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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
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Georg W. F. Hegel was not an existentialist, but without Hegel it is possible the works of Søren Kierkegaard would not be as well-known or influential. Kierkegaard wrote in opposition to Hegel — using Hegel as a symbol of all things wrong with classic Cartesian philosophy.

Existentialism, like most Continental philosophy, owes a great deal to the works of Hegel. How philosophers read and apply Hegel has resulted in the “Hegelian” left, right, and even a centrist application of Hegel.

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NOTE: Citations are not in MLA or APA format to prevent “borrowing” from The Existential Primer. Full lists of citations appear at the end of each page. Present tense is used when referencing a published work, while past tense is favored on these pages because the major figures are… dead. Inline citations take the form (Author p. page) with no year. A title is included if there might be confusion as to the work. Quoted long passages appear indented with the <blockquote> tag and cited in the format:

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Beethoven was also born in 1770. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries marked a great period in Germany’s cultural history.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born 27 August 1770, in Stuttgart, Swabia. Hegel's father, Georg Ludwig Hegel, worked in the department of finance for the Duchy of Württemberg. Hegel was the oldest of three children, and therefore bore a great deal of responsibility. Hegel's mother died when he was just eleven, resulting in even greater responsibilities for the young Hegel.Hegel

His brother, Ludwig, would eventually serve in Napoleon's army. Christiane, Georg's younger sister, came to depend upon him emotionally in place of a parent. This attachment might have resulted in an emotional breakdown. According to Hegel, Christiane was jealous of other women in his life. When Hegel eventually married, Christiane developed "hysteria" and resigned from her work as a governess. In 1820, Christiane was committed to an asylum for one year. Once released, Christiane's relationship with Hegel remained strained. Only three months after Hegel's death, Christiane drowned herself.

Georg Ludwig Hegel instilled an anti-Catholic bias in his children; he was a Protestant. The Hegel family had fled persecution by Catholics in Austria a generation earlier. Deep divisions between Lutheran Protestants and Catholics made Austria dangerous for Protestants. In Germany, the Hegels rose in social standing, which also dictated one son was expected to enter the clergy. Georg Ludwig assumed his eldest son would be a minister.

Like many of his contemporaries from the emerging middle class, Hegel was fluent in Latin, Greek, German, and could read several European languages. In fact, his mother had schooled him in Latin for several years. Hegel developed a passion for reading as a boy; he took notes on all he read. At the age of fifteen Hegel even started a journal of his readings. In these journals, he would record his own ideas and theories. Unfortunately, Hegel did not always utilize these notes, preferring to quote sources from memory. As a result of trying to memorize "simply everything," many of his essays contain erroneous citations -- but most are minor flaws no affecting the underlying themes.

Hegel enrolled at the University of Tübingen in 1788 as a student of theology. As a student, Hegel met Friedrich Schelling. Schelling, five years younger than Hegel, was also a student of theology. One thing the two students shared was an interest in philosophy, especially Greek philosophers.

In 1789, several students at the university formed a political club of sorts. Hegel joined this group, primarily to engage in the discussions concerning the French Revolution and the concepts of freedom. There is some irony in this, as Hegel's works later gave rise to Karl Marx. While a member of this group, Hegel formed ties to several Jacobin secret societies, which he considered "ruthlessly suppressed" by authorities. Throughout his life, Hegel celebrates the French Revolution -- Bastille Day became a personal holiday for Hegel.

Hegel completed his studies in 1793. The records indicate he was not considered exceptional by the professors, though sufficiently skilled to work as a Lutheran clergyman. According to historian Will Durant:

He was graduated from Tübingen in 1793 with a certificate stating that he was a man of good parts and character, well up in theology and philology, but with no ability in philosophy.
- The Story of Philosophy; Durant, p. 239

After graduating from the university, Hegel befriended J. W. von Goethe, the German literary giant. The two corresponded frequently, and Hegel also visited Goethe on many occasions. Hegel often wrote in praise of Goethe's genius. Goethe was a symbol of German civilization for Hegel and many others. While Hegel might have admired the French Jacobins, he came to think of Germany as a superior collection of states.

Many university graduates found early work as tutors. Hegel followed this tradition, becoming a resident tutor for three years in the Swiss city of Berne. Carl Friedrich Steiger von Tschugg, Hegel's employer, was a Berne patrician. As a result, Hegel was given a unique view of politics, something from which he had been shielded in parent's home. So disgusted was Hegel by politics that he wrote:

The intrigues among cousins and aunts at our princely courts are as nothing compared to the combinations here. The father nominates his son, or the son-in-law who brings in the biggest marriage portion, et cetera. To get to know an aristocratic constitution, you just has to spend a winter here before the Easter election.
- from a letter to Schelling, 16 April 1795

It became clear to Hegel elections were not about the public good, but rather the good of a ruling class. Hegel began to wonder if the promise of the French Revolution could never be realized -- the people were not able to understand how politicians manipulated public sentiments. From his three years in the con Tschugg household, Hegel carried a cynicism. Worse, he began to experience bouts of depression.

