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International Journal of Philosophical Studies Vol.11(2), 191–204

International Journal of Philosophical Studies Vol.11(2), 191–204 Does Hegel Privilege Speech Over Writing? A Critique of

Does Hegel Privilege Speech Over Writing? A Critique of Jacques Derrida

Tanja St¨ahler


In his essay ‘The Pit and the Pyramid: Introduction to Hegel’s Semiology’, Jacques Derrida claims that there is a privilege of speech over writing inherent in Hegel’s theory of signs. In this paper, I examine Derrida’s criticism. While it is to Derrida’s credit that he focusses on an area of Hegel’s philosophy that has hardly been analysed, his reading is problematic in several regards. After presenting Derrida’s main arguments, I pose three questions, the first of which belongs to the realm of subjective spirit, the second to objective spirit, and the third to absolute spirit. I shall then show that Hegel makes several statements in favour of a privilege of writing over speech – statements that are not merely parenthetic or marginal. Moreover, those claims that Hegel makes toward any privilege of speech are in the wrong place, namely, subjective spirit, for them to represent his final point of view.

Keywords: Hegel; Derrida; dialectic; deconstruction; writing; speech

Jacques Derrida claims that the heart of Hegel’s theory of signs is briefly stated: ‘the privilege or excellence of the linguistic system – that is, the phonic system – as concerns any other semiotic system’, 1 or, in other words, ‘the privilege of speech over writing’ (ibid.). The relationship between speech and writing in Hegel’s philosophy of language is the theme of Derrida’s essay ‘The Pit and the Pyramid: Introduction to Hegel’s Semiology’, and it will be the focus of this paper. In order to reflect on Derrida’s thesis that speech is privileged in Hegel, I shall present Derrida’s main arguments. I shall then proceed to question Derrida’s arguments, which is not tantamount to deconstructing them. Derrida’s arguments are perfectly valid in the deconstructive context of his thinking. Yet, what Derrida says about Hegel – namely, that the constraints of his philosophy are particularly powerful (see PP, 73) – holds also for Derrida’s own philosophy: once you submit yourself

International Journal of Philosophical Studies

ISSN 0967–2559 print 1466–4542 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd

http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/0967255032000074181


to the regime of deconstruction, it is very hard, perhaps impossible, to refute. I shall therefore pose three questions to Derridas critique:

questions that are external, as it were, to Derridas argumentation. These questions do not so much evolve from within the Hegelian system as have this system as their background. The first question belongs to the realm of subjective spirit, the second to objective spirit, and the third to absolute spirit. Let me state right away what I regard as the merits of Derridas reading. He brings a theme to our attention that is rarely discussed in regard to Hegels philosophy, namely, writing versus speech. Moreover, he provides a close reading of specific sentences and particular expressions (especially metaphors). I believe that such a close reading is of great value, even though it must not tempt us to forget the wider context of Hegels project. This leads me to my main objections. First, I shall show that there are several specific statements as well as a number of more general arguments and themes which actually point to a privilege of writing over speech in Hegel. Derrida does not deny this. But according to him, such statements go against Hegels own intentions and surface in minor, parentheticremarks (PP, 96). On my interpretation, these statements and arguments are not parenthetic or marginal at all. Second, it seems to me that Derrida is basing some of his conclusions on the presupposition that Hegelian dialectic necessarily implies a hierarchy, which is a questionable assump- tion. And third, even if the dialectic were to involve a hierarchy, any claims that Hegel makes toward a privilege of speech are systematically in the wrong place (namely, subjective spirit) for them to represent Hegels ultimate standpoint. Yet, in order to tackle these questions, we have to start with Derridas critique, which presumes that we approach the question of language as the relationship between speech and writing. What is the relation between speech and writing, according to everyday understanding, and how can language be approached along these lines in the first place? According to common sense, the spoken word is the expression of a thought. The written word, then, is the image of this word in visible signs; hence, the written word is further away from the thought than is the spoken word. To the common understanding it would thus be no surprise if Hegel privileged speech over writing. However, Hegel rejects any model of language as the expression of pre-existing thought when he says that an attempt to think without words would be nonsensical. According to Hegel, the fact that our thoughts are tied to words is not a misfortune at all (see Enc. III, 2 §462, Zusatz ). Hegels philosophy of language is multifaceted; it will be discussed only briefly in this paper, 3 since here I focus specifically on Derridas critique of Hegels theory of signs.



