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Hegel can be said to have taken philosophical idealism to its most extreme point, the point of absolute idealism, and, from the perspective of much contemporary philosophy, this has been enough to damn him. (1) However, an adequate approach to what such a philosophical stance entails, as well as what possibilities it holds for philosophy today, must depend on a clear understanding of the core commitments of idealism itself, and, two hundred years after Hegel finished the earliest of his well-known works, the Phenomenology of Spirit, what these commitments amount to is still far from clear. If Bishop Berkeley is taken as the model of idealism, as often seems to be the case among Anglophone philosophers, then idealists would seem to be committed to some combination of his two complementary theses of subjectivism and immaterialism. However, as recently argued by Frederick Beiser, the trajectory of the German idealist movement from Kant onwards towards Hegel is best seen as a struggle against the subjectivism that Berkeley and others had inherited from Descartes. (2) Moreover, when one considers the 'objective' turn within idealism found in the world of Friedrich Schelling, idealism so understood seems more like an attempt to infuse matter with life and spirit, rather than to eliminate it in the name of something 'immaterial'. (3) However, if Schelling took idealism in the direction of this acknowledgement of the materiality of the world, (4) Hegel's programmatic statements often seem to take idealism off on a different path. Consider Hegel's claim, for example, that philosophy 'has no other object but God and so is essentially rational theology'. Philosophy, along with art and religion, belongs to what he refers to as 'Absolute Spirit', and these three realms having this same content--God--'differ only in the forms in which they bring home to consciousness their object, the Absolute' (LA 101). (5) With claims like these, Hegel seems anything but an advocate of the type of modernizing philosophy that Kant had opened up, or as the type of philosopher intent on acknowledging the fundamental materiality of existence. Nevertheless, one needs to ask exactly what the concept 'God' means within a system of absolute idealism. To be an absolute idealist is, presumably, to be an idealist about everything about which one could be a 'realist', and, if one adopts a properly Kantian rather than Berkeleyan starting point, one might get a very different sense of what might be entailed by Hegel's absolute idealism to that given in traditional accounts. For one, it is clear that from Kant's perspective a crucial thing wrong with Berkeley's metaphysics was not so much its idealist assumptions as certain of its realist ones. That is, what had allowed Berkeley to be 'idealistic' about the material world--his immaterialist reduction of that world to it to a realm of subjective ideas-was his corresponding realism about the mental-in particular, his realism about the subjective mind and its contents, and, beyond this, the mind of God. (6) But both the individual mind and the mind of God were just the sort of topics that Kant was an idealist about, effectively claiming that rather than think of 'the soul' and 'God' as types of referring terms, we should see them as 'ideas' playing 'regulative' roles in our cognitive lives. Read as an 'absolute' idealist in a post-Kantian sense, then, Hegel might be seen as extending such a non-realist approach to both the individual soul and to God. Given the depth to which notions of God and the soul were embedded in early modern philosophy we may expect his nonrealism about these things to have very significant consequences.

Religion & Spirituality
July 1
Ashton and Rafferty
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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