Hegel's depression might have a number of explanations, but the manifestation was clear: he doubted his beliefs, his intellect, and his ability to establish a career. Lloyd Spencer writes:

He was not helped either by comparing what seemed like his own slow progress with the dazzling brilliance of his young friend Schelling, already busy developing an idealist philosophical standpoint.
- Introducing Hegel; Spencer, p. 23

With great relief, Hegel move to Frankfurt am Main in October 1796. There he joined his former university roommate, Friedrich Hölderlin. While now recognized as a great poet and scholar of Greek tragedies, Hölderlin was considered a radical in his time. He held unpopular political beliefs, non-traditional views on religion, and was prone to volatility. While Hegel remained his friend for many years, Hölderlin's emotional troubles eventually were too much for Hegel, who was dealing with his own emotional problems and those of his sister.

In 1803, Schelling wrote to inform Hegel their classmate had suffered a mental collapse. Hegel refused to assist his former roommate and never mentioned Hölderlin again. It is likely Hegel was not demonstrating a lack of compassion, but rather a recognition of his own frail emotional nature. Hölderlin apparently suffered from schizophrenia, spending the last three decades of his life under care. Amazingly, he continued to write, though unable to communicate with visitors. Hegel knew of his friends demise, but felt unable to assist.

Hölderlin had introduced Hegel to Immanuel Kant's works, forever changing Hegel's works. Kant forever changed the complexion of German philosophy, becoming one of the most important philosophers in world history. Kant developed what he named "critical philosophy." Many in Germany, including Hölderlin and Hegel, viewed Kant as a revolutionary. Some even hoped a political revolution would result due to Kant's popularity. Kant's three "Critiques" are among his most influential works. The "Critiques" are Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Critique of Practical Reason (1786), and Critique of Judgement (1790). Kant left a deep impression upon Hegel -- and many others. The successors of Kant were known as the German Idealists, including Hegel, Schelling, and Fichte.

Hegel's father died in 1799, leaving his son a small inheritance. Apparently, the inheritance was not efficiently utilized; in January 1801, Hegel arrived in the seat of German philosophy, Jena. He was poor and disheartened, lacking a career, money, and recognition. Schelling was a professor of philosophy at the University of Jena and had published five books. Hegel's tendency to measure himself against his friend compounded his self-doubts. When Hegel was able to secure lecture's at the university, it was only as an unsalaried lecturer.

Schelling was forced to leave Jena in 1803, after falling in love with the wife of a well-known scholar. Schelling, at the age of 28, married Caroline Schlegel, who was 40. The Schelling's moved to Würzburg, where he spent time studying and writing. Hegel remained in Jena and struggled until 1807, when he was finally offered a salary by the university.

Early on 13 October 1806, Napoleon invaded Jena, having bombarded the city for most of the night. Hegel had romanticized Napoleon, and wrote of the invasion:

I saw the Emperor -- that World Soul -- riding out to reconnoiter the city; 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....

Napoleon represented France, which seemed more advanced politically to Hegel. Instead of viewing Napoleon as a dictator, Hegel saw the promise of new rights and the end of feudalism. But Hegel's dream would not be realized. While Napoleon marched toward defeat in Prussia, Hegel's personal life also collapsed.

Hegel's son, Ludwig, was born 5 February 1807. Ludwig's mother was the wife of his landlord, indicating an affair during 1806.  Less than three weeks later, Hegel accepted the editorship of a Catholic daily newspaper in Bavaria. The newspaper, Bamberger Zeitung, supported Napoleon, as did much of Bavaria. Hegel found himself in a good position, but it was a brief tenure.

In 1808, an associate of Hegel's found him a position as the headmaster at a gymnasium, a classical school for boys. Appointed Rector in 1808, Hegel would remain at the post until 1816. Because Hegel had also been a tutor of young students, he developed an insight into education:

Serious study of the ancient classics in the best introduction to philosophy. But perhaps not a road open to everyone.

With a stable career -- and income -- Hegel married Marie von Tucker, nearly 20 years his junior, in 1811. A year later, Marie gave birth to a daughter, who did not survive. By 1816 the Hegel's had two young sons; Hegel decided to also arranged for his illegitimate son, Ludwig, to join the family household. Apparently the relationship between Ludwig and his father was strained. Ludwig eventually moved to the East Indies.

As an instructor, Hegel had time to write a three volume work on the study and teaching of philosophy. Published in 1812, 1813, and 1816, Science of Logic would seal Hegel's place in philosophy. The massive, abstract work catapulted Hegel to the forefront of German academia. To his satisfaction, Hegel was offered positions at several major universities, including Berlin, Heidelberg, and Erlangen. Berlin's Minister of Education sent an observer to Hegel's classroom only to find Hegel's lectures marked by "false pathos, shouting, and roaring, little jokes, digressions... arrogant self-praise...." The University of Berlin decided to delay their offer, while university officials asked Hegel to carefully consider his presentations. Hegel accepted a post at Heidelberg.

The university required professors to base lectures upon recognized texts. Hegel, of course, decided he would write a text for the course and teach his own works. Published in 1817, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline is considered the most complete overview of Hegel's philosophy. The text is only an outline, intended for students attending his lectures, but it stands alone. The work apparently changed opinions in Berlin -- Hegel was asked to join the university staff by the newly appointed Prussian Minister for Religious, Educational, and Medical Affairs, Baron Karl Sigmund von Altenstein. Hegel now found himself involved in politics, at least indirectly.

