Introduction to the work of G.W.F. Hegel

We will never be finished with the reading or rereading of Hegel, and, in a certain way, I do nothing other than attempt to explain myself on this point.
Jacques Derrida

Hegel is alleged to have said on his death bed that “only one of [my pupils] understood me, and he misunderstood me.” Despite the incredibly complex nature of Hegel’s work it is almost impossible to understand the significance of the cultural developments of the nineteenth and twentieth century without an adequate understanding of Hegel and his colleagues. To be sure, to understand Hegel is to understand modernity! Assuming that we at least want to understand the world around us we shall push on with Hegel’s ideas and see where it takes us. Whatever happens we should come to terms with the fact that Hegel’s system is not merely one of great closure but also one of great opening.

This introductory session will have the bold goal of giving a fairly broad outline of the entire system and what significance, if any, it has for the contemporary world. To achieve this I shall begin by developing why Hegel sees a ‘need of philosophy’ (elaborated in his Difference essay) and how this leads to his unique type of philosophy — systemic and speculative. With the briefest of reference to his contemporaries we shall see that philosophy itself needs the rigour and systematic nature of the Hegelian System. To this end we shall sketch out the entire system (Logic, Nature, Spirit). Rather than discussing the detailed contents of each section we shall discuss how the system fits together and why it is structured in such a fashion. Part of this discussion will include looking at the confusing role of Hegel’s most infamous text the Phenomenology of Spirit and the role played by history. History is of fundamental importance because, as Mark Taylor points out, in ‘Hegel’s system, philosophy becomes historical and history become philosophical.’ This notion will also prove pivotal for later discussions.

After this ‘systemic’ summary of the system a few of the more important concepts and ideas in Hegel shall be discussed; some of these are, ‘the Absolute’, ‘thought’, ‘the unity of thought and being’, the relation of ‘form and content’, ‘the understanding — dialectics — speculation’, ‘Modernity’, etc. Armed with these new insights we shall burst forth and attempt to apply a few of these themes and concepts to our lives. We shall also have plenty of time for discussion and questions.