International Journal of Philosophical Studies Vol.

11(2), 191–204

Does Hegel Privilege Speech Over Writing? A Critique of Jacques Derrida
Tanja St¨ hler a
Abstract
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

it is very hard. namely. according to everyday understanding. Moreover. These questions do not so much evolve from within the Hegelian system as have this system as their background. According to Hegel. I shall therefore pose three questions to Derrida’s critique: questions that are external. in order to tackle these questions. even though it must not tempt us to forget the wider context of Hegel’s project. However. The written word. Yet. First. to Derrida’s argumentation. And third. is the image of this word in visible signs. he provides a close reading of specific sentences and particular expressions (especially metaphors). 192 .2 §462.3 since here I focus specifically on Derrida’s critique of Hegel’s theory of signs. and the third to absolute spirit. then. the written word is further away from the thought than is the spoken word. What is the relation between speech and writing. it seems to me that Derrida is basing some of his conclusions on the presupposition that Hegelian dialectic necessarily implies a hierarchy. On my interpretation. 96). and how can language be approached along these lines in the first place? According to common sense. To the common understanding it would thus be no surprise if Hegel privileged speech over writing. I believe that such a close reading is of great value. which is a questionable assumption. which presumes that we approach the question of language as the relationship between speech and writing.I N T E R NAT I O NA L J O U R NA L O F P H I L O S O P H I CA L S T U D I E S to the regime of deconstruction. as it were. even if the dialectic were to involve a hierarchy. 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. This leads me to my main objections. He brings a theme to our attention that is rarely discussed in regard to Hegel’s philosophy. Hegel’s philosophy of language is multifaceted. subjective spirit) for them to represent Hegel’s ultimate standpoint. hence. to refute. the second to objective spirit. III. it will be discussed only briefly in this paper. the spoken word is the expression of a thought. writing versus speech. perhaps impossible. Second. any claims that Hegel makes toward a privilege of speech are systematically in the wrong place (namely. The first question belongs to the realm of subjective spirit. we have to start with Derrida’s critique. such statements go against Hegel’s own intentions and surface in minor. Let me state right away what I regard as the merits of Derrida’s reading. ‘parenthetic’ remarks (PP. Zusatz). But according to him. the fact that our thoughts are tied to words is not a misfortune at all (see Enc. Derrida does not deny this. these statements and arguments are not parenthetic or marginal at all. 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.

intelligence becomes capable of bringing to light what has been hidden in the night of the pit. is making signs. representing a totally different import from what naturally belongs to it. Derrida’s title ‘The Pit and the Pyramid’ is well chosen. What distinguishes the sign from a symbol is the fact that there is no connection or resemblance between the signifier and the signified. but a what seems obvious is that Hegel does not exactly place his semiology in the centre of his logic. As we enter the realm of imagination. Intelligence as a pit.D O E S H E G E L P R I V I L E G E S P E E C H OV E R W R I T I N G ? A. 193 . and where it is conserved’ (Enc. III. Within reproductive imagination. brings out the sign’s ‘arbitrariness’ and ‘heterogeneity’ – and what finally gets manifested in the production of arbitrary signs is ‘the freedom of the spirit’ (PP. Derrida refers to Hegel’s regret that signs and language are often treated as a mere appendix. is ‘silent as death and resonating with all the powers of the voice which it holds in reserve’ (PP. so Derrida explains. To support this claim. the letter ‘ ’ is a sign. The metaphor of the pyramid. and the sign is ‘some immediate intuition. 86). as the externalizing power. in between ‘Recollection’ (Erinnerung) and ‘Memory’ (Ged¨ chtnis). Derrida’s Reading of Hegel’s Semiology Derrida wrote ‘The Pit and the Pyramid’ for a volume on Hegel’s Science of Logic edited by Jean Hyppolite. Enc. Imagination. 77). Even though Derrida mainly refers to several sections from the third volume of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia – sections which belong to the part on subjective spirit – he claims that ‘the place of semiology is really at the center. so that their ‘systematic place’ is neglected (cf. ‘Psychology: The Spirit’. the theory of signs occurs in the subsection ‘Imagination’ (Einbildungskraft). But the letter ‘ ’ (the Greek chi) is not a symbol for the sound ‘ ’ because there is nothing particularly chiasmatic about the sound ‘ ’. Why this particular placement? We shall have to see. of Hegel’s Logic’ (PP. Hegel’s semiology is placed under the subheading ‘Representation’ (Vorstellung). but are no longer present. This storing up is what happens in recollection. Intelligence has this character insofar as images are stored up in it – images as they come out of consciousness. so Derrida claims. Yet. Hegel talks about a foreign soul in the pyramid. III. It alludes to Hegel’s usage of metaphors when talking about signs: Hegel likens intelligence to a ‘nightlike pit’ (n¨ chtlicher Schacht) or to an ‘unconscious a pit’ (bewußtloser Schacht) (§453). The sun is a symbol for the good because it is illuminating and gives life. it is the pyramid into which a foreign soul has been conveyed. and not in the margins or the appendix. More precisely. §458). images are drawn from this pit. what place does Hegel really give to the theory of signs? Within the third section of ‘Subjective Spirit’. §458). 71). namely. Therefore. This pit is connected to the pyramid: the pyramid is Hegel’s metaphor for a sign.

