I’m currently taking a course in Modern & Postmodern Philosophy. Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for the class outlining my cursory readings of Hegel. My main aim here is to problematize interpretations of Hegel that have projected an overly idealistic Idealism upon Hegel’s ‘Idealism,’ which has within it the actuality of material reality. If this is the case, then, the work of Hegel does not need to be ‘placed upon its feet’, as Hegel and Marx have more in common and are less opposed then Marx first supposed. Enjoy!
Hegel’s place within the greater movement of German Idealism has, more often then not, lead to a misconstrual of his work. Iain Hamilton Grant (2012), in a lecture introducing the philosophy of Hegel clarifies that “An Idealist is not someone who thinks that nature does not exist.” “Nor,” Grant continues, “is an Idealist someone who denies the actuality of the real world.” “An Idealist,” as Grant proposes, “is someone who adds to the world the existence of the Idea.” Grant explains further that “An Idealist is simply a realist about the Idea.” Grant suggests that ” In so far as there is nature, part of it is the Idea.” Thus, according to Ian Fraser (1997), “only by misreading Hegel’s arguments does the need to expunge or materialistically appropriate Hegel’s dialectic arise” (p. 81). Fraser (1997) suggests that “if Hegel remained at the level of ideas, in theory as distinct from practice, then he would actually be contradicting what is distinctive about his own method” (p. 88).
Perhaps, then, the impetus of Hegel’s dialectic is found in Hegel’s Logic. For Hegel (1991b), Logic is “the science of things grasped in thoughts” (p. 56). Here, “the logical has three sides: the side of abstraction or of the understanding, the dialectical or negatively rational side, and the speculative or positively rational one (p. 125). Thought within the Understanding, that is, the first of the three sides, is marked by abstraction, in which determinations are seen as “distinct from one another” (Fraser, 1997, p. 83). The move to the dialectical side, however, brings about negation, or negativity, in which, determinations are found “superseding themselves and turning into their opposites” (Fraser, 1997, p. 85). Finally, the Speculative stage moves beyond the negative, rises above the contradictions, forming a unity within opposition and a positivity within negativity (Fraser, 1997, p. 85). Here, Being overcome and superseded by its opposite Nothing is transformed into Becoming, which is beyond teh contradictions of the two. In this regard, as Hegel (1991b) points out, “These three sides do not constitute three parts of the Logic, but are moments of everything logically real; i.e., of everything true in general” (p. 125).
Since Logic is the science of things grasped in thoughts, Iain Hamilton Grant (2012) point out that “The thinking cannot be other than the thing it grasps.” As Peter Thompson (2011) explains “becoming, was the password to understanding how the ‘absolute spirit’ not only expressed itself but, more importantly, generated itself through the process of history.” It is “the process by which Hegel’s absolute spirit was not only working in the world but creating itself at the same time” (Thompson, 2011). This dialectical movement was derived by Hegel from observing the patterns within historical societies and their corresponding social interactions. This, then, is a concrete, sociable event in human history. Hegel’s starting point, one could say, is the concrete, tangible society of the present. The dialectic, Logic,Thought, the Idea, Reason, Rationality, and even Absolute Spirit or Mind, are not where Hegel begins but, rather are revealed through a philosophically historical hindsight, which he then traces back through previous societal developments and, in retrospect, presents them as a progressive ‘unfolding.’
Thus, for Hegel (1991a), “what is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational” (p. 20). This does not suggest that all societal structures as they now stand in their current forms are the epitome of rationality and there-by justified in their presence (Fraser, 1997, p. 90). “It is rather,” as Ian Fraser (1997) suggests, “that the rational is present even within an imperfect world and the Speculative philosopher’s task is to comprehend this rationality (p. 90).
Any notion that would then seek to present nature and human consciousness as distinct or differentiated is ultimately illusory. As Iain Hamilton Grant (2012) explains, “The thought must occur inside nature” and “Nature includes the Idea.” In short, nature and consciousness are one and the same, an organic whole, moving dialectically into the unity of a material becoming.
Fraser, I. (1997). Two of a kind: Hegel, Marx, dialectic, and form. Capital & Class, 18(61), 81-12.
Grant, I.H. (2012). Introduction to Hegel [Audio file]. Retrieved from http://afterxnature.blogspot.com/p/after-nature-podcasts-mp3-downloads.html
Hegel, G.W.F. (1991a). Elements of the philosophy of right (H.B. Nisbet, Trans.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hegel, G.W.F. (1991b). The encyclopaedia logic: Part 1 of the encyclopaedia of philosophical sciences with the Zusatze (T.F. Geraets, H.S. Harris, & W.A. Suchting, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co. Inc.
Thompson, P. (2011, Feb 27). Karl Marx, Part 3: Men make their own history. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/18/karl-marx-men-make-history