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3 - The Symbolic Dimension and the Politics of Left Hegelianism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 August 2009

Douglas Moggach
Affiliation:
University of Ottawa
Warren Breckman
Affiliation:
Associate professor of modern European intellectual and cultural history, University of Pennsylvania
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Summary

One of the many divisions between Hegel and his Romantic contemporaries was over the status of the symbolic. For the Romantics, the symbol is the perfect fusion of form and content. As F. W. J. Schelling wrote, the symbol is the “synthesis” of the particular and the general, in “which the general does not signify the particular nor does the particular signify the general, but in which the two are absolutely one.” The symbolic expressed the Romantics' paradoxical quest for the unity of the perfectly individual with the fully universal, their contradictory yearning for both the fullest possible presence of meaning and the inexpressible, unapproachable, and inscrutable. The symbol, to cite Schelling once again, creates an “inner bond uniting art and religion,” and further, the symbol establishes the philosophy of art “as the necessary goal of the philosopher, who in art views the inner essence of his own discipline as if in a magic and symbolic mirror.” Hegel, by contrast, judged the symbol to be inadequate for philosophy, preferring the linguistic sign as the privileged medium of the science of the concept. According to him, a symbol conveys its meaning through the presentation of some quality or qualities that it has in common with that meaning. By contrast, the specific virtue of the sign is precisely its arbitrariness. Because its capacity to convey meaning depends only on convention and agreement, the sign could be purged of the naturalness and intuitiveness that linger in the symbol.

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The New Hegelians
Politics and Philosophy in the Hegelian School
, pp. 67 - 90
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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