Thamus. time is the sublation (Aufhebung) of space. 102). the hierarchy of different kinds of writing which is set up on the basis of speech. but nonetheless dead. Hegel’s rejection of calculation and machines. where Theuth presents the art of writing to the Egyptian king Thamus. Thus Hegel declares that the phonic sound (Ton). Derrida points out an interesting connection here. In the realm of semiology. the relationship between space and time is reflected in the relationship between written sign and phonic sound. writing is. however. rejects the art of writing. §§254–60). writing is a means (Greek: pharmakon) to make the Egyptians wiser and to help their memories. Of course. As Hegel explains in his ‘Philosophy of Nature’ (Enc. there is a tendency in his essay to regard dialectical development as a straightforward hierarchy. extended in space (see Enc. but instead of being resuscitated. The sign is that which is drawn from the nightlike pit. Even though I have simplified Derrida’s argumentation for the purposes of this paper. In ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. yet. Hegel is not the first to describe writing in this way. Let me briefly trace three more indications of this privilege: that of time over space.4 Thus writing is allied with death from the start. According to Theuth. but in a pyramid. but all the metaphors that come up in the context of Hegel’s semiology allude to death.. and language as spoken. Hegel reminds us to think of the dialectic as a circle that only reaches its beginning in the end. II. i. life and speech is just one indication of the privilege of speech that Derrida detects in Hegel’s text. III.e. Writing is spatial. It was done more explicitly and more prominently in Plato’s Phaedrus. It is visible. §459). it is immediately buried again. and. as in the hierarchical ranking of languages. which is inherently temporal. Derrida argues that the spatiality of writing makes it inferior for Hegel. Time is the truth of space. Hegel argues that ‘alphabetic writing is on all accounts the more intelligent’ (Enc.I N T E R NAT I O NA L J O U R NA L O F P H I L O S O P H I CA L S T U D I E S One aspect that interests Derrida in Hegel’s usage of these two metaphors is the linkage to death which they both exhibit. people will now lean on what has been written. we need to be cautious when it comes to dialectic and its purported hierarchy. is the truer ‘Gestalt’ of a sign that is written. given that Hegel appears to subordinate space to time. since it encourages forgetting. §459) – particularly in comparison to hieroglyphic 194 . a parricide. speech does not require space in order to unfold. standing out. Derrida analyses Socrates’ claim that written speeches are helpless because their father cannot save them. Nevertheless. not in a pit. What is alive is spirit. III. 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. in that sense. finally. The connection between death and writing.

