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An exposition and interpretation of the social and political doctrine of G.W.F. Hegel

Smith, Steven B (1976) An exposition and interpretation of the social and political doctrine of G.W.F. Hegel. Masters thesis, Durham University.



In this dissertation I have attempted to present both an exposition and an interpretation of Hegel’s social and political philosophy. The broad outline of my argument is simply that the unique feature of Hegel’s intellectual development is that his thought did not grow out of purely philosophical considerations about the nature and limits of knowledge, but out of a certain practical problem facing the German intelligentsia of his day. The problem in question which Hegel shared with the other young German idealists of his generation was the feeling of alienation and estrangement from the moral and political culture in which they lived. As Hegel conceived it, there was a disharmony between the ideals which informed the practical aspirations of man – or at least the educated middle class of which Hegel himself was a notable representative – and the inherited ethical, intellectual and religious order which they were forced to accept. It is my thesis that Hegel’s thought takes its point of departure from the problem of discord and dissonance experienced by the modern consciousness and attempts to resolve this conflict in an all embracing system in which freedom and rationality are ultimately restored. It is further my thesis that the solution to this practical problem which led Hegel to elaborate a systematic and coherent political philosophy constitutes his unique contribution to German idealism. In chapter one I undertake a close examination of some of Hegel’s very earliest manuscripts, posthumously edited under the somewhat dubious title Hegels theologische Jugedschriften, written as a student at Stuttgart and Tűbingen and as a Hauslehrer at Berne and Frankfurt. These works deal primarily with the relationship between politics and religion and it was Hegel's contention, at least initially, that only the resurrection of something akin to the ancient Greek civic religions could bring about a political revival in Europe. Chapter two deals with Hegel's Jena writings and the affiliation with previous German idealists is scrutinized in some detail. Here I attempt to show how for Hegel the rise of philosophy is motivated by the need to resolve the fragmentation and discord encountered in practical life. Particular attention is given to his then unpublished lecture notes and his discussion of the role of economics and labour in human affairs is compared to the later theories of Marx. Chapter three is essentially a critical analysis of the Philosophy of Right as the apotheosis of Hegel's political thought. Here it is stressed that Hegel's political philosophy cannot be arbitrarily detached from his general system of metaphysics, but that the two are integrally linked to one another. It is my view that at least a rudimentary knowledge of the methodological underpinnings of Hegel's mature "system of science" is a prerequisite for an adequate understanding of his political views.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Philosophy
Thesis Date:1976
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:42

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