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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich



Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), who left his deepest mark upon the philosophy of history, is commonly regarded as the representative philosopher of German idealism in the post-Kantian era. To his contemporaries, however, he appeared rather as the continuator of a mode of thought begun by Kant (1724–1804) and amplified by Fichte, Schelling, and the romantic school, which responded to certain logical and metaphysical problems originally raised by the natural sciences. Born in 1770, the year in which Kant inaugurated his professorship at Königsberg with his dissertation De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis (“The Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible Worlds”), Hegel grew up in the relatively liberal milieu of refugee Protestantism in the south German Duchy of Wüurttemberg. As a student in Tübingen, 1788-1793, he participated in the then widespread enthusiasm for the French Revolution. He was to spend the next seven years in Bern and Frankfurt, tutoring the children of patrician families. During these years he immersed himself in the philosophy of religion, was influenced by his reading of Spinoza, and wrote (but did not publish) some highly critical studies of Christian theology, which remained unknown for over a century. His appointment to a post at the University of Jena in 1801 set him free for systematic teaching in philosophy; and this phase of his activity was crowned by the publication of his first major work, The Phenomenology of Mind (1807), completed during the battle of Jena.

The upheaval that followed the triumph of Napoleon over the Prussian army gave Hegel the personal satisfaction of seeing the emperor—that “world-soul on horseback,” as he described him— but it also deprived him of his teaching position. After editing a newspaper in Bamberg (Bavaria) for a year, he was appointed rector of a Gymnasium at Nuremberg, a post he held from 1808 to 1816. During these years (which also witnessed his marriage to Marie von Tucher) he completed his second great work, the Science of Logic (1812–1816). Appointed to a chair of philosophy at Heidelberg (1816–1818), he there published his Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1817), a work which carried into effect a scheme already propounded by him in 1801: that of a tripartite philosophical system embracing a logic, a philosophy of nature, and a philosophy of spirit. The last mentioned formed the basis of the Philosophy of Right (1821), the last major work published during his lifetime, which was written during his early years at the University of Berlin, where he taught from 1818 to 1831. By that time he had become famous, and his courses attracted students from all over Germany. The lectures he gave during those years on history, religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were published after his death and helped to spread his fame to a wider public. During these last years he had become a confidant of the Prussian minister of education and something of a conservative, but he retained his theological rationalism and some of his early enthusiasm for the French Revolution and Napoleon. His death in November 1831, during a cholera epidemic, precipitated the dissolution of his school into conflicting liberal and conservative factions.

The extreme complexity of Hegel’s thought, and the all-embracing character of his system, along with a certain ambiguity in his political utterances, made it possible for exponents of very different schools to lay claim to his authority; and throughout the remainder of the century his name was a battle cry for opposing parties in philosophy and politics. Contrary to a widespread misconception, Hegel was never in his lifetime associated with German nationalism; he gave guarded support to the Prussian state but remained firmly committed to the principle of equality before the law. His mature political philosophy has affinities with that of Edmund Burke, and even his notorious utterances on the subject of the Prussian monarchy and the loyalty due to its representatives maintain a balance between Hobbesian authoritarianism and conventional Toryism: they are not in the slightest degree “totalitarian” and bear only an indirect relation to the doctrines of those twentiethcentury German and Italian ideologists who invoked his authority.

While the philosophy of history (notably in the form it assumed in nineteenth-century Germany) bears Hegel’s mark, the impact of Hegelianism on the social sciences is more difficult to assess. Social thought in Hegel’s own day was subsumed under political theory. The study of economics was still in its infancy (although Hegel had become acquainted with it during his Frankfurt years), and social theorizing in general turned upon constitutional problems. These indeed had been the subject of Hegel’s first publication, in 1798, a critical study of Swiss constitutional developments. His last major work, the Philosophy of Right, develops a political philosophy which holds a precarious balance between rationalism and authoritarianism, somewhat in the manner of Fichte, Kant, and the Enlightenment theorists who preceded them. By the 1840s this book had furnished a target for the first major broadside directed by the youthful Marx against Hegel in his Kritik des Hegelschen Staatsrechts (1843). In general the theory of civil society is subsumed by Hegel under the theory of the state; the latter is viewed as the embodiment of rationality, as against the conflicts of material interests that make up the daily life of the civil society. Hegel counterposes the rational universality of the whole to the particular desires and strivings of the individuals in a manner reminiscent of Hobbes and contrary to Rousseau, for whom the “general will” springs from the fusion of individual wills. Such a fusion, and with it the notion of a social contract, is denied by Hegel on the grounds that civil society is too anarchic to generate a true consensus. The “actuality of the ethical Idea” is attained in the state, which is “absolutely rational,” “mind objectified,” “the actuality of concrete freedom” ([1821] 1942, pp. 155-160). Hegel differs from Hobbes in holding that the state is not to be viewed as the guarantor of civil society, but as an end in itself. It is not simply the guardian of personal freedom and property, for in that case loyalty to the state would be optional, whereas according to Hegel it is only as a member of the political realm that the individual has objective reality and an ethical life (ibid., p. 156). This exaltation of the state appears to have been a fruit of Hegel’s youthful enthusiasm for the classical polis. It led him into what even his contemporaries regarded as an extravagant glorification of the Prussian monarchy; but since it was coupled with conservative distrust of popular movements and indeed of the people, of that part of the body politic “which does not know what it wants” (ibid., para. 301), Hegel’s doctrine cannot be described as totalitarian even by implication. Its nature is traditionalist rather than romantic and belongs to the eighteenth century rather than to the twentieth.