In 1821, von Altenstein appointed Hegel to the Royal Academic Board of Examiners in Brandenberg. The board was expected to reform the Prussian educational system. Schools were becoming more humanistic, with less emphasis on religion. Hegel enjoyed his role in reforming an educational system he had earlier criticized. He believed changing the education of young men would eventually change Prussia and Germany.

During the last decade of his life, Hegel tried to refine his theories. He delivered many lectures and tried to expand his philosophy in various essays and texts. It became increasingly clear the system of philosophy he had developed was both too abstract and too rigid in many ways. Hegel continued to lecture until the end of his life, but the lectures were notoriously disorganized.

Hegel had become absent-minded near the end of his life. Anecdotes abound, including one story of Hegel arriving for a lecture wearing only one shoe. Yet the real decline in his later years was marked by a hypocrisy: Hegel came to believe his theories were "truths," able to withstand time. This belief contradicts Hegel's own theory that all thoughts decay, replaced by new ideas. It is clear Hegel came to believe he was the most influential philosopher of his time.

In 1831, a cholera epidemic swept across Germany. Hegel was ill for only one day. He died quietly, in his sleep, on 13 November.

1770 August 27 Born at No. 53 Eberhardstrasse in Stuttgart.
1781 Mother dies.
1788 Enrolls in the Protestant Theological Foundation (Stift) at the University of Tübingen to become a clergyman.
1789 The French Revolution, which shaped Hegel's political views.
1791 Spring Hegel and other young radicals plant a "Freedom Tree" outside of Tübingen.
1793 Hired by Captain Carl Friedrich Steiger von Tschugg to tutor the captain's three children. Hegel remains for three years.
1796 October Moves to Frankfurt as a private tutor.
1799 Father dies, leaving an inheritance.
1801 January Moves to Jena, where he is to be a lecturer at the University. Hegel is not paid a salary until 1807.
1801 Publishes first full-length text, Difference Between the Philosophical Systems of Fichte and Schelling. Hegel supports his friend, Schelling.
1806 October 12 Napoleon invades Jena.
1807 February 5 Hegel's illegitimate son Ludwig is born -- to Christiana Burkhardt, the wife of his landlord. She receives support from Hegel for the child.
1807 February 20 Accepts the post of editor at the Bamburg Zeitung, a Catholic newspaper in Bavaria.
1808 Moves to Nuremburg as Rector and Professor of Philosophy at the Gymnasium for Boys. Hegel served as headmaster until 1816.
1811 Marries Marie von Tucker, the daughter of a respected Nuremberg family.
1816 Hegel brings Ludwig, his son, to join the family in Nuremberg. Hegel has two young sons by his wife.
1816 July 30 Hegel is offered a post in Heidelberg, his first full-time academic post.
1817 Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline is published. This work marks the unification of Hegel's philosophical system.
1821 Appointed by Baron Karl Sigmund von Altenstein to the Royal Academic Board of Examiners.
1831 November 13 Dies of cholera.



One need look no further than Georg W. F. Hegel's first major work, Phenomenology, to understand his influence upon existentialism. Søren Kierkegaard might have made a career of attacking Hegel's theories, but at the core the two shared an important theory: Terror is the result of Freedom asserted abstractly. What Hegel named "Terror" is "Anxiety" in Kierkegaard's works. Freedom results in responsibility -- often more than most people can endure. Since Hegel believed Terror was undesirable, he theorized it was necessary to remove abstractions from everything, especially Freedom. Finding a context for Freedom would enable society to overcome the Terror.

The Hegelian System was Hegel's response to what he came to view as the philosophical abstraction of everything, both real and phenomenal. According to Hegel, the philosophers of his time had so abstracted the physical world that nothing was left. Hegel rejected this line of reasoning, concluding in contrast that "What is real is rational -- what is rational is real." For Hegel, reason and science could produce philosophical truths. He made it his task to reverse trends in philosophy away from abstraction and to the concrete.

It helps to understand that Hegel viewed the phenomenal (those things which can be sensed by man or instruments of man) and the conceptual (thoughts and ideas) as equal parts to existence. Without concepts, we cannot explain the phenomenal. Without the phenomenal, we have no need to explain anything.

Hegel believed that by studying the relationships of concrete objects, which he held to be inter-related throughout the universe, genuine "rational" truths would be discovered. Hegel taught that abstraction inherently leads to the isolation of parts from the whole until no further isolation is possible. Eventually, abstraction leads to the point where physical items and phenomenal concepts have no value. For example, the atoms that make a man are just atoms by themselves, with no inherent value. It is the whole that must be evaluated. Isolated "moments" may be recorded accurately, according to the Hegelian System, but these moments mean nothing without context.

This is the meaning of reality for Hegel -- that reality is the whole truth, grasped by our rational concepts. Reality is the absolute truth, it is the totality and synthesis of all partial and limited truth. Reality, properly understood, is the totality of truth of absolute mind. This breathtaking vision of absolute total reality is linked to the method by which it is known. This is the famous method of dialectic....
- From Socrates to Sartre; Lavine, p. 210

The idea that the whole is more valuable to understand than the parts came to be known as the organic theory of truth / reality. Hegel made truth dynamic -- an ever-changing collection of related events. Hegel came to accept the belief that a logical order existed to the universe and its evolution. He named this logic the "Welt Geist" -- World Spirit. The development of all things, according to Hegel, is directed by the Welt Geist.

