Spring for 2010-2011
Hegel is sometimes referred to as being the most influential philosopher
in the last 200 years. We will read important parts of his Phenomenology
of Spirit and of his Philosophy of Right. We will also show the deep
connection between his Phenomenology and psychoanalysis and between his
Philosophy of Right and philosophy of economics and of capitalism. We
will make brief references to his Logic.
We will read at least the following passages in the Phenomenology of
-The section on consciousness as an alternative to Kant’s theory of
perceptual knowledge, and discuss Hegel’s presentation of a theory which
denies that laws of natural science provide a complete comprehension of
-The section on self-consciousness, which includes the influential
passages on the “master-slave dialectic”, Stoicism, Skepticism, and
Unhappy Consciousness. We will briefly indicate how the passage of the
“master-slave” deeply influenced such divergent thinkers as Marx and
Lacan. The passage on the Unhappy Consciousness presents religious
practice, from Judaism to Protestantism, as a pragmatic solution for the
performative inconsistencies of Skepticism.
-The passage on “Phrenology,” which can be read as a Hegelian criticism
of a line of thinking which attempts to give being to the mind by
looking to matter (e.g., the skull). It stands as a criticism of certain
positions on the mind-body problem such as the belief that mental
illnesses are simply diseases of the brain. We will see how Hegel’s
ideas can be used or not for a philosophical criticism of the official
classification of mental illnesses in the DSM-IV and the projected DSM-V.
-The passage on the “Law of the Heart” as a critical reading of
“Romantic revolutionary movements.” Here, Hegel develops a concept of
law that is necessarily at odds with the wishes of individuals.
-The passage on “The Legal Status” as a dialectical analysis of the fate
of the Roman Empire. As the political structure and the Spirit of the
U.S. is in many ways similar to that of Rome, this passage may be read
as a warning for the vulnerable trends in a system relying very much
upon the rule of law.
-The passage on the “French Revolution” as a fundamental objection to
libertarianism and anarchism (including Rousseau).
-The passage on “Morality” as a criticism of Kantian moral theory. It
defends a morality of desire as opposed to a morality of duty. In the
U.S., Hawthorne made a similar transition to the appreciation of a
morality of desire in “The Scarlet Letter” several decades later. Hegel
also sees the connection between moral intention and language and
locates the highest moral act in the linguistic act of asking and giving
We will pay attention to the fact that Hegel makes desire an essential
part of his conception of the person . This has been used by the great
Hegel scholar Hyppolite to show the overlap in conception of the human
person in Hegel and psychoanalysis. On the other hand, both Lacan and
Fairbairn made use of Hegel to re-conceptualize Freud’s insights.
We will also read Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.
We will study his analysis of the will, his analysis of the function of
property for human freedom, his argument for the superiority of morality
to the freedom created by property rights and his argument that morality
cannot guarantee a peaceful society . We will then analyze his
conception of the three ethical institutions: the family, the economic
order and the political order.
Hegel is one of the first philosophers to have given a place to a
reflection on capitalism in his systematic philosophy. Given his
criticism of Rousseau, Hegel looked to the British economists to find a
domain in society where more individual freedom could be tolerated
without producing what Hegel called the disastrous consequences of
Rousseau’s political ideas. Hegel found the free market to be such a
domain. Notwithstanding his criticism of the free market one can argue
that for Hegel the (supervised and corrected) free market combined with
constitutional government is the realization of the good society.
We will make use of the contemporary economic concepts of public good
and merit good to show the relevance of Hegel’s abstract insights in the
economic order of his time: emerging capitalism.
The following syllabi may help you learn more about this course (login required):
Spring '11: ver Eecke, W (file download)
Additional syllabi may be available in prior academic years.
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