‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’ by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,’Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit’ by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel reviewed by Meade McCloughan

The Phenomenology of Spirit

Translated by Terry P Pinkard, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2017. 536pp., £89.99 hb
ISBN 9780521855792

Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit

Translated by Michael Inwood, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2018. 544pp., £85 hb
ISBN 9780198790624

Reviewed by Meade McCloughan

About the reviewer

Meade McCloughan is on the organizing group of the Marx and Philosophy Society and teaches …


Earlier this year, almost simultaneously, two new translations of Hegel’s Phenomenology appeared. Terry Pinkard’s translation for Cambridge had been long-expected; an evolving draft version had been available on-line since 2008, and indeed some published secondary work on Hegel already cites this. Michael Inwood’s version for Oxford, by contrast, arrived out of the blue; it had been thought that Nicholas Walker was working on one for Oxford.

Pinkard’s version is an entirely fresh rendition of Hegel’s text. Inwood’s version, although this is not explicitly stated anywhere, appears to be a thorough revision of A.V. Miller’s 1977 Oxford University Press version. Inwood’s comments in his ‘Note on the Translation and Commentary’ (xxi) suggest that this is the case; he tells us how his ‘translation policy differs from Arnold Miller’s’, in two respects specifying how his approach ‘restores’ features of Hegel’s text which Miller failed to convey. Inwood’s use of Miller as the basis for this version is further indicated by both his use of Miller’s slightly erroneous paragraph numbering and the noticeable retention of a fair amount of Miller’s text, notwithstanding the extensive transformation it has undergone.

One helpful respect in which both new versions agree is in their use of paragraph numbering. In this, they follow Miller, whose system of paragraph numbers greatly facilitated referencing Hegel’s text, and has been widely adopted by English language commentators. However, Miller made two mistakes in his paragraph numbering, both of which are corrected in Pinkard, but not in Inwood. This then means that the numbering schemes in the two new versions do not exactly correspond. Miller’s mistakes were as follows: (i) the incorrect introduction of a new paragraph 403 on p. 241 (starting ‘In contrast with…’; see Inwood 160 / Pinkard 231, line 33); (ii) running two paragraphs together in his ¶540 (328-329); the last sentence, ‘However, the knowledge…’, should be numbered separately (Inwood 329, line 16 / Pinkard 314). The upshot is that Miller’s, and hence Inwood’s, numbers from 404 to 540 – nearly one-sixth of the whole text – are one more than they should be. However given the frequency with which Miller’s numbers are referred to in the secondary literature, it makes sense to stick with them. Accordingly, Pinkard’s paragraphs numbers from ¶403 (232) to ¶539 (313) would need to be increased by one, to ensure conformity with Miller’s. Pinkard does mention the fact that his ‘numbering system […] is slightly different from the older Miller translation’ (xlv), but fails to give the reader any indication of how to reconcile them, which is rather amiss. Inwood says nothing at all about the issue, which is further indication that his procedure has been to revise Miller’s version, rather than to start completely afresh.

An ideal translation of the Phenomenology would give us a version of the text Hegel published in 1807, with all the ‘front matter’, but neither Pinkard nor Inwood quite manage this. There are three issues:

  1. Inwood provides the title page, which indicates that the work was published as Part One of the System of Science, while Pinkard does not.
  2. In the table of contents, Inwood gives the full 1807 list (3-4), whereas Pinkard has a simplified version (1-2).
  3. Pinkard provides the two part-titles inserted between the Preface and the Introduction (47), while Inwood does not.

Pinkard does includes two valuable “extras” at the end, namely Hegel’s 1807 publicity announcement for the book and the notes he made in 1831 when planning a second edition (468-469).

As translations, the two new versions agree in many respects, in line with the general consensus that has developed over recent years as to how to render various key Hegelian terms. Thus, Inwood and Pinkard both use ‘concept’ for Begriff, ‘actuality’ for Wirklichkeit, ‘sublate’ for aufheben, and, moreover, do so consistently. Compare Miller, who gave us ‘Notion’ for Begriff, alternated between ‘actuality’ and ‘reality’ for Wirklichkeit, and used a wide range of terms for aufheben, including ‘supersede’, ‘sublate’, ‘annul’, ‘overcome’, ‘do away with’, as well as others. Now, it is not that Miller was necessarily always wrong when rendering aufheben so variously; as Inwood notes, Hegel does not always use the term in the specific sense which ‘sublate’ is intended to convey (329; compare Pinkard xl). But, on the one hand, Hegel does do so more often than Miller’s translation indicates, and, on the other hand, the reader might still want to know when it is supposedly being used in a more straightforward sense. Inwood’s and Pinkard’s decision to stick to ‘sublate’, along with their flagging-up of the term (Inwood 329, Pinkard xl-xli), enable the reader to register the presence of aufheben throughout Hegel’s text.

