How to Begin (Notes on the Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology)


It’s no use starting with the assumption that thought and being are identical. For one thing, no one will know what you’re talking about.

Hegel started by looking at the philosophical thinking of his day and showing how it was wrong. This was the task of the Phenomenology of Spirit: to reveal the assumptions of modern philosophy and show how they are mistaken.

We’re only going to get to the identity of thought and being at the end, once we’ve exhausted all other possibilities. By the time we’ve done all that, it’ll be clear what “identity of thought and being” means.

Hegel thinks it is impossible to state some truths simply and positively. You need to take the long, negative route: showing step by step what the reality is not, so that what it is can finally appear in sharp focus, fully understood.

Some of us who’ve read the Science of Logic can make the mistake of thinking that beginning is a simple thing. We’ve forgotten the circuitous routes we took to get here. “Just begin!” But you need to know exactly how to begin. And you need to know what exactly you’re doing when you begin in this way, and why it is important. This is only possible once you have tried and tested the other ways, and seen why they fail.

If you simply do something without knowing why you do it, then it might seem just as well to do something else, should the opportunity arise. There is a persistent temptation to deviate from the path. The Phenomenology is about showing us what lies at the end of all those other paths, so that the simple thought of being finally becomes the obvious and correct way to begin philosophy.

(Image is from Pixabay.)

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2 Responses to How to Begin (Notes on the Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology)

  1. rickkoster says:

    The whole concept of negation is so fascinating, especially in our times where it is so undervalued. It’s really interesting to read Hegel along with psychoanalysis – there are so many parallels.

    Liked by 1 person

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