Hegel and Heidegger Redivivus

Yesterday’s discussion of Hegel and Heidegger on history brought out a lot of interesting comments.  Thanks especially to Joe and Matt.  Both of them made good cases for the claim that I’d exaggerated the difference between the two H’s, and I’m grateful for their contributions. I’ve conceded some in response to them – at least provisionally – in the comments section there.  But I feel there’s still more to work through.  So where to turn?

Unfortunately, Heidegger did not – as far as I know – write very much on Hegel.  There is a small book called Hegel’s Concept of Experience, which I don’t remember having much on history.  There’s also the more sustained 1930-31 lecture on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  This too, as far as I remember, doesn’t get to the history bits.  I was surprised, therefore, to discover online this morning  a translation of a 1958 lecture by Heidegger called “Hegel and the Greeks”.  This is not a lecture that I remember having seen before, and I’ve only read it quickly.  I don’t really have a detailed view.  But I’m struck by the last lines of the lecture, which seem to suggest a strong distinction between the way Heidegger took himself to understand history and the way he took Hegel to have.  Heidegger writes:

However, if we attend to the enigmatic of ‘Aletheia’, that hovers over the beginning of Greek philosophy as well as over the course of the whole of philosophy, then Greek philosophy likewise appears in a “not yet”. Only, this is the “not yet” of the unthought, not at all the “not yet” of the unsatisfying, but rather the “not yet” to which we are not sufficient and never have been.

The distinction that Heidegger draws between the “not yet” of the unthought and the “not yet” of the unsatisfying seems to be his name for the difference between his own account of the relation in history between one epoch and the next, and what he takes to be Hegel’s account. This is not exactly the way I’d conceived of Heidegger’s late view of history, I confess. I’d have thought that by this late date Heidegger would have been emphasizing the importance of Ereignis, and its absence here is surprising to me. But the characterization of Hegel seems more in line with the way I’ve been thinking of him. Hegel obviously admires Aristotle. Heidegger quotes a passage that Matt would love: “If philosophy is taken seriously, nothing is worthier than the study of Aristotle” (a.a.O.S. 314). But the fact remains, on Heidegger’s view at least, that Hegel thinks Aristotle is admirable for having started something, not for having seen deeper than we do into it:

Greek philosophy is the stage of this “not yet”. It is not yet the completion, nevertheless it is only comprehended from out of this completion, as the system of speculative idealism.

I’m not at all sure that this is definitive. And it remains a possibility that Heidegger has misunderstood Hegel’s position, or his own, or that I have misunderstood Heidegger. Still, I’d be interested to hear what people have to say.

About Sean D. Kelly

Sean Dorrance Kelly is the Teresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Faculty Dean at Dunster House, one of the twelve undergraduate Houses at Harvard. He served for six years as chair of Harvard's Department of Philosophy. Kelly earned an Sc.B. in Mathematics and Computer Science and an M.S. in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences from Brown University in 1989. After three years as a Ph.D. student in Logic and Methodology of Science, he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1998. Before arriving at Harvard in 2006, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Sean Kelly's work focuses on various aspects of the philosophical, phenomenological, and cognitive neuroscientific nature of human experience. He is a world authority on 20th century European Philosophy, specializing in the work of Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He has also done influential work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and he has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others. Fun fact: He appeared on The Colbert Show in 2011 to talk about All Things Shining. Sean Kelly lives at Dunster House with his wife, the Harvard Philosopher Cheryl Kelly Chen, and their two boys, Benjamin and Nathaniel.
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