JMW Turner, Trees Beside Water, with a Castle on a Hill Beyond

Before Hegel: Origins of German Idealism

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201

German Idealism was one of the most fruitful, prolific and influential periods in the history of western philosophy, the rival of Athens in the 4th century BC. Driven by a group of young intellectuals—philosophers, theologians, poets—inspired by both the political revolution in France and the philosophical revolution of Kant’s “transcendental idealism,” the German Idealists sought a “new religion,” grounded in reason and imagination, in which “freedom and equality will reign among spirits.” The movement would prove massively influential in the subsequent development of philosophy, aesthetics and political theory, most notably in the form of existentialist and Marxist-materialist critique, well into the 20th and 21st centuries.

Somewhat unfortunately, many of the brightest lights of this period—figures like Reinhold, Schulze, Fichte, Jacobi, and Schelling—have been dimmed by an uncritical acceptance of Hegel’s portrayal of them as essentially providing rough drafts for Absolute Idealism. In this class, we’ll focus on the founding texts of post-Kantian idealism, primarily the early works of Fichte and Schelling, in an effort to understand what was so significant about the period, and why so much subsequent philosophy has felt the need to engage with it. What does “Idealism” mean exactly, and how does it differ from the contemporaneous development of “Romanticism”?  What are the “Absolute” and the “self-positing I”? What is human freedom and how does it relate to nature and reality? What meaning can this particular way of understanding the philosophy of the mind have for us today in this era of naturalism and materialism?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 04 — March 25, 2020
4 weeks


Registration Open

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