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Portrait by Jakob Schlesinger, 1831
|Born||August 27, 1770|
|Died||November 14, 1831 (aged 61)|
Founder of Hegelianism
Precursor to German Historism
|Main interests||Logic · Aesthetics · Religion|
Philosophy of history
Metaphysics · Epistemology
|Notable ideas||Absolute idealism · Dialectic|
Sublation · Master/slave
Portrait by Jakob Schlesinger, 1831
|Born||August 27, 1770|
|Died||November 14, 1831 (aged 61)|
Founder of Hegelianism
Precursor to German Historism
|Main interests||Logic · Aesthetics · Religion|
Philosophy of history
Metaphysics · Epistemology
|Notable ideas||Absolute idealism · Dialectic|
Sublation · Master/slave
|G. W. F. Hegel|
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Gottlieb Fichte
|Phenomenology of Spirit|
Science of Logic
Philosophy of Right
Lectures on Aesthetics
Philosophy of History
British / German idealism
The Secret of Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (German: [ˈɡeɔɐ̯k ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈheːɡəl]; August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher, and a major figure in German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of reality revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Continental philosophy and Marxism.
Hegel developed a comprehensive philosophical framework, or "system", of Absolute idealism to account in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, psychology, the state, history, art, religion, and philosophy. In particular, he developed the concept that mind or spirit manifested itself in a set of contradictions and oppositions that it ultimately integrated and united, without eliminating either pole or reducing one to the other. Examples of such contradictions include those between nature and freedom, and between immanence and transcendence.
Hegel influenced writers of widely varying positions, including both his admirers and his detractors. Karl Barth compared Hegel to a "Protestant Aquinas." Michel Foucault has contended that contemporary philosophers may be 'doomed to find Hegel waiting patiently at the end of whatever road we travel.' Hegel's influential conceptions are those of speculative logic or "dialectic", "absolute idealism". They include "Geist" (spirit), negativity, sublation (Aufhebung in German), the "Master/Slave" dialectic, "ethical life" and the importance of history.
Hegel was born on August 27, 1770 in Stuttgart, in the Duchy of Württemberg in southwestern Germany. Christened Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, he was known as Wilhelm to his close family. His father, Georg Ludwig, was Rentkammersekretär (secretary to the revenue office) at the court of Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg. Hegel's mother, Maria Magdalena Louisa (née Fromm), was the daughter of a lawyer at the High Court of Justice at the Württemberg court. She died of a "bilious fever" (Gallenfieber) when Hegel was thirteen. Hegel and his father also caught the disease but narrowly survived. Hegel had a sister, Christiane Luise (1773–1832), and a brother, Georg Ludwig (1776–1812), who was to perish as an officer in Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812.
At age of three Hegel went to the "German School". When he entered the "Latin School" two years later, he already knew the first declension, having been taught it by his mother.
In 1776 Hegel entered Stuttgart's Gymnasium Illustre. During his adolescence Hegel read voraciously, copying lengthy extracts in his diary. Authors he read include the poet Klopstock and writers associated with the Enlightenment, such as Christian Garve and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Hegel's studies at the Gymnasium were concluded with his Abiturrede ("graduation speech") entitled "The abortive state of art and scholarship in Turkey."
At the age of eighteen Hegel entered the Tübinger Stift (a Protestant seminary attached to the University of Tübingen), where two fellow students were to become vital to his development - poet Friedrich Hölderlin, and philosopher-to-be Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. Sharing a dislike for what they regarded as the restrictive environment of the Seminary, the three became close friends and mutually influenced each other's ideas. They watched the unfolding of the French Revolution with shared enthusiasm. Schelling and Hölderlin immersed themselves in theoretical debates on Kantian philosophy, from which Hegel remained aloof. Hegel at this time envisaged his future as that of a Popularphilosoph, i.e., a "man of letters" who serves to make the abstruse ideas of philosophers accessible to a wider public; his own felt need to engage critically with the central ideas of Kantianism did not come until 1800.
Having received his theological certificate (Konsistorialexamen) from the Tübingen Seminary, Hegel became Hofmeister (house tutor) to an aristocratic family in Bern (1793–96). During this period he composed the text which has become known as the "Life of Jesus" and a book-length manuscript titled "The Positivity of the Christian Religion". His relations with his employers becoming strained, Hegel accepted an offer mediated by Hölderlin to take up a similar position with a wine merchant's family in Frankfurt, where he moved in 1797. Here Hölderlin exerted an important influence on Hegel's thought. While in Frankfurt Hegel composed the essay "Fragments on Religion and Love". In 1799 he wrote another essay entitled "The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate", unpublished during his lifetime.
Also in 1797, the unpublished and unsigned manuscript of "The Oldest Systematic Program of German Idealism" was written. It was written in Hegel's hand but thought to have been authored by Hegel, Schelling, Hölderlin, or by all three.
In 1801 Hegel came to Jena with the encouragement of his old friend Schelling, who held the position of Extraordinary Professor at the University there. Hegel secured a position at the University as a Privatdozent (unsalaried lecturer) after submitting a Habilitationsschrift (dissertation) on the orbits of the planets. Later in the year Hegel's first book, The Difference Between Fichte's and Schelling's Systems of Philosophy, was completed. He lectured on "Logic and Metaphysics" and gave joint lectures with Schelling on an "Introduction to the Idea and Limits of True Philosophy" and held a "Philosophical Disputorium". In 1802 Schelling and Hegel founded a journal, the Kritische Journal der Philosophie ("Critical Journal of Philosophy"), to which they each contributed pieces until the collaboration was ended when Schelling left for Würzburg in 1803.
