Notes on Taylor’s Hegel, Part One

The Enlightenment Context
These thinkers (Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes) held to an atomistic view of man and society. They rejected the medieval worldview of “final causes” (4). The world was no longer seen as “symbol manifesting the rhythm of the divine” (5).

Modernity’s epistemology is that of a “self-defining subject” (7).

  • First of all this implies a “control over things” (8). For example, nature/matter is now seen as “dead matter,” able to be manipulated by the elite (Taylor does not draw this out but this is arguably the simplest definition of magic).
  • With a self-defining subject there comes a new definition of freedom (9).
  • There came a dis-enchanting, or objectivifying of the world. Modern understandings of meaning and purpose apply exclusively to the thought and actions of the subject” (9).
  • Most deleteriously, man himself was seen as an object–was objectified.

This hard Enlightenment anthropology will itself break down (almost immediately). Some couldn’t live without a God; these are the mild Deists. Others took the epistemology consistently and became radical materialists.

The German Romantic Counter-attack
Post-Reformation Germany never experienced the same “church versus state” problems that France did. Thus, German’s religious expression to the Enlightenment was formed differently: pietism. Pietism stressed a heart-felt religious experience of the soul’s meeting with Christ (11). There followed a denigration of dogma and confessional status. Like with the Enlightenment itself, the reaction in Germany went along two paths.

Sturm und Drang
The main counter-attack was led by Romantic Johann Herder. Herder dislikes the Enlightenment’s objectification of man, and he proposes an alternative anthropology: expressivism (13). Human life and human activity are seen as expressions.