Neo-Hegelianism refers to several schools of thought associated with and inspired by the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a German idealist philosopher active around the beginning of the nineteenth century. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many European and American philosophers revived interest in aspects of Hegel's works.
Neo-Hegelianism was prominent in Great Britain and in the United States between 1870 and 1920, and the name is also applied to other philosophers of that period who took their inspiration from Hegel, such as Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile. British philosophers such as T. H. Green, Edward Caird, and F. H. Bradley took Hegelian idealist positions as a counterproposal to Materialism and Utilitarianism. In the United States, Neo-Hegelians, in a loose sense, range from transcendentalists to Josiah Royce, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. In Germany, a revival of Hegelian thought emerged with the impetus of Dilthey's "philosophy of life" and Neo-Kantianism. The revival of Hegelianism spread from Germany to Europe.
Many philosophers are referred to as Neo-Hegelians in a general sense, not as advocates of Hegel's thought, but as those who received considerable influence from Hegel's thought.
Shortly after Hegel’s death in 1831, his school in Germany diverged into three currents of thought: The conservative Rightist Hegelians, who developed his philosophy along lines compatible with Christian teachings and conservative politics; the “Young Hegelians,” or leftists, a group including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Max Stirner, who were critical of conservative politics; and the centrists, who concentrated on the philosophical system itself, which they diffused throughout the Western world.
Hegel's influence soon became powerful in the English-speaking world, and elements of Hegel’s idealism were adopted into the thought of philosophers in Great Britain and the United States.
The British school, called British idealism and partly Hegelian in inspiration, included Thomas Hill Green (1836–82), William Wallace (1844–1897), F. H. Bradley (1846–1924) and Edward Caird (1835–1908). It developed as a natural sequel to the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle. Primarily directed towards political philosophy, it arose partly as a response to the materialistic doctrines of utilitarianism, and to the challenges that new scientific discoveries were presenting to religion.
The British Neo-Hegelians rejected materialism and naturalism in metaphysics, the analysis of consciousness in terms of sensation and the association of ideas, and psychologism and formalism in logic. In ethics they opposed the utilitarian principle of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” and the idea of “duty for duty’s sake.” In politics they moved away from the prevailing concept of society as an association of individuals who cooperated for their mutual benefit, and instead viewed it as a living community and often as an expression of a universal or historical will. They were sympathetic to religion, but did not accept religious doctrines as literal truth. Their philosophy became popular as a rational alternative to religious beliefs which were being eroded by modern scientific discoveries and the theory of evolution.
In the United States, Neo-Hegelianism originated from the work of the Boston Transcendentalists and was developed through the efforts of William Torrey Harris (1835–1909), who was introduced to German philosophy by Henry C. Brockmeyer. Together they formed the St. Louis Philosophical Society in 1866, promoting the concept of a universal plan continually unfolding through a historical dialectic. In 1867, Harris founded the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, the first philosophical periodical in the United States.
Neo-Hegelianism’s most distinguished proponent in the United States was Josiah Royce (1855–1916), though his idealism, which gave special prominence to the will, was closer to the ideas of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Royce's contemporaries Charles Sanders Peirce and William James repudiated his metaphysics but retained elements of idealism, particularly in their early work. James’s successor, John Dewey, also began his career as a Hegelian and continued to denounce abstractions and to regard formal logic with suspicion.
In Germany, Neo-Hegelianism (neohegelianismus) developed during the early twentieth century out of different philosophical trends: The Neo-Kantianism of Wilhelm Windelband, the Hermeneutic philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey, and the Idealism of Richard Kroner. Richard Kroner wrote one of its leading works, Von Kant bis Hegel (1921/4), a classic history of German idealism written from the Neo-Hegelian point of view. Neo-Hegelians were not interested in developing Hegel's speculative metaphysics, but took some aspects of Hegel's ideas such as his perspective on history, holistic approach, and dynamism of thought. Accordingly, Neo-Hegelians did not form a school or particular philosophical movement within the framework of Hegel's thought, but applied Hegel's insights in their own thoughts. Neo-Hegelianism spread from Germany to Europe, but was later effaced in Germany by the rise of Nazism.
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