophy without the Phenomenology.

Of course, you could argue that the Hegel in generaly and especialy his Phenomenology is such a revolutiona in philosophy, that indeed they consist of a break with such tradition.

However, Hegel for himself did not see himself as someone who did a radical break with all tradition, but as someone who systematicaly included / sublated all reasonable from all philosophy before him. See his famous foreword of his lectures of History of Philosophy, for a famous example. You can also see it from the fact that Hegel included a treatment of the history of thoughts in many of his works, including the Philosophy of History, Lectures on Aestetics, Lectures on Philosophy of Religion and the mentioned Lectures on History of Philosophy. He also included such remarks in his Encyclopedia (in his three aproaches to objectivity) and it is well known that his Science of Logic is also implicit and explicit refering to the History of Philosophy. And of course, the Phenomenology as such, is in most of its parts in itself discussing the various state of mindes/spirits before the publication of the Phenomenology (so people have come to these states of mind without the Phenomenology).

So what Hegel does in his Phenomenoloy and his various other discussions of historical developments of philosophical insights is to make this process more explicit and more systematical, but the process itself also happens without Hegel's help.

I argued already that this is no wonder, because what Hegel, the philosophers before him and his students after him (and all mankind) share, is the longing for truth, which is the foundation of all these processes (of philosophy all over the time, of Hegel's exposition of it as well as of those true students who come to learn from Hegel or other Philosophers before and after him).

So one can say, that one valid way to come to Hegel is of course to study systematicaly the Philosophy before Hegel, via Hegel's Phenomenology, via Hegel's Lecture on the History of Philosophy or by studying these older Philosophers directly. (at least this later approach will be no substitue for studying Hegel himself, but as Hegel wants to be the sublation of the philosophers before him, such study is a good preparation for him and we are only talking about preparations, ways aproaching Hegel here. Also, this later aproach is obviously the one Hegel took himself.

See also the answer to the next question.

Is the Phenomenology required? Hegel writing the Phenomenology

Also, without allowing such a different approach (beside the Phenomenology), you would have a problem to explain how Hegel himself could write the Phenomenology in the first place (remember that what we want here is to recreate Hegel's own creative spirit/approach, not just to reproduce his works).

So Hegel himself needs to have another aproach than the Phenomenology for himself to come to his results.

Of course, here you could argue that the process of writing the Phenomenology was this aproach for Hegel.

So in this case, we are driven to the next questions:

  • Did Hegel write anything substantial before writing the Phenomenology?
  • Was Hegel finished with his basic insights after he wrote the Phenomenology?

Is the phenomenology required? Hegel's works before the Phenomenology

From Hegel's major works, Hegel's Phenomenology is his first book published. So this creates the illusion that the Phenomenology is not only the entrance of Hegel's system for his pupil, but was also this entrance for Hegel himself.

However, even if you limit yourself to the works of the 6 years (1801-1806) of Hegel's Jena period (and there are good reasosn to do so, as these works are of different charachter than the works before and the works of this Jena period are plenty enough in themselves), we first find Hegel's dissertation (containing a long critique of the Newton scholars of his time) and his many articles he wrote in the "Kritisches Journal der Philosophie" (Critical Journal of Philosophy he edited and wrote together with Schelling (containing famous works like 'the difference between the philosophical systems of Fichte and Schelling' (1801, translated by H.S. Harris and W. Cerf 1977), "Glauben und Wissen" (July 1802, translated as "Faith and Knowledge" by W. Cerf and H.S. Harris 1977), wich is a critique of Kant, Jacobi and Fichte, and Hegel's article "Über die wissenschaftliche Behandlungsarten des Naturrechtes [...]" (November 1802, translated as "Natural Law" by T.M. Knox 1975).

These articles should be well known and were published even at Hegel's time and so are included in all major compilations of Hegel's works (and should, as indicated by the translations given above, also be well known to the english speaking public of tosday).

But for the sake of the discussion here, much more important is that we find in this period (before Hegel began to write the Phenomenology) from Hegel at least 3 big drafts for a system (the 1st and 3rd is only about Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Spirit, the 2nd one only about Logic and Philosophy of Nature).

There also exist much more manuscripts of Hegel for this time (among them his famous "System of ethical life", which roughly covers Hegel's later philosophy of Right/Objective Spirit) which he used also to prepare his Lectures in Jena. In Jena, he gave Lectures about his complete System of Philosophy, about Logic and various other subjects (it is not completely clear for today's research which Lectures in the anouncements of the university Hegel realy held and which were only anounced but not held). There also exist some more or less extensive student notes of some of these lectures.

(All this stuff can be read, with extensive philological remarks, in the volumes 5-9, covering Hegel's Jena years, of the "Hegel Werke" of the Bochum Hegel Archiv, published at Meiner Verlag, Hamburg)

When one looks at this material all together, we see it cover most of the content of the Phenomenology already (which also explains how Hegel could write most of the parts of the Phenomenology rather fast) and also find many topics of the later System in them.

