‘Hegel’s Development: Night Thoughts (Jena 1801–1806)’ by H. S. Harris

Published by Oxford University Press in 1984.
Download link updated on 29. June 2021.


This study is the first comprehensive survey of the development of Hegel’s mature system fills a major gap in English scholarship and takes into account everything that survives from the manuscripts Hegel produced during his first academic career at the University of Jena.

This work concludes Harris’s two-volume study of Hegel’s philosophical development in his seminal writings just prior to the publication of Phenomenology of Spirit, carefully reconstructing the growth of Hegel’s philosophy during his stay in Jena (1801-6). During this critical period Hegel published his first essays and elaborated the basic elements of his mature system. Largely concerned with the philosophical developments that led to Hegel’s conception and execution of the Phenomenology (1807), it does not attempt to add much to the voluminous philosophical literature that analyzes the argument of the Phenomenology itself, assuming rather that the reader is familiar with the work and shares his acceptance of its historical and philosophical importance. In contrast to many students of the early Hegel, however, Harris clearly grasps the Phenomenology in the context of Hegel’s grappling with a comprehensive expression of a system of philosophy.

It largely concentrates on reconstructing the stages of the evolution of Hegel’s conception of the system, following in detail the surviving manuscripts for the Philosophy of Nature (1803-4), Philosophy of Spirit (1804), Logic and Metaphysics (1804- 5), Philosophy of Nature (1805-6), and Philosophy of Spirit (1805-6). The focus is on the systematic context of Hegel’s conception of philosophy leads him to give less exhaustive treatment to his earlier critical publications, products of his collaboration with Schelling.

Not ignoring the important external influence of Schelling and others, the book is generally uninterested in the controversies over Hegel’s relation to individual thinkers that have characterized so much Hegel scholarship. The issue of the extent to which the Phenomenology was a disguised polemic against Schelling is only passingly discussed, concluding that it was probably not directed personally against Schelling himself as an individual.

Following from the close analysis of the writings, the underlying thesis is that Hegel’s intellectual development can be understood as a largely internal working out of the problem of the popularization of philosophy that had preoccupied Hegel since seminary days. Primarily concerned with painstakingly demonstrating how Hegel’s original treatment of the identity philosophy and other ideas stemmed from his continuing preoccupation with the goal of the philosopher as Volkserzieher, the focus is on Hegel’s interest in popularizing the philosophical insight in completing and actualizing the Kantian revolution, in “teaching philosophy to speak German”—providing a useful index of Hegel’s theoretical changes, this interest in Volkserziehung provides a continuity to all of Hegel’s early writings. It contrasts how Hegel envisaged the realization of the popular-educational function of philosophy—moving from religious messianism (1796) to political activism (1800) and finally to the abstract speculative system of philosophy in Jena. This generalization is convincingly used to relate details and critical episodes in Hegel’s systematic reworking of the form and role of components of the system to Hegel’s broader preoccupation with the goal of Volkserziehung.

Harris’s study should especially interest intellectual historians precisely because of his efforts to relate Hegel’s continuing concern with a chief theme of the Aufklärung to the detailed elaboration of the system that was to dominate by action and reaction much of the intellectual history of the following century.

This entire discussion of the early manuscripts provides the first historically accurate treatment in English of the original context of many of the ideas that were to be published a generation later, gaining currency only in distorted form as posthumously compiled works or editorial additions to the posthumous version of the Encyclopedia.

Fully incorporating the most recent and accurate chronology of Hegel’s early writings and making use of the recently discovered fragments from 1801-2, this study is now the most comprehensive and reliable discussion of Hegel’s early work and remains indispensable—if only as a research guide to scholars of the period who have any occasion to deal with the early Hegel material. On the other hand, the major nineteenth-century biographers of Hegel (Rosenkranz and Haym) still retain their central importance for researchers because those biographers had access to material that has been lost. But the actual textual discussions and developmental studies of major twentieth-century scholars (Dilthey, Haering, Lukacs) can no longer be trusted as historically authoritative, though the broader conclusions of these writers will obviously continue to be of philosophical and critical interest.

This volume concludes with a very helpful chronological index to Hegel’s early writings with citations to the most recent German editions and English translations and contains a comprehensive bibliography of works relating to Hegel’s philosophical development.

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