Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

"The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom...The destiny of the spiritual world, and...the final cause of the World at large, we claim to be Spirit's consciousness of its own freedom, and ipso facto, the reality of that freedom...This final aim is God's purpose with the world; but God is the absolutely perfect Being, and can, therefore, will nothing but himself."

"All the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality, he posses only through the State...For turth is the unity of the universal and subjective will; and the Universal is found in the State, in its laws, its universal and rational arrangements. The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth. We have it, therefore, the object of history in a more definite shape than before; that in which Freedom obtains objectivity. For Law is the objectivity of the Spirit."


Hegel was born in 1770, the first of three children. His mother passed away early in his life; he was eleven-years-old at the time. By the age of 18, Hegel began attending the theological seminary of the University of Tubingen. There he met and befriended some of those who would become his major contemporaries, including Schelling, who would become a rival of Hegel, and Holderlin, the German Romantic Poet. He graduated in 1797 and moved to Frankfurt. By 1805, Hegel began his professorship at Jena due to the help of Schelling. Fichte and the Schlegel brothers were already professors there, as well as Schelling, Hegel's old schoolmate.

An idealist philosopher steeped in Romantic sentiment (i.e., Rousseau), including a skeptical stance toward Enlightenment thought tempered by the Enlightenment virtue of "freedom," Hegel, of course, went on to become one of the most influential thinkers of the 19th century.  While at Jena, Hegel completed his first great work, The Phenomenology of Mind, in 1807. By 1806, when the French had taken the city of Jena, Hegel was forced to flee, thus moving on to Bavaria, where he became the editor of the Bamberger Zeitung. Shortly thereafter, due to a distaste for journalism, Hegel moved on to Nuremberg to serve as the headmaster of a Gymnasium. There, he married his wife, Marie von Tucher, and bore three children -- two sons and a daughter (who died shortly after her birth). Hegel also fathered an illegitimate son, Ludwig, who later came to live with him and his family. Hegel finally settled at the University of Berlin, where he remained for the rest of his years. He died on November 14, 1831 due to cholera.


Hegel's philosophy has engendered much controversy over the years such that one overarching summary of his work is very difficult to produce. Since this brief essay on Hegel's work is being written in the context of Hegel as a precursor to existential- phenomenological thought, my disclaimer amounts to disclosing that this can only be a reading of Hegel from an existential-phenomenological perspective. For a more over-arching perspective, it is suggested that the reader consult some of the links listed below -- or, even better, read Hegel himself.

Early on in his work, Hegel's close connection to romantic trends in philosophy lead him to criticize the "positivity" of the orthodox religions of his era in order to urge a move toward a more romantic vision of religion--toward a "folk" sensibility relying less on dogma and abstract claims of church authorities. In this sense, both Hegel and later existentialist thought, beginning with Kierkegaard, find a connection in this fundamental sensibility. Kierkegaard would, however, critique Hegel's movement toward the concept of "Absolute Spirit" in his subsequent work. Also, during this early period, Hegel spent considerable time contemplating the problems of modern social and political life. Hegel explored the possibility that some individuals may "consent" to political power of some sort without fully coming to terms with the implications of this power or by holding feelings of resentment. In this sense, Hegel opened up the exploration of the concept of "alienation," which would subsequently influence Marx, as well as 20th century existentialist thought. For Hegel, alienation (Entfremdung) is the characteristic of the modern problem in which one's will appears "strange," "alien" or "other," leading toward the feelings of dissatisfaction in much of modern life.

Hegel's more romantic perspective on the philosophy of religion, history and politics shifted shortly thereafter. This shift consisted of Hegel's argument that philosophy should consist of an understanding of the history of philosophical thought, wherein past philosophical thought is viewed as partially true rather than false. The progression of philosophical 'truth' for Hegel involves a dialectical resolution of past oppositions into increasingly accurate syntheses. Although Hegel never used them, Hegel's concept of this dialectic can be more easily grasped in terms of Heinrich Moritz Chalybaus' terms "thesis," "antithesis," and "synthesis." With this terminology, the "thesis" consists of a historical movement which, in itself, is incomplete. To resolve the incompletion, an "antithesis" arises which opposes itself to the historical thrust of the "thesis." In turn, the "synthesis" arrives when the "thesis" and "antithesis" become reconciled in such a way that a higher level of 'truth' is obtained. This "synthesis" thereby becomes the "thesis," which will again give rise to an "antithesis," leading to a new "synthesis," and so on. For Hegel, this dialectical movement is the result of a rational movement in history. That is, for Hegel, history involves the movement of Absolute Spirit, consisting of a collective subject which lives through, yet surpasses, each individual human subject. Thus, for Hegel, the individual's own subjectivity is, in a sense, a reflection of the social inheritance which has its own "logic" which surpasses the finite individual. Ultimately, for Hegel, this historical progression will culminate with the 'end of history' when the Absolute Spirit finally comes to an understanding of its own infinite self -- and, in this sense, Absolute Spirit becomes the full expression of an infinite God. This teleological concept of 'truth' argues that our species' perspective on 'truth' is not finite or contingent, but, rather, "identical" with "what there is, in truth." Ultimately, the human being is "at home" in the world by understanding "how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." This 'hanging together' takes place in the collective through the rational movement of history.

