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  • Hegels Phänomenologie des Geistes: Ein dialogischer Kommentar by Pirmin Stekeler
  • Daniel Breazeale
Pirmin Stekeler. Hegels Phänomenologie des Geistes: Ein dialogischer Kommentar. Volume 1: Gewißheit und Vernunft. Volume 2: Geist und Religion. Hamburg: F. Meiner, 2014Vol. 1: Pp. 1253. Cloth, €68.00. Vol. 2: Pp. 1088. Cloth, €48.00.

The author is past vice president of both the international Hegel Society and the German Ludwig Wittgenstein society and has previously published books on logic, analytic philosophy, and Hegel (under the full name Stekeler-Weithofer). He describes himself as interested in the “reconstruction of the relationship between traditional philosophy (Plato, Kant, Hegel) and the formal-analytic movement (Frege, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine),” and this new work is fully representative of this interest. Explicitly eschewing any interest in “archival” history of philosophy, Stekeler offers a “rational reconstruction” of what he takes to be the argument of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. He does so by means of a “dialogical commentary” on what he describes as, next to Kant’s first Critique, “methodologically considered, the most important philosophical work of the last 300 years” (1:24).

The declared aim of Stekeler’s “commentary” is simply “to make Hegel’s book readable (or more readable)” (1:23) and to do so by offering a new overall interpretation of the same. Whereas Hegel remains (allegedly) “banned” from the undergraduate and graduate curriculum of American colleges and universities (1:25), Stekeler proposes to remedy this situation by bringing him into a productive dialogue with the “formal-analytic” tradition. Stekeler, however, is more interested in articulating a specific set of issues and defending a specific conception of what philosophy is or should be. He finds this program obscurely present in Hegel, but declares that he is less concerned with demonstrating that this actually is Hegel’s position than with developing the position itself. Thus he maintains correctly that his “commentary” should be comprehensible on its own, entirely apart from anything that Hegel actually wrote (1:22-23).

Stekeler’s dialogical commentary on the Phenomenology possesses one enormous advantage over all others, however, in that it is not filled with paraphrases and direct quotation from Hegel’s text because it includes the entire text of Hegel’s work. Each volume begins with a lengthy and often dense introduction, in which the author indicates his approach to the text and develops in broad stokes his innovative interpretation of it. These introductions are followed by commentary in which a paragraph from Hegel is followed by at least one and usually many more paragraphs by Stekeler. One wishes this very effective format were adopted more widely. The commentary itself, though sometimes unavoidably repetitive, is insightful, imaginative, and philosophically sophisticated.

The philosopher who emerges from Stekeler’s reading is neither a dogmatic materialist nor an advocate of “scientism”; nor is he a supernaturalist or “metaphysician” of any stripe, and specifically not an exponent of the “metaphysics of spirit.” Nor is he a crypto-theologian whose “absolute” is just another name for God, nor a conservative apologist for the Prussian state, nor a proto-totalitarian advocate of the subordination of the individual to the state or to “world history.” Indeed, he does not have a “system” at all, nor assert any philosophical “theses” (1:17). Instead, he is “the philosopher of the personal subject and of freedom and the logician of subjectivity and hence of modernity” (1:13).

According to Stekeler’s anti-metaphysical reading, Geist is a term for what is “generically human,” a transcendental “we” comparable to Rousseau’s volunté générale, and absolute spirit is identical to the community of rational beings, often interpreted here as a community of language users. Geist is “the recognized communal [gemeinsame] system of those forms of praxis and those institutions which first make possible cooperative acting and communicative speech and thereby also make possible individual acting and thinking” (2:115).

“All transsubjective normativity is founded in co-operative role-structure of communal action and life” (2:21), and it is only by actively participating in this “universal form of praxis” that one becomes a personal subject through shared cultural traditions. Moreover, spirit is actual only in the concrete form of...


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