Hegel's "Phenomenology of Spirit" -- shared impressions

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Reply Fri 28 May, 2010 07:29 pm
I've read the other threads about Hegel below, but wasn't sure that what I wanted to start related. Additionally, the conversations were a bit old, so I thought I'd start a new one revolving around the Phenomenology.

So, I just finished it (The Miller translation). And I want to share my initial impressions in the hopes that others will share their own. I'd like to "compare notes", if you will. So, warning, spoilers below? I sort of feel like the pleasure in this book is, in part, trying to solve it as a you solve a puzzle. So, as a heads up, I might be spoiling the book.

I think the following model works for the majority of the book. The section titled "Absolute Knowing" seems to have broken the trend, but I think I can rationalize that, at least, by stating that this section seemed to sum up the other four sections with a quick indication as to what this journey is building towards. It was a quick synthesis to the beginning of sense-certainty, thereby indicating this movement until men were able to reach Absolute Knowing -- the synthesis of the Notion and the Self making the Spirit that knows itself as Spirit -- which actually follows the model I'm about to propose.

I think that the overall goal of the book is to solve the problem of the relation between the universal (genus) and specific (species). The book itself is an autobiography of Hegel's thought-adventures through philosophy, as well as a history of philosophy itself as it attempts to figure itself out. When I began interpreting the Phenomenology as a story is when I started to obtain some coherency. It flashes into specific moments of individuals going through thought-adventures, through moments in history effected by these thoughts, and through the psychology of various philosophical positions. The central theme that I can find in the book is this conflict between universal ideas and specific instances, and his solution lies in two things: a Monism Idealism metaphysic, and his logical system.

Hegel still uses classical logic, however. He uses classical logic to argue for the form in which his thesis-antithesis-synthesis logic operates: The thesis being the universal, the antithesis being the specific, and the synthesis between the two being the product of his logic. In fact, I think his entire logical system is built to solve this one problem. But then he relates several problems in philosophy to this one problem, such as the conflict between the individual and society, the problem of induction, the conflict between scientific understanding and religion understanding, and the mind-body problem. If his logic works, and his arguments for these connections work, then I think positing a new logic would be worth solving all these problems. I'm still not certain as to whether or not it does actually work, however. Further, we would have to become Idealists for this to work at all, and I'm not sure of all of the implications that might hold (I tend towards physicalism, but not for any well-explicated reason, but just "common sense" reasons)

It seems to me that Hegel thinks meaning doesn't occur at either the formal level or the level of the specific instance, but only in the intersection between the two. I can buy that, on the face, but I have to admit that I'm using a soft-interpretation of what a "synthesis" consists of. It has to occur between a universal and a individual concept, of sorts, such as F=ma and the movement of rock, but performing said synthesis in a logical manner is left a bit of wiggle-room discretion in the Phenomenology. (of course, that may be a strength, and it is only my particular desire that things were better defined)

I think he got this model for his logic from the Critique of Judgment. I found Kant's style, and thought, to change when it came to Judgment, what with phrases like "Subjective Universal Judgments of beauty". Not that this is wrong, mind: I love Judgment. But the Phenomenology read like Judgment embracing the noumenal realm as phenomenal and collapsing them into one through Idealist assumptions and explicating it in a non-mystical (if highly clunky) way.

Hrmm... I did think that the essay titled "Religion in the Form of Art" was one of the most beautiful contemplations on classical theatre I've ever read. Actually, even if the rest of the stuff isn't worth much, I think reading this book for that one essay is worth the effort to get through this book.

So, what are your thoughts on Hegel? What did you get from the book? What do you think he's trying to accomplish? WTF is this dude saying? I have to admit I have a few WTF moments about this book, but it'd be wonderful to at least understand it in context.
Reply Sat 5 Jun, 2010 04:12 pm
I don't know if I was lucky or unlucky, but I started into Hegel's ideas by reading Kojeve's lectures, which sum up Hegel's entire philosophy in a clear style. I did read some of the Phen, but Hegel's style was ponderous after reading Kojeve's. I also read a book about the Phen by a person whose name eludes me. And various others. I have poured so many Hegelian thoughts into this forum, that I will at this moment simply link you to this book. I found the full version at the library, but finally ordered a copy online, as it's one of my top 5 philosophy books. I wrote some of my best Hegel thoughts lately perhaps in the Philosophy of Religion forum. Early Hegel on Christ. But in this thread I also wrote about Phen Hegel and so on. My overall take. I would enjoy your feedback. I think he's one of the greats. Introduction to the reading of Hegel ... - Google Books
Reply Sat 5 Jun, 2010 10:59 pm
Well not everybody loves Hegel. One reviewer (I cant remember who but I will try to look it up) remarked that Hegel was so ambiguous and his meaning so unclear that he could not be declared definitely wrong. Although the notion of evolving spirit and of the halting progress of emmanting or manifesting spirit is appealing to someone of my worldview, it is difficult to look forward to wading through Hegels writings in the original.

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