|Name:||Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel|
|Birth:||August 27, 1770 (Stuttgart, Germany)|
|Death:||November 14, 1831 (Berlin, Germany)|
|School/tradition:||Founder of Hegelianism|
|Main interests:||Logic, Philosophy of history, Aesthetics, Religion, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Political Science,|
|Notable ideas:||Absolute idealism, Dialectic|
|Influences:||Aristotle, Anselm, Descartes, Goethe, Spinoza, Rousseau, Boehme, Kant, Fichte, Schelling|
|Influenced:||Feuerbach, Marx, Engels, Bauer, Bradley, Lenin, Trotsky, Lukács, Heidegger, Sartre, Barth, Küng, Habermas, Gadamer, Moltmann|
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel [ˈgeɔʁk ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈheːgəl] (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. His influence has been widespread on writers of widely varying positions, including both his admirers (F. H. Bradley, Sartre, Hans Küng, Bruno Bauer, Karl Marx), and his detractors (Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Schelling). His great achievement was to introduce for the first time in philosophy the idea that History and the concrete are important in getting out of the circle of philosophia perennis, i.e., the perennial problems of philosophy. Also, for the first time in the history of philosophy he realised the importance of the Other in the coming to be of self-consciousness, see slave-master dialectic.
Hegel was born in Stuttgart on August 27, 1770. As a child he was a voracious reader of literature, newspapers, philosophical essays, and writings on various other topics. In part, Hegel's literate childhood can be attributed to his uncharacteristically progressive mother who actively nurtured her children's intellectual development. The Hegels were a well-established middle class family in Stuttgart. His father was a civil servant in the administrative government of Württemberg. Hegel was a sickly child and almost died of smallpox before he was six. He had a close relationship with his sister, Christiane, which would remain a strong bond throughout his life.
He received his education at the Tübinger Stift (seminary of the Protestant Church in Württemberg), where he was friends with the future philosopher Friedrich Schelling and the poet Friedrich Hölderlin. In their shared dislike for what was regarded as the restrictive environment of the Tübingen seminary, the three became close friends and mutually influenced each other's ideas. The three watched the unfolding of the French Revolution and immersed themselves in the emerging criticism of the idealist philosophy of Immanuel Kant. To be more precise, Hölderlin and Schelling immersed themselves in debates on Kantian philosophy; Hegel's interest only came later, after his own abortive attempts to work out a popular philosophy — which was his original ambition. The Popularphilosophen were writers who introduced and debated issues of the day, a way of promoting the values of the Enlightenment. Most of them were informed by English or Scottish thinkers such as Locke or Reid; Hegel wanted to "complete" the critical philosophy of Kant in the mode of a Popularphilosoph. At Tübingen he was skeptical of the highly theoretical (and technical) discussions that Hölderlin and Schelling engaged in. It was only in 1800 that Hegel admitted the need to resolve the difficulties of the Kantian system before it could hope to be put into practice.
In 1801 Hegel secured a place at the University of Jena as a privatdozent. He gave a course of lectures which became immensely popular, at the same time as his nemesis Arthur Schopenhauer gave a course that had no attendees. The university promoted Hegel to the position of Extraordinary Professor, perhaps due to the influence of Goethe on the authorities. However, with the conquest of Prussia by Napoleon in 1806, the University had to close. Hegel worked as a journalist for a few years, marrying Marie von Tucher in 1811. After publishing The Science of Logic, Hegel attained a post at the University of Heidelberg in 1816. He published The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sentences in Outline, a summary of his philosophy for students who were to attend his lectures. In 1818 he accepted a job at the University of Berlin which made him a full professor of philosophy. Frederick William III decorated Hegel for his service to the Prussian regime and appointed him rector of the university in 1830. He was deeply disturbed by the riots for reform in Berlin. In 1831 a cholera epidemic broke out in Berlin and Hegel fled; but he returned prematurely, caught the infection, and a few days later died in his sleep at the age of 61.
Hegel published only four books during his life: the Phenomenology of Spirit (or Phenomenology of Mind), his account of the evolution of consciousness from sense-perception to absolute knowledge, published in 1807; the Science of Logic, the logical and metaphysical core of his philosophy, in three volumes, published in 1811, 1812, and 1816 (revised 1831); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, a summary of his entire philosophical system, which was originally published in 1816 and revised in 1827 and 1830; and the Elements of the Philosophy of Right, his political philosophy, published in 1822. He also published some articles early in his career and during his Berlin period. A number of other works on the philosophy of history, religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were compiled from the lecture notes of his students and published posthumously.
