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Abstract

GWF Hegel’s path to speculative philosophy begins as a series of youthful meditations on the role of religion within the political and ethical life of modern Europe, and culminates in his speculative interpretation of “kenotic” or self-emptying sacrifice from dogmatic Christianity. But the role of kenotic sacrifice with respect to Hegel’s speculative turn has not been systematically explored, nor has its relation to earlier models of sacrifice in Hegel’s works been sufficiently elucidated. This dissertation takes up the question of sacrifice in Hegel’s early writings to make three overarching, interrelated points: firstly, that imagining, and eventually cognizing, negativity are essential to the emergence of Hegel’s system, and that these challenges emerge as part of a long rumination on the nature of sacrificial action which is threaded throughout Hegel’s early works (1798-1806). Secondly, that Hegel’s eventual interpretation of the nature of sacrificial action as kenosis [Entäußerung] forms the crux of his radical, speculative reinterpretation of the Christian theological tradition, and that this notion of self-negation as conceptually necessary essence of divine and human self-manifestation forms the central representational or imaginary anticipation of absolute Spirit as Concept [Begriff] and, hence, the Science of the speculative Idea. Finally, this dissertation argues that Hegel fundamentally misunderstands the valence of kenosis in his own thought. Kenosis indexes a site of non-dialectical negativity, an ecstatic temporality which both animates and frustrates Absolute Spirit’s aspirations. Hegelian religion is thus not an anticipation of pure reflexivity of the Concept, but rather the phantasmatic representation of its impossibility. Hegel’s sacrificial imagination emblematizes the transcendental frustration of the Concept in its attempt to articulate and comprehend its limits. This reversal of Hegelian mediation has ramifications beyond the Hegelian project itself: it poses a fundamental challenge to the supersessionist model of historical consciousness adopted in various forms by Hegelian philosophy as well as in deflationary post-Hegelian naturalisms and materialisms.

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