In 1805 the University promoted Hegel to the position of Extraordinary Professor (unsalaried), after Hegel wrote a letter to the poet and minister of culture Johann Wolfgang von Goethe protesting at the promotion of his philosophical adversary Jakob Friedrich Fries ahead of him. Hegel attempted to enlist the help of the poet and translator Johann Heinrich Voß to obtain a post at the newly renascent University of Heidelberg, but failed; to his chagrin, Fries was later in the same year made Ordinary Professor (salaried) there.
His finances drying up quickly, Hegel was now under great pressure to deliver his book, the long-promised introduction to his System. Hegel was putting the finishing touches to this book, the Phenomenology of Spirit, as Napoleon engaged Prussian troops on October 14, 1806, in the Battle of Jena on a plateau outside the city. On the day before the battle, Napoleon entered the city of Jena. Hegel recounted his impressions in a letter to his friend Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer:
I saw the Emperor – this world-soul – riding out of the city on reconnaissance. It is indeed a wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrated here at a single point, astride a horse, reaches out over the world and masters it . . . this extraordinary man, whom it is impossible not to admire.
Although Napoleon chose not to close down Jena as he had other universities, the city was devastated and students deserted the university in droves, making Hegel's financial prospects even worse. The following February Hegel's landlady Christiana Burkhardt (who had been abandoned by her husband) gave birth to their son Georg Ludwig Friedrich Fischer (1807–31).
In March 1807, aged 37, Hegel moved to Bamberg, where Niethammer had declined and passed on to Hegel an offer to become editor of a newspaper, the Bamberger Zeitung. Hegel, unable to find more suitable employment, reluctantly accepted. Ludwig Fischer and his mother (whom Hegel may have offered to marry following the death of her husband) stayed behind in Jena.
He was then, in November 1808, again through Niethammer, appointed headmaster of a Gymnasium in Nuremberg, a post he held until 1816. While in Nuremberg Hegel adapted his recently published Phenomenology of Spirit for use in the classroom. Part of his remit being to teach a class called "Introduction to Knowledge of the Universal Coherence of the Sciences", Hegel developed the idea of an encyclopedia of the philosophical sciences, falling into three parts (logic, philosophy of nature, and philosophy of spirit).
Hegel married Marie Helena Susanna von Tucher (1791–1855), the eldest daughter of a Senator, in 1811. This period saw the publication of his second major work, the Science of Logic (Wissenschaft der Logik; 3 vols., 1812, 1813, 1816), and the birth of his two legitimate sons, Karl Friedrich Wilhelm (1813–1901) and Immanuel Thomas Christian (1814–1891).
Having received offers of a post from the Universities of Erlangen, Berlin, and Heidelberg, Hegel chose Heidelberg, where he moved in 1816. Soon after, in April 1817, his illegitimate son Ludwig Fischer (now ten years old) joined the Hegel household, having thus far spent his childhood in an orphanage. (Ludwig's mother had died in the meantime.)
Hegel published The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (1817) as a summary of his philosophy for students attending his lectures at Heidelberg.
In 1818 Hegel accepted the renewed offer of the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, which had remained vacant since Fichte's death in 1814. Here he published his Philosophy of Right (1821). Hegel devoted himself primarily to delivering his lectures; his lecture courses on aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of history, and the history of philosophy were published posthumously from lecture notes taken by his students. His fame spread and his lectures attracted students from all over Germany and beyond.
Hegel was appointed Rector of the University in 1830, when he was 60. He was deeply disturbed by the riots for reform in Berlin in that year. In 1831 Frederick William III decorated him for his service to the Prussian state. In August 1831 a cholera epidemic reached Berlin and Hegel left the city, taking up lodgings in Kreuzberg. Now in a weak state of health, Hegel seldom went out. As the new semester began in October, Hegel returned to Berlin, with the (mistaken) impression that the epidemic had largely subsided. By November 14 Hegel was dead. The physicians pronounced the cause of death as cholera, but it is likely he died from a different gastrointestinal disease. He is said to have uttered the last words "And he didn't understand me" before expiring. In accordance with his wishes, Hegel was buried on November 16 in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery next to Fichte and Solger.
Hegel's son Ludwig Fischer had died shortly before while serving with the Dutch army in Batavia; the news of his death never reached his father. Early the following year Hegel's sister Christiane committed suicide by drowning. Hegel's remaining two sons - Karl, who became a historian, and Immanuel, who followed a theological path - lived long and safeguarded their father's Nachlaß and produced editions of his works.
Though raised as a Lutheran, Hegel rejected Christianity in his college years. In his early religious writings, he inveighed against religion. But for professional reasons, beginning around 1800, he tried to create the impression that he was a believer. Solomon explains: "Hegel really did have a secret, and...it has been well kept. The secret, abruptly stated, is that Hegel was an atheist. His 'Christianity' is nothing but nominal, an elaborate subterfuge to protect his professional ambitions in the most religiously conservative country in northern Europe." What has Hegel's atheism to do with his need for subterfuge? Terry Pinkard writes: "Hegel was desperate for a position [professorship], and to get a position he needed a book." But writing a book that openly espoused atheism would be professional suicide.
Solomon elaborates: "Hegel had seen Spinoza's Ethics condemned in Germany. He had seen Kant, whom he considered to be unquestioningly orthodox, censured and censored by the narrow-minded regime of Frederick Wilhelm II. He had seen Fichte dismissed from the University of Jena for views that were (incorrectly) considered atheistic." The University of Jena is where Hegel was seeking a professorship. The book he was writing, which became Phenomenology of Spirit, was a book that espoused atheism by covertly redefining God as, in essence, humanity. Solomon puts it this way: "What then does Hegel's conception of God [in Phenomenology] admit which any atheist would not? To say that God exists is no more than to say that humanity exists. That is atheism."