This policy of word-for-word translation is controversial. It does make for a certain rigidity in the resulting English texts, when one might reasonably suppose that the author was using the same term in different contexts for different purposes or effects. This, presumably, explains many of Miller’s variations. Moreover, it does, then, in effect require the reader to engage with the resulting text as a translation, that is, to be aware of the underlying presence of the German terms, and to have a sense of their meanings and resonances. This is very much the spirit in which Inwood and Pinkard have produced and presented their translations, in distinct contrast with Miller. I think this is the right approach to take when translating Hegel, indeed when translating any philosophical text, but others may disagree.

There are of course many respects in which Pinkard’s and Inwood’s choices diverge, both from each other and from Miller. One interesting example, of particular relevance to Marx’s engagement with Hegel, is Entäußerung. Hegel uses the noun Entäußerung/Entäusserung (both versions) and the verb entäussern throughout the Phenomenology (about ninety times). Miller used a confusing variety of words in English to render these terms. For the most part, he chose ‘externalization’, which helpfully conveys the root ausser (outer/external), but not the quality of loss which goes with the process. When Miller wanted to emphasize the sense of loss, he used instead ‘alienation’, ‘renunciation’ or ‘relinquishment’, or even the pairing of ‘externalization’ with ‘kenosis’ (about which see below). The verb entaüssern was rendered variously by him as ‘externalize’, ‘divest (itself)’, ‘alienate (itself)’, ‘renounce (itself)’, ‘relinquish’, ‘rid itself’ and ‘empty out’. Consequently, it was very difficult for the English reader to track Hegel’s use of this significant term. Miller’s practice was all the more unsatisfactory given that he also used ‘alienation’ (though much more consistently) for Entfremdung. The only exceptions were the use of ‘renounced’ and ‘renunciation’ for entfremdet and Entfremdung in ¶507 – doubly annoying in that he also sometimes used these for entäussern and Entäusserung!

In line with their common policy of consistent translation, Pinkard and Inwood both greatly improve on Miller in choosing one set of terms in English to translate Hegel’s German, Pinkard using ‘relinquishment’ and cognates, Inwood ‘estrangement’ and cognates. The fixity with which these terms are applied does inevitably make for some clumsiness at times, but the interpretative gain easily compensates for this.

What then of the actual choices? Entäußerung was always going to be a difficult term to decide upon, as Miller’s wide range of equivalents indicates. Consequently, any word-for-word rendition is going to be problematic. Pinkard’s ‘relinquishment’ seems too passive to me, indeed more so than ‘emptying out’, which Pinkard had used in his draft version. Inwood’s ‘estrangement’ conveys more of a sense of activity and agency, though it can also be read as indicating a condition in which its subject merely finds itself. Both terms perhaps over-emphasize the negativity of Entaüßerung, aligning it too closely with Entfremdung. Miller’s ‘externalization’, by contrast, correctly conveys the generative activity of the process, but not the loss which nearly always goes with it.

Both translators discuss their choices in this respect. Pinkard emphasizes Luther’s use of Entäußerung to translate the Greek Kenosis in Philippians 2:6–8, where it describes God’s ‘emptying’ himself in the act of becoming human (hence Miller’s use of ‘kenosis’ alongside ‘externalization’ at three points in his translation). This is clearly relevant and helpful, but I think it is a mistake to tie Hegel’s use of the term too closely to Luther’s, and for two reasons: first, Hegel’s philosophical employment of Entäußerung is surely also mediated by its use previously in the writings of Mendelssohn, Hamann, Fichte and Schleiermacher (especially Fichte, for whom it describes a positive process of externalization). Secondly, Hegel introduces the term in the Phenomenology in order to characterize the manner in which human beings ‘externalize’ themselves in religious and social objects (e.g. ¶340, ¶484), before going on in Chapter VII to indicate how the Christian then represents a subsequent, secondary Entäußerung – as it were, a reverse Entäußerung – whereby the divine becomes human, i.e. as per the New Testament account. Accordingly, the Lutheran sense is relevant, but only locally. Pinkard does recognize that it is a matter of dispute ‘how much Hegel meant for this term to be used in its religious sense’, adding that ‘the translator’s goal cannot be to settle that dispute but only to make it as clear as possible where the term occurs, what its background associations are, and to let the readers decide for themselves’ (xlii-xliii). This is well-put, but one could still feel that Pinkard has not sufficiently highlighted the ausser aspect of Entäußerung, the significance of which is surely apparent in ¶808’s interplay between Entäußerung and Erinnerung (underlining added for emphasis). However, this interplay does not come across in Pinkard’s translation. Moreover, Pinkard does not say anything about the relation between Entäußerung and Entfremdung, other than mentioning that ‘alienate’ could be used for the former (xlii). Indeed, he does not say anything about Entfremdung / alienation at all (they do not even feature in his ‘Glossary’). Inwood, by contrast, treats Entäußerung and Entfremdung as a pair, saying ‘[t]hey are near synonyms and are used synonymously in e.g. ¶488’ (323). He suggests, but does not quite make explicit, the manner in which Entfremdung can be used to convey both a process and a resulting condition. This distinction can also sometimes help to differentiate Entäußerung and Entfremdung (and I would suggest this applies to Hegel’s use of the terms in the opening paragraphs of Chapter VI, section B, including ¶488). Although Inwood opts for ‘estrangement’ for Entäußerung, which by itself does tilt too much towards the negative, he also correctly emphasizes the sense of ‘externalization’, and, using his separate account of Erinnerung / ‘recollection’ (327), is then able in his commentary on ¶808 to highlight Hegel’s counter-positioning there of the two terms (500).