Hegel did, however, repudiate traditional natural law and—by implication—international law. His influence on European (notably German) thinking thus ran counter to the gradual acceptance of liberal doctrines throughout the nineteenth century. The Hegelian view of interstate relations, which entered the consciousness of the German educated classes by way of the Prussian bureaucracy and the educational system it controlled, is Hobbesian and subversive of much that is regarded as fundamental in Anglo-American jurisprudence. On Hegelian principles, contracts between states are not valid, since sovereignty cannot be abrogated by treaty. The test of sovereignty is war, which discloses the truth that nations are not subordinate to law but operate in a Hobbesian “state of nature.” War is necessary and may even be regarded as beneficial, since it is the test of a people’s willingness to maintain its freedom and independence. It also makes it possible to achieve a degree of social integration which civil society by itself cannot secure (ibid., para. 324). These doctrines became part of the official credo of Bismarckian Germany and may be said to have deepened the ideological gulf between Germany and the West which was first made manifest in the war of 1914–1918. They clearly run parallel to the critique of natural law doctrine implicit in the “pure theory of law” (reine Rechtslehre) associated with H. Kelsen and his followers. This influential school of “legal positivism” maintains that the substantive concept of law as the embodiment of prelegal rules of a moral nature is metaphysical and irrelevant to the actual practice of lawmaking (Kelsen 1955; cf. Kelsen 1945). The displacement of the older doctrine by this positivist doctrine, which implicitly sanctions the abrogation of “so-called fundamental liberties,” may be regarded as a belated triumph of Hegelianism, although outside central Europe similar ideas were developed without reference to Hegel’s philosophy. So far as the U.S.S.R. is concerned, its legal theory may perhaps be described as Hegelian; but there are elements of natural law doctrine both in classical Marxism and in the Russian Populist tradition, and since the late 1950s there has been a tendency to revive them.

Hegel’s ideas also reached the social sciences by a different channel: via the philosophy of history, and in particular through the growing influence of Marxism. The relationship of Marx to Hegel is, however, more complex than appears from the popular notion that Marx merely inverted the Hegelian system by “standing it on its head,” i.e., by substituting a supposed “materialist dialectic” for Hegel’s idealist one. Marx took over from Hegel the conception of history as the self-creation of man and the idea (first expounded by Hegel in the Phenomenology) that the prime motive force of the historical process is human labor, or the practical activity of men in society. Marx did not, however, subscribe to the notion that this process can be reduced to a logical schematization, and his approach to empirical history is more in tune with French materialism than with German idealism. (This part of his work in some respects anticipates modern sociology.) He also repudiated Hegel’s political doctrine. The state appears in the Marxian corpus as an arbitrary external power superimposed upon human society; and it is thus a form of “human self-alienation” [seeAlienation]. Hegel’s authoritarian political philosophy did have some influence on Ferdinand Lassalle (1825–1864), and through him on German socialism, but was antipathetic to Marx.

The relevance of Hegel’s general philosophy to what is often called “historicism” is difficult to assess. The notion (which Whitehead restated and applied to the natural sciences) that the peculiarities of reality are only local and temporary concretions of a process stretching beyond them has been popularized by Marxian writers, but it is not held by them alone. Its conservative counterpart is the doctrine that cultures are to be regarded as “organic wholes” rather than as casual accretions of unrelated features. The Hegelian concept of dialectical change can be, and has been, reformulated as a description of processes whereby social organisms create their own environment and are in turn influenced by it. Hence it has been said that “a philosopher-scientist like Whitehead can restate Hegel’s theory, not knowing that it is Hegel’s” (Collingwood 1946, p. 128). Although originally intended by Hegel to account for natural processes, the idea of a “dialectical” interrelationship between man and his environment is clearly of general application, and it may be that the long-run significance of Hegel’s philosophy for the social sciences will be found to lie in this kind of approach. Hegel is unquestionably the chief originator of what is sometimes called “process thought.” His philosophy finds room for the efflorescence of the higher forms of culture and for the values we attach to them by postulating a series of “levels of organization,” rising from the lower to the higher through historically conditioned transformations which introduce new qualitative changes. This concept has proved fertile in inducing historians and sociologists to look upon history not as a field governed by immutable “laws” but as a process in which something fresh is created at every moment.

George Lichtheim

[see alsoHistory, article onThe Philosophy of History; Marxism; Political Theory; and the biographies ofCroce; Durkheim; Green; Hobbes; Kant; Kelsen; Marx; Stirner.]


(1795–1809) 1961 On Christianity: Early Theological Writings. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith. → First published in 1907 as Hegels theologische Jugendschriften. Edited by Herman Nohl. A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Harper.

(1799–1831) 1964 Hegel’s Political Writings. Translated by T. M. Knox, with an introductory essay by Z. A. Pelczynski. Oxford: Clarendon Press. → The first essay, “The German Constitution,” was written by Hegel between 1799 and 1802 and left in manuscript until after his death.

(1807) 1961 The Phenomenology of Mind. 2d ed., rev. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Macmillan. → First published as Phänomenologie des Geistes.

(1812–1816) 1951 Hegel’s Science of Logic. 2 vols. London: Allen & Unwin; New York: Macmillan. → First published as Wissenschaft der Logik.

(1817) 1959 Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library. → First published as Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse.

(1821) 1942 The Philosophy of Right. Oxford: Claren don. → First published as Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts.

(1837) 1956 The Philosophy of History. New York: Dover. → First published as Vorlesungen üiber die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte.

Sämtliche Werke. 26 vols. Stuttgart (Germany): From-mann, 1927–1940.


Collingwood, R. G. 1946 The Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon. → A paperback edition was published in 1956.

Findlay, John N. 1958 Hegel: A Re-examination. London: Allen & Unwin. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Collier.

Gurvitch, Georges D. 1962 Dialectigue et sociologie. Paris: Flammarion.

Habermas, JÜrgen 1963 Theorie und Praxis. Neuwied (Germany): Luchterhand.

Hyppolite, Jean 1955 Etudes sur Marx et Hegel. Paris: Riviére.

