on 20 January 2013
The 'very short introduction' series is an authoritative and lively series, introducing readers to important concepts. This is exemplified in Singer's very short introduction, which captures everything that the introduction ought to be.
The philosophy of G W F Hegel is notoriously tricky and any introduction to it is naturally going to face many problems; yet to read Singer's introduction you would not think so. There is a great deal of clarity in this introduction, more so than in the works it addresses, and it is invaluable to those who have neither the attention span or motivation to read Hegel's own dense works. The sections are well organised, summarising Hegel's points effectively and laying out a complete plan of his work. Furthermore, the less-than-formal presentation is refreshing and provides an entertaining read.
Some have criticised Singer's failure to include important aspects of Hegelian philosophy, including his Encyclopedia of logic, as well as his aesthetics. However, this is to miss the point of the very short introduction; this would hinder the readability of this wonderful 200-page introduction, not benefit it.
Overall, I would recommend this work to those who wish to gain an insight into Hegel as either a starting point for his philosophy or for those who wish for only a more basic knowledge.
on 7 September 2013
As a first-year philosophy student, and basically a complete newbie with regards to Hegel, I was looking for an introductory book to get a brief overview of his work. Of course, as a beginner to Hegel I cannot comment on whether Singer well represents or misrepresents Hegel's philosophy, but given the notoriously impenetrable reputation of his work, I found this introduction to be super easy to read, without sacrificing a total lack of depth.
Singer accepts at the outset that he cannot do justice to Hegel's complete oeuvre and guides the reader through what he believes are Hegel's most important texts, in terms of historical significance and contemporary relevance. These include the Philosophy of History and the Phenomenology of Spirit/Mind, and the notion of history as the progress of freedom, and freedom as rational self-consciousness are explored. Also explored is Hegel's relationship to Kant and other German idealists, as well as a bit of background information about Hegel's life and times.
I would fully recommend this as the first introductory book to get to grips with a general idea of Hegel's philosophy, but you will need a longer and more detailed introductory book if you want anymore than this.
on 15 January 2012
Singer's contribution to this series is a deft piece of exposition, especially given the complexity of the subject matter. Hegel is often said to be the most obscure philosopher in the Western canon, but this guide elucidates his main ideas and is not even too difficult for the philosophical tyro, and as such is an exceptionally accessible read. Some of the other guides in this series take less complex subjects but do not give a clear outline of the main points - the VSI to Existentialism being the one that springs to mind. Here we have a logical presentation of Hegel's oeuvre, starting with a bit of background history, with biographical details and relationship to other philosophers, notably the reaction of Hegel and Schiller to Kant. Then we are introduced to the conception of history as the narrative towards human freedom, in the Philosophy of History, before moving to the more complex domain of the Phenomenology of Spirit, the concept of Geist and finally a brief outline of the Science of Logic, which is as fine a summation of the dialectical process as I have read. The Logic is not featured in great detail because it is, to Singer, too complex a work to be appreciated in a short volume, and the author recommends familiarising oneself with the earlier Hegel before anything as abstract as the Logic can be understood.
I would recommend this as essential to students of the humanities in general - let alone philosophy - given Hegel's influence on Marx, and those interested in the western philosophical tradition. Hegel is up there with Kant and Descartes in his influence, and should be regarded as an indispensable contributor to European thought.
on 26 October 2007
Singers book approaches Hegel slightly differently than other guides, in that he tries to explain Hegels political and historical ideas ("History with a purpose" and "Freedom and community") separately from his main metaphysical concept of Geist ("The odyssey of mind") to make them easier for the reader to understand.
While this is largely successful, it then becomes increasingly difficult to understand why his political ideas must follow on from his Idealist philosophy. For this reason, I would recommend using Singers book in conjunction with another book (I am studying the Philosophy of Right therefore am also using the Routledge guidebook written by Dudley Knowles)
on 4 February 2008
This most difficult of Philosphers is here made readable by Singer, probably one of the best interpreters of Hegel's work alive today. The complex language and even more complex philosophical substance of Hegel's work is accessible in this short introduction. Nevertheless, the language and ideas within still remain very complex and their meanings illusive even within this simplified book. I first came across this book whilst studying at University and was amazed just how much Hegel's philosophy influenced Marx and at least for that reason alone Hegel remains important today.
Perhaps less well known than some of the other major philosophers in history, Hegel's work "the Philosophy of History" and "Elements of the Philosophy of Right" remain influential works and are well abbreviated in this book.
