David Kolb

The Logic of the Critical Process

Paper for a Hegel conference in 2001.

Hegel said that his Philosophy of Right “Philosophy always comes on the scene too late to [give instruction as to what the world ought to be].” (PR Preface). On the other hand, from his early discussions of his home city’s government, and throughout his career, to his late essay on the English reform bill, Hegel makes normative statements and critical judgments about current events and political structures. His lectures on aesthetics contain critical remarks about contemporary literature and art, bourgeois education, and so on. Is he ignoring his own advice about philosophy’s role? Our usual image of the critic is of someone who has a privileged perspective from the heights of an established critical watchtower. When Hegel talks about contemporary events or institutions, it appears that he is making the same maneuver. However, given his remarks about philosophy’s role, it is not so clear where he would base his watchtower. How can Hegel develop his normative judgments on concrete social determinations and structures? How can he know what “is”?

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