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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831)

The capstone figure of the historico-philosophical sequence named ‘German Idealism’, G.W.F. Hegel has exercised a decisive influence on modern thought, inspiring various lines of inquiry, from speculative metaphysics to Marxist materialism. Born in Stuttgart, Hegel spent his early years as a student of theology, a period where he also developed strong friendships with the Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin and another key philosopher of post-Kantian idealism, Friedrich Schelling. It was around 1800, in Jena, that Hegel first became introduced to Kant’s ideas, and the post-Kantian problematic more generally. His earliest philosophical work compared Fichte’s and Schelling’s respective systems, and laid the ground for the development of his own system in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). Hegel lost his academic position as a result of Napoleon’s conquest that same year, and spent the next decade as a newspaper editor and, later, as a philosophy teacher at a ‘gymnasium’ (high school) in Nuremburg. In 1816 he secured an academic chair at the University of Heidelberg, based on the strength of his Science of Logic, written and published during the preceding decade. In 1818, he was appointed to the University of Berlin, where he enjoyed increasing renown until his death in 1831. His major work of political philosophy, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, was published in 1821.

Hegel remains a contentious figure in the history of philosophy, with even his supporters unable to agree on the fundamental sense or meaning of his philosophy. Interpretations have historically fallen into roughly two camps, those who emphasize Hegel’s method, his historical dialectic, and those who emphasize his metaphysical claims for a thinking of the absolute, a project that seems to connect him to the pre-Kantian rationalism of Leibniz. Marx’s thought grew out of the milieu of left Hegelianism, which emphasized the historical quality of the dialectic, and the transformations in the categories of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ that it wrought. The main conduit for Hegelianism in twentieth-century France was Alexandre Kojève, whose lectures on Hegel in the interwar years left a decisive mark on the thinking of Jacques Lacan. By the 1960s, Lacan had taken some steps away from the quasi-existentialist Hegelianism of his early years - which emphasized the struggle for recognition at the heart of the master/slave dialectic - toward a more formalist thinking of the categories of psychoanalysis. Nonetheless, the spectre of Hegel hovers over the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, where his name appears in diverse contexts. The most extensive engagement with Hegel’s thought is in Alain Badiou’s contribution to volume nine, ‘La Subversion infinitésimale’, where Hegel is criticized for his ideological conception of the infinite and of number, which attempts to prohibit or curtail the discrete, and subversive, power of scientific formalisation.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Xavier Audouard, ‘Le Simulacre’, CpA 3.4 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Jacques Bouveresse, ‘L’Achèvement de la révolution copernicienne et le dépassement du formalisme (La théorie du droît naturel “réel” de Fichte)’, CpA 6.7 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
François Regnault, ‘Dialectique d’épistémologies’, CpA 9.4 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]
Alain Badiou, ‘La Subversion infinitésimale’, CpA 9.8 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy (1801), trans. H.S. Harris and W. Cerf. Albany: SUNY Press, 1977.
  • Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), trans. A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Hegel’s Science of Logic (1812, 1813, 1816), trans. A.V. Miller. London: Allen and Unwin, 1969.
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821), ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H.B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.