Hegel, Heidegger, and the Ground of History

Gillespie, Michael Allen. Hegel, Heidegger, and the Ground of History, Chicago, 1984.


From Antinomy to Dialectic

Hegelian philosophy is fundamentally dialectical. The meaning and character of this dialectical essence, however, arises out of Hegel’s reception and transformation of Kant’s antinomy doctrine. While his discussion of the antinomies and especially the Third Antinomy is thus, in one sense, a striaghtforward explanation of their importance for Kantian philosophy, in a second and philosophically more important sense it is a fundamental radicalization of the antinomy doctrine that provides the basis for Hegel’s own system of philosophy. In both his lectures in Nurnberg and in the Logic he accurately restates Kant’s presentation of the Third Antinomy and clearly recognizes that the Thesis argues in support of a causality through freedom and or in addition to a causality through nature. In explaining the Thesis, however, and in his restatement of it in his History of Philosophy, he clearly and erroneously asserts that the Thesis argues in support of the exclusive causality of freedom. This inconsistency is so manifest that it is hard to believe that Hegel’s misconstruction is not intentional.

This transformation radicalizes the antinomy in a manner that would have been completely unacceptable to Kant: nature and natural causality were in his view incontestible. Hegel, however ,apparently sharpens the antinomy in order to more distinctly display the conflict of nature and freedom as two at least seemingly self-subsistent alternatives. Moreover, he thereby apparently either overlooks or neglects the subsidiary question of the sufficiency of the explanation of the whole in terms of natural laws. Kant himself seems never to have considered the possibility that freedom alone might determine the whole and in fact argues that, if such were the case, freedom would then only be nominally different than natural necessity. Hegel’s account of the French Revolution, as we have seen, seems to indicate that in contradistinction to Kant he took seriously the possibiltiy of an exclusive causality through freedom: he saw the omnipotence of freedom in the tyranny of reason and the Terror. His transformation of the antinomy thus seems to aim at expressing the true antinomy, the true danger to the human spirit, as he saw it.