Diverse Writings 2

Heidegger's Hegel and the Greeks:

The forgetting of freedom(1)

Michael Eldred

Back to artefact homepage

artefact text and translation
Cologne, Germany

Last modified 08-Jan-2012
Version 1.3 August 2010
Version 1.2 January 2010

Version 1.1 May 2007
Version 1.0 January 2007
First put on site 15-May-2007
Download Sgreek TrueType font (for PC and Mac)


    Table of contents

    0. Abstract

    1. Heidegger's evoking of the issue for thinking 

    2. Heidegger's recounting of Hegel's history

     3. Hegel's own telling 

      4. Heidegger's mischaracterization of Hegel's thinking as the thinking of "absolute subjectivity"

    5. The issues of truth and freedom


    0. Abstract 

    Heidegger claims that "the issue for thinking is at stake" and goes on to misrepresent Hegel as a neo-Cartesian still caught in the snares of subjectivist metaphysics in which the human subject is the "fundamentum absolutum" of a dualist split between subject and represented object. In returning to the Greeks, Heidegger uncovers a)lh/qeia as that which remained unthought in the first Greek beginning, and also by Hegel in retrieving the Greeks. But Hegel's return to the Greeks discovers not only the beginnings of speculative thinking as the absolute unity of subject and object, but also the indissoluble intertwining of philosophical thinking with the freedom of the individual. Heidegger 'forgets' that the issues of truth and individual freedom are inextricably linked. 

    1. Heidegger's evoking of the issue for thinking 

    In a late paper presented to the Heidelberg Academy of the Sciences on 26 July 1958,(2)  [and later published in a volume in honour of Hans-Georg Gadamer's 60th birthday,] Heidegger recounts the history of philosophy as seen through Hegel's thinking. In writing this paper, Heidegger obviously recurs to his previous writings on Hegel, in particular to his treatise, 'Hegels Begriff der Erfahrung (1942/43)',(3)  that formed the basis for seminars on Hegel's Phänomenologie des Geistes and Aristotle's Metaphysics[ Books Delta and Theta held in 1942/43]. The intention of the present paper will be to sketch Heidegger's recounting of Hegel's situating of the Greeks in the latter's history of philosophy and then to criticize it by juxtaposing it to Hegel's own telling of the history of philosophy and what he highlights in it as the world-historical achievement of the Greek beginnings of philosophy. 

    Right at the outset of his 1958 lecture, Heidegger declares, "Die Sache des Denkens steht auf dem Spiel" ("The issue for thinking is at stake." WM:421) Heidegger doesn't say immediately what this issue is, but we are given notice that thinking is a game in which a lot is at the stake. Presumably the stakes have become so high through a process of vieing and revieing(4)  throughout the history of philosophy which, according to both Heidegger and Hegel, forms the foundation of Western history as a whole. The prize to be taken by the winner of this gambit in thinking is nothing less than the bringing to light of the issue given to thinking to think and thus, indirectly, the setting of the course (Weichenstellung) for Western history. What is at stake is not the final resolution of the issue for thinking, which for Heidegger is "das Rätselhafte" ("the enigma", WM:436), but above all, in the very first place, for both Heidegger and ourselves, the determination of what, precisely, this issue is upon which so much hangs. Given that Heidegger remarks also at the outset that "der Zerfall der Philosophie offenkundig wird" ("the decay of philosophy is becoming obvious", WM:421), what is also at hazard is whether we Western humans are still up to the task of thinking the issue for thinking. 

    2. Heidegger's recounting of Hegel's history 

    Heidegger says, quoting Hegel, that Hegel's aim is the "Reich der reinen Wahrheit [...] das innere Beisichselbstbleiben des Geistes. ("realm of pure truth ... the [thinking] spirit's inner staying-with-itself", VGPI:14(5)). Heidegger takes this aim specified as "the truth" as a hint at the "issue for thinking" (WM:423) and goes on immediately to cite Hegel's famous introduction to his treatement of Descartes in his lectures on the history of philosophy: "Hier, können wir sagen, sind wir zu Hause und können wie der Schiffer nach langer Umherfahrt auf der ungestümen See 'Land' rufen" ("Here, we can say, we are at home and, like a sailor after a long voyage hither and thither on the stormy sea, we can call out 'land ahoy!'", VGPIII:120). Heidegger comments as follows: "Hegel will mit diesem Bild andeuten: Das 'ego cogito sum', das 'ich denke, ich bin' ist der feste Boden, auf dem die Philosophie sich wahrhaft und vollständig ansiedeln kann." ("With this image Hegel wants to indicate that the 'ego cogito sum', the 'I think, I am' is the firm ground upon which philosophy can truly and completely settle", WM:423) Heidegger's commentary on the same passage in his earlier treatise from 1942/43 is lengthier and reads: 
    Das Denken sucht in der unerschütterlichen Gewißheit seines Gedachten für sich das fundamentum absolutum. Das Land, worin sich die Philosophie seitdem heimisch macht, ist die unbedingte Selbstgewißheit des Wissens. [Das Land wird nur schrittweise erobert und vollständig vermessen.] In den vollständigen Besitz gelangt es dann, wenn das fundamentum absolutum als das Absolute selbst gedacht ist. Das Absolute ist für Hegel der Geist: das in der Gewißheit des unbedingten Sichwissens bei sich selbst Anwesende. (HW:125) 

    Thinking seeks for itself the fundamentum absolutum in the unshakeable certainty of what it thinks. The land in which since then philosophy has made itself at home is the unconditional self-certainty of knowing. [The land is only conquered and completely surveyed stepwise.] It is brought into full possession when the fundamentum absolutum is thought as the Absolute itself. For Hegel the Absolute is the thinking spirit, that which is present by and with itself in the certainty of unconditional self-knowing. (HW:125) 

    Heidegger then situates Hegel's thinking on an arc that stretches from Descartes via Kant's subjective idealism to Hegel himself for whom, Heidegger proclaims, "sind Sein und Denken dasselbe ("being and thinking are the same" WM:424), a thought which one would have supposed, in the light of his interpretation of Parmenides, Heidegger himself would have subscribed to, but here he interprets this identity as a formula for the domination of the subject in its subjectivity as the unshakeable foundation of certain truth. Hegel's dialectical thinking is thus interpreted as "der Prozeß der Produktion der Subjektivität des absoluten Subjekts" ("the process of production of the subjectivity of the absolute subject" WM:424). It should be noted that the collocations, "absolute subject" and "absolute subjectivity", occur no less than nine times in this relatively short paper of Heidegger's, and later on we will have to ask whether and in what way such a formulation is at all justified in the case of Hegel's thinking. 