Kelsen, Hans (1945)1961 General Theory of Law and State. New York: Russell. → First published in German.

Kelsen, Hans 1955 Foundation of Democracy. Ethics 66, part 2:1–101.

Kroner, Richard (1921–1924) 1961 Von Kant bis Hegel. 2d ed., 2 vols. Tubingen (Germany): Mohr.

LÖwith, Karl (1941) 1964 From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in 19th Cent. Thought. New York: Holt. → First published in German.

Marcuse, Herbert (1941) 1955 Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. 2d ed. New York: Humanities Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Beacon.

Marx, Karl (1843) 1953 Kritik des Hegelschen Staatsrechts. Pages 20-149 in Karl Marx, Die Frühschriften. Stuttgart (Germany): Kroner.

Mure, Geoffrey R. G. (1940) 1948 An Introduction to Hegel. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Stace, Walter T. (1924) 1955 The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition. New York: Dover.

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The German philosopher and educator Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) took all of knowledge as his domain and made original contributions to the understanding of history, law, logic, art, religion, and philosophy.

Living in a time of geniuses and revolutions, G. W. F. Hegel claimed his own work to be not so much a revolution as the consummation of human development, and not so much the product of genius as the final expression of all philosophy up to that time. Among the great figures living then were the writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and Novalis; the philosophers Immanuel Kant, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and F. W. J. von Schelling; and the composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. When Hegel was 19 the French Revolution began, and for most of his lifetime all Europe was in foment.

Hegel was born in Stuttgart on Aug. 27, 1770, the son of an official serving the Duke of Württemberg. He received a classical education and was a precocious pupil. Urged by his Pietist father to enter the clergy, he registered in the Tübingen Lutheran seminary in 1788. A fair student, Hegel generally preferred the conviviality of cafés and country walks to scholarly asceticism. His love of wine and company, his passion for the secular writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and his interest in practical political matters prevailed over the stern demands of a religious calling. Nevertheless, he studied philosophy for 2 years and theology for 3, completing his theological examination in 1793.

At the seminary Hegel read deeply in German poetry and Greek literature, in the company of Friedrich Hölderlin, the poet, and Schelling, who was to reach early eminence as a philosopher of romanticism. The three friends professed ardent sympathy with the French Revolution and took for their motto "Freedom and Reason."

Employment as Tutor

For the next 3 1/2 years Hegel was engaged as a private tutor in Berne. Though his duties left him little time for study and writing, he acquainted himself with the Bernese political situation. His first published work, in 1798, consisted of notes accompanying his translation of letters by an exiled Bernese lawyer criticizing the city's oligarchy.

Thanks to Hölderlin's initiative, in 1797 Hegel was rescued from his cheerless situation through an appointment as a private tutor in Frankfurt. His employer owned a fine library and allowed him time to be with friends, especially Hölderlin. Most importantly, he had time to write. Among his many concerns were the "conditions of profit and property" in England, the history of Christianity, love, the Prussian penal code, and theology. Some of his Frankfurt writings were published posthumously by Hermann Nohl (1907) and were translated by T. M. Knox and R. Kroner in Early Theological Writings (1948).

Hegel's father died in January 1799, leaving a legacy that enabled him to leave tutoring and prepare seriously for an academic career. In 1801 he lived with Schelling, already a professor, at the great University of Jena. There he worked fervently; he wrote a detailed, critical study of the Constitution of the German Empire and completed his first published book, The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's Systems of Philosophy (1801). Challenging the popular view that Fichte and Schelling were master and disciple, Hegel brought out their obscured but basic differences. Each, to be sure, had made significant discoveries; but both were ingenious at the expense of systematic thoroughness. Recognizing that their philosophies were irreconcilable on their own terms, Hegel resolved to work out a complete system that would account for the common aim and many differences of previous philosophies. Hegel's would have to be the system of all philosophy.

In 1801 Hegel also submitted a Latin dissertation on the orbits of the planets and consequently was granted the right to teach in any German university (the venia legendi). He began to give lectures at Jena and eventually became one of the better-known lecturers. A student wrote about him later: "Hegel succeeded in captivating his students with the intensity of his speculation. … [His eyes] were large but introverted, the refracted gaze filled with deep ideality, which at certain moments would exert a visible and poignant power. … The earnestness in his noble features at first had something that, although not intimidating, kept others at a distance; but the gentleness and amiability of his expression were winning and inviting." In addition to teaching and writing, Hegel worked with Schelling to found and edit the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie (1802-1803), to which he contributed several articles and reviews.

Phenomenology of Spirit

While at Jena the idea of a wholly reconciling philosophy was gestating in Hegel's mind. It came to fruition in 1806 as the dense but exciting tome called Phänomenologie des Geistes (Phenomenology of Spirit). It is the reflective study (logos) of the historical self-manifestation (phenomenon) of the Spirit, which all men have in common.

The stages in the development of the general Spirit, as shown in the conflicts and reconciliations of history, are also the stages of the individual's growth. Thus, the Phenomenology of Spirit can be read as a discipline of self-education, through which the individual absorbs and prepares to go beyond the present development of Spirit. The Phenomenology develops from the simplest level of experience, sense perception, to the richest, here called "absolute knowledge."

This movement of Spirit is "dialectical"; that is, Spirit develops in stages, undergoing successions of internal opposition and reconciliation. The stages must necessarily evolve in a continuous pattern, omitting none. There can be no short cuts to truth—a point Hegel stressed in criticizing romantic philosophers. The dialectical process of Spirit is always going on; it is what is "most real," though men are rarely conscious of it. Hegel's achievement was to cast the universal experience in the language appropriate to it, enabling consciousness to grasp it.

The entire book was written in haste and was completed on October 13, the very day Napoleon and his troops occupied Jena. Later, Hegel said of Napoleon, "It is truly a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, concentrated here on a single point, astride a single horse, yet reaching across the world and ruling it."

