Why Hegel?

Ever since I started slogging through the Phenomenology I’ve had to continuously justify (mainly to myself) if it would be so terrible if I just tossed the book out the window, or at the very least returned it to the library and paid whatever fine comes with being two years overdue. I’ve yet to succumb to either temptation, but occasionally I get close.

Thinking about the challenge of reading Hegel gets me thinking about the nature of conceptual difficulty. There are certainly some concepts which are easier to understand than others. For instance, it seems obvious that making sense of algebraic topology in non-trivial fibre bundles is more difficult than learning about the principles of evolution or natural selection. Similarly, within a minute or two, most of us could figure out the rules of Monopoly (both the board game and the most successful business strategy of tech-giants), while at the same time needing a few hours to get to grips with options trading on derivative markets. In short, some things are inherently simpler to ELI5.

Perhaps this has to do with ‘priors’ —in the epistemological sense rather than Bayesian. Sometimes you just have to have some basic to understand higher level concepts. Youtube is great for this. On Youtube you can access content by creators that are inclined to hand-hold to reach the largest demographic. As most people are non-experts, a minimum of assumed presupposed knowledge is necessary for a video to be a successful explanatory resource. There are even short overviews on the philosophy of Hegel. As opposed to working through a post-graduate seminar in physics, for some reason it feels that philosophy shouldn’t be something that requires a few semesters of pre-requisites to jump into head-first.

I’m not ashamed to say I started with Hegel by watching “Half Hour Hegel” delivered by Gregory Sadler, which goes through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit paragraph by paragraph. Despite its pop-philosophy-sounding name, Sadler is really quite thorough and helpful with understanding context or more abstract philosophical terms. On the flip side, often it feels like Sadler is pandering to the format, stretching out details to be ostensibly pedological. This would be fine, other than a suspicion that he also glosses over concepts that might have needed the elaboration.

In any case, for now I’ve chosen to stick with him for these two reasons:

  • Different perspective on ontology (what can the fact that we have subjectivity tell us about reality rather than what can reality tell us about our subjectivity)
  • The aspect of contradiction as an inevitable part of being, as beautifully elucidated in ‘Emancipation after Hegel’ by Todd Mcgowan who hosts a great podcast ‘Why Theory’.

Published by patrick


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