Nineteenth-century philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC100-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 25, 2020, from

2. Nineteenth-century idealism

While the post-Kantian German idealists and Romantics had a shared sense of the difficulties to be overcome, and of the way in which Kant himself had failed to resolve these difficulties, they differed amongst themselves over what alternative solution to propose, and the struggle between them was at times intense (see German idealism; Romanticism, German.) In terms of historical influence, however, there is no doubt that Hegel emerged as the thinker with the greatest impact in the 1820s and 1830s, both within his native Germany and through much of the rest of Europe and, later, America (see American philosophy in the 18th And 19th centuries §2; Bakunin, M.A.; Belinskii, V.G.; Chicherin, B.N.; Cousin, V.; De Sanctis, F.; Gans, E.; Gioberti, V.; Hegelianism; Hegelianism, Russian; Italy, philosophy in §2; Jewish philosophy in the early 19th century; Krochmal, N.; Spaventa, B.), although Schelling also had a following outside Germany during this period (see Schellingianism, Russian), as did Krause in Spain and Argentina (see Argentina, philosophy in §2; Spain, philosophy in §4).

However, if it appeared to some that Hegel had brought the great cycle of Western thought to a satisfactory close, and that there would be no going further or back, this sense was quickly lost, partly because difficulties and tensions emerged as Hegel’s thought was increasingly questioned, and partly because from the 1840s onwards there was an increasing revival of the eighteenth-century outlook that idealism had seemed to have eclipsed. Thus, on the one hand, Hegel’s grand synthesis faced critique and reform at the hands of a series of younger radical thinkers such as Feuerbach, Hess, Ruge, Bauer, Cieszkowski, Herzen, Marx, Heine and Kierkegaard, some of whom were inspired in part by Schelling’s attack on Hegel after the latter’s death (see Schelling §4), and by other critics such as Trendelenburg; on the other hand, it appeared that the idealist critique of eighteenth century thought as leading to determinism, immoralism, atheism and scepticism was misguided - or, if it were right, just had to be accepted and lived with, as the harsh but inescapable truth concerning the world and our place within it. Deprived of its underlying motivation, post-Kantian idealism now appeared as reactionary, simply trying to obscure the fundamental truths that the eighteenth century empiricists and materialists had uncovered: namely, that we are natural creatures living in a godless universe governed by scientific laws, to which experience gives us adequate but limited access. The most profound thinkers of the second half of the nineteenth century - such as Marx, Mill and Nietzsche - can be seen as struggling to come to terms with and find something progressive in this conclusion, without requiring any return to idealism.

Citing this article:
Stern, Robert. Nineteenth-century idealism. Nineteenth-century philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC100-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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