Hegel's Preface to the "Phenomenology of Spirit"

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This is a new translation, with running commentary, of what is perhaps the most important short piece of Hegel's writing. The Preface to Hegel's first major work, the Phenomenology of Spirit, lays the groundwork for all his other writing by explaining what is most innovative about Hegel's philosophy.

This new translation combines readability with maximum precision, breaking Hegel's long sentences and simplifying their often complex structure. At the same time, it is more faithful to the original than any previous translation.

The heart of the book is the detailed commentary, supported by an introductory essay. Together they offer a lucid and elegant explanation of the text and elucidate difficult issues in Hegel, making his claims and intentions intelligible to the beginner while offering interesting and original insights to the scholar and advanced student. The commentary often goes beyond the particular phrase in the text to provide systematic context and explain related topics in Hegel and his predecessors (including Kant, Spinoza, and Aristotle, as well as Fichte, Schelling, Hölderlin, and others).

The commentator refrains from playing down (as many interpreters do today) those aspects of Hegel's thought that are less acceptable in our time, and abstains from mixing his own philosophical preferences with his reading of Hegel's text. His approach is faithful to the historical Hegel while reconstructing Hegel's ideas within their own context.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An invaluable introduction to Hegel's philosophy."APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy
APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy
An invaluable introduction to Hegel's philosophy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691120522
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2004
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Yirmiyahu Yovel is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School University and Chairman of the Jerusalem Spinoza Institute. His books include "Kant and the Philosophy of History; Spinoza and other Heretics" (Princeton), and "Dark Riddle: Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews".
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Read an Excerpt

Hegel's Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit

By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12052-2

Chapter One

Text and Running Commentary

* * *

IN A PREFACE it is customary to explain the goal which the author has set for himself, the circumstances of his writing, and the way he thinks his work relates to other, earlier or contemporary efforts at treating the same object. But in a philosophical text this custom seems to be not only superfluous, but, by the nature of things, inadequate and contrary to its purpose. For what would be appropriate to say about philosophy in a preface, and in what manner? Roughly, one would give a historical account of the work's standpoint and tendency, its general content and results-a conjunction of assertions and assurances made here and there about what is true; but this cannot be the valid way of exhibiting philosophical truth. Also, philosophy resides essentially in the element of universality which contains the particular; therefore philosophy, more than other sciences, gives rise to the illusion that the matter itself-even in its accomplished essence-is expressed in the goal or final result, in relation to which the development is inessential. Yet, [even] in the common image one has of, say, anatomy-roughly, that anatomyconsists in knowledge of the body, considered in its nonliving existence-one is convinced that the matter itself, the content of this science, is not thereby possessed, but, in addition, one must take the trouble of dealing with the particular. Further, in such an aggregate of cognitions which has no right to the name of science, there is no difference between a conversation about the goal and similar generalities, and the historical and Conceptless manner in which the content itself-the nerves, the muscles, et cetera-are discussed. In philosophy, however, this would give rise to an incongruity that consists in using a way of discourse which philosophy itself shows to be incapable of attaining the truth.

Similarly, to state how a philosophical work sees its relation to other treatments of the same object introduces a foreign interest, obscuring that which is important in the knowledge of truth. The more the current opinion views the opposition between the true and the false as rigid, the more it expects that every given philosophical system should be either endorsed or contradicted, and takes every explanation of such a system to be only the one or the other. It does not conceive the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive development of truth; it only sees contradiction in that diversity. The bud disappears in the eruption of the flower, so one could say that the flower contradicts the bud. In a similar way, the fruit declares the flower to be the plant's false existence, and steps forward in its place as the plant's truth. These forms are not only distinct; they reject one another as mutually exclusive. At the same time, their fluid nature makes them into moments of an organic unity, in which they not only do not struggle with each other, but one is as necessary as the other; and only this equal necessity constitutes the life of the whole. However, the contradiction of a philosophical system does not usually conceive of itself in that way, and the consciousness grasping the contradiction does not know how to free it of one-sidedness, or to maintain it as free; it fails to recognize mutually necessary moments in the shape of that which appears to be in conflict and opposition with itself.

The demand for such explanations and the satisfaction of this demand easily count as the essential thing. Where could the inner side of a philosophical text be better expressed than in its goals and results? And how would these be known more precisely, if not through their difference from whatever else the period has produced in the same domain? But when such activity is taken to be more than the beginning of knowledge, when it is considered as actual knowledge, then we must count it among the devices which bypass the matter itself, and combine its actual neglect with the semblance of serious exertion. For the matter is not exhausted in its goal, but in its development; and the actual whole is not the result, but the result together with its becoming. The goal for itself is the nonliving universal, just as the tendency is the mere drive which lacks actuality, and the naked result is the corpse which the tendency has left behind. Just as much, diversity is the matter's boundary; it exists where the matter ceases to be, or is what the matter is not. Such labor concerning goals and results, the distinction between one system and another, and their respective judgments is therefore much easier work than it seems. For this activity, instead of concerning itself with the matter itself, is always hovering outside it; instead of residing in the matter and forgetting itself in it, such knowing always resorts to [greift nach] another, and remains with itself rather than being with the matter and giving itself to it. To pass judgment on what has substance and content is easiest; grasping it is more difficult; and the hardest is to unite these two by performing its exhibition.

The beginning of cultural education [Bildung], of working one's way out of the immediacy of substantial life, must always first consist in acquiring knowledge of universal principles and standpoints, and raising oneself to the thought of the matter in general. No less, one must learn to support or refute that thought with reasons, to capture the rich and concrete fullness with specific determinations, and to provide an orderly answer and serious judgment about it. This beginning of Bildung will then have to give place, first, to the earnestness of life in its fullness, which leads to experiencing the matter itself; and second, if, in addition, the Concept's earnestness will descend to the depths [of the subject matter], then this kind of knowledge and judgment will retain an appropriate position in conversation.