Hegel's works have a reputation for their difficulty and for the breadth of the topics they attempt to cover. Hegel introduced a system for understanding the history of philosophy and the world itself, often described as a progression in which each successive movement emerges as a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement. For example, the French Revolution for Hegel constitutes the introduction of real freedom into Western societies for the first time in recorded history. But precisely because of its absolute novelty, it is also absolutely radical: on the one hand the upsurge of violence required to carry out the revolution cannot cease to be itself, while on the other, it has already consumed its opponent. The revolution therefore has nowhere to turn but onto its own result: the hard-won freedom is consumed by a brutal Reign of Terror. History, however, progresses by learning from its mistakes: only after and precisely because of this experience can one posit the existence of a constitutional state of free citizens, embodying both the benevolent organizing power of rational government and the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality. Hegel's remarks on the French revolution led German poet Heinrich Heine to label him "The Orléans of German Philosophy".
Hegel's writing style is difficult to read; he is described by Bertrand Russell in the History of Western Philosophy as the single most difficult philosopher to understand. Supposedly, this is partly because Hegel tried to develop a new form of thinking and logic, which he called "speculative reason" and which is today popularly called "dialectic," to try to overcome what he saw as the limitations of both common sense and of traditional philosophy at grasping philosophical problems and the relation between thought and reality.
The obscure writings of Jakob Böhme had a strong effect on Hegel. Böhme had written that the Fall of Man was a necessary stage in the evolution of the universe. This evolution was, itself, the result of God's desire for complete self-awareness. Hegel was fascinated by the works of Spinoza, Kant, Rousseau, and Goethe, and by the French Revolution. Modern philosophy, culture, and society seemed to Hegel fraught with contradictions and tensions, such as those between the subject and object of knowledge, mind and nature, self and Other, freedom and authority, knowledge and faith, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Hegel's main philosophical project was to take these contradictions and tensions and interpret them as part of a comprehensive, evolving, rational unity that, in different contexts, he called "the absolute idea" or "absolute knowledge".
According to Hegel, the main characteristic of this unity was that it evolved through and manifested itself in contradiction and negation. Contradiction and negation have a dynamic quality that at every point in each domain of reality—consciousness, history, philosophy, art, nature, society—leads to further development until a rational unity is reached that preserves the contradictions as phases and sub-parts by lifting them up (Aufhebung) to a higher unity. This whole is mental because it is mind that can comprehend all of these phases and sub-parts as steps in its own process of comprehension. It is rational because the same, underlying, logical, developmental order underlies every domain of reality and is ultimately the order of self-conscious rational thought, although only in the later stages of development does it come to full self-consciousness. The rational, self-conscious whole is not a thing or being that lies outside of other existing things or minds. Rather, it comes to completion only in the philosophical comprehension of individual existing human minds who, through their own understanding, bring this developmental process to an understanding of itself.
(Note: “Mind” and “Spirit” are the common English translations of Hegel’s use of the German “Geist”. Some Hegelian scholars have argued that either of these terms overly “psychologize” Hegel, implying a kind of disembodied, solipsistic consciousness like "ghost" or "soul,". Geist combines the meaning of spirit, as in god, ghost or mind, with driving force. )
Central to Hegel's conception of knowledge and mind (and therefore also of reality) was the notion of identity in difference, that is that mind externalizes itself in various forms and objects that stand outside of it or opposed to it, and that, through recognizing itself in them, is "with itself" in these external manifestations, so that they are at one and the same time mind and other-than-mind. This notion of identity in difference, which is intimately bound up with his conception of contradiction and negativity, is a principal feature differentiating Hegel's thought from that of other philosophers.
There are views of Hegel's thought as a represention of the summit of early 19th century Germany's movement of philosophical idealism. It would come to have a profound impact on many future philosophical schools, including schools that opposed Hegel's specific dialectical idealism, such as Existentialism, the historical materialism of Karl Marx, historicism, and British Idealism. At the same time, modern analytic and positivistic philosophers have considered Hegel a principal target because of what they consider the obscurantism of his philosophy (though some Germans, notably Schopenhauer, shared that criticism of his thought). Hegel was aware of his 'obscurantism' and saw it as part of philosophical thinking that grasps the limitations of everyday thought and concepts and tries to go beyond them. Hegel wrote in his essay "Who Thinks Abstractly?" that it is not the philosopher who thinks abstractly but the person on the street, who uses concepts as fixed, unchangeable givens, without any context. It is the philosopher who thinks concretely, because they go beyond the limits of everyday concepts to understand their broader context. This can make philosophical thought and language seem mysterious or obscure to the person on the street.
