Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) is perhaps Hegel’s most influential work, especially through Marx’s critique that “stood Hegel on his head”: Marx inverted Hegel’s idealist absolutism into dialectical materialism. In the Phenomenology Hegel describes the dialectical experience and development of consciousness from sense-certainty, perception, understanding and self-consciousness to absolute knowing. Hegel argues in the famous passage titled ‘Lordship and Bondage’ that self-consciousness exists only insofar it exists in the world of others and is acknowledged by others. This idea of subject formation as social, as the need for mutual recognition, has influenced many philosophers, both who represent anti-Hegelian and Hegelian views.
I first read Phenomenology for my MA thesis. I argued against the view that dementia causes the disappearance of selfhood. I also found the two main positive views – that selfhood never disappears but continues to manifest in embodied practices and that selfhood depends on whether family members and healthcare personnel recognize the person with dementia as a person – unsatisfactory on their own. Through a materialist reading of Hegel’s dialectics (often misrepresented as the tripartite logic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis), I argued that subjectivity exists both as the active existence in the world and, crucially, through the recognition by others.
Readings and links
G. W. F. Hegel. 1977. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
H. S. Harris. 1995. Hegel: Phenomenology and System. Indianapolis: Hackett.
Stephen Houlgate. 2005. An Introduction to Hegel: Freedom, Truth and History, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.
Robert B. Pippin. 1989. Hegel’s Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Robert B. Pippin. 2008. Hegel’s Practical Philosophy: Rational Agency as Ethical Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
J. M. Bernstein’s illuminating lecture series on Hegel’s Phenomenology, also suitable for beginners: http://bernsteintapes.com/hegellist.html