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The impact of the French Revolution on European thought is arguably too eccentric, particular, and profound to characterize with any degree of uniformity or indeed certainty. As a massive historical event of cataclysmic proportion, the revolution irrevocably altered the most basic instituions of political, social, and civil life. Its consequences, both for private individuals and for state actors, were conditioned by very particular and specific contexts. For this reason, it may be argued that the revolution not only lends itself more naturally to historical rather than philosophical explanations, it necessitates them. In this light, the philosophical recovery of the French Revolution produced accounts of its meaning that inevitably grappled with perceptions and understandings of history, human agency, and time. Moreover, such accounts suggested that the forces of change were not self-explanatory and that they must be considered as ideas in themselves. For many British observers, the French Revolution was perceived as a distorted memory of their own political and cultural past, of Great Rebellions and Glorious Revolutions. For those who watched anxiously, or adulantly, in German states, the revolution in France was seen as a novel event and as a harbinger of things to come. But whether to embrace the winds of change or to retreat from them was the salient question. To the extent that the British and German experiences suggested very different conceptions of revolutionary change, it is possible to argue that while the revolution produced a conservative reaction to radical Enlightenment in Prussia, English responses were moderated by a longer set of reformist traditions and grounded in a new and self-conscious awareness of the meaning of history.
Seen from a broad historical perspective, Hegel's political philosophy, as expounded in his 1821 Philosophie des Rechts, was a grand synthesis of all the conflicting traditions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Its theory of the state wedded liberalism with communitarianism; its doctrine of right fused historicism, rationalism and voluntarism; its vision of ideal government united aristocracy, monarchy and democracy; and its politics strove for the middle ground between left and right, progress and reaction. Such an account of Hegel's achievement is not an ex post facto rationalisation; it is a simple restatement of his intentions. For Hegel saw himself as the chief synthesiser, as the last mediator, of his age. All the conflicts between opposing standpoints would finally be resolved – their truths preserved and their errors cancelled – in a single coherent system. The power of Hegel's political philosophy lay here, in its syncretic designs, in its capacity to accommodate all standpoints; any critique of the system, it seemed, came from a standpoint whose claims had already been settled within it.
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy examines Hegel within his broader historical and philosophical contexts. Covering all major aspects of Hegel's philosophy, the volume provides an introduction to his logic, epistemology, philosophy of mind, social and political philosophy, philosophy of nature and aesthetics. It includes essays by an internationally recognised team of Hegel scholars. The volume begins with Terry Pinkard's article on Hegel's life, a conspectus of his biography on Hegel. It also explores some topics much neglected in Hegel scholarship: such as Hegel's hermeneutics and relationship to mysticism. Aimed at students and scholars of Hegel, this volume will be essential reading for anyone interested in nineteenth-century philosophy. The bibliography includes the most important English-language literature on Hegel written in the last fifteen years.
No one who looks at the bibliography to this new edition of The Cambridge Companion to Hegel will be unimpressed by the remarkable growth of interest in Hegel. The bibliography covers only the last fifteen years - roughly those since the appearance of the first edition of this book - and it deals with books in English alone. To prevent it from ballooning to twice, thrice, or four times its size, the editor had to exclude French, German, and Italian books on Hegel. Such a surge in interest is remarkable for any philosopher, but especially for one who, some fifty years earlier, would have been treated as a pariah.
How do we explain the great contemporary interest in Hegel? It is necessary to admit that it is rather puzzling. After the rise of analytic philosophy in the 1920s, and due to the growing influence of positivism in the 1930s, Hegel's reputation fell into steep decline in Britain. The patron saint of British Idealism had become the ogre of positivism and the very model of how not to do philosophy. Hegel's fortunes began to change in the 1960s as the result of the growth of interest in Marxism. For the student rebellion and trade union movements of the 1960s, Marx became the guiding spirit; but the Marx that inspired them was not so much the mature Marx of Das Kapital but the early Marx of the 1844 Paris manuscripts. The concepts and terminology of the early Marx - “alienation,” “self-consciousness,” “mediation” - made Marx's debts to his great forbear obvious. It was clear that one could understand the precise meaning of these important but strange concepts only if one made an intensive study of Hegel, who had not been studied in Britain since the early 1900s. Although Marx claimed that he broke with Hegel - that he stood Hegel on his head - it was obvious that one could appreciate this only with a good grasp of Hegel.
Any student who approaches Kant's philosophy of religion for the first time is bound to be daunted by the task. The obstacles are wide, deep, and long. They are wide because Kant thought about virtually every aspect of religion. They are deep because he thought through all these issues with systematic thoroughness and relentless rigor. And they are long because Kant began to think about religious issues as early as the 1760s, and his thinking underwent several transformations through the decades. If these challenges are not enough, Kant's thinking appears in a formidable corpus of writings. His mature religious philosophy is expounded in his three critical works, the Canon of the Critique of Pure Reason, the Dialectic of the Critique of Practical Reason, and the Doctrine of Method of the Critique of the Power of Judgment. The most important mature work, the only one entirely devoted to the philosophy of religion, is his 1793 Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Apart from these systematic works, there are several important essays of the 1780s and 1790s; there are also the lectures on theology, and last but not least the lectures on ethics, which are crucial for their religious themes.
Of all areas of philosophy, ethics was perhaps the most important for Schleiermacher. Throughout his career he remained devoted to the subject. One of his first endeavors was a translation of Books 8 and 9 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. It was his main interest in the early Halle and Schlobitten years, when he wrote essays on such topics as the meaning of responsibility, the highest good, and the purpose of life. The romantic writings of his early Berlin period (1796-1802) - the Monologen, Athenäumsfragmente, and Vertraute Briefe - were manifestos for “a moral revolution.” Schleiermacher's first published treatise in philosophy, his 1803 Grundlinien einer Kritik der bisherigen Sittenlehre, was a thorough going critique of past ethics. Once his academic career began, ethics remained at the center of his agenda. In Halle and Berlin he would lecture on philosophical ethics eight times.
Any student of Schleiermacher’s ethics immediately confronts a formidable obstacle. For all the importance he gave to the subject, Schleiermacher never published his own system of ethics. He had long nurtured plans for a system, but they never came to fruition. The Grundlinien was only a critical preparation for his system.
It is a commonplace of intellectual history that any philosophical movement must be understood in its historical context. This dictum is especially true of German Idealism, whose aims and problems become intelligible only in the context of the culture of late eighteenth-century Germany. This culture was essentially that of the Enlightenment or Aufklärung, which had dominated intellectual life in Germany since the middle of the eighteenth century.
Toward the close of the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment began to show signs of a crisis. The more it extended its fundamental principles, the more they seemed to lead to dire consequences. The fundamental principles of the Enlightenment were rational criticism and scientific naturalism. While criticism seemed to end in skepticism, naturalism appeared to result in materialism. Both results were unacceptable. If skepticism undermines our common-sense beliefs in the reality of the external world, other minds, and even our own selves, materialism threatens the beliefs in freedom, immortality, and the sui generis status of the mind. There were few Aufklärer in Germany ready to admit such disastrous consequences; but there were also few willing to limit the principles of criticism and naturalism.