  • A. Derrida’s Reading of Hegel’s Semiology

Derrida wrote The Pit and the Pyramidfor a volume on Hegels Science of Logic edited by Jean Hyppolite. Even though Derrida mainly refers to several sections from the third volume of Hegels Encyclopaedia sections which belong to the part on subjective spirit he claims that the place of semiology is really at the center, and not in the margins or the appendix, of Hegels Logic(PP, 71). To support this claim, Derrida refers to Hegels regret that signs and language are often treated as a mere appendix, so that their systematic placeis neglected (cf. Enc. III, §458). Yet, what place does Hegel really give to the theory of signs? Within the third section of Subjective Spirit, namely, Psychology: The Spirit, Hegels semiology is placed under the subheading Representation(Vorstellung ). More pre- cisely, the theory of signs occurs in the subsection Imagination(Einbil- dungskraft ), in between Recollection(Erinnerung ) and Memory(Gedachtnis ¨ ). Why this particular placement? We shall have to see; but what seems obvious is that Hegel does not exactly place his semiology in the centre of his logic. Derridas title The Pit and the Pyramidis well chosen. It alludes to Hegels usage of metaphors when talking about signs: Hegel likens intelligence to a nightlike pit(nachtlicher ¨ Schacht ) or to an unconscious pit(bewußtloser Schacht ) (§453). Intelligence has this character insofar as images are stored up in it images as they come out of consciousness, but are no longer present. This storing up is what happens in recollection. As we enter the realm of imagination, images are drawn from this pit. Within reproductive imagination, intelligence becomes capable of bringing to light what has been hidden in the night of the pit. Intelligence as a pit, so Derrida claims, is silent as death and resonating with all the powers of the voice which it holds in reserve(PP, 77). This pit is connected to the pyramid: the pyramid is Hegels metaphor for a sign. Imagination, as the externalizing power, is making signs; and the sign is some immediate intuition, representing a totally different import from what naturally belongs to it; it is the pyramid into which a foreign soul has been conveyed, and where it is conserved(Enc. III, §458). What distinguishes the sign from a symbol is the fact that there is no connection or resemblance between the signifier and the signified. The sun is a symbol for the good because it is illuminating and gives life. But the letter (the Greek chi ) is not a symbol for the sound because there is nothing particularly chiasmatic about the sound ; the letter is a sign. Therefore, Hegel talks about a foreign soul in the pyramid. The metaphor of the pyramid, so Derrida explains, brings out the signs arbitrarinessand heterogeneity’ – and what finally gets manifested in the production of arbitrary signs is the freedom of the spirit(PP, 86).