    Heidegger claims that Hegel conceives of the history of philosophy as "die innerste Bewegung im Gang [...] der absoluten Subjektivität zu sich selbst" ("the innermost movement in the path ... of absolute subjectivity to itself", WM:426). From this perspective, Hegel's assessment of Greek philosophy is said to be a thinking of "das reine Objektive" ("pure objectivity", WM:427), of being in its most abstract and poorest determinations. Heidegger then takes "vier Grundworte" ("four basic words", WM:428) of Greek ontology, e(/n, lo/goj  i)de/a, e)ne/rgeia and comments on how Hegel translates and interprets each of them (das All, die Vernunft, der Begriff, die Wirklichkeit the universe, reason, the concept, actuality). Only the conclusion that Heidegger draws from his discussion of these "four basic words" of being is of interest here. Heidegger says, 

    Das Sein und somit das in den Grundworten Vorgestellte ist noch nicht bestimmt und noch nicht vermittelt durch und in die dialektische Bewegung der absoluten Subjektivität. Die Philosophie der Griechen ist die Stufe dieses 'Noch nicht'. (WM:432) 

    Being and thus what is represented [sic] in the basic words is not yet determined and not yet mediated by and into the dialectical movement of absolute subjectivity. The philosophy of the Greeks is this stage of 'not yet'. (WM:432) 

    According to Heidegger, Hegel interprets the Greeks as still being lost in the abstractness of impoverished, abstract determinations of being. Heidegger then quotes a passage from Hegel on abstract thinking: "die Philosophie ist dem Abstrakten am entgegengesetztesten; sie ist gerade der Kampf gegen das Abstrakte, der stete Krieg mit der Verstandesreflexion" ("philosophy is most opposed to what is abstract; it is precisely the struggle against what is abstract, continual war against understanding's reflection", cited WM:432(6)) to show just how anaemic Hegel regarded Greek philosophy still to be. But beware, because the sense of "abstract" in these two different contexts is entirely different, and Heidegger is here performing a sleight of hand. 

    Hegel does not claim that the beginnings of philosophy with the Greeks were abstract in the sense of being merely "understanding's reflection". On the contrary, he concedes and praises precisely the speculative nature of (parts of) early Greek thinking in attaining an absolute unity of subject and object, which nonetheless remains abstract in the sense that it deals with only very few determinations of being. Heidegger here confuses these two different significations of "abstract" with the aim of showing that "der Geist kommt noch nicht eigens als das sich selbst wissende Subjekt zur absoluten Gewißheit seiner selbst" ("thinking spirit does not yet come specifically to absolute certainty of itself as the subject that knows itself", WM:432). In this coming of thinking spirit "to absolute certainty of itself" in the subject, according to Heidegger's interpretation of Hegel, philosophy would have entered the "realm of truth". 

    Heidegger then introduces a)lh/qeia as the Greek word for truth and asks why Hegel does not speak of it. "Versteht er unter 'Wahrheit' anderes als die Unverborgenheit? Allerdings. Wahrheit ist für Hegel die absolute Gewißheit des sich wissenden absoluten Subjektes." ("Does he understand by 'truth' something other than unconcealedness? Indeed. For Hegel, truth is the absolute certainty of the absolute subject that knows itself", WM:433). Here we come to the "issue for thinking" announced at the start of Heidegger's paper. It is 'truth' or a)lh/qeia. A)lh/qeia is the issue at stake for Heidegger's thinking and, according to the quotation from Hegel, it is also the issue for Hegel's thinking. But, according to Heidegger, he and Hegel each means something different by 'truth'. We will soon have to investigate whether for Hegel truth indeed means "absolute certainty" of the "absolute subject". 

    Because, according to Heidegger's recounting, Hegel interprets the Greeks from the standpoint of "absolute subjectivity" (WM:435), "es Hegel verwehrt blieb, die A)lh/qeia und deren Walten eigens als die Sache des Denkens zu erblicken" ("it remained denied to Hegel to see A)lh/qeia and its prevailing sway as the issue for thinking", WM:435). [Heidegger claims that a)lh/qeia is at play in all of the "four basic words", e(/n, lo/goj  i)de/a, e)ne/rgeia, through which the Greeks think being, and then asks, "Aber wie steht es dann mit dieser rätselhaften a)lh/qeia selbst...?" ("But then what is the situation with this enigmatic a)lh/qeia itself...?", WM:435) The emphasis is now of the word "itself", and Heidegger proceeds by pointing out that truth in the sense of correctness and certainty "hat ... mit der a)lh/qeia zu tun, nicht aber diese mit der Wahrheit" ("has to do with a)lh/qeia, but the latter does not have to do with truth", WM:436). 

    But even before that, and more primordially,] Heidegger asks what a)lh/qeia and ou)si/a have to do with one another and claims that if unconcealedness were more primordial than being, then "[hätte] das Sein mit der Entbergung zu tun, nicht aber die Entbergung mit dem Sein" ("being would have to do with decrypting/disclosing, but decrypting/disclosing would not have anything to do with being", WM:436). Accordingly, the way in which a)lh/qeia is at play "aus der Entbergung selbst, d.h. aus der Lichtung des Sichverbergens ihre Bestimmung empfängt" ("receives its determination from decrypting/disclosing itself, i.e. from the clearing of self-concealment/self-sheltering", WM:437). Heidegger therefore agrees with Hegel that the philosophy of the Greeks remains in a stage of "not yet", but what remains unthought by the Greeks and in all subsequent philosophy, including Hegel's, is a)lh/qeia itself, "was vor dem Beginn der 'Philosophie' und durch ihre ganze Geschichte hindurch das Denken schon zu sich eingeholt hat" ("which before the beginning of 'philosophy' and throughout its history has already drawn thinking into itself", WM:438) So, for Heidegger, it is a)lh/qeia itself, more primordial than being, that is at stake as the issue for thinking for us today through a "step back", and it is true that for Hegel a)lh/qeia itself is not the issue for thinking. But the matter does not rest there. 

