Volume 52, Issue 3, September 2012
Kate Padgett Walsh
Distance and Engagement: Hegel’s Account of Critical Reflection
Hegel famously argues that Kant’s account of critical distance depends upon an impoverished conception of freedom. In its place, Hegel introduces a richer conception of freedom, according to which the self who is capable of self-determination is multifaceted: wanting and thinking, social and individual. This richer conception gives rise to an account of critical reflection that emphasizes engagement with our motives and practices rather than radical detachment from them. But what is most distinctive about Hegel’s account is the idea that when we reflect upon motives and practices, we draw upon shared self-understandings that are neither universal nor just particular to individuals. There is, Hegel argues, no presocial identity or self that can be detached from our socially constituted contexts of thought and value. This has important implications for how we conceive of critical reflection.