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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2014

Introduction: German Thought since Kant


Introducing a survey of modern French philosophy, Vincent Descombes summarizes the post-war developments covered by his book as follows:

In the recent evolution of philosophy in France we can trace the passage from the generation known after 1945 as that of the “three H's” to the generation known since 1960 as that of the three “masters of suspicion”: the three H's being Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger, and the three masters of suspicion Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.

What is perhaps most striking about these six named maîtres à penser is that they are all German, or at least German-speaking. Descombes's observations thus illustrate well the outstanding importance of German thought: for over two centuries, German thinkers have mattered in philosophy, not just in the German-speaking world, but world-wide.

The reputation of philosophy teaching in Berlin, in particular, ensured that from the time of Hegel in the 1820s until the Second World War what is now known as the Humboldt University acted as a magnet for generations of the world's brightest philosophical talents. Notable examples include the Dane Søren Kierkegaard, the Americans George Santayana and W. E. B. Du Bois, the Russian Alexandre Kojève, the Romanian Emil Cioran, and the Frenchman Jean-Paul Sartre.