Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.png

Prof. Dr. phil. Hegel
(Portrait by Jakob Schlesinger, 1831)
Main interests: metaphysics, epistemology, naturphilosophie, theology, philosophy of history, ethics, political philosophy, logic and aesthetics.

Born 27 August 1770
Stuttgart, Duchy of Württemberg, Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation
Died 14 November 1831 (aged 61)
Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Confederation
Nationality German
Occupation Philosopher

School German Idealism; Founder of Hegelianism; Historicism

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (27 August 1770 – 14 November 1831) was a German philosopher and, with Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, one of the representatives of German idealism. Hegel influenced writers of widely varying positions, including both his admirers (Bauer, Marx, Bradley, Sartre, Küng), and his detractors (Schelling, Kierkegaard, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger). Hegel discussed a relation between nature and freedom, immanence and transcendence, and the unification of these dualities without eliminating either pole or reducing it to the other. His influential conceptions are of speculative logic or "dialectic," "absolute idealism," "Spirit," the "Master/Slave" dialectic, "ethical life," and the importance of history.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lithographie von Ludwig Sebbers.jpg
Hegel's tombstone in Berlin.JPG
Born in 1770 in Stuttgart, Hegel spent the years 1788–1793 as a student in nearby Tübingen, studying first philosophy, and then theology, and forming friendships with fellow students, the future great romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) and Friedrich von Schelling (1775–1854), who, like Hegel, would become one of the major figures of the German philosophical scene in the first half of the nineteenth century. These friendships clearly had a major influence on Hegel’s philosophical development, and for a while the intellectual lives of the three were closely intertwined.
After graduation Hegel worked as a tutor for families in Bern and then Frankfurt, where he was reunited with Hölderlin. Until around 1800, Hegel devoted himself to developing his ideas on religious and social themes, and seemed to have envisaged a future for himself as a type of modernising and reforming educator, in the image of figures of the German Enlightenment such as Lessing and Schiller. Around the turn of the century, however, under the influence of Hölderlin and Schelling, his interests turned more to issues arising from the critical philosophy initiated by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and developed by J.G. Fichte (1762–1814). In the 1790s the University of Jena had become a center for the development of critical philosophy due to the presence of K.L. Reinhold (1757–1823) and then Fichte, who taught there from 1794 until his dismissal on the grounds of atheism at the end of the decade. By that time, Schelling, who had first been attracted to Jena by the presence of Fichte, had become an established figure at the university. In 1801 Hegel moved to Jena to join Schelling, and in same year published his first philosophical work, The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, in which he argued that Schelling had succeeded where Fichte had failed in the project of systematizing and thereby completing Kant’s transcendental idealism. In 1802 and 1803 Hegel and Schelling worked closely together, editing the Critical Journal of Philosophy, and on the basis of this association Hegel came to be dogged for many years by the reputation of being a “mere” follower of Schelling (who was five years his junior).
By late 1806 Hegel had completed his first major work, the Phenomenology of Spirit (published 1807), which showed a divergence from his earlier, seemingly more Schellingian, approach. Schelling, who had left Jena in 1803, interpreted a barbed criticism in the Phenomenology’s preface as aimed at him, and their friendship abruptly ended. The occupation of Jena by Napoleon’s troops as Hegel was completing the manuscript restricted the activities of the university and Hegel departed. Now without a university appointment he worked for a short time, apparently very successfully, as an editor of a newspaper in Bamberg, and then from 1808–1815 as the headmaster and philosophy teacher at a gymnasium (high school) in Nuremberg. During his time at Nuremberg he married and started a family, and wrote and published his Science of Logic. In 1816 he managed to return to his university career by being appointed to a chair in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, but shortly after, in 1818, he was offered and took up the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, the most prestigious position in the German philosophical world. In 1817, while in Heidelberg he published the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, a systematic work in which an abbreviated version of the earlier Science of Logic (the Encyclopaedia Logic or Lesser Logic) was followed by the application of its principles to the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of spirit. In 1821 in Berlin Hegel published his major work in political philosophy, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, based on lectures given at Heidelberg but ultimately grounded in the section of the Encyclopaedia Philosophy of Spirit dealing with objective spirit. During the following ten years up to his death in 1831 Hegel enjoyed celebrity at Berlin, and published subsequent versions of the Encyclopaedia. After his death versions of his lectures on philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and the history of philosophy were published.