Hegelian Lexicon

Before delving further in Hegel's philosophy, it helps to understand his lexicon. Hegel was influenced by the increased popularity of science during his lifetime, as reflected by the language he used to describe his theories.

The tendency of philosophical schools to reduce items, through repeated reduction and isolation, to "nothingness" -- parts without inherent meaning.
The act of changing or evolving. "Becoming is the fundamental feature of all existence."
Isolated facts or factors, individually meaningless without context.
A set of related facts or factors; the smallest meaningful groupings.
The act of finding a new concept via the comparison of two opposites. Hegel's negation is active dialectical thinking.
Perceptible, measurable via human observation or with human-designed instruments.
Dealing with ideas or concepts.
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
A concept, its opposite, and the resulting "solution" to the contradiction.
Welt Geist
The World Spirit; the guiding reason behind the evolutionary progress of the universe and mankind.

Hegel and Kant

Hegel formulated much of his works in parallel to those of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schelling. These men thought of themselves as completing the work of Immanuel Kant. Before attempting to understand Hegel, one must be familiar with the foundation of his philosophy, the "Critiques" of Immanuel Kant:

Critique of Pure Reason, 1781
Is "scientific" knowledge possible? Kant concludes we can only "know" what we experience for ourselves. All other information is accepted on a basis of trust, but it differs from personal knowledge. Subjectivity taints all knowledge, according to Kant. In effect, there is a division between what we can know (reason) and what we think we know (faith).
Critique of Practical Reason, 1786
Can one know for certain what is "good" and moral? There are two competing centers of morality, according to Kant. The State needs to define right from wrong in order to maintain a society. At times, these laws might conflict with prevailing beliefs. Kant divides what can be enforced with law (the State) from what we feel is right (the Church).
Critique of Judgement (or Judgment), 1790
Is there "true" or "pure" art? Aesthetics have been addressed since Plato as a matter for philosophers to ponder. Unfortunately, it isn't clear that any philosopher, including Kant, clearly defines what is beautiful.

One notices Kant defined exact divisions between the spiritual and the logical. This troubled Hegel, who thought these divisions were fluid, not fixed. For example, Kant believed Church and State had no reason to overlap in a society, serving two different functions. While they might compete at times, Kant thought this provided a balance of power. Hegel, however, did not think it was possible for a human to split the spiritual and the political. As we see today, people use their religious beliefs  as a basis for political decisions. Hegel argued people cannot draw exact lines, as philosophers had done.

Hegelian Dialectic

If one phrase is associated with Hegel, it is "Being and Nothingness." A translation of the original statement is "Being and Naught are empty abstractions." As noted in the above lexicon, existence, according to Hegel, was defined by change -- the act of becoming. When something or someone ceases to change, the object or person ceases to exist. Other philosophers, notably Sartre, built upon the idea that becoming who we will be was what makes mankind unique. Being (phenomenal existence) and nothingness (phenomenal absence) are thesis and antithesis, in the Hegelian Dialectic.

Since the Greeks, dialectic has been the tool of philosophers. At first, dialectic simply meant the opposite elements forming all reality: earth / air, fire / water. Socrates refined the dialectic to mean an argument designed to find the truth -- a form of civil debate meant to challenge conventional thinking. Socratic method was the practice of dialectic, turning an opponents words inwards in contradiction. When the opponent realized he was trapped by a contradiction, Socrates would reveal the hidden truth. Of course, one had to accept Socrates as the final authority on truth. Plato extended the dialectic, theorizing anyone could discover a truth by studying arguments and contradictions. Removing all contradictions through logic, Plato believed true forms would be revealed: perfect, absolute concepts.

Hegel believed that only by comparing an object or concept to its opposite could we understand the original object. This is a dynamic process, since all things are changing or they do not exist. The comparison of a thesis to an antithesis results in the discovery of an "average" or "mean" truth, known as the synthesis. The set of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis was the primary Hegelian System Triad. (Note: Lloyd Spencer writes Hegel never used the terms "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis" in his works, though other sources do attribute these terms to Hegel.)

The Absolute

(Idea, Reason, God, Welt Geist)

Triad of the Absolute

(Approaching Truth)
Thesis Antithesis Synthesis
Idea in Itself
Idea for Itself or
Idea outside Itself
Mind / Spirit
Idea in and for Itself
Triad of Logic Triad of Nature Triad of Mind
Thesis: Being
Antithesis: Essence
Synthesis: Notion or Conception
Thesis: Mechanics
Antithesis: Physics
Synthesis: Organics
Thesis: Subjective Mind
Antithesis: Objective Mind
Synthesis: Absolute Mind

Logic, also known as ideas or essences, precede the phenomenal world -- nature. This theory was later described as "Essence precedes existence" by Jean-Paul Sartre. Understanding logic, the thesis of the Absolute Truth, is the goal of the Hegelian Dialectic.

Nature is the phenomenal form of a concept. According to Hegel, Nature was the physical expression of God's ideas. Consider: The Creator had to develop a plan before creating. The creations are nature, the plan is logic.