Hegel redefined God by creating a character he usually called Spirit but sometimes called God. He tried to make "God" sound theistic by giving God a mind. In some passages, this mind was made to resemble the transcendent mind (existing apart from the universe) of Christianity's theistic God. But some interpreters recognized that Spirit's mind was actually nothing but the collective mind of man. For this reason, and also because Spirit had a physical aspect of which man was a part, God/Spirit was essentially humanity. And Hegel's occasional references to Spirit as "God" were deliberate attempts to make readers believe that he was a theist. Findlay explains: "Hegel’s philosophy is...one that remains most within the pale of ordinary experience, and which accords no place to entities or properties lying beyond that experience, or to facts undiscoverable by ordinary methods of investigation. Hegel often speaks the language of a metaphysical theology, but such language, it is plain, is a mere concession to the pictorial mode of religious expression. As a philosopher, Hegel believes in no God and no Absolute."
Although some interpreters, particularly religious ones, have given credence to Hegel’s use of the word "God", Hegel’s atheism is widely recognized. Tucker (1961) writes: "The whole system is spun out of a formula concerning man’s self-elevation from finite to infinite [divine] life. The finite mind [man’s] is seen as aggrandizing itself to infinity, becoming universal [God’s] mind...From the standpoint of the Hebraic-Christian theology...this would of course have to be qualified as 'atheism.'" Kaufmann (1966) remarks that Hegel’s discussion of Spirit "should have caused no misunderstanding, had it not been for Hegel’s occasional references to God." He later adds that "his [Hegel’s] religious position may be safely characterized as a form of humanism." Hyppolite (1974) says that, in Hegel’s "Revealed Religion" discussion, "the death of Christ is not only the death of the God-man [God incarnate on earth], but also the death of the abstract God [God in heaven] whose transcendence radically separated human existence from his divine essence." Beiser (1993) writes: "Schelling and Hegel...insist that their metaphysics has nothing to do with the supernatural. Their conception of metaphysics is indeed profoundly naturalistic. They banish all occult forces and the supernatural from the universe, explaining everything in terms of natural laws." Pinkard (1994) and Westphal (1998) interpret Spirit as society and its institutions.[page needed]
Hegel is best known for his use of thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectics. His thought includes 28 dialectics in Phenomenology of Spirit and 10 in The Philosophy of History, not counting many variants of these 38 dialectics. The chief purpose of these dialectics, which are well hidden and only recently came to light, was to conceal Hegel’s atheism. Hegel needed to conceal his atheism in order to remain employable in his chosen profession. Solomon explains: “[Hegel’s] ‘Christianity’ is nothing but nominal, an elaborate subterfuge to protect his professional ambitions in the most religiously conservative country in northern Europe.” To conceal his hidden message of atheism (essentially the message that God is humanity), Hegel used cleverly hidden dialectics. Hegel hid -– but hinted at -– his dialectics by using inconspicuous substitute terms. “Thesis,” for example, became “primitive stage,” “first stage,” “first moment,” “first realization,” “the positive element,” and many other terms -– most commonly just plain “moment” (meaning “stage” of a three-stage dialectic).
In Phenomenology, the basic overarching dialectic describes the three-stage “life” of an ersatz God Hegel usually calls Spirit but sometimes (to mislead) calls “God.” Spirit, defined by Hegel as “all reality,” has a physical side and a mental side. The physical side is every object in the universe, including both natural objects (stars, flowers, rivers, mice, humans) and artificial objects (fences, barns, teacups, doorknobs, shirts). The mental side is the collective mind of man, for which reason Spirit is essentially humanity.
Spirit’s life begins in a prehuman state of nature. Here Spirit has no mind, hence no consciousness, because man (the source of Spirit’s mind) is not yet present on earth. Pinkard writes, "God, as spirit, is already metaphorically asleep [unconscious] in nature, and the divine principle of 'spirit' comes to fruition only as humans appear on the planet and create religions." When humans arrive, "spirit . . . wakes up from its natural slumber and becomes conscious of itself." Without a mind, Spirit is not conscious of the many seemingly separate “objects” that constitute reality, so Spirit is unconsciously united as one entity. This is the thesis stage: unconscious unity. When man arrives on the planet, Spirit acquires its mind and becomes conscious. Each person or “subject” perceives a multitude of seemingly alien “objects” that subject (Spirit’s mind) does not recognize as essentially itself, Spirit. This is the antithesis stage: conscious separation. Finally, Hegel arrives and becomes part of Spirit’s mind. In Spirit’s act of “self-realization,” Hegel realizes that all the “alien” objects are essentially himself, Spirit, because the inner reality of everything is Spirit. This is the synthesis stage of Spirit’s life: conscious unity. The dialectic:
This dialectic illustrates Hegel’s usual (but not sole) dialectical format. That format has four characteristics: (1) Each stage features two simple concepts that usually consist of just one or two words. (2) Each antithesis concept is the opposite of, not just different from, its thesis counterpart (conscious is the opposite of unconscious, separation the opposite of unity). (3) The synthesis truly synthesizes (combines), borrowing one concept from the thesis (“unity”) and one from the antithesis (“conscious”). (4) The dialectic embodies the Bible’s Johannine concept of “separation and return,” separating from and returning to something in the thesis. (Paul Tillich, himself a dialectician, wrote: “Obviously -– and it was so intended by Hegel –- his dialectics are the religious symbols of estrangement [separation] and reconciliation [return] reduced to empirical descriptions.”.)
