Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
Western Philosophers
19th-century philosophy
G.W.F. Hegel
G.W.F. Hegel
Basic Information
Name Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Dates August 27, 1770November 14, 1831
Place of Birth Stuttgart, Germany
Place of Death Berlin, Germany
School/Tradition Hegelianism
Major Works Phenomenology of Spirit, Science of Logic, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Philosophy of Right, Philosophy of History
Main Interests Logic, History, Art Criticism, Religion, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Political Science,Ontological Proof
Influences Spinoza, Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Schelling
Influenced Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, Engels, Bruno Bauer, Hans Küng, Otto Pöggler, Walter Jaeschke, Jürgen Habermas, Hans-Georg Gadamer
Famous Ideas "Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself", dialectic, Hegel's System
Quote This is the simple insight, that Being is *within* the Concept.
-Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion
Philosophers By Era
Pre-Socratic, Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance
1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1900s

Postmodern, Contemporary

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 - November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. He received his education at the Tübinger Stift (seminary of the Protestant Church in Württemberg), where he was friends with the future philosophers Friedrich Schelling and Friedrich Hölderlin. He became fascinated by the works of Spinoza, Kant, and Rousseau, and by the French Revolution. Modern philosophy, culture, and society seemed to Hegel fraught with contradictions and tensions, such as those between the subject and object of knowledge, mind and nature, self and other, freedom and authority, knowledge and faith, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Hegel's main philosophical project was to take these contradictions and tensions and interpret them as part of a comprehensive, evolving, rational unity that, in different contexts, he called "the absolute idea" or "absolute knowledge". According to Hegel, the main characteristic of this unity was that it evolved through and manifested itself in contradiction and negation. Contradiction and negation have a dynamic quality that at every point in each domain of reality -- consciousness, history, philosophy, art, nature, society -- leads to further development until a rational unity is reached that preserves the contradictions as phases and sub-parts of a larger, evolutionary whole. This whole is mental because it is mind that can comprehend all of these phases and sub-parts as steps in its own process of comprehension. It is rational because the same, underlying, logical, developmental order underlies every domain of reality and is the order of rational thought. It is not a thing or being that lies outside of other existing things or minds. Rather, it comes to completion only in the philosophical comprehension of individual existing human minds who, through their own understanding, bring this developmental process to an understanding of itself.

Many consider Hegel's thought to represent the summit of early 19th-Century Germany's movement of philosophical idealism. It would come to have a profound impact on many future philosophical schools, including schools that opposed Hegel's specific dialectical idealism, such as Existentialism, the historical materialism of Karl Marx, historicism, and British Idealism. At the same time, modern analytic and positivistic philosophers have considered Hegel a principal target because of what they consider the obscurantism of his philosophy. Hegel was aware of his 'obscurantism' and saw it as part of philosophical thinking that grasps the limitations of everyday thought and concepts and tries to go beyond them. Hegel wrote in his essay "Who Thinks Abstractly?" that it is not the philosopher who thinks abstractly but the person on the street, who uses concepts as fixed, unchangeable givens, without any context. It is the philosopher who thinks concretely, because he or she goes beyond the limits of everday concepts and understands their larger context. This can make philosophical thought and language seem mysterious or obscure to the person on the street.

Although it is often said that Hegel influenced Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx and Engels, actually all of those later writers opposed the most central themes of Hegel's philosophy. Nor did Hegel have any influence on the nationalist movement in Germany. After less than a generation, Hegel's philosophy was suppressed and even banned by the Prussian right-wing, and was firmly rejected by the left-wing in multiple official writings. After the period of Bruno Bauer, only contemporary writers have found inspiration in Hegel's actual writings.


Life and work

Hegel was born in Stuttgart on 27 August 1770. As a child he was a voracious reader of literature, newspapers, philosophical essays, and writings on various other topics. In part, Hegel's literate childhood can be attributed to his uncharacteristically progressive mother who actively nurtured her children's intellectual development. The Hegels were a well-established middle class family in Stuttgart - his father was a civil servant in the administrative government of Württemberg. Hegel was a sickly child and almost died of illness before he was six.

Hegel attended the seminary at Tübingen with the epic poet Friedrich Hölderlin and the objective idealist Friedrich Schelling. In their shared dislike for what was regarded as the restrictive environment of the Tübingen seminary, the three became close friends and mutually influenced each other's ideas. The three watched the unfolding of the French Revolution and immersed themselves in the emerging criticism of the idealist philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Hegel published only four books in his life: the Phenomenology of Spirit (or Phenomenology of Mind), his account of the evolution of consciousness from sense-perception to absolute knowledge, published in 1807; the Science of Logic, the logical and metaphysical core of his philosophy, in three volumes, published in 1811, 1812, and 1816; Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, a summary of his entire philosophical system, which was originally published in 1816 and revised in 1827 and 1830; and the (Elements of the) Philosophy of Right, his political philosophy, published in 1822. He also published some articles early in his career and during his Berlin period. A number of other works on the philosophy of history, religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were compiled from the lecture notes of his students and published posthumously.

