Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated Jun 08 2018

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

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated May 29 2018


German idealist philosopher; b. Stuttgart, Aug. 27, 1770; d. Berlin, Nov. 14, 1831. Possessed of great speculative powers, Hegel developed German idealism into an absolute system of knowledge that conceived all of reality as the self-unfolding of the Absolute.

Life and Works. The son of an official in Stuttgart, Hegel was given a stanch Protestant and humanistic education. At 18 he entered the theological school at the University of Tübingen, where he studied philosophy (178890) and theology (179093). He was a close friend of F. Hölderlin (17701843) and F. schelling, and was influenced more by the study of Greek antiquity, contemporary philosophy (I. Kant, F. H. Jacobi, and J. C. F. Schiller), and the stirrings of the French Revolution than by the study of evangelical theology. In 1793 he was a private tutor, first at Bern and later at Frankfurt am Main; at about this time he composed his so-called Theologischen Jugendschriften (ed. H. Nohl, Tübingen 1907), in which he opposed the problems of the philosophy of religion to those of religious instruction and clarified his own philosophical position.

In 1801 he went to Jena, where he produced his first published work, Die Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Philosophie (Jena 1801), and other writings in which he took his stand with Schelling against J. G. fichte. Yet, in introducing his dialectical principles, he went far beyond Schelling from the start. The same year he wrote his monograph for habilitation, De orbitis planetarum. With Schelling he lectured and worked on the Kritischen Journal der Philosophie, in which he discussed contemporary philosophy and worked toward establishing the foundations of his own thought. This he eventually embodied in the introduction of his system [Jenenser Logik, Metaphysik und Naturphilosophie, ed. G. Lasson (Leipzig 1923 and 193132)]. When Schelling left Jena in 1803, the tenuous collaboration dissolved and the difference in spirit between them grew. It finally became evident that the gap would never narrow when Hegel took a stand against Schelling in the Phänomenologie des Geistes (Bamberg and Würzburg 1807), a work that initiated Hegel's own "system" but decreased the chances for a mutual collaboration on a philosophy of the spirit.

After a short period as editor of the Bamberger Zeitung, in 1808, he became director of the gymnasium in Nuremberg. Besides a philosophical introduction for school instruction, he composed there his metaphysical masterpiece, Wissenschaft der Logik [2 v. (Nuremberg 181216) also known as the Grosse Logik ]. Finally, in 1816 he was invited to become professor at Heidelberg, where he wrote his Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (Heidelberg 1817) to serve as a basic textbook; this proved to be a tightly woven compendium of his entire system.

In 1818 Hegel was invited to the University of Berlin, where he taught until his death, exerting a deep influence upon the whole spiritual and cultural life of Prussia. Here he published his Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Berlin 1821). He lectured on the philosophy of history, of art, and of religion, and also on the history of philosophy. These lectures were first printed after his death. In the midst of his work, Hegel died at 61, evidently of cholera.

Teachings. In his early writings, Hegel showed a tendency to deal with the reconciliation of contradictories,

viz, of private devotion and folk religion, of guilt and fate, of particular and general, of finite and infinite. This reconciliation, for him, is accomplished in spirit, where the opposites are dissolved through love. The first and basic opposition is contained in the duality of subject and predicate; it is resolved in the otherness of spirit knowing itself.

Hegel applied this dialectical procedure to the problems of his day. For instance, Kant had unsatisfactorily resolved the relation between subject and object in a transcendental unity. Fichte in turn established unity in the "absolute I," as opposed to the "not-I." This did not actually resolve the duality, but reduced it to the term of a relation, viz, an absolutely given subject that gives rise to the object. To preserve objectivity, Schelling then proffered "absolute identity" as an Absolute whose indifference is both subjective and objective, yet establishes itself in knowledge as the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. Against him, Hegel objected, as had Fichte, that no difference can arise or be understood from absolute identity and indifference. To equate the Absolute with pure identity is sterile, just as "the night, in which all cows are black, means the naïveté of emptiness in knowledge" (Ausgabe 2:14). Difference can come from identity only when it is already a component of that identity. Absolute unity is a dialectical unity derived from a thing itself and its contradictory, that is, not as Schelling had assumed, the "identity of identity," but according to Hegel "the identity of identity and nonidentity" (1:252; 3:68). This implies that spirit becomes the other in knowing itself, but rises above opposition and knows and develops itself in the other. Thus Hegel finds absolute, dialectical unity to consist in the act of knowing, which is thereby able to conceive itself as "Absolute Knowledge."

Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel sought to justify his dialectical "speculation" in the Phenomenology of Spirit, which constitutes the introduction to his System of Science. While Fichte and Schelling started from the immediacy of the "intellectual intuition" of an absolute principle in order to grasp therein all a priori deducible notions, Hegel forsook the immediacy of intuition and substituted the rational mediation of Absolute Mind in a reductive manifestation. To this end, he explored all the experiences of consciousness in the Phenomenology from sense knowledge, to perception and understanding, to reason; not only in its theoretical but also in its practical aspects, as in law and morality and in art and religion; and not only subjective experiences but also objective experiences of spirit in its historical development. Here the dialectical law is already in evidence: each achieved degree of consciousness advances through self-contradiction to a higher degree that resolves the contradiction. Thus does Hegel conceive the totality of the experiences of spirit in a dialectically necessary concatenation. The highest "contradiction of consciousness," the duality of subject and object, is finally resolved in Absolute Mind. The knowing spirit attains itself in its own opposition; in the full development of knowledge, what is known as other is raised to the identity of spirit conceiving itself. Mind experiences itself as the Absolute, thereby resolving the opposition between finite and infinite spirit. Finite spirit understands itself as the place where the Absolute comes to self-consciousness and becomes "spirit."