One aspect that interests Derrida in Hegels usage of these two metaphors is the linkage to death which they both exhibit. The sign is that which is drawn from the nightlike pit; but instead of being resuscitated, it is immediately buried again, not in a pit, but in a pyramid. It is visible, standing out, but nonetheless dead. What is alive is spirit, and language as spoken; but all the metaphors that come up in the context of Hegels semiology allude to death. Of course, Hegel is not the first to describe writing in this way. It was done more explicitly and more prominently in Platos Phaedrus, where Theuth presents the art of writing to the Egyptian king Thamus. According to Theuth, writing is a means (Greek: pharmakon ) to make the Egyptians wiser and to help their memories. Thamus, however, rejects the art of writing, since it encourages forgetting; people will now lean on what has been written. In Platos Pharmacy, Derrida analyses Socratesclaim that written speeches are helpless because their father cannot save them; writing is, in that sense, a parricide. 4 Thus writing is allied with death from the start. The connection between death and writing, life and speech is just one indication of the privilege of speech that Derrida detects in Hegels text. Let me briefly trace three more indications of this privilege: that of time over space, the hierarchy of different kinds of writing which is set up on the basis of speech, and, finally, Hegels rejection of calculation and machines. Writing is spatial; speech does not require space in order to unfold. Derrida argues that the spatiality of writing makes it inferior for Hegel, given that Hegel appears to subordinate space to time. As Hegel explains in his Philosophy of Nature(Enc. II, §§254 60), time is the sublation (Aufhebung ) of space. Time is the truth of space. In the realm of semiology, the relationship between space and time is reflected in the relationship between written sign and phonic sound. Thus Hegel declares that the phonic sound (Ton ), which is inherently temporal, is the truer Gestaltof a sign that is written, i.e., extended in space (see Enc. III, §459). Derrida points out an interesting connection here; yet, we need to be cautious when it comes to dialectic and its purported hierarchy. Even though I have simplified Derridas argumentation for the purposes of this paper, there is a tendency in his essay to regard dialectical development as a straightforward hierarchy. Hegel reminds us to think of the dialectic as a circle that only reaches its beginning in the end. Nevertheless, Hegel is sometimes tempted into thinking the dialectic as hierarchy especially when he makes use of what Derrida calls the juxtaposition of an empirical content with a henceforth abstract form(PP, 102), as in the hierarchical ranking of languages. Hegel argues that alphabetic writing is on all accounts the more intelligent(Enc. III, §459) particularly in comparison to hieroglyphic



writing. He rejects Egyptian as well as Chinese writing. His main argument is that alphabetic writing takes its orientation from speech or from phonetic sounds, with the result that the written letters of the alphabet are signs of signs(Enc. III, §459) whereas hieroglyphic writing makes recourse to spatial figures without any phonetic origin. Yet ultimately, as Derrida points out, Hegel not only rejects Chinese writing; he also rejects Chinese speech: In sum, Hegel reproaches the Chinese for speaking too much when they speak, and for writing too much when they write(PP, 104). Derrida claims that Hegel contradicts himself in arguing for the superiority of alphabetic writing. However, I suspect that the problem lies rather in Hegels treatment of different cultures than in the issue of writing versus speech: how does Hegel come to believe that both Chinese speech and Chinese writing are inferior to Western speech and writing? Hegel himself makes it clear that he only reluctantly enters into treating language in its concrete nature(Enc. III, §457) and yet he does enter into it. Various accusations could be made with regard to Hegels account of a hierarchy among cultures as it comes up in various places throughout his writings. But I doubt that Hegels hierarchy of forms of writing among the worlds languages can really serve as a basis for examining the relationship between speech and writing, as Derrida assumes. Derrida is right to be deeply suspicious of Hegels derogatory remarks concerning Chinese thinking, speaking, and writing, and it is interesting to see parallels between the Encyclopaedia account and Hegels reflections in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy concerning Chinese culture (cf. PP, 100ff.). Yet, I do not see how a privilege of writing over speech logically follows. If hieroglyphs are closer to things while letters are closer to sounds, as Hegel claims, and if this makes letters superior in Hegels eyes, then he obviously starts from the assumption that there is a privilege of sounds over things, but not necessarily a privilege of sounds over letters: a sound is a sign, a letter is a sign of a sign; however, this does not at all make a letter something of lesser importance, but rather the contrary, as I shall discuss in more detail below. However, I agree that Hegels claims about a hierarchy of different kinds of writings, where one is more intelligent than the other, are dangerous and misleading, even if no immediate conclusions concern- ing speech and writing can be drawn from it. Aside from the dangers of this particular hierarchy, it could, on a more general level, lead to the assumption that Hegelian thought favours hierarchies. Derrida concludes his essay by thematizing Hegels rejection of mathematical writing, i.e., mathematical symbolism. Hegel regards calcula- tion as an external and therefore mechanical business, given that it has been possible to construct machines which effect mathematical operations:

