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The “Understanding Hegel” reading list?(r/philosophy)
>Is there any definitive list of stuff I should make sure I read before I try to dive into Hegel?
No. Some familiarity with Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling will go a long way. If you are also familiar with Descartes, Leibniz, and more “minor” figures in German idealism like Reinhold, Jacobi, Schulze, et al., then that’s an even bigger bonus.
Basically, Hegel knew the history of philosophy that came before him extremely well. If you want to catch all of Hegel’s references and whatnot, you basically need to know the history of philosophy before him. His main points of reference are usually either the Greeks (especially Aristotle) or his contemporaries, though.
That said, though, Hegel’s way of taking up the history of philosophy is pretty idiosyncratic. His references often conflate distinct philosophical positions in ways that are contentious to say the least. Major works like the Phenomenology and the Science of Logic also tend to be pretty spare in the number of proper names to which they refer, which can make spotting sources and references even more difficult.
The fact of the matter is that Hegel is extremely challenging to read, and no amount of preparation will make that go away. Learning more about the history of philosophy and reading Hegel’s texts repeatedly will help to make him a little less baffling, but even Hegel scholars that I know will tell you that Hegel is sometimes inscrutable.
If you want to start reading and getting a handle on Hegel, I’ll give you the same advice that I have given others who have asked similar questions: start with the Phenomenology (because there is a lot more secondary literature in English on the Phenomenology than there is on any of Hegel’s other texts). I would begin with the “Preface” to the Phenomenology. (Here is some advice that I gave to someone trying to understand that text; you may or may not find it helpful.) You will likely find it damn near impossible to figure out the preface your first time through; that’s fine and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. The main point of reading it at this point is just to give yourself a sense of what reading Hegel is like.
I would then recommend that you take a look at Michael Forster’s Hegel’s Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit. It is an extremely helpful introduction to and broad overview of the aims and concerns of the Phenomenology. (Forster identifies 11 distinct ‘tasks’ that the Phenomenology tries to accomplish, which he then divides into metaphysical, epistemological, and pedagogical tasks; his book then traces how the Phenomenology goes about accomplishing these tasks.) Forster offers some commentary on specific chapters, but for the most part his book is focused on the whole rather than paying detailed attention to the parts.
When you’ve finished the Forster, begin reading the Phenomenology again from the beginning. Alongside the Hegel, also read Hyppolite’s Genesis and Structure of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which is basically still the standard chapter-by-chapter commentary. Read one chapter by Hegel first, then read the corresponding chapter in the Hyppolite, then go back and re-read the Hegel.
Obviously, this is a lot of work. You’ll need a good deal of patience and commitment to manage all this. That said, I think that understanding Hegel is a rewarding process.
(I’ve said this to others, but I’ll repeat it here: Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, while rightfully famous, is extremely idiosyncratic in its interpretation of what Hegel is up to in the Phenomenology. This is why I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who is approaching Hegel for the first time. Once you’ve read a bit by Hegel himself and a bit by commentators like Hyppolite, then it is interesting to check out the Kojève, which was extremely influential in France in the period following the second World War.)
*Edit: corrected typo. I would also add that others are right to point to Hegel’s prefaces and introductions as generally more accessible than the texts they preface or introduce. That said, and as the preface to the Phenomenology indicates, they can still be extremely challenging.