From his first book -- The Fate of Reason -- on the context of Kantian critique, Beiser established a reputation which was only strengthened by a string of publications on Idealist and Romantic "constellations" of thought. Beiser says that he wants to provide not so much exegesis as a comprehensive overview aimed primarily at the first-time reader. The result is in my judgment little short of a triumph. Engaged and independent in his assessments, he adopts a manner that is the opposite of a bland encyclopedia entry.

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Shelves: history , philosophy , social-theory , art I read and reviewed a seriously bad summary of Hegels ideas in and then a couple weeks ago Jeffrey asked if I knew of a good summary, and that alerted Allen to recommend this one. The problem is that Hegel can be so complicated, that a simplified version of his ideas can quickly end up so simple as to miss the point as the Hegel in 90 minutes book proved to be.

Other introductions to his work can be at least as difficult as he is, which also somewhat misses the point. The problem is that Hegel can be so complicated, that a simplified version of his ideas can quickly end up so simple as to miss the point — as the Hegel in 90 minutes book proved to be. I got to this quicker than I expected.

If you are even slightly interested in finding out more about Hegel, this does seem to be the book to read. What I particularly liked about it is that it puts Hegel into the context of his time and also the context of the philosophical issues that were bouncing around at the time too. The thing about Hegel is that he was setting about to create an all-encompassing philosophical system — and so he covers an awful lot of ground, from law to art, from logic to the history of philosophy.

One of the things that most people know about Hegel is that his system is premised upon a triadic formula — thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In the 90 minutes book mentioned above he says that Hegel is boring to read because everything he writes is in this step, step, hop triad and that quickly gets tedious — a bit like poets who write in strict iambic soon get to the point where you stop hearing what they are saying and just hear the dum-tee-dum-tee-dum.

That is, that rather than him having a single formula that he wanted to apply to the world, he actually wanted to see the complexity of the world and to then allow our understanding of that complexity to come out of the complexity itself.

Development implies change and change means things go from being one thing to being something quite different. To understand what development is means seeking to understand the contradictions and the relationships they create in that development.

Hegel is an idealist — that is, he believes he can answer some of the questions that Kant said had to be left unanswerable. In fact, he probably would have preferred to have started a new religion based on Socrates, but one battle at a time, I guess.

His problem with Christ was that Christ turned away from the world — render onto Caesar and all that — and clearly believed that the world was not only about to end, but that this world was going to be replaced by a better one any day now. For Hegel, this was a kind of blasphemy. Rather than turning away from the world, philosophy and religion needed to turn towards it.

He was something of a pantheist, where god and the universe are one and the same — and so, turning away from the universe was seriously missing the point. This becomes quite interesting in the sense that if religion is to be understood in terms of the workings of the universe, then freedom also needs to be understood as constrained by the workings of that universe too. In fact, the relationship between freedom and necessity for Hegel is a key idea and something that I think is quite different from our standard understanding.

For most of us freedom is pretty much what Hegel would refer to as caprice. Freedom is to be without any restraints at all. This is a pretty odd notion of freedom, if you think about it. For Hegel, understanding and then acting in accordance with necessity is central to true freedom. Well, if you ignore what he says about women, of course — sexist old wanker.

This really was a very good introduction to Hegel — I enjoyed it a lot.


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The Cambridge Companion to Hegel


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