Is Hegel an Apophatic Thinker?
William Franke presents Hegel as an especially complicated figure for the history of apophatic thinking in the West. On the one hand, Hegel symbolizes the antithesis of apophatic thought. He is the philosopher of the articulated whole, the great synthesizer for whom everything can and must be said. However, on the other hand, from Franke’s exploration, there are a number of ways to conceive of Hegel’s positive contributions to apophatic discourse. In this chapter, Brown develops Franke’s reading of Hegel’s positive contributions to apophaticism while attempting to problematize some of Franke’s claims about Hegel as the antithesis of apophatic thinking. Franke sometimes applies a traditional connotation of “totality” as exclusionary exhaustion, completion, and finitude. However, on Brown’s reading, Hegel consistently defines totality counter-intuitively as the coincidence of being and nothing, as the contradiction A is -A, and as the exhaustion of form by way of a dialectic with the apophatic. To explore this thesis, Brown discusses Hegel’s theory of knowledge from the “Preface” to the Phenomenology. He then offers an apophatic interpretation of the opening of the Logic and also reviews the moments of contradiction in the Doctrine of Essence in order to establish Hegel’s reconception of totality. The chapter concludes by arguing that this reconception of totality should place Hegel securely within the cannon of apophatic thinkers.