HPD – Hegelian Interviews: Paul Redding

We are happy to continue with the series Hegelian Interviews, started on the occasion of hegelpd’s fifth birthday and specifically designed for our blog. Professor Paul Redding, whom we sincerely thank, answers some questions about the path of his philosophical education, the contribution of the Australian philosophical community to studies in classical German philosophy, the contemporary relevance of Hegel’s metaphysics interpreted as a form of modal actualism, and the metaphilosophical fruitfulness of Hegel’s thought for the understanding of today’s societies. 

Paul Redding is Professor Emeritus of philosophy at the University of Sydney. His work mainly concerns the tradition of continental idealism and its relationship to analytic philosophy and pragmatism. His research interests include topics in idealistic logic, philosophical psychology and philosophy of religion. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, a past president of the Australasian Association of Philosophy and honorary president of the Australian Hegel Society. 

Amongst his several publications in renowned academic journals and volumes, we would like to remind his books:  Hegel’s Hermeneutics (Cornell University Press, 1996), Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2007), Continental Idealism: Leibniz to Nietzsche (Routledge, 2009), Religion after Kant: God and Culture in the Idealist Era (co-edited with Paolo Diego Bubbio, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2012) and Thoughts, Deeds, Words and World: Hegel’s Idealist Response to the Linguistic “Metacritical Invasion” (Davies Group Publishing, 2016).

The Interview is by Giovanna Luciano and Giovanna Miolli.



As part of a long and intense philosophical engagement, your recent works on Hegel’s philosophy as a metaphysics of modal actualism testify of your unceasing theoretical activity. Nevertheless, you came to philosophy relatively late in your education; we would like to start this conversation by asking you about the motivations that led you to philosophy in general and to the Hegelian philosophy in particular. What were the most important steps of this pathway?

I had leanings towards theoretical areas at school, but nothing resembling philosophy was taught at the Catholic high school I attended in the first half of the 1960s. I was particularly attracted to maths and could dimly intuit philosophical issues in the background. I intended to major in maths at university, but quickly became bored with very untheoretical first-year curriculum at the time. Biology was an entirely new subject to me—I became attracted and in my second year enrolled in the medical faculty. My first encounter with philosophy was taking an introductory course as part of a humanities option that medical students were required to take, and while it didn’t immediately get a grip on my interests, later when I studied psychiatry I think it was the philosophical content associated with it that attracted me. To cut a long story short, after graduation and working for a year as a junior doctor in a hospital with the intention of continuing in psychiatry, I realized that psychiatry was for me really a place-holder for philosophy, and I decided to re-enroll at university in an arts degree. As for Hegel, the years of my flirtation with psychiatry were ones involving some in that profession questioning its underpinnings and practices. People were reading Michel Foucault, Thomas Satz and, especially, the Scottish “anti-psychiatrist” Ronald Laing.

Laing tried to use Hegel in his attempt to understand the family dynamics he saw as producing madness. I’ve recently re-read some of his essays which, I think, show a deep understanding of Hegel. Laing also drew upon the theories of the anthropologist Gregory Bateson, who had an interest in the logic of the communicative dynamics of families. At the time, while I knew Hegel’s works might be of use for me, I really didn’t start to read them until I was a philosophy post-graduate working on a thesis on hermeneutics. I quickly became attracted to the then fresh readings of Hegel focused on the theme of “recognition” as well as the American “post-Kantian” approach. Issues around recognition in particular linked up to my earlier interest in Laing’s account of the communicative dynamics involved in the production of schizophrenia. I still think of Hegel’s theory of recognition as the most compelling account I have come across of what it is to be a human being. I tried to follow up his account of the link between intersubjective recognition and self-consciousness in my first book, Hegel’s Hermeneutics, and this topic has remained central for me. I also believe, although this is an unconventional view, that it is a part of the structure of Hegel’s Logic.


