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Hegel [Paperback]

Charles Taylor
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 May 1977
A major and comprehensive study of the philosophy of Hegel, his place in the history of ideas, and his continuing relevance and importance. Professor Taylor relates Hegel to the earlier history of philosophy and, more particularly, to the central intellectual and spiritual issues of his own time. He sees these in terms of a pervasive tension between the evolving ideals of individuality and self-realization on the one hand, and on the other a deeply-felt need to find significance in a wider community. Charles Taylor engages with Hegel sympathetically, on Hegel's own terms and, as the the subject demands, in detail. We are made to grasp the interconnections of the system without being overwhelmed or overawed by its technicality. We are shown its importance and its limitations, and are enabled to stand back from it.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 596 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; New Ed edition (12 May 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521291992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521291996
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.1 x 3.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 554,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Professor Taylor is a stimulating and lucid guide....His book is to be strongly recommended to anyone who wants to understand the origins and style and content of modern ideologies." The Economist

"...the most important book on Hegel ever to appear in English." Journal of European Studies

Book Description

A major and comprehensive study of the philosophy of Hegel, his place in the history of ideas, and his continuing relevance and importance. Charles Taylor relates Hegel to the earlier history of philosophy and, more particularly, to the central intellectual and spiritual issues of his own time.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Hegel was born in 1770, at the moment that German culture was entering the decisive shift known as the Sturm und Drang, and when the generation which would revolutionize German thought and literature at the turn of the century was being born. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to Hegel 19 Aug 2002
While this is indeed an excellent introduction to Hegel (by far the best I've seen and definately worth the money); I was a good deal less impressed by Taylor's attempt to mix critique in with his exposition of Hegel's texts. For the most part he refrains from doing so, but I found that it severely impinged upon the coherence of the book at some points (most notably the first section on the Logic). He also seems, during his final chapter, to jump to conclusions about one of Hegel's followers, Marx: he bases his criticisms solely on one of Marx's works (at his own admission) and generalises therefrom - surely not the most sound way of proceeding. Whilst Taylor is by no means a Heideggerian appropriator of Hegel (as the previous review indicates), I felt that he jumped a little to eagerly at the chance to take a side swipe at Marx. Also, many of his criticisms of Hegel came from a more analytic philosophical standpoint, a factor that did not exactly aid comprehension (since it clashed sharply with the continental brand of thought he was exposing).
Having said all that, however, I would not hesitate to recommend the book since it is by far and away the best and most coherent exposition of Hegel's views on the market.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great job! 26 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The first book on Hegel I've read that's actually more accessible than the rather opaque writings of Hegel himself (at least to a layman or non-academic like me) :-)
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive- an Excellent Introduction 31 Aug 2001
I am not aware of a better introduction to the entire corpus of Hegel's writing. Every major work is competently covered. Perhaps the only criticism is that the work feels a bit dated by Taylor's attempt to portray Hegel as a forefather of a certain type of "democratic" Left movement, then popular when this book was written. I do not think such attempts at appropiation are very useful.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of Hegelian studies 2 Mar 2009
This book is much more than a commentary on the history of ideas, it already expresses the thought of one of the greatest philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Commentary 13 Oct 2008
By Reader From Aurora - Published on Amazon.com
A sweeping, insightful and erudite survey of Hegel's work, originally published in 1975 Taylor text has become a modern classic in the field of Hegelian studies. The following comments are offered for potential purchasers.

First, a few minor criticisms. From a physical perspective the text (paperback) is less than ideal; the font is small and at nearly 600 pages the book is a bit too bulky. Stylistically, Taylor has his eccentricities, occasionally mixing top flight academic prose with awkward colloquialisms and ill-fitting literary devices, e.g. an unnatural interspersing of untranslated French terms where English or German terminology would seem more appropriate.

These few drawbacks aside the text has much strength. Hegel is a notoriously difficult read for the uninitiated. In this regard Taylor is particularly effective in using an appropriate combination of technical Hegel-speak and non-Hegelian terminology to both maintain the author's meaning and make it more accessible. Perhaps the greatest value, of Taylor's work, however, is the corrective it offers to much modern Hegelian scholarship. Often scholars are guilty of reading their worldviews back into the thought of earlier thinkers. While to a degree this is unavoidable, when overdone it can be quite misleading. An example of this is the tendency of twentieth century thinkers to read their atheistic/materialistic assumptions into early-modern thinkers such as Hobbes, Descartes, Kant and Hegel, often dismissing the clearly theistic views/comments of these early thinkers as nothing more than the idiom of the day and, in the process often recasting them as radical atheists. This is particularly distorting with regard to Hegel. Divorced from his pantheistic teleological view of embodied spirit much of his subsequent thought becomes incoherent nonsense. Finally, the concluding chapter on the contemporary relevance of Hegelian thought is helpful in situating Hegel in the modern Western tradition- although recent developments (i.e. the demise of communism), have likely made it of lesser interest to the broader public.