Since the university was in disarray and his own financial situation desperate, Hegel arranged through his friend F. I. Niethammer to become editor of a newspaper, the Bamberger Zeitung. He held this position for a year, and on Nov. 15, 1808, thanks once again to Niethammer, he was appointed headmaster of the gymnasium, or secondary school, at Nuremberg.

For 8 years Hegel taught philosophy and occasionally Greek literature and calculus. His administration was conservative and effective, but the position was ill-suited to his genius. In 1811 Hegel married Marie von Tucher, only 20 years old, after a tender courtship. Soon a daughter was born to them, but she died only a few months later. Then, in 1813, a son, Karl, was born, and a year later a second son, Immanuel. Hegel had had another son, Ludwig, born in 1807 to his landlord's wife; in 1816 Hegel invited him to join his household.

Science of Logic

While at Nuremberg, Hegel completed his second major work, Wissenschaft der Logik (Science of Logic), publishing part I of the first volume in 1811. Part II appeared in 1813, and the second volume in 1816. This difficult book presents the science of thought, purified of all reference to experience, to acts, or to facts of nature. In fact, the Logic consists of a closed series of "thought determinations"—for example, quantity and quality, form and matter—and displays both the differences between them and the way each meshes with every other. This pure science "contains thought insofar as it is just as much the thing in itself, or the thing in itself insofar as it is just as much pure thought." In other words, the Logic deals with reality, not solely with man's instruments for knowing or discussing it. "Logic [is] … the system of pure reason … the kingdom of pure thought. This kingdom is the truth as it is, without covering, in and for itself." But this kingdom of pure thought, for Hegel, presupposes man's rootedness in the complex, developing world of experience. The Phenomenology and the Logic, then, are interdependent portions of a single system. The study of logic, Hegel says, "is the absolute education and discipline of consciousness."

Heidelberg and the Encyclopedia

In 1816 Hegel was called to the University of Heidelberg. In his opening lecture he remarked that the peace following on Napoleon's exile might revive "the courage of truth, a faith in the power of the spirit," which is the "prime requirement of philosophy." "Man, being spirit, may and should consider himself worthy of the highest … if he retains this faith, nothing will be so hard and unyielding that it will not open up to him." Feeling the need for a restatement and improvement of his earlier work, he published The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (1817). This summary of his system was later revised considerably, in 1827 and again in 1830. The book began with a section on logic, followed by "the philosophy of nature" and "the philosophy of spirit," and concluded with the self-knowledge vouchsafed only to philosophy. Another name for this self-knowledge is freedom. Since philosophy includes every kind of knowledge, true freedom is not separation but the most complete relatedness. The free man is actively at home in and with both nature and history.

Berlin and Fame

In 1817 Hegel was granted a professorship at Berlin. There he quickly found himself the center of a following, though he was hardly a seeker of followers. On the contrary, he took pains to discourage what he called "tutelage." It is reported, moreover, that he preferred the company of affable and urbane folk to that of earnest intellectuals.

By this time Hegel's enthusiasm for the French Revolution had waned, and to some it appeared that he was an apologist for Prussian reaction. However, his major political work—the only book he published while at Berlin— confounds such a simple interpretation. Here he insists, "Whatever happens, every individual is a child of his time; so philosophy too is its own time apprehended in thought." It is for statesmen, not philosophers, to prescribe for tomorrow. Published in 1821, the book has a double title: Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse and Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (translated by T. M. Knox as Hegel's Philosophy of Right, 1952).

The sphere of reality examined in political philosophy is "objective Spirit." But the highest sphere, in which the accidents of nationality, economics, geography, and climate are transcended, is "absolute Spirit," which develops through three kinds of activity: art, religion, and philosophy. Although Hegel lectured on these subjects regularly, he did not write a book on them. However, some former students, after his death, compiled and published their notes from the lectures. A portion of these notes has been published as On Art, Religion, and Philosophy, edited by J. Glenn Gray (1970). Hegel's attempt to ferret out the truth of Spirit is a study of history, but a special kind of study since history is comprehended as the development of human freedom, rather than as a series of events and stories.

Hegel became rector of the university in 1830. The next year he wrote a critical study of the situation in England, On the English Reform Bill, parts of which were published in a Prussian journal. The remainder was censored by state authorities to avoid antagonizing the English. For the fall semester of 1831, he announced two lecture courses: philosophy of law and the history of philosophy. He gave his first lectures on November 10; on November 14 Hegel succumbed to cholera, then epidemic in Europe.

Hegel's influence on subsequent generations is incalculable. It has been said that the history of European thought since Hegel has been a series of revolts against his ideas. No thinker since has combined such ambition with such rigor and insight, and many who are sympathetic to his achievement regard his legacy as the "crisis of philosophy" which so preoccupies philosophers a century later.

Further Reading

An easily accessible biography of Hegel in English is Franz Wiedmann's admiring Hegel: An Illustrated Biography (trans. 1968). Hegel's political thought is discussed in Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (1941; 2d ed. 1954), and in an introductory essay by Z. A. Pelczynski in Hegel's Political Writings, translated by T. M. Knox (1964). A wealth of material is presented in Walter Kaufmann, Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts, and Commentary (1965). Two good introductions to Hegel's work are J. Glenn Gray, Hegel's Hellenic Ideal (1941), and John N. Findlay, Hegel: A Re-examination (1958). The place of Hegel's work in 19th-century German thought is lucidly examined by Karl Löwith in From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought (trans. 1964). □

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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 1770-1831


Hegel is a difficult thinker. The complexity of the arguments of his major worksthe Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), the Science of Logic (18121816), the Philosophy of Right (1821), and the lectures on aesthetics and world history, which are, perhaps, the least inaccessibledefies capsule summarization. Yet a characterization of the major concerns that connect Hegels writings can be essayed readily enough.

