The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Dean Moyar


1

Changes in the English-speaking philosophical community in the last twenty years make this an auspicious moment for a new companion to nineteenth-century philosophy. The narrowness and territoriality that accompanied the division between so-called analytic and continental philosophy for many years has given way to an openness marked by a plurality of approaches to philosophical problems. For the study of the history of philosophy, this shift has been nowhere more important than for the appropriation of nineteenth-century thinkers. While philosophical respectability in Anglo-American philosophy used to end with Kant and resume with Frege and Russell, there is now serious attention being paid at all levels of the profession to the thinkers represented in this companion. To take only the example closest to my heart, the last thirty years have seen a dramatic increase in attention to postKantian German Idealism. Inquiry into Fichte and Hegel, as well as into the many other figures in the immediate Kantian aftermath, has matured as a field of historical study, and has inspired a number of important appropriations by analytically oriented philosophers.

Accounts of the nineteenth century are usually oriented by the century’s great thinkers, whose diversity makes studying the century as a whole seem unmanageable. The originality of the views, along with the assumption by many of these thinkers that the reader has extensive knowledge of the history of philosophy, make this period especially challenging. Another reason the century intimidates is that philosophers still had the sense that philosophy should be able to get a grip on the whole of human knowledge and practice. There are those thinkers who actually ventured a synoptic account, such as Hegel, and those who despaired at the loss of the meaningful whole that the new science implied. Exclusive attention to the great thinkers, or to the overall philosophical movements of the century, tends to exaggerate the singular personalities or the impersonal forces that shaped the context of thought. Consonant with the century’s intellectual character, the approach taken here is eclectic. First, the crucial period of German Idealism is structured according to its major themes. The main advantage of this approach is that it allows multiple tellings of the crucial progression from Kant to Hegel, with all the complex issues involved. Since the debates between those two thinkers structure much of the century’s issues, a full fifth of the book is devoted to that period. The rest of the companion mixes chapters devoted to great thinkers (fourteen chapters focus on a single author) with key topics, many of

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