Overall the text is highly recommended for students of German idealism - an excellent if rather dense tomb. A solid background in modern philosophy, however, is likely a prerequisite to enjoying this work.
47 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making the case for Hegel 17 April 2004
By A. Lowry - Published on Amazon.com
Since I'm not half through, I wouldn't be reviewing this if anyone else had stepped up. I'm enjoying the book. Hegel's been a sore spot ever since the seminar on the "Phenomenology of Spirit" where I felt like a complete illiterate trying to read him (in translation no less).
Since Hegel's practically the definition of "pseudo-philosophy" in the English-speaking world, it's fascinating to read this treatment by a sensible English (?) philosopher. Taylor does a great job in the 1st chapter setting up Hegel's problematic, with a survey of German romanticism and its issues. Those issues are in large part still with us today, so that Hegel's working on problems that should be of interest to us.
But are those problems solvable? Can we take seriously someone who argues that "the rational is real, and the real is rational"? Taylor's carefully developing and qualifying Hegel's claims of universal rationality and trying to see his case for them.
Even if you hate Hegel, or think you do, the great anti-Hegelian Bertrand Russell said that the 1st step to evaluating a philosophy is to engage with it as sympathetically as possible (in a bit of a Hegelian moment himself as I recall: sympathy-antipathy-evaluation). This book may be your best shot in English.
Nietzsche argued that (1) the world is meaningless and "irrational," and that (2) humans cannot accept (1). If he's right, then something like Hegel's system may be the necessary consequence.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Review 2 Aug 2012
By CB - Published on Amazon.com
What exactly was Charles Taylor's goal in this book? Chronologically this is a book that introduces the environment Hegel was born in, then discusses the philosophy of Hegel, in order of publication, and concludes with the typical chapter asking how Hegel is important today.

As far as placing Hegel in his setting, Taylor does a great job. Kant was the German zenith of Enlightenment philosophy, and many philosophers slightly before and after him attempted to wrestle against pure reason in a Romantic movement. Others held a philosophy of Expressivism, as Taylor dubs it. And, to contrary opinion, Taylor sees Hegel as a philosopher who is trying to systemically embolden the Enlightenment: everything is rational is Kant's clarion call squared.

It's the squaring that Taylor flubs on. If this book is supposed to serve as a clearer expression to Hegel, than Hegel himself provides, that's dubious. Like Hegel, Taylor will draw out a single point over and over again, until we reach some kind of vague conclusion, and then start afresh with the vague conclusion, and the single point, repeating the process. This classic dialectic, often longwinded, can be found in almost every chapter Hegel writes, or Marx's chapter on the commodity. This dialectic is fine for the two master dialecticians, but not for someone attempting to clear up a philosophy.

Also, although Taylor covers Hegel's books, in chronological order, his own book cannot serve as a source book, nor a guide to Hegel's works. Taylor categorically omits whole chapters and sections, deeming some outside the scope his book - the scope of his book weighing in at 600 pages, makes the claim rather dubious - but delves into others. For instance, the first chapter on sense certainty of the Phenomenology of Spirit is as long as the actual chapter, if not longer, in Hegel's. Yet the following two chapters of the PoS are written off as unnecessary.

He follows this same pattern throughout the PoS, and in both of Hegel's logics. Again, if he's trying to clear up Hegel, he's not, and if he's trying to offer a reference tome, or work to guide Hegelian travelers through the mired waters of Hegel's prose, he's not doing that either. I can think of a number of superior authors that cover both paths.

Nonetheless, the book is still good Philosophy. Taylor does `know' his subject, and he makes the reader wrestle with serious issues, sometimes cogent philosophy and he at least gave the reader the intellectual background to understand the who-what-where's-and whys of Hegel's goals. This can be missed when someone just cracks open a book by Hegel, without any historical or biographical knowledge regarding Hegel's MO. Philosopher's do not write in vacuums, albeit Hegel wants you to believe he's mastered the universe as Spirits embodied Philosopher King.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite a difficult book in itself 22 Dec 2010
By T. Carlsson - Published on Amazon.com
This is obviously a fine commentary on a classic philosopher, but it's also a very difficult book. As Taylor says in the introduction, he can not simplify Hegel's ideas too much without distorting them. Avoiding distortion has clearly been an important goal for him and I imagine that this is a very useful book for professional interpreters of Hegel. But students and laymen will find the majority of this book very difficult to understand, almost on a par with the original works. Be prepared for some torturous elaborations on the self-realizing Spirit. However, one part of the book differs from the rest. Taylor's discussion of Hegel's political philosophy, a fairly brief segment of just over 50 pages, is in my opinion magnificent and much easier to understand than the other parts. He raises some very interesting questions and his own philosophical acumen is particularly evident in this section. I found his application of Hegel's political philosophy to contemporary society most interesting. Of course they are mere examples but they certainly kindled my interest for this aspect of Hegel's philosophy.