In 2015, Manfred Frank wrote an article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine, with the pretty emphatic title “Hegel wohnt hier nicht mehr”, in which he denounces the “exodus” from Germany of continental philosophy, beaten and replaced by analytic philosophy. According to Frank, whoever wants to study classical German philosophy is encouraged to direct attention to universities in East Asia, Brazil, Australia and the US, that is, to those extra European countries in which the bond with that philosophical tradition has been historically less tight. In Australia, with respect to classical German philosophy, much is due to your own contribution and to the crucial role your research played in feeding the interest of the Australian philosophical culture. The “exodus” or the geographical spreading of classical German philosophy studies mirrors an academic environment that is becoming more and more globalized and fluid. Nevertheless, it is difficult to consider the appropriation process of classical German philosophy led by those scientific communities as neutral: it continuously manifests modifications and differences in terms of motivations, aims and cultural references. Do you think it is possible to retrieve a distinctive contribution by the Australian scientific community in this process? In your opinion, what are some of the specific questions or issues (e.g., political, social, theoretical etc.) fueling the interest of the Australian scholars in classical German philosophy?

This is a great question, but first, I must correct your otherwise flattering claim that “much” of the interest in classical German philosophy in Australia has been somehow linked to me. Here the credit should go to Gyorgy Markus, a “Budapest School” philosopher who arrived to teach in Sydney in 1978 and who really introduced classical German philosophy into an environment in which it had hitherto had very little presence. Sitting at the bottom of South-East Asia, Australia had been very distant from countries in which philosophy in the European tradition was practiced and taught. It took six weeks to get to places one can now reach in twenty-four hours. Even in the 1950s most aspiring academics travelled to Britain for postgraduate training. This was changing by the time I became engaged with philosophy, but it was predominantly expressed in opening up local philosophy to American influences. There was a smattering of non-British Europeans here teaching philosophy, usually giving courses in Husserl or Heidegger, but Australian philosophy had come to be defined by the type of “realist metaphysics” found in David Armstrong and others.

This all said, I think that that type of situation may have its benefits. I recently re-read an address given by Hegel while he was the headmaster at Nürnberg, “On Classical Studies”. He points out that when ideas are expressed in a foreign language—and in relation to contemporary Australians reading Hegel, I don’t simply mean German rather than English, but the idiom and genre in which Hegel writes—a type of artificial mechanical procedure is necessary for the learner “to digest the indigestible food forced upon it, to make intelligible what is at first without life and meaning, and to assimilate it”. I think this reflects the position from which many Australians and others geographically distant from Europe have found themselves with respect to European high culture. I believe it is inevitable that one brings philosophical prejudgments, or “Vorurteilen” as Gadamer called them, to one’s reading, and in my case these were informed by many local factors. These of course can cut one off from aspects of the text, but they might also allow for the expression of potentialities of the text that would otherwise be unexpressed. Findlay somewhere commented that Hegel showed a different face to each generation, which I think captures the sort of phenomenon I’m alluding to. In general then, I think the type of academic environment you mention can have both positive and negative effects for traditions like Hegelianism and philosophy more generally. It’s difficult to tell if the type of globalized culture in which we now exist is ultimately going to have a place for philosophy at all, but if it does I think it will be kept alive by a type of continual reinvention.


You extensively studied the relationship of Hegel’s philosophy with the analytic tradition, by focusing on the figure of J. N. Findlay, to whom you recognised the merit of having reintroduced the Hegelian philosophy into the Anglophone philosophical world. In your recent studies, you refer to Findlay also for his influence on the development of modal actualism, giving particular attention to the work of the New Zealander logician and philosopher Prior. In your proposal, through the focus on Hegel’s predicative theory in the Subjective Logic and by making the notion of Wirklichkeit the core of the Hegelian philosophical project, you interpret Hegel’s idealism as a metaphysics of modal actualism. This reading not only opens a dialogue with the analytic metaphysics debate, but also constitutes a non-Aristotelian alternative among the metaphysical interpretations of Hegel’s philosophy. We would like to ask you in which way your interpretative proposal provides an argument for the contemporary relevance of Hegel’s metaphysics.

My current interest in Findlay came about via a number of fortunate coincidences. To me, the subjective logic in Book III of The Science of Logic seemed to offer a gateway into Hegel’s project as a whole, simply for the reason that I felt I might get a clearer understanding of central Hegelian notions such as negation and Aufhebung if I could understand how they worked in an environment that was more immediately accessible to me—accounts of the structure of judgments and inferences. I read Arthur Prior mostly because he was an astute and relatively easily accessible historian of logic who could convey the sense in which different approaches to logic aligned with different metaphysical attitudes. Through him I got a much clearer sense of how traditional Aristotelian logic worked, and how one might get a better insight into Aristotle’s metaphysical attitudes and Greek philosophy in general through it. This included Aristotle’s attitudes to time, the logic of which Prior was particularly interested in. It was only after a while that I realized that Findlay, whose introductory text to Hegel I had read years ago, had been his teacher.