    3. Hegel's own telling 

    Having sketched Heidegger's recounting of how Hegel positions the Greeks in his own thinking of the history of philosophy, we now have to ask: Does Heidegger's recounting of Hegel's account of the Greeks do justice to Hegel's thinking? Does Heidegger's positioning of Hegel even with respect to Descartes do justice to Hegel's thinking? Let us first return to that famous passage in which Hegel proclaims that it is Descartes who rediscovered firm land for philosophy. 
    In dieser neuen Periode ist das Prinzip das Denken, das von sich ausgehende Denken, diese Innerlichkeit, die überhaupt in Rücksicht auf das Christentum aufgezeigt und die das protestantische Prinzip ist. Das allgemeine Prinzip ist jetzt, die Innerlichkeit als solche festzuhalten, die tote Äußerlichkeit, Autorität zurückzusetzen, für ungehörig anzusehen. [Nach diesem Prinzip der Innerlichkeit ist nun das Denken, das Denken für sich, die reinste Spitze des Innersten, diese Innerlichkeit das, was sich für sich jetzt aufstellt; und dies Prinzip fängt mit Descartes an. Es ist das Denken frei für sich, was gelten soll, was anerkannt werden soll; dies kann es nur durch mein freies Denken in mir, nur dadurch kann es mir bewährt werden. Dies hat zugleich den Sinn, daß dies Denken allgemeines Geschäft, Prinzip für die Welt und die Individuen ist:] das, was gelten, was festgesetzt sein soll in der Welt, muß der Mensch durch seine Gedanken einsehen; was für etwas Festes gelten soll, muß sich bewähren durch das Denken. (Hegel VGPIII Werke 20:120) 

    In this new period the principle is thinking, thinking that proceeds from itself this inwardness which is expounded by Christianity in general and which is the Protestant principle. The universal principle is now to keep a firm hold of inwardness as such, to push back dead exteriority, authority, to regard it as unseemly. [According to this principle of inwardness, thinking, thinking for oneself is now the purest summit of the innermost, this inwardness that now establishes itself for itself; and this principle begins with Descartes. It is thinking thinking freely for oneself that should prevail, that should be recognized; it can be such only through my free thinking in myself; only in this way can it be proven to me. At the same time, this has the sense that this thinking is the universal business, principle for the world and individuals:] the individual human being through his thoughts must have insight into what is supposed to validly prevail, to be established in the world; what is supposed to be regarded as something firm must prove itself through thinking." (Hegel VGPIII Werke 20:120)

    This is how Hegel sees the new beginning in philosophy with Descartes in the modern age. It is a matter of the "Protestant principle" of "inwardness" according to which the thinking individual must have insight through his or her own thinking into what is to be recognized as firmly established as true. [It is the Enlightenment principle of thinking for oneself, which is at the same time the principle of freedom itself.] Was the Protestant principle of the Protestant, Hegel, distasteful to Heidegger, the relapsed Catholic? Did Heidegger harbour animosity against the Protestant principle of individualization? Does Heidegger's well-known anti-Liberal stance in thinking and in politics have to do with a rejection of the principle of thinking for oneself, of the principle of freedom? Can this principle of thinking for oneself be translated without deformation into the principle of self-certainty of the subject, and this latter principle then transferred without further ado to Hegel as the thinker of truth as "absolute certainty" (WM:433)? More is at stake here than whether Hegel can be regarded as the absolute Cartesian who finds absolute certainty in absolute subjectivity. The issue of freedom itself is at stake here and how it relates to the issue of truth. More on the interrelations between the issues of truth and freedom later. For the moment we will focus on the issue of freedom. 

    Hegel never tires of emphasizing that freedom resides in coming to oneself: 

    [...] die Freiheit heißt, in dem bestimmten Inhalt sich zu sich verhalten, die Lebendigkeit des Geistes, in dem, was als Anderes erscheint, in sich zurückgekehrt zu sein. Das, was als Anderes im Geiste bleibt, ist entweder unassimiliert oder tot, und der Geist ist unfrei, indem er es als Fremdes in sich bestehen läßt. (VGPIII:57) 

    [...] freedom means comporting oneself toward oneself in a determinate content the vitality of thinking spirit to have returned into itself in what appears as other. What remains other in thinking spirit is either unassimilated or dead, and the thinking spirit is unfree by letting it exist within itself as something alien. (VGPIII:57) 

    Moreover, such freedom is the very beginning of philosophy itself. The introduction to Hegel's lectures on the history of philosophy includes a section entitled "Die Freiheit des Denkens als Bedingung des Anfangs" ("The freedom of thinking as condition for the beginning", VGPI:115). The beginning referred to is that of "philosophy and its history" (VGPI:115). There we read, 
    Das Denken muß für sich sein, in seiner Freiheit zur Existenz kommen, sich vom Natürlichen losreißen und aus dem Versenktsein in die Anschauung heraustreten. Das Denken muß als freies in sich gehen; es ist damit Bewußtsein der Freiheit gesetzt. Der eigentliche Anfang der Philosophie ist da zu machen, wo das Absolute nicht als Vorstellung mehr ist, sondern der freie Gedanke nicht bloß das Absolute denkt, [sondern] die Idee desselben erfaßt: d. h. das Sein [...], welches er als das Wesen der Dinge erkennt, als die absolute Totalität und das immanente Wesen von Allem [...] (VGPI:115f) 

    Thinking must be for itself, must come to existence in its freedom, tear itself free from nature and step out from being sunk in intuition. As free, thinking must enter into itself; thus consciousness of freedom is posited. The proper beginning of philosophy is to be made where the Absolute is no longer as a representation and free thinking does not merely think the Absolute, but grasps the idea of the Absolute, i.e. being [...], which it recognizes as the absolute totality and immanent essence of everything [...] (VGPI:115f) 