He rejects Egyptian as well as Chinese writing. Thus Derrida claims that one thing Hegel ‘could never think is a machine that would work’ (PP. as Derrida assumes. his italics). Derrida concludes his essay by thematizing Hegel’s rejection of mathematical writing. 100ff. with the result that the written letters of the alphabet are ‘signs of signs’ (Enc. But I doubt that Hegel’s hierarchy of forms of writing among the world’s languages can really serve as a basis for examining the relationship between speech and writing. and for writing too much when they write’ (PP. Derrida is right to be deeply suspicious of Hegel’s derogatory remarks concerning Chinese thinking. III. as Hegel claims. §457) – and yet he does enter into it. he also rejects Chinese speech: ‘In sum. If hieroglyphs are closer to things while letters are closer to sounds. mathematical symbolism. are dangerous and misleading. given that it has been possible to construct machines which effect mathematical operations: calculators (Logic I. I agree that Hegel’s claims about a hierarchy of different kinds of writings. a letter is a ‘sign of a sign’.e. and if this makes letters superior in Hegel’s eyes. it could. His main argument is that alphabetic writing takes its orientation from speech or from phonetic sounds. i. Hegel regards calculation as ‘an external and therefore mechanical business’. and it is interesting to see parallels between the Encyclopaedia account and Hegel’s reflections in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy concerning Chinese culture (cf. Yet. but not necessarily a privilege of sounds over letters: a sound is a sign. where one is more intelligent than the other. Yet ultimately. and writing. However. but rather the contrary. even if no immediate conclusions concerning speech and writing can be drawn from it. as I shall discuss in more detail below. Various accusations could be made with regard to Hegel’s account of a hierarchy among cultures as it comes up in various places throughout his writings. I do not see how a privilege of writing over speech logically follows.. 107. this does not at all make a letter something of lesser importance. I suspect that the problem lies rather in Hegel’s 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. Aside from the dangers of this particular hierarchy. However. Hegel not only rejects Chinese writing. Derrida means a machine that would function merely for the sake of 195 . 104).). on a more general level. then he obviously starts from the assumption that there is a privilege of sounds over things. lead to the assumption that Hegelian thought favours hierarchies.). §459) whereas hieroglyphic writing makes recourse to spatial figures without any phonetic origin. PP. By this. 249/216f. as Derrida points out. Hegel reproaches the Chinese for speaking too much when they speak. speaking. Derrida claims that Hegel contradicts himself in arguing for the superiority of alphabetic writing.D O E S H E G E L P R I V I L E G E S P E E C H OV E R W R I T I N G ? writing. however. III.

But does this mean that Hegel suggests that we should evade language? On the contrary: language is what is ‘more truthful’. the only thing that is preserved is the ‘Now’. What about writing. Sense-certainty learns that it was aiming at the particular. as becomes obvious in Hegel’s famous example: if we ask sense-certainty: ‘What is now?’. not for the sake of ‘its final utility. Indeed. at noon. one concerning objective spirit. 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. for it expresses that which has turned out to be the genuine truth of sense-certainty. the truth has become stale. A true statement does not become false by being written down. its work’ (ibid. yet it arrived at the universal. one concerning subjective spirit. and the last concerning absolute spirit. proves itself to be. something that is not. its meaning. it is less likely that we shall be proven wrong than if we write it out. regardless of whether they ultimately succeed in serving these purposes or not.g. Therefore. namely. writing has a crucial role. Rather than confining Hegel to a machine that is senseless yet efficient.I N T E R NAT I O NA L J O U R NA L O F P H I L O S O P H I CA L S T U D I E S functioning. It learns that it is not possible ever to say a sensible being which we mean to say (PhS.. B. and they are produced to serve specific purposes. Derrida is justified in drawing our attention to Hegel’s remarks on semiology and in pointing out some unquestioned presuppositions in Hegel’s account. he presents a ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’. namely. But what about the broader context of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Spirit’? Even though Hegel says that intelligence finds its expression in speaking. Something of which we were certain. I would like to take up the question of writing versus speech once again by extending its scope: I shall pose three questions. Three Questions for Derrida Before Hegel turns to that part of subjective spirit which he names ‘Psychology’ and to which the sections on imagination belong. so we write this answer down. the night. and Hegel himself announces that he has treated sensecertainty in more detail in his 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit. 85/60). then? As long as we merely say ‘Now is Night’. it would not make sense for Hegel to say that spirit finds its expression in speaking. This ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ starts with ‘sense-certainty’. the universal. concerning the connection between death and writing (as it becomes apparent in Hegel’s metaphors) and the relationship between space and time (regardless of whether the idea of sublation means a hierarchy or not). its result. a possible answer might be: ‘Now is Night’. e.). But now. on the contrary. let us return to our original topic: the relationship between speech and writing. sense-certainty refuses not only to 196 . In sensecertainty. Nor does spirit express itself in writing.