The above dialectic leads to a closely related one. In the closing pages of ‘’Phenomenology’‘, Hegel three times characterizes self-realization (the synthesis) as achieving “freedom.” Freedom is a concept that, according to almost all interpreters who have discussed Hegel’s concept of freedom, involves reaching a proper balance between the rights of the state and the rights of the individual. But that balance hasn’t been discussed in Phenomenology. Hegel is instead treating freedom as the opposite of bondage, or slavery. In its initial unconscious state (stage 1: thesis), Spirit has no mind, hence hasn’t created gods and can’t be in bondage to them. So Spirit is potentially free – but can’t be actually free until it has a mind. Recall Pinkard’s statement that, when Spirit achieves consciousness (stage 2: antithesis), the humans who give Spirit its mind and its consciousness “create religions.” Man thus enters into bondage to –- becomes a slave of -– God and religious superstition. The bondage entails worship, prayer, monetary support, obedience to arbitrary rules (e.g., kill every witch), embarrassing confessions and penance (in Catholicism), self-flagellation (in Islam), inquisitions, and the gnawing fear of burning in hell for all eternity for such petty offenses as saying “you fool,” premarital sex, or being rich. Self-realization (stage 3: synthesis) destroys God and religion by elevating man to godhood, or “infinity”; the supernatural God vanishes. The result is the freedom dialectic:
Among the 10 dialectics in Hegel’s Philosophy of History is this one:
Some of Hegel’s dialectics depart from the two-concepts-per-stage and use a format in which the synthesis reveals that the antithesis is really the thesis in disguise. In his famous master-and-slave parable, Hegel uses the following dialectic to encode his hidden message that the true God is humanity:
Hegel's thinking can be understood as a constructive development within the broad tradition that includes Plato and Kant. To this list one could add Proclus, Meister Eckhart, Leibniz, Plotinus, Jakob Boehme, and Rousseau. What all these thinkers share, which distinguishes them from materialists like Epicurus, the Stoics, and Thomas Hobbes, and from empiricists like David Hume, is that they regard freedom or self-determination both as real. In Hegel's case, however, freedom is not necessarily real; it materializes only in persons who cease to believe in the supernatural.
In his discussion of "Spirit" in his Encyclopedia, Hegel praises Aristotle's On the Soul as "by far the most admirable, perhaps even the sole, work of philosophical value on this topic". In his Phenomenology of Spirit and his Science of Logic, Hegel's concern with Kantian topics such as freedom and morality is pervasive. Rather than simply rejecting Kant's dualism of freedom versus nature, Hegel aims to subsume it within "true infinity", the "Concept" (or "Notion": Begriff), "Spirit", and "ethical life" in such a way that the Kantian duality is rendered intelligible, rather than remaining a brute "given." What Hegel is really saying, in deliberately obscure language, is that man (finite) achieves freedom when he elevates himself to godhood (becomes the infinite) by ceasing to believe in the supernatural God of "picture-thinking."
The reason this subsumption takes place in a series of concepts is that Hegel's method, in his Science of Logic and his Encyclopedia, is to begin with basic concepts like Being and Nothing, and to develop these through a long sequence of elaborations, including those already mentioned. In this manner, a solution that is reached, in principle, in the account of "true infinity" in the Science of Logic's chapter on "Quality", is repeated in new guises at later stages, all the way to "Spirit" and "ethical life", in the third volume of the Encyclopedia.
But to understand what Hegel is really saying (in guarded language) one must understand the meanings he gives to "finite" and "infinite." In Hegel's jargon, "finite" is a synonym for "man" and for "human"; "infinite" is a synonym for "God" and for "divine." And the hidden message that unfolds in Phenomenology is that man is God, or finite = infinite. Tucker explains: "Hegelianism . . . is a religion of self-worship whose fundamental theme is given in Hegel's image of the man who aspires to be God himself, who demands 'something more, namely infinity.' The whole system is spun out of the formula concerning man's self-elevation from finite to infinite life. The finite mind [man's] is seen aggrandizing itself to infinity, becoming universal [God's] mind." The result is "a picture of a self-glorifying humanity striving compulsively, and at the end successfully, to rise to divinity."
In this way, Hegel intends to defend the germ of truth in Kantian dualism against reductive or eliminative programs like those of materialism and empiricism. Like Plato, with his dualism of soul versus bodily appetites, Kant pursues the mind's ability to question its felt inclinations or appetites and to come up with a standard of "duty" (or, in Plato's case, "good") which transcends bodily restrictiveness. Hegel preserves this essential Platonic and Kantian concern in the form of (1) infinity going beyond the finite (a process that Hegel in fact relates to "freedom"—man's becoming God—and the "ought"), (2) the universal going beyond the particular (in the Concept), and (3) Spirit going beyond Nature (to include humanity and the human mind, the source of Spirit's consciousness). And Hegel renders these dualities intelligible by (ultimately) his argument in the "Quality" chapter of the "Science of Logic." The finite (man) has to become infinite (God, or the divine) in order to achieve reality (Hegel's Spirit is "all reality"). The idea of the absolute excludes multiplicity so "subject" (any observer, part of Spirit's mind) must achieve dialectical synthesis with observed "objects"—subject and object must become identical—for "self-realization" to occur. This is because, as Hegel suggests by his introduction of the concept of "reality", what determines itself -— rather than depending on its relations to other things for its essential character -— is more fully "real" (following the Latin etymology of "real": more "thing-like") than what does not. Finite things don't determine themselves, because, as "finite" things, their essential character is determined by their boundaries, over against other finite things. So, in order to become "real" (Spirit is "all reality"), they must go beyond their finitude by becoming infinite, or divine ("finitude is only as a transcending of itself").
