Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface (Philosophy as Science)

1. It is customary to preface a work with an explanation of the author’s aim, why he wrote the book, and the relationship in which he believes it to stand to other earlier or contemporary treatises on the same subject. In the case of a philosophical work, however, such an explanation seems not only superfluous but, in view of the nature of the subject-matter, even inappro­priate and misleading. For whatever might appropriately be said about philosophy in a preface – say a historical statement of the main drift and the point of view, the general content and results, a string of random assertions and assurances about truth-none of this can be accepted as the way in which to expound philosophical truth. Also, since philosophy moves essentially in the element of universality, which includes within itself the particular, it might seem that here more than in any of the other sciences the subject-matter itself, and even in its complete nature, were expressed in the aim and the final results, the execution being by contrast really the unessential factor. On the other hand, in the ordinary view of anatomy, for instance (say, the knowledge of the parts of the body regarded as inani­mate), we are quite sure that we do not as yet possess the sub­ject-matter itself, the content of this science, but must in addi­tion exert ourselves to know the particulars. Further, in the case of such an aggregate of information, which has no right to bear the name of Science, an opening talk about aim and other such generalities is usually conducted in the same historical and un­comprehending way in which the content itself (these nerves, muscles, etc.) is spoken of. In the case of philosophy, on the other hand, this would give rise to the incongruity that along with the employment of such a method its inability to grasp the truth would also be demonstrated.

2. Furthermore, the very attempt to define how a philo­sophical work is supposed to be connected with other efforts to deal with the same subject-matter drags in an extraneous concern, and what is really important for the cognition of the truth is obscured. The more conventional opinion gets fixated on the antithesis of truth and falsity, the more it tends to expect a given philosophical system to be either accepted or con­tradicted ; and hence it finds only acceptance or rejection. It does not comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth, but rather sees in it simple disagreements. The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one might say that the former is refuted by the latter ; similarly, when the fruit appears, the blossom is shown up in its turn as a false manifestation of the plant, and the fruit now emerges as the truth of it instead. These forms are not just distinguished from one another, they also supplant one another as mutually incompatible. Yet at the same time their fluid nature makes them moments of an organic unity in which they not only do not conflict, but in which each is as necessary as the other; and this mutual necessity alone constitutes the life of the whole. But he who rejects a philosophical system [i.e. the new philosopher] does not usually comprehend what he is doing in this way ; and he who grasps the contradiction between them [i.e. the historian of philosophy] does not, as a general rule, know how to free it from its one-sidedness, or maintain it in its freedom by recognizing the reciprocally necessary moments that take shape as a conflict and seeming incompati­bility.

3. Demanding and supplying these [superficial] explana­tions passes readily enough as a concern with what is essential. Where could the inner meaning of a philosophical work find fuller expression than in its aims and results, and how could these be more exactly known than by distinguishing them from everything else the age brings forth in this sphere? Yet when this activity is taken for more than the mere beginnings of cogni­tion, when it is allowed to pass for actual cognition, then it should be reckoned as no more than a device for evading the real issue [die Sache selbst] , a way of creating an impression of hard work and serious commitment to the problem, while actu­ally sparing oneself both. For the real issue is not exhausted by stating it as an aim, but by carrying it out, nor is the result the actual whole, but rather the result together with the process through which it came about. The aim by itself is a lifeless uni­versal, just as the guiding tendency is a mere drive that as yet lacks an actual existence ; and the bare result is the corpse which has left the guiding tendency behind it. Similarly, the specific difference of a thing is rather its limit ; it is where the thing stops, or it is what the thing is not. This concern with aim or results, with differentiating and passing judgement on various thinkers is therefore an easier task than it might seem. For in­ stead of getting involved in the real issue, this kind of activity is always away beyond it ; instead of tarrying with it, and losing itself in it, this kind of knowing is forever grasping at something new ; it remains essentially preoccupied with itself instead of being preoccupied with the real issue and surrendering to it. To judge a thing that has substance and solid worth is quite easy, to comprehend it is much harder, and to blend judgement and comprehension in a definitive description is the hardest thing of all.

4. Culture and its laborious emergence from the immediacy of substantial life must always begin by getting acquainted with general principles and points of view, so as at first to work up to a general conception [Gedanke] of the real issue, as well as learn­ing to support and refute the general conception with reasons ; then to apprehend the rich and concrete abundance [of life] by differential classification; and finally to give accurate in­struction and pass serious judgement upon it. From its very be­ginning, culture must leave room for the earnestness of life in its concrete richness ; this leads the way to an experience of the real issue. And even when the real issue has been penetrated to its depths by serious speculative effort, this kind of knowing and judging will still retain its appropriate place in ordinary conversation.

5. The true shape in which truth exists can only be the scien­tific system of such truth. To help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowing – that is what I have set myself to do. The inner necessity that knowing should be Science lies in its nature, and only the systematic exposition of philosophy itself provides it. But the external necessity, so far as it is grasped in a general way, setting aside accidental matters of person and motivation, is the same as the inner, or in other words it lies in the shape in which time sets forth the sequential existence of its moments. To show that now is the time for philosophy to be raised to the status of a Science would therefore be the only true justification of any effort that has this aim, for to do so would demonstrate the necessity of the aim, would indeed at the same time be the accomplishing of it.

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