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Transcript of 9
had seen the Age of Revolutions up close when the city of
taught, was conquered by
. The significance of even that modern moment was not lost on the
professor, whose philosophy was tied to history.
is not easy, as we’ll see, our
survey can begin with a simple premise we’ve worked with all semester: Ideas evolve over history just as much as actual events do.
From this basic basis,
deduces that an idea’s “truth” depends on if it
to its place in a larger whole. So, any truth itself is not static/solid—truth is dynamic/fluid. Because truth evolves over time, we should think of ultimate reality (metaphysics) not as a
, but as a
Truth is dynamic, as seen in statements like “Women vote in a democracy” or “Here is the marker” or “
rules the Mediterranean.” Whether each claim is “true” depends on its historical context.
once said, “If we look rationally at the world, the world looks back rationally.” So, if the world appears chaotic/disordered/irrational remember that (in watered-down laymen’s terms) everything happens for a reason—or, as
puts it, “The real is the rational.”
In a way,
is fusing universalism (there is Truth) with a kind of relativism (the truth depends). But he is not saying that anything is right/true/good. Instead, he’s saying everything that ontologically
(all that is “real”) is part of a universal whole (and is thus “rational”). He’s saying everything (right/wrong, honesty/lies, good/bad) has a place in the universe's evolution.
is not just repeating the apathetic adage of “Optimism,” which merely accepts the world’s negatives. As
says, we have to “work through the negative.” Studying history shows us how the events (by “great men”) or ideas (by “movements”)
This Historicist use of the
Dialectic is how the “owl of
spreads its wings”; or, how hindsight becomes 20-20. Still, he lets us rest assured that all real facts have rational value. But don’t forget that reality and rationality are not static, but are dynamic features of the “progression of the total evolving reality”—or, to use the
The Real is
Geist has been translated as God/Mind/Ideal/Spirit. That is, Geist is the metaphysical entity. Hegel talks of Geist as ultimate reality itself, rationally understood. Put another way, Geist is the answer to the question, “So, Hegel, exactly
Considering how many intellectual topics
addresses (universal/relative, secular/spiritual, fact/value, etc.), his influence was incalculable. This is all the more impressive since even trying to summarize
can get incredibly abstruse: a
Idealist whose process philosophy analyzes the metaphysical evolution of
through its historical manifestations. As such, at least according to his fans,
became the “synthesis” of all prior Intellectual History.
was not without critics. His words can justify oppressive regimes as “the march of God in the world” just as his insistence on “realized freedom” can justify any anarchic act. Naturally, left and right
emerged to validate them “selves” and tear down each “other.” But
harshest critic rejected the way his process over-emphasized the
big picture, thereby ignoring individual
may have thought he provided an answer for anything, a man in
objected to all this objectivity:
metaphysical idea of reality reduced the individual to a mere part in a larger rational process. Moreover,
“comic” because his “theory of everything” ignored the subjective experience by which all of us (universally) live.
“Existential Dialectic” shifts focus away from some rational, scientific, objective big picture in order to focus on the inner truth of what it means to be alive. That is subjectivity. While his ideas about “individualism” are certainly quite Modern,
texts also suggest an intense Christian “fundamentalism”—particularly his most renowned work:
Fear & Trembling
Although Kierkegaard was certainly an “individual,” his ideas build a great deal off of Kant, who had divorced objective things in themselves from subjective perception. The latter is of prime concern for Kierkegaard.
An especially zealous believer,
is not a polemic against non-Christians but a corrective aimed at mistaken Christians. That is, being a “knight of faith” has nothing to do with participation in social practices (e.g. going to church). It is much more internal, personal, and existential.
The entire book addresses Abraham’s inner life when he goes to sacrifice his son Isaac. His faith cannot just be simple obedience—since he’s contradicting another decree. It cannot be seeing the situation as a test—since that would negate the test’s merits. And it cannot be mere resignation—since that would turn God’s prophet into a mechanically apathetic stoic. Rather,
exegetical interpretation of this biblical tale shows Abraham must believe Isaac will live and die.
Fear & Trembling
If that sounds utterly illogical then
has successfully made his point. He posits that the subjective experience of faith itself requires one to believe in the irrational. It demands
. Or, as it is more famously rendered, life requires a “leap of faith.”
The phrase is idiomatic, but it’s crucial to remember what
: logic. That is the price of understanding life itself. That is, to
, the vitality of real life is not reducible to some rational process. Instead, it is about choices we make without relying on reason, society, or custom. Such choices are what make us “free.”
Existentialism tends to trace its roots back to
(who would have hated to be associated with any movement). After all, he wanted his tombstone to read “The Individual.”
Kierkegaard says the question “Why should I be rational?” will be answered with rational presumptions. Freely choosing a life of faith isn’t beholden to reason. Arguing with faith is like arguing with the insane—but it still “exists.”