calculators (Logic I, 249/216f.). Thus Derrida claims that one thing Hegel could never think is a machine that would work(PP, 107; his italics). By this, Derrida means a machine that would function merely for the sake of



functioning, not for the sake of its final utility, its meaning, its result, its work(ibid.). Does the idea of a functioning machine without any telos really do justice to the phenomenon of a machine? Machines are always produced by human beings, and they are produced to serve specific purposes, regardless of whether they ultimately succeed in serving these purposes or not. Rather than confining Hegel to a machine that is senseless yet efficient, let us return to our original topic: the relationship between speech and writing. Derrida is justified in drawing our attention to Hegels remarks on semiology and in pointing out some unquestioned presuppositions in Hegels account, e.g., concerning the connection between death and writing (as it becomes apparent in Hegels metaphors) and the relationship between space and time (regardless of whether the idea of sublation means a hierarchy or not). But what about the broader context of Hegels Philosophy of Spirit? Even though Hegel says that intelligence finds its expression in speaking, it would not make sense for Hegel to say that spirit finds its expression in speaking. Nor does spirit express itself in writing. Therefore, I would like to take up the question of writing versus speech once again by extending its scope: I shall pose three questions, one concerning subjective spirit, one concerning objective spirit, and the last concerning absolute spirit.

  • B. Three Questions for Derrida

Before Hegel turns to that part of subjective spirit which he names Psychologyand to which the sections on imagination belong, he presents a Phenomenology of Spirit. This Phenomenology of Spiritstarts with sense-certainty, and Hegel himself announces that he has treated sense- certainty in more detail in his 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit. In sense- certainty, writing has a crucial role, as becomes obvious in Hegels famous example: if we ask sense-certainty: What is now?, a possible answer might be: Now is Night. A true statement does not become false by being written down, so we write this answer down. But now, at noon, the truth has become stale. Something of which we were certain, namely, the night, proves itself to be, on the contrary, something that is not; the only thing that is preserved is the Now. Sense-certainty learns that it was aiming at the particular, yet it arrived at the universal. It learns that it is not possible ever to say a sensible being which we mean to say (PhS, 85/60). But does this mean that Hegel suggests that we should evade language? On the contrary: language is what is more truthful, for it expresses that which has turned out to be the genuine truth of sense-certainty, namely, the universal. What about writing, then? As long as we merely say Now is Night, it is less likely that we shall be proven wrong than if we write it out. Indeed, sense-certainty refuses not only to



write but even to speak, for speech would already mean taking a certain distance; at most, it is willing to show its Now to us. But even mere pointing is destined to fail: the Now as it is shown has already passed. What has been is not, and yet we were originally directed toward being (PhS, 88/63). Writing is a manifestation of memory. Writing makes obvious that we cannot stay with a given Now because even a simple is-statement has a history. The question for Derrida here is: how does the fact that Hegel does not suggest that sense-certainty should evade writing on the contrary, he shows how writing takes us to the essence of sense-certainty, indeed to its internal contradiction contribute to the charge of phonocentrism in Hegel? The writing example is not just a note in the margin of Hegels philosophy, but rather the centre and turning point of his dialectic of sense- certainty. One reason why language (both spoken and written) is what is more truthfulis that language connects me to other human beings. Hegel is not interested in my individual consciousness. From consciousness (which is already not just my consciousness, but a shape of spirit), the movement continues to spirit and from subjective spirit to objective spirit. In his reflections on objective spirit, Hegel reinforces his emphasis on history. Taking history seriously means stressing the importance of tradition and heritage; and this, in turn, means that written texts have an important role to play. Let us consider what Hegel says about the institutions of objective spirit and their relationship to language. Objective spirit is divided into three parts: right, morality, and Sittlichkeit. In his treatment of right, Hegel discusses contracts, which can and often do take the form of written contracts; but Hegel is ultimately not supportive of the idea of contracts since they do not necessarily involve morality, a contract can be agreed to even if its content is something immoral; there can even be a contract to kill someone. This deficiency, however, does not depend on whether the contract is written or spoken. Thus the level of right leads to the level of morality; but morality turns out to be contradictory in so far as it emphasizes the individuals conscience too much, and since there is not enough emphasis on customs as they are lived. Within the third dimension, Sittlichkeit, the ultimate level (after the family and burgerliche ¨ Gesellschaft) is the state. Here, we find some interesting thoughts concerning language, and particularly, written language. The state is first and foremost based on its constitution. The constitution is the articulation or organization of state power(Enc. III, §539). A constitution is in most cases a written document, and we know about the constitutions of past states from written documents. But is writing a constitution down not the result of discussing the constitution or, for that matter, the result of one ruler developing the constitution? Hegel explains that the question of who makesa constitution is already the wrong question; it is spirit and spirits history which make and have made constitutions.



