Thoughts on reading Hegel

This week I concluded an 8-month reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  Having finished, I have a few thoughts on the experience and things I would have done differently.

– Reading it in a group is definitely the way to go.  I met with a four other people each week to discuss relatively small chunks of text.  I don’t think I would have been able to read it as consistently without the pressure of knowing I needed to be able to talk about it once a week.

A friend turned me on to J.M. Bernstein.  His syllabus provides an excellent list of secondary texts both generally and for specific sections.  His discussion questions also helped to focus my reading.  There is a also a trove of information in the audio from a series of lectures on the Phenomenology that he gave at Berkeley in 1994.

– Regarding secondary texts, I used Quentin Lauer’s Reading of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit” and Henry Silton Harris’ Hegel’s Ladder (2 volumes).  I read nearly all of Lauer, but I dipped in and out of Harris more arbitrarily.  Harris proves interesting paraphrases of each of the paragraphs in the Phenomenology.  These paired with the analysis of the text at the end of Miller’s translation helped me to work through more difficult sections.  I also started out reading Hyppolite’s The Structure and Genesis of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, but decided about half way through that I wanted to read the book as a whole rather than breaking it up over the course of reading the primary text.

– On the side of thing I would have done differently, I think we may have rushed the reading a bit.  That may seem ridiculous since it took us 8 months, but I think that our/my impatience often got the better of us.  Realistically, I needed to get through the text so that I can move on to his other works, but I may have benefited from spending a little more time on the most difficult sections.

– In the Berstein tapes, in his introduction to the course, Bernstein tells the students that they will be writing short summaries of each of the sections as they go along.  I listened to this recording about 3/4 of the way through my reading and I didn’t feel like it was worth starting to do the summaries that close to the end, but I do think it would have helped me internalize the work more than I did.

Now that I’ve finished, I’m hoping to read Merold Westphal’s History and Truth in Hegel’s Phenomenology, Robert Pippin’s Hegel’s Idealism, and return to Hyppolite’s Genesis and Structure.  I’m also nearly finished with Glenn Alexander Magee’s Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, which has been interesting to read in the wake of several of Marjorie Reeve’s works on Joachim of Fiore.  I suppose that I’ll also need to look at Cyril O’Regan’s The Heterodox Hegel and then I’ll be able to move on to the Philosophy of History and Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.  Hopefully at that point I can move on to something other than Hegel… like Schelling.


  1. I been reading the phenomenology too, i found theres a lecture conflict on the “neo-kantians” such as pippin and lauer and the “neo-metaphysicals” such as Beiser or Stern. Im a little bit confused on this, do you have any info on that matter.

    Greeting, great blog!

    1. There certainly is a divide there. It seems to be the biggest divide in current Hegel scholarship (in my admittedly limited knowledge of it). I’m not aware of any journal articles or anything that explore/contrast these positions, though.

  2. I’m reading the Phenomenology for the first time now, and I definitely agree that reading it in a small group is the way to go. I’m taking a course on the class, so we have a small group of about 9-10 students anyways, but an even smaller group of us has been meeting two or three times a week outside of class to work through whatever we can paragraph by paragraph. I can’t really imagine trying to read the whole thing on my own.

    I’ve started but halted the Westphal, and am planning to read Hyppolite if I can keep up. My prof. was a student of Harris’s, so we are required to read his commentary when it is our turn to be the go-to person in class. I don’t think I will read it on the weeks I’m not on, but I’m definitely also reading Harris’s little book “Hegel: Phenomenology and System.”

    Interesting to note that I’m reading lots of Marx at the same time. I don’t mean this to be polemical, but struggling with the Hegel has given me even more appreciation for Marx, even though he can be a slog at times in his own way.

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