One well known philological Hegel expert even noted that, would Hegel not have written his Phenomenology, but only what he wrote before the Phenomenology and that what he wrote after the Phenomenology, we would hardly note any omission.

Parallels between content of the Phenomenology and Hegel's later works

It would be fun to try to parallel the various chapters of the Phenomenology best with his later works and Lectures. One would find that nearly all chapters can be indeed found in a later version somewhere in the system. Sections A upto CC (AA) could be found in much abreviated versions in the Phenomenology section of the Subjective Spirit/Mind.

However, we could also find more:

  • A II is the topic of the Logic of Essence in the Science of Logic
  • A III can be partly found in the Logic, and partly in the Philosophy of Nature
  • C (BB) - VI - B (the alienated spirit", part II - on enlightment- and III - on the french revolution - could be found in the Lectures on Philosophy of History (and the History of Philosophy)
  • C includes much of the chapter of Morality in Hegel's Philosopphy of Right / Objective spirit,

but also topics discussed in conjunction with Kant and Schiller in Hegel's Lectures on History of Philosophy

  • CC / VII Religion is of course covered (in much more details) in Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion etc.

This leads to several interesting observations:

  • most of the topics from the Phenomenology are covered in Hegel's later works and Lectures, and usualy in greater details and more precise. However, some of Hegel's descriptions in his Phenomenology are more vivid/fresh/poetic (e.g. compare how he describes the enlightment in the Phenomenology and in later works).
  • the sequence of topics in the Phenomenology roughly follows the table of content of the "Philosophy of Spirit/Mind" (the 3rd volume of Hegel's later Encyclopedia) but it has some places where the sequences are different (however, to be fair, one would need to compare not the Encyclopedia version of the Philosophy of Spirit/Mind, but the Jena versions of his system).
  • some few topics (like the critique of Phrenomenology) can not be found anywhere in the later works, but could mostly be deduced from the later works (when one thinks from the point of view of these later works, how Hegel would have judged such a topic).

Changes in Hegel's System and Logic after he wrote the Phenomenology

OTOH, by reading what Hegel wrote in his Nuernberg period, and his Heidelberg and Berlin period and comparing it with the Phenomenology, we see many substantial changes in Hegel's conception of his System as such, of his Logic as well and in many details:

  • Hegel's philosophy was constantly evolving, even in his late Berlin years, as comparisons of his Berlin Lectures of different years have shown (as an easy accessible example, also in english translation, see Jaeschke's collection of different Lectures on the Subject of Philosophy of Religion, btw a subject that only emerged as such in Berlin).
The foundation of Hegel's system, its method and architecture is in his "Science of Logic". So only after writing down his Science of Logic Hegel had the foundation for a more stable System (even during

his Nuernberg years his concepts of Logic evolved, and, as we see from comparing of the 1st and the 2nd edition of the Science of Logic, or from the Encclopedia Logics of 1827/1830 and of the Science of Logic, even in this foundamental area Hegel kept developing his system). If the Science of Logic is the abstract blueprint of the system, the Encyclopedia is the real blueprint, and this was only finished 1817 in Heidelberg (and again even this one was changed significantly in Berlin in 1827). So only with the publictaion of the Science of Logic and the Encyclopedia Hegel's system became kind of stable.

So many concepts changed after Hegel's Phenomenology was published:

  • Many concepts of his Logic evolved only after Hegel's Jena years (it seems that many basic aspects, like the Measurement (3rd part of being), most part of the Logic of Essence and also some general architectural aspects of Hegel's Logic of Concept as well as the overall architecture of the Science of Logic were not ready or at least not of the same order and content than the later System, when we judge from Hegel's Jena and early Nuernberg Notes. This also includes that the Jena Hegel (and the early Nuernberg Hegel as well) seems still to have maintained the separation of Logic and Metaphysics.

Hegel's knowledge of China, India, Persia and Egypt (other than from the Bible) mainly evolved during his Berlin years, giving his lectures a broad geographical, (inter)cultural and historical depth.

His concept of Philosophy of History also changed due to the encounter with Ritter, his collegue in Geography in Berlin. Many concepts of Art were changed and broadend due to contact with many artists, art collectors and performers in his Heidelberg and Berlin years, visits to artworks in Holland, Vienna and France, etc. This included also new insights in the romantic art not present in his Jena years.

His views on Religion changed due to more encounter with many modern jews in Berlin and the competition with Schleiermacher. Among others, his understanding for the rational in the christian religion grew deeper as grew his insight in the various other religions. etcpp.

While the concept of a systematic blueprint of his system can be found already in the 3 system drafts of his Jena period, the concept of his System of an Encyclopedia, as a Cycle of Cycle, seems to have emerged only in his Nuernberg period.

