Dialogue

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Scepticism and Hegelian Science

Thomas R. Webb

One of the greatest difficultiess in the understanding Hegel is the notorious obscurity of his terminology. Even a sympathetic reader faces the problems that in seeking clarification of one term he is led to another which is equally obscure and which often presupposes an understanding of the first. But Hegel himself described the structure of his system as circular and stressed the contextual nature of his terminology. Indeed, he insisted that only a philosophy which is so structured could be worthy of the name “science.” The difficulty in understanding Hegel is thus not merely a terminological one. It is primarily the difficulty of understanding why Hegel conceived philosophical science as he did, and why the problems which confront Hegel's enterprise arise in the first place. For unless we can make the problems of the Hegelian philosophy our own, in the minimal sense of understanding why they arise, our appreciation of Hegel will be limited to “the repetition and inspired variation of Hegel's theses or their criticism from a distance which blurs their structures.” What is needed is an “unscientific” introduction to Hegelian science which provides insight into the motivation for Hegel's standpoint precisely because it does not presuppose it. Hegel himself suggested that such an introduction could be found in scepticism. However, Hegel declined to provide a sceptical introduction to science on the grounds that it would be unscientific. For Hegel, the path to science was already science.