§539). The state is first and foremost based on its constitution. Let us consider what Hegel says about the institutions of objective spirit and their relationship to language. morality. but Hegel is ultimately not supportive of the idea of contracts since they do not necessarily involve morality. One reason why language (both spoken and written) is what is ‘more truthful’ is that language connects me to other human beings. ‘Sittlichkeit’. however. Thus the level of right leads to the level of morality. Taking history seriously means stressing the importance of tradition and heritage. But is writing a constitution down not the result of discussing the constitution or. From consciousness (which is already not just my consciousness. The constitution is the ‘articulation or organization of state power’ (Enc. Objective spirit is divided into three parts: right. Hegel is not interested in my individual consciousness. and since there is not enough emphasis on customs as they are lived. the result of one ruler developing the constitution? Hegel explains that the question of who ‘makes’ a constitution is already the wrong question. the movement continues to spirit – and from subjective spirit to objective spirit. and particularly. but rather the centre and turning point of his dialectic of sensecertainty. What has been is not. 88/63). the ultimate level (after the family and ‘burgerliche Gesellschaft’) is the state. for that matter. in turn. but a shape of spirit). at most. we find some interesting ¨ thoughts concerning language. written language. Hegel discusses contracts. does not depend on whether the contract is written or spoken. and ‘Sittlichkeit’.D O E S H E G E L P R I V I L E G E S P E E C H OV E R W R I T I N G ? write but even to speak. In his treatment of right. III. he shows how writing takes us to the essence of sense-certainty. and yet we were originally directed toward being (PhS. Writing is a manifestation of memory. This deficiency. which can – and often do – take the form of written contracts. In his reflections on objective spirit. 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 Hegel’s philosophy. but morality turns out to be contradictory in so far as it emphasizes the individual’s conscience too much. A constitution is in most cases a written document. Writing makes obvious that we cannot stay with a given Now because even a simple ‘is’-statement has a history. means that written texts have an important role to play. Here. Within the third dimension. a contract can be agreed to even if its content is something immoral. But even mere pointing is destined to fail: the Now as it is shown has already passed. it is spirit and spirit’s history which make and have made constitutions. and we know about the constitutions of past states from written documents. there can even be a contract to kill someone. Hegel reinforces his emphasis on 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. 197 . for speech would already mean taking a certain distance. it is willing to show its Now to us. and this.

Rousseau. Thanks to the close connection of spirit and Notion Hegel can claim that language is the ‘existence’ (Dasein) of spirit (PhS.I N T E R NAT I O NA L J O U R NA L O F P H I L O S O P H I CA L S T U D I E S The completion of the state. 198 . In Notion. The third question I want to ask Derrida concerns absolute spirit. we do not make them by abstracting from apparently concrete things. As the first systematic philosopher of history. Here. given that the function of the monarch is a representational function anyway. but because it is so concrete that the very distinction between writing and speaking is too abstract for it. the ‘truth’ of being and essence. and only by virtue of it is there anything else (Enc. Absolute spirit is the Notion (Begriff) thinking itself – the Notion that has come to itself and knows itself. I. the third doctrine of Hegel’s logic.g. the Notion is what is there first. Zusatz). 478/395). and others? It would be possible to raise the objection that a state might have an unwritten constitution. but at the same time. 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. is a constitutional monarchy in which the monarch represents the will of the state. according to Hegel. in considering the importance of the monarch’s signature – justifiably be confronted with the same objection that is levelled at Plato. This is not because Notion is so abstract that it cannot be either written or spoken.). Rather. it exists ‘in the form of the most improbable signature’. If Derrida’s thesis was right that there is a privilege of speech over writing throughout Hegel’s philosophy of signs and that this semiology is at the centre of Hegel’s logic. Quite frequently. it does not make sense even to pose the question of writing versus speech. §163f. and that a monarch who does not sign anything still has significant power – but it is remarkable that the monarch’s power can be condensed into something as trivial as a signature.) because the will of the state gets manifested in this written sign.5 Yet. According to Hegel. §279. there is no evidence for a privilege of speech over writing on the level of Notion. For Notion. in particular. then this claim would also have to hold for the doctrine of Notion.. I shall not be able to show any privilege of writing over speech as far as Notion is concerned. The monarch’s signature is the ‘last word beyond which it is impossible to go’ (ibid. the monarch has ‘no more to do than sign his name’ (Philosophy of Right. Hegel’s philosophy of language culminates. we are tempted to ask: how do Hegel’s thoughts about signatures fit in with Derrida’s own ideas on this subject? It would be interesting to compare Hegel’s reflections with Derrida’s statement that if writing exists at all. Husserl. the second question for Derrida is: can a philosopher who more than any other puts history at the centre of his thinking – e. we need to keep in mind that the monarch’s signature has so much power only because the maker of the constitution is not ultimately the monarch: spirit is. To put this more generally. we do not ‘make’ Notions.

