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Hegel, Freedom, and Modernity.

Westphal's new book is marked by clarity and simplicity of style, a rare quality in the often turgid Hegel discussion, whose obscurity often approaches that of the master's own writing. The result is a refreshing, interesting, informed, intelligent, often critical examination of a variety of themes in Hegel's theory by one of our best Hegel scholars.

There are different ways of approaching Hegel: through study of a single treatise, which in English often means the Phenomenology; through detailed exegesis of the texts, frequently the early manuscripts, bracketing all questions of contemporary relevance or even truth; through study of Hegel's relation to the history of philosophy, and so on. Westphal, who is aware of Hegel's debts to the philosophical tradition, as well as of the entire Hegelian corpus, studies Hegel's theory in the light of contemporary concerns. In this way, he continues the line taken by Croce, distinguishing between the viable and the no longer or never viable in Hegel's theory. Although he has respect for Hegel, Westphal properly sees Hegel's theory, as Hegel himself understood it, as necessarily limited by its own historical period, as belonging to the philosophical tradition--for this reason as sometimes outdated, and even sometimes just plain wrong. This, from someone who does not merely dismiss texts he does not know, but is concerned to work through the arguments, is refreshing and interesting.

In his great synthesis, Hegel brought together religion and philosophy as well as much of what was known in his time. It is fair to say that Westphal belongs to the Hegelian right wing in virtue of his legitimate concern with what has been called the religious dimension in Hegel's thought. As he tells us, he is personally interested in bringing together his own religious faith and his perception of current events, something that brings him very close to Hegel himself. This religious concern provides the main thrust to his way into Hegel's thought. Indeed, Westphal says straightforwardly that Hegel's central philosophical problem from 1800 until his death in 1831 was the fate of Christianity (p. 224).

The present book consists of thirteen previously published papers, mainly reprinted in unaltered form. It is divided into three sections: "The Basic Theory of Freedom," "The Failure of Nerve," and "The Search for a Nonsectarian Spirituality of Community." Westphal begins by pointing out that Hegel is a philosopher of freedom in the modern world. He sees Hegel's theory as a political theology that inseparably conjoins religion and society, whose reunion is mediated by the supposed reconciliation of Christianity with modernity. Westphal's essays are intended to explore various aspects of Hegel's view of freedom in the modern world.

Although the Hegelian conception of freedom in modernity is the central theme, the various chapters are independent of each other. The first four chapters explore aspects of the theory developed in the Philosophy of Right. The next three pick up ideas earlier presented in Westphal's History and Truth in Hegel's Phenomenology. Here Westphal argues that Hegel's theory is a transcendental holism as distinguished from foundationalism, that although Hegel relates his theory to the historical context it is not relativist, and that his theory is spoiled by its eschatology. In a final group of six essays turning on Hegel's conception of religion, Westphal ranges widely over Hegel's views of Hinduism, the Reformation, secularism, religious knowledge, and the ideas of Pannenberg and Tillich.
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Author:Rockmore, Tom
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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