reading update: Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit & exclusivity

October 15, 2009

I’m taking a module in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit at the moment, and the thing that strikes me the most about it is the sheer arrogance he has about excluding every philosopher who isn’t he.

Last night in class we were debating a particular paragraph, and it was mentioned that this paragraph seems to be a criticism of someone; possibly Hume or Jacobi. But Hegel doesn’t mention the name. (This goes on to even more of an extent in the Preface and Introduction, in reference to Kant, Fichte and Schelling). The implication being that one needs no other philosopher but Hegel, that through his method he can occupy every possible argument along the way.

This is a systemic problem, and it has political implications. Only that which appears can be encompassed by his argument. In political terms that means the uncounted, the excluded, the wretched may not be able to acheive self-determination (the master/slave dialectic doesn’t apply when the slave has no relation of recognition with the master). The Phenomenology of Spirit reads as Bildungsroman: typically, a middle-class male youth goes on a journey and ends up back where they started, albeit after an adventure and the acquisition of wisdom. This provides no path for any type of underclass (eg. proletarian, foreign, female, educationally excluded).

In the module we’re reading solely the Phenomenology and I’m not sure this isn’t a mistake; Hegel himself suggests we need no other philosopher, but I’m not sure we should let him have his way. But failing this I suppose the solution is to read what disappears in the text, what goes missing and is not retained, and what cannot be included in the first place. (This is also a step towards reading Hegel with dialectical materialism; whether you can read Hegel when there is both matter and thought.)

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