imagination stands at the threshold between intuition (Anschauung) and thinking (Denken). C. and if the question of a hierarchy between writing and speech does not make sense for the domain of Notion. Furthermore.D O E S H E G E L P R I V I L E G E S P E E C H OV E R W R I T I N G ? 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 Hegel’s semiology be claimed to be at the centre of Hegel’s logic if it clearly has its proper place within subjective spirit. there are even some indications that point to the opposite privilege. This is the place which Kant as well has given to imagination. for Hegel. For Hegel’s semiology belongs to subjective spirit. Without going into the complex issue of the relationship between recollection and memory. however. Before turning to the details of the text. which is truly at the centre of Hegel’s logic? The Notion is what makes differences such as the one between writing and speech possible in the first place. Hegel’s Theory of Signs In returning to sections 457–9 of the Encyclopaedia. The importance of imagination is twofold. but this is still not the same as having a central position within Hegel’s logic. What these questions suggest is that Hegel’s system as such does not require a privilege of speech over writing. Second. let us return to the very sections on which Derrida focussed: Hegel’s theory of signs. the theory of signs occurs in the section entitled ‘Imagination’. let me note briefly how 199 . First. If the progression of Hegelian dialectic means a hierarchy (as Derrida seems to presuppose. imagination is placed between ‘Recollection’ and ‘Memory’. but that Derrida himself did not interpret. which is neither material nor immaterial. while he considers written texts and signatures within objective spirit (which is supposedly a higher level) before arriving at the realm of Notion. language extends beyond what he develops in his theory of signs. The fact that imagination leads to thinking makes it all the more important to keep in mind that. Imagination has a crucial position within subjective spirit. After we have seen that Hegel’s philosophy does not in principle yield a privilege of speech over writing. a philosopher who emphasizes the relevance of history as much as Hegel does cannot ultimately neglect the importance of writing and written texts. As we saw before. which sublates both speech and writing. and which captures and encompasses everything there is. which covers the transition between intuition and thinking. we shall look for statements in the text that are relevant to Derrida’s question. we need to consider the place of Hegel’s theory of signs within the system again. there will be a privilege of writing over speech. so Derrida is right about the crucial position of the theory of signs. and as I doubt is the case). within the section ‘Representation’.

as it turns out. It accomplishes this by taking up the sign into the realm of intelligence – an act which. And even though it would not necessarily cause a contradiction on the level of subjective spirit if Hegel were to reject writing. 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. as the move opposite to externalization. a contrast between the subjective and the objective realm comes into play. furthermore. Certainly. We remember words. and that we do so involuntarily (Enc. In other words. Hegel does not draw this conclusion. Zusatz). but also richer and more complex in quality. However. It is important to take recollection. re-establishes a unity of what is a subjective and what is objective. and not just how to speak. memory (Ged¨ chtnis). generations. Writing is what connects humans and. he says that the 200 . and this.I N T E R NAT I O NA L J O U R NA L O F P H I L O S O P H I CA L S T U D I E S Hegel describes this relationship. and it connects us to previous and future generations. Hegel says explicitly that it is an important basis for education to learn how to read and write. memory repeats the movement of recollection. the level of imagination. narratives and myths can also be passed on by means of speech. is the necessary condition for thinking. Erinnerung. in turn. Hegel could now come to the same conclusion that King Thamus yields in Plato’s Phaedrus and say that we need writing only if our memory is too poor for some reason. more importantly. III. the content that has already been mine as an initial experience really becomes mine because I recollect it. as writing developed historically. It has even been argued that the emergence of writing allowed philosophy to arise and to be pursued further. yields an externalization of intelligence (§451. The third level. and certainly oral transmission improves our memory. we make a difference between the thought and the object.6 Language is our cultural heritage. Hegel says that memory is to the word as recollection is to immediate intuition (§461). on the level of objective spirit matters are more complicated: writing is more than just a means to remind me of my daily tasks. §459). the content preserved became not only quantitatively more. Through this internalization. Zusatz). §451. Recollection is the most abstract level. Furthermore. III. This difference allows for the emergence of the sign as that which makes the content of my representation external. it means that we recollect a content ‘which is ours already’. literally: as internalization. we remember names. there is the danger of our memory becoming increasingly poor the more we write things down. On the second level. but with regard to a new and more complex content: the word as one particular kind of sign. 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.