Mind or Spirit is the synthesis of Logic and Nature. By measuring and understanding the phenomenal world, we can hypothesize about the underlying logic of creation. We attempt to understand creation as individuals, as a society, and as a mixture of the two. It is this mixture of individual and group demands that produces the Absolute Mind, the closest human beings come to understanding the greater logic.

Hegel's dialectic process moves from the thesis to the antithesis. When considering a concept, Hegel's model requires the philosopher to determine the opposite concept. The final step is the determination of a synthesis between or derived from the two conflicting concepts. Of course it would be simple if the synthesis represented an ending point, but Hegel's triad is a continuum. A synthesis becomes the thesis in a new triad. According to professor T. Z. Lavine, the three functions of synthesis are:

  1. Cancel the conflict between thesis and antithesis.
  2. Preserve the element of truth within the thesis and antithesis.
  3. Transcend the opposition and sublimate the conflict into a higher truth.

It was Hegel's contention that the Absolute Truth was a collection of all possible triads in the universe. Mankind could discover truth only if mankind could recognize every phenomenal triad that existed. Since this was not possible, Hegel concluded than mankind could never attain knowledge of Absolute Truth. It was the quest for this Absolute Truth (the Welt Geist) that Hegel considered essential to the evolution of mankind.

Hegel and Christianity

At the close of the eighteenth century, religion, the Church -- be it Protestant or Catholic, was a major influence influence throughout Europe. One can understand the reaction to Hegel's works on faith in this context. His first major essay was Life of Jesus, a treatment of Christ as a teacher. Hegel addresses the message of Jesus, apart from any supernatural powers. It was an attempt to give greater meaning to Christ's message, but some viewed the work as an attack on religion.

Undeterred, Hegel's next work on religion, The Positivity of Christian Religion, was published in 1795. Hegel took a simple Christian idea, that the meaning of The Law is more important than the letter of The Law, and compared this to modern Christianity. Hegel noted that Jesus broke the letter of The Law in the New Testament when the ends were justified. If Christ could disregard The Law in order to help those in need, when should Christians decide between the rules of the Church and what is right? Even laws meant to help mankind can become problematic in some instances.

The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, published in 1799, tried to resolve the conflict between Jesus and Jewish law. Hegel presents Jesus as a tragic figure, struggling against laws which no longer meet the needs of mankind. Some critics have described Hegel's treatment of Christ as a "Greek" hero. It is likely, since Hegel held Greek culture to be superior in many ways, that his tendency was to view Christ in terms of Greek ideals.

Political Theories

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries are marked by political instability and conflicting political theories. Hegel contributed a great deal to the shaping of political theory, especially the formation of Communism by Karl Marx. In Hegel's works we find two opposing views of the State: the State as Absolute Power and the State as inhumane.

Most radical was Hegels' condemnation of the State for restraining freedom. In First Programme for a System of German Idealism, co-authored with Schelling, Hegel seems to be encouraging revolt against the State:

...the state is something purely mechanical -- and there is no idea of a machine. Only what is an object of freedom may be called 'idea.' Therefore we must transcend the state! For every state must treat free men as cogs in a machine. And this is precisely what should not happen; hence the state must perish.

It is easy to recognize existentialism's emphasis upon freedom in the preceding passage. Because as an end goal communism promises to end the State, it is easy to see how Marx's theories were based upon some of the opinions expressed by Hegel.

If the State were to survive, however, it must be viewed as serving a higher power.

Hegel considered the State a symbol the Absolute Truth. He held that the State should be worshipped as the will of God. Furthermore, he suggested that the ideal form of government was a constitutional monarchy. While placing limits upon the monarch, thereby preventing a tyranny, it allows a single person to act for the good of the State. A constitution codifies the will of the people and the rights of the individual. By melding the "I" and the "We" into a common set of principals, the constitution represents the Absolute Mind -- as close to Absolute Truth as humans can be. The monarch is limited to actions in accord with divine logic, Hegel concluded.

Phenomenlogy of Spirit, 1806 - 1807

During the summer of 1803, Hegel announced he would compose a systematic approach to philosophy. It was not until 1806 that Hegel had completed the first portion of this work. Titled the System of Science, Part One: Phenomenology of Spirit, the work was Hegel's first major text, in comparison to previous shorter works. Hegel biographer Lloyd Spencer states the work "is without doubt one of the strangest books ever written." What many find troubling is the book purports to present logical approach to philosophy, while the text meanders in an almost religious nature.

The Phenomenology, as the work is commonly known, is a history or biography of society and human intellectual development. Hegel theorized that since each generation of humans built upon the knowledge of the previous due to generational overlap, it was logical to assume spiritual and philosophical development increased in a similar fashion. As a result, each new generation advances philosophically closer to Absolute Truth.

Hegel develops this theme in his masterpiece, The Phenomenology of Spirit, which tries to understand the human spirit of the present time by looking back at its development, at its roots in the past. The Phenomenology of Spirit, presents a biography, not of a particular person, but of humanity over the long centuries as it develops, grows, matures in its striving, valuing, and philosophizing.
- Lavine, p. 214

Hegel describes the philosophical journey of individuals as both a ladder and a series of circles. One might conclude the journey of a philosophy student is like climbing a spiral staircase, each level depending upon the previous. Not only does each individual build upon past knowledge, but so does the greater mass of humanity. Each generation of philosophers learns from the previous. Much of this learning occurs in dialectic, according to Hegel, though philosophers might not have recognized the process earlier.

