The philosophical impact of early German romanticism in general and Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) in particular has typically been traced back to a series of fragments and reflections on poetry, art, and beauty. Moreover, his name has been associated with an aestheticization of philosophy, an illegitimate valorizing of the medieval, and a politically reactionary program. This view of von Hardenberg, however, is to a large extent rooted in the image created posthumously by his increasingly conservative friends within the romantic circle. Furthermore, von Hardenberg's philosophical reputation has been shaped by his critics, the most prominent of whom was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In spite of his death at 28, von Hardenberg (1772–1801) left behind a complex philosophical legacy that encompasses discussions of subjectivity and self-consciousness, issues in epistemology, moral theory, political philosophy, problems of interpretation, philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, the proto-existentialist experience of the finality of human life, as well as a significant contribution to aesthetics and philosophy of art. While von Hardenberg is best known for his literary production—including the prose poem Hymns to the Night (1800) and the unfinished novels The Apprentice from Said and Heinrich von Ofterdingen (both published in 1802)—this overview focuses on the argumentative presuppositions for and systematic implications of von Hardenberg's philosophical work (without thereby suggesting that his philosophy should be perceived as entirely separate from his poetic production). . . .
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