Doing Exegesis on Hegel

Hegel’s texts are notoriously difficult to read. That is both a matter of his German style and his attempt to render into language a complex train of thought that is deeply embedded in language itself. You get the feeling that it must be said like this and every word that is changed will destroy the truth; at the same as finding it quite impossible to achieve real clarity as to what is being said.

There is, of course, no surrogate for “re-thinking” Hegel. That is the necessary requirement for understanding him. In part that means putting it into your own words – not into an individual philosophical language, not by simply choosing modern jargon, but in language that is in line with contemporary thoughts and issues. Hegel is responding as much to his own era as we try to understand him from our own. A situation that Hegel himself would understand and agree with.

Re-thinking Hegel, however, can be quite difficult if we are unable to reconstruct the “flow of the argument” that his texts present to us. Now there is a discipline that deals with difficult texts from antiquity that might give us some aid in understanding Hegel. I know of one example of an attempt by a modern philosopher who happened to be a theologian as well, to use those literary techniques to approach a text by Hegel. (Ad Peperzak in a commentary on a passage of the Encyclopedia. I will try to find that text again.)  This method of exegesis that is applied to the Bible might be handy in understanding Hegel’s texts as well. I will try to describe that method in a next blog and then apply it to a passage from the Preface of the Phenomenology.

But for now, I just want to announce that we are going to read the Phenomenology with this exegetical method and try to discover the flow-of-the-argument in the text of Hegel.

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