D O E S H E G E L P R I V I L E G E S P E E C H OV E R W R I T I N G ? importance of reading and writing alike has not been sufficiently stressed. In other words. we need to learn signs – and we can learn something from signs specifically about the relationship between subject and object. At first glance. the phonic sound. will be clearer and more articulate than a language which is merely spoken. Hegel is not really concerned with the relationship between writing and speech at all. if this sentence does not discuss speech in relation to writing. This means that a language which is accompanied by writing. and it has been prepared for by another. In this sentence. I am thinking here not of the Phaedrus. This constitutes a fairly emphatic statement in favour of writing over speech. a sign is not by its very nature deficient. For Hegel. alphabetic writing. when he says that alphabetic writing consists of ‘signs of signs’ while vocal language consists of signs (§459)? To understand this sentence correctly. Hegel writes: ‘Intelligence expresses itself immediately and unconditionally by speaking’ (Enc. vocal language is dependent on alphabetic language to the extent that written language helps us to work out distinctions within a language more clearly. intelligence) is not the highest and most concrete. So. the most immediate expression of something (in this case. rather. this sentence might seem to point to a priority of speech over writing – yet for Hegel. It repeats the 201 . This means that he is also preparing the transition to less immediate forms of language. but the most abstract expression. what about the sentence in which Hegel clearly does discuss their relation. in contrast. this connection between writing and speaking also sheds light on Hegel’s remark in the last paragraph of section 459. shortly before he turns to ‘memory’. and more specifically. Writing helps to develop a language better. we have to keep in mind that Hegel is not Plato. forms for which the alternative of writing and speaking is not relevant. Being a ‘sign of a sign’ does not signify a double deficiency by way of being twice removed. more subtle move: ‘The progress of the vocal language depends most closely on the habit of alphabetical writing. III. he is preparing for the transition from imagination to memory and ultimately to thinking. As a ‘sign of a sign’. by means of which only does vocal language acquire the precision and purity of articulation’ (§459). Thanks to this unique relation. but of the Republic. the written letter accomplishes this unique relation between the subjective and the objective in a more refined form than the mere sign. This is due to the fact that the sign allows for a unique relation between the subjective and the objective sphere. on the contrary: Hegel claims in a Zusatz to section 457 that the sign is ‘a great advance on the symbol’. §459). 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. Certain ambiguities within language become more obvious and can be determined more clearly in written language than in the mere oral usage of language.

that which is signified can come forth. it produces something external and objective. One general objection I have already hinted at concerns the connection between dialectic and hierarchy. but withdraws before that which it signifies. Then.7 D. using one to prove the other. and that they are worth being investigated. Subjectivity is transformed into objectivity. and only the sign remains. namely. if the dialectic were to imply hierarchy. he shows how Hegel goes back and forth between factual examples and general statements. while not being sufficiently attentive to conservation and negation. the written letter includes more of the objective dimension. As imagination becomes ‘imagination which creates signs’ (§457).e.). even the sign is not important as such. as in the analysis of alphabetic writing and hieroglyphic writing. Derrida points out that metaphors in general and Hegel’s metaphors in particular are not ‘innocent’. II. There are definite merits in Derrida’s thesis: first. and vice versa – and that Hegel is neither explicit enough about these procedures nor always sufficiently careful in drawing his conclusions. even though it stands back and lets the thing come forth. it is merely subjective. Yet. the sign. It is Derrida’s question. my conviction is that the question of whether writing or speaking is privileged is not Hegel’s question. In this peculiar withdrawal. §351). Derrida seems to presuppose that dialectical movement necessarily implies hierarchy. Overall. Signification is thus a complex movement. 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. as it were.. One could argue that by being more intimately tied to materiality than the sound. Hegel’s semiology. and he poses it to Hegel’s text in such a way that it cannot be answered unambiguously. and written language mirrors this movement in comparison to spoken language. Third. and it does this in such a way that ‘the inner and the outer are completely one’ (ibid. the aspect of elevation. In creating the sign. Imagination makes itself ‘be as a thing (zur Sache)’ (ibid.I N T E R NAT I O NA L J O U R NA L O F P H I L O S O P H I CA L S T U D I E S sign’s movement once again. Before imagination starts creating signs. while the written sign only comes up in the ‘Philosophy of Spirit’ – or by 202 .) by lending an intuition to the representation: i. Conclusion What conclusion can be drawn with regard to Derrida’s 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). he alerts us to a group of sections in Hegel’s Encyclopaedia that are rarely discussed: in short. imagination withdraws from the scene. it is preserved in this objectivity. but this is to place too much emphasis on just one aspect of sublation. objectivity is lacking.