The completion of the state, according to Hegel, is a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch represents the will of the state. Quite frequently, the monarch has no more to do than sign his name(Philosophy of Right, §279, Zusatz ), given that the function of the monarch is a representational function anyway. The monarchs signature is the last word beyond which it is impossible to go(ibid.) because the will of the state gets manifested in this written sign. Here, we are tempted to ask: how do Hegels thoughts about signatures fit in with Derridas own ideas on this subject? It would be interesting to compare Hegels reflections with Derridas statement that if writing exists at all, it exists in the form of the most improbable signature. 5 Yet, we need to keep in mind that the monarchs signature has so much power only because the maker of the constitution is not ultimately the monarch: spirit is. To put this more generally, the second question for Derrida is: can a philosopher who more than any other puts history at the centre of his thinking e.g., in considering the importance of the monarchs signature justifiably be confronted with the same objection that is levelled at Plato, Rousseau, Husserl, and others? It would be possible to raise the objection that a state might have an unwritten constitution, and that a monarch who does not sign anything still has significant power but it is remarkable that the monarchs power can be condensed into something as trivial as a signature. As the first systematic philosopher of history, Hegel is well aware of the fact that the emergence of writing opens possibilities which were previously inconceivable in the political realm as well as in other areas of life. The third question I want to ask Derrida concerns absolute spirit. Absolute spirit is the Notion (Begriff ) thinking itself the Notion that has come to itself and knows itself. In Notion, Hegels philosophy of language culminates. Thanks to the close connection of spirit and Notion Hegel can claim that language is the existence(Dasein ) of spirit (PhS, 478/395). I shall not be able to show any privilege of writing over speech as far as Notion is concerned; but at the same time, there is no evidence for a privilege of speech over writing on the level of Notion. If Derridas thesis was right that there is a privilege of speech over writing throughout Hegels philosophy of signs and that this semiology is at the centre of Hegels logic, then this claim would also have to hold for the doctrine of Notion, the third doctrine of Hegels logic, the truthof being and essence. For Notion, it does not make sense even to pose the question of writing versus speech. This is not because Notion is so abstract that it cannot be either written or spoken, but because it is so concrete that the very distinction between writing and speaking is too abstract for it. According to Hegel, we do not makeNotions; in particular, we do not make them by abstracting from apparently concrete things. Rather, the Notion is what is there first, and only by virtue of it is there anything else (Enc. I, §163f.).



The third question addressed to Derrida thus becomes: how can there be a definitive privilege of speech over writing in Hegel if this privilege cannot be detected in the premier case of Notion? How can Hegels semiology be claimed to be at the centre of Hegels logic if it clearly has its proper place within subjective spirit, and if the question of a hierarchy between writing and speech does not make sense for the domain of Notion, which is truly at the centre of Hegels logic? The Notion is what makes differences such as the one between writing and speech possible in the first place. If the progression of Hegelian dialectic means a hierarchy (as Derrida seems to presuppose, and as I doubt is the case), there will be a privilege of writing over speech. For Hegels semiology belongs to subjective spirit, while he considers written texts and signatures within objective spirit (which is supposedly a higher level) before arriving at the realm of Notion, which sublates both speech and writing, which is neither material nor immaterial, and which captures and encompasses everything there is. What these questions suggest is that Hegels system as such does not require a privilege of speech over writing. Furthermore, there are even some indications that point to the opposite privilege; a philosopher who emphasizes the relevance of history as much as Hegel does cannot ultimately neglect the importance of writing and written texts. After we have seen that Hegels philosophy does not in principle yield a privilege of speech over writing, let us return to the very sections on which Derrida focussed: Hegels theory of signs.

