Hegelian Aesthetics and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: A Dialectic Vision of Morality


In this article, I offer a reflection on Hegel’s aesthetics that is philosophically atypical. My aim is not chiefly interpretive or theoretical, but rather to make a two-fold case: I hope to display something of the worth of Hegelian aesthetics for art criticism (displayed more specifically in this article through literary criticism), while also underscoring the significance of the arts for philosophical reflections on moral theories. Above all, through Hegel’s aesthetic lectures, we gain a fuller understanding of the degree to which human rationality is for him something deeply artistic and, more importantly, holistic. It is partially and vitally through concrete manifestations that abstract ideas become the reality of the development of human rationality. Such a speculative role is not, however, the only significance that these lectures bear. The aim here is to go beyond speculative reflection and show that Hegel’s aesthetics can enrich art criticism at a local level. I hope to show that through reflection on a specific work of art (in this article I turn to Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina) we gain a concrete example of one way in which reflections on a work of art takes part in the much broader role that art can play in human life. As such, this paper has the dual aim of contributing to a vindication Hegel’s aesthetics in terms of art criticism, while displaying something of the artistic richness at work in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that is made visible through insights drawn from Hegel’s philosophy of art.