Wikipedia's "analytic and continental philosophers differ on the importance and influence of subsequent philosophers on their respective traditions... Hegel is viewed as a relatively minor figure for the work of analytic philosophers" surprised me a little. I always thought that philosophy does have the little of consensus that Friedman describes in Dynamics of Reason "although we do not (and I believe should not) achieve a stable consensus on the results of distinctively philosophical debate, we do nonetheless achieve a relatively stable consensus on what are the important contributions to the debate, and accordingly on what moves and arguments must be taken seriously".

What of the evolutionary approach and social/pragmatic turn in analytic philosophy since 1960s? Society as Geist, and social practice as the standard of truth in epistemology are parts of Marx's reading of Hegel, Hegelian roots of Peirce's pragmatism are self-acknowledged, "my philosophy resuscitates Hegel, though in a strange costume", as is Peirce's influence on the Vienna Circle and Quine.

Exhibit A is late Wittgenstein, of language games and "don't ask for meaning, ask for use", Marx could sign under that. And even the ladder from Tractatus, that can be kicked once climbed, sounds like an allusion to Phenomenology of Geist, intended to be the ladder to absolute knowledge. Exhibit B is the social turn in Western historiography of science prompted by Hessen, a Marxist historian, whose "focus on the relationship between society and science was, in its time, seen as novel and inspiring", and "became known as externalism, looking at the manner in which science and scientists are affected, and guided by, their context and the world in which they exist". I suspect that externalism in the philosophy of mind (Putnam, Chalmers) had something to do with it. Which brings me to Exhibit C, Kuhn. Scientific Revolutions were published by none other than Carnap himself, and certainly left a mark on philosophy of science. By the way, in 1930s Kuhn had a predecessor:"Bachelard’s The New Scientific Spirit (1934) revolved around a non-linear conception of scientific change. Drawing on a dynamic view of the history of science (another common point between Bachelard and Kuhn), he characterized scientific change in terms of breaks and revolutions, with new ideas ‘enveloping’ and replacing old ones".

Is Friedman too optimistic? Does Wikipedia reflect an existing sentiment? Is there an alternative reading of history on which analytic philosophy avoided Hegelian influence after all? Or is it considered minor? Perhaps, "minor figure" is the legacy of Moore and Russell defining themselves in contradistinction to absolute idealism, reinforced by Heidegger's embrace of it? (Ironically, the continental forefather Husserl had similar feelings: away from Hegel, "to things themselves")

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    From what I read, if he had any influence on analytical philosophers, it was as an example of what NOT to do. Analytic philosophy aims at clarity and precision, which is the opposite of what Hegel produced.
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 14, 2015 at 1:51
  • As analytic and speculative stand to each other in a diametral manner...well, the speculative part is the one Marx did not agree with, I would say. And that is why analytic philosophy may go with Marx, but reject Hegel as well. As a sidenote, reading any translation of Hegel (or Kant, or Husserl) must end in misunderstandings and "the opposite of clarity and precision". That's what I learned from English translations of them. Most of them mutilate the depth of the thoughts in an adventurous way...
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 14, 2015 at 3:48
  • @PhilipKlöcking from what I read, Hegel was even more obscure in his original language.
    – R. Barzell
    Oct 14, 2015 at 13:35
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    @R.Barzell: The problem with Hegel is that you have to get an intuition of what is meant, because it is rarely made explicit or in various ways. Taken it this way, I actually enjoyed reading him (and I still do ;)
    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 14, 2015 at 16:00
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    Not sure it is correct to call Husserl a turn away from Hegel. Frege is the "analytical" turn. It is Hegel who first introduces the "phenomenological" approach extended in other ways by Husserl. Also, though Carnap solicited Kuhn's article, I don't think he liked what he got. Liberal scientific animosity to Hegel is usually directed towards his "totalizing" penchant and "teleology," not so much the historicism. Thus, Lysenkoism is blamed on a "totalizing ideology" dictating outcomes. Likewise, Lemarckian "teleology" or any hint of a purposeful universe or extraneous causation. Oct 16, 2015 at 14:41

2 Answers 2


Yes, I believe Hegel has been treated largely with hostility or neglect in the analytic camp from the time Russell accused him "simple logical errors."Russell himself was originally steeped in Hegel, Bradley, and the British idealists, so his renunciation carried weight. (As the famous weather report goes: "Fog Over Channel, Continent Cut Off.")

