‘Hegel’s Development: Toward the Sunlight (1770-1801)’ by H. S. Harris

Published by Oxford University Press in 1971. Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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Shows how Georg W. F. Hegel gradually discovers philosophy and the necessity of personal commitment as a philosopher.

This work takes the gold medal as the finest piece of scholarship in the studies of Hegel. At first glance a dauntingly long work for a book that does not reach the first strictly philosophical writings of the Jena period, it is nevertheless possessed of an elegance, acuteness, and conciseness, backed with an incredibly thorough knowledge of the source material that is rarely obtrusive enough to prevent the book from being, as it was designed to be, an illuminating Erziehungsroman.

Biographical information, while there, is subordinated to critical analyses of all the material available from his schoolboy essays through the writings during his time spent at Tubingen, Berne, and Frankfurt up until the Verfassungsschrift: while we are also given some useful translations, notably of the Systemfragment of 1800.

Hegel’s struggle to reconcile Vernunft and Phantasie, while also seeking means for integrating religion and the state, is dramatically told, and, in the telling, light is thrown onto the personalities and problems of this period of German intellectual history, while also a very different picture emerges from that which we associate with Hegel: a revolutionary by intent, a pragmatist, and concerned with subjectivity in a way which renders untenable any rationally defensible justification of the momentum which was historically given to existentialism through its reaction against Hegelianism.

No short review can do justice to the rich suggestiveness of this book that belies the dictum that an exhaustive book is exhausting and leaves no more to be said: anybody interested in philosophical or literary history from Lessing to Nietzsche will find this book invaluable not merely for its informational aspect but also because it cannot fail to stimulate the imagination to find themes or affinities with their other concerns where they might least have expected to find them.

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