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Zeitgeist The characteristic spirit (Geist) of a historical era (Zeit). Eighteenth-century philosophers like Voltaire were intrigued by the idea of ‘the spirit of the age’, but it was most fully developed by Hegel. Philosophies and works of art, he argued, cannot transcend the spirit of the age in which they are produced. Their expression is always symbolic and imperfect, and the progress of the human spirit is marked by the greater or lesser degree to which it captures the absolute spirit, or truth itself, beyond the limitations of any particular era. The term Zeitgeist has come to be used more loosely to describe the general cultural qualities of any period, such as ‘the sixties’ or ‘the romantic era’, and does not carry the strong historicist connotations of Hegelian philosophy.
zeitgeist the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. Recorded from the mid 19th century, the word is German, and comes from Zeit ‘time’ + Geist ‘spirit’.
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