History and Truth in Hegel’s Phenomenology

This detailed interpretation of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit” seeks to show that the unity of this classic work may be found in the integration of its transcendental and sociological-historical themes. Merold Westphal argues that the key to this unity lies in Hegel’s radical discovery that transcendental subjectivity has a social history and that absolute knowledge is a historically conditioned and essentially collective or social event.

From the author’s “Preface” to this third edition:

Is Hegel then just a whipping boy, a Richard Nixon for the philosophical press to kick around when we grow tired of bashing Descartes? Not at all. What really interests me about the epigraph from Derrida is the suggestion it makes for a different way to read Hegel himself. When he says that Hegel is also the philosopher of absolute difference, his also does not mean ‘in addition to me (Derrida)’, but, ‘in addition to being the philosopher of closure and totality.’ Like Kierkegaard, he reminds us that Hegel is the philosopher of dialectic as well as of speculation, and he invites us to deconstructive readings of Hegel in which speculation is aufgehoben in dialectic rather than the other way around.

This does not mean that the text becomes but a laboratory for doing Derridean exercises. For, as already indicated, deconstruction is not the only mode of postmodern philosophy, nor is postmodernism the only philosophical tradition that finds itself in the misty flats between Cartesian archeology and Hegelian teleology. To read Hegel as also a philosopher of absolute difference is to read him as someone who, in spite of his own predilections for closure, can help us better to understand the wide open seas on which we sail, whether with Nietzsche at the dawning of the death of God or with Kierkegaard in hope of eternity.

It has now been almost two decades since History and Truth was first published. What has changed for me is not so much my understanding of what goes on in Hegel’s text as the context in which I read it. When I wrote the book it was hermeneutical phenomenology that for me primarily defined the space between immediacy and totality. Now it is postmodern reflections on the interminability of mediation. I do not see these as mutually exclusive perspectives from which to read Hegel. But they are different. In suggesting another angle of vision on the Phenomenology, I am following Nietzsche’s admonition to seek objectivity, not by fleeing perspectives but by multiplying them.

This fairly small book must take its place as the best introductory study of Hegel’s Phenomenology available.

―Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Westphal’s book is a comprehensive guide to the argument of the entire phenomenology. . . . will repay close study by serious undergraduate and graduate students of philosophy.


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