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German Philosophers: Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche

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German Philosophers contains studies of four of the most important German theorists: Kant, arguably the most influential modern philosopher; Hegel, whose philosophy inspired a vision of a communist society that for more than one hundred years enlivened revolutionary movements around the world; Schopenhauer, renowned for his pessimistic view that for human individual non-existence would be preferable; and Nietzsche, who has been appropriated as an icon by an astonishingly diverse spectrum of people.
Written by leading scholars in the field, German Philosophers is the only work to bring together texts on the four philosophers who represent a central school of German philosophy. With a Foreword by Sir Keith Thomas and extensive notes for further reading, this handy volume serves as an easy-to-use introduction for the beginning philosophy student and a quick and comprehensive reference for scholars.

464 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Roger Scruton

141 books1,167 followers
Sir Roger Scruton was a writer and philosopher who has published more than forty books in philosophy, aesthetics and politics. He was a fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He taught in both England and America and was a Visiting Professor at Department of Philosophy and Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, he was also a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington D.C.

In 2015 he published two books, The Disappeared and later in the autumn, Fools Frauds and Firebrands. Fools Frauds and Firebrands is an update of Thinkers of the New Left published, to widespread outrage, in 1986. It includes new chapters covering Lacan, Deleuze and Badiou and some timely thoughts about the historians and social thinkers who led British intellectuals up the garden path during the last decades, including Eric Hobsbawm and Ralph Miliband.

In 2016 he again published two books, Confessions of A Heretic (a collection of essays) and The Ring of Truth, about Wagner’s Ring cycle, which was widely and favourably reviewed. In 2017 he published On Human Nature (Princeton University Press), which was again widely reviewed, and contains a distillation of his philosophy. He also published a response to Brexit, Where We Are (Bloomsbury).

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Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews
Profile Image for Xander.
420 reviews141 followers
November 9, 2017
This is a collection of four Introductions to the four mentioned German philosophers. So, don't expect this to be a coherent whole - there are four essays, each written by a different author. Because there are different authors involved, each German philosopher is treated in a different perspective, which is a minor weakness of the book.

The essay on Kant is not really enlightening. I have read Kant's works recently and I have to admit that Roger Scruton (who wrote the essay) tries his best to clarify all the issues involved in Kant's philosophy, but it lacks clarity nontheless. I cannot quit feeling that Scruton has a diffuse way of explaining things, and this isn't exactly helpful when the topic concerns one of the most diffuse philosophies that have been developed - ever. Overall, Scruton manages to explain Kant's thoughts, but barely so.

After reading the essay on Kant, the essay on Hegel, written by Peter Singer, is a breath of fresh air. Singer tackles Hegel's obscure philosophy by choosing a particular road to follow. He starts with the most accessible of Hegel's works: his Philosophy on History. After outlining Hegel's thoughts on history, Singer proceeds to the next - logical - step: Hegel's view on society and law. It is only after this that Singer tries to explain Hegel's most obscure - and most influential - work: The Phenomenology of Mind. Throughout the essay, Singer is able to make Hegel accessible by introducing analogies and by the road he takes to explain Hegel. I can really recommend Singer's essay for anyone interested in Hegel: it's a great starting point!

The third essay, wirtten by Christopher Janaway concerns Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer tried to update Kant's philosophy and in the process do away with all the obscure Hegelian philosophy. Janaway is able to explain Schopenhauer's system of philosophy, but Schopenhauer isn't that difficult to understand anyway, so this isn't necessarily a good thing. In all, I found Janaway's essay a little bit too long and too wide in scope - he tries to explain Schopenhauer all the way and this makes it, at times, hard to follow (escpecially for people ignorant of Schopenhauer's philosophy).

Compared to the essay on Schopenhauer, the last essay on Friedrich Nietzsche, written by Michael Tanner, is more concise and more focused. This is really helpful, especially so since Nietzsche isn't all that concise and focused himself. I haven't read Nietzsche's works, but from what I've heard and read one really has to pick the interesting parts and connect them with other interesting parts (in his other books) in order to trace a development in thought or grasp an idea. Tanner chooses to trace Nietzsche's historical thought processes, linking his works with contemporary events - this is really helpful! Another strong point of Tanner is his selection of topics: he picks out the relevant ideas in Nietzsche's thinking and centres his essay around them - this is something that Singer does as well, but something that Scruton and Janaway lack.