The parting of ways is usually attributed to the division of interests between Husserl and Frege (phenomenology, symbolic logic) though those two kept up professional exchanges. In America, Dewey and other pragmatists up to Rorty kept up some interest in Hegel. But he only recently crept back in by way of phenomenology in the art theory and literature departments since about 1980, with Phenomenology of Spirit the primary text.

Why? Well, for many Hegel is easy to dislike. Wordy, tedious, vague, pompously systematic, seemingly equivocating and clutching the "excluded middle." I believe it was Heine who called him "a man who fears he might be understood." Even for professionals he is very time-consuming and often ambiguous. "Swabians love secrets," went an old saying.

But I think there are two cultural reasons he was jettisoned. First, like Heidegger, he simply accrues some vague blame among English speakers for all things "Germanic," in his misunderstood defense of the Prussian State, etc. This includes blame by association for Marxism and "totalitarian systemizing" among the Anglo-American liberals and fanatically liberal Austrian refugees, those godlike figures of modern American conservatism.

But perhaps the deeper reason is the very conscious and arguably worthy decision of the analytical camp to work as the handmaidens of modern physics. Hegel's writings on Newton and physics are very interesting. Unfortunately, he produced an all-encompassing, systematic project just before the modern turns in science. Before Faraday, Maxwell, Darwin, thermodynamics, atomic theory, computing. So he appears ill-informed, as well as overweening, wherever he touches related subjects. Here, paradoxically, he is actually too specific. He toyed with the idea of species evolution, then in a famous footnote explicitly called it impossible. He argued that a ninth planet could not exist, etc.

Above all, while Kant's limits on metaphysics are perfectly and intentionally compatible with scientific method, hypothesis, and "falsifiability," Hegel's attempt to resolve them in a further leap of subjective idealism are most emphatically not.

He actually appears much better in the light of quantum theory, chaos modeling, and such. Some physicists, Einstein included, appreciated the naturalized dialectics of Engels. Bohr can sound pretty Hegelian. Today, compared to modern cosmologists and string theorist, Hegel looks utterly down to earth. Still, I don't see much common ground between Hegel and the analytical approach, where he remains a paradigm of how to "not think clearly." So he'll probably remain in the art and literature departments.

  • This probably is how analytic philosophers see it, it is hard to credit influence to an unreadable cipher. But I'd still distinguish between seeing influence and being influenced regardless. Wittgenstein's linguistic pragmatism, Quine's social coherentism, and everything that stems from them, seem to me infused with Hegelian vapors, if indirectly absorbed. The 9th planet is an anecdote by the way, what he actually wrote was perfectly reasonable adsabs.harvard.edu/full/1992JHA....23..208C
    – Conifold
    Oct 24, 2015 at 21:09
  • Yes, I 'd heard his 9th planet argument got a bad rap. On the other hand, when Pluto lost planetary status I thought, Hegel vindicated! It was probably his deep incorporation of history into philosophy that has had the greatest impact. No matter what is said, Hegel made himself pretty unavoidable. Oct 24, 2015 at 21:22
  • Sadly, even Pluto's demotion to dwarves can not save him for we are told that "Hegel proved by clearest logic that the number of planets can not exceed seven". Especially since the event that demolished his claim and reputation forever was the discovery of Ceres the same year, also a dwarf planet (as we know since two centuries later). The fact that he simply pointed out that one can come up with a numerical sequence that "predicts" no gap between Mars and Jupiter just as easily as with one that does, can not cover up his failure to see that gap and the number of planets a priori :)
    – Conifold
    Oct 27, 2015 at 2:11

The quote by Pierce:

My work resuscitates Hegel but in a strange costume

is interesting, given that Robert Brandom calls himself broadly a Pragmatist, and according to this interview, is:

famous for supporting Hegel from an analytic framework

Where there is one, there are likely to be others - so perhaps there is a hidden Hegelian stream in the Analytic tradition.

  • Reza Negarestani also tries to incorporate aspects of Hegel into a more analytic style framework, see Intelligence and Spirit
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 23, 2020 at 17:39

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