This strange conjunction of events stimulated in me the desire to read more of both Prior and Findlay, and the common theme of “actualism” (as it was called in the modal metaphysics literature) came to stand out. Prior is known in analytic circles for his “modal actualism”, which is effectively an attempt to do justice to the meaningfulness of modal judgments, such as those about non-actual possibilities, without the counter-intuitive belief in the reality of alternate “possible worlds” as found in David Lewis. I learnt that in the 1930s, as a PhD student in Austria, Findlay had worked on the metaphysics of Alexius Meinong, and that he had concerns about Meinong’s metaphysics that were very like Prior’s concerns about Lewis. Both Findlay and Prior wanted to recognize the reality of possibilities, but without Lewis’s metaphysics. In the case of Findlay (and I suspect the motivation was the same in Prior), it was because he recognized that genuinely free agency required some conception of the of alternate possibilities for the world as real, and some conception of the future as open rather than determined. (Of course, “possibility” here had to mean more than the mere logical possibility as lack of self-contradiction. Considerations of that type of possibility seemed trivial in relation to questions of agency.)

In returning to Findlay’s work on Hegel I realized that these modal issues underpinned his interpretation of Hegel as a very “this-worldly” philosopher, and I thought that such a focus might help overcome the stand-off between the opposed broadly “Aristotelian” and “post-Kantian” ways of reading Hegel. Some have strong intuitions that Hegel is a “realist” or even a “naturalist”, but I think what they really intend is that Hegel’s metaphysics is a metaphysics of the actual world with its contingencies and internal possibilities of the sort that at least some actualists in modal metaphysics have in mind.

Findlay and Prior also opened me to an approach to logic that has tended to be eclipsed both in standard analytic narratives of the history of logic and in standard Hegelian approaches—this was the algebraist tradition stretching from Boole to Peirce and Schröder. This was prefigured in the seventeenth century by Leibniz and in the eighteenth by a few philosophers and mathematicians, including Gottfried Ploucquet at Tübingen, whose distinctive approach to logic provided the content of the courses done there by Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin. Algebraic logic seemed to give a place to the determination of “Einzelheit” in a way that fitted in with Hegel’s thinking about the relation of modern to ancient thought. Findlay had passed on to Prior his enthusiasm for the logic of W. E. Johnson, a philosopher I had found helpful when trying to understand Hegel on negation. Johnson was one of the sophisticated algebraists active around the turn of the twentieth century who, like Peirce, offered a concept of logic that was a modern alternative to the traditional syllogistic on the one hand, and to that of Frege, Peano and Russell on the other. I also found some very Hegel-friendly ideas about logic in the work of Hugh MacColl, another largely forgotten algebraist from that period. So in general, I felt I had stumbled upon a framework within which Hegel might be understood that broke with the largely “unmediated” opposition between traditional Aristotelian readings and modern Kant-based readings. Some contemporary Hegelians in the Anglophone philosophical environment reject the idea that Hegel can be approached from the direction of formal logic, but I think this is deeply mistaken and in a way echoes the prejudice found among many analytic philosophers that Hegel is irrelevant to the broader logical tradition that has been a part of philosophy since Aristotle.


Now we would like to shift to a ‘metaphilosophical question’. In 2013 a few days before the Australian elections, a member of the Coalition (the Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) labelled some research projects that had been funded by the Australian Research Council as ridiculous. ‘Ironically’, two of those projects dealt with philosophy and were related to Hegel. You replied to this accusation and the general ‘ideology’ underlying it with an article on The Guardian, stressing the relevance of the philosophical practice and the necessity to recognize that «Philosophising is, like all intellectual work, work». Six years after that episode how do you interpret society’s reception of philosophy in general? And which part of Hegel’s thought do you think could help philosophy mediate with non-philosophical areas and society at large?