    Hegel finds with the Greeks "der Keim der denkenden Freiheit und so der Charakter, daß bei ihnen die Philosophie entstanden ist." ("the germ of thinking freedom and thus the character that with them philosophy arose", VGPI:175) Heidegger does not once mention in his 1958 paper that Hegel discovers freedom with the Greeks, where thinking spirit is "bei sich" or "with itself", and instead he characterizes the Greek beginning in Hegel's eyes solely as "die Stufe der Abstraktion" ("the stage of abstraction", WM:428) And Hegel does indeed say that "die ersten Philosophien die ärmsten und abstraktesten sind;" ("the first philosophies are the poorest and most abstract", VGPI:60) but this by no means exhausts what he finds among the Greeks. He characterizes Socrates, for instance, that "welthistorische Person" ("world-historical person", VGPI:441) as follows:
    Die unendliche Subjektivität, Freiheit des Selbstbewußtseins ist im Sokrates aufgegangen. Ich soll schlechthin gegenwärtig, dabeisein in allem, was ich denke. [Diese Freiheit wird in unseren Zeiten unendlich und schlechthin gefordert.] [...] Es ist im allgemeinen nichts anderes, als daß er die Wahrheit des Objektiven aufs Bewußtsein, auf das Denken des Subjekts zurückgeführt hat, ein unendlich wichtiges Moment; wie Protagoras sagte: das Objektive ist erst durch die Beziehung auf uns. (VGPI:442) 

    Infinite subjectivity, freedom of self-consciousness germinated in Socrates. I should be quite simply present, there in everything I think. [In our own times, this freedom is demanded quite simply and infinitely.] [...] It is in general nothing other than that he led back the truth of what is objective to consciousness, to the subject's thinking an infinitely important moment, as Protagoras said: what is objective is only through its relation to us. (VGPI:442) 

    This is what Hegel sees in the beginning of philosophy with the Greeks, even pre-Socratically, say, with Anaxagoras(7): the emergence of freedom in world history. The reference to Protagoras shows that truth can only be individual, i.e. mediated by an individual, thinking human being. By omitting any reference whatsoever to Hegel's praise of freedom in both Descartes and Socrates, and more generally in philosophy as a thinking-for-oneself, Heidegger wants to characterize Hegel's thinking, along with all thinking of the modern age, as representational or vorstellendes thinking that culminates ultimately in "der totalen Berechenbarkeit" ("total calculability", WM:426). This twist on Heidegger's part makes all free thinking as a thinking for oneself into merely subjectivist, representational thinking and Hegel's "absolute knowing" of a unity of subject and object into "the unconditional self-certainty of knowing". Can Hegel be assimilated to Descartes in this way? With this question we return to considering whether Hegel's thinking spirit can at all be characterized as "absolute subjectivity". 

    4. Heidegger's mischaracterization of Hegel's thinking as the thinking of "absolute subjectivity"

    First it has to be noted that Hegel characterizes the period of philosophy inaugurated by Descartes as the "Periode des denkenden Verstands" ("period of thinking understanding", VPGIII:120) It is precisely not speculative-dialectical reason, which is "infinite" and free. Hegel draws a line between his own speculative-dialectical thinking and Descartes' philosophy because "das Denken hier sich aber eigentlich nur als abstrakter Verstand gefaßt hat" ("thinking here has grasped itself properly speaking merely as abstract understanding"; VGPIII:126), and this abstract understanding is that with which speculative philosophy is engaged in "continual war" (cited WM:432, cf. above). This in itself should have been enough to give Heidegger pause in bundling Hegel together with Descartes. Moreover, Hegel's thorough-going critique of Kant is aimed precisely at the subjective idealism of Critical Philosophy for which the objectivity of the object is constituted within subjectivity itself. Hegel claims contra Kant that das Ding-an-sich is knowable, but only through the subject surrendering itself to the idea as subject-object. We therefore have to ask trenchantly with regard to Hegel's speculative-dialectical thinking that culminates in absolute knowing, whether this absolute knowing can be characterized, as Heidegger claims, as the "self-certainty" of the "absolute subject". 

    The collocations, "absolute subject" and "absolute subjectivity", occur infrequently in Hegel's writings. Firstly, they can refer to God (cf. e.g. EnzI §147 Add.; PhG:26; VPRI A Von Gott; VPRII:18), and the human subject is not God if only because it does not possess the "absolute power" ("Gott als die absolute Macht", VPRI:113) that Hegel attributes to God. On the other hand, they refer to the absolute freedom of thinking spirit or the ego to free itself from any determinate and therefore finite content, whether it be in theoretical thinking or in practical will, and to withdraw into its "absolute negativity". (cf. e.g. EnzII §275 Add.; RPh [note on § 139]; VAesI:97; VAesIII:572; PhG:482f, VGPIII:365) Thinking spirit and the ego are therefore infinite or absolute in the sense of absolving themselves from any determinate content. [Such absolving is a setting free, for instance, in practical living: "Der Wille bestimmt sich in sich, auf Freiheit beruht alles Rechtliche und Sittliche; darin hat der Mensch sein absolutes Selbstbewußtsein." ("The will determines itself within itself; everything to do with law and custom is based on freedom; human beings have their absolute self-consciousness therein", VGPIII:365)] This freedom, however, in no way absolves thinking from having to penetrate the object if it is to know it. Absolute knowing means only that the object is no longer given to the subject; its Kantian givenness has been overcome and thinking has penetrated through to the object as it is in itself and is therefore no longer relative to the object. Such absolute knowing is the idea. 

    Die Idee ist die Wahrheit; denn die Wahrheit ist dies, daß die Objektivität dem Begriffe entspricht, nicht daß äußerliche Dinge meinen Vorstellungen entsprechen; dies sind nur richtige Vorstellungen, die Ich Dieser habe. (EnzI §213 Anm.) 

    The idea is the truth, for truth is this, that objectivity corresponds to the concept not that external things correspond to my representations; these are only correct representations which I, this ego, have. (EnzI §213 Anm.) 

    With this quotation we have caught up with Heidegger's assertion that for Hegel truth is "die absolute Gewißheit des sich wissenden absoluten Subjektes" ("the absolute certainty of the absolute subject that knows itself", WM:433). Heidegger also often characterizes subjectivist metaphysics as "vorstellendes Denken", "representational thinking". For Hegel truth is not correctness; it is not the correspondence between "my representations" in consciousness and objects, but between the concept and objectivity. For Hegel truth is also not the certainty that the object corresponds to my representations of it, nor that the object is interrogated to conform with my representations of it. Contra Heidegger, who claims that in Hegelian reason "das denkende Ich versammelt das Vorgestellte" ("the thinking ego gathers what is represented", HW:424), it is precisely Hegel who demands that thought enter "ins Wissen als denkendes, nicht vorstellendes" ("into knowing as a thinking knowing, not as representational knowing", LI:79). The concept itself is ontological; it conceives beings in their being and does not merely represent them in consciousness in a representation, a Vorstellung. Thinking has to give itself over to objectivity in itself, to things in their Ansichsein in order to be able to grasp them in their being. Thinking remains bei sich or with itself in its self-surrender to objectivity and is thus free. 

