It is difficult to imagine a more ambitious or even hubristic philosophy than that of G.W.F. Hegel
. Filled with the revolutionary fervor of the turn of the 19th century, Hegel no doubt viewed himself as the messianic figure that he, along with Schelling and Hölderlin, had prophesied earlier while seminarians and roommates at the Tübinger Stift. Even Hegel’s most contemptuous critics agreed with his faithful disciples on one count: he simply could not be ignored. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that much of 19th-century European intellectual history is a story about those who were with and against Hegel’s “Absolute Idealism,” grounded in a logic he called “dialectics.” Marxism, the Kierkegaardian and Nietzschean versions of existentialism, phenomenology, the rise of scientific positivism, and materialism are all, in an important sense, transformations of, reactions to, or attempts to get free of Hegel’s all-encompassing system.
This class will focus largely on a close reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
and a few supplementary texts. Hegel completed the Phenomenology
in 1806 in Jena while watching, as the legend goes, the campfires of the French troops in the process of conquering Prussia. He would go on to describe Napoleon himself as the arrival of the “world-spirit on horseback.” The Phenomenology
is a kind of dialectical Bildungsroman in which the protagonist is Reason itself. It traces Reason’s life from its first infantile and naïve attempts to grasp the world directly through the senses, through its increasingly mature and self-aware stages—science, morality and religion, communal life and the state—until it reaches final apotheosis in “absolute knowing.” The course will make its way slowly through key sections of this fascinating, unusual, and challenging work in an attempt to understand the structure of Hegel’s dialectical method and the core claims of his system alongside his distinctive views on epistemology, metaphysics, morality, and political life.
Instructor: Michael Stevenson
Michael Stevenson teaches philosophy at Columbia University. He earned a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MPhil and a PhD from Columbia University. He specializes in the German philosophical tradition, especially Kant, post-Kantian Idealism, and 20th-century phenomenology.