...Each philosophy in the history of the human spirit, when it is reflected upon and lived with, reveals its own limitations, shows itself to be only a partial truth, one-sided, distorted, inadequate. As a result, each philosophy is unstable, tipsy, and passes over dialectically into an opposite viewpoint which presents the other side of the issue, basing itself upon what the first philosophy left out. But in time this opposing viewpoint will also be seen to be limited, partial, and one-sided in its negation of the first philosophy, and a new viewpoint will emerge which will synthesize the two opposing philosophies into a more complete truth.
- Lavine, p. 214

One can now, with the assistance of Hegel, view the Hegelian System Triad of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis in action as a historical force. Each thesis is the previous generation's synthesis, so each new school of philosophy approaches closer to the Absolute Truth. It might not be possible to determine the original thesis -- or it might be. Some followers of Hegel have theorized the final thesis would be the same as the original thesis: the meaning of life lost to mankind but known by the Creator. In effect, philosophy is the process of attempting to find an original purpose.

Hegel's philosophy embodies the memory of humanity as it pieces together what has been left dismembered in fragments. It is humanity struggling to take possession of the totality of its own past by seeing the story of humankind's self-realization as a significant whole.
- Spencer, p. 58

Hegel describes a duality of consciousness, both within a society and for the individual. There is what has preceded the present, making a person or society what it is. There is also the present, which is unique and stands alone. Self-consciousness presents another duality. Alone, a person has no input data upon which to form an evaluation of his or her self. Yet we dislike being judged by others, since we recognize we can change who we are. In other words, while we are influenced by our past, we are free to change. Others utilize our past actions to judge us, we need those judgments to compare ourselves to expectations, and we demand recognition of the now -- which might be a complete break with past tendencies.

Master and Slave

According to Hegel, humans desire mastery over objects, creatures, each other, and their own beings. The mastery of objects is the lowest level of mastery, since even a child can possess and control an object, such as a toy. Creatures require more skill to master; one cannot simply command a horse of dog to obey -- a trainer must be skilled. The mastery of other humans demands yet more of an individual.

But the negative, death-dealing attitude which human self-consciousness takes toward objects runs into trouble when the object is not a sirloin steak but another human being. The desire of the self with regard to objects which are other human beings remains the same: We desire to master them. The principle of negation is ever at work within the self, which desires to negate the other person he sees before him, to cancel, annul, overcome, destroy, and kill the other. But the other self has the same attitude, and seeks to kill the first self. Each self seeks to assert its own selfhood by killing the other.
- Lavine, p. 220

To explain the conflict within the self for consciousness, the need to be alone while receiving input, Hegel used a parable: the master and the slave. Two men encounter each other, each viewing the other as an obstacle in life. A battle ensues, as compromise is not possible. Eventually, one man submits to the other, becoming a slave. What the conqueror does not realize is that he is now defined by the slave. Of course, when the master realizes the slave evaluates him, the result is a sense of alienation. Hegel theorized the slave would find himself through his works and deeds, which give a slave value. In Hegel's model the slave is superior by nature -- he finds value in his existence by witnessing the products of that existence. The master is left to attempt to define himself, without any external value. In life, each person is both a slave and a master.

Hegel argues that I cannot know myself in isolation. I know that I am a self because I see you looking at me, responding to me, as a self.
- Lavine, p. 221

If one requires others, as Sartre also believed, then humans face a dilemma: our desire to conquer others threatens our own consciousness. Since killing all others is not possible, nor is it desirable, humans compromise and establish societies. These societies all feature a master-slave relationship. Some one or some group has authority over the actions of another group. This oppressed group is actually more self-aware than the masters of a society, Hegel theorized. Because he is stripped of external independence, the slave must develop an internalized measure of self-worth. Marxism draws heavily upon this ideal: oppressed people are closer to knowing the truth about the nature of mankind. Some suggest the master makes a terrible sacrifice on behalf of the slaves -- the master becomes alienated while organizing society. The view of the master would depend upon one's political beliefs. In Hegel's philosophy, the greatest struggle is for recognition of the self by the self.

True Mastery

The mastery of the self is a higher form of philosophical awareness than mastery of others. There are steps to self-awareness, which Hegel outlined in The Phenomenology. Hegel organized the stages of philosophical growth into fourteen steps. The following table, based upon Lloyd Spencer's Introducing Hegel, examines the steps in order of first to "highest-level" of philosophical truth -- Absolute Knowledge.

14 Stages of the Journey
(Phenomenology of Spirit "Stations")


Awareness of the World and Others

1. Sense-Certainty "Here and now" sense of what is around the individual. As a child, humans accept what they are told by others as truth. Slowly, we begin to rely upon our own senses, filtering out information that does not agree with phenomena we observe directly.

Eventually, we recognize patters. We use these patterns to predict future observations.
2. Perception Complete input of the senses, which can include false information.
3. Understanding Recognizing patterns and order within observations of the world.


Awareness of Self

4. Certainty of Self Struggle for recognition and freedom, from others and then the self. Once confident of our ability to analyze phenomena, we want others to recognize our sentience. 


