Philosophy Pages

    Dictionary    Study Guide  Logic   F A Q s
  History Timeline Philosophers   Locke

Reactions to Hegel

In German philosophy after Hegel, no one else tried to develop such a thorough, methodically coherent system of thought; his achievement was quite literally inimitable. Yet few thinkers of the nineteenth century were entirely satisfied with the cool rationality of Hegel's defense of the status quo in all things. Many took issue with specific applications of his system to ethical, religious, or political concerns.

Schopenhauer and the Will

Believing that absolute idealism had corrupted the legitimate insights of Kant's critical philosophy, Arthur Schopenhauer proposed a return to central Kantian doctrines in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation) (1818, 1844).

Representations (or Ideas) are properly described in Kantian fashion, as the phenomena of experience, categorized under concepts of the mind's manufacture. Schopenhauer, however, employed the principle of sufficient reason in explanation of the structure of reality to a decidedly un-Kantian degree, and he suggested that this view of the world was clearly prefigured in the tenets of Hindu thought.

Schopenhauer's departure from Hegel is clearest in his treatment of the Will as an individual drive, the noumenal urge to survive and create, which is never fully satisfied. As Kant had pointed out, the greatest evil is the enxlavement of will to any extraneous influence. But Schopenhauer saw two avenues of escape from this trap: aesthetic appreciation as a way of securing one's own space in the world and true salvation through moral progress, which he supposed to require an ascetic denial of the blind urges to which each will is suskeptible.

Feuerbach on Religion

Ludwig Feuerbach, on the other hand, focussed primarily on the theological implications of idealism. Even if Hegel's position were, as he supposed, the ultimate culmination of the entire philosophical tradition, it would not be enough to satisfy the human desire for certainty. In addition to their epistemological and metaphysical urges, human beings also have a fundamental feeling of dependence that can be satisfied only by their adherence to religion. Unfortunately, as Feuerbach noted, the actual religions to which we do adhere are elaborate fictions created by the projection of human virtues (and vices) onto the plane of the infinity. Thus, as Freud would emphasize later, we are collectively and individually led to reliance on an illusion.

British and American Idealists

Of course idealism, with its promise of unifying everything under a single comprehensive system of knowledge, continued to find adherents through the end of the nineteenth century. In Germany, Rudolf Hermann Lotze tried to show that the necessity of absolute consciousness emerges even from a mechanistic study of nature. Among the English, T.H. Green postulated the total interconnectedness of everything, with abstract intellectual relations filling any apparent gaps, and Edward Caird employed the philosophy of Kant and Hegel in explicit opposition to Mill's empiricism. Despite vigorous opposition, absolute idealism was the dominant view in British and American philosophy through the nineteenth century.

The most cautious and penetrating of the British idealists was F. H. Bradley, who devoted great attention to the logical development of his philosophical system. In an effort to link thought and reality without identifying them completely, Bradley analyzed individual judgments as requiring internal relations, abstracted by the mind in order to obtain genuine knowledge from a mere collocation of facts. Since reality is an undifferentiated Absolute presented to us in a multitude of appearances, Bradley supposed, our task is always to see through the contradictory clues provided by experience to the ultimately rational status of reality that must lie behind them.

Scottish idealist Andrew Seth (Pringle-Pattison) emphasized the role of the individual human knower in securing the systematic unity of reality, while J.M.E. McTaggart developed powerful reasons for denying that time is real. Bernard Bosanquet rejected these innovations, returning to Bradley's conviction that the true nature of the Absolute is exhibited (imperfectly) in ordinary experience, which must be interpreted by rigorous adherence to a coherence theory of truth.

In the United States, Josiah Royce developed an eclectic blend of these idealistic trends, centered on his unique analysis of the experience of knowing and error. Since knowledge would be utterly impossible if objects actually existed independently of our awareness of them, Royce argued, reality must simply be the sum total of our experiences, and all error must result from mistaken intentions on our part. (It was in opposition to this view that the pragmatism of William James later emerged.) Long after absolute idealism had ceased to dominate the philosophical landscape, American philosopher Brand Blanshard continued to use it as the basis for his trenchant criticism of logical positivism. With only slight exaggeration, however, it is possible to state that idealism died with the arrival of the new century.

. . . . .
History of Philosophy
Previous Next

Creative Commons License
The Philosophy Pages by Garth Kemerling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

©1997, 2011 Garth Kemerling.
Last modified 12 November 2011.
Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to:
the Contact Page.