Logic. From the vantage point of Absolute Mind, one can reconstruct the Absolute's dialectical unfolding in pure thought and deduce, as a consequence, all knowledge in a purely a priori process, thereby establishing the system of "absolute science." This is the task of the "science of Logic," which for Hegel means "absolute Logic," wherein the order of thought and the order of being, logic and metaphysics, become one and are grasped in the total actuality of their absolute source with logical necessity. The impetus to thought is again the dialectical law. Whereas this notion was explored only empirically in the Phenomenology, it here is enforced with logical necessity as an absolute method, as the unfolding rhythm of the Absolute Itself. Each achieved insight displays a contradiction; it grasps a partial and not a whole truth; it displays the "untrue" and therefore its negation. The contradiction leads to a higher level, so that the "immediacy" of the first notion, through the "mediation" of its negation, is resolved in a "mediated immediacy." A thought that avoids contradiction, that abstractly differentiates, and that separates opposites from each other, is for Hegel the product of "abstract understanding," which remains at the level of external empirical representation. When thought accepts the inner contradiction of things but resolves them into a higher unity, it then operates as "speculative reason," which penetrates reality in its most vital movement and conceives it in one, dialectical, and self-interpreting ontological foundation. So Hegel's logic aspires to be not only an ontology, but also a theology"the representation of God as He is in His eternal essence before the creation of nature and of finite spirit" (3:36). The absolute system of categories of logic seeks to reconstruct the ideal design of essences and essential laws in the spirit of God. This takes place in three steps from being to essence to idea (Sein, Wesen, Begriff ) in which the Absolute finally participates in the "Absolute Idea."

Total System. Hegel's logic is only the first phase of the total system, which is succinctly treated in the Encyclopedia (though considerably enlarged upon in the second edition). Here Hegel considers the triadic development of Idea, Nature, and Spirit, resuming the first step from the science of logic. The latter knows the Absolute in the pure form of Idea; but the Absolute, because it is essentially the absolute dialectic, must emerge from the ideal into reality, and this gives rise to the second phase, which he calls the "philosophy of nature." This describes the externalization of self-estranged Nature in the proximity of space and the continuity of time, but in an unfolding of successively higher forms all the way to that of organic life. The opposition between Idea and Nature is in turn resolved in the "philosophy of spirit." The Absolute as "Absolute Idea" mediates itself through the externalization of nature into spirit and attains consciousness in the finite spirit; there it goes beyond the content of human consciousness, of both subjective and objective spirit, and becomes "Absolute Spirit."

Philosophy of History. The spiritualization of the Absolute perfects itself in the collective history of man. The universal nature of Hegel's thought provides also for historical reality and attempts to conceptualize it from the Absolute, in the sense that the latter conciliates historical oppositions and incorporates these in its system. One finds the philosophy of history everywhere in Hegel's thought, not only in lectures specifically concerned with the subject but also in his systematic works. Since for Hegel, however, history is the process by which Absolute Spirit unfolds, it seemed to him that historical progress must involve dialectical oppositions that are resolved in a higher content of historical being. Hegel sought to reconstruct dialectically the whole of history, that is, to comprehend it within the necessity of the Absolute. Thus not only is concrete history interpreted to a great extent in a tortuous way, but freedom as an essential element of history is reduced to absolute necessity.

Political Philosophy. In his philosophy of law and of the state, Hegel was preoccupied in supplying a philosophical basis for the Prussian state; thus he left to posterity the theoretical basis for every form of absolutist and totalitarian government. For in the state the Absolute attains its manifestation. The state is the reality of the moral Idea, of self-unfolding Spirit, and presents the divine will as present, as the real pattern and organizing factor in the world. It is true that Hegel worked for constitutional monarchy, because subjective consciousness is there also granted its right. However, for him the manifestation does not consist in the subjective self-determination of individuals, but in the objective rationality of the structured state as a whole. As elsewhere in Hegel's philosophy, the individual is absorbed into the universal, the individual subject becomes a mere "moment" of the universal Spirit; thus the universality of the state transcends the individual as its own subordinated "moment." Nevertheless, for Hegel (as is often overlooked), the state is not the highest manifestation of the Absolute; the state can still evolve in other forms wherein the Absolute is manifested as Absolute Spirit.

Philosophy of Religion. The Absolute Spirit variously manifests itself (1) as art, in the objective form of sensuous manifestation; (2) as religion, in the subjective form of representation; and (3) as philosophy, in the absolute form of pure thought wherein the opposition of objectivity and subjectivity is resolved. The first immediate form of Absolute Spirit is therefore beauty, as this is presented in art. Beauty is the Absolute (Idea) in its sensuous manifestation. Hegel's aesthetic, already sketched in the Encyclopedia, was considerably developed in his Berlin lectures. He differentiates between (1) the symbolic art of the ancient Orient in which the Idea (as form) did not entirely penetrate the content; (2) the classical art of Greece, in which the Idea was perfectly embodied in matter; and (3) the romantic art of the Christian Era, in which Idea transcends its sensuous manifestation. In religion, however, Absolute Spirit manifests itself in a higher form than in artnot objectively, but subjectively. Here (as in philosophy) there is an absolute content; that is, the Absolute is its own content. It exists, however, in an imperfect form, not in the pure form of thought but in that of representation. Thus man places God before himself in otherness, outside himself, hence in opposition, presenting a duality and estrangement that must ultimately be resolved in Absolute Mind. Hegel distinguished three phases in the development of religion: the first presents God as an objective power in nature (religion of the ancient East); the second presents Him as a subjective individuality (religion of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans); the third, or "absolute religion," conceives Him as spirit (Christianity). Hegel adopted many elements of Christian belief (from the Protestant point of view), but he interpreted them in terms of his own system. Thus, the doctrine of the Trinity had special significance for him in his absolute dialectic. The level of God-in-Himself is the "kingdom of the Father" (expressed in logic); its externalization in the finite world is the "kingdom of the Son" (expressed in the philosophy of nature), and the union of God and the faithful (the Church) is the "kingdom of the Spirit" (expressed in the philosophy of spirit). The triune Godhead is "the Father and the Son, and this differentiation in its unity as the Spirit" (9:393). Religion is for Hegel the highest manifestation of Absolute Spirit short of Absolute Knowledge, superior to everything else in the sphere of consciousness. Yet the imperfect form of religious representation must still be resolved in the purer element of thought, that is, in Absolute Knowledge, in which man grasps himself as one with the Absolute as a "moment" of Absolute Spirit. Religion, therefore, is absorbed in philosophy.

