Has anyone found logical error or inconsistencies in the writings of Hegel in the book Phenomenology of the Spirit? Since so few people understand it perfectly, you would assume even the writer himself could have made some kind of error during the writing of the book. Did anyone ever find out any inconsistencies or error in his book?

  • Welcome. It seems that I am among the many who do not understand it perfectly; e.g. I have always wondered how he managed to take phrenology seriously and to devote some pages to it. And in general I think that dialectics is nothing more than claiming to be right because you are contradicting yourself..
    – sand1
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 20:55
  • The method consists of a narrative building up through stages with stipulations being made at each stage and the conclusion building the foundation of all previous claims while being their natural outcome at the same time. The point is not whether he made mistakes, but why he wrote it the way he did and whether his means to do so are deficient. This approach, ie. that the means of description must be adequate to the object or else the object will be whatever your means allow it to be, is quite antithetical to core principles of analytic philosophy.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 21:43
  • Nobody understands it perfectly. Phenomenology is valuable for offering ideas and viewpoints, often obscurely yet expressively, it does not offer a problem to solve or criteria by which the solution is to be judged. It is a guided trip towards Hegel's worldview from the ones received. With a style like that what is error, and how is one to distinguish between lack of understanding and error? It is as Wittgenstein said about private language, "whatever is going to seem right to him is right. And that only means that here we can't talk about 'right'". We can take what helps and drop the rest.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


Kierkegaard once said that he couldn't understand most of Hegel, but he comforted himself that neither did Hegel.

It's pretty easy to make fun of the obscurities in Hegel or Heidegger or many other Continental philosophers. But it may be misplaced to ask if he "made errors." Anecdotally, he is said to have predicted that there could not be a planet between Mars and Jupiter, but many argue his meaning here was misunderstood. And he famously asked if it was possible that animal species evolved out of one another, but then added a footnote saying that was unlikely.

Another "error" attributed to him by leftists is his implication that the development of history reached a high point in the Prussian state, though once again this was probably not his meaning. He is often criticized for the mystifying idealism of "the real is the rational and the rational is the real." But this, in my view, is quite defensible if translated as the "rational becomes the actual and the actual the rational," with the development of computer software-hardware as a good example.

Generally, modern philosophers would simply condemn him for ill-defined metaphysical concepts like Geist and pronouncements that, without any standard of falsifiability, are meaningless or "not even wrong" as Pauli once put it. Many find his whole project of a totalizing rational system overweening and a dangerous precedent for totalitarian politics, but totalitarianism gets along just fine without Hegel.

As for "inconsistencies," Hegel simply isn't operating by the traditional or modern logical standards, which actually is a great part of his value. He was quite familiar with Aristotle's logic, of course, and developed his own dialectical logic in stupefying detail. This dialectical logic jettisons principles of contradiction and accepts mutual contradictions as equally valid prior to their resolution or Aufhebung into some new order of resolution.

Anyway, the short answer to your question is that many philosophers think everything in Hegel is an error! Here is the pertinent quote from Russell:

"Hegel thought that, if enough was known about a thing to distinguish it from all other things , then all its properties could be inferred by logic. This was a mistake, and from this mistake arose the whole edifice of his system. This illustrates an important truth, namely, that the worse your logic, the more interesting the consequences."

  • 1
    "this, in my view, is quite defensible if translated as "the rational becomes the actual and the actual the rational"".Your proposed translation would distort Hegel's proposition. In Elements of the Philosophy of Right Hegel employs the verb "to be" (sein, conjugated ist) rather than "to become" (werden, conj. wird). Hegel's choice of verb is consistent with chapter VI, section B of Phenomenology, where the German text reads "Was nicht vernünftig ist, hat keine Wahrheit, oder was nicht begriffen ist, ist nicht", therewith reinforcing his assertion that "the rational is the real". Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 11:46

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