The result of this argument is that finite and infinite—and, by extension, particular (any object, always finite or individual) and universal (Spirit, the infinite or general category), bondage and freedom—don't face one another as two independent realities. Instead, the members of each pair are, respectively, an antithesis and a synthesis. The latter (in each case) is the transcending of the former. Infinity, universality, and freedom are states reached when Spirit achieves self-realization: when Hegel (part of Spirit's entirely human mind) arrives and "realizes" that the many external "objects" he sees are not really "alien" but are himself, because the inner reality of everything in the universe is Spirit, Hegel's redefined atheistic God. The relationships between (1) finite and infinite, (2) human and divine, (3) natural (man) and artificial (the man-made God of theism), (4) particular (man) and universal (Spirit, the nonsupernatural God), (5) consciousness (viewing external "objects" as "alien") and self-consciousness (viewing external objects as one's self, because both are Spirit or "God") and (5) bondage (religious belief) and freedom (atheism) become intelligible. In each of the preceding five pairs of concepts, the first member is transformed into the second (synthesis replaces antithesis) when self-realization occurs—when a human realizes the he and not the man-made (artificial) God imagined to exist in heaven is the true infinite.
The obscure writings of Jakob Böhme had a strong effect on Hegel. Böhme had written that the Fall of Man was a necessary stage in the evolution of the universe. This evolution was, itself, the result of God's desire for complete self-awareness. Hegel was fascinated by the works of Kant, Rousseau, and Goethe, and by the French Revolution. Modern philosophy, culture, and society seemed to Hegel fraught with contradictions and tensions, such as those between the subject and object of knowledge, mind and nature, self and Other, freedom and authority, knowledge and faith, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Hegel's main philosophical project was to take these contradictions and tensions and interpret them as part of a comprehensive, evolving, rational unity that, in different contexts, he called "the absolute idea" or "absolute knowledge".
According to Hegel, the main characteristic of this unity was that it evolved through and manifested itself in contradiction and negation. Contradiction and negation have a dynamic quality that at every point in each domain of reality—consciousness, history, philosophy, art, nature, society—leads to further development until a rational unity is reached. This unity preserves the contradictions as phases and sub-parts by lifting them up (Aufhebung) to a higher unity. This higher unity, Spirit, is partly mental, because it interprets—and misinterprets—all of these phases and sub-parts as steps in its own evolutionary process of comprehension. Spirit is rational because the same, underlying, logical, developmental order underlies every domain of reality and ultimately becomes rational self-conscious thought. But only in its final stage of development does come to full self-consciousness, or self-realization. The rational, self-conscious whole is not a transcendent (existing apart from the physical universe) mind or being that lies outside of other material things or nonmaterial minds. Rather, it is Spirit.
Spirit is an entity that has a physical side and a mental side. The physical side is all objects in the physical universe, both natural objects (e.g., boulders, tulips) and artificial (man-made) objects (e.g., flags, chairs). The mental side is the collective mind of all human beings and nothing else; there is no additional supernatural mind such as the transcendent mind of the God of theism. Spirit goes through three stages: (1) an unconscious thesis stage, (2) a conscious antithesis stage, and (3) a self-conscious synthesis stage. The unconscious stage, where Spirit has not yet acquired its mind, is the earth in its natural state before humans appear. The conscious stage arrives when humans arrive with their minds, which collectively become Spirit's mind. The humans see all sorts of "objects" and falsely assume that the objects are things other than themselves, whereas both the observers and the objects are Spirit. The self-conscious stage arrives when the most brilliant of humans, Hegel, arrives and realizes that every object he perceives is himself, because everything is Spirit. Hegel's realization that everything is Spirit is Spirit's act of self-realization. Tucker can therefore say, "Hegel . . . conceived himself as the particular man in whom God [Spirit]--the absolute self--finally achieves full actualization." He adds the clarifying remark that Hegel's act is "man's self-recognition as the divine being." Spirit's (and Hegel's) self-realization is the aforementioned point where "rational unity is reached."
"Mind" and "Spirit" are the common English translations of Hegel's German word "Geist." Most interpreters favor "Spirit" (Miller, Tillich, Findlay, Kaufmann, C. Taylor, Solomon, Beiser, Pinkard, Forster, Stern), but several favor "Mind" (Baillie, Marcuse, Singer). The preference for "Spirit" may be influenced by the fact that most English language interpreters prefer to use Miller's translation of Hegel's book, because Miller is more accessible and has numbered paragraphs that facilitate references. Hegel's Phenomenology is about the slow progress of both Spirit and its human Mind toward self-realization. The story really focuses on the mental side of Spirit, and it is in Spirit's Mind where self-realization takes place; so "Mind" might be the better translation. But Kaufmann argues that "in a very large number of passages, 'mind' simply does not make sense, and only 'spirit' will do." (The counterargument would be that the book's title is not a "passage," and neither is it a context where Mind "simply does not make sense.) Some[who?] have argued that both of these terms overly "psychologize" Hegel, implying a kind of disembodied, solipsistic consciousness like ghost or "soul." Geist combines the meaning of spirit—as in god, ghost or mind—with an intentional force. In Hegel's early philosophy of nature (draft manuscripts written during his time at the University of Jena), Hegel's notion of "Geist" was tightly bound to the notion of "Aether" from which Hegel also derived the concepts of space and time. In his later works (after Jena), however, Hegel did not explicitly use his old notion of "Aether" any more.
