restricted access Hegel's Phenomenology as a Philosophy of Culture
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Hegel's Phenomenology as a Philosophy of Culture ALBERT WILLIAM LEVI 1 There are many ways to read Hegel's Phenomenology: strictly for itself as a great classic in the history of philosophy (this is the strategy of the notable commentaries of Hyppolite, Loewenberg, and Lauer); as an introduction to the Hegelian system or a significant segment of the same (the way of Walter Kaufmann, Charles Taylor, and J. N. Findlay), or as a notable illumination of a particular domain of subject matter (as in Judith Shklar's Freedom and Independence: a Study of the Political Ideas of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind).' I wish to follow in the footprints neither of Loewenberg and Hyppolite nor of Findlay and Taylor, but of Shklar. However, my reading of the Phenomenology of Spirit places it not in the tradition of political ideas which begins with Plato, but in the tradition of the philosophy of culture which begins with Voltaire and Kant. Kant died in 18o4. The Phenomenology was published in 18o7. But this three year interval signifies something infinitely more important than the end of one philosopher's life and the first significant publication of another. In fact it represents a decisive break between the rationalism of the eighteenth century Enlightenment and the emerging spirit of romanticism coming to life in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Kant died late but his mind was made by Christian Wolff, Leibniz and Newton, and David Hume, and his mode of perception was not unlike that of Lichtenberg, Jean Hyppolite, Genkse et Structure de la Ph~nom~nologie de L'Esprit de Hegel (Paris: Aubier, Editions Montaigne, 1946) ~ vols.; J. Loewenberg, Hegel's Phenomenology: Dialogues on the Li]e ~ Mind (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1965); Quentin Lauer, S. J., A Reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (New York: Fordham University Press, 1976); Walter Kauf'mann, Hegel: A Reinterpretation (New York: Anchor Books, 1966); Charles Taylor, Hegel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975); J. N. Findlay, Hegel."A Re-examination (New York: Collier Books, 196~); Judith Shklar, Freedom and Independence: The Political Ideas of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976). [445] 446 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 2~: 4 OCT 1984 Lessing, and Laplace. Hegel's mind was formed on other models and his mental slant had much in common with Hoelderlin's lyrics, Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and the more romantic historical dramas of Schiller. It is a question of historical moment and world-feeling. The formation of Kant's mentality predates the great historical divide of the French Revolution. It is not so much that his politics is ancien r~gime (it is, of course, liberal and forward looking) as that his mode of perception is classic. For him, to domesticate experience requires the imposition of order and organization, of rationality and rules. But Hegel's universe is instinct with the flux of post-revolutionary uncertainty, and thus for him all human culture is primarily a matter of movement, growth, and dialectical development. Romanticism implies a triumph of temporality and historicity over logic, of growing and developing concepts over categorial fixity. Kant praised Christian Wolff--"the greatest of all the dogmatic philosophers"--for his rationalist method, for having by his example awakened the spirit of thoroughness in Germany, and Kant himself in his methodological rigor continued this tradition even further. But if the Critique of Pure Reason courts comparison with the exactitude of a scientific treatise, Walter Kaufmann is surely right in denying such scientific rigor to Hegel 's great work. "The Phenomenology," he said, ~ "is certainly unwissenschaftlich : undisciplined, arbitrary, full of digressions, not a monument to the austerity of the intellectual conscience and to carefulness and precision but a wild, bold, unprecented book that invites comparison with some great literary masterpieces." The characterization is just. I have already mentioned the analogy with Goethe's Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister. Others have likened the Phenomenology of Spirit to Dante's Divine Comedy,Goethe's Faust, and Homer's Odyssey. What is apt and central in all of these analogies is the notion of a spiritual journey through time and history. Here the Phenomenologyemerges less as an epistemology...