Hegel's influence was immense both within philosophy and in the sciences. Throughout the 19th century many chairs of philosophy around Europe were held by Hegelians, although Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels were all opposed to the most central themes of Hegel's philosophy. After less than a generation, Hegel's philosophy was suppressed and even banned by the Prussian right-wing, and was firmly rejected by the left-wing in multiple official writings.
After the period of Bruno Bauer, Hegel's influence did not make itself felt again until the philosophy of British Idealism and the 20th century Hegelian Neo-Marxism that began with Georg Lukács.
Some of Hegel's writing was intended for those with advanced knowledge of philosophy, although his "Encyclopedia" was intended as a textbook in a university course. Nevertheless, like many philosophers, Hegel assumed that his readers would be well-versed in Western philosophy, up to and including Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. For those wishing to read his work without this background, introductions to Hegel and commentaries about Hegel may suffice. However, even this is hotly debated since the reader must choose from multiple interpretations of Hegel's writings from incompatible schools of philosophy. Presumably, reading Hegel directly would be the best method of understanding him, but this task has historically proved to be beyond the average reader of philosophy. This difficulty may be the most urgent problem with respect to the legacy of Hegel.
One especially difficult aspect of Hegel's work is his innovation in logic. In response to Immanuel Kant's challenge to the limits of Pure Reason, Hegel developed a radically new form of logic, which he called speculation, and which is today popularly called dialectics. The difficulty in reading Hegel was perceived in Hegel's own day, and persists into the 21st century. To understand Hegel fully requires paying attention to his critique of standard logic, such as the law of contradiction and the law of the excluded middle, and, whether one accepts or rejects it, at least taking it seriously. Many philosophers who came after Hegel and were influenced by him, whether adopting or rejecting his ideas, did so without fully absorbing his new speculative or dialectical logic.
Another confusing aspect about the interpretation of Hegel's work is the fact that past historians have spoken of Hegel's influence as represented by two opposing camps. The Right Hegelians, the allegedly direct disciples of Hegel at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now known as the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), advocated a Protestant orthodoxy and the political conservatism of the post-Napoleon Restoration period. The Left Hegelians, also known as the Young Hegelians, interpreted Hegel in a revolutionary sense, leading to an advocation of atheism in religion and liberal democracy in politics.
In more recent studies, however, this old paradigm has been questioned. For one thing, no Hegelians of the period ever referred to themselves as Right Hegelians. That was a term of insult that David Strauss (a self-styled Left Hegelian) hurled at Bruno Bauer (who has most often been classified by historians as a Left Hegelian, but who rejected both titles for himself). For another thing, no so-called "Left Hegelian" described himself as a follower of Hegel. This includes Moses Hess as well as Karl Marx. Several "Left Hegelians" openly repudiated or insulted the legacy of Hegel's philosophy. The critiques of Hegel offered from the "Left Hegelians" radically diverted Hegel's thinking into new directions—and form a disproportionately large part of the literature on and about Hegel.
Perhaps the main reason that so much writing about Hegel emerges from the so-called Left-Hegelians is that the Left-Hegelians spawned Marxism, which inspired a global movement lasting more than 150 years, encompassing the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and even mere national-liberation movements of the 20th century. Yet that isn't, to be precise, any direct result of Hegel's philosophy.
20th century interpretations of Hegel were mostly shaped by one-sided schools of thought: British Idealism, logical positivism, Marxism, Fascism and postmodernism. However, since the fall of the USSR, a new wave of Hegel scholarship arose in the West, without the preconceptions of the prior schools of thought.
Walter Jaeschke and Otto Pöggeler in Germany, as well as Peter Hodgson and Howard Kainz in America, are notable for their many contributions to post-USSR thinking about Hegel as published by the Hegel Society of America. Perhaps the most challenging publication from that source has been the new English edition of Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1818-1831) which has challenged most 20th century views about Hegel.
In previous modern accounts of Hegelianism (to undergraduate classes, for example), Hegel's dialectic was most often characterized as a three-step process of "Thesis, antithesis, synthesis", namely, that a "thesis" (e.g. the French Revolution) would cause the creation of its "antithesis" (e.g. the Reign of Terror that followed), and would eventually result in a "synthesis" (e.g. the Constitutional state of free citizens). However, Hegel used this classification only once, and he attributed the terminology to Immanuel Kant. The terminology was largely developed earlier by Johann Fichte the neo-Kantian. It was spread by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus in a popular account of Hegelian philosophy, and since then the misfit terms have stuck.