Evaluation and Critique. Hegel is certainly one of the most significant philosophers in history. With a lively sense of the fullness of experience, he committed himself to a deeply speculative and boldly constructive thought, which distinguishes him as the unique systematizer of German idealism and perhaps as the greatest systematic philosopher of modern times. His dialectical thought although historically patterned on Heraclitus, whom he regarded highly, and influenced by Kant, Fichte, and Schellinggives rise to a true experience of the oppositional aspects of reality, especially in the historical and social domain. This insight is no less verified, even from a Thomistic point of view, in the oppositional structure of finite being and finite spirit. Hegel's dialectic could conveniently have opened up the structures of being, which are meaningful in theology to the extent that they transcend formal-logical thought; in this way, realities that are comprehensible only in the unity and the tension of opposition could have attained fuller realization. Yet, the dialectic of Hegel was eccentric; it failed in consequence of its own one-sidedness. Even Schelling, in his later period, raised the objection (often repeated since) that Hegel's dialectic offers no principle of deduction because it provides no content in its suppositions. Reality is never deduced dialectically, but can be grasped and recognized only in experience, and thus Hegel's thought remains entirely in the logical sphere of possible being. This objection contends that Hegel "set up" every opposition in things as a contradiction whether this was required or justified. A dialectic of contradictions yields no new insights, nor does it contribute to the advance of thought.

Again, on deeper reflection, one can see that Hegel's thought is basically a pure and absolute dialectic of reason. Though in the beginning Hegel regarded oppositions as resolved in love, later he dropped this solution and ascribed the resolution to Absolute Knowing alone. With the entrance of practical existential phenomena into the picture, these were resolved in the pure act of Mind. His Absolute (following the Aristotelian νóησις νοήσεως) is Absolute Mind alone, not Absolute Will, Causality, and Love. A tendency toward intellectualism, a legacy from the Greeks and an encumbrance on Western philosophy, received its strongest expression in Hegel. Concerned only with what mind can comprehend, he fastened on what could be conceptualized, namely essence, and not on being as such, which cannot be comprehended but only ascertained and acknowledged.

In the last analysis, Hegel's philosophy is rationalistic thought, absolute essentialism in which reality as a whole is derived from the laws of being, a system based on necessity and not on freedom. To the extent that ideal being alone, and not real being, can be "resolved" into Mind, absolute idealism is grounded in the absolute fixity of essence, whose entire contents are interpreted as ideal moments in the process of Absolute Spirit.

Though Hegel defended himself against the charge of pantheism, one can hardly understand his spiritual monism as other than pantheistic (or panentheistic). On the one hand, if the finite is resolved in the Infinite and finite spirit in Absolute Spirit, the independence of individuality and of personality is lost. On the other hand, when the Infinite is resolved in the finite, Absolute Spirit develops Itself in Its finite moment. Not only is the "evil infinite" not actual, but neither is the "true infinite," as Hegel distinguished these; all that is left is the infinity of dialectical self-unfolding. Again, because the Absolute attains Itself in the mind of finite spirit, Hegel claimed adequate comprehensive knowledge of everything in an absolute way, "the truth, without outer covering and for itself" (3:36)the highest claim for a philosophical system that has ever been made. In this view, not only would religion be absorbed in philosophical knowledge; but since religion is a free person-to-person relationship to God and thus more than philosophy, philosophy should be resolved into religion. The possibility of supernatural revelation and the mystery of divine truth, attainable only through faith and not through reason, is also resolved by Hegel into absolute, rational, and comprehending Mind.

See Also: hegelianism and neo-hegelianism; idealism; pantheism; panentheism.