Leap of Faith
The longest show from the Age of Revolutions arguably emanates from an economic upheaval: the Industrial Revolution. Its results are not only technological but also political, financial, and environmental. Still, industrialization is as much a product of Classical Liberalism as other modes of Modernity.
Enlightenment ideas on wealth argued that rather than regulate the economy, governments should leave the “Invisible Hand” to guide the free market. This
(let-it-be) approach has its basis in
, but the cost was a veritable host of crises. In actuality, a new tyranny was spawned by this trickle-down policy theoretically promoted liberty.
booming industries earned enmity from both the Right (who lamented industry’s urbanization, thus destroying traditional rural values) and the Left (who decried industry’s mechanization, thus dominating all other forms of liberty). The response became Romanticism.
The first of four Classical Liberal “aesthetic movements,” Romantics asked the questions: If we were promised
, why are workers given fewer options? If it praised
, why is class disparity widening? If it championed
, why are smog increasing, life expectancy shortening, and human empathy disappearing? Industry showed that social problems had not been ended, just modernized.
The Enlightenment rejected mere superstition, inherited tradition, and customary belief toward the teleological end of
. But is “truth” really just what science could verify in labs or produce in factories, dubbed “dark satanic mills” by
said confronting nature makes the individual feel “like a god.” The primary he gave to feeling over thinking led Romantics to extoll pathos, subjectivity, and that desire for awesome experiences that were larger than life. As
put it, “Blessed it was to be alive / But to be young was very heaven.”
Romantics aimed to aid social ills roughly in accord to
“Harm Principle—but Romantics were not utopians. Conflict itself was exalted by Romantic “Byronic Heroes” who battled against man/society/nature. Even if the Romantics seem naïve, consider that even scientists do what they do because their field of study initially filled them with “awe.” Even science is begat by wonder.
Kant’s life was not Romantic, but his idea that the subjective self organizes objective things in themselves was influential for Romantic minds like Arthur Schopenhauer, who said that since “will” powers me as a subject, we can assume it powers objects too.
While many Age of Revolution intellectuals busied themselves by writing grandiose treatises and weighty verses, one calm, collected member of the country gentry was unintentionally redefining the novel for Modernity.
Single, rural, and pithy,
six books did for fiction what scores of philosophers were trying to do in non-fiction. That is, she gave readers both the societal and the individual, offering deeply intimate texts about personal issues that are thereby truly universal. But she served her sparkling works with the spice of satire.
is sometimes regarded as a Romantic, but her work is far more interested in the “business of love” than wild passions found in, say, the
. Indeed, the opening page is replete with mentions of what
called the “economic basis of society.” But rather than
Although the celebrated opening line seems like a jocular jab at highbrow thinkers,
is quite sincerely tackling a topic that is actually “universal.” How? Well, few of us will fight in revolutions, few will gain intellectual notoriety, few will become titans of industry. But all of us will make a personal choice about how/if we decide to pursue love just like Lizzy.
A Truth Universally Acknowledged
The book takes place smack in the middle of the Age of Revolutions, but from the view these fairly common women in the English countryside, readers would never know the world was changing.
The book’s first chapter provides a candid glimpse not of the protagonist—but of her parents. We get a sense of the annoying and absurd Mrs. Bennet, although some scholars see her as the true heroine of the novel (by
standards), as she is the one overtly concerned with the family’s continuation.
Another subversive shift with narrative expectations comes in the form of Mr. Darcy, Lizzy’s principle love interest. Despite Darcy’s tall, dark, and handsome exterior, he has little patience for what he regards as antiquated courtship rituals—looking instead for a genuine connection. As such, he breaks with tradition and is a quintessential Romantic anti-hero.
Heroines & Anti-Heroes
The titular “prejudice” and “pride” that afflict both protagonists keeps the couple apart—not by villainous antagonists but merely by their own initial “first impressions.” Darcy and Lizzy are their own worst enemies.
weaves a complex plot that coerces Lizzy and Darcy to eventually look beyond their biases.
purpose in crafting such a creative narrative maneuver is to reveal the myth of “love at first sight,” so common in Romanticism. For
, love is not immaculate—it is constructed.
Although her novel seems far removed the revolutionary era in which she lived,
impact extended far beyond Literature or Romanticism but into the deepest personal lives of all of us; after all, today we reject marriage without love as vehemently as we reject life without freedom.
The term “prejudice” literally just means “pre-judgment.” Its negative connotation today is due to people who judge others based on ethnicity or gender without getting to know the individual person.
The Romantic self-made man is best exemplified by
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe
, a foundational figure of Romanticism along with
. Polymath and politician, artist and scientist,
indomitable will has earned him the reputation as the first “modern celebrity.”
early successes included a Romantic “storm and stress” novel (
favorite book), but he also earned acclaim for his massive rebuttal to
on an odd topic: color.
Romantic critique asserted that formulas were only part of understanding—the far more important aspect was experience.