The recent florescence of interest in Hegel among English-language philosophers is a development no one predicted forty years ago. Yet there are good reasons why it has taken place. First and foremost, Hegel (unlike his contemporary Immanuel Kant) emphasized the historically located character of our thinking. Nothing exists out of history; once nature and religion wane as validations, only history is left. the Philosophy of Right characterizes philosophy as its own time apprehended in thought. The facts of history, which add up to a process, are the raw material to which the philosopher gives form and meaning. Reason is dynamic, kinetic; its content unfolds over time. History, which Hegel painted in broad strokes, is a rational process of development; progress in freedom and progress in thought are linked.

Although Hegel, secondly, is a precursor of Karl Marx (18181883) and Marxism, he believed that philosophy has no business giving instruction to what the world ought to be; over and above the still-vexed issue of Marxs materialism versus Hegels idealism, Hegel, for his part, emphasized philosophys retrospective dimension, not its prospective implications. Philosophy is Nachdenken (thinking after the fact to be thought about). It interprets the present in light of the past. The owl of Minerva, as Hegel famously put it in the Philosophy of Right, spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk. We may advance views only when the time is ripe. It makes sense to see Hegel not only as a post-Enlightenment and post-Kantian thinker, but also as a post(French) Revolutionary one. He at first welcomed the Revolution, only to recoil from the Terrordeficient principle run riot and eventuating in disaster. Hegel had had no love for the ancien régime, but he was infuriated by the revolutionaries failure to replace it with anything more substantial or enduring.

But what makes Hegel post-Kantian? After all, his idée maîtresse that we are free only when we act in accordance with our reasonis eminently Kantian. What separates Hegel from Kant is what he does with this conviction. Kants notions of freedom and morality derive from a categorical imperative figurable by pure reason. This to Hegelwho did not believe in pure reason was formal and skeletal. It lacked the substance that ethical life (the customs and mores that situate us in a particular time and place) alone can provide. Ethical life is an historical category, not an abstractly rational one; abstract, meaning partial, unsubstantiated, fragmentarythe part standing for the whole as in a synecdocheis always used pejoratively by Hegel. The battle lines are arrayed from book to book: Particularity, subjectivism, and disruption are on the negative side of the ledger, whereas substance, connectedness, coherence, and unity rest on the positive side. Hegel was relentlessly opposed to every source of disconnection he could identify. Then as now, there was no shortage of contenders: The atomistic individualism that threatened in the early nineteenth century to dominate the German as it had the British economy was but one of them.

Hegels ledger (with these two sides counterposed) has a political, not to say utopian implication that was not to be lost, either immediately on the Young (left) Hegelians or later among twentieth-century critical theorists. This is that if history, rationality, and ethical life could be harmonized, the result would be an ethical community in which we could fulfill our own potentialities as we contribute to the well-being of the whole to which it is ours to belong. This ideal, not Kants arbitrary distinction between noumena and phenomena, is the true legacy of the Enlightenment. Kant had mapped out a no-mans-land by declaring certain issues unknowable. Hegel, by contrast, held that nothing is beyond the scope of human thoughtdespite (or because of) the false starts, falterings, stumblings, and blind alleys almost gleefully detailed, serially, throughout the throughout the Phenomenology of Spirit. Phenomenology of Spirit.

Hegels notion of Geist, renderable either as spirit or mind, has seemed amorphous, threatening, or both to English-language commentators, some of whom suppose that Geist (along with its corollary, the cunning of reason) signifies a superhuman demiurgos pulling the strings of its human puppets. This is not what Hegel meant. Geist is both how a community understands itself, gives itself form and content, and the way the individual knows him- or herself through the community of which he or she is a constitutive part. Either way, it forms identity. Hegel distinguishes objective from absolute spirit. The former, the subject matter of the Philosophy of Right, is the institutional framework for the latter, which finds expression in our spiritual pursuits: art, religion, and (most importantly) philosophy. Objective spirit is anything but its own justification; there is nothing ultimate about it. Absolute spirit in its ultimate form, philosophy, can account for objective spirit, its precondition. Objective cannot account for absolute spirit in anything like the same way.

Hegelianism, as John Toews makes clear, enjoyed some philosophical and even some institutional purchase in Germany, though the latter in particular petered out during the 1840s. Hegelianism remained strong enough to provoke Søren Kierkegaard (18131855) through several important books: In Britain, however, where it was introduced (after a fashion) by James Hutchison Stirlings The Secret of Hegel (1865), its adoption by Idealists (T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, J. T. E. McTaggart) served mainly to buttress the Idealists positions déjà prises (preconceptions); Hegel influenced Pragmatism in the United States via Josiah Royce and John Dewey; in Italy he influenced Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile. Hegelianism was particularly influential in France: On Hippolyte Taine and Ernest Renan in the nineteenth century, and on Alexandre Kojève (whose lectures in the 1930s attracted the interest of Jean Hyppolite and Jean-Paul Sartre, among many others) in the twentieth.

SEE ALSO Frankfurt School; Idealism; Marx, Karl; Marxism; Teleology



Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. [1807] 1977. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A. V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. [18121816] 1969. Science of Logic. Trans. A. V. Miller. London: Allen and Unwin.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. [1821] 1967. Philosophy of Right. Trans. T. M. Knox. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. [1830] 1956. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Trans. J. Sibree. New York: Dover.


Avineri, Shlomo. 1973. Hegels Theory of the Modern State. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Harris, H. S. 1972. Hegels Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Inwood, Michael. 1992. A Hegel Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Inwood, Michael, ed. 1985. Hegel Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marcuse, Herbert. 1963. Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. New York: Humanities Press.

