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Hegelian Idealism And Its Aftermath

In 1801 the virtually unknown Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) published a short book entitled The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy, in which he argued that Schelling had rightly criticized Fichte's "subjective idealism." But by 1807, with the publication of his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel had begun to criticize Schelling for reasons that were to become determinative for the development of his own version of absolute idealism. First of all, Hegel argued against Schelling that the pathway to a truly "scientific" absolute idealism could not be based merely on an immediate intuition (whether intellectual or aesthetic) but instead had to be conceptually articulated and discursively mediated. Indeed Hegel referred to his own Phenomenology as the "ladder" by means of which readers could be led discursively from the standpoint of ordinary consciousness to that scientific consciousness or "absolute knowing" (see Phenomenology, p. 14). Second, and contrary to what might be implied by Schelling's insistence on immediate intuition, Hegel argued that the discursive pathway to absolute idealism is not external to, but constitutes an integral part of, the very truth of absolute idealism. For Hegel, then, Schelling was correct to claim that previous expressions of the subject-object identity within the absolute (for example, in nature and in earlier forms of philosophy) contained the conditions of the emergence of the subjectivity that eventually grasps the truth of absolute idealism; however, Schelling was wrong to hold that his being correct about this could be ascertained through an immediate intuition. For Hegel, quite simply, one could not know that absolute idealism is true if one did not conceptually recollect the previous forms of thought leading up to it. Because of this, Hegel also held that previous forms of thought do not lead just accidentally or haphazardly to his own thought but rather find their necessary consummation only within his absolute idealism. Third, Hegel agreed with Schelling that a true idealism must not simply presuppose the traditional dualisms of subject and object, freedom and nature, or human agency and God (thus Hegel held that our own coming-to-be conscious of the truth of absolute idealism is not essentially separable from God's own coming-to-be God). But because of his commitment to conceptual rigor and discursive articulation, Hegel went on to argue that the denial of these traditional dualisms required the development of a new and "dialectical" logic, one that would demonstrate how all finite things reflect within themselves the fundamental yet contradictory identity-in-difference of Being and Nothing (Logic, p. 85). All things are in themselves contradictory, Hegel argued, and so Kant was wrong to try to eliminate or contain such contradiction by introducing his distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves (Logic, p. 237).

Hegel's idealism represents the most systematic and comprehensive version of post-Kantian idealism, for it contained within itself not only a new dialectical logic but also very detailed philosophies of nature, history, art, law, and religion. Not long after Hegel's death, however, his idealistic philosophy became the object of a sustained materialist critique and transformation, primarily at the hands of Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872), Karl Marx (1818–1883), and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895). Most famously, Marx and Engels sought to transform Hegel's dialectical idealism into a form of "dialectical materialism." They agreed with Hegel that existing reality is fundamentally dialectical and in contradiction with itself, but against Hegel they argued that reality's basic contradictions are rooted not in merely conceptual determinations (such as the identity-in-difference of Being and Nothing) but rather in the material conditions underlying all forms of precommunist social and economic organization. They went on to assert that systems such as Hegel's tended to perpetuate the destructive contradictions at work in precommunist society insofar as these systems tended to regard such contradictions as merely ideal and—worse still—as necessary to the proper unfolding of the history of thought. But just as Hegel had argued that a recollective conceptual journey through incomplete forms of thought is necessary to the very truth of absolute idealism, so too Marx and Engels argued that an actual material journey through incomplete forms of social organization (feudalism, mercantilism, and capitalism) is necessary to emergence of the truly just communist society that is yet to be. In spite of this materialist critique, Hegelian idealism enjoyed an energetic revival in Anglo-American philosophy during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The three most important post-Hegelian British idealists were Thomas Hill Green (1836–1882), Francis Herbert Bradley (1846–1924), and Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923), while their most important American counterpart was Josiah Royce (1855–1916).



Berkeley, George. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Edited by Jonathan Dancy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. Early Philosophical Writings. Translated and edited by Daniel Breazeale. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988.

——. Science of Knowledge. Translated by Peter Heath and John Lachs. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Parenthetical citations refer to the pagination of Fichte's Gesamtausgabe, edited by I. H. Fichte, which is also indicated in the margins of this English translation.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy. Translated by H. S. Harris and Walter Cerf. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977.

——. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

——. Science of Logic. Translated by A. V. Miller. New York: Humanities Press, 1976.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Parenthetical citations refer to the A and/or B pagination of the Akademie edition, which is also indicated in the margins of this English translation.

——. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Come Forward as Science. New ed, translated by Paul Carus and revised by James W. Ellington. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1977. Parenthetical citations refer to the pagination of the Akademie edition, which is also indicated in the margins of this English translation.

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Philosophical Essays. Translated by Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989. The views described in this entry are to be found especially in Leibniz's "Monadology" and "Discourse on Metaphysics."

Marx, Karl. Selected Writings. Edited by David McClellan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph. System of Transcendental Idealism. Translated by Peter Heath. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1978.


Ameriks, Karl, ed. Cambridge Companion to German Idealism. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Baur, Michael, and Daniel O. Dahlstrom, eds. The Emergence of German Idealism. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1999.

Beiser, Frederick C. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987.

——. German Idealism: The Struggle against Subjectivism, 1781–1801. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Harris, H. S. Hegel's Development. Vol. 1: Toward the Sunlight (1770–1801). Vol. 2: Night Thoughts (Jena 1801–1806). Oxford: Clarendon, 1972, 1983.

Hylton, Peter. Russell, Idealism, and the Emergence of Analytic Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.

Neuhouser, Frederick. Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Pinkard, Terry. German Philosophy 1760–1860. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Pippin, Robert B. Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self- Consciousness. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Michael Baur

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Hydrazones to IncompatibilityIdealism - Early Modern Idealism: Leibniz And Berkeley, Kant's Transcendental Idealism, Idealism, From Kant To Fichte And Schelling