Rethinking Hegel's Conceptual Realism

Review of Metaphysics 72 (2):331-70 (2018)
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In this paper, I contest increasingly common "realist" interpretations of Hegel's theory of "the concept" (der Begriff), offering instead a "isomorphic" conception of the relation of concepts and the world. The isomorphism recommended, however, is metaphysically deflationary, for I show how Hegel's conception of conceptual form creates a conceptually internal standard for the adequacy of concepts. No "sideways-on" theory of the concept-world relationship is envisioned. This standard of conceptual adequacy is also "graduated" in that it allows for a lack of fit between concept and world. The possibility for a "maximally isomorphic" fit between concept and world obtains through the teleological realization of concepts, which marks especially the "artificial" world of human culture (law, art, religion, etc.). Some of the most seemingly exaggerated claims Hegel makes about the concept, I contend, can be understood when we consider the significance Hegel ascribes to human making, which is provided for in his conceptual theory. But my framework provides an interpretive key for the way Hegel sees concepts imperfectly realized in the natural world as well.

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W. Clark Wolf
Marquette University


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