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  • Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered
  • Stephen N. Dunning
Jon Stewart . Kierkegaard’s Relations to Hegel Reconsidered. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xix + 695. Cloth, $55.00.

It is rare to find a scholarly book that treats its topic exhaustively. But Jon Stewart's 658-page Kierkegaard's Relations to Hegel Reconsidered, despite its author's disclaimers, comes close. It is an impressive attempt to demolish what Stewart calls "the standard view," using a three-part argument: that Hegel exerted a substantial positive influence on the young Kierkegaard; [End Page 500] that Kierkegaard was never the radical critic of Hegel claimed by the "standard view"; and that most Kierkegaard scholars (especially Niels Thulstrup in Kierkegaard's Relation to Hegel [Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980]) have been led astray on these matters by their ignorance of Kierkegaard's philosophical milieu and their ideological bias.

Hegel's positive influence on Kierkegaard is presented in chapters devoted respectively to The Concept of Irony, Either/Or, and Sickness Unto Death. Stewart employs a contextual method, limiting himself to passages in Kierkegaard's texts that have clearly been influenced by passages in or characteristics of Hegel's works. He easily shows Hegelian influence on the dialectical structure of the argument in The Concept of Irony, on the contrast between the ancient and "modern" Antigones in Part One of Either/Or, on the concepts of mediation and romantic love presented in Part Two, and on the dialectical structure of the section on "The Forms of This Sickness (Despair)" in The Sickness Unto Death.

The claim that Kierkegaard was never a strong critic of Hegel turns on Stewart's careful contextual analysis of the major Danish Hegelians and anti-Hegelians contemporary with Kierkegaard. Thanks to Bruce Kirmmse's Kierkegaard in Golden Age Denmark (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990), many scholars will be familiar with Heiberg and Martensen, and also the anti-Hegelian Bishop Mynster, but few will have examined the Hegelianism of Adler and the criticisms of Sibbern and Møller. Stewart argues that the texts of Kierkegaard's "middle period," which appear to attack Hegel directly, are really an attack on the Danish Hegelians—especially Heiberg, Martensen and Adler. He claims that "Hegel" often served as a code name for one of these Hegelians, and that such secret codes were commonly used, just like pseudonyms, to avoid giving offence in the small town of Copenhagen.

Stewart's criticism of other scholars is based upon both his analyses of the selected passages in Kierkegaard's works and his discussion of the Danish Hegelians. It is true that many scholars have portrayed Kierkegaard as one-dimensionally anti-Hegelian, and some may have done it for the ideological reasons imputed to them by Stewart. But it is not clear that Thulstrup, for example, deserves to be dismissed as a scholar. He clearly admitted that Kierkegaard had read sections of Hegel's major works "intensively," and he also observed that Kierkegaard was provoked to his anti-Hegelianism by the influence of Hegel on Martensen (whom Thulstrup mentions often, as also Heiberg and Mynster). Stewart implies that Thulstrup had little understanding of Hegel and no interest in the Danish Hegelians, but his discussion of Thulstrup's work is too selective to be persuasive.

Stewart also seems to have been a bit hasty in concluding that recent scholarship on the Hegel-Kierkegaard relation blindly follows Thulstrup and the "standard view." In different ways, Robert Perkins, Merold Westphal and I have all written on aspects of Kierkegaard's thought that show Hegelian influences. Stewart lists us in his Bibliography and even cites my book as one of several that investigates Hegelian influences on The Sickness Unto Death, but he never discusses the arguments we present, even though they clearly strengthen his claim about Hegel's positive influence on Kierkegaard. Indeed, the only American book on "Hegel and Kierkegaard" he takes seriously is Mark C. Taylor's Journeys to Selfhood: Hegel & Kierkegaard (Berkeley, 1980), which is a creative philosophical project that does not attempt to be a study of their historical relationship. Stewart writes that much scholarship suffers from using a "text-immanent" (628) method of analysis that ignores the relevant historical...


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