Bibliography: Works. Sämtliche Werke: Jubiläumsausgabe, ed. h. glockner, 26 v. (Stuttgart 19271957); Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Ausgabe, ed. g. lasson and j. hoffmeister (Leipzig-Hamburg 1923); Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Ausgabe,, ed. j. hoffmeister (Leipzig-Hamburg 1949). For a list of English translations of Hegel's works see j. d. collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee 1954) 658659. General literature. f. a. staudenmaier, Darstellung und Kritik des Hegelschen Systems (Mainz 1844). k. fischer, Hegels Leben, Werke und Lehre, 2 v. (2d ed. Heidelberg 1911). r. kroner, Von Kant bis Hegel, 2 v. (2d ed. Tübingen 1961). b. heimann, System und Methode in Hegels Philosophie (Leipzig 1927). h. fischer, Hegels Methode in ihrer ideengeschichtlichen Notwendigkeit (Munich 1928). h. niel, De la médiation dans la philosophie de Hegel (Paris 1945). i. a. il'in, Die Philosophie Hegels als kontemplative Gotteslehre (Bern 1946). t. litt, Hegel: Versuch einer kritischen Erneuerung (Heidelberg 1953). w. t. stace, The Philosophy of Hegel (New York 1955). j. n. findlay, Hegel: A Re-examination (New York 1958). f. grÉgoire, Études hégéliennes: Les Points capitaux du sysème (Louvain 1958). w. seeberger, Hegel (Stuttgart 1961). Hegel's development. w. dilthey, Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels und andere Abhandlungen zur Geschichte des deutschen Idealismus (2d ed. Stuttgart 1959). r. haym, Hegel und seine Zeit, ed. h. rosenberg (2d ed. Leipzig 1927). t. hÄring, Hegel, sein Wollen und sein Werk, 2 v. (Leipzig 192938). j. schwarz, Hegels philosophische Entwicklung (Frankfurt 1938). t. steinbÜchel, Das Grundproblem der Hegelschen Philosophie (Bonn 1933), only v.1 publ. g. lukÁcs, Der junge Hegel und die Probleme der kapitalistischen Gesellschaft (Berlin 1954). g. e. mÜller, Hegel: Denkgeschichte eines Lebendigen (Bern 1959). a. t. b. peperzak, Le Jeune Hegel et la vision morale du monde (The Hague 1960). Phenomenology. j. hyppolite, Genèse et structure de la phénoménologie de l'esprit de Hegel (Paris 1946). a. kojÈve, Introduction à la lecture de Hegel (Paris 1947). p. henrici, Hegel und Blondel (Pullach, Ger. 1958). Logic. g. w. cunningham, Thought and Reality in Hegel's System (New York 1910). g. r. g. mure, An Introduction to Hegel (Oxford 1940); A Study of Hegel's Logic (Oxford 1950). e. coreth, Das dialektische Sein in Hegels Logik (Vienna 1952). j. hyppolite, Logique et existence (Paris 1953). b. lakebrink, Hegels dialektische Ontologie und die Thomistische Analektik (Cologne 1955). m. heidegger, Identität und Differenz (Pfullingen 1957). Philosophy of history. g. lasson, Hegel als Geschichtsphilosoph (Leipzig 1920). s. vanni rovighi, La concezione Hegeliana della storia (Milan 1942). j. hyppolite, Introduction à la philosophie de l'histoire de Hegel (Paris 1948). Political philosophy. g. giese, Hegels Staatsidee und der Begriff der Staatserziehung (Halle 1926). j. ritter, Hegel und die französische Revolution (Cologne 1957). h. marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (2d ed. New York 1955). j. barion, Hegel und die marxistische Staatslehre (Bonn 1963). Philosophy of art. f. puglisi, L'estetica di Hegel e i suoi presupposti teoretici (Padua 1953). g. vecchi, L'estetica di Hegel (Milan 1956). j. kaminsky, Hegel on Art (Albany, N.Y. 1962). Philosophy of religion. h. groos, Der deutsche Idealismus und das Christentum (Munich 1927). h. a. ogiermann, Hegels Gottesbeweise (Analecta Gregoriana 49; 1948). j. mÖller, Der Geist and das Absolute (Paderborn 1951). p. asveld, La Pensée réligieuse du jeune Hegel (Louvain 1953). e. schmidt, Hegels Lehre von Gott (Gütersloh, Ger. 1952). w. albrecht, Hegels Gottesbeweis (Berlin 1958). Other literature. w. kern, "Neue Hegel-Bücher: Ein Literaturbericht für die Jahre 1958 bis 1960," Scholastik 37 (1962) 85114, 550578; 38 (1963) 6290.

[e. coreth]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated May 21 2018


HEGEL, GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH (1770–1831), German philosopher.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich ("Wilhelm" to friends and family) Hegel was born in Stuttgart, Germany, the city of residence of the Duke of Württemberg, in 1770.

Hegel's father was a minor functionary in the revenue office of the court, and Hegel's mother came from a long line of distinguished Protestant reformers. The Hegel household put a premium on learning and education; they subscribed to the leading journals of the time, and they encouraged their obviously gifted son in his education. When Hegel was thirteen, his mother died of a disease that he also had at the time, and it was decided shortly thereafter that, following his mother's wishes, he would study to become a Protestant minister at the famous seminary in Tübingen. Nonetheless, he was not sent off to a Protestant cloister school, as was typical at the time, but to a more-or-less Enlightenment-oriented Gymnasium in Stuttgart.

In 1788, when Hegel entered the seminary at Tübingen, he was ranked first in class, a distinction he soon lost, as he found the intellectual atmosphere stifling and his broad educational background to be cramped by the narrowness of his studies there. While at the seminary, however, he befriended and roomed with two other seminarians who were equally dissatisfied with life there: Friedrich Hölderlin, later to become one of Germany's greatest poets, and Friedrich Schelling, later to become one of Germany's leading philosophers. Under the influence of one of the disaffected preceptors at the seminary, Carl Immanuel Diez, the three friends began to study the recently published works of Immanuel Kant. With the coming of the French Revolution in 1789, the three linked their studies of Kant's devastating critique of all prior metaphysics and his emphasis on human spontaneity and freedom to the political events playing out in France, mixing a love of ancient Greece and the philosophy of Benedict de Spinoza into the blend. They all resolved not to become pastors and to use their learning to further the "new" revolution in Germany.

After completing his studies in 1793, Hegel took the usual route for young intellectuals at the time and became a house tutor for a wealthy family in Bern. Although miserable and depressed in his existence there, he managed to further his studies of Kant and acquire knowledge of both the Scottish Enlightenment and the writings of Edward Gibbon. He also stayed in touch with Schelling and Hölderlin; Schelling had staged a meteoric rise in German philosophy, becoming Johann Gottlieb Fichte's successor at Jena, and Hölderlin had become a house tutor in Frankfurt, perfecting his poetic talents. Hölderlin managed to get Hegel a job as a house tutor in Frankfurt as well, and in 1797 Hegel moved there. He formed a close bond with a group of other young Swabians there, who, like himself and Hölderlin, shared an enthusiasm for Kant, Fichte, and the French Revolution. He continued to work on several manuscripts, none of which were ever published in his lifetime (but which were published at the beginning of the twentieth century under the title of Hegel's Early Theological Writings). His main concern at this point was the shape that a modern religion might take as a leading contributor to the revolutionary movements sweeping Europe. After his father died in 1799, he came into a small inheritance that he used (after writing Schelling and winning his backing) to support himself in Jena as an unsalaried private lecturer at the university there.