    The absoluteness of the idea does not reside in the absolute certainty of the subject, but in the merging of subject and object in the idea. This is why Hegel calls the idea "Subjekt-Objekt" ("subject-object", EnzI § 214). The idea, or "reason" ("Vernunft", EnzI § 214) is the "Einheit [...] des Denkens und Seins" ("unity [...] of thinking and being", EnzI § 215 Anm.), but not a unity in which the thinking subject serves as underlying fundamentum absolutum, nor as something static, but rather as a "process" ("Prozeß", EnzI § 215), i.e. as a movement in which the concept moves through objectivity, defining determinate concepts, thus becoming more concrete along the way. All the determinate concepts along speculative thinking's path, from the outset, starting with being, are predicates or definitions of the Absolute.(8)  In particular, that the Absolute is subject is only developed later,(9)  after its determination, for instance, as being-for-itself, as essence, reality and substance, and for Hegel the subject is not primarily that which underlies, sub-jectum, for substance also 'underlies' in this sense but that which has a Zweck, a purpose and is self-reflective, i.e. bent back upon itself. 

    Such a movement of thinking in unity with being is a progressive movement starting from the most abstract, universal and indeterminate. The beginning must be unmediated, and at the same time the unity of thinking and being, and therefore absolute. It is therefore pure being as the pure thought of immediate, indeterminate presence or "abstract, empty being" ("abstrakte[s] leere[s] Sein", EnzI § 86). Hegel explicitly argues against the Cartesian ego in its "certainty of itself" ("Gewißheit seiner selbst", EnzI § 86 Anm.; cf. LI:76ff) being able to form the beginning, precisely because the ego cogito is not immediate, but mediated and insofar already a "having-gone-further" ("Hinausgegangensein", EnzI § 86 Anm.). "Pure immediacy" however is "nothing other than being" (" dieser reinen Unmittelbarkeit nichts anderes als Sein", EnzI § 86 Anm). 

    5. The issues of truth and freedom

    At this point, Heidegger comes back into play, because it is Heidegger who determines the Greek experience of being as "Anwesenheit", i.e. as pure presence. Hegel's starting-point for thinking is therefore the point to which Heidegger tacitly returns in his search for the origin at which Western philosophy and Western history were decisively set in train. Moreover, Hegel's starting-point for thinking as pure immediacy and "pure abstraction" ("reine Abstraktion", EnzI § 87) is "nothingness" ("Nichts", EnzI § 87). Such nothingness is pure absence which is only another way in which presence itself is at play. The play of presence and absence is becoming, the unity of the two (EnzI § 88). Because pure being is indeterminate, it is prior to any determination that would allow a being to come to stand as a being, as something Hegel's determination of Dasein. Hegel's empty being, which is immediately nothingness, starts to assume an uncanny resemblance to Heidegger's a)lh/qeia which, Heidegger claims, "receives its determination from decrypting/disclosing itself, i.e. from the clearing of self-concealment/self-sheltering" (WM:437). [Such a "determination" of a)lh/qeia, at first sight, leads straight away, precisely through this mediation, to a being appearing in the indeterminate, immediate clearing of pure presence. Light and shade fall into the clearing. This is a first negation that inscribes a limit and thus brings a being as such to stand within the limits of its defining contours.] 

    But there is a difference between Hegel and Heidegger. The former's thinking aims at setting out from the beginning, both the abstract historical beginnings of philosophy and the abstract beginning of speculative thinking that thinks the beginning as "pure abstraction"; Hegel's thinking goes forth from the beginning and progresses, setting out on its way to the absolute idea, [which concludes the unfolding of the Logik of the being of beings,] and then on to a more concrete unfolding of the idea in nature and the human world. Heidegger's thinking, by contrast, is on its way back to the beginning, only to tarry there insistently and contemplate this enigmatic pure immediacy in itself in a "step back"[, and not in relation to its forward movement into determinate being as something and on to the further categories of beings as such]. In tarrying, Heidegger sees not determinations that define beings as such, but rather the temporal determinations contained in being itself, thus translating it into pure "presence", "Anwesen". [Heidegger sees also that being, which is to become something, is still nothingness, and not yet something, thus bringing the temporal moment of 'not yet' into play.] The immediate identity of being and nothingness as pure, immediate abstraction is, at the beginning of Hegel's Logik, becoming, again a temporal determination that brings being into unity with time. For Heidegger, not only is time the "preliminary name" ("Vorname", GA54:113(10)) for truth, for a)lh/qeia as the clearing of self-concealment, but also a)lh/qeia as time-space is itself temporal. So here we have Heidegger inserting time into Hegel's abstract beginning for speculative thinking. And Heidegger tarries further in thinking the belonging-together of being and human being as Ereignis, as propriation, and in thinking a)lh/qeia as the clearing of being's self-sheltering and self-concealment. 

    We have already seen, however, that in his account of Hegel, Heidegger neglects to underscore or even mention that Hegel discovers the roots of freedom with the Greeks. Such freedom as a freedom of thinking is of its essence individual, and Hegel specifically links Socrates' questioning to Protagoras, who propounded the individuality of truth. The individuality of truth and the individuality of freedom go hand in hand; they are the same. Protagoras is also no stranger to Heidegger, who discusses Protagoras as the sophists' "führender Denker" ("leading thinker", NII:139f) at some length in his Nietzsche lectures and elsewhere. While Heidegger admits that, in formulating the "Einschränkung der Unverborgenheit des Seienden" ("restriction of the unconcealedness of beings", NII:139) to the individual's individual sphere, Protagoras clearly saw a "variety" ("Abart", NII:140) of the Greek experience of a)lh/qeia, Heidegger's driving motive is merely to show that this individuality of truth is "wesentlich [...] entfernt" ("essentially [...] far removed", NII;140) from the "unbedingter Gewißheit" ("unconditional certainty", NII:140) of the Cartesian ego cogito as the subject who is "der Richter über alles Seiende" ("the judge of all beings", NII:140). Once again, the collocation "unbedingte Gewißheit" is synonymous with "absolute Gewißheit", so there can be no doubt that for Heidegger, despite all differences, Descartes and Hegel share the same modern subjectivistic fundamental position within metaphysics. But, as we have seen, it is precisely Hegel who not only criticizes Descartes' philosophy as mere understanding, but who also launches a trenchant critique of subjectivist metaphysics from Descartes through to Kant and Fichte.(11)