Hegel's works have a reputation for their difficulty, and for the breadth of the topics they attempt to cover. Hegel introduced a system for understanding the history of philosophy and the world itself, often described as a progression in which each successive movement emerges as a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement. For example, the French Revolution for Hegel constitutes the introduction of real freedom into western societies for the first time in recorded history. But precisely because of its absolute novelty, it is also absolutely radical: on the one hand the upsurge of violence required to carry out the revolution cannot cease to be itself, while on the other, it has already consumed its opponent. The revolution therefore has nowhere to turn but onto its own result: the hard-won freedom is consumed by a brutal Reign of Terror. History, however, progresses by learning from its mistakes: only after and precisely because of this experience can one posit the existence of a constitutional state of free citizens, embodying both the benevolent organizing power of rational government and the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality.

Aside from Hegel's dense and difficult style which, for English readers, is additionally challenging because his terminology and idiom do not translate easily into English, his work can be perplexing for modern audiences because he had a teleological and rationalistic view of human society and history that are at odds with current post-modernist intellectual trends. Specifically, Hegel developed a new form of logic which he called, 'speculative logic,' and which is today popularly called, 'dialectics,' which remains largely undeveloped in the direction that Hegel intended. A new form of logic will tend to be complex and this makes Hegel's writings famously difficult to read.

Hegel's legacy

This section needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of article quality. After the section has been cleaned up, you may remove this message. For help, see Wikipedia:How to edit a page and the Category:Wikipedia help.

Hegel's philosophy is largely for experts and professionals. It is not intended to be easy reading because it is technical writing. Hegel presumed his readers would be well-versed in Western philosophy, up to and including Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Fichte and Schelling. Without this background, Hegel will be practically impossible to read.

One common joke about Hegel's legacy for subsequent thought is that ironically Hegel has managed to be both one of the most influential thinkers in modern philosophy while simultaneously being one of the most inaccessible. Because of this, Hegel's ultimate legacy will be debated for a very long time. He has been such a formative influence on such a wide range of thinkers that one can give him credit or assign him blame for almost any position.

One famous philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer for a very short time a fellow colleague of Hegel's at the University of Berlin said this about his philosophy: "The height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had been only previously known in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most barefaced, general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, as a monument to German stupidity."

One possible reason for the difficulty in reading Hegel's works rests with his innovations in the science of logic. In response to Immanuel Kant's challenge to the limits of Pure Reason, Hegel developed a radically new form of logic, which he called, speculation, and which is today popularly called, dialectics. The difficulty in reading Hegel was perceived in Hegel's own day, and persists into the 21st century. In order to read Hegel, one must become familiar with all preceding philosophers first, and then one must also learn a completely new version of logic.

Many who tried to do this, even great and famous writers, quit without mastering Hegel's specific, new logic. It has been argued that this includes Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alfred Ayer, Benedetto Croce, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Alexandre Kojève, Karl Barth, Jean-Paul Sartre and the great bulk of postmodern theoreticians.

Historians have spoken of Hegel's influence as represented by two opposing camps. The Right Hegelians, the direct disciples of Hegel at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now known as the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), advocated evangelical orthodoxy and the political conservatism of the post-Napoleon Restoration period.

The Left Hegelians, also known as the Young Hegelians, interpreted Hegel in a revolutionary sense, leading to an advocation of atheism in religion and liberal democracy in politics. Thinkers and writers traditionally associated with the Young Hegelians include Bruno Bauer, Arnold Ruge, David Friedrich Strauss, Ludwig Feuerbach, Max Stirner, and most famously, the younger Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels - all of whom knew and were familiar with the writings of each other. A group of the Young Hegelians known as Die Freien ("The Free") gathered frequently for debate in Hippel's Weinstube (a winebar) in Friedrichsstrasse, in Berlin in the 1830's and 1840's. In this environment, some of the most influential thinking of the last 160 years was nurtured - the radical critique and fierce debates of the Young Hegelians inspired and shaped influential ideas of atheism, humanism, communism, anarchism and egoism.

Except for Marx and Marxists, almost none of the so-called "Left Hegelians" actually described themselves as followers of Hegel, and several of them openly repudiated or insulted the legacy of Hegel's philosophy. Even Marx stated that to make Hegel's philosophy useful for his purposes, he had to "turn Hegel upside down." Nevertheless, this historical category is often deemed useful in modern academic philosophy. The critiques of Hegel offered from the "Left Hegelians" led the line of Hegel's thinking into radically new directions - and form an important part of the literature on and about Hegel.