In January 1801 Hegel moved to Jena, where he took up teaching and co-editing a journal with Schelling. When Schelling left in 1803 for Würzburg, Hegel was left on his own; he had no salaried job, only a few publications, and a dim future. During that period, he managed to stage

one of the most remarkable self-realizations in history, finally composing in 1805 and 1806 his masterwork, The Phenomenology of Spirit. In that work (published in 1807), Hegel argued that all philosophy, religion, and art were attempts by human beings collectively (what Hegel called in his term of art, "spirit," Geist) to determine the meaning of what it is to be human, and that one could grasp these attempts at "spirit's" self-definition only by attending to the history of the ways in which different communities had organized themselves around what was for them authoritative conceptions of knowledge, law, politics, divinity, ethical life, and art. However, each of those collective efforts at achieving a final, or absolute, knowledge of "spirit" had until the present age broken down under the weight of the contradictions hidden deep within those shared conceptions. These contradictions were so powerful that attempts to realize those conceptions in practice had over historical time foundered under the weight of the incompatible demands they put on the members of the community. Their successors, as new collective forms of life (new "shapes of spirit"), were, given the historical consciousness that had begun with the Greeks, bound to see themselves as the successors to those ways of life only to find that they too broke down under the weight of their own contradictions. Only in the modern period, Hegel argued, did we realize, after Kant, why that had to be so: Each of them attempted to secure some kind of authority for themselves that was independent of human activity (such as the gods, God, nature, tradition, and utility) only to find that what had looked authoritative eventually turned out to be only an exercise in individual power or based on a false myth. Only in the modern period have we come to see that the "absolute" is merely collective human sense-making activity over time, and thus the moderns began the construction of their "post-revolutionary" world with the self-consciousness that the only norms that can be binding on them are those that they collectively author for themselves. Hegel also controversially claimed that religion is to be understood as part of this development, so that the historical development of Geist is in fact equivalent to God's becoming conscious of himself. Hegel's historicizing of all philosophical, religious, and artistic movements, along with his bold claim that after the Phenomenology, such movements had culminated in a consciousness of the "absolute" as human freedom, proved to be immensely influential in European thought, but many thought at the time (and still do so today) that in saying that this historical process is the path through which God becomes conscious of himself in and through the human community developing an understanding of its own freedom, Hegel had to be endorsing atheism. Some thought he was a kind of pantheist, and others thought (and still do think) that he was an orthodox Christian theist. Hegel's views on religion were controversial in his own day and remain controversial in our own.

Despite the success of his book, Hegel was unable to procure a job at any German university, and thus near the end of 1807 he moved to Bamberg, where he edited a pro-Napoleonic newspaper (at nearly the height of the Napoleonic Wars in Germany), socialized quite a bit, and continued his philosophical work. In 1808 a friend procured for him a position as the director of a famous Gymnasium in Nuremberg. Hegel was immensely successful at reconstituting the once great school (by then in sad decline), and he became a prominent figure in Nuremberg society. In 1811 he married the daughter of a high-ranking member of the Nuremberg patriciate who was more than twenty years his junior. In 1812 and 1816 Hegel brought out his Science of Logic, in which he argued that thought was unconstrained by anything other than self-legislated norms in defining its own conditions of intelligibility, and that such a conception involved working through the contradictions seemingly inherent in such a view until one attained, at the end, a view of "thought thinking itself" as the absolute (a mix of Aristotle, Kant, Spinoza, and Christianity). In 1816 Hegel's fondest wish was answered: he was offered a professorship at Heidelberg University, where he moved with his wife and two young sons. They also took into the house Hegel's illegitimate son, whom he had fathered by his landlady while working on the Phenomenology in Jena, an arrangement that proved to have sad consequences for both Hegel and the boy later in Berlin.

In 1818 the powerful Berlin University offered Hegel a professorship. Despite the mild protestations of his wife (overcome by getting his mother-in-law to intercede for him), he moved himself and his family to Berlin, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. About two years after his arrival, the Prussian government, using the assassination of a conservative playwright by a deranged student as a pretext, began a repressive crackdown on those they viewed as subversives ("demagogues," as they were called at the time). Hegel's first two choices for teaching assistants were arrested and interrogated by the authorities for such subversive activities; the first was found guilty and barred for life from teaching at any German university, and the second was arrested but ultimately freed (although on penalty of teaching without pay for a year). During the student's arrest, Hegel visited him late at night on a skiff with some other students, speaking Latin to him through his jailhouse window so his conversation could not be understood by the guards. Hegel also continued to drink toasts each 14 July to the storming of the Bastille, an act that endeared him to his devoted cadre of admiring students.

In 1820 Hegel's reputation went through a particularly rough patch when he published his major work on political philosophy, The Philosophy of Right. In the preface, he rather nastily settled some scores with old opponents, such as J. F. Fries, a German liberal philosopher who was also a virulent anti-Semite and who had lost his job because of his anti-Semitic writings (which the Prussian authorities found subversive). Seemingly most damning, though, was Hegel's statement in the preface that the ground rule of modern philosophy had to be the proposition that what is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational. Almost everybody at the time took that to mean that what is, is right, and it is right because it is. Hegel thus acquired a reputation for being an apologist for the existing repressive Prussian government, and his work came to be seen by many as little more than an apology for repressive tyranny. Hegel, surprised by this reaction, apparently even supplied information for an 1824 Brockhaus Enzyklopädie entry on him, which stated that his works were in no way a defense of the ruling order. However, the damage had been done. The misunderstanding had to do with Hegel's rather technical use of the term "actual" (wirklich) to make his point; he wanted to argue that in the modern world, reason is "actual" in the sense that it is what is "at work" in the world; he did not mean that it is completely instantiated or that the existing order of things itself should be taken to be completely rational. In fact, the book defended a version of the kind of political and social order that the Prussian reformers had tried to put into practice. In Hegel's conception, the kind of freedom "at work" in modern life could be secured only by a universal commitment to the very general human rights of life, liberty, and property, and by a commitment to the practices involved in a universalistic morality that nonetheless made room for an appeal to personal conscience. Those two linchpins of modern life themselves, however, could be secured only in an institutional order that consisted of nuclear families based on love and free consent to marry, market societies ordered by the idea of careers open to talent but nonetheless tempered by all kinds of mediating institutions (such as professional associations), and a state based on a constitutional monarch and a set of representative institutions. Despite that last claim, however, Hegel remained resolutely anti-democratic, holding that representation was best secured by updating the older notion of the estates (a notion by then already virtually dead in Germany). This put Hegel irremediably at odds with the "liberal" reformers in Prussia, who sensed in Hegel's anti-democratic sentiments a taste instead for Prussian authoritarianism.

