Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
German philosopher. Born at Stuttgart, Hegel studied at Tübingen, where his contemporaries included Schelling and the poet Hölderlin. After holding positions as a tutor he went to Jena in 1801 as a Privatdozent in philosophy, qualified by his thesis De Orbitis Planetarium (‘On the Orbits of the Planets’; the false view that Hegel thought that he could prove a priori that there are seven planets arises from misunderstanding the last chapter of this work). While in Jena he collaborated with Schelling in editing the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie, to which he contributed many articles, and wrote his first major work the Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807, trs. as The Phenomenology of Mind, 1910; also as The Phenomenology of Spirit, 1977). Promoted to a chair in 1805, he then was forced to leave Jena because of the Napoleonic war, became editor of a newspaper, and from 1807 spent eight years as director of the Gymnasium in Nürnberg. While there he published the two volumes of the Wissenschaft der Logik (1812–16, trs. as The Logic of Hegel, 1874). In 1816 he became professor of philosophy at Heidelberg, where he produced the Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (‘Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline’). Two years later he succeeded Fichte as professor in Berlin and entered into his most famous and influential period. His Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse and Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (trs. as The Philosophy of Right, 1896) appeared in 1821, and many lecture notes by pupils were subsequently collected. The standard edition of Hegel's works (Stuttgart, 1927–30) runs to twenty volumes. Hegel attracted great numbers of foreign students to Berlin, and had an unparalleled influence on German philosophy in the 19th century. He was also the central philosophical influence on Marx and Engels, and on English philosophy in the absolute idealist phase, and although his reputation in the Anglo-American world has suffered periods of eclipse, he continues to be a focal point for many thinkers.
The cornerstone of Hegel's system, or world view, is the notion of freedom, conceived not as simple licence to fulfil preferences but as the rare condition of living self-consciously and in a fully rationally organized community or state (this is not, as is charged for example by Popper, a defence of the totalitarian state or the doctrine that ‘might is right’, since Hegel requires a rational state to meet very stringent conditions, including the consent of the rational conscience of its members). Surprisingly, history can be seen as progress towards freedom: here Hegel follows the spirit of his own age (see Romanticism ), voicing a confidence in progress and purpose in the otherwise jumbled kaleidoscope of history, but incidentally providing a dangerously intoxicating model for all social and political movements that pride themselves that they are on the side of the future. For Hegel such a progress is required by a proper theory of knowledge. Hegel admires scepticism as a movement that respects the freedom of reason, but starting from the Kantian response to scepticism he charts in the Phenomenology the development of all possible forms of consciousness, to the point where awareness becomes possible not of mere phenomena, but of reality as it is in itself, identified both with knowledge of the Absolute and with the moment when ‘mind’ finally knows itself. Although this desirable outcome is left rather vague, the Phenomenology contains brilliant analyses of the fragile nature of self-consciousness, and in particular the way it depends upon recognition by others. Thus the emergence of the singular ‘mind’ as opposed to the normal plurality of many minds is justified by the social nature of self-consciousness. Hegel's understanding that to have value in my own eyes I must achieve value in the eyes of others was arguably the foundation for subsequent social philosophy (see alienation, master/slave morality ). Apart from his social and political philosophy, one of the most important of Hegel's legacies has been his conception of logic (see dialectic, dialectical materialism ). Hegel's own attitude to logic is complicated by the equation between history on the one hand and thought or spirit on the other, meaning that disharmony or ‘contradiction’ in the world is an instance of contradiction in thought. Hegel's own attitude to the idea that actual events might embody contradictions, and thus in some sense make contradictions true, has been the topic of much debate.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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