The Secret of Hegel  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Secret of Hegel: Being the Hegelian System in Origin Principle, Form and Matter is an 1865 work of philosophy by James Hutchison Stirling.

The book has influenced many British philosophers and helped to create the movement known as British idealism.

The secret

Stirling wrote:

The secret of Hegel may be indicated at shortest thus: As Aristotle—with considerable assistance from Plato—made explicit the abstract Universal that was implicit in Socrates, so Hegel— with less considerable assistance from Fichte and Schelling—made explicit the concrete Universal that was implicit in Kant.

On page 84, Stirling gave an even shorter condensation: "Here is the secret of Hegel, or rather a schema to a key to it: Quantity—Time and Space—Empirical Realities."

In Chapter 1 he finds analogies between 16th century English drama and 19th century German idealism and compares Hegel to Shakespeare: "In the ferment of the English Drama, Marlow, Ben Jonson, and others may, even beside Shakespeare, be correctly enough named principals; yet it is the last alone whom we properly term outcome."

In Chapter 11 he expresses some reservations: "In regard to Hegel, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are seldom far from each other, but the latter predominates. If, for a moment, the words light up, and a view be granted, as it were, into the inner mysteries, they presently quench themselves again in the appearance of mere arbitrary classification and artificial nomenclature."

Readers' comments

John Stuart Mill, in his letter of November 4, 1867 to Alexander Bain, wrote:

Besides these I have been toiling through Stirling’s Secret of Hegel. It is right to learn what Hegel is & one learns it only too well from Stirling’s book. I say "too well" because I found by actual experience of Hegel that conversancy with him tends to deprave one’s intellect. The attempt to unwind an apparently infinite series of self–contradictions, not disguised but openly faced & coined into [illegible word] science by being stamped with a set of big abstract terms, really if persisted in impairs the acquired delicacy of perception of false reasoning & false thinking which has been gained by years of careful mental discipline with terms of real meaning. For some time after I had finished the book all such words as reflexion, development, evolution, &c., gave me a sort of sickening feeling which I have not yet entirely got rid of.


J E Erdmann (A History of Philosophy vol. 3 p 197 tr W S Hough, London 1899) wrote:

In his otherwise so admirable work, The Secret of Hegel, … Fichte and Schelling are put far too much into the background.

Frederick Copleston (A History of Philosophy vol. VII, p. 12) wrote:

...we may be inclined to smile at J. H. Stirling's picture of Hegel as the great champion of Christianity.

Vladimir Lenin:

The secret was well kept!





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