Monday, November 19, 2018

Why did Schopenhauer lose out in his competition with Hegel?

Schopenhauer’s Bust in Frankfurt
Randall Collins, in his book The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, makes several points on the rivalry between Schopenhauer and Hegel. Here’s a paragraph (from Chapter 12: "Intellectuals Take Control of Their Base: The German University Revolution”) that I find most interesting:
The meshing of outer and inner layers helps explain too why Schopenhauer’s pessimism and political conservatism, though mixed with genuinely Idealist ingredients, lost out in competition with Hegel. Schopenhauer was seeking a turf to distinguish himself from the Fichteans. Since Hegel had appropriated the dialectic, Schopenhauer downplayed any dialectic of contradictions and progress toward a higher unity. Although Schopenhauer declared that he was returning to the Kantian dichotomous universe, he too was post-Fichtean in claiming access to the thing-in-itself, recognizable within one’s own self. Fichte had opened the path by identifying the self with will. Schopenhauer depicted the will as a blind striving, not freedom but a trap. Schopenhauer exposed his teacher’s central concept in a new light, recombining cultural capital in order to oppose the Fichteans while maintaining his membership in the intellectual movement. History is an endless round of battles going nowhere; the Kantian sphere of ideas is a higher ground, not for scientifically comprehending the empirical world, but for transcending its change. Against the moral religion of Kant, the activism of Fichte, and the constitutional legalism of Hegel, Schopenhauer propounded a religion of escape. This position coincided with the social and political biases of Schopenhauer’s network; his earliest contacts were with conservative French émigré circles, and his origin was in the salon society of the wealthy rather than the Idealist milieu of pastors and tutors struggling to shape academic career paths. But Schopenhauer was no typical representative of the conservatives, and his position was creative in precisely the way it used the concepts of the intellectual core. 
In the 19th century, Schopenhauer was definitely beaten by Hegel, but I think from the second half of the 20th century the situation has changed. Today Schopenhauer is far more relevant than Hegel—at least, to me, he is. I think Schopenhauer’s exposition of the Kantian philosophy is classic and there is great wisdom in his writing.

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