  • C. Hegels Theory of Signs

In returning to sections 4579 of the Encyclopaedia, we shall look for statements in the text that are relevant to Derridas question, but that Derrida himself did not interpret. Before turning to the details of the text, however, we need to consider the place of Hegels theory of signs within the system again. As we saw before, the theory of signs occurs in the section entitled Imagination. Imagination has a crucial position within subjective spirit; so Derrida is right about the crucial position of the theory of signs, but this is still not the same as having a central position within Hegels logic. The importance of imagination is twofold. First, imagination stands at the threshold between intuition (Anschauung ) and thinking (Denken ). This is the place which Kant as well has given to imagination. The fact that imagination leads to thinking makes it all the more important to keep in mind that, for Hegel, language extends beyond what he develops in his theory of signs. Second, within the section Representation, which covers the transition between intuition and thinking, imagination is placed between Recollec- tionand Memory. Without going into the complex issue of the relationship between recollection and memory, let me note briefly how



Hegel describes this relationship. Recollection is the most abstract level; it means that we recollect a content which is ours already, and that we do so involuntarily (Enc. III, §451, Zusatz ). It is important to take recollection, Erinnerung, literally: as internalization, as the move opposite to external- ization. Through this internalization, the content that has already been mine as an initial experience really becomes mine because I recollect it. On the second level, the level of imagination, a contrast between the subjective and the objective realm comes into play; we make a difference between the thought and the object. This difference allows for the emergence of the sign as that which makes the content of my representa- tion external, but in such a way that the intuition of the sign is alien to the content that is represented in it: here we have the arbitrariness and heterogeneity of the sign which Derrida discusses in the wake of structural linguistics. The third level, memory (Gedachtnis ¨ ), re-establishes a unity of what is subjective and what is objective. It accomplishes this by taking up the sign into the realm of intelligence an act which, in turn, yields an externalization of intelligence (§451, Zusatz ). Hegel says that memory is to the word as recollection is to immediate intuition (§461). In other words, memory repeats the movement of recollection, but with regard to a new and more complex content: the word as one particular kind of sign. We remember words, we remember names, and this, as it turns out, is the necessary condition for thinking. Hegel could now come to the same conclusion that King Thamus yields in Platos Phaedrus and say that we need writing only if our memory is too poor for some reason; furthermore, there is the danger of our memory becoming increasingly poor the more we write things down. Hegel does not draw this conclusion. And even though it would not necessarily cause a contradiction on the level of subjective spirit if Hegel were to reject writing, on the level of objective spirit matters are more complicated: writing is more than just a means to remind me of my daily tasks. Writing is what connects humans and, more importantly, generations. Certainly, narratives and myths can also be passed on by means of speech, and certainly oral transmission improves our memory. However, as writing developed historically, the content preserved became not only quantitatively more, but also richer and more complex in quality. It has even been argued that the emergence of writing allowed philosophy to arise and to be pursued further. 6 Language is our cultural heritage, and it connects us to previous and future generations. It is for this reason that Hegel writes: What has been said shows the inestimable and not sufficiently appreciated educational value of learning to read and write an alphabetic character(Enc. III, §459). Hegel says explicitly that it is an important basis for education to learn how to read and write, and not just how to speak. Furthermore, he says that the



