- Hegel’s Phenomenology: The Dialectical Justification of Philosophy’s First Principles by Ardis B. Collins
Around the mid-twentieth century, revivals of scholarly interest in Hegel began to take place in a number of countries, not least in Canada, which has made an outsized contribution to the gradual process of restoring Hegel’s philosophy to a central place in the canon. This multinational effort has reached a peak of intensity over the last couple of decades, with major studies of Hegel appearing at frequent intervals from many quarters, based on impressively close and exhaustive readings of the original texts, which have themselves been painstakingly revised in a new Gesammelte Werke.
The subtitle of Ardis B. Collins’s work, The Dialectical Justification of Philosophy’s First Principles, refers to a nested complex of several issues. In the most basic terms, the issue is simply, what is the relation of the Phenomenology of Spirit to the Science of Logic? The latter work spells out the content of philosophical science, or knowledge proper, in terms of pure thought thinking itself, beginning with the most minimal possible (and necessary?) standpoint of “Pure Being.” This thought-object is allowed to develop freely in accordance with its own inherent, necessary dynamic, revealing the ultimate structure of rationality through an autonomous process of dialectical self-development. The unfolding does not cease until it eventuates in the identity-in-difference of thought and being in the Absolute Idea, having revealed the structure of rationality common to both. But does one adopt the initial standpoint of Pure Being simply as a hypothesis, hoping that it may ultimately lead to the comprehension of actuality? Or can that starting point be justified in some way as necessary?
If such a justification is possible, it must be found as the outcome of the argument of the Phenomenology, which deals with the realm of ordinary conscious experience. On the title page of the first edition Hegel [End Page 502] described the work as the “Science of the Experience of Consciousness.” Experience is the realm of feeling, empirical intuition, and representation. The Phenomenology begins with the claim of simple sense certainty to know an object of sense. That posture soon has to be abandoned as internally incoherent and is succeeded by another, different claim to knowledge of an object, which likewise has to be abandoned. And so it goes through myriad alternatives until the stance of “absolute knowing” is reached, in which the claim of knowledge can finally be sustained. But that standpoint turns out to be essentially the same as the starting point of the Logic: that is, the stance of philosophical science.
Thus, if the argument of the Phenomenology (the critique of experience) as a whole can be sustained, one can then claim that the starting point of the Logic (and thus the possibility of philosophical science) has been justified. To make matters maximally complex, however, Hegel himself left hints that he was of more than one mind about the relation of the Phenomenology to the Logic. Testing the argument of the Phenomenology and assessing its true relation to the Logic (including a balanced judgment of Hegel’s prevailing attitude on the matter) is the project undertaken here by Collins.
The distinctiveness of her contribution lies in the fact that she based it on a meticulous and thorough examination of all the prefatory and introductory materials found in the major works prepared for publication by Hegel’s own hand: the Philosophy of Right, the Encyclopedia, the Phenomenology, and the Logic. In this investigation she focused intently on every account Hegel gave of the philosophical proof procedure operative in the Phenomenology, the structure of his philosophical system as a whole, and the role of the Phenomenology in it.
On the basis of this she then provided a convincing reinterpretation of the argument of the Phenomenology (necessarily compressing the treatment of certain sections), guided at each step by her reading of the details of Hegel’s account of philosophical proof procedure. The result is a distinctive...