Kierkegaard would later critique Hegel for his pretensions of finality -- the essential foundation of his absolute idealism. For Kierkegaard, any existing thinker is necessarily finite and incomplete. Further, Kierkegaard criticized Hegel for basing his philosophy on a supposed presuppositionless or absolute starting point; whereas, for Kierkegaard, this undercuts the starting point of all philosophy as the beginning of wonder -- as opposed to the suspension of doubt. Finally, Kierkegaard takes issue with Hegel for his belief in an immanent God, for Kierkegaard wants to establish God as "wholly other."

In terms of Hegel's argument that the human being is "at home" in the world when he or she discovers he or she is not finite or contingent, but "identical" with "truth," Heidegger, on the contrary, would later argue that the human being is fundamentally not-at-home in the world, since the human being is the "null base of a nullity." That is, the human being, as a being-towards-death, is not-at-home-in-the-world as authentic since the human being understands that he or she includes the possibility of having no more possibilities (death).

The Hegel Page
G.W.F. Hegel by Kelley L. Ross
Hegel at Encarta
Introduction to Hegel
Hegel - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Hegel by Hypertext
The Intro to Hegel Page
Hegel's Philosophy of History: An Introduction
Hegel Quotations
The Hegel Society of America
Home of the Sweet Absolute
Preface to The Philosophy of Spirit/Mind (Geist) by G.W.F. Hegel
Summary of Hegel's Philosophy of Mind by Paul Trejo
Hegel on Thales
The Cyberbook Version of Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics
Hegel and the 20th Century--Seminars
Hegel: Works on IL Tweb
Hegel: Philosophy and History as Theology
"Hegel and the Greeks" by Martin Heidegger
"The First Hegelians: An Introduction" by Lawrence Stepelevich
"A Historian Looks at Hegel Philosophically" by David Burrell
"The Meaning of Hegel's Logic" by Andy Blunden
"Was Hegel Christian or Athiest?" by Paul Trejo
"Hegel's Ethical Defense of War" by Andrew N. Carpenter
American Hegelians and Education
Animated Hegel & Nietzsche

Recommended Books for Purchase:

Phenomenology of Spirit
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Aesthetics : Lectures on Fine Art
by G. W. F. Hegel
Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
G.W.F. Hegel : Theologian of the Spirit (Making of Modern Theology)
by G. W. F. Hegel, Peter C. Hodgson (Editor)
Hegel : The Essential Writings
by Frederick G. Weiss (Editor), Georg W. Hegel
Hegel's Philosophy of Mind
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Hegel's Philosophy of Right
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Introduction to the Philosophy of History
by Hegel
Lectures on the History of Philosophy : Greek Philosophy to Plato
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Lectures on the History of Philosophy : Plato and the Platonists
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
The Philosophy of History
by George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
The Hegel Reader
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Stephen Houlgate (Editor), ste Houlgate
Hegel : The Letters
by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
The Cambridge Companion to Hegel
by Frederick C. Beiser (Editor)
Hegel Dictionary
by Michael Inwood
Hegel and Modern Society
by Charles Taylor
The Phenomenology of Spirit Reader : Critical and Interpretive Essays
by Jon Stewart (Editor)
Hegel's Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit
by Michael N. Forster
Hegel's Idealism : The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness
by Robert B. Pippin
Introducing Hegel
by Lloyd Spencer, Andrzej Krauze, Richard Appignanesi (Editor), Andrzej Krause (Illustrator)
Hegel in 90 Minutes
by Paul Strathern
The Critique of Pure Modernity : Hegel, Heidegger, and After
by David Kolb
From Hegel to Marx : Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx
by Sidney Hook, Christopher Phelps
Introduction to the Reading of Hegel : Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit (Agora Paperback Editions)
by Alexandre Kojeve
From Hegel to Nietzsche : The Revolution in Nineteenth Century Thought
by Karl Lowith
Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit
by Martin Heidegger
In the Spirit of Hegel : A Study of G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit
by Robert C. Solomon
From Hegel to Existentialism
by Robert C. Solomon
Subjects of Desire : Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France
by Judith Butler
Tarrying With the Negative : Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology
 by Slavoj Zizek
Hegel : Three Studies
by Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno
Problem of Knowledge : Philosophy Science and History Since Hegel
by Ernst Cassirer
Reason and Revolution : Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory
by Herbert Marcuse
The Spectre of Hegel : Early Writings
by Louis Althusser
Hegel After Derrida
by Stuart Barnett (Editor)
Dark Riddle : Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews
by Yirmiyahu Yovel
Spirit in Ashes : Hegel, Heidegger and Man Made Mass Death
by Edith Wyschogrod
Endings : Questions of Memory in Hegel and Heidegger
by Rebecca Comay (Editor), John McCumber (Editor)
The Ubiquity of the Finite : Hegel, Heidegger, and the Entitlements of Philosophy
by Dennis J. Schmidt
Hegel, History and Interpretation
by Shaun Gallagher (Editor)
Idealism As Modernism : Hegelian Variations
by Robert B. Pippin
From Hegel to Madonna : Towards a General Economy of 'Commodity Fetishism'
by Robert Miklitsch
Hegel and Feminist Social Criticism : Justice, Recognition, and the Feminine
by Jeffrey A. Gauthier
Hegel and the Philosophy of Nature
by Stephen Houlgate (Editor)
Hegel's Ethical Thought
by Allen W. Wood
Hegel's Theory of Madness
by Daniel Berthold-Bond
Inwardness and Existence : Subjectivity In/and Hegel, Heidegger, Marx, and Freud
by Walter A. Davis
Hegel's Transcendental Induction
by Peter Simpson


Copyright, 1999, Brent Dean Robbins

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