The metaphysic of spirit and Hegel’s philosophy of politics

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A common assumption in much contemporary Hegel scholarship is that, claims by Hegel to the contrary notwithstanding, his general logicalmetaphysical account of spirit (Geist) is of limited value for understanding the nature and significance of his political philosophy. This is the view of many of Hegel’s contemporary Anglo-American interpreters, who traditionally have been opposed to what they see as the speculative excesses of Hegelian thought generally. But it is also a view common to some thinkers in the continental European tradition. Notable in this regard is Jürgen Habermas. Although Habermas does draw on Hegel’s early writings in fashioning his own theory of communicative action, he claims that what might be of continuing value in Hegel’s thought is forfeited when it subordinates its account of social life to requirements of a notion of spirit understood in terms of the self-knowing activity of an infinite subject positing its own reality.1 Habermas’s student Axel Honneth argues similarly. Honneth is more sympathetic than Habermas to Hegel’s “mature” writings, yet this is only because he locates in those writings an intersubjectively construed account of social reality separable from a “metaphysic of spirit”2 that for him is now “totally incomprehensible to us.”3.

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Hegel's Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Politics

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