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Hegel: A Biography Paperback – 18 Jun 2001
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'… this is the most rounded and reliable life of Hegel there has ever been.' London Review of Books
'Terry Pinkard's biography is of the first rank. … [The] known material has never been marshalled with more spacious clarity.' Observer
'… makes [Hegel] into a real human being whose philosophical odyssey becomes credible, even touching.' Peter Gay, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University
'The fullest and undoubtedly the best ever account of Hegel's life in the English language.' Sunday Telegraph
'Terry Pinkard offers the most rounded, richly filled-out picture of Hegel, as both philosopher and man, that we have ever had in English. This will quickly become the standard biography of Hegel, and richly deserves to do so. In an age of fine Hegel scholarship, this is a towering achievement.' Boston Book Review
'An absorbing and thorough review of the great philosopher's life.' Observer
'This is the most extensive and full biography of Hegel to appear in English, a biography long overdue. It is a great pleasure to read.' Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie
'The English-speaking world has had to wait a long time for a good, detailed biography of Hegel. It now has this useful volume by Terry Pinkard to fill the gap … The result is a more complete picture of the man than we have ever had in English. We are all in his debt.' Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain
'… monumental book, written by a fine American Hegel scholar … all students of Hegel and of Hegelian idealism should welcome this work …' Journal of Ecclesiastical History
This major biography of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel offers not only a complete account of the life, but also a perspicuous overview of the key philosophical concepts in Hegel's work.See all Product description
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The technical discussion of Hegel's philosophy is mercifully put into five separate chapters, which I have found almost impenetrable. A reader who would like the read an outline of Hegel's philosophy would do much better to read Peter Singer's little book in the Oxford University Press (1983). But Pinkard is scornful of much that has been written about the philosopher previously. In his Preface he leads the reader to expect a demolition of some of the ideas generally held about Hegel's teaching. The notion of thesis - antithesis - synthesis which was attributed to Hegel in a popular book (not listed in Pinkard's bibliography) by one Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus in the middle of the 19th century and was then perpetuated by Marx was never held by Hegel; and it is true that he used these terms only "seldom" (Coplestone. Pinkard says "never".) But even Pinkard shows how often Hegel explained the development of a new idea arising out of the clash between contradictions.
Extraordinarily, Pinkard never mentions the notorious phrases which Hegel applied to the State: "The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth"; "we must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on Earth"; "the State exists for its own sake" etc. All these are quoted and sourced by Karl Popper in his famous attack on Hegel, The Open Society and its Enemies (Vol.II, pp. 31 and 305); but Popper does not figure in Pinkard's bibliography either. So these quotations are not confronted: instead Pinkard (p.494) simply uses a sentence from Hegel's Philosophy of World History to convey the opposite impression: "The universal spirit or world spirit is not the same thing as God".
Pinkard does bring out the development of Hegel's thought: like every great philosopher, he changed some of his ideas in the course of his life. Moreover, he was capable of perplexing his contemporaries by what appeared to them to be contradictions in his behaviour. The strength of this biography is to show how Hegel could combine sympathy for the early phases of the French Revolution and then for Napoleon with acting, at the very end of his life, as a government commissar to supervise the University of Berlin and therefore responsible for seeing that the University did not fall foul of the repressive Carlsbad decrees to which the Prussian government subscribed. He approved of the dismissal of a colleague, de Wette, for radicalism, but then urged that he should continue to receive his salary and, when the university refused, contributed to a secret annual fund to support him. He had great sympathy for those of his students who got into trouble for liberalism, and was yet very hostile to liberalism himself. No wonder that even in his life-time, the Reformers, with whom Hegel identified himself in many respects, thought he had sold out to the conservatives. Pinkard generally defends him against this charge. As Hegel himself pointed out to Heine, his famous sentence that "the Real is the Rational and the Rational is the Real" consisted of two statements; and whilst the first of them has a conservative bend, the second has a radical one: if a situation is not or is no longer rational, it loses the claim to be real. After Hegel's death, the Young Hegelians (also called Left Hegelians) would use the second part of the sentence as their lodestar, and would restore to the Dialectic the dynamism which is built into it and with which conservatism was really very ill-matched.
Certainly Hegel was constantly opposed by the reactionaries in the Prussian government and always felt in danger of being denounced as a "demagogue" (i.e. subversive) or an atheist, either of which would have been a cause for his dismissal. He survived because of the patronage of the Education Minister, von Altenstein.
One of the most interesting themes of the book is the immense importance the reformers attached to the universities as the motor of enlightenment, reform and modernization; and within the universities, the principal task of promoting Bildung (culture based on independent thought) should fall upon the departments of philosophy. Hegel had his first academic appointment at Jena (1801 to 1808). His identification with the ideas of the reformers secured him appointments to professorships, first in Heidelberg (1816 to 1818) and then in Berlin (1818 to his death in 1831). Unfortunately, as Pinkard points out, whenever Hegel took up a university position, the cause for which he stood happened to be in retreat: at Jena the reforming philosophers were leaving just as he arrived and the university was subsequently devastated by the French bombardment during the Battle of Jena (1806); at Heidelberg the traditionalists (who there included most of the students) were fighting back; and at Berlin the Carslbad Decrees of 1819 also put the reformers on the defensive.
Pinkard is also interesting on Hegel's personality. Extremely sociable and convivial in private life, he was dry, ponderous and nervous as a lecturer; and yet he gradually attracted very large and loyal student audiences, who took his pauses, hesitations and repetitions as signs that he was arguing with himself while speaking, appearing, as it were, to put the dialectic into operation even while he was thinking. The contradictions which infuse his theories are also present in his life.
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