Shklar, Judith N. 1976. Freedom and Independence: A Study of the Political Ideas of Hegels Phenomenology of Mind. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Stirling, James Hutchison. [1865] 1971. The Secret of Hegel: Being the Hegelian System in Origin, Principle, Form, and Matter. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.

Taylor, Charles. 1979. Hegel. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Toews, John Edward. 1985. Hegelianism. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Thomas, Paul. 1985. Hegelian Roots. In Karl Marx and the Anarchists, 212255. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Thomas, Paul. 2004. Propertys Properties: From Hegel to Locke. Representations 84: 3043.

Paul Thomas

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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich


(17701831), leading nineteenth-century philosopher.

Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel was one of the most influential idealist philosophers of the nineteenth century. In German philosophical thought, Hegel was rivaled in his own times perhaps only by Immanuel Kant.

Hegel developed a sweeping spectrum of thought embracing metaphysics, epistemology, logic, historiography, science, art, politics, and society. One branch of his philosophy after his death was reworked and fashioned into an "algebra of revolution," as developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Russian Marxists and socialists, and later by Vladimir I. Lenin, the founder of Bolshevism.

For Hegel, reality, which progresses dynamically through a process, or phases, of thesis, antithesis, and synthesishis triadic concept of logic, inspired

by the philosophy of Heraclitusis essentially spiritual. Ultimate, determinant reality, according to Hegel, is the absolute World Spirit (Weltgeist ). This spirit acts in triadic, dialectical fashion universally throughout world history. For Hegel, the state was the principal embodiment, or bearer, of this process.

Because of its occasional obscurity and complexity, Hegelianism as a social and political philosophy soon split into various, contrasting branches. The primary ones were the extremes widely known as Right and Left Hegelianism. There was also a middle, or moderate, form of Hegelianism that in some ways influenced English, Italian, American, and other branches of late-nineteenth-century idealism and pragmatism.

Right (or Old) Hegelianism regarded reality more or less passively, as indubitably rational. Whatever is real is rational, as seen in the status quo. Spirit, it alleged, develops on a grand, world scale via the inexorable, dialectical processes of history. Wherever this process leads must be logical since spirit is absolute and triadically law-bound. In the milieu of contrasting European politics of the nineteenth century, Right Hegelianism translated into reactionary endorsement of restorationism (restoring the old order following the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars) or support for monarchist legitimacy.

By contrast, however, Left (or Young) Hegelianism, which influenced a number of thinkers, including Marx and Engels together with Russian Marxists and socialists, stressed the idea of grasping and understanding, even wielding, this law-bound process. It sought thereby to manipulate reality, above all, via society, politics, and the state. For revolutionaries, the revolutionary movement became such a handle, or weapon.

Hegel had taught that there was an ultimate reality and that it was spiritual. However, when the young, materialist-minded Marx, under the influence of such philosophers as Feuerbach, absorbed Hegel, he "turned Hegel upside down," to use his collaborator Friedrich Engels's apt phrase. While retaining Hegelian logic and the historical process of the triadic dialectic, Marx, later Engels, and still later Lenin, saw the process in purely nonspiritual, materialistic, historical, and socioeconomic terms. This became the ideology, or science, of historical materialism and dialectical materialism as embraced by the Russian Marxist George Plekhanov and, thence, by Leninbut in an interpretation of the ideology different from Plekhanov's.

In the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin interpretation of Left Hegelianism, historical change, the motor of history as determined by the forces and processes within the given social and economic system, is law-bound and strictly predictable. As presented in historical materialism, the history of societies develops universally by stagesnamely, from slavery, to feudalism, to capitalism, and finally to socialism, whose final stage is full-fledged communism.

Each stage, except the merged last two (socialism/communism), contains the seeds of its own destruction (or "contradictions") as the dialectical process of socioeconomic development spirals upward to the next historical stage. For instance, capitalism's antithesis is seen in the seeds of its own destruction together with the anticipation of the new synthesis of socialism/communism. Such seeds, said the Marxists, are capitalism's impoverishment of a majority of the exploited population, overproduction, unemployment, class struggle, economic collapse, and, inevitably, revolution.

Progressive elements of the former, capitalist order are then continued in new form in the final, socialist/communist phase. This assumes the form of industrialization, mass production, a just sociopolitical order (under a workers' dictatorship of the proletariat). In this formulation the Marxists developed the theory of base and superstructure. The base is the economic system; the superstructure are such facets of society as government, laws, religion, literature, and the arts. The superstructure both reflects and rationalizes the base.

Ultimately, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, state power, as described in the Marxist Critique of the Gotha Program, gradually withers away. The society is thence led into the final epoch of communism. In this final stage, a virtual millennium, there are no classes, no socioeconomic inequality, no oppression, no state, no law, no division of labor, but instead pure equality, communality, and universal happiness. Ironically, in contrast to Marx's formulation, the ultimate phase in Hegel's own interpretation of the dialectic in history was the Prussian state.

In Lenin's construction of Marxism, Hegelianism was given an extreme left interpretation. This is seen, among other places, in Lenin's "Philosophical Notebooks." In this work Lenin gives his own interpretation of Hegel. He indicates here and in other writings that absolute knowledge of the inevitable historical process is attainableat least by those equipped to find it scientifically.

The leaders of the impending proletarian revolution, Lenin says in his 1903 work, What Is to Be Done?, become a select circle of intellectuals whose philosophy (derived from Marx and Hegel) equips them to assume exclusive Communist Party leadership of the given country. Lenin could imagine that such knowledge might allow a nation's (namely, Russia's) socioeconomic development to skip intermediate socioeconomic phases, or at least shorten them. In this way, the Russian Bolsheviks could lead the masses to the socialist/communist stage of development all but directly. This could be accomplished by reducing or suppressing the phase of bourgeois capitalism. (This Leninist interepretation of the dialectic has been criticized by other Marxists as running counter to Hegel's, and Marx's, own explanations of the dialectic.)