Central to Hegel's conception of knowledge and mind (and therefore also of reality) was the notion of identity in difference. A human observer ("subject") perceives an "object" that, before self-realization occurs, is thought to be "alien," meaning something other than "subject." This misperception occurs because "subject" is judging the "object" by its outer appearance rather than by its inner reality. But in truth the "alien" object is identical to the observing subject, for both are Spirit: both have Spirit as their inner reality. Hegel can therefor state: "The object is revealed to it [to "subject"] by [as] something alien, and it does not recognize itself." When self-realization occurs, "subject" (Hegel in this case) recognizes "object" as itself rather than something "alien": subject realizes that every object in the universe, including "subject" and other humans, is part of Spirit and is therefore divine or infinite, or the true God (contrasted with the false God of religious supernaturalism). "Identity in difference" is the basis for Hegel's subject-object identity dialectic, which uses the format in which the synthesis reveals that the antithesis is really the thesis in disguise:
Subject-object identity is also the basis for Hegel's "Observing Reason" and "Physiognomy-Phrenology" dialectic, the outer-inner dialectic. This dialectic contrasts the outer appearance of the observed "object" with its inner reality:
Hegel made the distinction between civil society and state in his Elements of the Philosophy of Right. In this work, civil society (Hegel used the term "bürgerliche Gesellschaft" though it is now referred to as Zivilgesellschaft in German to emphasize a more inclusive community) was a stage in the dialectical relationship that occurs between Hegel's perceived opposites, the macro-community of the state and the micro-community of the family. Broadly speaking, the term was split, like Hegel's followers, to the political left and right. On the left, it became the foundation for Karl Marx's civil society as an economic base; to the right, it became a description for all non-state aspects of society, including culture, society and politics. This liberal distinction between political society and civil society was followed by Alexis de Tocqueville. In fact, Hegel's distinctions as to what he meant by civil society are often unclear. For example, while it seems to be the case that he felt that a civil-society such as the German society in which he lived was an inevitable movement of the dialectic, he made way for the crushing of other types of "lesser" and not fully realized types of civil society, as these societies were not fully conscious or aware, as it were, as to the lack of progress in their societies. Thus, it was perfectly legitimate in the eyes of Hegel for a conqueror, such as Napoleon, to come along and destroy that which was not fully realized.
According to Hegel, "Heraclitus is the one who first declared the nature of the infinite and first grasped nature as in itself infinite, that is, its essence as process. The origin of philosophy is to be dated from Heraclitus. His is the persistent Idea that is the same in all philosophers up to the present day, as it was the Idea of Plato and Aristotle." For Hegel, Heraclitus's great achievements were to have understood the nature of the infinite, which for Hegel includes understanding the inherent contradictoriness and negativity of reality, and to have grasped that reality is becoming or process, and that "being" and "nothingness" are mere empty abstractions. According to Hegel, Heraclitus's "obscurity" comes from his being a true (in Hegel's terms "speculative") philosopher who grasped the ultimate philosophical truth and therefore expressed himself in a way that goes beyond the abstract and limited nature of common sense and is difficult to grasp by those who operate within common sense. Hegel asserted that in Heraclitus he had an antecedent for his logic: "... there is no proposition of Heraclitus which I have not adopted in my logic."
Hegel published four books during his lifetime: the Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller translation) or Phenomenology of Mind (Baillie translation), his account of the evolution of consciousness from sense-perception to absolute knowledge, published in 1807; the Science of Logic, the logical and metaphysical core of his philosophy, in three volumes, published in 1811, 1812, and 1816 (revised 1831); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, a summary of his entire philosophical system, which was originally published in 1816 and revised in 1827 and 1830; and the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, his political philosophy, published in 1820. In the latter, he criticized von Haller's reactionary work, which claimed that laws were not necessary. He also published some articles early in his career and during his Berlin period. A number of other works on the philosophy of history, religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were compiled from the lecture notes of his students and published posthumously. Hegel's thought is not just a philosophical system, but a system which knows about its own relationship to the rest of experience which is not philosophy, and knows above all that its own knowing cannot exhaust this relationship.
The French Revolution for Hegel constitutes the introduction of real individual political freedom into European societies for the first time in recorded history. But precisely because of its absolute novelty, it is also unlimited with regard to everything that preceded it: on the one hand the upsurge of violence required to carry out the revolution cannot cease to be itself, while on the other, it has already consumed its opponent. The revolution therefore has nowhere to turn but onto its own result: the hard-won freedom is consumed by a brutal Reign of Terror. History, however, progresses by learning from its mistakes: only after and precisely because of this experience can one posit the existence of a constitutional state of free citizens, embodying both the benevolent organizing power of rational government and the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality. Hegel's remarks on the French revolution led German poet Heinrich Heine to label him "The Orléans of German Philosophy".
There are views of Hegel's thought as a representation of the summit of early 19th-century Germany's movement of philosophical idealism. It would come to have a profound impact on many future philosophical schools, including schools that opposed Hegel's specific dialectical idealism—schools such as Existentialism, Karl Marx's dialectical materialism, historism, and British Idealism. Marx, indeed, was the only philosopher other than Paul Tillich to actually use thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectics in his own writing. His two-concepts-per-stage dialectics follow the exact pattern of Hegel's two-concepts-per-stage dialectics, in which the synthesis borrows one concept from the thesis and one from the antithesis. Marx's dialectics, however, take place in the material world whereas Hegel's take place in the world of ideas—the mind. Marx's principal dialectic reveals its Hegelian roots:
Hegel's influence was immense both within philosophy and in the other sciences. Throughout the 19th century many chairs of philosophy around Europe were held by Hegelians, and Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels—among many others—were all deeply influenced by, but also strongly opposed to, many of the central themes of Hegel's philosophy. After less than a generation, Hegel's philosophy was suppressed and even banned by the Prussian right-wing, and was firmly rejected by the left-wing in multiple official writings.