Because of this we may suppose that the traditional division of Hegel's thought into Left-Hegelian and Right-Hegelian schools was inadequate. The moderate, the authentic Hegelian, was lost until after the fall of the USSR (around 1990) when Western scholars approached Hegel's writings with a fresh attitude.

Marxist readings of Hegel can yield many myths. Postmodern readings of Hegel (influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger) can also yield many myths. Today's student is fortunate to have a new wave of Hegel scholars who read Hegel directly, without preconceptions. Scholars like Walter Jaeschke and Otto Poeggler in Germany, as well as Peter Hodgson and Howard Kainz in America, are notable in this regard.

In previous modern accounts of Hegelianism — to undergraduate classes, for example — Hegel's dialectic often appears broken up for convenience into three moments called "thesis" (in the French historical example, the revolution), "antithesis" (the terror which followed), and "synthesis" (the constitutional state of free citizens). Hegel used this classification only once, when discussing Kant: it was developed earlier by Fichte in his loosely analogous account of the relation between the individual subject and the world.

Knowing that the traditional description of Hegel's philosophy in terms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis was mistaken, a few scholars, like Raya Dunayevskaya have attempted to discard the triadic approach altogether. According to their argument, although Hegel refers to "the two elemental considerations: first, the idea of freedom as the absolute and final aim; secondly, the means for realising it, i.e. the subjective side of knowledge and will, with its life, movement, and activity" (thesis and antithesis) he doesn't use "synthesis" but instead speaks of the "Whole": "We then recognised the State as the moral Whole and the Reality of Freedom, and consequently as the objective unity of these two elements."

Furthermore, in Hegel's language, the "dialectical" aspect or "moment" of thought and reality, by which things or thoughts turn into their opposites or have their inner contradictions brought to the surface, is only preliminary to the "speculative" (and not "synthesizing") aspect or "moment", which grasps the unity of these opposites or contradiction. Thus for Hegel, reason is ultimately "speculative", not "dialectical".

Actually, according to Dr. Howard Kainz, Hegel's philosophy contains thousands of triads. However, instead of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, Hegel used different terms to speak about triads, including immediate-mediate-concrete as well as abstract-negative-concrete. Hegel's works do speak frequently about a synthetic logic, although it is true that the old-fashioned description of his philosophy in terms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis was always inaccurate.

Hegel used his system of dialectics to explain the whole of the history of philosophy, science, art, politics and religion, but many modern critics point out that Hegel often seems to gloss over the realities of history in order to fit it into his dialectical mold. Karl Popper, a critic of Hegel in The Open Society and Its Enemies, suggests that the Hegel's system forms a thinly veiled justification for the rule of Frederick William III, and that Hegel's idea of the ultimate goal of history is to reach a state approximating that of 1830s Prussia. This view of Hegel as an apologist of state power and precursor of 20th century totalitarianism was criticized thoroughly by Herbert Marcuse in his Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, on the grounds that Hegel was not an apologist for any state or form of authority simply because it existed: for Hegel the state must always be rational. Other scholars, e.g. Walter Kaufmann, have amply criticized Popper's theories about Hegel.

Arthur Schopenhauer despised Hegel on account of the latter's alleged historicism (among other reasons), and decried Hegel's work as obscurantist "pseudo-philosophy". Many other newer philosophers who prefer to follow the tradition of British Philosophy have made similar statements. But even in Britain, Hegel exercised a major influence on the philosophical school called "British Idealism," which included Francis Herbert Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet, in England, and Josiah Royce at Harvard.

In the latter half of the 20th century, Hegel's philosophy underwent a major renaissance. This was due partly to the rediscovery and reevaluation of him as a possible philosophical progenitor of Marxism by philosophically oriented Marxists, partly through a resurgence of the historical perspective that Hegel brought to everything, and partly through increasing recognition of the importance of his dialectical method. The book that did the most to reintroduce Hegel into the Marxist canon was perhaps Georg Lukacs's History and Class Consciousness. This sparked a renewed interest in Hegel reflected in the work of Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Raya Dunayevskaya, Alexandre Kojève and Gotthard Günther among others. The Hegel renaissance also highlighted the significance of Hegel's early works, i.e. those published prior to the Phenomenology of Spirit. More recently two prominent American philosophers, John McDowell and Robert Brandom (sometimes, half-seriously, referred to as the Pittsburgh Hegelians), have exhibited a marked Hegelian influence.

Beginning in the 1960's, Anglo-American Hegel scholarship has attempted to challenge the traditional interpretation of Hegel as offering a metaphysical system. This view, often referred to as the 'non-metaphysical option', has had a decided influence on most major English language studies of Hegel in the past 40 years. The works of U.S. neoconservative Francis Fukuyama's controversial book The End of History and the Last Man was heavily influenced by a famous Hegel interpreter from the Marxist school, Alexandre Kojève. Among modern scientists, the physicist David Bohm, the mathematician William Lawvere, the logician Kurt Godel and the biologist Ernst Mayr have been deeply interested in or influenced by Hegel's philosophical work. The contemporary theologian Hans Küng has advanced contemporary scholarship in Hegel studies.

