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
Revising Never Ends, Nor Should It…
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to the thinkers profiled. The incomplete nature of this website might result
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These pages are revised often because scholarship is never ending. Consult any citations
included because within them is where you will find the experts.
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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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Enrolls in the Protestant Theological Foundation (Stift) at the University
of Tübingen to become a clergyman.
The French Revolution, which shaped Hegel's political views.
Hegel and other young radicals plant a "Freedom Tree" outside
Hired by Captain Carl Friedrich Steiger von Tschugg to tutor the
captain's three children. Hegel remains for three years.
Moves to Frankfurt as a private tutor.
Father dies, leaving an inheritance.
Moves to Jena, where he is to be a lecturer at the University. Hegel
is not paid a salary until 1807.
Publishes first full-length text, Difference Between the Philosophical
Systems of Fichte and Schelling. Hegel supports his friend,
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.
Moves to Nuremburg as Rector and Professor of Philosophy at the Gymnasium
for Boys. Hegel served as headmaster until 1816.
Marries Marie von Tucker, the daughter of a respected Nuremberg family.
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
Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline is
published. This work marks the unification of Hegel's philosophical
Appointed by Baron Karl Sigmund von Altenstein to the Royal Academic
Board of Examiners.
1831 November 13
Dies of cholera.
The Positivity of Christian Religion, Essay: 1795
First Programme for a System of German Idealism, Essay
with Schelling: 1796
The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate, Essay: 1799
Difference Between the Philosophical Systems of Fichte and Schelling,
Phenomenology of Spirit, Essay: 1807
Science of Logic, Essay: 1812-1816
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Text: 1817
Philosophy of Right (Law), Essay: 1821
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 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
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.
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
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
Dealing with ideas or concepts.
Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
A concept, its opposite, and the resulting "solution" to
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
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
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.
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
(Idea, Reason, God, Welt Geist)
Triad of the Absolute
Logic Idea in Itself
Nature Idea for Itself or Idea outside Itself
Mind / Spirit Idea in and for Itself
Triad of Logic
Triad of Nature
Triad of Mind
Synthesis: Notion or Conception
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
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:
Cancel the conflict between thesis and antithesis.
Preserve the element of truth within the thesis and antithesis.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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 --
14 Stages of the Journey
(Phenomenology of Spirit "Stations")
of the World and Others
"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
Complete input of the senses, which can
include false information.
Recognizing patterns and order within observations
of the world.
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.
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
Rational self-consciousness; placing phenomena
Rational formulation and testing of laws.
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
11. Natural Religion
The nature of God.
12. Art (and Religion)
Art as an expression of spirituality.
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:
Being: Concepts compared are opposites, with nothing in common. Being
comparisons are binary in nature, with no overlap.
Truth / Lie, Alive / Dead, Being / Nothing
Essence: One concept defines the other; to define one is to understand
Close / Far, Tall / Short, Inside / Outside
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
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:
Logic. Based upon the Science of Logic, this
work is not as elaborate and offers an easier introduction to Hegel's
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.
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:
Subjective Mind: Understanding human perceptions and emotions.
Objective Mind: How an individual relates to society.
Absolute Mind: Art, religion, and philosophy -- the keys to absolute
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
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
Whatever is, is right. This Good, this Reason, in its most concrete form,
is God. God governs the world.