This conflict-laden quest, striving for new experiences, drove not only
himself but his lifelong epic about the
folk hero, Faust, who showcases our plight as “the little god of earth.”
Goethe’s last words were quite fitting: “More light!” His biggest fan was
, a Romantic Hero in himself who loved Romantic writers. Goethe wrote his favorite book, while he credited
with being as influential as…well…himself.
As a character, Faust bears striking similarities to the intellectual-of-all-trades,
, which may set us up to believe that the playwright will be as sympathetic to his eponymous protagonist as
was. However, this is hardly the case. One could argue that
Romantic “closest drama” reserves its sympathy for Mephistopheles.
The play’s “frame” opens in Heaven, thereby reconfiguring the most prominent biblical tale that features the devil.
inverts the archetypical roles found in Job as the devil’s quest is to deliver satisfaction to a human—thus complicating our notions of heroes or anti-heroes.
Satan’s task is all the more
/God do not value static ideas of “good” but rather dynamic ideas of “activity.” Faust (who wants “action,” not “words”) is insatiable since he wants no
—he wants not
. In short, the object of his desire is “more” itself. Thus,
comments on both modern process philosophy and modern capitalism.
But are these condoned or condemned by
? On the one hand, God ultimately absolves Faust, but on the other Faust ultimately
volves into a pathetic voyeur.
wonders if this is the fate of the modern West. He was not the last to wonder.
Despite its continental beginnings, the
produced the largest cadre of Romantics. A first generation of
gave rise to a second incarnation in
, and the
His sonnet “Ozymandias” uses multiple frames to show how all “mighty” imperialists will “decay.” Whatever mastery we believe we have, “nothing beside remains” except for nature itself.
ends his “Defense of Poetry” with the exaltation that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” That is, the arts sculpt our worldviews, thereby guiding the world’s development.
"Poets are the unacknowledged
legislators of the world."
An atheist and socialist, Percy Shelley was a perpetual nuisance to the right-wing. His interest in nonviolent resistance influenced thinkers as far afield as
Mary Shelley has been called the “Mother of Science Fiction,” but she is also a foundational figure for many other literary subgenres: Gothic, Horror, and Dystopia.
mother was the first Feminist (
), father was an early Utilitarian (
), and husband was a Romantic poet. Despite such an unrivaled and daunting pedigree,
fame would outshine all these luminaries due to her dark Gothic novel
Written at age 18 and published anonymously,
is more than just a mere tale of Horror. The titular “Modern Prometheus” is an industrial allegory about the perils of shirking accountability for our creations.
Taking aim at industrial irresponsibility, Dr. Frankenstein is eventually told by his Monster, “You are my creator, but I am your master.”
thus levels a foreboding warning about the true cost of losing our humanity.
The Industrial Revolution demonstrated the possibilities of the sciences, but the Romantic Movement had equally articulated the importance of the humanities.
Although Romantics held that conflict itself is the source of all greatness, this did not validate unnecessary destruction/atrocities/meaninglessness. That is, science shows us what
, but the humanities help us see what it is
. Our teleological “end” is not just more stuff, as
Modernity is certainly distinguished by its technological achievements, but this signifies that scientific progress needs to be guided (perhaps more than ever) by philosophical understanding. In the Age of Revolutions, such intellectual “reason” seemed absolutely absent from the “real” world.
Industrialism VS Romanticism
From video cameras to nuclear energy, even modern technology is a means—not an end. Humans can use nuclear power to electrify cities or bomb them. So, tech’s advancements make philosophy more important, not less.
So what causes this process to move forward? Put another way, what’s the engine of history? Conflict. The concept is a bit romantic, but conflict does play a rationalistic role in how universal history unfolds. If truth evolves, this change only comes about after X meets challenge Y in order to become Z.
For instance, let’s take a Thesis (X) that is true for its time/place. How does it change? At a particular time, it meets an Antithesis (Y) that opposes it. The conflict between the two produces a Synthesis (Z), which incorporates the two and eventually becomes the new Thesis in its own right.
From the actual
to the idea of empires themselves, all “truth” evolves by this process that came to be known as the “
The Hegelian Dialectic is actually a bit of a misnomer: It was invented by his predecessor, Fichte; moreover, his philosophy doesn’t mention it quite as much as later Hegelians would use it in their “process philosophies.”
The Hegelian Dialectic
The book’s title is a subtle jab at Hegel. He shows we are not parts of a larger Geist. Rather, for God to be awe-inspiring He must be distinctly separate from an individual who would be overwhelmed by Fear & Trembling.
Likely the most moderate mind we’ll encounter this semester,
was not a political extremist: she cut passages her parents didn't enjoy and counted among her readers the future king
. But that is not to say she was not revolutionary.
produced welcomes us in whether we are of the left or the right, thereby bringing attention from across the political spectrum to the plight of women.
influence on Feminism comes out of her attention to a pragmatic problem women face(d): the myriad conflicts that ensue from the cultural custom of marriage.
Pride & Prejudice