Despite all this, Hegel became an intellectual celebrity of the first order. Hundreds of students and Berliners of all stripes came to hear his lectures on the philosophy of history, philosophy of art, philosophy of religion, and history of philosophy. In all these lectures, Hegel continued the pattern he laid out in the Phenomenology, arguing that each of these topics had to be understood in terms of the "spirit" in which each was created and carried out; this meant that certain forms of religion (such as Greek religion), which were essentially bound to the ways of life they attempted to interpret and express, had to experience their demise as those ways of life themselves fell apart. In the case of art, it meant the loss of centrality of art for modern civilization. In Hegel's immensely controversial formulation, in Greek life art and religion existed in harmony with each other. In medieval times, however, art had become subservient to religion (in that there could be no "aesthetic truth" that had the authority to contradict the truth of the revealed religion), and in modern times, both art and religion had become subservient to philosophy, in that no "aesthetic truth" nor any "religious truth" had the authority to contradict the universal truths of morality, the claims of justice in a modern state, or the truths discovered by modern science.

Hegel took trips to Holland, the most "commercial" of all countries (except for Britain), in 1822; to Vienna, a German power but which was Catholic, which Hegel thought must condemn it to some kind of backwardness, in 1824; and to Paris, the home of the Revolution itself, in 1827. In all cases, he went to see for himself how modernity was playing itself out. In 1824 he played a courageous part in the freeing of Victor Cousin, a French liberal who had been arrested on trumped-up charges in Germany on the instigation of the French police (who wanted him quietly disposed of). Hegel's role in freeing Cousin led in fact to the invitation to visit him in Paris in 1827. At home, Hegel continued to quarrel with the liberals, and he and Friedrich Schleiermacher (the great theologian) engaged in a long-running series of petty and frivolous disputes, each one upping the ante. Hegel continued, though, until near the end of his life to be known as a happy figure on the social scene in Berlin and a person of immense intellectual authority. Hegel's gregarious nature was muted in the last year of his life, during which he was chronically ill with a stomach ailment; his sudden and unexpected death in 1831 was ruled due to cholera, but it was almost certainly connected with the stomach ailment, which had plagued him for some time.

Within only a few years after his death, the authority of Hegelianism, once so dominant, had fairly well evaporated. The younger crowd of Hegelians quickly split into various camps; one of them, David Friedrich Strauss, joked that, like the Jacobins and Girondins of the French Revolution, they had become "left" and "right" Hegelians. The Prussian government, worried about the "left" Hegelians in particular, became suspicious of all forms of Hegelianism. When Karl Marx claimed to have brought "left" Hegelianism to its logical conclusion in his doctrines of historical materialism and communism, that seemed to seal Hegel's fate for the Prussians. Hegel was revived again only much later in the twentieth century as a thinker in his own right, although his historical influence has never been doubted.

See alsoBerlin; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Germany; Marx, Karl; Schelling, Friedrich von.


Primary Sources

Hegel, G. W. F. Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York, 1956.

——. Hegel's Political Writings. Translated by T. M. Knox. Oxford, U.K., 1964.

——. Gesammelte Werke. Edited by Rheinisch-Westfälische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Hamburg, 1968–. This is the critical edition of Hegel's works, but it is still in progress, and it is also somewhat expensive.

——. Hegel's Philosophy of Nature: Part Two of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford, U.K., 1970.

——. Hegel's Philosophy of Mind: Part Three of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Translated by William Wallace and A. V. Miller. Oxford, U.K., 1971.

——. Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Edited by Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel. Frankfurt am Main, 1971. Although not the critical edition of Hegel's works, this is the most often used and most widely accessible of all the collections.

——. Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Vols. 1–2. Translated by T. M. Knox. Oxford, U.K., 1975.

——. Early Theological Writings. Translated by T. M. Knox and Richard Kroner. Philadelphia, 1975.

——. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction: Reason in History. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, U.K., 1975.

——. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A. V. Miller. Oxford, U.K., 1977.

——. System of Ethical Life (1802/3) and First Philosophy of Spirit (Part III of the System of Speculative Philosophy 1803/4). Translated by H. S. Harris and T. M. Knox. Albany, N.Y., 1979.

——. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Vols. 1–3. Edited by Peter Hodgson. Translated by R. F. Brown, P. C. Hodgson, and J. M. Stewart. Berkeley, Calif., 1984.

——. Three Essays, 1793–1795. Edited and translated by Peter Fuss and John Dobbins. Notre Dame, Ind., 1984.

——. Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Translated by T. M. Knox and A. V. Miller. Oxford, U.K., 1985.

——. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Edited by Allen W. Wood. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.

——. The Encyclopedia Logic: Part One of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Translated by T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris. Indianapolis, Ind., 1991.

——. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by Terry Pinkard. Cambridge, U.K., forthcoming.

Secondary Sources

Findlay, J. N. Hegel: A Reexamination. New York, 1958. The first great reinterpretation of Hegel for the English-speaking world after World War II.

Kaufmann, Walter. Hegel: A Reinterpretation. Garden City, N.Y., 1966. This was one of the first postwar works to reinterpret Hegel and played a crucial role in demolishing the myth of Hegel as a Prussian militarist or a proto-Nazi.

Pinkard, Terry. Hegel: A Biography. Cambridge, U.K., 2000. The first major biography of Hegel in English with short discussions of all of Hegel's works.

Pippin, Robert. Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness. Cambridge, U.K., 1989. One of the major landmarks in Hegel scholarship.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, U.K., 1975. A monumental study by one of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century and a landmark in Hegel studies.

Terry Pinkard

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated May 29 2018

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.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

views updated May 23 2018

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). □

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated Jun 11 2018


German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), born in Stuttgart on August 27 and educated at the University of Tübingen, gained intellectual renown while teaching at the University of Berlin. A thoroughly systematic thinker, Hegel viewed philosophy, natural science, history, ethics, and religion as inherently connected in a whole that included difference while simultaneously transcending it. As a result, he presents the kind of comprehensive interpretation of science, technology, and ethics that is often implicit but seldom articulated in contemporary discussions, which, in light of Hegel, are challenged to move beyond particular case studies. Perhaps most famous for his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Hegel died suddenly on November 14 during a cholera epidemic.