After Hegel’s death, Schelling, whose reputation had long since been eclipsed by that of Hegel, was invited to take up the chair at Berlin, reputedly because the government of the day had wanted to counter the influence that Hegelian philosophy had exerted on a generation of students. Since the early period of his collaboration with Hegel, Schelling had become more religious in his philosophising and criticised the rationalism of Hegel’s philosophy. During this time of Schelling’s tenure at Berlin, important forms of later critical reaction to Hegelian philosophy developed. Hegel himself had been a supporter of progressive but non-revolutionary politics, but his followers divided into factions broadly groupable as those of the left, right and centre (Toews 1985); from the left, Karl Marx was to develop his own purported scientific approach to society and history which appropriated many Hegelian ideas into a materialistic outlook. (Later, especially in reaction to orthodox Soviet versions of Marxism, many so-called Western Marxists re-incorporated further Hegelian elements back into their forms of Marxist philosophy.) Many of Schelling’s own criticisms of Hegel’s rationalism found their way into subsequent existentialist thought, especially via the writings of Kierkegaard, who had attended Schelling’s lectures. Furthermore, the interpretation Schelling offered of Hegel during these years itself helped to shape subsequent generations’ understanding of Hegel, contributing to the orthodox or traditional understanding of Hegel as a metaphysical thinker in the pre-Kantian dogmatic sense.
In academic philosophy, Hegelian idealism had seemed to collapse dramatically after 1848 and the failure of the revolutionary movements of that year, but underwent a revival in both Great Britain and the United States in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In Britain, where philosophers such as T.H. Green and F.H. Bradley had developed metaphysical ideas which they related back to Hegel’s thought, Hegel came to be one of the main targets of attack by the founders of the emerging “analytic” movement, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. For Russell, the revolutionary innovations in logic starting in the last decades of the nineteenth century with the work of Frege and Peano had destroyed Hegel’s metaphysics by overturning the Aristotelian logic on which, so Russell claimed, it was based, and in line with this dismissal, Hegel came to be seen within the analytic movement as an historical figure of little genuine philosophical interest. To some degree, analogous things could be said of Hegel’s reception from within the twentieth-century phenomenological tradition that developed in continental Europe, but although marginalized within such core areas of mainstream academic philosophy, Hegel nevertheless continued to be a figure of interest within other philosophical movements such as existentialism and Marxism. In France, a version of Hegelianism came to influence a generation of thinkers, including Jean Hyppolite, Jean-Paul Sartre and the psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, largely through the lectures of Alexandre Kojève. However, a later generation of French philosophers coming to prominence in the 1960s tended to react against Hegel in ways analogous to those in which early analytic philosophers had reacted against the Hegel who had influenced their predecessors. In Germany, having lapsed in the second half of the nineteenth century, interest in Hegel was revived at the turn of the twentieth with the historical work of Wilhelm Dilthey, and important Hegelian elements were incorporated within the approaches of thinkers of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno, and later, Jürgen Habermas, as well as within the Heidegger-influenced hermeneutic approach of H.-G. Gadamer. In Hungary, similar Hegelian themes were developed by Georg Lukács and later thinkers of the Budapest School. In the 1960s the German philosopher Klaus Hartmann developed what was termed a non-metaphysical interpretation of Hegel which, together with the work of Dieter Henrich and others, played an important role in the revival of interest in Hegel in academic philosophy in the second half of the century. Within English-speaking philosophy, the final quarter of the twentieth century saw something of a revival of serious interest in Hegel’s philosophy with important works appearing such as those by H.S. Harris, Charles Taylor, Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard in North America, and Stephen Houlgate and Robert Stern in Great Britain. By the close of the twentieth century, even within core logico-metaphysical areas of analytic philosophy, a number of individuals such as Robert Brandom and John McDowell had started to take Hegel seriously as a significant modern philosopher, although generally within analytic circles a favorable reassessment of Hegel has still a long way to go.[1]