The very latest scholarship in Hegel studies reveals many sides of Hegel that were not typically seen in the West before 1990. For example, the essence of Hegel's philosophy is the idea of Freedom. With the idea of Freedom Hegel attempts to explain world history, fine art, political science, the free thinking that is science, the attainments of spirituality and the resolution to problems of metaphysics.

Famous Hegel quotations

"Logic is to be understood as the System of Pure Reason, as the realm of Pure Thought. This realm is Truth as it is without veil, and in its own Absolute nature. It can therefore be said that this Content is the exposition of God as God is in God's eternal essence before the creation of Nature and a finite mind." The Science of Logic

"The science of logic which constitutes Metaphysics proper or purely speculative philosophy, has hitherto still been much neglected." The Science of Logic

"It is remarkable when a nation loses its Metaphysics, when the Spirit which contemplates its own Pure Essence is no longer a present reality in the life of a nation." The Science of Logic

"What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational." (Was vernünftig ist, das ist Wirklich; und was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig.) The Philosophy of Right

On first seeing Napoleon: "I saw the World Spirit seated on a horse." Lectures on the Philosophy of World History

"We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in this world has been accomplished without passion." Lectures on the Philosophy of World History

"To make abstractions hold in reality is to destroy reality."(Abstraktionen in der Wirklichkeit geltend machen, heißt Wirklichkeit zerstören.)

"As far as the individual is concerned, each individual is in any case a child of his time; thus, philosophy, too, is its own time comprehended in thoughts." (Was das Individuum betrifft, so ist ohnehin jedes ein Sohn seiner Zeit; so ist auch Philosophie ihre Zeit in Gedanken erfaßt.) The Philosophy of Right

"The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at dusk." The Philosophy of Right

"The true is the whole." (Das Wahre ist das Ganze.) The Phenomenology of Spirit section 20.

Major works

Secondary literature

  • Charles Taylor, Hegel. Cambridge University Press, 1975. ISBN 0521291992 (A comprehensive study and singularly lucid exposition by the important Canadian philosopher of Hegel's thought and its impact on the central intellectual and spiritual issues of his own time and to some degree ours)
  • Frederick C. Beiser, The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0521387116 (The Cambridge Companions are always a good way to start learning about a particular philosopher, and this Companion is no exception.)
  • R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946. ISBN 0192853066 (includes a powerful statement of the case that Hegel authorized an over-powering state, i.e. that his philosophy is a dangerous opponent of individual liberty).
  • Laurence Dickey, Hegel: Religion, Economics, and the Politics of Spirit, 1770-1807. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-521-33035-1 (Provides a fascinating account of how "Hegel became Hegel", using the guiding hypothesis that Hegel "was basically a theologian manqué".)
  • Michael Forster Hegel and Skepticism. Harvard University Press, 1989. ISBN 0674387074
  • Michael Forster Hegel's Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit. University of Chicago Press, 1998. ISBN 0226257428
  • H.S. Harris Hegel: Phenomenology and System, a distillation of the author's magisterial two-volume Hegel's Ladder, now the standard commentary on the Phenomenology.
  • Justus Hartnack, An Introduction to Hegel's Logic. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998. ISBN 0-87220-424-3
  • John Kadvany(2001). Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason. Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2659-0
  • Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, ISBN 0801492033 (Fundamental read, striking commentary of Hegel)
  • Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. London, 1941 (An introduction to the philosophy of Hegel, devoted to debunking the myth that Hegel's work included in nuce the Fascist totalitarianism of National Socialism; the negation of philosophy through historical materialism)
  • Theodor W. Adorno, Hegel: Three Studies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994, translated by Shierry M. Nicholsen, with an introduction by Shierry M. Nicholsen and Jeremy J. Shapiro, ISBN 0262510804 (essays on Hegel's concept of spirit/mind, Hegel's concept of experience, and why Hegel is difficult to read).
  • Robert M. Wallace, Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-84484-3 (Argues that Hegel's major positions in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and the philosophy of mind and the will are, in fact, plausible and defensible, and defends them against influential criticisms by, among others, Feuerbach, Marx, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Charles Taylor.)
  • Kenneth R. Westphal, Hegel's Epistemology: A Philosophical Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003. ISBN 0-87220-645-9
  • Terry P. Pinkard, "Hegel: a biography". Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2000. ISBN 0521496799 (Lucid biography by a leading American Hegelian philosopher. It debunks popular misconceptions about Hegel's thought.).

External links

Hegel texts online

Personal tools