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Journal of the History of Philosophy 39.4 (2001) 596-597

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Karl Ameriks, editor. The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. xiii + 306. Cloth, $54.95. Paper, $19.95.

This recently published volume is a welcome and timely addition to the Cambridge Companion series. The past two decades have witnessed a renewed and now burgeoning interest in post-Kantian German philosophy, notably among philosophers working in the continental and analytic traditions. Contributors to the volume reflect this diversity (actually, most work within the analytic tradition), and all are familiar and veteran scholars of Kant and German Idealism. The essays, as expected, are compact, but are tightly presented and clearly argued. The decision to devote a Cambridge Companion volume to a philosophical movement—a major exception, as most are aware, for the series—seems quite justified given the heretofore unacknowledged importance of the period and the global (at least among Anglo-American philosophers) misunderstanding from which it has suffered until recently. On both scores, this volume is a successful corrective. A short review precludes individual evaluation, however brief, of the essays in this fine collection, so I will limit my comments to a few general points.

The essays are organized so as to provide the reader with a thorough introduction to the history of German Idealism construed broadly to include Kant, Hamann, Herder, Jacobi, Maimon, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, the Romantics, and at least the trajectory of post-Hegelianism. The Romantics, particularly Novalis, Schiller, and Hölderlin, receive overdue and careful treatment—Charles Larmore's essay on Hölderlin and Novalis being, in this reviewer's judgment, one of the better contributions to the collection. Some authors retrace themes developed in their earlier scholarly work (especially Pinkard, Wood, Pippin, Beiser, and Bowie); however each essay almost without exception attempts to advance the scholarly discussion of the problems it explores. Paul Guyer's essay, for instance, fits this description: he offers a robust defense of Kantian dualism (e.g., intuition and concept, representation and thing in itself) against Hegelian objections which includes a fine analysis of the genesis of Kant's arguments. On the other hand, Guyer's essay, along with the contributions of Wood, Pippin, Pinkard, Larmore, and Bowie, might be more fruitful for readers more interested in philosophical problems engaged by the Idealists (e.g., moral and political autonomy, rational normativity). The collection begins with Frederick Beiser's skillfully condensed and informative essay on the unresolved tensions within Enlightenment philosophy (and the way in which those tensions, highlighted rather than resolved by the Pantheism controversy, helped set the agenda for what became the tasks of German Idealism) and ends with Karl Ameriks's fine essay on the complex legacy of Idealism in the works of Feuerbach, Marx, and Kierkegaard.

One of the problems which occupied everyone in this period was rational authority, [End Page 596] namely, what would ground our normative theoretical and practical judgments and to what extent reason would provide either the foundation itself or access to this foundation. Most of the essays address this issue either directly or implicitly and accurately capture the diverse responses to this basic question and its implications for political philosophy—another central theme for the Idealist tradition. The problem of rational authority had been inherited from Rousseau, yet the Idealists explored the issue with an unparalleled thoroughness and urgency in the shadow of the French Revolution. Larmore does an exceptional job of articulating Hölderlin's and Novalis's critique of Fichtean self-consciousness, namely, that judgment itself must presuppose and draw upon a more basic unity (Absolute Being for Hölderlin and the Being of the I antecedent to self-awareness for Novalis) than the self-positing I, a unity which, as Larmore notes, underlies every cognitive attitude. Contributing to this general critique was the aesthetic holism of Hamann, Schiller, and Herder ably sketched by Daniel Dahlstromm. Central to the problem of rational authority is the contribution of Hegel, who took to heart Hölderlin's insistence on a more basic primordial unity...


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