After the period of Bruno Bauer, Hegel's influence did not make itself felt again until the philosophy of British Idealism and the 20th century Hegelian Western Marxism that began with Georg Lukács. The mid-20th-century philosophical theology of Paul Tillich was heavily influenced by Hegel's thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectics. Like Hegel, Tillich was an atheist who covertly redefined God—he called his God "the God above the God of theism"—and who used thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectics extensively. Tillich labeled his thought "neo-dialectical" and "dialectical realism"; it has also been called "dialectical humanism." Tillich's ersatz God, humanity, was very nearly the same thing as Hegel's, which is essentially humanity (its mind is the human mind, and its most important “objects” are humans). Possibly the most basic of Tillich's dialectics is this one, where the synthesis again borrows one concept from the thesis and one from the antithesis:
The more recent movement of communitarianism has a strong Hegelian influence.
Some of Hegel's writing was intended for those with advanced knowledge of philosophy, although his "Encyclopedia" was intended as a textbook in a university course. Nevertheless, like many philosophers, Hegel assumed that his readers would be well-versed in Western philosophy, up to and including Descartes, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. For those wishing to read his work without this background, introductions to and commentaries about Hegel can contribute to comprehension, although the reader is faced with multiple interpretations of Hegel's writings from incompatible schools of philosophy. The German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno devoted an essay to the difficulty of reading Hegel and asserted that there are certain passages where it is impossible to decipher what Hegel meant. Difficulties within Hegel's language and thought are magnified for those reading Hegel in translation, since his philosophical language and terminology in German often do not have direct analogues in other languages. For example, the German word "Geist" has connotations of both "mind" and "spirit" in English. English translators have to use the "phenomenology of mind" or "the phenomenology of spirit" to render Hegel's "Phaenomenologie des Geistes", thus altering the original meaning. Hegel himself argued, in his "Science of Logic", that the German language was particularly conducive to philosophical thought and writing.
One especially difficult aspect of Hegel's work is his innovation in logic. In response to Immanuel Kant's challenge to the limits of pure reason, Hegel developed a radically new form of logic, which he called speculation, and which is today popularly—but incorrectly—called dialectics. The difficulty in reading Hegel was perceived in Hegel's own day, and persists into the 21st century. To understand Hegel fully requires paying attention to his critique of standard logic, such as the law of contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. Many philosophers who came after Hegel and were influenced by him, whether adopting or rejecting his ideas, did so without fully absorbing his new speculative or dialectical logic.
If one wanted to provide a big piece of the Hegel puzzle to the beginner, one might present the following statement from Part One of the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The Logic:
... a much misunderstood phenomenon in the history of philosophy — the refutation of one system by another, of an earlier by a later. Most commonly the refutation is taken in a purely negative sense to mean that the system refuted has ceased to count for anything, has been set aside and done for. Were it so, the history of philosophy would be, of all studies, most saddening, displaying, as it does, the refutation of every system which time has brought forth. Now although it may be admitted that every philosophy has been refuted, it must be in an equal degree maintained that no philosophy has been refuted. And that in two ways. For first, every philosophy that deserves the name always embodies the Idea: and secondly, every system represents one particular factor or particular stage in the evolution of the Idea. The refutation of a philosophy, therefore, only means that its barriers are crossed, and its special principle reduced to a factor in the completer principle that follows.
Hegel began to write in an obscure, esoteric, unintelligible manner after Fichte was removed from his professorship at Jena. Fichte had been falsely accused of writing atheistic philosophy. As explained earlier under the "Religion" heading, Hegel would have been doomed professionally if he had openly expressed the atheism that is, in effect, encrypted in his Phenomenology of Spirit. An earlier quotation from Solomon bears repeating: "Hegel really did have a secret, and . . . it has been well kept. The secret, abruptly stated, is that Hegel was an atheist. His 'Christianity' is nothing but . . . an elaborate subterfuge to protect his professional ambitions in the most religiously conservative country in northern Europe."
Some historians have spoken of Hegel's influence as represented by two opposing camps. The Right Hegelians, the allegedly direct disciples of Hegel at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, advocated a Protestant orthodoxy and the political conservatism of the post-Napoleon Restoration period. The Left Hegelians, also known as the Young Hegelians, interpreted Hegel in a revolutionary sense, leading to an advocation of atheism in religion and liberal democracy in politics.
In more recent studies, however, this paradigm has been questioned. No Hegelians of the period ever referred to themselves as "Right Hegelians"; that was a term of insult originated by David Strauss, a self-styled Left Hegelian. Critiques of Hegel offered from the Left Hegelians radically diverted Hegel's thinking into new directions and eventually came to form a disproportionately large part of the literature on and about Hegel.
Twentieth-century interpretations of Hegel were mostly shaped by British Idealism, logical positivism, Marxism, and Fascism. The Italian Fascist Giovanni Gentile, according to Benedetto Croce, "...holds the honor of having been the most rigorous neo-Hegelian in the entire history of Western philosophy and the dishonor of having been the official philosopher of Fascism in Italy." However, since the fall of the USSR, a new wave of Hegel scholarship arose in the West, without the preconceptions of the prior schools of thought. Walter Jaeschke and Otto Pöggeler in Germany, as well as Peter Hodgson and Howard Kainz in America, are notable for their recent contributions to post-USSR thinking about Hegel.