Believing that the traditional description of Hegel's philosophy in terms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis was mistaken, a few scholars, like Raya Dunayevskaya have attempted to discard the triadic approach altogether. According to their argument, although Hegel refers to "the two elemental considerations: first, the idea of freedom as the absolute and final aim; secondly, the means for realising it, i.e. the subjective side of knowledge and will, with its life, movement, and activity" (thesis and antithesis) he doesn't use "synthesis" but instead speaks of the "Whole": "We then recognised the State as the moral Whole and the Reality of Freedom, and consequently as the objective unity of these two elements." Furthermore, in Hegel's language, the "dialectical" aspect or "moment" of thought and reality, by which things or thoughts turn into their opposites or have their inner contradictions brought to the surface, is only preliminary to the "speculative" (and not "synthesizing") aspect or "moment", which grasps the unity of these opposites or contradiction. Thus for Hegel, reason is ultimately "speculative", not "dialectical".
To the contrary, scholars like Howard Kainz explain that Hegel's philosophy contains thousands of triads. However, instead of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis," Hegel used different terms to speak about triads, for example, "immediate-mediate-concrete," as well as, "abstract-negative-concrete." Hegel's works speak of synthetic logic. Nevertheless, it is widely admitted today that the old-fashioned description of Hegel's philosophy in terms of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" was always inaccurate. At the same time, however, those same terms survive in scholarly works, such is the persistence of this misnomer.
Hegel used his system of dialectics to explain the whole of the history of philosophy, science, art, politics and religion, but he has had many critics over the centuries.
Perhaps the most famous critics were the Left-Hegelians, including Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and their followers in the 19th century.
Arthur Schopenhauer despised Hegel on account of the latter's alleged historicism (among other reasons), and decried Hegel's work as obscurantist "pseudo-philosophy". Schopenhauer, once a colleague of Hegel's at the University of Berlin said: "The height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had been only previously known in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most barefaced, general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, as a monument to German stupidity." Such a judgment is the result of Hegel's repudiation, in his book Science of Logic, of each law of thought that is the normal basis of rational thinking and discourse.
Actually, Hegel had the most well-attended classes of any philosopher of his time. The legend that Hegel once said, "Only one man understands me, and even he does not" (Strathern, 1997), is incorrect, since it was actually stated by Fichte about Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling when Hegel persuaded Schelling to abandon his teacher Fichte.
Søren Kierkegaard, one of Hegel's earliest critics, criticized Hegel's "absolute knowledge" unity, not only because it was arrogant for a mere human to claim such a unity, but also because such a system negates the importance of the individual in favour of the whole unity. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, one of Kierkegaard's main attacks of Hegel, Johannes Climacus, Kierkegaard's pseudonymous author, writes: "So-called systems have often been characterized and challenged in the assertion that they abrogate the distinction between good and evil, and destroy freedom. Perhaps one would express oneself quite as definitely, if one said that every such system fantastically dissipates the concept existence. ... Being an individual man is a thing that has been abolished, and every speculative philosopher confuses himself with humanity at large; whereby he becomes something infinitely great, and at the same time nothing at all."
Santayana called attention to Hegel's apologetics for whoever held power, as though dominance equated with goodness.
The worship of power is an old religion, and Hegel, to go no farther back, is full of it; but like traditional religion his system qualified its veneration for success by attributing success, in the future at least, to what could really inspire veneration; and such a master in equivocation could have no difficulty in convincing himself that the good must conquer in the end if whatever conquers in the end is the good.
—George Santayana, Winds of Doctrine, I
Some 20th century critics suggested that Hegel glosses over the realities of history in order to fit it into his dialectical mold. Karl Popper, a critic of Hegel in The Open Society and Its Enemies, suggests that Hegel's system forms a thinly veiled justification for the rule of Frederick William III, and that Hegel's idea of the ultimate goal of history is to reach a state approximating that of 1830s Prussia. This view of Hegel as an apologist of state power and precursor of 20th century totalitarianism was criticized by Herbert Marcuse in his Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, on the grounds that Hegel was not an apologist for any state or form of authority simply because it existed: for Hegel the state must always be rational. Other scholars, e.g. Walter Kaufmann and Shlomo Avineri, have also criticized Popper's theories about Hegel. An analysis against Popper's arguments can also be found in Joachim Ritter's influential work, Hegel and the French Revolution. Popper also accused Hegel of having a vacuous philosophy, labelling it "bombastic and mystifying cant". Erich Heller opines in his The Disinherited Mind (1952) that Hegel was proved wrong — by the poets who succeeded him, not by the unfolding reality.