Science and Technology in Hegel's System

For Hegel, the truths of the empirical (or special) sciences are justified only by the thinking at work in philosophy. Put another way, natural science occupies a middle point between sensation and philosophy. Just as sense experience needs science to grasp its deepest truths, so science requires philosophy.

The relationship between natural science and philosophy is best understood in terms of four modes of consciousness: sense-certainty, perception, understanding, and reason. The empirical sciences build on sense-certainty and perception to establish laws and theories. This move toward universality indicates that understanding is predominant in natural science. What the empirical sciences provide are nevertheless mere facts and concepts that are founded on fixed categories (for example, cause and effect, substance and accidents) that are accepted uncritically. Such a detailed explication of nature has a relative immediacy when viewed from the perspective of self-conscious reason and its characteristic philosophical thinking. It thus becomes the task of philosophy to give final meaning to what the sciences reveal by criticizing their inherent conflicts and contradictions on the way to establishing a unified synthesis in which these differences are preserved while being overcome. Ultimately, the empirical sciences are a necessary and integral phase in the development of consciousness and a crucial first step toward the rational unveiling of what Hegel calls Spirit in nature.

Hegel's view of technology emerges from his defense of the distinctly modern assertion that all knowing involves making. In accordance with this doctrine, Hegel maintains that human beings produce both themselves and their world. Individuals are only insofar as they are productive. In one's relationship with the natural world, such production manifests itself as work, a mediating activity pervaded by the tools one uses. Technology, therefore, emerges as formative for human beings insofar as it allows them to assert themselves over and against their physical environment. Though such is the case with even basic tools, it becomes most evident with the emergence of machines, the effectively self-reliant tools that deceive nature into working toward human ends. Whereas science aids in discovering the Spirit implicit in nature through observation, technology is the human way of actively manifesting Spirit in the natural world, which is continuously transformed through work.

Hegel's Influence

Hegel's initial influence rested with his ability to go beyond the distinction that his predecessor Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) made between phenomenal appearances (which are scientifically knowable) and things-in-themselves (which ground all phenomena, but remain unknowable in all respects other than their actual existence). Against Kant, Hegel argues that systematic philosophical reflection, in grasping the cognitive genesis of scientific knowledge and its contribution to self-consciousness, can indeed know reality in its entirety (that is, both phenomenal appearances and things-in-themselves), because there could not in principle be anything beyond such a synthetic whole.

The first generation of Hegel's followers nevertheless looked more to the practical implications of transcendence, thus proposing a further overcoming of Hegel himself that would make his philosophical synthesis, especially the notion of a self-consciousness that simultaneously makes the world and itself, into a lived reality. It was for this reason that Karl Marx (1818–1883) sought to turn Hegel right-side up and thereby place him on his feet (The Holy Family, 1845), not just to understand the world but to change it ("Theses on Feuerbach," 1845). Marx's critique centers around the plight of industrial workers and the alienation they experience in regard to the products of their labor, their work activity, and, above all, their humanity (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844).

But it was another philosopher, Ernst Kapp (1808–1896), who took the technological implications of Hegel most seriously, and in doing so was the first to speak of a "philosophy of technology." Drawing on Hegel's theory of history, Kapp's materialism took historical evolution to be the result of humanity's various attempts to overcome the constraints of nature (Vergleichende allgemeine Erdkunde, 1845). Insofar as such an overcoming necessarily involves technological innovation, Kapp reflected extensively on the nature of tools, construing them as "organ projections" that essentially act as extensions of the human body (Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik, 1877).

The Master–Slave Dialectic

The historical and ethical import of Hegel's views on technology are best gleaned from his master–slave dialectic, a doctrine interpreted at length by Alexandre Kojève (1902–1968), whose post–World War II lectures, though idiosyncratic, proved influential. For Kojève history begins with the first battle that ends with a victorious master and a vanquished slave. In risking life for genuine human recognition, the master spurns a merely biological existence, thus triumphing over the slaves who, for fear of death, succumb to the master in order to preserve their lives. Through human conquest, the master achieves an independence that, at least for the time being, remains foreign to the slave. The slave works for the master, forced to struggle with an often recalcitrant nature in order to provide for the master's needs.

In spite of the seemingly unenviable position of the slaves, true human progress and genuine freedom would be impossible without them. Masters, freed from dealing with nature, live a life of leisure that consumes the products of nature without any compensatory replenishment. Slaves, by contrast, learn to confront nature, an imposition that obliges them to understand nature in order to control it. It is slaves, then, who develop science and technology and who, unlike masters, are the true creators. Only through such scientific and technological development is progress made and historical change enacted.

Furthermore, the path to true freedom finally becomes apparent as the freedom of the master ultimately reveals itself as false. Though a master achieves a measure of independence from the physical environment, this is an achievement that remains dependent on the activity of the slaves. Slaves, for their part, achieve scientific understanding and create technological innovations that clear the way for a genuine freedom by surmounting nature directly and becoming independent of the services of still other slaves.

Conclusion: The Ethical Dimension

The evolution of science and technology, for Hegel, has direct ethical implications. In marking desire as intrinsic to self-consciousness, Hegel maintains that real human satisfaction can be had only in and through the recognition of another self-conscious subject. Though the master sought such recognition in his relationship with the slave, slavish recognition is necessarily ungratifying insofar as it is given by a slave who is, by definition, less than fully human. Genuine human satisfaction, therefore, will be had only when the master–slave relationship comes to an end and the human beings involved recognize each other as equals.

This ethical ideal of reciprocal recognition is first envisioned by slaves who see how people can free themselves from their merely biological existence and thereby assert their dignity in a way other than the masterly domination of other human beings. Through scientific understanding and the technological mastery of nature, the master–slave relationship can be overcome, reciprocal recognition achieved, and genuine freedom finally won. For Kojève, such an occurrence will mark the end of history because the struggle for recognition, which is the principal cause of historical change, comes to an end.


SEE ALSO Alienation;Freedom;German Perspectives;Marx, Karl.