The true shape in which truth exists can only be its scientific system. The goal I set myself is to contribute to bringing philosophy nearer to the form of science-to help it renounce its name as love of Knowing, and become actual Knowing. The inner necessity that knowing should become science lies in its nature: and the only satisfactory explanation of that necessity is the exhibition of philosophy itself. However, the external necessity, so far as it is grasped in general, regardless of a person's contingency and individual dispositions, is the same as the inner necessity-shaped, that is, in the way in which time represents the existence of its moments. To demonstrate that the time has come for philosophy to be raised to Science is, therefore, the only true justification of the efforts pursuing this goal; for that would manifest the goal's necessity even while realizing it.

I know that in placing the true shape of truth in its scientific character-or, which is the same, in asserting that the Concept alone is the element in which truth has existence-I seem to contradict a certain opinion [Vorstellung] and its consequences, which are as pretentious as they are widespread in the conviction of our age. It does not seem superfluous, therefore, to explain this contradiction, although my explanation cannot be anything here but a mere assurance, just like the assurance it opposes. Now, if the true exists only in that-or rather, only as that-which sometimes is called intuition, sometimes immediate Knowing of the absolute, religion, or being-not being in the center of divine love, but the being of that love itself-then philosophy, too, will have to be exhibited in a form opposing the Concept's. The absolute should not then be conceived, but felt and intuited; not its Concept but its feeling and intuition should guide the word and be expressed in speech.

In order to grasp the appearance of this demand in its general context, we must view it within the phase in which self-conscious spirit stands at present. Here we see that spirit has gone beyond the substantive life it had previously led in the element of thought-beyond the immediacy of its faith, beyond the satisfaction and certainty which consciousness possessed of its reconciliation with the essence [Wesen] and its general, inner and outer, present. Spirit has not only gone over to the other extreme-to a non-substantive reflection of itself in itself-but has gone beyond that, too. Not only did it lose its essential life, it is also conscious of its loss, and of the finitude which [now] is its content. Turning away from the pig's leftover food, confessing how badly it is doing and cursing its state, spirit demands of philosophy not so much to provide it with knowledge of what it is, as to make it regain that [lost] substantiality and dependability of being. Hence, philosophy should satisfy this need not by opening up the tightly closed substance and raising it to consciousness-not by bringing chaotic consciousness back to a thought-based order and to the simplicity of the Concept-but rather by dumping the distinctions of thought, suppressing the differentiating Concept, and putting forth the feeling of being, which confers not so much insight, as edification. The beautiful, the sacred, the eternal, religion and love are the bait needed to arouse the desire to bite. Not the Concept but ecstasy, not the cool progressing necessity of the subject matter, but effervescent enthusiasm, are to sustain and extend the richness of substance.

To this demand corresponds a strenuous effort, which looks irritated and almost zealous, to tear people away from their immersion in the sensual, the vulgar, and the singular, and direct their gaze toward the stars; as if, forgetful of the divine, they were about to satisfy themselves with dust and water, like worms. In earlier times they had a heaven richly studded with ideas and images. Everything that is had its meaning in the thread of light linking it to heaven; and instead of abiding in this [-worldly] presence, the gaze of people followed the thread of light outside this world to a divine essence-to a transcendent presence (if such a phrase is possible). It took coercive power to redirect the spirit's eye back to the terrestrial domain and attach it to it; it took a long time until that clarity, which only otherworldly things used to possess, could be reintroduced into the muddle and blur in which the sense of this world was lying; and a long time was necessary before the attention to the present as such, which we call experience, could be made valid and interesting. But now the opposite need seems to be felt: sensibility has become so strongly rooted in the worldly domain, that the same violent force is needed today to raise it above it. Spirit shows itself to be so impoverished, that like a wanderer in the desert who longs for a simple gulp of water, spirit seems to be craving to refresh itself with the meager feeling of the divine in general. From this little which satisfies spirit, one can tell how great its loss is.

But this humble satisfaction in receiving or parsimony in giving are unfit for Science. He who seeks edification only, who demands to shroud the diversity of his earthly existence and of thought in a foggy mist, and to bask in the indefinite enjoyment of that indistinct divinity, will see for himself where he can find it; he will easily find a way to stir himself into enthusiasm and thus pump himself up. But philosophy must beware of the will to be edifying.

Even less should this humble sufficiency, which has renounced Science, pretend that its enthusiasm and opacity are higher than Science. Believing itself to be residing in the center and in the very depth, such prophetic talk looks down with disdain on specific determinateness (horos), and intentionally distances itself from the Concept and from necessity, as belonging to a reflection which resides in the finite alone. However, just as there is an empty breadth, so there is empty depth; just as the extension of substance can pour itself in a finite diversity without a unifying force holding it together, so there is an intensity without content, holding itself as pure force without extension, which is the same as superficiality. Spirit's force is only as great as its externalization; its depth is only as deep as it dares expand and lose itself in its expansion. When this substantive and Conceptless knowing pretends that it has sunk the self's ownness [Eigenheit] in the essence and is philosophizing in truth and sanctity, it conceals from itself that [in fact], because it disdains measure and determinateness, it does not give itself to God, but, at times, gives itself [rather] to the contingency of the content, and at other times submits the content to its own arbitrariness. In abandoning themselves to the unrestrained ferment of substance, [these people] believe that by shrouding self-consciousness and renouncing the understanding, they become God's own [God's elect], to whom he imparts wisdom in their sleep. And, to be sure, what they thus receive and engender in their sleep are dreams.


Excerpted from Hegel's Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Introduction 1
Text and Running Commentary 63
Works on Hegel 199
Index 213
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