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Hegel's metaphilosophy and historical metamorphosis

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Hegel is commonly understood to have required that the philosophy of history must be retrospective and therefore fundamentally conservative. Yet at the same time he is thought to have claimed that his system involved an absolute truth beyond which no philosophy could advance, and that it therefore marked the end of the history of philosophy. The two claims are evidently inconsistent, since a history of philosophy, which must be bound by constraints on the philosophy of history, could not legitimately comment on philosophy's future. If this is the result of Hegel's metaphilosophy then he has contributed at least this much to his reputation for presumption and incoherence.

However, I will argue that both claims are based upon misinterpretations that follow from inattention to Hegel's ontology, and that his metaphilosophy is more subtle and more critical than most interpreters have allowed. Though Hegel clearly requires that a philosophy draw its content from its time, he regards it as historically transcendent in its form, and as consequently playing a crucial role in the transition to the next historical epoch. The discussion begins with Hegel's views on the role of philosophy in history and proceeds to his conception of his place in the history of philosophy.
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Keywords: Hegel; conservative; history of philosophy; metaphilosophy; ontology; philosophy of history

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Keble College, Oxford.

Publication date: 1996-02-01

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