Volume 52, Issue 3, September 2012
Being a Child of One’s Time
Hegel on Thought and Cultural Context
This paper discusses different senses of Hegel’s claim that the individual is “a child of his time.” Hegel argues that the individual’s mind (“subjective Spirit”) is profoundly influenced by its time, i.e., the cultural context that forms its temporal setting (“objective Spirit”). However, Hegel makes somewhat conflicting claims in this regard: (i) that individuals harbor the presuppositions of their cultural context unreflectively; (ii) that philosophy overcomes the form of this unreflectiveness, but that the content of philosophy remains tied to its time since it tries reflectively to justify current presuppositions; (iii) that this reflection occurs when a culture declines, and that reflection, too, therefore is a child of its time; (iv) that an individual may be a minority thinker (despite what claim [i] says), but that even such an individual is a child of his time in the (weaker) sense that he is unable to influence it precisely because he transcends it.