importance of reading and writing alike has not been sufficiently stressed. This constitutes a fairly emphatic statement in favour of writing over speech, and it has been prepared for by another, more subtle move: The progress of the vocal language depends most closely on the habit of alphabetical writing; by means of which only does vocal language acquire the precision and purity of articulation(§459). In other words, vocal language is dependent on alphabetic language to the extent that written language helps us to work out distinctions within a language more clearly. Certain ambiguities within language become more obvious and can be determined more clearly in written language than in the mere oral usage of language. This means that a language which is accompanied by writing, and more specifically, alphabetic writing, will be clearer and more articulate than a language which is merely spoken. Writing helps to develop a language better; this connection between writing and speaking also sheds light on Hegels remark in the last paragraph of section 459, shortly before he turns to memory. Hegel writes: Intelligence expresses itself immediately and unconditionally by speaking(Enc. III, §459). At first glance, this sentence might seem to point to a priority of speech over writing yet for Hegel, the most immediate expression of something (in this case, intelligence) is not the highest and most concrete, but the most abstract expression. In this sentence, Hegel is not really concerned with the relationship between writing and speech at all; rather, he is preparing for the transition from imagination to memory and ultimately to thinking. This means that he is also preparing the transition to less immediate forms of language, forms for which the alternative of writing and speaking is not relevant. So, if this sentence does not discuss speech in relation to writing, what about the sentence in which Hegel clearly does discuss their relation, when he says that alphabetic writing consists of signs of signswhile vocal language consists of signs (§459)? To understand this sentence correctly, we have to keep in mind that Hegel is not Plato. I am thinking here not of the Phaedrus, but of the Republic, where Plato explains how the painted bed is further away from the form of the bed than the wooden bed: it is an image of an image. For Hegel, in contrast, a sign is not by its very nature deficient. Being a sign of a signdoes not signify a double deficiency by way of being twice removed; on the contrary: Hegel claims in a Zusatz to section 457 that the sign is a great advance on the symbol. This is due to the fact that the sign allows for a unique relation between the subjective and the objective sphere. Thanks to this unique relation, we need to learn signs and we can learn something from signs specifically about the relationship between subject and object. As a sign of a sign, the written letter accomplishes this unique relation between the subjective and the objective in a more refined form than the mere sign, the phonic sound. It repeats the



signs movement once again, as it were. One could argue that by being more intimately tied to materiality than the sound, the written letter includes more of the objective dimension. Before imagination starts creating signs, it is merely subjective; objectiv- ity is lacking. As imagination becomes imagination which creates signs(§457), it produces something external and objective, and it does this in such a way that the inner and the outer are completely one(ibid.). In creating the sign, imagination withdraws from the scene, and only the sign remains; even the sign is not important as such, but withdraws before that which it signifies. In this peculiar withdrawal, that which is signified can come forth. Imagination makes itself be as a thing (zur Sache )(ibid.) by lending an intuition to the representation: i.e., the sign. Subjectivity is transformed into objectivity; it is preserved in this objectivity, even though it stands back and lets the thing come forth. Signification is thus a complex movement, and written language mirrors this movement in comparison to spoken language. 7



What conclusion can be drawn with regard to Derridas question of the hierarchy of writing and speech? There are indications both of a privilege of speech (which Derrida has traced) and of a privilege of writing (which I have tried to demonstrate). Overall, my conviction is that the question of whether writing or speaking is privileged is not Hegels question. It is Derridas question, and he poses it to Hegels text in such a way that it cannot be answered unambiguously. There are definite merits in Derridas thesis: first, he alerts us to a group of sections in Hegels Encyclopaedia that are rarely discussed: in short, Hegels semiology. Then, Derrida points out that metaphors in general and Hegels metaphors in particular are not innocent, and that they are worth being investigated. Third, he shows how Hegel goes back and forth between factual examples and general statements, as in the analysis of alphabetic writing and hieroglyphic writing, using one to prove the other, and vice versa and that Hegel is neither explicit enough about these procedures nor always sufficiently careful in drawing his conclusions. One general objection I have already hinted at concerns the connection between dialectic and hierarchy. Derrida seems to presuppose that dialectical movement necessarily implies hierarchy, but this is to place too much emphasis on just one aspect of sublation, namely, the aspect of elevation, while not being sufficiently attentive to conservation and negation. Yet, if the dialectic were to imply hierarchy, then the privilege of writing rather than speech could be easily proven by pointing out that Hegel discusses voice within his Philosophy of Nature(Enc. II, §351), while the written sign only comes up in the Philosophy of Spirit’ – or by