    The issue for Heidegger is obviously not the individuality of truth and how it is identical in essence with the individuality of freedom. In fact, it seems that wherever Heidegger comes across individual freedom, he diagnoses a hopeless case of subjectivist metaphysics. Heidegger situates the individuality of truth as seen by Protagoras merely as a "variety" of the ontologically prior experience of a)lh/qeia [whose priority, according to Heidegger, now calls for explicit thinking in the Other Beginning, thus, to employ Hegel's language, raising the experience of a)lh/qeia out of its Ansichsein or implicitness into the explicitness or Anundfürsichsein of thought-through truth in its concept]. For Heidegger, the issue for thinking that is today at stake is truth, but not truth in its intimate intertwining with freedom.

    In Hegel we still find firm, thought-provoking, questionable traces of the link between truth and freedom, and in particular, of the tie between truth and the individuality of freedom [which for Hegel is also an essential part of the historical Protestant experience of the world which refuses to recognize external authority, but instead insists on the individual's thinking through its being-in-the-world. Is this merely a quirk of the Protestant, Hegel, or] does Hegel's assertion about the Greek sophists hold true that "was der freie Gedanke gewinnen soll, das muß aus ihm selber kommen, muß die eigene Überzeugung sein" ("what the free thought is to attain must come from out of itself; it must be one's own conviction", VGPI:410), whilst simultaneously distancing this individuality of truth from "der schlechte Idealismus der modernen Zeit" in which the "Ich das Setzende ist" ("the bad idealism of the modern age [in which the] ego is the positing instance", VGPI:405)? 

    When Hegel characterizes the period of the sophists and Socrates as the "Zeitalter der subjektiven Reflexion [...], Setzen des Absoluten des Subjekts" ("age of subjective reflection [...], positing of the subject's absoluteness", VGPI:404), this not only is at variance with Heidegger's assessment of human being in the first Greek beginning, but also is far removed from a casting of the fundamentum absolutum of a self-certain subject.(12) For Hegel, the subject can only be absolute by striving "sich einen wesentlichen absoluten Inhalt zu gewinnen" ("to gain an essential, absolute content", VGPI:405), and not through asserting itself as the fundamentum absolutum for a world that is merely represented in the subject's consciousness.(13) 

    Hegel's claim is that speculative thinking is able, through its dialectical movement, to raise up the splintering of individualized truth to the unified plane of absolute, speculative knowing that ultimately has insight into [the full, progressive unfolding of the abstract beginning of pure immediacy into] the concrete worldliness of a world that accords with freedom. No matter how controversial and problematic Hegel's dialectical development of concrete freedom in a unity of concept and reality may be in particular transitions, it is more than worthy to call for thinking today, that is, if freedom is still of the human essence. This is not an issue for post-1930 Heidegger, for he persists in tarrying at the beginning in an effort to slip in even before the beginning, both historically and in thinking, to think the as yet unthought clearing of a)lh/qeia, leaving the issue of individual freedom to its own fate and insinuating that it is an issue only for liberalism which, for Heidegger, degenerates into a synonym for subjectivist metaphysics. 

    If, however, as Hegel clearly sees, the individualization of truth is intimately intertwined with the individuality of freedom, then the sharing of truth as We becomes an [extraordinarily difficult] issue for thinking. [But this question exceeds the restricted brief of the present paper, which has been to defend Hegel against mischaracterization by Heidegger, not only with regard to Hegel's alleged view of the Greeks, but also in relation to the purported status of Hegel's philosophy as subjectivist metaphysics. A critical reconsideration of Hegel's dialectical system, which has a rich ontological, and inevitably contradictory, concept of freedom at its core, could throw light on the question of human freedom, as even Heidegger himself posed it in 1928: "It is a problem how Dasein as essentially free can exist in the freedom of factically bound being-together-with-one-another" ("es ist ein Problem, wie das Dasein als wesenhaft freies in der Freiheit des faktisch gebundenen Miteinanderseins existieren kann"(14))] 

      1. Paper presented to the 25th North Texas Heidegger Symposium Heidegger and the Greeks at Collin College, Frisco, Texas 27-29 April 2007 convened by Rod Coltman and Charles Bambach. Passages enclosed in square brackets [] were omitted for presentation in Frisco.  Back to 1 

      3. M. Heidegger 'Hegel und die Griechen' in Wegmarken Klostermann, Ffm. 1st ed. 1967 S. 255-272, 2nd printing. 1978 S. 421-438. All English translations of Heidegger and Hegel quotations are my own. Back to 2 

      5. M. Heidegger 'Hegels Begriff der Erfahrung (1942/43)' in Holzwege Klostermann, Ffm. 1st ed. 1950 HW:105-192, 6th printing 1980 HW:111-204. Back to 3

      7. OED 'stake': "1592 Greene Conny Catch. 7 So they vie and reuie til some ten shillings be on the stake. " Back to 4 

      9. G.W.F. Hegel Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie I Werke Band 18, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M. 1971 VGPI:14. Back to 5

      11. Heidegger is citing Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie ed. Hoffmeister 1940 Bd. I S. 113. The Suhrkamp edition of the Werke does not contain such a passage. Back to 6 

      13. "So sehen wir [...] die Freiheit der Individualität in ihrer Größe auftreten. Das Prinzip der subjektiven Freiheit erscheint zunächst noch verbunden, in Einigkeit mit der allgemeinen Grundlage der griechischen Sittlichkeit, des Gesetzlichen, selbst mit der Mythologie; [...] Die Grundlage von diesem Prinzip der Subjektivität, aber die noch ganz allgemeine Grundlage, sehen wir im Anaxagoras." ("Thus we see [...] the freedom of individuality come on in its greatness. The principle of subjective freedom appears at first still bound, in unity with the general/universal foundation of Greek ethical life, the law, and even with mythology. [...] The foundation of this principle of subjectivity, but the still quite general/universal foundation, we see in Anaxagoras", VGPI:374). Back to 7 