Some newer philosophers who prefer to follow the tradition of British Philosophy have made similar statements. In Britain, Hegel exercised an influence on the philosophical school called "British Idealism," which included Francis Herbert Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet, in England, and Josiah Royce at Harvard. Analytic philosophy, which dominated philosophy departments in the United States and the United Kingdom, was virtually founded when G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell rejected British Idealism and their colleagues' admiration for Hegel. Hegel remained largely out of fashion in these departments for much of the twentieth century.
Perhaps the harshest criticism has come from the famous psychologist, Carl G. Jung, who seemed to charge Hegel with mental illness when he wrote:
A philosophy like Hegel's is a self-revelation of the psychic background and, philosophically, a presumption. Psychologically it amounts to an invasion by the Unconscious. The peculiar, high-flown language Hegel uses bears out this view -- it is reminiscent of the megalomaniac language of schizophrenics, who use terrific, spellbinding words to reduce the transcendent to subjective form, to give banalities the charm of novelty, or pass off commonplaces as searching wisdom. So bombastic a terminology is a symptom of weakness, ineptitude, and lack of substance."
—Carl G. Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, 1928
In the latter half of the 20th century, Hegel's philosophy underwent a major renaissance. This was due to: (a) the rediscovery and reevaluation of Hegel as a possible philosophical progenitor of Marxism by philosophically oriented Marxists; (b) a resurgence of the historical perspective that Hegel brought to everything; and (c) an increasing recognition of the importance of his dialectical method.
The book that did the most to reintroduce Hegel into the Marxist canon was perhaps Georg Lukács' History and Class Consciousness. This sparked a renewed interest in Hegel reflected in the work of Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Raya Dunayevskaya, Alexandre Kojève and Gotthard Günther among others. The Hegel renaissance also highlighted the significance of Hegel's early works, i.e. those published prior to the Phenomenology of Spirit. The direct and indirect influence of Kojève's lectures and writings (on the Phenomenology of Spirit, in particular) mean that it is not possible to understand most French philosophers from Jean-Paul Sartre to Jacques Derrida without understanding Hegel.
Beginning in the 1960s, Anglo-American Hegel scholarship has attempted to challenge the traditional interpretation of Hegel as offering a metaphysical system: this has also been the approach of Z.A.Pelczynski and Shlomo Avineri. This view, sometimes referred to as the 'non-metaphysical option', has had a decided influence on many major English language studies of Hegel in the past 40 years.
U.S. neoconservative political theorist Francis Fukuyama's controversial book The End of History and the Last Man was heavily influenced by Alexandre Kojève. Among modern scientists, the physicist David Bohm, the mathematician William Lawvere, the logician Kurt Gödel and the biologist Ernst Mayr have been interested in Hegel's philosophical work.
A late 20th century literature in Western Theology that is friendly to Hegel includes such writers as Dale M. Schlitt (1984), Theodore Geraets (1985), Philip M. Merklinger (1991), Stephen Rocker (1995) and Cyril O'Regan (1995). The contemporary theologian Hans Küng has also advanced contemporary scholarship in Hegel studies.
Recently, two prominent American philosophers, John McDowell and Robert Brandom (sometimes, half-seriously, referred to as the Pittsburgh Hegelians), have produced philosophical works exhibiting a marked Hegelian influence.
Beginning in the 1990s, after the fall of the USSR, a fresh reading of Hegel took place in the West. For these scholars, fairly well represented by the Hegel Society of America and in cooperation with German scholars such as Otto Poeggler and Walter Jaeschke, Hegel's works should be read without preconceptions. Marx plays a minor role in these new readings, and some contemporary scholars have suggested that Marx's interpretation of Hegel is irrelevant to a proper reading of Hegel. Some American philosophers associated with this movement include Clark Butler, Daniel Shannon, David Duquette, David MacGregor, Donald Burke, Edward Beach, John Burbidge, Lawrence Stepelevich, Rudolph Siebert, Theodore Geraets and William Desmond.
Since 1990, new aspects of Hegel's philosophy have been published that were not typically seen in the West. One example is the idea that the essence of Hegel's philosophy is the idea of freedom. With the idea of freedom, Hegel attempts to explain world history, fine art, political science, the free thinking that is science, the attainment of spirituality, and the resolution to problems of metaphysics.