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Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the "Phenomenology of Spirit" (Agora Editions) [Paperback]

Alexandre Kojeve , Raymond Queneau , Allan David Bloom , H.J. Nichols , James Hastings Nichols
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; Reprint edition (31 Oct 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801492033
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801492037
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.7 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding seminal text on Hegel 12 Mar 2008
By Mr. Nadim Bakhshov VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This text links Raymond Queneau (Exercises in Style, Oulipo), Allan Bloom (Closing of the American Mind), Lacan, Sartre...

You name it. Those present at these lectures were some of the most important thinkers and writers of the last 50 years. Hugely influential. Like Klossowski in that regard. Seminal.

It is an exciting document. Kojeve beautifully articulates the link between desre and the 'I' - which runs through Lacan and Zizek and shows how important a thinker Hegel is. He is not the thinker rejected and superseded by Marx - a cruel and distorted reading of history if ever there was one. He is the key figure, next to Nietzsche of the last century.

Thoroughly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Russo-Parisian reading of Hegel 22 July 2011
This was edited by Raymond Queneau for Alexandre Kojève based on Kojève's lectures on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit in Paris in the 1930s. The lectures were very influential in introducing the generation of Jean-Paul Sartre to Hegelian ideas. The book takes the standpoint of the French Revolution as a determining event for Hegel's thought and offers a detailed commentary of the Phenomenology (1806), starting with the story of Hegel seeing Napoleon when he passed through Jena.

Kojève's reading makes the dialectic of master and slave a key to the book, which becomes a narrative of social freedom more than of religious insight. Despite his own Russian orthodox background, Kojève gives an unambiguously atheistic reading of the Phenomenology that is now widely contested, though it still has its supporters. Kojève's French and Italian biographers Auffret and Filoni see him as a genteel Marxist who nonetheless took care to flee Stalinist Russia, later becoming an influential Eurocrat.

The book can still be used as a commentary and fills in many, but not all, gaps in understanding the text. There are many other commentaries, as the Phenomenology is a challenge to everyone, but this is one that has stood the test of time. The French edition is still in print.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly lucid, if not 'purist', guide to Hegel 4 Feb 2003
By Thomas McDonald - Published on Amazon.com
2010 amendments added to original 2003 review --

As noted by other reviewers, this reading of Hegel is a post-Nietzsche, post-Marx, post-Heidegger reading. By this I mean that Kojeve recognizes the importance of these post-Hegel threads of thought, and attempts to incorporate their best points, just as Hegel would have. It is therefore scorned by some Hegel 'purists' like Mr. Trejo below.

Having read quite a few commentaries on, and interpretations of, the Phenomenology, I would say that this one is the most well-written, in the sense that it illuminates some very difficult Hegelian concepts (like "Spirit" itself) in a searingly direct manner. When one reads Kojeve, there is no doubt that difficult or ambiguous passages are not products of gratuitous showing off or self-indulgent excursions (as one encounters in writers like Derrida and his children) but rather reflect the genuine difficulty of the subject matter the author is trying to articulate. Also, I have read no other writer so convincing in their argument as to Hegel's basic rightness in his grasp and description of "the concept " (the concept of concepts) which brings closure to the riddle of Western metaphysical thought.

I would agree with the 'purists' in not taking this book as the 'definitive' interpretation of Hegel -- it can't excuse not reading Hegel in the original, or other commentaries -- but I would call it essential within the spectrum of Hegelian thought.

This book shows Hegel, though famously critical of Kant, to be essentially the extender of the Kantian philosophy to it's own logical conclusion: the completion of the concept of experience, identified as time itself (zeitgeist). That is, human time, identified as departing from nature at the emergence of specifically human desires, i.e. desire for recognition, desire for the symbolic. This 'absolute subject' of human existence, in transcendental terms, constructs itself rationally by self-reflection on its own object-negating, nature-negating, given-negating activity or creativity. Humanity invents the system of clock time after reflecting on our own ability to temporally transform the given, and so to measure a 'progress': to count state B, following some transformative labor, as a better state of being than state A which preceded that effort. This immanently made conception of time is categorically different than the classical notion of a rational time that would exist somehow outside or independently of thought -- for Hegel the latter idea is the illusion of a confused thinker.

Kojeve's reading however, though convincing in it's demonstration of an anthropologically necessary historical development toward Hegelian 'harmony' between (acting) subject and (being) object, leaves out Hegel's attempt at the 'absolute identity' of the object. This can be read in two ways that Kojeve touches on. First, in the rationalistic, idealistic sense that the object is necessarily different from the subject to ensure the ability of a subject to realize itself as a self, as a free subject of object-negating, creative, activity. Another way to read this is as simply Kojeve's dismissal of Hegel's 'merely aesthetic' Philosophy of Nature and it's more cosmic attempt at spiritualizing the notion of matter.

Commentators such as Stephen Houlgate seem to represent the idealistic view that in absolute knowing nature comes to be fully intelligible to and 'within' spirit. But other recent commentators, such as Joseph Flay and Ardis Collins, are in my view more sober, more realistic, and more likely to persuade mainstream thought in the Anglo-American world to recognize Hegel's vital insights. In their view, nature retains an independence and even resistance to the rationality of the concept, even for what Hegel calls absolute knowing. The perennial problem of induction (sometimes called Hume's problem) in the philosophy of (natural) science testifies to this seemingly intrinsic resistance of nature to the kind of rationality we 'in spirit' are capable of conceiving.

