The Phenomenology of Spirit has been in rich and equal measures a source of both frustration and fascination to its readers. Coming to it from the more conventional texts of our tradition (even including Hegel's later writings) readers have been puzzled, first, by the structure of the Phenomenology. Despite his suggestions that he is following an actual historical development of some sort Hegel will pass from the Terror of 1793-94 to prehistoric religions of nature, or from Kantian universality in morality to the life of the Greek polis. In addition the Phenomenology contains a vast number of allusions to particular texts and authors which seems disproportionate to its claim to have followed a necessary path to absolute knowledge. One may have the impression that the highway of despair has been so named because of its constant and confusing detours into wildernesses which have only the most peripheral connection with the promised land of spirit. All of this has prompted an amazing quantity of ingenious hermeneutical activity. The leading directions in such exegesis can be sorted out into the logical (or logical-allegorical), the existential, and the poetic; each is governed by the intention of saving and preserving the integral value of the text. There is also, of course, a skeptical reading of the Phenomenology, often appealing to philological evidence, which attempts to suggest (as in the case of some similar approaches to Kant's first Critique), that what we are dealing with is at best a patchwork of essays on various subjects and with different purposes, hurriedly put together to meet the demands of the printer. I regard the patchwork theory as a last resort and will pass over it in silence here, since I have not yet been reduced to its level of desperation or irony. The logical reading such as that given in recent years by Stanley Rosen claims that the Phenomenology presupposes the Logic rather than serving as an introduction to it; but Hegel repeatedly says that the Phenomenology is such an introduction or ladder to the standpoint of science. An existential approach to the text finds Hegel to have surrendered joyously to the drama and possibilities of the Lebenswelt, both contemporary and historical.
Copyright © 1996 Hegel Society of America. This article first appeared in Owl of Minerva 17, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 165-80. doi:10.5840/owl19861722.
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Shapiro, Gary. "An Ancient Quarrel in Hegel’s Phenomenology." Owl of Minerva 17, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 165-80. doi:10.5840/owl19861722.