Development of Logic

5. Recognizing Reason Observation of nature and the self, struggling to determine relationships. Detecting patterns naturally leads to searching for the logic or natural laws behind these patterns. Eventually, we come to view the self, the human being, as part of a larger whole -- the community.

Each comfortable with the self, individuals are ready to establish shared laws.
6. Actualization Rational self-consciousness; placing phenomena in context.
7. Individuality Rational formulation and testing of laws.


Development of Morality

8. Ethical Order Legality, sexual morality, and family. Existing within a community requires common laws and morals. Hegel believed these initial laws and ethical codes were unstable, being created by humans.

Hegel was religious, and believed the only perfect order and meaning derived from a divine source, the Holy Trinity. As one moves closer to God, he or she moves closer to Truth. Unfortunately, Hegel suggested death might be the obstacle to Truth, as one needs to be in Heaven to meet the Creator.
9. Within Culture The rise -- and fall -- of cultures.
10. Morality and Duty Accepting duty and freedom, realizing the compromises necessary.
11. Natural Religion The nature of God.
12. Art (and Religion) Art as an expression of spirituality.
13. Revelation Understanding the Trinity.
14. Absolute Knowledge Knowing "Truth" and perfection.

What is Absolute Knowledge? According to Hegel's conclusion:

The life of the Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself... Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it.

Science of Logic, Three Volumes: 1812, 1813, 1816

Hegel's experiences as a tutor and lecturer allowed him to consider how philosophy should be taught. The Science of Logic was Hegel's attempt to treat philosophy as a science. In the Science of Logic, Hegel presents a series of opposites for study: thesis and antithesis. Each comparison results in a "synthesis" concept, which is then studied. According to Hegel, there are three forms of contradiction realized through comparison:

  1. Being: Concepts compared are opposites, with nothing in common. Being comparisons are binary in nature, with no overlap.
    Truth / Lie, Alive / Dead, Being / Nothing
  2. Essence: One concept defines the other; to define one is to understand the other.
    Close / Far, Tall / Short, Inside / Outside
  3. Concept: Concepts are dependent opposites; one concept requires the other... and there might be two concepts required to create a third.
    Leader / Follower is one basic example.
    Universal / Individual / Particular is a more complex comparison. The universal is all humanity, the particular is the person outside of humanity. Individuality is a blend of these two concepts, since a person's personality is influenced by other people.

Notice dialectic thought is active; one has to "solve for X" in an equation, where "X" is the result of a comparison. The pursuit of philosophical truth requires effort, a desire to recognize relationships, and a progression from the easy comparisons of being to the complex conceptual comparisons.

Knowing, for Hegel, is something you do. It is an act. But it is also presence of mind. Hegel seems to hold out the vision, even the experience, of thinking as self-presence. Of being present to, or with, oneself -- of being fully self-possessed, self-aware. Of self-consciousness as a huge, cosmic accomplishment.
- Spencer, p. 88 (Bold is from text)

The Science of Logic aims to present philosophy as an organized logical system. Some argue Hegel failed to acheicve that goal due to his writing's nature, but the Science of Logic brought Hegel recognition and a even fame.

Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline, 1817 (Three Parts)

Published out of necessity, because his teaching post demanded it, Hegel produced his best organized outline of his beliefs in the form of his Encyclopaedia (or Encylopedia). The University of Heidelberg required each professor prepare a text for courses he taught, especially if his own views were to be discussed. Thankfully for Hegel, he had maintained an outline of his various thoughts and theories on how philosophy should be taught. He considered this outline an encompassing work, and so named it the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. The work is divided into three parts:

  1. Logic. Based upon the Science of Logic, this work is not as elaborate and offers an easier introduction to Hegel's dialectic.
  2. Philosophy of Nature. More a science text than a traditional philosophy text, Hegel uses this work to present current scientific knowledge in a modified philosophical context.
  3. Philosophy of Spirit. The most complex of the three parts to the Encyclopaedia, Spirit deals with human nature. This work is further divided into tree parts:
    1. Subjective Mind: Understanding human perceptions and emotions.
    2. Objective Mind: How an individual relates to society.
    3. Absolute Mind: Art, religion, and philosophy -- the keys to absolute knowledge.

Introduction to the Encyclopaedia, Part I: The Logic:

The eternal life of God is to find himself, become aware of himself, coincide with himself. In this ascent there is an alienation, a disunion, but it is the nature of the spirit, of the Idea, to alienate itself in order to find itself again. This movement is just what freedom is; for, even looking at the matter from the outside, we say that the man is free who is not dependent on someone else, not oppressed, not involved with someone else.


But it is here as in the case of the birth of a child; after a long period of nutrition in silence, the continuity of the gradual growth in size, of quantitative change, is suddenly cut short by the first breath drawn -- there is a break in the process, a qualitative change -- and the child is born. The Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface.

The real is the rational and the rational is the real.

Be a person and respect others as persons.

The individual is not a real person unless related to other persons.

The State is the realization of the ethical idea. The true State is the ethical whole and the realization of freedom. The State is the march of God through the world. The State is an organism. The State is real, and its reality consists in the interest of the whole being realized in particular ends. The State is the world which the spirit has made for itself. The Philosophy of Right, Chapter 10.