Kojeve's dismissal of 'absolute idealism' (did Hegel even use this term?) can also be understood as the Heidegger-influenced side of his reading. Most contemporary Continental thought is in agreement here that the absolute idealist reading of Hegel does not metaphysically supersede Kant's conclusion in his 3rd Critique that philosophy consists in an irreducibly Aesthetic relation between the concept and the singularity of that-which-resists total rationalization (i.e. nature).

Yet this should not be understood to imply failure by Hegel, rather, it should point us to Hegel's true accomplishments: (1) delivering tremendously relevant insights regarding the concrete, material history of mankind and human experience, by wrestling formidably with Kant's brilliant but very bare, formalistic framework, the critical philosophy of reason itself; (2) rendering the whole historical evolution of Western thought more intelligible than it had ever been prior, and thereby giving us enough intellectual satisfaction to finally drop many inherited but fruitless metaphysical problems.

My own tentative conclusion is that Hegel, along with the existentialist and phenomenological thinkers following him (including Kojeve), can be understood as essentially philosophers of the subject in the Western tradition. While greatly illuminating the conditions, formation, and character of human self-hood, they also force us to feel the limits of self-reflection. Thus they arouse in us who are philosophical, introverted types, the sense that we must also take partisan, decisive actions in the world beyond contemplation.


2011 update: Contra Kojeve: a revised view of Hegel's Philosophy of Nature and contention that "the Real is Rational"

Instead of revising what I've already written above and thus what others have actually rated, I'm adding this revision separately. My view on Hegel's philosophy of nature has changed, and I do now believe that his contention that "the real is rational, and the rational is real" can be reasonably defended. Let me explain how as simply as I can:

Does Hegel ever claim that nature is completely rational? No. Does Hegel recognize that the natural scientist is never going to find that his inductions from observation of nature conform to precise deductive logic? Yes. In a way, the fact that natural science cannot be deductive is actually supportive of Hegel's central insight about nature: nature is only rationality in germ, not developed or become self-reflective as in human discourse. What does it mean to say that nature is only rationality in germ? If the essence of reason is the relation of identity-in-difference, and if nature shows itself most basically in the temporal movement of patterns, repetitions, reproductions, and resemblances -- i.e. not in any simply eternal or 'present' stuff, but in temporal patterns, repetitions, reproductions -- then we can affirm that such patterns are only the habitual or natural form of what has the potential to become self-realized in cognition: reason. Reason in this sense also becomes the self-grasping ability To Differ from the merely given patterns of nature. And this ability-to-Differ or Difference-in-itself is another way of naming the cognitive achievement of absolute spirit.

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the one and only introduction to hegel 20 Jan 2001
By Michel Aaij - Published on Amazon.com
Well--the one and only, for my purposes anyway. However Kojeve's reading of Hegel is "refracted," as one reviewer put it, his lectures were the means through which Hegel entered 20th century French thinking, and this book is important if only to understand where people like Sartre, Queneau, Camus, Bataille, Lacan, etc. come from--and if we add Girard and Derrida, we can also add De Man and American deconstruction. This is an impressive list. The title is very apt: it is an introduction to Hegel, no more perhaps but certainly no less.
And it is a very good introduction. To summarize what is already a summary is a discredit to Kojeve, and I won't go there. Suffice it to say that I have not seen a clearer reading of how Hegel arrives at the master-slave dialectic, nor have I seen a better and more concise explanation of human desire.
Students of philosophy should treat this book the way Kojeve clearly intended it: as a guide to a further study and a more independent reading of Hegel. For students of literature, such as myself, this may well be all the Hegel you'll ever need, and I still find it remarkable how the lectures of one semi-reclusive scholar (Kojeve didn't publish these lectures himself) influenced a whole generation of writers, who in turn ended up defining post-WW2 European thought.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Introduction to the Reading of Kojeve 20 Nov 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Many people criticize Kojeve for misinterpreting Hegel. This misses the point. Kojeve's reading of Hegel is anthropocentric which, as Kojeve well knows, was not Hegel's intent. This book shouldn't be read as a commentary on Hegel (for that look to Hypolite) but rather as an original work of philosophy in it's own right. It should be read as a work of philosophy and attributed all the respect that great works of philosophy deserve. But then if you're reading this you probably already know this.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abridged! 12 Dec 2000
By eric zazie - Published on Amazon.com
First of all, the editors left out the most important essay, the essay on work--and by the way, the most clearly "Marxist" of Kojeve's essays. Hmmmm. Kojeve started teaching this course after losing most of his money after investing in a cheese company called "le vache qui rit," and taking the class over from his distant relative Koyre, who is praised in a uncited aside for providing all the ideas contained in the work (there is a remarkable biography of Kojeve by Auffret). The book is nothing if not crystalline clear, the author a remarkable expositor of an impossible author. The most interesting thing that he does is provide a table in which he fits Plato, Spinoza, etc., as if each chose one of a few alternatives of thought, and in which, it is important to note, there is no going beyond (hence Kojeve is a commentator). All that he asks is that you grant his not unreasonable premises: from there all the rest follows.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Text is Abridged from the French 17 July 2008
By David Scott Goen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
And, of course, the parts that I specifically wanted to read are not even present in this translation.

In particular, if you were interested in the references to this text from the footnotes referenced in Antigones: How the Antigone Legend Has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought by George Steiner, none of those parts are included in this abridgment of Introduction to the Reading of Hegel.
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