      15. "Das Sein selbst sowie die folgenden Bestimmungen nicht nur des Seins, sondern die logischen Bestimmungen überhaupt können als Definitionen des Absoluten, als die metaphysischen Definitionen Gottes angesehen werden; [...] Wird Sein als Prädikat des Absoluten ausgesagt, so gibt dies die erste Definition desselben: Das Absolute ist das Sein. Es ist dies die (im Gedanken) schlechthin anfängliche, abstrakteste und dürftigste.". ("Being itself as well as the following determinations not only of being, but the logical determinations in general can be regarded as definitions of the Absolute, as the metaphysical definitions of God; [...] If being is pronounced as a predicate of the Absolute, this provides the first definition of it. The Absolute is being. This is (in thought) simply the incipient, most abstract and most meagre definition.", EnzI §85, §86 Anm.) By the same token, the very next determination in Hegel's Logik namely, Nichts, nothingness is also a predicate of the Absolute. "Es folgte hieraus die zweite Definition des Absoluten, daß es das Nichts ist; [...] das Nichts, das die Buddhisten zum Prinzip von allem wie zum letzten Endzweck und Ziel von allem machen, ist dieselbe Abstraktion." ("It followed from this the second definition of the Absolute, that it is nothingness; [...] nothingness which the Buddhists make into the principle of everything as well as the final purpose and aim of everything is the same abstraction.", EnzI §87 Anm.) Nothingness is next to godliness. This must be considered when reflecting on Western nihilism and its supposed overcoming through the coming of a "last God" (Heidegger). Back to 8

      17. Cf. e.g. "Das Bedürfnis, das Absolute als Subjekt vorzustellen, bediente sich der Sätze: Gott ist das Ewige, oder die moralische Weltordnung, oder die Liebe usf. [...] Jene Antizipation, daß das Absolute Subjekt ist, ist daher nicht nur nicht die Wirklichkeit dieses Begriffs, sondern macht sie sogar unmöglich; denn jene setzt ihn als ruhenden Punkt, diese aber ist die Selbstbewegung. ("The need to represent/imagine the Absolute as subject employed the statements: God is the eternal, or the moral world order, or love, etc. [...] .This anticipation that the Absolute is subject is therefore not only not the actuality of this concept, but even makes actuality impossible, because the former [the anticipation] posits it [the concept of subject] as resting point, but the latter [its actuality] is self-movement.", PhdG:26, 27) Back to 9

      19. "Der Name 'Zeit' ist in dem gemeinten Titel [Sein und Zeit] gemäß der klar ausgesprochenen Zugehörigkeit zum Sein der Vorname für das ursprünglichere Wesen der a)lh/qeia und nennt den Wesensgrund für die Ratio und alles Denken und Sagen." ("The name 'time' in the intended title [Sein und Zeit], according to the clearly expressed belonging to being, is the preliminary name for the more originary essence of a)lh/qeia and names the essential ground for ratio and all thinking and saying", M. Heidegger Parmenides Gesamtausgabe Bd. 54 WS 1942/43, edited by Manfred S. Frings, 1982 S. 113) Throughout, references to the Heidegger Gesamtausgabe are in the form  GA54:113.. Back to 10

      21. Cf. e.g. on Fichte, "Zweitens kommt Fichte nicht zur Idee der Vernunft, als der vollendeten, realen Einheit des Subjekts und Objekts, oder des Ich und Nicht-Ich; sie ist ein Sollen, wie bei Kant ein Ziel, ein Glauben, daß beides an sich eins sei, aber ein Ziel, dessen Erreichung derselbe Widerspruch wie bei Kant ist, nicht die gegenwärtige Wirklichkeit an ihm hat. Fichte bleibt beim Sollen stehen; [...] Ich ist Denken, an sich bestimmend das Objekt; diese Fortbildung ist Denken. Ich, als Subjekt des Bewußtseins, ist Denken; die logische Fortbestimmung des Objekts ist das in Subjekt und Objekt Identische, der wesentliche Zusammenhang dasjenige, nach welchem das Objektive das Seinige des Ich ist. Aber die Fichtesche Wissenschaftslehre faßt den Kampf des Ich mit Objekten als den des Fortbestimmtwerdens der Objekte durch Ich, aber keine Identität des ruhig sich entwickelnden Begriffs." ("Secondly, Fichte does not come to the idea of reason as the completed, real unity of subject and object, or of ego and non-ego; it is an Ought, as with Kant an aim, a belief that both in themselves are one, but an aim whose attainment is the same contradiction as with Kant and does not have present actuality in it. Fichte is left standing at the Ought. [...] The ego is thinking, determining the object in itself; this further forming is thinking. The ego, as subject of consciousness, is thinking; the further logical determination of the object is what is identical in subject and object; the essential connection is that according to which what is objective is the ego's. But the Fichtean doctrine of science [i.e. his metaphysics, ME] grasps the ego's struggle with objects as a struggle of the further determining of the objects by the ego, and not as an identity of the concept calmly unfolding", VGPIII.408, 410). Back to 11