vols 8. Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind: Part 3 of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830). trans. chooses not to focus on them). A. vol. But at the same time. in Of Grammatology. objective. namely. a historical one. 9. A. but in further writings. . the Notion precedes and transcends the difference between speech and writing. Trans. 1971). he is not attentive enough to the subtleties of Hegel’s theory of signs. 10. Vols I. V. in so far as this question is. Vol. 88 (henceforth PP). However. Ireland Notes 1 Jacques Derrida. the second to the English translation): Enc. One question that remains open concerns the possibility of Hegel’s philosophy of the Notion doing justice to differences at all.8 It is in the light of this assertion that we should reconsider Hegel’s philosophy of language as it is played out differently for subjective. in Margins of Philosophy. Together with the Zus¨ tze in Boumann’s text (1845). III. Whether I write down a simple statement like ‘Now is Night’ or whether a nation fixes its constitution in writing. The material in which Hegel discusses the advantages of writing is sufficiently rich to yield the conclusion that Derrida indeed draws elsewhere. II.D O E S H E G E L P R I V I L E G E S P E E C H OV E R W R I T I N G ? pointing out that written language emerged later in history than spoken language. . While Derrida believes that Hegel would only against his own intentions admit of the significance of writing. I do not mean to claim that Derrida misunderstands Hegel. trans. 2 Hegel’s works are quoted according to the following abbreviations (if page numbers rather than paragraph numbers are given. and absolute spirit. yet unfortunately. a Werke in zwanzig B¨ nden. 1982). edited by Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus a Michel on basis of the Werke of 1832–45 (Frankfurt a. which makes him ‘the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of writing’. 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. the first number refers to the German text. M. I believe that Hegel wrote these statements quite consciously (and it is my suspicion that Derrida. Wallace. Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. III = Enzyklop¨ die der philosophischen Wissenschaften. 203 . II = Enzyklop¨ die der philosophischen Wissenschaften. p. like all philosophical questions. Derrida’s reading is obviously subtler than these overly simple conclusions would be. I. Enc. W. ‘The Pit and the Pyramid: Introduction to Hegel’s Semiology’. a Werke. it has to be pursued not only in further speeches. also quite consciously. discourse’. 1970/1). Miller (Oxford: Clarendon a Press. without much elaboration: Hegel shows ‘the essential necessity of the written trace in a philosophical . University College Dublin.

Jacques Derrida. trans. Miller (London: George Allen and Unwin. 207). 4 Jacques Derrida. 26. PhS = Ph¨ nomenologie des Geistes. 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. ‘Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida’. 7. A. p. M. ed. ee e 1974). Searle. Vol. in Dissemination. op.I N T E R NAT I O NA L J O U R NA L O F P H I L O S O P H I CA L S T U D I E S Logic = Wissenschaft der Logik. Werke. trans. Searle. Science of Logic. 1952). 7 See also Simon. Werke. 1997). Mythe et soci´ t´ en Gr` ce ancienne (Paris: Maspero. with notes by T. Gerald Graff (Evanston: Northwestern University Press. 1988). Das Problem der Sprache bei Hegel (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer. 1977). Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Phenomenology of a Spirit.. 3 For a more comprehensive account of Hegel’s philosophy of language. trans. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 21. cit. V. 1966). in his response to Derrida’s article. Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 8 Jacques Derrida. Philosophy of Right = Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. 6 See Jean Pierre Vernant. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press. A. 1976. C. Vols 5. trans. 165ff. 6. London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1983). in Limited Inc. Vol. G. 1969). pp. 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. Of Grammatology. ‘Signature Event Context’. trans. 5 Cf. Werke. Glyph (1977). 204 . ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’. Spivak (Baltimore. p. p. B. 3. see Josef Simon. V.