Let’s take a look at a single short sentence. In the last paragraph of Chapter IV, Section A, Hegel writes:

– ‘Es wird also durch diß Wiederfinden seiner durch sich selbst eigner Sinn, gerade in der Arbeit, worin es nur fremder Sinn zu seyn schien’ (¶196, underlining = Hegel’s emphases).

Here are the three translations:

  1. ‘Through this rediscovery of himself by himself, the bondsman realizes that it is precisely in his work wherein he seemed to have only an alienated existence that he acquires a mind of his own.’ (Miller 118-119)
  2. ‘Through this rediscovery of itself by itself, the serving consciousness realizes that it is precisely in its labour, wherein it seemed to have only an alienated mind, that it acquires a mind of his own.’ (Inwood 81)
  3. ‘Therefore, through this retrieval, he comes to acquire through himself a mind of his own, and he does this precisely in the work in which there had seemed to be only some outsider’s mind.’ (Pinkard 116)

I have the following comments:

  • Inwood and Pinkard both properly convey Hegel’s contrast between eigner Sinn and fremder Sinn, by (i) using the same word to render the two uses of Sinn and (ii) preserving the original emphases, both of which Miller failed to do.
  • Inwood’s version is clearly a revision of Miller’s, correcting and improving the earlier translation, but nonetheless keeping to its structure.
  • Inwood’s changes are all well-judged: (i) the antecedent subject of this sentence is das dienende Bewußtsein, not der Knecht; (ii) ‘labour’ is better than ‘work’ for Arbeit; (iii) using ‘mind’ for both instances of Sinn brings out the contrast; (iv) the added punctuation clarifies the meaning; (v) the use of gender-neutral pronouns is helpful.
  • Pinkard gives us a fresh take on the sentence, one which sticks closer to Hegel’s original, both in terms of structure and words. It thereby reads more like a translation, but also reads in a more flowing style. He gives ‘work’ for Arbeit, when ‘labour’ would be better (and consistent with his practice elsewhere).
  • The main crux here is how to render fremder Sinn. Miller’s/Inwood’s ‘alienated’ is good insofar as it connects with the two previous uses of fremde in the same paragraph (given in all three translations as ‘alien’). Conversely, Pinkard’s version is deficient insofar as it fails to register this. However, ‘alienated mind’ is misleading insofar as it suggests Marx’s sense of ‘alienated labour’, that is, labour in which and from which the labourer’s own mind is alienated, whereas it does seem, as with Pinkard’s translation, that Hegel means for fremder Sinn to evoke the alien presence of the other consciousness, that of the Herr. In which case, might it not be better to render the last part of the sentence as ‘seemed to be only an alien mind’?

As my discussion has indicated, Pinkard and Inwood both devote quite a lot of space to consideration of issues of translations. Pinkard has a nine page ‘Translator’s Note’ (xxxvii-xlv) and a ‘Glossary of Translated Terms’, which just lists equivalents (475-483). He also gives footnotes detailing German terms. Inwood has a one page ‘Note on the Translation and Commentary’ (xxi), and a ‘Glossary of Some Key Terms’, which explains his choices (323-330). He then continues to expand on the issues in his ‘Commentary’. Inwood’s treatment is noticeably more comprehensive. Pinkard’s ‘Glossary’ is inaccurate, for example giving ‘emptying’ for Entäußerung and ‘labor’ for Arbeit.

