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The apotheosis of a human ideal : the Young Hegel's conception of the absolute

  • Author(s): Egan, Matthew Paul
  • et al.

Beginning in his Frankfurt (1797-1800) and early Jena (1801-1803) writings, Hegel constructs a philosophy grounded in a distinctive conception of God or the absolute. Three central questions face anyone attempting to comprehend the nature and significance of his philosophical project. First, and most straightforwardly, what is the nature of the Hegelian absolute? Second, given the young Hegel's fundamentally practical orientation and eschewal of purely theoretical issues, how are we to explain the apparently radical shift in the direction of his thinking in Frankfurt and Jena towards what seems to be purely speculative theorizing about the absolute? Third, given his vitriolic critique of all religious alienation, how can he take seriously any conception of the absolute? Scholars disagree over the proper answers to these questions. With respect to the first and foundational question, some maintain that Hegel propounds a version of theological Platonism, others that he articulates the early romantic, pantheistic worldview, and yet others that he offers a form of conceptual scheme idealism. Though different in important respects, each of these interpretations identifies a constitutive connection, more or less robust, between human community and the Hegelian absolute, which forms the basis for their respective responses to the second and third questions. In the thesis, I argue that the predominant interpretations are problematic because they either still allow room for some form of religious alienation, vehemently opposed by Hegel in all its forms, or they fail to recognize the overriding importance of ethical life in the Hegelian absolute. More positively, I argue that the young Hegel's absolute is equivalent to a certain ideal human community, one that embodies what he calls "absolute ethical life," that expresses that life in a system of legislation, and that worships its own divine nature both in an imaginative religion akin to that of the ancient Greeks and pre- Christian Romans, as well as in Hegelian philosophy itself

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