Thus, in Lenin's interpretation of Hegel and Marx, the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes the leader and teacher of society, the single indoctrinator whose absolute power (based on the people) saves the masses from the abuses of the contradictions of capitalist society, whether in rural or urban society, while guiding society to the final, communist phase.

See also: dialectical materialism; engels, friedrich; lenin, vladimir ilich; marxism


Gregor, A. James. (1995). "A Survey of Marxism." In The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hegel, Georg Wilhem Friedrich. (1967). The Philosophy of Right. Oxford: Clarendon.

Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friedrich. (1962). Selected Works. 2 vols. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House.

Possony, Stefan T. (1966). Lenin: The Compulsive Revolutionary. London: Allen & Unwin.

Tucker, Robert C. (1972). Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Weeks, Albert L. (1968). The First Bolshevik: A Political Biography of Peter Tkachev. New York: New York University Press.

Albert L. Weeks

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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich


Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had a profound effect on modern thought. Hegel wrote his earliest work in 1807 and his groundbreaking Philosophy of Right in 1827. An idealist, he explored the nature of rationality in an attempt to create a single system of thought that would comprehend all knowledge. Among his chief contributions was developing the hegelian dialectic, a three-part process for revealing reason that ultimately influenced nineteenth- and twentieth-century theories of law, political science, economics, and literature. Especially in the late twentieth

century, scholars debated the ideas of Hegel for their relevance to contemporary legal issues.

Born August 27, 1770, in Stuttgart, Germany, Hegel achieved fame in his lifetime as a teacher and writer. The son of a German government official, he was originally a divinity student who later turned to philosophy. He worked as a tutor in his twenties, and later as a school principal and a professor at German universities in Heidelberg and Berlin. At the same time, he wrote far-ranging and lengthy books, including Science of Logic (1812–16) and Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), which contains every element of his system of philosophy. He died November 14, 1831, in Berlin.

"The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom."
—Georg Hegel

Hegel's theories arose partly in response to those of his predecessor, the Prussian philosopher immanuel kant. Believing that perception

alone could determine what is real, Kant had provided a concept of reason that Hegel was able to use in building a complete theoretical system. In doing so Hegel created his own form of the dialectic (a method of critical reasoning), which he divided into three parts. Essentially, it held: (1) A thesis (idea) encourages the development of its reverse, or antithesis. (2) If these two combine, they form an entirely new thesis, or synthesis. (3) This synthesis is the beginning of a new series of developments. Hegel believed that life eternally forms itself by setting up oppositions.

Hegel's system has special implications for the progress of history, particularly the evolution of people and government. He believed that the ideal universal soul can be created through logic that is based on his dialectic. This, he argued, was the foundation of all development. Using his three-part dialectic, he laid out the development of society. Hegel's thesis was that the primary goal of persons is to acquire property, and the pursuit of property by all persons necessitates the antithesis of this goal, laws. The association of persons and laws produces a synthesis, called ethos, that combines the freedom and interdependence of the people and creates a state. According to Hegel, the state is above the individual. Allowed to reach its highest form of development, Hegel believed, the state evolves into a monarchy (a government ruled by a single person, often called a king or queen).

Hegel's view of government is at odds with the historical course pursued by the United States. In fact, he was a critic of the individualism at the heart of the American Revolution. But his ideas have nonetheless had an immeasurable effect on modern thought in the United States as well as Europe. He saw human history as the progression from bondage to freedom, attainable only if the will of the individual is made secondary to the will of the majority. This view shaped the development of the philosophy of idealism in the United States and Europe. Hegel's dialectic was also adapted by karl marx as the basis for Marx's economic theory of the struggle of the working class to achieve revolution over the owners of the means of production. In the twentieth century, Hegel inspired the academic methodology called deconstructionism, used in fields ranging from literature to law as a means to interpret texts.

Although Hegel was largely ignored or attacked by U.S. legal scholars for two centuries, the 1950s brought a new interest in his ideas that has grown in the ensuing decades. Generally speaking, scholars have examined his work for its views on liberalism and the concepts of freedom and responsibility. Hegelian thought has been used to address everything from historical problems such as slavery to contemporary issues in contracts, property, torts, and criminal law. It has also influenced the critical legal studies movement.

further readings

Althaus, Horst. Michael Tarsh, trans. 2000. Hegel: An Intellectual Biography. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press; Oxford, UK; Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers.

Carlson, David G. 2000. "How to Do Things with Hegel." Texas Law Review 78 (May): 1377–97.

——. 1992. "The Hegelian Revival in American Legal Discourse." University of Miami Law Review 46 (March).

Hegel, Georg. 1977. The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy. Translated by H.S. Harris and Walter Cerf. Albany, N.Y.: State Univ. of New York Press.

Hoffheimer, Michael H. 1995. "Hegel's First Philosophy of Law." Tennessee Law Review 62 (summer).

McCracken, Chad. 1999. "Hegel and the Autonomy of Contract Law." Texas Law Review 77 (February): 719–51.

Pinkard, Terry. 2000. Hegel: A Biography Cambridge; New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.



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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (gā´ôrkh vĬl´hĕlm frē´drĬkh hā´gəl), 1770–1831, German philosopher, b. Stuttgart; son of a government clerk.

Life and Works

Educated in theology at Tübingen, Hegel was a private tutor at Bern and Frankfurt. In 1801 he became privatdocent [tutor] and in 1805 professor at the Univ. of Jena. While considered a follower of Schelling, he was developing his own system, which he first presented in Phenomenology of Mind (1807). During the Napoleonic occupation Hegel edited (1807–8) a newspaper, which he left to become rector (1808–16) of a Gymnasium at Nuremberg. He then returned to professorships at Heidelberg (1816–18) and Berlin (1818–31), where he became famous.

