Hegel and the Transformation of Philosophical Critique

Hegel and the Transformation of Philosophical Critique

Hegel and the Transformation of Philosophical Critique

Hegel and the Transformation of Philosophical Critique

Synopsis

William F. Bristow presents an original and illuminating study of Hegel's hugely influential but notoriously difficultPhenomenology of Spirit. Hegel describes the method of this work as a 'way of despair', meaning thereby that the reader who undertakes its inquiry must be open to the experience of self-loss through it. Whereas the existential dimension of Hegel's work has often been either ignored or regarded as romantic ornamentation, Bristow argues that it belongs centrally to Hegel's attempt to fulfil a demanding epistemological ambition.
With hisCritique of Pure Reason, Kant expressed a new epistemological demand with respect to rational knowledge and presented a new method for meeting this demand. Bristow reconstructs Hegel's objection to Kant's Critical Philosophy, according to which Kant's way of meeting the epistemological demand of philosophical critique presupposes subjectivism, that is, presupposes the restriction of our knowledge to things as they are merely for us. Whereas Hegel in his early Jena writings rejects Kant's critical project altogether on this basis, he comes to see that the epistemological demand expressed in Kant's project must be met. Bristow argues that Hegel's method in thePhenomenology of Spirittakes shape as his attempt to meet the epistemological demand of Kantian critique without presupposing subjectivism. The key to Hegel's transformation of Kant's critical procedure, by virtue of which subjectivism is to be avoided, is precisely the existential or self-transformational dimension of Hegel's criticism, the openness of the criticizing subject to being transformed through the epistemological procedure.

Excerpt

Whether, or to what extent, Hegel's system of philosophy regresses to the dogmatic rational metaphysics that Kant had effectively criticized in his Critique of Pure Reason is one of the central perennial issues about Hegel's thought. Undeniably, Hegel makes bold claims on behalf of reason, in conscious defiance of the limits Kant famously draws. According to Kant's critical limits, human reason cannot achieve knowledge beyond the bounds of possible experience, and hence knowledge of reason's special objects in metaphysics (of God, of the soul, of the size, age, or causal ground of the world as a whole) is impossible for us. Kantian criticism consists in the self–limitation of human reason. Hegel, in contrast, claims for his system what he calls ‘absolute’ knowledge, (or also ‘knowledge of the absolute’). Instead of limiting itself, reason finally attains in Hegel's system of thought perfectly adequate knowledge of that which it has in the history of metaphysics forever been attempting to know. Hegel presents his system as the complete fulfillment of reason's age–old ambitions. While so much is undeniable, readers are sharply divided in their responses to Hegel's apparently transgressive metaphysics.

If Hegel's thought has been largely absent in the tradition of Anglo– American analytic philosophy over the last century, this is to a great extent due to the widespread perception that his thought is ‘extravagantly’ metaphysical. in a tradition of philosophy marked by its hostility to metaphysics in general, Hegel's talk of ‘the Absolute’, ‘Spirit’, ‘the Subject’, ‘the Negative’, etc.—all usually capitalized in English translations—has been read as so untied to epistemological constraints as to be nonsense. Hegel acquired the reputation as an unregenerate speculative metaphysician, complacently unconcerned with issues of epistemological justification. Consequently Hegel's thought

Hegel writes in the Introduction to his Science of Logic that its ‘content is the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and the finite mind’ (Hegel, wl, vol. 5, 44/50). (For the manner in which I refer to the texts of Hegel and of Kant, please see the section entitled ‘Abbreviations’.)

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