In the last half of the 20th century, Hegel's philosophy underwent a major renaissance. This was due to (a) the rediscovery and reevaluation of Hegel as a possible philosophical progenitor of Marxism by philosophically oriented Marxists, (b) a resurgence of the historical perspective that Hegel brought to everything, and (c) an increasing recognition of the importance of his dialectical method. The book that did the most to reintroduce Hegel into the Marxist canon was perhaps Georg Lukács' History and Class Consciousness. This sparked a renewed interest in Hegel reflected in the work of Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Raya Dunayevskaya, Alexandre Kojève and Gotthard Günther among others. The Hegel renaissance also highlighted the significance of Hegel's early works, i.e., those written before the Phenomenology of Spirit. The direct and indirect influence of Kojève's lectures and writings (on the Phenomenology of Spirit, in particular) mean that it is not possible to understand most French philosophers from Jean-Paul Sartre to Jacques Derrida without understanding Hegel. The Swiss theologian Hans Küng has also advanced contemporary scholarship in Hegel studies.
Beginning in the 1960s, Anglo-American Hegel scholarship has attempted to challenge the traditional interpretation of Hegel as offering a metaphysical system: this has also been the approach of Z.A. Pelczynski and Shlomo Avineri. This view, sometimes referred to as the 'non-metaphysical option', has had a decided influence on many major English language studies of Hegel in the past 40 years. U.S. neoconservative political theorist Francis Fukuyama's controversial book The End of History and the Last Man was heavily influenced by Alexandre Kojève. Among modern scientists, the physicist David Bohm, the mathematician William Lawvere, the logician Kurt Gödel and the biologist Ernst Mayr have been interested in Hegel's philosophical work.
Late 20th-century literature in Western Theology that is friendly to Hegel includes works by such writers as Walter Kaufmann (1966), Dale M. Schlitt (1984), Theodore Geraets (1985), Philip M. Merklinger (1991), Stephen Rocker (1995), and Cyril O'Regan (1995). "Friendly to Hegel," however, often seems to mean nothing more than agreement with Hegel's atheism. Agreement with Hegel's ruminations about Spirit, his dialectical interpretation of history, his incomprehensible system of logic, and his preference for authoritarian rather than democratic government is lacking.
Recently, two prominent American philosophers, John McDowell and Robert Brandom (sometimes, half-seriously, referred to as the Pittsburgh Hegelians), have produced philosophical works exhibiting a marked Hegelian influence. Each is avowedly influenced by the late Wilfred Sellars, also of Pittsburgh, who referred to his seminal work, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, as a series of "incipient Méditations Hegeliennes" (in homage to Edmund Husserl's treatise, Meditations Cartesiennes).
Beginning in the 1990s, after the fall of the USSR, a fresh reading of Hegel took place in the West. For these scholars, fairly well represented by the Hegel Society of America and in cooperation with German scholars such as Otto Pöggeler and Walter Jaeschke, Hegel's works should be read without preconceptions. Marx plays a minor role in these new readings, and some contemporary scholars have suggested that Marx's interpretation of Hegel is irrelevant to a proper reading of Hegel. (However, Marx's recognition of Hegel's two-concepts-per-stage dialectical format, and his copying of that format in his own thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectics, is extremely important in establishing that Hegel really used thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectics, something denied in an influential article by Mueller  and by several subsequent Hegel interpreters who explicitly endorsed Mueller's poorly reasoned idea.) Some American philosophers associated with this movement include Lawrence Stepelevich, Rudolf Siebert, Richard Dien Winfield, and Theodore Geraets.
Criticism of Hegel has been widespread in the 19th and the 20th centuries; a diverse range of individuals including Arthur Schopenhauer, Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, Eric Voegelin and A. J. Ayer have challenged Hegelian philosophy from a variety of perspectives. Among the first to take a critical view of Hegel's system was the 19th Century German group known as the Young Hegelians, which included Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and their followers. In Britain, the Hegelian British Idealism school (members of which included Francis Herbert Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, and, in the United States, Josiah Royce) was challenged and rejected by analytic philosophers G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell; Russell, in particular, considered "almost all" of Hegel's doctrines to be false. Regarding Hegel's interpretation of history, Russell commented, "Like other historical theories, it required, if it was to be made plausible, some distortion of facts and considerable ignorance." Logical positivists such as Alfred Jules Ayer and the Vienna Circle criticized both Hegelian philosophy and its supporters, such as F. H. Bradley.
Hegel's contemporary Schopenhauer was particularly critical, and wrote of Hegel's philosophy as "a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking" Kierkegaard criticized Hegel's 'absolute knowledge' unity Scientist Ludwig Boltzmann also criticized the obscure complexity of Hegel's works, referring to Hegel's writing as an "unclear thoughtless flow of words". In a similar vein, Robert Pippin wrote that Hegel had "the ugliest prose style in the history of the German language." Bertrand Russell stated in his Unpopular Essays and A History of Western Philosophy that Hegel was "the hardest to understand of all the great philosophers." Karl Popper wrote that "there is so much philosophical writing (especially in the Hegelian school) which may justly be criticized as meaningless verbiage."
Karl Popper also makes the claim in the second volume of The Open Society and Its Enemies that Hegel's system formed a thinly veiled justification for the absolute rule of Frederick William III, and that Hegel's idea of the ultimate goal of history was to reach a state approximating that of 1830s Prussia. Popper further proposed that Hegel's philosophy served not only as an inspiration for communist and fascist totalitarian governments of the 20th century, whose dialectics allow for any belief to be construed as rational simply if it could be said to exist. This view of Hegel as an apologist of state power and precursor of 20th century totalitarianism was criticized by Herbert Marcuse in his Reason and Revolution, on the grounds that Hegel was not an apologist for any state or form of authority simply because it existed: for Hegel the state must always be rational. Other scholars, e.g. Walter Kaufmann and Shlomo Avineri, have also criticized Popper's theories about Hegel. Isaiah Berlin listed Hegel as one of the six architects of modern authoritarianism who undermined liberal democracy, along with Rousseau, Helvetius, Fichte, Saint-Simon, and Maistre.
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