Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

(gā`ôrkh vĭl`hĕlm frē`drĭkh hā`gəl), 1770–1831, German philosopher, b. Stuttgart; son of a government clerk.

Life and Works

Educated in theology at Tübingen, Hegel was a private tutor at Bern and Frankfurt. In 1801 he became privatdocent [tutor] and in 1805 professor at the Univ. of Jena. While considered a follower of Schelling, he was developing his own system, which he first presented in Phenomenology of Mind (1807). During the Napoleonic occupation Hegel edited (1807–8) a newspaper, which he left to become rector (1808–16) of a Gymnasium at Nuremberg. He then returned to professorships at Heidelberg (1816–18) and Berlin (1818–31), where he became famous.

In his lectures at Berlin he set forth the system elaborated in his books. Chief among these were Science of Logic (1812–16); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), an outline of his whole philosophy; and Philosophy of Right (1821). He also wrote books on ethics, aesthetics, history, and religion. His interests were wide, and all were incorporated into his unified philosophy.


The Hegelian Dialectic

Hegel's absolute idealism envisaged a world-soul that develops out of, and is known through, the dialectical logic. In this development, known as the Hegelian dialectic, one concept (thesis) inevitably generates its opposite (antithesis), and the interaction of these leads to a new concept (synthesis). This in turn becomes the thesis of a new triad. Hegel regarded Kant's study of categories as incomplete. The idea of being is fundamental, but it evokes its antithesis, not being. However, these two are not mutually exclusive, for they necessarily produce the synthesis, becoming. Hence activity is basic, progress is rational, and logic is the basis of the world process.

Nature and the State

The study of nature and mind reveal reason as it realizes itself in cosmology and history. The world process is the absolute, the active principle that does not transcend reality but exists through and in it. The universe develops by a self-creating plan, proceeding from astral bodies to the world, from the mineral kingdom to the vegetable, from the vegetable kingdom to the animal. In society the same progress can be discovered; human activities lead to property, which leads to law.

Out of the relationship between the individual and law develops the synthesis of ethics, where both the interdependence and the freedom of individuals interact to produce the state. The state thus is a totality above all individuals, and since it is a unit, its highest development is rule by monarchy. Such a state is an embodiment of the absolute idea. In his study of history, Hegel reviewed the history of states that held sway over lesser peoples until a higher representative of the absolute evolved. Though much of his development was questionable, the concept of the conflict of cultures stimulated historical analysis.

Aesthetics and Religion

Hegel considered art a closer approach to the absolute than government. In the history of art he distinguished three periods—the Oriental, the Greek, and the romantic. He believed that the modern romantic form of art cannot encompass the magnitude of the Christian ideal. Hegel taught that religion moved from worship of nature through a series of stages to Christianity, where Christ represents the union of God and humanity, of spirit and matter. Philosophy goes beyond religion as it enables humankind to comprehend the entire historical unfolding of the absolute.


Hegel has influenced many subsequent philosophies—post-Hegelian idealism, the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Sartre, the socialism of Marx and Lasalle, and the instrumentalism of Dewey. His theory of the state was the guiding force of the group known as the Young Hegelians, who sought the unification of Germany. His lectures on philosophy, religion, aesthetics, and history were collected in eight volumes after his death.


See biographies by F. Wiedmann (1968) and T. Pinkard (2000); S. Hook, From Hegel to Marx (1936, repr. 1962); H. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution (1955, repr. 1963); J. N. Findlay, Hegel: A Re-examination (1958, repr. 1964); W. A. Kaufman, Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts and Commentary (1965); Z. A. Pelczynski, ed., Hegel's Political Philosphy (1971); S. Rosen, Hegel (1974); H. S. Harris, Hegel's Development (2 vol., 1983); E. E. Harris, An Introduction to the Logic of Hegel (1984); S. Zizek et al., ed., Hegel and the Infinite (2011).

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich


Born Aug. 27, 1770, in Stuttgart; died Nov. 14, 1831, in Berlin. German philosopher, exponent of German classical philosophy, and creator of a systematic theory of the dialetic founded upon objective idealism.

Hegel was the son of a government official. From 1788 to 1793 he studied at the theological seminary at the University of Tubingen. From 1793 to 1801 he was a private tutor in Bern and Frankfurt am Main. In 1801 he moved to Jena, where he engaged in scholarly and literary work. In 1807 he edited a newspaper in Bamberg. From 1808 to 1816 he was director of a Gymnasium in Nuremberg. From 1816 until the end of his life he was a professor of philosophy at the universities of Heidelberg (1816-18) and Berlin (from 1818).

Hegel’s Weltanschauung was formed under the influence of the ideas and events of the Great French Revolution and reflected the basic contradictions of bourgeois progress. He thought that bourgeois-democratic demands could be realized through a compromise with the feudal order within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. This tendency in Hegel’s view, resulting from Germany’s economic and political backwardness, also influenced his method of working out specifically philosophical problems—in particular, problems of the dialectic. This tendency imparted to his dialectic a toleration for obsolete forms of life and thought, thereby weakening its critical revolutionary character.

Hegel began as a follower of the “critical philosophy” of I. Kant and J. Fichte, but soon, under the influence of F. Schelling, he moved from the positions of “transcendental” (subjective) idealism to the viewpoint of “absolute” (objective) idealism. Among other exponents of German classical idealism, Hegel stands out for his keen attention to the history of human spiritual culture. Even in his early works, Hegel treats Judaism, classical antiquity, and Christianity as a series of stages in the development of mind (Geist), each replacing the other in conformity to definite laws. He regards these stages as epochs of human development, and he attempts to reconstruct their historical features. Hegel considered his own time to be a period of transition to a new formation that had been gradually ripening in the womb of Christian culture. In this formation, as it was pictured by Hegel, the characteristics of bourgeois society, with its legal and moral principles, may be seen. In the Phenomenology ofMind (1807), Hegel develops the basic principles of his philosophical conception. The spiritual culture of humanity was first presented here in its lawlike development (in accordance with laws) as the gradual realization of the creative force of “world reason.” Manifesting itself in cultural forms that successively replace one another, the superpersonal (world, objective) spirit simultaneously gains knowledge of itself as the creator of these forms. The spiritual development of the individual reproduces, in abbreviated form, the stages of the attainment of self-knowledge by the “world spirit,” beginning with the act of naming objects perceived by the senses and ending with “absolute knowledge,” that is, knowledge of those forms and laws that direct the whole process of spiritual development from within—the development of science, morality, religion, art, and legal and political systems. Absolute knowledge, which crowns the phenomenological history of the spirit, is nothing other than logic. Therefore, the culminating chapter of the Phenomenology of Mind introduces a program for the critical reorganization of logic as a science, a program that was realized by Hegel in his later works, especially in the Science of Logic (1812). It is in this sense that K. Marx called the Phenomenology of Mind “the true source and secret of Hegelian philosophy” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizvedenii, 1956, p. 624).

Hegel gives to the universal schema of the world spirit’s creative activity the name absolute idea, and the “science of logic” is defined as the scientific theoretical self-consciousness of the absolute idea. The absolute idea is revealed in its universality in the form of a system of categories, beginning with the most general and meager of determinations—being, nonbeing, immediate existence, quality, quantity—and ending with concrete, that is, manifoldly determined concepts such as actuality, chemism, organism (teleology), and knowledge.

In his logic, Hegel deifies real human thought which he investigates as an aspect of universal, logical forms and laws, revealed through the entire process of history. Declaring thought to be the subject, that is, the sole creator of all spiritual wealth developed in the course of history and interpreting thought as an eternal, timeless schema of creative activity in general, Hegel brings the concept of the idea close to the concept of god. Unlike the theistic god, however, the idea takes on consciousness, will, and individuality only in man, while outside and prior to man it is realized as an internal necessity in conformity with law.

According to the Hegelian schema, mind first awakens to self-consciousness within man in the form of word, speech, and language. Instruments of labor, material culture, and civilization appear as later, derivative forms of embodiment of the same creative force of mind (thought), of the “concept.” The point of departure for this development is thus seen in the capacity of man (as the “finite mind”) to know himself through the assimilation of all that wealth of images that hitherto has been contained in mind as involuntarily arising inner states of which men were not conscious.

The category of contradiction as the unity of mutually exclusive opposites which at the same time mutually presuppose each other (polar concepts) occupies a central position in the Hegelian dialectic. Contradiction is here understood as the “motor,” the inner impulse of the development of mind in general. This movement ascends from the “abstract to the concrete,” to a result ever fuller, more manifoldly differentiated within itself, and therefore closer to the truth. It is not enough, according to Hegel, to understand contradiction only as an antinomy, an aporia, that is, as a logically unresolved contradiction: the contradiction must be taken together with its resolution as part of a deeper and more concrete understanding, where the initial antinomy is simultaneously realized and disappears (“is sublated”).

Using the dialectical method which he created, Hegel critically reinterprets all spheres of contemporary culture— science, morals, aesthetics, and so on. In the course of this he discovers everywhere an intense dialectic, a process of perpetual negation of every newly attained state of mind by the next state, which meanwhile has been ripening in its depths. The future ripens inside the present as a concrete, immanent contradiction whose determinateness presupposes and defines the mode of its resolution. A sharply critical analysis of the condition of contemporary science and its concepts is interwoven in Hegel with critical reproduction and philosophical justification of a number of the dogmas and prejudices of the consciousness of his own time. This contradiction permeates not only the logic but also other parts of the Hegelian system—namely, his philosophy of nature and philosophy of mind, which constitute the second and third parts, respectively, of his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817). His philosophy of mind is further developed in the Philosophy of Right (1821) and in the posthumous lectures on the philosophy of history, on aesthetics, on the philosophy of religion, and on the history of philosophy. Thus, in his philosophy of nature, Hegel, critically analyzing the mechanistic views of 18th-century science, expresses many ideas that anticipate the subsequent development of thought in the natural sciences (for example, the idea of the reciprocal relation of time and space and the mutual transitions of their determinations and the idea of the “immanent purposiveness” characteristic of a living organism). But at the same time, Hegel denies to nature a dialectical development. Since he views the past only from the standpoint of those dialectical collisions that led to the maturation of the present, that is, of the contemporary world, which is uncritically conceived as the crown and goal of the process, Hegel completes his philosophy of history with an idealized portrayal of the Prussian constitutional monarchy, his philosophy of right with an idealized portrayal of the bourgeois consciousness of law and right and his philosophy of religion with an apologia for Protestantism.

Nevertheless, the Hegelian dialectic contained within itself the potential for a critical, revolutionary reinterpretation of reality as well. This reinterpretation, from a materialist position, was carried out in the 1840’s by K. Marx and F. Engels.

K. Marx, emphasizing that his “dialectical method is basically not only different from the Hegelian but is its direct opposite,” observed that “the mystification that the dialectic suffered at the hands of Hegel did not prevent Hegel at all from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With Hegel, the dialectic is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 21, 22).

Hegel’s doctrine of “objective mind,” developed in the Philosophy of Right enormously influenced the subsequent development of sociology and social philosophy. K. Marx began to work out the materialist view of society and history with a critique of precisely this work of Hegel’s (ibid., vol. 1, pp. 219-368, 414-29). For Hegel, objective mind encompasses the sphere of social life and is understood as a supraindividual totality that, being governed by objective laws, rises above individuals and manifests itself through the various connections and relationships between them. Objective mind unfolds in law, morality, and the ethical order, the ethical order being interpreted by Hegel as including such levels of objectification of human freedom as the family, civil society, and the state. Hegel notes the contradictions of bourgeois society: the polarization of poverty and wealth and the one-sided development of man as a result of the growing division of labor. Hegel allotted much space to the analysis of labor, which he considered to be the basic factor in the making of man.

Hegel views history as a whole as “the progress of spirit in the consciousness of freedom,” this progress unfolding through the spirit of various nations, which succeed one another in the historical process according to the fulfillment of their mission. The idea of objective laws, which make their way independently of the desires of individuals, was perversely reflected in the Hegelian doctrine of the “cunning of world reason,” which uses individual interests and passions to attain its goals.

Hegel’s detailed interpretation of the beautiful as the “sensuous manifestation of the idea” proved to be most important for the subsequent development of aesthetics. In his conception of aesthetics Hegel emphasized that the idea is not to be taken here in its “pure,” logical form but in its concrete unity with some external being. This defined the Hegelian doctrine of the ideal and of the stages of its development (the forms of art). The forms of art are differentiated according to the correlation between the idea and its external image. In symbolic art (meaning, for Hegel, Oriental art) the external image barely suggests the idea; in the art of classical antiquity the idea and its image are in equilibrium and fully correspond to one another; and in romantic art (medieval and modern European art, which grew out of Christianity) the outer form is dominated by the spiritual element, by psychic depth, and by infinite subjectivity.

In his lectures on the history of philosophy, Hegel was the first to portray the process of this history as a gradual movement toward absolute truth and each philosophical system as a determinate stage in that process.

Bourgeois philosophy since Hegel has not been able to assimilate his real achievements in the field of logic. Hegelianism developed rather along the lines of the cultivation of the formal and mystical tendencies in Hegelian philosophy. The formal apparatus of the Hegelian dialectic strongly influenced existentialism, for example, J. Hyppolite, J. P. Sartre, and M. Heidegger.

Hegel’s philosophy, critically reworked from a materialist position, is one of the theoretical sources of Marxist-Leninist philosophy—dialectical materialism. In this regard, Hegel’s works to this day remain the best school for dialectical thought, as K. Marx, F. Engels, and V. I. Lenin often pointed out.


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