Understanding Hegel's Mature Critique of Kant
John McCumber


A Short Introduction to an Endless Task
chapter abstract

Hegel's criticisms of Kant's views on ontology often seem to obfuscate the source material or miss Kant's point entirely, which has been duly observed by Barbara Herman, Karl Ameriks, and John Rawls among others. Yet many of these attempts to understand Hegel's critique of Kant have viewed Hegel's criticisms piecemeal, and on Kant's terms. A more coherent path to understanding Hegel's commentary on Kant must position his critique in the context of Hegel's overall philosophical project. His stance on Kant indicates how he stands with respect to himself, and if his critique of Kant's theoretical philosophy achieves nothing else, it teaches us about Hegel. That it achieves nothing else may indeed by the case.

1Hegel and His Project
chapter abstract

This chapter pursues the issue of the independence of Hegel's philosophical project from his critique of Kant and gives the bare bones of an account which sees that project as, in important ways, entirely independent of Kant's. Two centuries of strenuous effort at understanding the nature of Hegel's philosophical project have generated two main families of views—one for each century. Both are predicated on the views of Hegel's relationship to Kant's critical project, but their stances on this are opposed: the older view sees Hegel as revoking Kant's critique of metaphysics, while the younger one, closer to this author's own viewpoint, sees him as continuing it. This chapter sketches these two understandings of Hegel, highlights deficiencies, and posits new interpretations.

2Hegel Contra Kant on Philosophical Critique and the Limits of Knowledge
chapter abstract

With the understanding that Hegel's critique of Kant provides substantial insight into Hegel's own philosophical project, this chapter disentangles Hegel's criticisms of Kant's theoretical philosophy regarding the limit Kant places on cognition. This raises two interrelated issues in Kant: that of the things we cannot know and that of the power of knowing them, which we do not possess. This chapter discusses Hegel's views on things in themselves and on the enigmatic faculty of intellectual intuition, which for Kant would be how we would know things in themselves if we were able know them at all. The chapter begins by outlining Hegel's particular criticisms of Kant's epistemological and ontological premises in order to better understand what Hegel thinks of the distinction between appearances and things in themselves, and where between those two spheres, knowledge is situated.

3Transcendental Versus Linguistic Idealism
chapter abstract

This chapter explores Hegel's broad and unusual definition of idealism. Owing to the long history and varied subtypes of idealism furnished by preceding philosophers, much of Hegel's energies are focused on contextualizing these various forms. Thus this chapter begins with a broad sketch of that project, showing how Hegel disentangled and crystallized various strains of thought on this subject. However, when it comes to the idealism of Hegel's own time, his project is the opposite; he tries to run together approaches that are, even on the surface, not only different but opposed to one another. At its conclusion this chapter contemplates Hegel's emphasis on the importance of linguistics in shaping cognition. This view—linguistic idealism—redirects philosophy's search for origins away from transcendental faculties and toward the history not of what we can know but of what we can say: toward the evolution of our basic words.

4The Nature and Development of Will
chapter abstract

The section on "Morality" in Hegel's Philosophy of Right contains a portrait not directly of Kant, but of Hegel's Kant. Thus to best understand its reasoning it must be interrogated by Hegelian, rather than Kantian, standards. Such is the task of this chapter, which, while attending to Hegel's systematic perspective in Philosophy of Right, also contends with those topics which most directly engage Kant. These include the book's opening definition of will and its accounts of the purification of the nature of insight; welfare and the good; duty; and conscience. Since Hegel's most important criticism of Kant lies in the fact that Hegel goes on from morality to the more concrete discussions of ethical life, this chapter will also consider that domain as far as its first moment, marriage.

5Hegel's Critique of Kant's Moral Theory
chapter abstract

This chapter enumerates and illustrates eight distinct critiques of Kant's moral philosophy from Hegel's perspective. These critiques include both explicit and implicit—or "buried"—arguments. These "buried" criticisms include Kant's failure to define morality's most basic principle, the will, and insofar as Kant does provide an account of the will it is non-naturalistic (not empirical). Hegel's other implicit criticisms arise from the overly abstract quality of Kant's moral theory. Namely, Kant's account does not tell us how we can strengthen our moral agency by integrating it with other drives and duties, and he also lacks an account of moral action altogether. Hegel also criticizes Kant explicitly for being too formalistic and rigoristic; for the emptiness of the categorical imperative, and for the social philosophy, which emerges from it, which is based not on freedom, but coercion.