I bought this book because I thought that Taylor would be a more manageable route to Hegel than the translated original works, but that was not really the case. I can't say I really understand more about Hegel's spiritual philosophy after reading this book than I did before. Taylor's presentation is difficult and I did not have sufficient interest to follow him through every twist and turn of Hegel's obscure system. For laymen interested in this system, I think an easier introductory book will be more helpful than this one. But anyone interested in Hegel's political philosophy should read what Taylor has to say about it. I doubt that you'll find a more useful guide on that subject elsewhere.

Finally, I haven't read Taylor's other book, Hegel and Modern Society, but it seems like it may contain much the same material that I have praised here.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Conservativ German Enlightenment 11 Jan 2012
By Jacob - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Taylor begins his narrative with the epistemological problems the Enlightenment posed against Medievalism and eventually against itself. These thinkers (Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes) held to an atomistic view of man and society. They rejected the medieval worldview of "final causes" (4). The world was no longer seen as "symbol manifesting the rhythm of the divine" (5).

This hard Enlightenment anthropology will itself break down (almost immediately). Some couldn't live without a God; these are the mild Deists. Others took the epistemology consistently and became radical materialists.

The German Romantic Counter-attack
Post-Reformation Germany never experienced the same "church versus state" problems that France did. Thus, German's religious expression to the Enlightenment was formed differently: pietism. Pietism stressed a heart-felt religious experience of the soul's meeting with Christ (11). There followed a denigration of dogma and confessional status. Like with the Enlightenment itself, the reaction in Germany went along two paths.

Self-Positing Spirit

This introduces Hegel's "identity of difference and identity." Starting slowly, following Taylor, here is what I think he means. Hegel is trying to overcome the Kantian duality. Hegel wants to overcome this with his notion of "overcoming oppositions." Therefore, identity cannot sustain itself on its own, but posits an opposition, but also a particularly intimate one (80). In short, Hegel married modern expression with Aristotle's self-realizing form (81).

Following this was Hegel's other point: the subject, and all his functions, however spiritual, were necessarily embodied (82-83).

The Contradiction Arises

Contrary to mindless right-wing bloggers, Hegel did not form the "dialectic" in the following way: we posit a thesis (traditional community), then we negate it (cultural marxism), which allows for the "synthesis" (our pre-planned solution all along). Here is what Hegel actually meant: there is reality, but the very structure of reality already contains a contradiction. The subject then must overcome that contradiction.

Taylor notes, "In order to be at all as a conscious being, the subject must be embodied in life; but in order to realize the perfection of consciousness it must fight and overcome the natural bent of life as a limit. The conditions of its existence are in conflict with the demands of its perfection (86).

Building on Hegel's premise that God/Geist/Spirit, which is the ultimate reality, must be embodied in history, it follows that one must ask in what manner is it embodied? One of the most fundamental modes, Hegel posits, is in religion (197). Briefly stated, Hegel sees each epoch in human history as manifesting religion, but always in a contradictory way. The Greeks were able to apprehend "the universal," but they could only do so in a finite and limited way (and thus the infinite/finite contradiction). This contradiction is not a bad thing, though, for it opened up the possibility of the Christian religion (with a detour through the Hebrews). Hegel sees the ultimate religious expression in the Incarnation.

A Dialectic of Categories

When one is studying reality, Hegel says, one can start anywhere in the system, for each facet is ultimately tied together (226). If we start with "Being" then our method will proceed dialectically. What he means by that is the very structure of reality has a contradiction, and in overcoming that contradiction Being moves forth to something else. Throughout the whole of this discussion, Hegel is starting from Kant and reworking the system along problems he sees in Kant.

To avoid confusion, and to silence the right-wing conspiracy bloggers, Hegel's idea of contradiction is this: he has a two-pronged argument, the first showing that a given category is indispensable, the second showing that it leads to a characterization of reality which is somehow impossible or incoherent (228).

Hegel is trying to overcome the dilemma that social life poses: per man's subjective life the important thing is freedom of spirit. However, man also lives in community and the norms of the community often bind his freedom of spirit (it is to Hegel's credit that he recognized this problem generations before Nietszche and the existentialists).

Hegel suggests the form man must attain is a social form (366). It is important to note that what Hegel means by "state" is much different than what Anglo-Americans mean by it. Hegel means the "politically organized community" (387). Let's explore these few sentences for a moment. Throughout his philosophy Hegel warns against "abstractions," by which he means taking an entity outside its network of relations. With regard to politics, if abstraction is bad then it necessarily follows that man's telos is in a community. Man comes into the world already in a network of relations.


As other reviewers noted, this book is excellent. I have a few qualms, though. While Taylor is correct that Hegel cannot simply be seen as a "conservative," Hegel does embody (pun intended) most of the main 19th century views of conservatism: fear or Revolution, fear of an unbridled free market, a hierarchical social order culminating in monarchy--Taylor notes the latter and is frankly embarrassed by it. Still, a good read.
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