It is difficult to foresee how the mammoth and complex language of Hegel could ever be made more accessible than it is by Singer in this book whilst retaining academic relevance.
on 6 December 2015
In a few of the books I’ve read recently the figure of Hegel has loomed large. Yet almost any discussion on him always comes across as esoteric and rather impenetrable for this reader, untrained in philosophy. Without diving straight into his works, it seemed more appropriate to read *about* him, with a book designed for a beginner. So what could be more appropriate than a Very Short Introduction?
We begin with a look at Hegel’s life. One instantly gets confirmation of a likely suspicion: Hegel’s work is heavily shaped by (both in agreement with and as a reaction to) Kant’s philosophy. Having not read Kant or much about his thought, this would seem to be an instant hamstring. Perhaps I should come back to Kant later. The other figure that Singer wishes to highlight is Friedrich Schiller, whose own critiques of Kant may be thought of as mirroring Hegel’s, but that the history of philosophy has looked on Schiller unfavourably, with Hegel emerging as the more memorable of the two.
Singer’s look at Hegel’s own thought begins with The Philosophy of History. The key point I picked up from it was that Hegel viewed history as a progression towards a state of liberty. It is hinted at, though not stated explicitly, that Hegel viewed his own contemporary German state as the culmination of that progress. Singer looks at a few civilisations through Hegel’s eyes, to show us how he reached this view.
The question then arises as to what is meant by liberty. To do this, we get a précis of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Singer is quick to point out that this is not a matter of right as in ‘right and wrong’; i.e. a study of ethics. But rather it concerns rights, a matter of political philosophy. Hegel reacted against the idea of liberty as the ability to do what one pleases, viewing this not as the greatest height of humanity, but as an immature dream. I couldn’t help but think that maybe Friedrich Hayek would have been wise to heed these words. Indeed, the discussion quickly moves to one of economics, where one cannot but think of Karl Marx, whose own thought was heavily influenced by Hegel.
Moving onto the motion of community, Singer takes us on a tour of Hegel’s view of planned and unplanned ways of living. At this point, I admit I got a bit lost in Singer’s explanation, so goodness knows how hopeless I’d be at trying to get a grasp on the source material of Hegel’s writings on the subject!
Halfway through the book, Singer unleashes on us the following: “It is time to confess: I have been cheating. My account of Hegel’s philosophy so far has carefully omitted of mention of something that Hegel himself refers to repeatedly and regards as crucial: the idea of Geist.” Thus we see that what has been spoken of so far has only partially dealt with the works those chapters purport to. So it is that we then have to look at Hegel’s Phenomenology, starting with whether Geist is better translated as ‘spirit’ or ‘mind’. Singer takes the view that ‘spirit’ sounds too religious and, notwithstanding Hegel’s Lutheran tendencies, is too misleading, preferring ‘mind’ instead.
Without having studied Hegel, I think Singer did a pretty good job here. It hasn’t made me an expert, but I think I got the gist of it (pun intended).
Finally, and almost reluctantly, we get onto Logic and Hegel’s work on dialectics (not to be mistaken for dianetics!). For it is here that I first got a bit lost at the start of Das Kapital. Beginning from a classical view of dialectics as going to and fro with ideas, Singer tells us that Hegel’s view is much more systematised, starting with a thesis, countered with an antithesis before finally the two come together in the form a synthesis, which then in turn becomes the next starting point. i.e. the next thesis.
Throughout the second half of the book, with particular reference to the notions of Geist and dialectics, Singer refers us back to the first part, showing the reader more explicitly what was hinted at before, or showing us that a particular example (e.g. the mind recognising another mind that is not itself, as a means of recognising that it is a mind) fits the models that are explored in the latter part.
The afterword of the book gives the reader a taste of where to go next, by looking at Hegel’s legacy. Singer’s view is that the more conservative take on Hegel’s work (which emphasises his later writings) died a death in a cul-de-sac, while the more radical take (exemplified by Feuerbach and Marx) flourished, understanding Hegel’s later work as a failure to follow through with his earlier ideas, seeking to rework them.
Overall, I think Singer met the brief very well. It may be some time before I come to read any of Hegel’s own works, but I think if he comes up again in my other reading, I have here something of a handle to hold onto to help me understand what more modern thinkers are saying about him and his work. So if you have started in the same position as me (see first paragraph) then I would definitely recommend this little book to you as a useful overview.
on 5 October 2006
Nice little introduction. I guess everybody knows what to expect from these Very Short Introductions: short, to the point, not very elaborate but truthful anyway. I especially liked the attention that was paid to Hegel's epistemology and ethics - most brief accounts seem to be swamped by dull treatments of his dialectic logic.
My purpose in reading this book was to get to know why such an obscure writer could have such an influence as he had. Not only on his direct followers but, for example, on someone like Dewey as well (something that isn't treated, though). And now I do understand.