Hegel's Realism: The Implicit Metaphysics of Self-Knowledge

By Stovall, Preston | The Review of Metaphysics, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Hegel's Realism: The Implicit Metaphysics of Self-Knowledge


Stovall, Preston, The Review of Metaphysics


THIS PAPER ADDRESSES A READING OF HEGEL'S METAPHYSICS made by Tom Rockmore in Hegel, Idealism, and Analytic Philosophy, (1) and in doing so offers an alternative. As Rockmore's argument aims to present Hegel in a way relevant to contemporary philosophical work, I hope this supplement to Rockmore's discussion may do the same.

Rockmore's book, composed in three sections, begins with an insightful treatment of the analytic turn away from idealism at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the second section he provides a discussion of the more recent interest in Hegel expressed by some inheritors of the analytic tradition in the second half of the twentieth century. In developing his critique of analytic philosophy's engagement with idealism and specifically Hegel, Rockmore contends that Hegel rejects any commitment to metaphysical realism, emphasizing his historicism as the center of his philosophical enterprise. Rockmore thus sees Hegel squarely at odds with the projects most contemporary philosophers, as metaphysical realists, hope to use him for. (2) The final third of the book is then devoted to Rockmore's own reading of Hegel, for whom a rejection of metaphysical realism is combined with a commitment to a Kantian empirical realism instead. (3)

While Rockmore's book is a timely and discerning assessment of the state of recent and historical analytic concern for both idealism in general and Hegel in particular, the empirical element of Hegel's realism contains a metaphysical component unaddressed in Hegel, Idealism, and Analytic Philosophy. Indeed, pace Rockmore, when Hegel's project is seen in proper relief against its Kantian backdrop (and to a certain extent against Hegel's reaction to Fichte and Schelling), the metaphysically realist position in Hegel's thought emerges as a matter of necessity, required to overcome the Kantian problem of an unknowable thing-in-itself. (4) As this paper will indicate, a metaphysically realist reading of Hegel does much to clarify the intentions of some of the more puzzling sections of his writing--particularly in the Preface, Introduction, and closing section to the Phenomenology of Spirit. Further, the metaphysically realist dimension of Hegel's thought offers insight into the structure of Hegel's philosophy writ large--principally in the relationship of the Phenomenology's closing section on Absolute Knowing to Hegel's views on the metaphysics of logic, the natural world, and society. Since Rockmore's reading of Hegel is not uncommon, in that it both downplays the importance of Absolute Knowing and shows a tendency to demystify Spirit in his philosophy, by addressing these elements of Hegel's thought I hope this paper will also serve to broaden the perspectives of others interested in Hegel. In the end this reading of Hegel's realism, while offering a metaphysical component intended both to supplement Rockmore's empirical account and to provide insight into Hegelian philosophy itself, will also suggest ways in which Hegel's metaphysical realism can contribute a schema for contemporary approaches toward metaphysical realism. (5)

The last thirty years especially have seen a wealth of competent secondary literature examining some of the issues discussed here, and many of the positions we will examine are still undergoing rather vociferous debate in the field. Footnotes throughout this paper will indicate where a particular point can be followed up in other sources, also sketching briefly some contours of agreement and disagreement. To keep our discussion to a manageable length, however, I have forgone directly addressing all of the relevant material. Instead, I am primarily concerned with Rockmore's view as he expressed it in Hegel, Idealism and Analytic Philosophy, with my own reading of Hegel, and with how these may be squared with what Hegel left us in his published works. This paper's analysis of the relationship between self-knowledge and knowledge of the world intends to accurately represent a theme central to Hegel's philosophy and integral to his position on metaphysics. …

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