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2 - Ancient Skepticism, Modern Naturalism, and Nihilism in Hegel’s Early Jena Writings

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

Frederick C. Beiser
Affiliation:
Indiana University
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

Hegel has often been portrayed as a dogmatic metaphysician, uninterested in epistemological issues and in defending his philosophy against epistemic challenges. Indeed, the very idea of epistemology as a distinct philosophical focus or discipline was framed in part by those who opposed Hegelianism.

But the portrayal is a caricature. Hegel is interested in epistemological issues and, as several interpreters have recently observed, has a sophisticated view of the epistemic status of his philosophy.

Central here is Hegel's relation to skepticism, a recurring theme throughout his career. This chapter is concerned with the view of skepticism expressed in Hegel's early Jena writings - not only in his essay on ancient and modern skepticism, the topic of recent discussion, but also in his writings about Jacobi. Others have explored, to great effect, Hegel's preference for ancient over modern scepticism. I will argue that the modern skepticism disparaged by Hegel should be understood as a kind of naturalism, and that, notwithstanding his view of its philosophical merits, it remains in competition with his own philosophical project. I will also argue that the ancient skepticism taken by Hegel to be of philosophical importance is not merely retrieved from the pages of ancient books, for Hegel views it as intimately connected to modern philosophy's nihilism, thematized by Jacobi. While Hegel's views about skepticism and other important matters shifts significantly after Schelling's departure from Jena in 1803, his early views constitute the indispensable backdrop against which to understand the Phenomenology and his later writings. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of skepticism.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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