In his lectures at Berlin he set forth the system elaborated in his books. Chief among these were Science of Logic (1812–16); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), an outline of his whole philosophy; and Philosophy of Right (1821). He also wrote books on ethics, aesthetics, history, and religion. His interests were wide, and all were incorporated into his unified philosophy.


The Hegelian Dialectic

Hegel's absolute idealism envisaged a world-soul that develops out of, and is known through, the dialectical logic. In this development, known as the Hegelian dialectic, one concept (thesis) inevitably generates its opposite (antithesis), and the interaction of these leads to a new concept (synthesis). This in turn becomes the thesis of a new triad. Hegel regarded Kant's study of categories as incomplete. The idea of being is fundamental, but it evokes its antithesis, not being. However, these two are not mutually exclusive, for they necessarily produce the synthesis, becoming. Hence activity is basic, progress is rational, and logic is the basis of the world process.

Nature and the State

The study of nature and mind reveal reason as it realizes itself in cosmology and history. The world process is the absolute, the active principle that does not transcend reality but exists through and in it. The universe develops by a self-creating plan, proceeding from astral bodies to the world, from the mineral kingdom to the vegetable, from the vegetable kingdom to the animal. In society the same progress can be discovered; human activities lead to property, which leads to law.

Out of the relationship between the individual and law develops the synthesis of ethics, where both the interdependence and the freedom of individuals interact to produce the state. The state thus is a totality above all individuals, and since it is a unit, its highest development is rule by monarchy. Such a state is an embodiment of the absolute idea. In his study of history, Hegel reviewed the history of states that held sway over lesser peoples until a higher representative of the absolute evolved. Though much of his development was questionable, the concept of the conflict of cultures stimulated historical analysis.

Aesthetics and Religion

Hegel considered art a closer approach to the absolute than government. In the history of art he distinguished three periods—the Oriental, the Greek, and the romantic. He believed that the modern romantic form of art cannot encompass the magnitude of the Christian ideal. Hegel taught that religion moved from worship of nature through a series of stages to Christianity, where Christ represents the union of God and humanity, of spirit and matter. Philosophy goes beyond religion as it enables humankind to comprehend the entire historical unfolding of the absolute.


Hegel has influenced many subsequent philosophies—post-Hegelian idealism, the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Sartre, the socialism of Marx and Lasalle, and the instrumentalism of Dewey. His theory of the state was the guiding force of the group known as the Young Hegelians, who sought the unification of Germany. His lectures on philosophy, religion, aesthetics, and history were collected in eight volumes after his death.


See biographies by F. Wiedmann (1968) and T. Pinkard (2000); S. Hook, From Hegel to Marx (1936, repr. 1962); H. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution (1955, repr. 1963); J. N. Findlay, Hegel: A Re-examination (1958, repr. 1964); W. A. Kaufman, Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts and Commentary (1965); Z. A. Pelczynski, ed., Hegel's Political Philosphy (1971); S. Rosen, Hegel (1974); H. S. Harris, Hegel's Development (2 vol., 1983); E. E. Harris, An Introduction to the Logic of Hegel (1984); S. Zizek et al., ed., Hegel and the Infinite (2011).

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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770–1831) A German idealist philosopher whose major influence on the development of sociological thought has been through Karl Marx and Marxism. He developed a philosophy of history, particularly of the history of thought, which he saw as a determinant of social and political history. History is seen as a dialectical progress towards rational truth. This process involves an initial proposition (thesis), which is inadequate and generates a counter-proposition (antithesis), and the rational content of both are taken up into the synthesis. Truth is seen, not in terms of isolated individual propositions, but as a totality where the meaning of each proposition depends upon its relationship to others. The movement of history is then seen as the estrangement or objectification of the mind from itself and the transcendence of that estrangement. In sociological terms, the bourgeois state of his period was seen as representing the final transcendence of divisions in history, which goes hand in hand with the development of truth as a whole. A good starting-point for those interested in Hegel's philosophy is his volume on The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). Peter Singer's Hegel (1983) is an excellent commentary on the man and his work.

Karl Marx, in a famous phrase, ‘stood Hegel on his head’, giving priority to economic, social, and political history over the history of ideas, but maintaining something of the same dialectical method. Hegel's influence and mode of reasoning can also be found in the Marxism of György Lukács and the Frankfurt School (see CRITICAL THEORY).

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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770–1831). German philosopher, the most influential and arguably most significant in the 19th cent. Hegel completed his formal education at Jena, where he also taught until the university was ‘reorganized’ by Napoleon (whom Hegel called ‘the Zeitgeist on horseback’) and where he wrote The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). In this, his first major book, the dialectic of human experience is unfolded. Spirit as pure potentiality (An-sich-sein), through its self-alienation and self-objectification in nature (Dasein) and then through its progressive self-reconciliation in the history of human self-consciousness, comes finally to full awareness of itself as pure or absolute Spirit (Für-sich-sein). Hegel defined ‘religion’ with disarming simplicity as ‘the consciousness of God’. Viewed phenomenologically, ‘consciousness of God’ refers in Hegel's writings to a person's coming to be aware of essential unity with the divine Spirit. Viewed speculatively, however, ‘consciousness of God’ refers at the same time to God's own self-consciousness. The history of religions is likewise the means of God's coming to ‘be-for-himself’ in and through people's ever-developing consciousness of him.

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"Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 18 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770–1831) German philosopher, whose method of dialectical reasoning had a strong influence on his successors, notably Karl Marx. In 1818, he succeeded Johann Fichte as professor of philosophy at Berlin University. He developed a metaphysical system that traced the self-realization of spirit by dialectical movements towards perfection. These progressions took the form of battles between a thesis and an antithesis, eventually resolved in a synthesis at a higher level of truth. Hegel wrote two major books, Phenomenology of Mind (1807) and Science of Logic (1812–16). See also dialectical materialism

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