Harris, Errol E. (1974). "Hegel and the Natural Sciences." In Beyond Epistemology, ed. Frederick G. Weiss. The Hauge, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff. Situates the natural sciences within Hegel's system, identifying understanding as the mode of consciousness predominantly at work therein.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. (1970). Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, trans. A. V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Part Two of Hegel's Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817). This volume deals specifically with modern science, treating figures such as Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Linnaeus, Lamarck, and Lavoisier.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. (1977 [1807]). Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Intended as an introduction to his philosophical system, Hegel's Phenomenology traces the psychological and historical development of human consciousness through various forms of alienation to its final fulfillment in "Absolute Spirit."

Kojève, Alexandre. (1980). Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, trans. James H. Nichols Jr. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. This translation of Kojève's Introduction a la lecture de Hegel (assembled by Raymond Queneau) analyzes Hegel's Phenomenology while simultaneously reinterpreting it, making much of the master–slave dialectic as the driving force of history.

Strauss, Leo. (2000). On Tyranny, ed. Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Taking its cue from Xenophon's Hiero, this volume includes Strauss's famous debate with Kojève and deals with the problems that tyranny and the possible end of history entail.

Westphal, Merold. (1998). History and Truth in Hegel's "Phenomenology." Bloomington: Indiana University Press. A careful summary of Hegel's Phenomenlogy that illuminates what is principally at stake in the text itself while locating Hegel more generally within the Western philosophical tradition.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated May 29 2018


(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

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

views updated May 11 2018

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Idealist philosopher


Education and Career. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is often called the last great German Idealist philosopher; that is, his philosophy is based on the idea that underlying all historical experience is an abstract spirit transcending material forms. Born into an upper-middle-class Stuttgart family, Hegel began preparing for the Lutheran ministry at an early age. He studied theology at the University of Tubingen (1788-1793), where his friends included philosopher Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854) and poet Friedrich Holderlin (1770-1843). During his student years, he became acquainted with and influenced by the writings of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). In time, however, Hegel became dissatisfied not only with Kant but with the field of theology, preferring instead to study not religion but the whole of reality. After leaving Tubingen, Hegel worked as a tutor in Bern and Frankfurt until 1799, when an inheritance from his father gave him the financial freedom to begin his academic career. He became an unsalaried lecturer (who was paid directly by his students) at the University of Jena, where he became a salaried associate professor of philosophy by 1805. In 1808 he became rector and philosophy professor at a secondary school in Nuremberg, where he remained until 1816, when he accepted the chair of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. Two years later, he left Heidelberg to assume the chair of philosophy at the prestigious University of Berlin, where he taught until his death in 1831. Hegel’s major publications include Die Phanomenologie des Geistes (1807; Phenomenology of Spirit), Wissenschaft der Logik (1812-1816; The Science of Logic), Grundlinien der Philosophic des Rechts (1820; Philosophy of Right), and his posthumously published Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie der Religion (1832; Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion) and Vorlesungen uber die Geschichte der Philosophie (1833-1836; Lectures on the History of Philosophy).

Hegelian Thought. Hegel’s objective was to formulate a new way of thinking that would allow one to view the totality of reality, the human, the natural, and the divine. Like Kant, Hegel rejected the mechanistic, amoral universe of Enlightenment thinkers, insisting instead that a benevolent, impersonal God created the universe and controls it. Although Hegel was convinced that Christianity was the “absolute religion,” he insisted that the divine was revealed not only at the individual level through the Incarnation in Jesus Christ but also throughout the course of world history. Unlike Kant, who divided the world into what could be known through reason and what could not, Hegel insisted that human reason can understand reality and, moreover, that reason and reality were one. As Hegel asserted, “What is rational exists, and what exists is rational.” By this thinking, the events of history are not accidents; when properly understood, they are manifestations of the universal divine idea. While human conditions continuously change, Hegel believed, each change moves the world closer to the universal goal of history: the achievement of human freedom. Thus, history is the story of the progress of humanity toward true freedom.

The Dialectic Method. Hegel explained the ongoing, progressive path of history through his “law of the Dialectic.” According to Hegel, every age is governed by a dominant idea, which he labels the spirit or the “thesis” of the age. In time, this thesis is challenged by a new concept, its “antithesis,” which is incompatible with the “thesis.” To resolve the conflict between the “thesis” and the “antithesis,” a blending of opposites occurs, thereby producing a higher “synthesis,” which becomes the new dominant idea, or thesis, of the next age. History consists of the constant flow of ideas and their opposites, which when reconciled, reach purer forms. The new synthesis does not come without strife, but conflicts commonly regarded as tragedies do not demonstrate the triumph of evil. They are necessary steps forward toward the universal goal, human freedom. To Hegel, however, the highest form of freedom was not the absence of self-restraint, for the true ethical unit was not the isolated individual but the state in which the individual lives. Consequently, the movement of history is not toward individual freedom but toward the freedom of the community as a whole., Therefore, Hegel’s philosophy exalts the state because only through it can humankind find meaning and be truly free.

The Hegelian Legacy. Hegel’s assertions have attracted the attention of many social thinkers. Following his death, his adherents became divided into left-wing and right-wing factions. On the left, Karl Marx (1818-1883) modified Hegel’s theory of the dialectic to explain his views on the historical cycle of class wars and to argue for the historical movement of civilization from primitive communism, to slavery, to feudalism, to capitalism, and ultimately to advanced communism. Thinkers on the right expanded Hegel’s reverential ideas about the state to justify nationalistic notions of blind obedience to government authorities. Still others, including Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the founder of Existentialism, reacted to the popularity of Hegel’s system by condemning the arrogance of viewing human actions as the unfolding of God’s plan for humanity. Hegel’s provocative insights significantly shaped the direction of modern thought among not only philosophers but also historians, theologians, sociologists, and political theorists.


Ermanno Bencivenga, Hegel’s Dialectical Logic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Patrick Gardiner, ed., Theories of History (Glencoe, 111.: Free Press, 1959).

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated May 14 2018


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.



Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

views updated May 14 2018

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).

About this article

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic