Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 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), and his detractors (Kierkegaard,
Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Schelling). He is best known for attempting
to elaborate a comprehensive and systematic ontology from a logical
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".
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 of a larger, evolutionary whole. 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.
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.
consider Hegel's thought to represent 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 he or she goes beyond the limits of everyday concepts
and understands their larger context. This can make philosophical
thought and language seem mysterious or obscure to the person
on the street.
influenced Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels, although
all of them opposed the most central and basic themes of Hegel's
philosophy. Hegel did not have any influence on the nationalist
movement in Germany. 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.
Hegel was born in Stuttgart on 27 August 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. Georg was a sickly child and almost died
of illness before he was six.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
dense and demanding writing style can be difficult to read; he
is described by Bertrand Russell in the History of Western Philosophy
as the single most difficult philosopher to understand. 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. His work also can be perplexing for
modern audiences because he had a teleological and rationalistic
view of human society and history that are at odds with recent
intellectual trends. And for English readers there is the additional
challenge posed by the difficulty of translating his terminology
and idiom into English.
of Hegel sometimes characterize him as a long, voracious writer
who doesn't know how to summarize his thoughts.
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. Reading Hegel
directly would be the best way to learn about Hegel, 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.
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.
and right Hegelianism
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
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 self-styled
"Left Hegelian" described himself as a follower of Hegel.
This includes Karl Marx. Several "Left Hegelians" openly
repudiated or insulted the legacy of Hegel's philosophy. Even
Marx stated that to make Hegel's philosophy useful for his purposes,
he had to "turn Hegel upside down." Perhaps it is more
accurate to say that the so-called "Left Hegelian" movement
was actually an anti-Hegelian movement.
this historical category continues to persist in modern literature.
The critiques of Hegel offered from the "Left Hegelians"
led the line of Hegel's thinking into radically new directions—and
form a disproportionately large part of the literature on and
century interpretations of Hegel have been shaped by several schools
of thought: British Idealism, logical positivism, Marxism, Fascism
and postmodernism. Since the fall of the USSR, a new wave of Hegel
scholarship has arisen in the West, without the preconceptions
of these particular schools of thought. Walter Jaeschke and Otto
Poeggler in Germany, as well as Peter Hodgson and Howard Kainz
in America, are notable in this regard.
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 Fichte the neo-Kantian. It was
spread by Friedrich Moritz Chalybäus in a popular account
of Hegelian philosophy, and since then the misfit terms have stuck.
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".
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.
critics suggested that Hegel seems to gloss 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, 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.
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."
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."
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.
Voegelin, philosopher of history, after quoting from the works
of both Hegel and Martin Heidegger, commented as follows:
the quoted texts the reader will have recognized Hegel's alienated
spirit and Heidegger's flungness (Geworfenheit, often translated
as "thrown-ness") of human existence. This similarity
in symbolic expression results from a homogeneity in experience
of the world. And the homogeneity goes beyond the experience of
the world to the image of man and salvation with which both the
modern and the ancient Gnostics respond to the condition of 'flungness'
in the alien world. If man is to be delivered from the world,
the possibility of deliverance must first be established in the
order of being.
point was that it is precisely our choice to regard the world
as alien which renders us "flung" (or "thrown")
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
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 Kojeve 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.
in the 1960s, Anglo-American Hegel scholarship has attempted to
challenge the traditional interpretation of Hegel as offering
a metaphysical system. 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.
neoconservative political theorist Francis Fukuyama's controversial
book The End of History and the Last Man was heavily influenced
by Alexandre Kojeve, a famous Hegel interpreter from the Marxist
school. Among modern scientists, the physicist David Bohm, the
mathematician William Lawvere, the logician Kurt Gödel and
the biologist Ernst Mayr have been deeply interested in or influenced
by Hegel's philosophical work. 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.
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.
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
Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes Sometimes
translated as Phenomenology of Mind) 1807
Science of Logic (Wissenschaft der Logik) 1812–1816 (last
edition of the first part 1831)
Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (Enzyklopaedie der
philosophischen Wissenschaften) 1817–1830
Elements of the Philosophy of Right (Grundlinien der Philosophie
des Rechts) 1821
Lectures on Aesthetics
Lectures on the Philosophy of World History
Lectures on the History of Philosophy
Lectures on Philosophy of Religion