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Hegel

Hegel (1770-1831) was a giant of Western philosophy in the 1800s. He affected much of the philosophy of the time, especially that of Marx, who read history in light of his thinking.

As a boy Hegel studied the great works of the Greeks and Romans and wanted to become a Protestant minister. So he went to study at Tubingen. There he became friends with Schelling and Holderlin. Schelling would later make his mark in philosophy and Holderlin became a famous poet.

Hegel changed his mind about becoming a minister and became a private teacher instead. But then when he was 27 his father died. Hegel became rich and never had to work a day in his life again. He studied philosophy and in time taught it first at Heidelberg and then at Berlin, where he became famous.

Hegel taught that a simple process, the dialectic, governs everything – not just nature, but art and society too:

thesis + antithesis -> synthesis

In the beginning is the thesis, but before long this brings about its opposite, the antithesis. A period of disorder follows as the two battle, trying to get the upper hand. Neither wins. Instead a new order arises: the synthesis. It puts the thesis and antithesis together to create something newer and better. That is how history progresses, how things get better over time.

But the synthesis now finds that it has become the new thesis, which brings about a new antithesis. And so on.

And so by this process earth becomes plant, plant becomes animal, animal becomes man, man becomes the state and so on. It is how worship of nature became Christianity. (Hegel saw Christianity as a sort of Hegelianism for the masses.)

And so from bad and simple beginnings come good and wonderful things. Things are always changing but, in the long run, getting better. Much better.

This process comes to an end in what Hegel called the Absolute Spirit when we will know everything and see God.

Marx saw history in these terms: the capitalists, the rich moneymen, would bring about their opposite, the workers. The two would battle and in the end communism would arise to replace them both and bring an end to their division:

capital + workers -> communism

Hegel was deeply affected by the Greeks, Spinoza, Rousseau, Kant, Fichte and his friend Schelling.

Hegel himself affected not just Marx but also Kierkegaard, Sartre, Dewey and Royce and, of course, the Young Hegelians, who wanted to unite Germany.

Hegel is still important, given how often his works are still cited, but he is no longer the giant he was in the 1800s. His chief influence now comes through Marx.

His books:

  • 1807: Phenomenology of Mind
  • 1816: Science of Logic
  • 1817: Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences
  • 1821: Philosophy of Right
  • 1837: Philosophy of History
  • 1838: Philosophy of Art

In the “Phenomenology” he first presented his new philosophy and in the “Encyclopedia” he laid it out in detail.

See also:

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