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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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DUVENAGE, Pieter. Love and reflexive thinking: The early Hegel on the vicissitudes of modern man. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.3, pp.820-838. ISSN 2224-7912.

Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel's shadow falls far and his thinking resonates even in our own time. This resonance has much to do with his interpretation of the fascinating theme of the historical vicissitudes of modern man in a modern world. This article focuses on how his earlier thinking and earlier theological writings deal with this theme. Even more specifically, it focuses on Hegel's understanding of love as he interprets it in his essay "The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate"1 (1797-99) and on the essay's epistemological, ethical-political, ontological and critical-historical implications. In contrast, Hegel brings into play a certain earlier dialectical relationship with concepts such as reflexive thinking, property and abstract law. Finally, it is shown how Hegel's understanding of love may perhaps be seen as an earlier formulation of his later notions of the spirit, dialectic, Sittlichkeit and the absolute. Thus, some connecting lines are drawn between his earlier writings and his later philosophical system and project. Understandably, this article involves an interpretation of Hegel - because there are many Hegels. Shortly after his death, the well-known division between so-called left-wing and right-wing Hegelians appeared, and since then his thinking has followed fascinating paths in continental Europe (especially Germany and France), Britain and her former colonies (such as South Africa, Australia and Canada), and the USA. Apart from the fact that almost all twentieth-century philosophical positions are in some way an answer to Hegel, there are also two influential positions in contemporary philosophy that serve as interpretations of Hegel, namely an analytical and a hermeneutical one. According to the analytical interpretation, Hegel can be read as a virtual present-day participant in contemporary conversations. Here his arguments are analysed to show their relevance or not to contemporary issues. This interpretation is very similar to what is called the anti-metaphysical reading of Hegel. According to the hermeneutical interpretation, Hegel is a historical figure, a contributor to conversations in the past, but still of contemporary importance. Here he is studied in his historical context; the development of his thinking is explored and reconstructed with historical integrity and individuality, but still with a view to contemporary issues. This approach (Beiser 2005:2-6), which underlies this article, does not shy away from the metaphysical aspects of Hegel's philosophy. Against the background of these introductory remarks the argumentative line of this article can be explained as follows: First, and for the benefit of the reader, a concise biographical sketch of Hegel is given. This sketch is not only of historical interest, but also provides an appropriate context better to understand the systematic points about Hegel's early reflexive thinking and reconstruction of love , which are at the heart of this article. Hegel's life does not stand apart from his thinking. Second, Hegel's early theological writings on the relationship between modern man and man's deepest spiritual and intellectual sources, produced during his years in Tübingen and Bern, are briefly reconstructed. Third, this reconstruction forms the background to Hegel's deepening philosophical motifs and focuses on his important early essay "The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate", dating from his Frankfurt period (1798-1799). This discussion, in which Hegel's argument is reconstructed in several steps, forms the core of the article. These steps include the idea-historical framework within which that essay is reconstructed, followed by a comparative discussion of the concepts of love and reflexive thinking (indicating their epistemological, ethical-political, ontological and critical historical implications). Finally, it is shown how the motifs of thought in this important early essay resonate in Hegel's later works. In this regard a few remarks are made about the reception history of Hegel's essay "The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate".

Keywords : Christianity; early Hegel; early theological writings; Frankfurt; history of ideas; love; modern life; reflexive thinking.

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