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Here's the first paragraph from Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes:

Das Wissen, welches zuerst oder unmittelbar unser Gegenstand ist, kann kein anderes sein als dasjenige, welches selbst unmittelbares Wissen, Wissen des Unmittelbaren oder Seienden ist. Wir haben uns ebenso unmittelbar oder aufnehmend zu verhalten, also nichts an ihm, wie es sich darbietet, zu verändern und von dem Auffassen das Begreifen abzuhalten.

In other words, he's saying that in his investigation he will try to analyze things exactly as they appear to him, to be as faithful as he can to his direct experience.

What is not clear to me the separation he tries to do between Auffassen and Begreifen. From what I've looked up, the two verbs are very similar, roughly meaning understand, so it looks like he's playing with some subtle difference.

In an English edition I've found, the translator makes the distinction apprehending vs. comprehending.

If this is correct, which one is auffassen and which is begreifen?

Is this distinction common in German or is it just a technical thing?

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Auffassen und Begreifen sind im normalen Sprachgebrauch Synonyme. Beide beschreiben ursprünglich faktische Tätigkeiten, die man mit den Händen ausführt ("fassen" und "greifen"), die metaphorisch in die "Denkwelt" übernommen wurden und mit manuellen Tätigkeiten nichts mehr zu tun haben.

Hegel unterscheidet in seiner Begriffswelt das Auffassen vom Begreifen, indem er ihm eine sammelnde (und in gewisser Weise auch eine subjektive) Komponente zuschreibt, während der Begriff die komplette abstrakte Wesenheit eines Dings und seine Beziehungen zu anderen Dingen umfasst. Es handelt sich also um eine fachliche Begrifflichkeit, die Hegel den eigentlichen Synonymen aufprägt.

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    +1. Meinst Du im 1. Satz eigentlich "fassen und *greifen"?
    – marquinho
    Sep 17, 2022 at 12:09
  • @marquinho ja, natürlich - danke!
    – tofro
    Sep 17, 2022 at 13:19
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I am not an expert on Hegel. That said, this is my take on it:

The differentiation between apprehend and comprehend is a very good translation. apprehend is the translation of auffassen, and comprehend is the translation of begreifen.

Hegel wants to define a certain kind of knowledge which is "unmediated" - unmittelbar. Usually, the word unmittelbar rather means immediate, but Hegel uses it in a literal way here. Today, we would probably say unvermittelt. He wants to express that there is no medium between the knowledge and "us", that the knowledge comes to us directly. The potential medium Hegel is having in mind here, is reason.

You are right, there is no big difference in normal language between auffassen and begreifen. Hegel uses the words in a slightly idiosyncratic way, giving them a difference in meaning they don't have in non-Hegel German. begreifen is the verb to the noun Begriff ("notion"). And Begriff is a high-order concept, the result of a cognitive process. So, that is why I think that begreifen is very well translated as comprehend.

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Just to add my two cents to the already-existing answers, I think a (simplified) comparison "German - French - English" could be insightful here:

  • "fassen" (German) = "prendre" (French) = to take (English)
  • "auf-fassen" (German) = "com-prendre" (French) = to... "with-take"?? (English)

Therefore, I think the English translation of "to comprehend" looks rather appropriate ?!

Please feel free to correct me as I am not a German speaker.

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