I am currently reading Hegel's Philosophy of Right and thinking about his critique of certain aspects of the liberal tradition. Needless to say, this is a frustrating experience. I was raised with the weird mashup of libertarian capitalism cheerleading and Christian triumphantalism that makes up most of the religious right in the U.S. As I dropped the Christianity I moved towards a more liberal viewpoint (what I later learned to call Rawlsian political liberalism). However, I've maintained some sympathy for the sense of communal identity represented by the postmillenialist thinking of my childhood. I just am not sure how to combine it with the ideals of freedom and equality that incline me towards liberalism.
Anyway, according to reputation, that is the project that Hegel sets himself--to combine the ideal of freedom that is a necessary part of the modern identity with the Aristotelian notion that human nature is social--that it is a mistake to treat humans as separable from the communities in which they live.
So this should be interesting stuff. But Hegel is a very difficult writer. And, in my experience, still controversial over not just whether his ideas are interesting, but whether he is worth reading at all. This is the problem with esoteric writers--in order to properly read them you must make a significant commitment of time.
This has a number of effects. First, it makes it more likely that if you do make such a commitment that you will think the work important. After all, in difficult works there are more interpretation choices which means that you put more of yourself in your understanding of the text. This also leads to a wider range of interpretations, leading to a larger literature, which further increases the impression that a particular writer is important. Plus, there is the cognitive dissonance element: it is a natural part of the human psyche to find justifications for difficult or painful actions whether or not they exist.
Another result of obscurity is the backlash. I believe it was Plantinga who who said that one of the best ways to become a famous philosopher was to be unclear. Thus, the suspicion arises that famous philosophers who are famously unclear are perhaps simply frauds, famous not because of the appearance rather than the reality of depth in their ideas. Anglo-American style philosophy has a tendency to prize clarity and so has become especially suspicious of vagueness in philosophy (at least the wrong kinds of vagueness and unclarity).
Of course, there is then the backlash backlash. Philosophers accused of obscurity will sometimes (probably the most obvious example being Derrida) develop philosophies that actually predict the difficulty and obscurity of their views, and in fact the inevitability of some significant amount of obscurity in all writing--even of those writers deemed paradigms of clarity and simplicity.
But, while deconstruction might be internally consistent (at least insofar as consistency is possible within a deconstructed discourse), it is still vulnerable to the original accusations of obscurity disguising emptiness. Notice that this claim is not one purporting to show the falsity of the views of the obscure philosopher, but is rather a probabilistic argument: that it is much more likely that the well-known, but obscure philosopher will not reward the time spent studying her. Oddly enough, this is a hermeneutic of suspicion, something more explicitly used to critique texts in the so-called Continental philosophical style.
So: Hegel, is it worth it?
Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things
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- Mistaken for Hegel
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- Why stay in Iraq?
- Quasi-Realism Intro Pt. 1
- Trusting government
- Moving left
- Graduate student teaching
- Reading Hegel
- So much for a "surge."
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- Bipartisan governing
- Biblical Inerrancy Pt. 3 (sorta)
- Happy Graduation!
- ▼ May (14)