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I find that it is a popular/fashionable opinion that Hegel is a difficult to read writer. See eg. If this is the case, then how did his writings become mainstream/gain popularity at all?

It's quite unimaginable to me because in these days, quality of ideas is a severly undervalued property of a subject, than say, quality of presentation.

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    Because he was rich in fruitful ideas and exciting to listen to. Contemporary accounts describe students transfixed by his lectures.
    – Conifold
    May 27, 2023 at 0:20
  • @Conifold: Were they 'fruitful' though? How do you account for his negligible modern influence & readership? It seems only hardcore Marxists read him now, & then discover very little connection in fact to Marx.
    – CriglCragl
    May 27, 2023 at 8:04
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    @CriglCragl Continental philosophy, pragmatism and even analytic philosophers like Sellars and McDowell are infused with Hegel. After Kant, he is probably the most influential today ideologically. I am not sure what "negligible" refers to, 'popularity'?
    – Conifold
    May 27, 2023 at 8:27
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    Is it ia trick question? Philosophers love obscure.
    – Boba Fit
    May 27, 2023 at 13:50

2 Answers 2

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Hegel is like an old school 80s/90s cult classic video game series that was clunky, cryptic, and hard to master, yet still gained a devoted following.

On the surface, the blocky graphics, convoluted menus, and complex gameplay of those games made them seem impenetrable. Just like Hegel's dense, abstract style and language can seem impossibly confusing at first.

However, some gamers back then had the patience and curiosity to push through the initial learning curve. Once they spent time studying the mechanics and patterns, they discovered an intricate, rewarding gameplay experience.

Over time, a niche but passionate fanbase emerged around those cult classic games, similar to the niche of Hegel scholars exploring and appreciating his philosophy. They saw past the surface-level complexity to recognize the "deep gameplay" underneath.

Even as those games declined in mainstream popularity, their influence and legacy lived on by shaping genres, inspiring developers, and impacting future games indirectly. Much like Hegel's impact on philosophy extends beyond just his direct readership.

So in some sense, the very difficulty and obscurity of Hegel's writings act like the retro graphics and controls of a cult classic game - initially frustrating and off-putting to casual readers, but enriching and profound for those willing to invest the time and effort to unpack their hidden depths. The challenge intrigues enough thinkers to sustain his popularity within philosophy.

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Hegel alludes to the whole of the history of philosophy which he presupposes as known. Plus, he basically starts off with Aristotle, Kant and Spinoza as the roots of his line of thought. That is why he is so difficult to read for contemporaries. Basically, if you do not know the concepts and methods he uses, you are lost. And truth be told, your average student will lack a lot of the presupposed knowledge.

Now, in his times, the academic education would include reading all this stuff (excluding, maybe, Spinoza, as he was considered a heretic and shunned away from before the famous public Mendelssohn-Jacobi dispute about whether Lessing was to be considered a Spinozian). Accordingly, it was much easier to read for his contemporaries since it corresponded better to their level of knowledge and the writing style they were accustomed to.

That said, Hegel was so famous because he basically started where Kant left philosophy and built a system that according to many was able to fix all the loose ends Kant left for philosophy to work out.

Therefore, he was very popular. Just think of his famous statement that philosophy has concluded with his Phenomenology of Mind/Spirit: supposedly, all systematic and methodological deep questions are solved by Hegel.

If you have problems understanding Hegel, the excellent The Twenty-five Years of Philosophy by Förster gives a good introduction for the context and methodology.

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