Inwood’s version further contrasts with Pinkard’s (and resembles the 1977 Oxford edition) in including a helpful paragraph-by-paragraph ‘Commentary’, which extends the book by a further 170 pages. Both new editions have indexes. In Pinkard, this relates solely to Hegel’s text, but fails to include any of Hegel’s references to named individuals (there are sixteen such references to twelve individuals), whereas it does include some of the implicit references (e.g. Diderot, Goethe), even though there is then nothing in the text to directly substantiate these references. Inwood’s index relates both to Hegel’s text and his extensive commentary; it includes all Hegel’s references to individuals, but does not differentiate references to Hegel’s text from those to his commentary. Annoyingly, every page reference in Inwood’s index is incorrect: they all take you to two pages further into the text than they are meant to.

Pinkard’s and Inwood’s new translations certainly supplant Miller’s (though perhaps that should be ‘sublate’ in Inwood’s case!). Each has its advantages and can be specially recommended to different readers. Pinkard provides a leaner, fresher and more flowing version, to be recommended both to those who already have a sense of the translation issues and to those who have previously been working with his draft version. Inwood provides more aids to the reader, so is more suitable to the reader coming to the work for the first time, and is also to be recommended to those familiar with and not wanting to be taken too far from Miller.

3 October 2018


  1. Thank you for your review, that’s certainly food for thought!

    Of course, it is easy to improve on an already existing translation, since that translation has already solved many problems of rendering the text and can also reveal what the translation problems are. Any translation involves some compromises between different concerns, but the overriding priority is usually to convey the meaning of what the author intends as accurately and faithfully as possible.

    In general, I am not in favour of translating concepts such as Entfremdung, Entausserung, Aufheben etc. “uniformly” in one standardized way. The reason is, that the most appropriate translation in reality depends on the context of what is being said, especially if we are dealing with German philosophy. The very reason, why such terms can be translated in different ways, is precisely because the meaning changes or shifts somewhat according to the context of what is being said.

    What is your take on the Baillie translation – you don’t mention it? (see https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/api/datastream?publicationPid=uk-ac-man-scw:189132&datastreamId=FULL-TEXT.PDF ).

    I am a bit more skeptical or critical of Pinkard’s ability as a translator, I guess, insofar as (1) he just isn’t a professional German translator or native speaker of German, and (2) he injects a “Pinkardian reading” of Hegel into his translation. That is not to say, that it is therefore erroneous, or without merit – to venture to translate such as difficult text is certainly courageous – but rather that it goes substantially further than simply an accurate translation; it is also an “interpretation” of the whole text, and of what Hegel’s real intentions were.

    I have to think here of Ben Fowkes’ translation of Karl Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 – although it is certainly a substantial improvement on previous editions in many respects, sometimes the translation is not as accurate as it could be, he “embellishes” Marx’s text, and sometimes simply deletes concepts and substitutes another term (e.g. as I have pointed out in the past, Fowkes simply dropped the concept of “character mask” in his translation, even although David Fernbach’s (more accurate) translation of Vols. 2 and 3 doesn’t). Which is to say, translations can be influenced by the dominant “readings” of the text at the time (when Fowkes made his translation, the “Althusserian” reading was hegemonic).

    Why would Pinkard endeavour a new translation, when there are already pretty good translations available? I suspect it is not simply a matter of clearing up errors, but that Pinkard wants to to advance a particular interpretation of the text which he thinks is the “right” one.

    The question for translators then is, whether such an approach and motivation is really desirable, for the purpose of an accurate and reliable translation, or whether the translator real or subconscious aim is to convey his own luminous and “superior” erudition about the content of the text. In defence of Pinkard, I suppose, it could be noted that he does make fairly explicit what his biases and predilections are.

    As for myself, I prefer a scientific translation of a classic text to be as accurate and as literal as possible, based on a thorough grasp of the languages involved, as well as the subject-matter of the text. That is usually also what academic publishers ask for. Still, I guess that with every new edition of an old text, it becomes possible to create an even better version in the future.

    The last word about Hegel’s Phenomenology probably has not been said yet… but I tend to think that if you are really serious about a classic text, you ought to read it in the original language (some editions of classic texts render the source text and the translation side by side!).

  2. A third new translation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is in preparation for publication by the University of Notre Dame Press. This translation is a collaborative effort, the accomplishment of decades of work, by Peter Fuss (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis) and John Dobbins (independent scholar). Fuss and Dobbins collaborated on an earlier Hegel translation, Three Essays, 1793-1795: The Tübingen Essay, Berne Fragments, The Life of Jesus, which was published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 1984.

  3. Thank you Patrick for that info, I didn’t know that. Of course, if I venture a critical note about Pinkard’s translation effort, the vulgar mob is going to conclude I am “anti-Pinkard”, which is not true at all. Pinkard has published a lot of good work on Hegel (especially his biography). The question for me though is really whether “the translators allow Hegel to speak to the reader through their translations”, or whether “the translators speak for Hegel to the reader, via the translation”. I suppose both approaches have their merits, and I am aware of course that the two approaches might overlap to some extent too.

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