Hyppolite, Jean (1907–1968)
Born at Jonzac, France, Jean Hyppolite had an illustrious university career: professor at Université de Strasbourg in 1945; at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1949; director of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in 1954; and finally, the chair at the Collège de France in "Histoire des systèmes" from 1963 until his death. He belonged to the post–World War II generation of French philosophers that included Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jacques Lacan. However, Hyppolite's most enduring legacy is his students from the Sorbonne and the Ecole Normale Supérieure: Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault.
Hyppolite became famous as the French translator of Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit in 1941. He then produced a commentary, Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, in 1947. In many essays, Hyppolite recounts the French reception of Hegel. The French reception had first been formed by Jean Wahl, but during the 1930s especially by the humanistic reading Kojève produced. Kojève's reading had oriented the philosophies of Sartre and the early Merleau-Ponty. Hyppolite, however, tried to show that Hegel goes beyond the human, an attempt that is obvious in his Genesis and Structure : Its chapter on the master-slave dialectic—the foundation for Kojève's humanistic reading—is its shortest, about three pages long.
Nevertheless, Genesis and Structure aims to be a comprehensive reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Indeed, it is a classic reading of a philosophical text, for it not only tracks all of the dialectical movement or procedures of the Phenomenology, but also shows how they are connected to the history of philosophy, how they are connected to other German idealists such as Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, and finally how the book itself grew out of Hegel's earlier reflections—in particular, his earlier Jena Logic. But Hyppolite's text is not only a classic reading, it is a masterful philosophical text in its own right. Unlike Kojève—for whom the leading question was how man take possession of himself as the purpose of all dialectical development—Hyppolite's leading question was: "How is the Phenomenology connected to the later Logic ?" In other words, even if there is an ambiguity in Hegelianism between phenomenology (as the science of the appearances of the forms of consciousness, resulting in absolute knowledge) and ontology (as the science of all being), which one is the authentic mode of procedure in Hegelianism? Is Hegel's ontologic independent of all phenomenology? All of Genesis and Structure is directed at responding to this question. For Hyppolite, the intersection of knowledge and being is central to Hegelianism.
The centrality of this intersection becomes most evident in Hyppolite's 1952 Logic and Existence, a text that makes three basic claims. First, Hyppolite tries to show that Hegel's philosophy is a logic in the literal sense of the word, a logos : language. If we start from language, we can see that Hegel's philosophy attempts to reconstruct the genesis from sensible (experience) to sense (or essence). But second, again if we start from language, we can see that Hegel's thought "completes immanence," as Hyppolite says. This claim means that Hegel, like Nietzsche, is an anti-Platonist; there is no second world of ideas or essences behind the first sensible one; there is only sense. In this second claim, Hyppolite is returning to Genesis and Structure, in which he claimed that the most difficult idea in Hegel's thought was the difference between essence and appearance—that is, the difference within immanence itself. For Hyppolite, following Hegel, difference must be "pushed all the way up to contradiction" (Hyppolite 1997, p. 113). In other words, if we are to remain true to the thought of immanence, we must think totality. But to think totality, we must have opposites be internal to themselves. The infinite, for example, cannot be opposed externally to the finite; if it were, then the infinite would be finite because it would have the finite as its boundary. So, the infinite must include the finite inside of itself; it must be both finite and infinite and thus contradict itself. For Hyppolite, following Hegel, there can be difference within immanence only through self-contradiction. Is self-contradiction really difference? This question is explored further below.
The difference within immanence leads to the third and final claim made by Hyppolite in Logic and Existence. Hegel is not a humanist because sense (which has now replaced the old metaphysical concept of essence) is indeed different from man. Hegel therefore is trying to think not man but across man, and through this antihumanism Hyppolite's reading no longer shares any similarity with that of Kojève.
Logic and Existence sets up the philosophies of Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault. Indeed, in his inaugural address to the Collège de France in 1970, Foucault, who was then assuming the chair vacated by Hyppolite's death, said that "Logic and Existence established all the problems that are ours" (Foucault 1972, p. 236). In other words, when Hyppolite discusses the problem of difference in Hegel, he is setting up the entire philosophy of difference that will arise in France in the 1960s. Yet as seen above, for Hyppolite difference must be pushed all the way up to contradiction. This occurs by indeterminate differences being converted into oppositions; each thing that is different must find its other, as Hyppolite says. Then, after having pushed all the indeterminate differences up into oppositions, one can see that each position makes sense only with or through its opposition. Nature, for instance, makes sense only through its opposite, which is culture. Thus each position includes its opposition in itself; each position is a self-contradiction. But, the philosophy of difference that arises in France during the 1960s consists of the attempt to push difference back down from self-contradiction to indeterminate difference. We can see this project already in Deleuze's 1954 review of Logic and Existence. But, the project is fulfilled in at least two different ways. On the one hand, one re-conceives what looks to be a position and an opposition as two positivities or two positions; this is Deleuze (and Foucault). On the other hand, one reconceives what looks to be a position and an opposition as mutual contamination; this is Derrida. These two fulfillments are the legacy of Hyppolite's thought.
See also Derrida, Jacques; Deleuze, Gilles; Foucault, Michel; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hegelianism; Lacan, Jacques; Merleau-Ponty, Maurice; Nietzsche, Freidrich; Ontology, History of; Phenomenology; Sartre, Jean-Paul; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von.
Figures de la pensée philosophique. 2 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1971. No English translation exists of these two volumes.
Genèse et structure de la Phénoménology de l'esprit de Hegel. 2 vols. Paris: Aubier, 1946–1947. Translated by Samiel Cherniak and John Heckman as Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1974).
Logique et existence. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1952. Translated by Leonard Lawlor and Amit Sen as Logic and Existence (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997).
Baugh, Bruce, and French Hegel. From Surrealism to Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 2003.
Deleuze, Gilles. Logique et existence. Review of Jean Hyppolite. English translation found as an appendix to Jean Hyppolite, Logic and Existence, 191–196 (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997).
Foucault, Michel. "The Discourse on Language." In The Archeology of Knowledge, translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith, 215–237. New York: Pantheon, 1972.
Roth, Michael S. Knowing and History: Appropriations of Hegel in Twentieth Century France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.
Leonard Lawlor (2005)
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