Of course, one does not need to exegerate these differences, many basic concepts of Hegel can inded be traced at least to his Jena period or to earlier periods of his life. When one knows what to look for, when one knows the old Hegel, one can easily show his development from his youth and how many important ideas emerged in him at early stages. But it is also undeniable that many discoveries of Hegel, including basic discoveries in his Science of Logic, important to him at later stage, were still uncovered when he wrote the Phenomenology. So one needs to be very prudent not to confuse the Hegel of the Phenomenology with the later Hegel (while there are, as mentioned, also lot of common ground).

However, we are therfor save to say that the Phenomenology is not perfectly fitting with his later system. It is of course most fitting to the version of his system as it was 1806/07 (this is the cause of some of the slight disservice Hegel's Phenomenology does, when one takes it 1:1 as an introduction to the mature system of Hegel's later Berlin years).

(That to me is also one of the reasons of Hegel's later Berlin remarks on the Phenomenology, where he noted for himself something like: this is a pecular work of an early period of mine, lets not change it beside some minor corrections.

In my interpretations, the reason why Hegel wrote this is that his philosophy had changed so much in these years that making it completely compatible with his later philosophy would mean a complete rerwrite. So Hegel only decided for a reproduction of this historical work, with very slight minor corections, as everything else would have meant too much work and too much distractions form his other projects.

Of course this interpretation is hotly debatted, but at this stage it is enough to say that many scholars do share this interpretations - as well as many arguing against it).

Is the Phenomenology required? Hegel's practice of teaching his Philosophy

If Hegel would be convinced that his Phenomenology is absolutely needed for all his students, one would expect him to lecture about this important topic at least once a year in his university years (or, in case he thinks it is too easy for him, to let his later pupils and repetitors teach it for him) and to mention this work as precondition for following his other lectures.

Interesting enough, this expectation is not met by what really happend.

In Jena, Hegel held two times lectures that came close to an introduction to (his) Philosophy.

The first one, at the begining of his career, was meant to give the introduction by teaching Logic itself (and it would be worth a post of its own to show that one could indeed successfully argue with Hegel for that role of the Logic). Of course, Hegel had no Phenomenology at that time, so it seems kind of unfair to expect him to teach the Phenomenology before he wrote it.

And indeed, in his last year at Jena, 1806, when he was in the process of writing and printing the Phenomenology (the Phenomenology was written and printed in parts, so the first parts were already available 1806 befor Hegel had finished the later parts and the foreword, that is also one reaon why people give 1806/07 as publishing date for the Phenomenology instead of just one year), he gave a lecture on the Phenomenology, where he combined the Phenomenology and the Logic in the classical way one would expect it from Hegel's few remarks on the conection of the Phenomenology and his Science of Logic in his later works.

(However, from the spare reports on this lecture, we do not know how much of the Phenomenology was coverd in that lecture. Some ascpects, like the availibility only of the start of the Phenomenology in print at that time and the huge amount of material to cover in that one lecture, make it most reasonable to believe that Hegel only taught a much abreviated version of his Phenomenology, may be only the fist 3-4 chapters and may be an abreviated version of the last chapter, so that he only tought about A I,II,II and DD and omitted most of the rest).

In his Nuernberg years, Hegel came in his teachings (as a professor/teacher in the local Gymnasium, which included teaching Philosophy) two times close to the topics of his Phenomenology (in his later Nuernberg years), however they seem to cover more the stuff of the later Phenomenology of the Encyclopedia, not the complete Phenomenology of 1806/07.

During his folowing professorship in Heidelberg, Hegel did not teach his Phenomenology (see Documents on Hegel's Life, #99, in Hegel'S letters, Meiner Verlag Hamburg 1977, vol IV/1, p. 110-11), nor did he in Berlin (see in the same book/volume the document # 103 on page 110-125, btw, this document also includes the lectures and repititions of Hegel's assistant von Henning)

Instead, as mentioned in my other mail, Hegel gave a more or less long introduction at the begining of every of his lectures, where he would sort out basic misconceptions and give a certain overview on his subject and about methological questions. Out of this (and on zillions remarks all along his texts) it also becomes clear that he usualy refered to his Science of Logic as the foundation that is to master in order to gain a scientific understanding of his teachings (when you look at the first footnote in the first foreword of the Science of Logic, you will even find such a remark concerning the Phenomenology itself, where he writes that the insight in the method happens in the science of Logic).

references Hegel gives to the Phenomenology in his later works and lectures

When you look at the references Hegel gives to the Phenomenology in his later works and lectures, you need to first be aware of these change between his Nuernberg years (when he wrote the Science of Logic) and his later years. I may go into further details dicsussing all these reefrences in a later article. For now it is enough to say that Hegel indeed uses references to his Phenomenology all over his work, but there are very few indications, especialy in his later works, which indicate that the study of his Phenomenologhy is a must for the study of Hegel's Philosophy