Given what has happened in the intervening years on a global scale it’s hard not to be pessimistic about this topic, but a Hegelian outlook is surely essentially optimistic, and one must try to find something positive in the gloomy present. To start with the incident in 2013 that you mention, in which my colleague Paolo Diego Bubbio and I found ourselves in the firing line as recipients of government money to fund philosophical research. Of course, those proposing to govern have a right to question how public money is being spent, but in our case this was transparently a populist political strategy of the then opposition party a few weeks before an election. It was meant to mobilize antagonism against the so-called “elites” among voters in electorates they needed to win. This trend has, of course, only increased since then. Attacks on the academy, journalism, or generally any form of critical reflection on the status quo have become more pronounced and frequent. This very worrying trend to undermine democratic institutions presents itself as representing the views of “ordinary people” who are portrayed as tired of being lectured at by the “elites” with their campaigns of “political correctness” and so on.

One thing I have learnt from Hegel, I think, is that it is important not to respond to these conditions from a fundamentally moral point of view. This can be difficult, but I think Hegel’s warnings about the political effects of the type of “abstractly universal” Kantian moral stance that he observed in his own time in the course of the French Revolution still have a message for us today. It can be a shock when one realizes that the tide can turn against the type of social progress with which one had grown up, but a Hegelian point of view I think can give insight into the dynamics of this. To take one example. I think that in the failure of the Democrats in relation to the rise of Trump in the US we can recognize the types of contradictions for which Hegel had such a good eye. One cannot universalize a political program that takes up the causes of a diverse range of minorities, as did the Democrats in the last election, without creating a class who feel themselves disinherited and who feel blamed for the injustices suffered by the minorities in question. But I think that Hegel also had a type of trust in the human spirit that is relevant for our time. The populist reactionaries who are in power in many parts of the world have to use the language of “freedom”, “free speech” and so forth in order to mobilize their support, and the hollowness of this language, I think (and hope) will gradually become apparent to those at whom it is directed.


Finally, we would like to ask you to list at least five books or contributions on classical German philosophy that have been crucial to your education.

That is a hard question to answer. My first suggestion will be a book that surely cannot be thought of as “on” classical German philosophy, but it shaped my approach to it at a crucial time and led me, rightly or wrongly, to think of the idea of recognition as key to understanding Hegel’s concept of Geist. That was the volume of essays by Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge University Press, 1976). One could think of at least the last two essays in the book as on Hegel’s concept of recognition with all the references to Hegel deleted! I read it at a time when Hegel’s idea of recognition was starting to be discussed, but nothing specifically written on Hegel seemed to me to capture Hegel in the way that Cavell did.

Other books that were crucial to my education were ones that, given an original training in which Hegel was largely absent, gave me a path into Hegel via a type of language I could understand. These were essentially American post-Kantian readings of Hegel from the 1980s and 1990s such as Robert Pippin’s Hegel’s Idealism (Cambridge University Press, 1989) and Terry Pinkard’s Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Cambridge University Press, 1994). Besides the picture of Hegel freed from the type of metaphysical interpretations to which I wasn’t attracted, I thought these works enacted the type of rather free reinterpretation of the form of expression of earlier times, that Hegel himself instantiated. If Hegel was to be read as a post-Kantian, then Kant had to be read in a different way to that in which most interpreters I was aware of had read him, and from this perspective I found Henry Allison’s Kant’s Transcendental Idealism very helpful.

As you know, I later came to be influenced by Findlay, but strangely not so much via his direct writings on Hegel. So, for my fifth book, as with the first, I will nominate a book that on the surface has nothing to do with Hegel but, under the surface, has everything to do with him. That is Findlay’s Meinong’s Theory of Objects (Clarendon Press, 1932, later expanded and republished as Meinong’s Theory of Objects and Values, Clarendon Press, 1963). This was Findlay’s PhD thesis, and I think of it as a book that could be subtitled, “How I found my way back to Hegel as a modal actualist”! Findlay had been an idealist before he became attracted to Meinong’s philosophy, and one can read this book as his finding a way of construing logical structure in such a way so as to conceive of the actual world as immanent with unrealized possibilities in the way I alluded to earlier. The logic in question he got from his supervisor Ernst Mally, a former student of Meinong and early modal logician. Once more, I think that affinities might exist here with Hegel’s logic that Findlay had been able to grasp.


Previous Hegelian Interviews:

Francesca Menegoni

Rocío Zambrana

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