So what to think of this book? First, I applaud Oxford University Press for combining the four most important German philosophers into one single volume. One can use this book as an overview of German philosophy from Kant to Nietzsche, as well as introductions to the works of the the four philosophers involved. Each essay manages to assist the reader in both goals, in different degrees: Singer and Tanner accomplish this marvelously, while Scruton and Janaway let the reader put way more effort in understanding the key ideas of (respectively) Kant and Schopenhauer.

Second, before reading this book, I was already familiar with the works and thouhts of Kant and Schopenhauer, while knowing the overall picture of Hegel's and Nietzsche's thoughts. Even though one is familiar with the philosophers involved, this book clearly offers new insights and fresh perspectives, which makes this a book to recommend!

As a last remark, I'd like to add a personal remark. The last couple of months, I have immersed myself in Western philosophy (i.e. from Descartes onwards). I have mixed feelings about this attempt. I have learned a lot and I have truly astonished myself with all these new insights and ideas. But at the same time, I also have a growing feeling of unease: it seems the philosophical questions involved have become more and more cut off from reality.

I have always been one to value an empirical outlook: for me, science is the only reliable source of knowledge of the world. I do value the metaphysical ideals of the philosophers, from Descartes onwards, to find a foundation of all our knowledge, though. But, rather than thinking up more and more extraordinary, elaborate and unbelievable world systems, I think it is about time to quit with this undertaking. It bores me, and it makes me wonder why such bright minds have pondered such important questions and came up with such silly answers.

Take for example German idealism, which posits that all that exists are my own ideas. This sounds trivial, but it basiaclly means that anything that isn't in my own ideas doesn't exist. What can this possibly mean? Science proves that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old; science proves that there has been a continuous process of evolution ever since; thus, what can it possibly mean that (for example) any of these extinct creatures, of which we can inspect fossils, didn't exist more than 6 million years ago, since before that time there was no human intellect to perceive them?

I was planning to read Hegel and Nietzsche, but I sincerely doubt it now. I much rather immerse myself with new scientific insights; existentialism, idealism, phenomenology, etc. all of it can - as far as I'm concerned - be delegated to the arts. There is nothing truthful about them, they are just pleasures for the mind, and the presumption that the philosophies of Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, Husserl and the like contain truth is, intellectually speaking, dishonest. Philosophers should concern themselves with checking empirical science where needed, criticizing current scientific ideas and offering us new paths to proceed, but they should give up their pretentions to knowledge - especially knowledge about meta-knowledge (i.e. metaphysics, i.e. principles of science).

And to show that I do value philosophy, I'd recommend reading Karl Popper, instead of all of the above mentioned philosophers. Never since Kant (or rather, since Plato), has there been (in my opinion) such a bright, clear minded, sharp and witty philosopher as Popper. But, looking around me, all these fancy intellectuals rather read pieces of shit like Sartre's existentialism ('you are what you decide you are') or Hegel's dialectical phenomenology (Like Schopenhauer said: Hegel is like a cuttlefish, blowing ink around itself, making itself obscure to vision).
Profile Image for Mohamad Jaber.
175 reviews14 followers
October 13, 2015
I enjoyed the book, it had more depth than the usual introductory philosophy books.

This book covers the 4 major German philosophers, Kant, Hegel, Shupenhaure, and Nietzsche.

Kant was interested in epistemology and ethics. In epistemology he defied the views of the rationals (believing all Knowledge was predisposed on the human mind) and also that of empiricists (who believed that all knowledge was gained through outside experience) Kant saw that yes, we gain our knowledge from experience, but this knowledge is bound by references such as time and space which are a priori knowledge in the minds.
In ethics Kant saw that we should act ethically because it was rational on the ground of a duty (like all inquiries into ethics he didn't provide shit)

Hegel saw that knowledge undergoes a dialectic process where each time we discover something another contradicting idea arises and the two fight to give birth to a third more true idea and so on and so forth in a process leading to the actualization of ultimate freedom.

Shupenhaure thought women sucked and we should all die.

Nietzsche refused Christian morality on the ground that they keep us away from becoming the supermen we could, ethics don't exist and all that matters is transcending our current state, if this view however leads some to justify killing the weak and exploiting others, Nietzsche would say go screw yourselves.
Profile Image for Elie.
50 reviews2 followers
July 30, 2011
a well designed overview of german philosophy in general. gives the basics about all 4 mentioned philosophers. more details are to left out due to the size limitations of the book.
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