Hegel’s Naturalism by Terry Pinkard

Pinkard, Terry. Hegel’s Naturalism: Mind, Nature, and the Final Ends of Life, Oxford, 2012.


In his 1807 Phenomenology, Hegel titled the sections on ancient Greece “The True Spirit.” This form of life is “true” in that it presents us with a view of what our agency would look like if we were both self-conscious (and hence at odds with ourselves in some sense) and yet at the same time and in some appropriately deeper sense also at one with ourselves and our world. Or again to put the point more in the form of a slogan: In such a form of life, we would live in harmony with ourselves and the world even amid the deepest tensions. Now, although Hegel titles this “the true spirit,” its “truth” is that it lived in a contradiction with itself that constantly threatened to make that form of life fully unintelligible to itself. It therefore also constantly face the threat that it could not be sustained, either in actuality or in theory. In the end, the Greek polis proved to be too small to defend itself, and it eventually succumbed to the demands of empire (first to those of Greek empires themselves and later to those of the Roman Empire). Its ideal of harmony proved to be more of a dream than a reality. Most remarkably, the Greeks themselves, at least on Hegel’s view, had a relatively clear conception of its dreamlike quality.

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