Reading Hegel himself

As even great secondary literature on Hegel often includes some problematic parts (and by far the most part of the Hegel related secondary literature introduces more problems to the reader than it helps to solve), it is highly recommended that you do not rely on such literature but read Hegel himself. This will also help you to better judge the secondary literature (including our own work at Hegel.Net).

For a first introduction, we recommend that you read Hegel’s own introductions to his lectures: the introductions to his lectures on History of Philosophy (start with that one), Philosophy of Religion, Aestetics, and Philosophy of History (most of these are available online, but there also exists a useful reader of all these introductions in one printed book).

In a second step, read Hegel’s lectures. See to it that you do not stick only to some one or two books of Hegel (especially when you mainly focus on Hegel’s Phenomenology and/or his Philosophy of History, together with his Philosophy of Right, you will get a wrong picture for sure, as you are missing the systematic background. Unfortunately, this seems to be the major way of Hegel reception in the English world, causing several misinterpretations).

Instead, make sure that you read the Encyclopedia, the book which Hegel himself used to teach and explain his system in his mature years in Berlin, which includes a brief exposition of the complete system, including an abbreviated version of his Science of Logic. No Hegel understanding can be complete without understanding Hegel’s Logic and the overall architecture of his system.

Must haves:

Jon Stewart: The Hegel Myths and Legends

A wonderful book that any Hegel scholar would have liked to have written himself. A collection of superb articles dedicated to combat typical Hegel myths.

Anyone today has heard one Hegel myth or the other. The result is often that either people are scared away from Hegel at all, based on that misinformations, or even when they read Hegel, they misread him by reading the Hegel myths into him. So unlearning such Hegel myths is a must for any successul understanding of Hegel. So this book is very useful, both for teaching Hegel as well as to unlearn those myths of Hegel that hinder readers seeing what he really said. Its Introductioncan be read online.

Michael Inwood: Hegel Dictionary

Hegel often uses his terminology in a different way than it is used today, so understanding his key terminology is crucial for understanding him. Inwood discusses important Hegel terms, including their use in the time of Hegel and before him. While a good deal away from being perfect, the book helps to avoid a naive reading of Hegel and to better understand some possible backgrounds of Hegel’s use of terms.

General and Bibliographical:

A first biographical background information can be accecced via our illustrated Hegel.Net Hegel biography. In case you want to read more, it is recommended that you do not read only one but at least two of the following books, to better judge their limitations and strengths:

Howard Kainz: G.W.F. Hegel

Quite a new book, focusing mainly on the Phenomenology. More a collection of specialist articles / studies on Hegel’s Philosophy than a systematic exposition, so probably better suited for the one who has already read and understood some Hegel than for the absolute beginner. Lot of material is taken from Vittorio Hösle’s important book: ‘Hegels System’ (only available in German).

Kaufmann: Hegel - a reinterpretation

This book, written by Nietzsche expert Kaufmann, has been said to have done a tremendous service to Hegel, by explaining him in understandable words. Walter Kaufmann’s book is probably “not too Hegelian,” but it is one of the most precise and entertaining books we have ever read on Hegel, and it helps understanding him a lot. We would certainly advise it, only it needs to be corrected with the reading of some other stuff.

Amazon has some samplepages (if that deep link doesn’t work any more, try to use the amazon search option to search for “Kaufmann Hegel”)

Terry Pinkard: Hegel Biography

The most recent Hegel biography, accords with modern research, including lots of information about Hegel’s Philosophy and his time. It is not always clear where he used new material and where he makes an educated guess. While very new, and probably the best Hegel biography available in English, he seems to have overlooked some important new sources (including Bondeli’s books on Hegel in Switzerland)

Charles Taylor: Hegel

This is the classic text of 1970 (so also a bit outdated, as the last 25 years have seen a tremendous advance in Hegel studies). Lots of background information about Hegel’s time. Like most Hegel literature in the English world, lays a lot emphasis on the Phenomenology, the Objective Spirit and the Philosophy of History. The rest of the system is handled rather briefly.

On Objective Spirit / Philosophy of Right:

Allen Woods: Hegel’s ethical thought

Some people wrongly think that Hegel offered no Science of Ethics. At Hegel.Net, we believe that Hegel’s complete system can be read as his Science of Ethics, with the foundation in his Logic, including his subjective spirit, the complete objective spirit and absolute spirit. Woods takes a kind of middle position, as he only explores Hegel’s ethical concepts within Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. These are examined also in comparison to Hegel’s contempories and Hegel’s own development, so this book has a good reputation in the English speaking world. But with Wood’s approach of ignoring Hegel’s Logic (e.g. Hegel’s logic is dead, we must recover from the debris what is worthwhile, etc.) and of ignoring the connections to the other parts of Hegel’s System, the systematic whole is missing. However, as an introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right it is passable.

Steven B. Smith: Hegel’s Critique of Liberalism, Rights in Context

(1989,1991 in Paperback of the University of Chicago Press) Based on Hegel’s political philosophy it is an attempt to grasp the tradition of liberalism and its various historical alternatives on the one side and to defend a doctrine of liberalism between the neo-Kantian paradigm of excessive abstractness and the community model of misplaced and parochial concreteness on the other side.

Hegel and Marx:

Many people coming to Hegel have some kind of marxist background. To them, the Canadian professor and well known Hegel researcher David MacGregor is probably the best source for investigating the Hegel-Marx relation, for former unnoticed influences, parallels and differences, beyond the usual prejudgments, thus enabling a very fruitful dialogue and offering a fresh reading both of Marx as well as of Hegel.

David MacGregor: Hegel, Marx after the Fall of Communism

His latest (and, as some say: greatest) book.

David MacGregor: Hegel, Marx and the English State

His second book, some people even prefer this to his latest. Many interesting researches on Hegel.

David MacGregor: The Communist Ideal in Hegel and Marx

MacGregor’s first book. The title was not his title, but the publisher’s title. It was ahead of its time in its own day, correcting several errors about the usual view of Hegel, especially from Marxists. Unfortunately however, it introduced several errors itself, which make it more difficult for the beginner to find the golden eggs inside. So while this is the book of MacGregor which can be found in many used book stores, we suggest that the reader use his later books (this first book is sold for some reasons). The reviews above are based on comments from Maurizio Canfora, Beat Greuter, Kai Froeb and Paul Trejo (in alphabetical order). However, the merger of these (sometimes differing) reviews has been done by Kai Froeb and so none of the reviews above may necessarily represent the views of these individuals.

Hegel.Net is a joint effort of Hegelians worldwide. So, as always, your corrections, comments and additions to the above reviews, as well as reviews on any other Hegel related book, are most welcome. Please contact us by email(