Young Hegelian sources for a conception of the self

Andre Cressoni


Young Hegel’s writings has been a source for many endeavours aiming at extracting edifying resources for contemporary ethical and political debate. In this paper, I focus on Hegel’s earliest writings – stemming from the periods of Stuttgart, Tubingen and Bern – in search for elements that can propel a conception of self. By endorsing an ethical and political stance of young Hegel’s writings, I oppose those who see in these writings concerning the essence of religion a mystical-pantheistic thesis. Instead, I argue that Hegel is more concerned with a Republican view of religion, one that is very close to French political thought, such as Rousseau and Montesquieu. Just as much, the practical grounds for addressing ethical life and assessing Modernity’s capacity for the latter is rooted on a Hellenistic ideal. The Greek sources derive from young Hegel’s reading of the tragedies as comprising three notions: origin, simplicity and exteriority. I explore some features relating the notions of origin and simplicity as dating back to monastic life and the works of Winckelmann and Schiller. These elements are constantly intertwined in Hegel’s opposition to the rationalism of Enlightenment, mainly of Kant, as well as his adherence and reformulation of universal reason. Relying on these sources, I divide the paper into three sections: the enlightened self, the sensible self and the simple self. I conclude with the idea that Hegel envisaged a kind of sensible reason he often referred to by “heart”, by which he meant an originating and simple experience of the world through nature and the community that achieves universal practical reason by comprising socially shared perceptive, affective and imaginative resources at play at the moment of a putative moral action.


Hegel; Ethics; Enlightenment.

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