Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
To speak of ‘the legacy of Idealism’ is to combine two terms neither of which is unproblematic. The term ‘legacy’ was long compromised through discussion within the GDR of the maintenance of its cultural traditions; but these days it seems, particularly in a philosophical context, that once more it can be used in a fairly unembarrassed way (as is shown for example by Hegels Erbe (Hegel's Legacy), the book of essays edited by Halbig, Quante and Siep in 2004). My concern here will not be with the reconstruction of the influence of individual thinkers, but with their connections with one another, with the intellectual force field to which Dieter Henrich has given the name ‘constellations’ (Konstellationen). Within a very short time, in the two decades at the end of the eighteenth century, the structure of speculative Idealism arose. It shaped intellectual history and even today it sets a benchmark for philosophical thought – comparable only with what was achieved in the classical period of Athens and Florence. According to Rüdiger Bubner, in the introduction to Innovationen des Idealismus (1995, published in English as The Innovations of Idealism, 2003), we have today become accustomed
to seeing German Idealism as more than simply a particularly inspiring period in the history of philosophy. And despite increasing chronological distance, we regard idealism as exemplary because of its quick awareness of problems, intensive movements of ideas and prudent, which is to say, undogmatic formation of a political rationality.
Yet despite all the sustained interest in this philosophical epoch, it remains enormously difficult to agree what constitutes German Idealism at its core. Historically we have become accustomed to distinguish two phases of development: the critical phase and the speculative phase that followed it. But it is frequently pointed out, inter alia in Walter Jaeschke's inaugural lecture, that talk of ‘German Idealism’ is, for various reasons, not suited to be the name of an epoch, and that, in contrast, it would be preferable to speak of ‘classical German philosophy’.