One often speaks of the wisdom of God in nature, but one must not believe that the physical world of nature is higher than the world of spirit. Just as spirit is superior to nature, so is the State superior to the physical life. We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the divine on earth. The Philosophy of Right, Chapter 10.

In a well-ordered monarchy the law alone has the objective power to which the monarch has but to affix the subjective "I will."

There is an ethical element in war. By it the ethical health of the nations is preserved and their finite aims uprooted. War protects the people from the corruption which an everlasting peace would bring upon it.

The higher judge is the universal and absolute Spirit alone -- the World Spirit.

Whatever is, is right. This Good, this Reason, in its most concrete form, is God. God governs the world.


Beiser, Frederick; Hegel (London: Routledge, 2005)

Brown, Alison Leigh; On Hegel (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2001) ISBN: 0-534-58357-1 [Amazon.com]

Butler, Clark; Hegel (New York: Twayne World Authors, 1977)

Durant, Will; The Story of Philosophy (New York: Pocket Books / Simon & Schuster, 1961) ISBN: 0671739166 [Amazon.com]

Franco, Paul; Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)

Kaufmann, Walter; Hegel: A Reinterpretation (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978)

Kedourie, Elie; Hegel and Marx (Oxford: Oxford Press, 1995)

Lavine, T. Z.; From Socrates to Sartre: the Philosophic Quest (New York: Bantam, 1984) ISBN: 0-553-25161-9 [Amazon.com]

Mure, G. R. G.; The Philosophy of Hegel (London: Thoemmes Press, 1965, 1993)

Robinson, Dave and Groves, Judy; Introducing Philosophy (New York: Totem Books, 1999) ISBN: 1-84046-053-9 [Amazon.com]

Sahakian, Wm. S.; History of Philosophy (New York: Barnes & Noble, Harper; 1968) ISBN: 0-06-460002-5 [Amazon.com]

Singer, Peter; Hegel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983)

Spencer, Lloyd and Krauze, Andrzej; Introducing Hegel (New York: Totem Books, 1996) ISBN: 1-874166-44-7 [Amazon.com]

Strathern, Paul; Hegel in 90 Minutes (Chicago: I.R. Dee, 1997)

Taylor, Charles; Hegel and Modern Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979)

Verene, Donald Phillip; Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in the Phenomenology of Spirit (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985)

Weidmann, Franz; Hegel (New York: Pegasus, 1968)

Complete source list.

Books: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Early Theological Writings. Trans. Eleanore R. Kroner and T. M. Knox. University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, Sep 1971. 0812210220 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Trans. Allen W. Wood and H. B. Nisbet .Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, Oct 1991. 0521344387 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. G.W.F. Hegel--Political Writings. Trans. Lawrence Dickey and H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, Aug 1999. 0521459753 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel: Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Trans. Allen W. Wood and H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, Oct 1991. 0521348889 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel: Essential Writings. Trans. Frederick G. Weiss. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Oct 1993) 0061318310 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel, the Letters. Trans. Clark Butler and Christiane Seiler. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, Jul 1985. 0253327156 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Hegel Reader. Trans. Stephen Houlgate. Boston: Blackwell Publishers, Nov 1998. 063120346X [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel's Idea of Philosophy. Trans. Quentin Lauer. New York: Fordham University Press, Dec 1983. 082320927X [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, Jan 1996. 1573924806 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit: Selections. Trans. Howard P. Kainz. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, Jan 1994. 0271010762 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel's Philosophy of Mind. Trans. J. N. Findlay. Oxford University Press, Mar 1971. 0198750145 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel Selections. Trans. Michael J. Inwood. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Dec 1988. 0023597224 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel's Science of Logic. Trans. Arnold V. Miller. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, Dec 1998. 1573922803 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel: Texts and Commentary. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, Sep 1977. 0268010692 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics. Trans. Bernard Bosanquet. New York: Penguin Books, Jan 1994. 014043335X [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the History of Philosophy. Trans. E. S. Haldane. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, Jun 1995. 0803272715 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Plato and the Platonists. Trans. Frances H. Simson and E. S. Haldane. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, Jun 1995. 0803272723 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. Trans. Peter C. Hodgson. Calif: University of California Press, Oct 1988. 0520060202 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: Introduction and the Concept of Religion. Trans. Peter C. Hodgson. Calif: University of California Press, Nov 1995. 0520203712 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: Determinate Religion, Volume 2. Trans. Peter C. Hodgson. Calif: University of California Press, Nov 1995. 0520203720 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Lectures on Philosophy of World. Trans. D. Forbes and H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge University Press, Jan 1981. 0521281458 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. J. N. Findlay and Arnold V. Miller. Oxford University Press, Feb 1979. 0198245971 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Philosophy of History. New York: Cosimo Classics, Jun 2007. 1602064385 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophy of History. Trans. C. J. Friedrich and J. Sibree. New York: Dover Publications, Jan 1956. 0486201120 [Amazon.com]

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophy of Right. Trans. T. M. Knox. Oxford University Press, Dec 1967. 0195002768 [Amazon.com]

Singer, Peter. Hegel: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, Dec 2001. 019280197X [Amazon.com]

Spencer, Lloyd. Introducing Hegel, Third Edition. London: Totem Books, Apr 2007. 1840467851 [Amazon.com]

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