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15 November: Kristin Gjesdal (Temple University)

“An Unruly Woman: Hegel and Madame de Staël”

Responding to the prevalence of Hegelian thought in the first half of the Nineteenth Century, philosophers such as Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud promote their distinctively non-idealist alternatives. Be it terms of morality (Nietzsche), social justice (Marx), or psychology (Freud), no part of life, they argued, evades the scrutiny of critical reflection. One question left out by these hermeneuticians of suspicion, however, is the  curious absence of women in what has been established as the (Hegelian) canon of modern philosophy. There was, however, no shortage of women philosophers in this period. Their voices were many and their contributions of high quality. This presentation focuses on one such voice: that of Germaine de Staël. Contrasting Staël’s philosophy with Hegel’s approach in the Phenomenology, it surveys her approach to the history of philosophy, her discussion of the need for intercultural understanding, and her appreciation of the outlook of the émigré. It discusses Staël’s non-idealist approach to German philosophy and contrasts her methodology to Hegel’s. It concludes by asking how Staël, a hugely influential writer at the time, got written out of the history of nineteenth-century European philosophy—a history that she had helped bring to existence.