The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic


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Plasticity, Temporality and Dialecticrestores Hegel's rich and complex concepts of time and temporality to contemporary philosophy.

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2006.10.05

It examines his concept of time, relating it to perennial topics in philosophy such as substance, accident and the identity of the subject. Catherine Malabou's also contrasts her account of Hegelian temporality with the interpretation given by Heidegger in Being and Time, arguing that it is the concept of 'plasticity' that best describes Hegel's theory of temporality.


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The future is understood not simply as a moment in time, but as something malleable and constantly open to change through our interpretation. The book also develops Hegel's preoccupation with the history of Greek thought and Christianity and explores the role of theology in his thought. Essential reading for those interested in Hegel and contemporary continental philosophy, The Future of Hegel is also fascinating to those interested in the ideas of Heidegger and Derrida.

Published here in English for the first time, it includes a substantial preface by Jacques Derrida in which he explores the themes and conclusions of Malabou's Psychology Press Bolero Ozon. Although the Greek and the Christian conceptions of subjectivity conflict with each other, Malabou contends that in relation to them. Part III argues that Hegel's systematic philosophy is itself plastic, capable of being transformed by those who read it, and capable of transforming those same readers.

The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic

Malabou insists, "It is not stasis but metamorphosis that characterizes Absolute Knowledge. Consequently it forms and transforms individuals, fashioning their ways of waiting for and expecting the future" The claim that Hegel's system is both open to and productive of change is directed toward those who interpret Absolute Knowledge and the necessity of the dialectic as imposing a rigid permanence upon both philosophy and the world. Malabou flatly denies the latter objection, responding,. Contrary to the widespread view, Hegel does not deny contingency … This is what Absolute Knowledge knows.

Hegelian philosophy assumes as an absolute fact the emergence of the random in the very bosom of necessity.

The future of Hegel: plasticity, temporality, and dialectic

She also denies the former objection, arguing that precisely because Hegel's dialectic is driven by conceptual necessities rather than the reflections of a particular author, its meaning remains resolutely dependent upon and open to the interpretations provided by its readers: Malabou concludes that Hegel regards humanity, divinity, the cosmos, and philosophy as thoroughly plastic, receptive to being transformed and capable of initiating transformations.

Consequently, and contrary to Heidegger's interpretation, Hegel is a thinker of the future and with a future: Hegel's philosophy announces that the future, from now on, depends on the way the shapes and figures already present can be put back into play, on the way the extraordinary and unexpected can only arise out of the prose of the well-known and familiar. Malabou's emphasis on the concept of plasticity in Hegel's philosophy is novel, and her attempt to challenge the Heideggerian interpretation of Hegel, and thereby reorient the French reception of his work, is important and timely.

Malabou's treatment of Hegel is knowledgeable and insightful, demonstrating command of both the large systematic context and the particular details that are crucial to her analyses.


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Each of the three parts of the book makes a worthwhile contribution, and together they make a powerful case for her conclusion. The Future of Hegel will appeal most strongly, however, to those already steeped in the philosophical issues and disputes generated by the efforts of the last several generations of French scholars to evaluate the legacy of Hegel's thought in light of Heidegger's work.

The concerns that motivate the book will be less pressing to those unfamiliar with these debates. This may include English-speaking readers of Hegel who are more accustomed to addressing the challenges posed to German Idealism by empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism, rather than those initiated by Heidegger. Indeed, one of the curious and disappointing aspects of Malabou's book is its almost complete lack of engagement with recent English language scholarship on Hegel.

The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic by Catherine Malabou

Very good work has been done on many of the themes that are central to her work, including Hegel's understanding of habit, the relationship of his anthropology to Aristotle's De Anima , his account of Christianity, and his conception of systematic philosophy. Moreover, English language scholarship has already grappled with, and convincingly repudiated, some of the very misconceptions about Hegel that Malabou herself rightly rejects, including the old myths that Hegel's politics is totalitarian, that his metaphysics denies contingency, and that his ethics has no place for individuality.

These myths continue to persist among those who are less familiar with Hegel than they are with his French critics, and so it is understandable that Malabou devotes considerable attention to taking them on, but her efforts would be enhanced if she drew on the best English language work in doing so. In particular, it would be intriguing to see Malabou engage with English scholarship on the question of the senses in which, and the degree to which, Hegel's own system is plastic, or open to future transformation. This has been addressed most directly by David Kolb in "What is Open and What is Closed in the Philosophy of Hegel," where he argues that "an open thinking would have difficulty comprehending and reconciling in the strong sense Hegel has in mind" Kolb's position has been challenged explicitly by John Burbidge in "Hegel's Open Future," and implicitly by John McCumber, who contends in The Company of Words that "the System is much more supple than has previously been thought.

Not only could Hegel have developed it in directions other than those it actually takes in his writings, but it has enormous capacities for revision" Kolb and McCumber have also written extensively about the relationship between Hegel and Heidegger, so their work affords a perfect opportunity for Malabou to forge more explicit connections between Hegel scholarship in French and English.

The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic
The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic
The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic
The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic
The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic
The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic
The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic

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