pointing out that written language emerged later in history than spoken language. Derridas reading is obviously subtler than these overly simple

conclusions would be. But at the same time, he is not attentive enough to the subtleties of Hegels theory of signs. I do not mean to claim that Derrida misunderstands Hegel. But I do claim that he chooses to ignore those passages and chapters in which Hegel (and not just in parentheses) makes it obvious that writing is not inferior to speech. While Derrida believes that Hegel would only against his own intentions admit of the significance of writing, I believe that Hegel wrote these statements quite consciously (and it is my suspicion that Derrida, also quite consciously, chooses not to focus on them). The material in which Hegel discusses the advantages of writing is sufficiently rich to yield the conclusion that Derrida indeed draws elsewhere, namely, in Of Gramma- tology, yet unfortunately, without much elaboration: Hegel shows the

essential necessity of the written trace in a philosophical

. . .


which makes him the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of

writing. 8 It is in the light of this assertion that we should reconsider Hegels philosophy of language as it is played out differently for subjective, objective, and absolute spirit. Whether I write down a simple statement like Now is Nightor whether a nation fixes its constitution in writing, the Notion precedes and transcends the difference between speech and writing. One question that remains open concerns the possibility of Hegels philosophy of the Notion doing justice to differences at all. However, in so far as this question is, like all philosophical questions, a historical one, it has to be pursued not only in further speeches, but in further writings.

University College Dublin, Ireland


1 Jacques Derrida, The Pit and the Pyramid: Introduction to Hegels Semiology,

in Margins of Philosophy, trans. A. Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1982), p. 88 (henceforth PP ).

2 Hegels works are quoted according to the following abbreviations (if page

numbers rather than paragraph numbers are given, the first number refers to the

German text, the second to the English translation):

Enc. I, II = Enzyklopadie


der philosophischen Wissenschaften, Vols I, II.

Werke in zwanzig Banden


, edited by Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus

Michel on basis of the Werke of 1832 45 (Frankfurt a. M. 1970/1), vols 8,


Enc. III = Enzyklopadie ¨ der philosophischen Wissenschaften, Vol. III.

Werke, vol. 10. Hegels Philosophy of Mind: Part 3 of the Encyclopaedia of

the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans. W. Wallace. Together with the

Zusatze ¨ in Boumanns text (1845), trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon

Press, 1971).



Logic = Wissenschaft der Logik, Werke, Vols 5, 6. Science of Logic, trans.

A. V. Miller (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1969).

PhS = Phanomenologie ¨ des Geistes, Werke, Vol. 3. Phenomenology of

Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977).

Philosophy of Right = Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, Werke, Vol.

7. Hegels Philosophy of Right, trans. with notes by T. M. Knox (Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1952).

  • 3 For a more comprehensive account of Hegels philosophy of language, see Josef Simon, Das Problem der Sprache bei Hegel (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1966).

  • 4 Jacques Derrida, Platos Pharmacy, in Dissemination, trans. B. Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983).

  • 5 Cf. Jacques Derrida, Signature Event Context, in Limited Inc, ed. Gerald Graff (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988), p. 21. Searle, in his response to Derridas article, writes that the dependency of writing on spoken language is a contingent fact about the history of human languages and not a truth about the nature of language(John R. Searle, Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida, Glyph (1977), p. 207). It is unfortunate that Hegel is not able to write a response to Searle in which the existence of merely contingent historical facts would be called into question.

  • 6 See Jean Pierre Vernant, Mythe et societ ´ e´ en Gr`ece ancienne (Paris: Maspero, 1974).

  • 7 See also Simon, op. cit., pp. 165ff.

  • 8 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. G. C. Spivak (Baltimore, London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976, 1997), p. 26.