      23. In his 2002 dissertation in philosophy Metaphysics of Modernity: The Problem of Identity and Difference in Hegel and Heidegger submitted to the University of Sydney (available at accessed January 2010), Robert Sinnerbrink rightly takes Heidegger's "Cartesian-egological" (Chap. 0 p. 2) reading of Hegel to task. Sinnerbrink notes that, "[t]he 'absolute negativity' of the Concept, for Heidegger, gives 'a logically formalised interpretation of Descartes' cogito me cogitare rem' (SZ 433/395)" (Chap. 5 p. 189) and "Hegelian speculative thought is grasped [by Heidegger ME] as the culmination of the Cartesian 'egological' interpretation of Being as self-certain subjectivity" (Chap. 7 p. 259). Further, in his conclusion Sinnerbrink recapitulates: 
        1.  "As we have seen, Heidegger interprets Spirit according to a Cartesian-Fichtean 'egological' model of self-consciousness that Hegel is at pains to supersede; while this facilitates the 'deconstruction' of Hegel as a crypto-Cartesian subjectivist, it nonetheless fails to do justice to Hegel's complex struggle with Kantian idealism. The main difficulty lies in Heidegger's failure to grasp the intersubjective constitution of self-consciousness that provides the basis for Hegel's dialectical interpretation of reason and Spirit. For Hegel's contribution to the theory of subjectivity lies precisely in his move from the abstract selfidentity of self-consciousness (the Kantian and Fichtean 'I = I') towards the socially and historically constructed identity of the self through participation in a system of intersubjective relations of recognition within a concrete, historically specific community. This intersubjective dimension of Hegel's phenomenology remains absent from Heidegger's interpretation." (Chap. 7 p. 259, emphasis in the original) 
         This finding of Sinnerbrink's which he presents also in a shorter paper in 2007 'Sein und Geist: Heidegger's Confrontation with Hegel's Phenomenology' (Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy Vol. 3, Nos. 2-3) is highly perceptive and valuable, as far as it goes, and his call to bring Hegel back into play in a confrontation with Heidegger is to be welcomed. In the present paper I, too, have endeavoured to show up the shortcomings of Heidegger's interpretation of Hegel as the thinker of "absolute subjectivity", which is Sinnerbrink's first point in the above-cited passage. The critique of Heidegger's neglect of Hegel's dialectic of recognition goes beyond the present paper, but dovetails with my publications on a phenomenology of whoness, starting in 1989 (Der Mann: Geschlechterontologischer Auslegungsversuch der phallologischen Ständigkeit) through 1999 (Phänomenologie der Männlichkeit) and up to my Social Ontology: Recasting Political Philosophy Through a Phenomenology of Whoness of 2008. Sinnerbrink does not go far enough, for he remains at the standpoint of "the intersubjective constitution of self-consciousness". Human being thus remains thought as intersubjectivity, which is still intersubjectivity, and thus falls foul of Heidegger's critique of subjectivity per se and his recasting of human being as Dasein. Sinnerbrook does not notice that Heidegger even explicitly poses the problem of thinking through the whoness (Werheit) of Dasein (e.g. in Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie GA24:169; cf. also GA26 and GA27). Dasein as Self, for Heidegger however, ultimately absorbs the problematic of you-and-me with which he engaged in the 1920s in the heyday of dialogical philosophy that was present for Heidegger in the persons of his student Karl Löwith, his colleague Max Scheler, and Martin Buber, inter alia. There is therefore a lot missing from Sinnerbrink's account. 

         Firstly, he makes no mention of the dialogical tradition in German philosophy that started with the left-Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach through to Löwith and beyond. This represents a major challenge for Heidegger, whose thinking later retreats to the famous "step back", thus missing the opportunity for a 'side-step' to a 'horizontal' problematic of you-and-me among world-sharing 'whos', who are no longer subjects, and no longer Hegelian self-consciousnesses, but have to be thought in their own right as a modification of Heidegger's casting of human being as Dasein, namely as the interplay among human beings striving to gain standing presence as somewho in a mirror-play of recognition and identity-formation. Heidegger himself gets only so far with the problematic of how Dasein shares its world with Mitdasein (cf. esp. Einleitung in die Philosophie GA27 e.g. §14 'Wir teilen uns in die Unverborgenheit des Seienden', §18 'Dasein und Mit-sein', §20 'Gemeinschaft auf dem Grunde des Miteinander') and of how a 'we' is constituted (cf. Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache GA38 §10 'Das rechte Ansetzen der Vorfrage. Was- und Werfrage', §11 'Der Mensch als ein Selbst', §13 '>'Wir' sind das Volk< kraft der Entscheidung'), but nevertheless his phenomenology of we-formation differs entirely from Hegel's constitution of 'we' as the outcome of the dialectic of recognition in the Phänomenologie des Geists (cf. Chap. 11 iii) of my Social Ontology). The mirror-play of identity-formation as identity of identiy and difference also has to be thought within the dimension of whoness (cf. my 'Dialectic of Self and Other' esp. Section 4 'Heideggerian selfhood as a "shining-back" from being-in-the-world'). 

         Secondly, Sinnerbrink makes no mention of that other left-Hegelian, Karl Marx, whose value-form analysis in the first chapter of his opus magnum, Das Kapital, is a further development of Hegel's thinking on value in the Rechtsphilosophie in conjunction with Marx's dialectical critique of Political Economy. Value, too, can only be thought through as an interplay among commodities in which they mirror each other's value, i.e. their power as exchange-value. 

         Thirdly, Sinnerbrink does not trace Hegel's and Marx's sources back to Aristotle, who is a crucial thinker for both (as well as for Heidegger, of course). In particular, Aristotle's treatment of timh/ in the fifth book on Justice in the Nicomachean Ethics is the door-opening prototype i) for Marx's value-form analysis of commodity exchange, ii) for Hegel's dialectic of recognition and, crucially, iii) for thinking the ontology of social power as distinct from the traditional ontology of productive power. Significantly, 'value' is one meaning of Greek timh/, and timh/ conceived as value, honour, esteem and power is constituted in a mirroring interplay among human beings (whos), whether they be commodity-owners or simply members of civil society. What is for Hegel a power struggle of life and death between self-consciousnesses in the dialectic of recognition thus becomes, on further thought, the power interplay between and among whos at the core of the sociation of society. For more on this, see e.g. my 'Anglophone Justice Theory, the Gainful Game and the Political Power Play'. Back to 12

      24. Other authors who refuse Heidegger's positioning of Hegel within a metaphysics of subjectivity include A.J. van der Meulen Heidegger und Hegel oder Widerstreit und Widerspruch Dissertation University of Gröningen 1953 and David Kolb The Critique of Pure Modernity: Hegel, Heidegger, and After Chicago U.P. 1986. Van der Meulen writes, for instance, that in contrast to Nietzsche's thinking, "werden wesentliche Dimensionen des Hegelschen Denkens von ihm [Heideggers Begriff der Metaphysik ME] nicht berührt" (Einleitung p. 4), and Kolb states, "I disagree with his [Heidegger's ME] charge that Hegel remains within the bounds of the metaphysics of subjectivity. [...] Heidegger's method of reading does not work well with a thinker such as Hegel, and Heidegger's own presuppositions get in the way of understanding what Hegel is about at crucial points" (pp. xiv et seq.). Back to 13

      26. M. Heidegger Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Logik im Ausgang von Leibniz Summer Semester 1928 edited by Klaus Held GA26:175. Back to 14

      28. Back to 15


      Copyright (c) 2007-2010 by Michael Eldred, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. and international copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.

      Back to artefact homepage