Hegelianism is a philosophical school based on the writings of the German Idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the philosophical tradition that began with him. It was centered in Germany during the mid-19th Century. Hegel's major works include "The Phenomenology of Spirit" (1807), "Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences" (1817) and "Philosophy of Right" (1821). His works are considered notoriously difficult to understand, but his philosophy can perhaps be summed up by the motto "the rational alone is real". He advocated a kind of historically-minded Absolute Idealism, in which the universe would realize its spiritual potential through the development of human society, and in which mind and nature can be seen as two abstractions of one indivisible whole Spirit. Hegel developed his theory out of the Subjective Idealism (or Transcendental Idealism) of Immanuel Kant. Hegel was also probably the first philosopher to think of history itself as a dialectical process, in which reality can be understood through a three-stage dialectic, starting with the indeterminate concept (or thesis) to the determinate concept (or antithesis) and then to the resolution (or synthesis). Hegel saw "Geist" (the absolute mind or spirit) developing through history, with each period having a Zeitgeist (spirit of the age). Hegel's theory of the dialectic was the inspiration for the Dialectical Materialism of Karl Marx and Marxism. Hegel's immediate followers in Germany are generally divided into the Hegelian Rightists (also known as Right Hegelians or Old Hegelians) and the Hegelian Leftists (also known as Left Hegelians or Young Hegelians). The Rightists (following the lead of some of the other German Idealists) developed Hegel's philosophy along lines which they considered to be in accordance with Christian theology, and took his philosophy in a politically and religiously conservative direction. The Right Hegelians felt that the series of historical dialectics had been completed, and that Prussian society as it existed was the culmination of all social development to date. They included Johann Philipp Gabler (1753 - 1826), Karl Friedrich Göschel (1784 - 1861), Johann Karl Friedrich Rosenkranz (1805 - 1879) and Johann Eduard Erdmann (1805 - 1892). The Leftists accentuated the anti-Christian tendencies of Hegel's system, and believed that there were still further dialectical changes to come, and that the Prussian society of the time was far from perfect. Many of the more radical Young Hegelians disagreed with many of Hegel's conclusions, but they found his dialectical approach to be very useful. They included Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 - 1872), David Friedrich Strauss (1808 - 1874), Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (1763 - 1825), Bruno Bauer (1809 - 1882), Friedrich Engels (1820 - 1895) and Karl Marx (who eventually fell out with the other Young Hegelians, but nevertheless went on to develop his theory of Dialectical Materialism from Hegel's principles). Max Stirner (1806 - 1856) socialized with the Left Hegelians but built his own philosophical system, largely opposing that of these thinkers, and was influential in the development of Nihilism, Existentialism and Anarchism. The British Idealism movement of the mid-19th Century to the early 20th Century revived interest in the works of Kant and Hegel. The leading figures in the movement were T. H. Green (1836 - 1882), F. H. Bradley (1846 - 1924), Bernard Bosanquet (1848 - 1923), J. M. E. McTaggart (1866 - 1925), H. H. Joachim (1868 - 1938) and J. H. Muirhead (1855 - 1940). There were also Hegelian philosophers in Denmark, Poland, France, North America and Italy, where Hegelianism inspired the "Actual Idealism" and Fascism of Giovanni Gentile (1875 - 1944).[2]


  • Along with J.G. Fichte and, at least in his early work, F.W.J. von Schelling, Hegel (1770–1831) belongs to the period of German idealism in the decades following Kant. The most systematic of the post-Kantian idealists, Hegel attempted, throughout his published writings as well as in his lectures, to elaborate a comprehensive and systematic philosophy from a purportedly logical starting point. He is perhaps most well-known for his teleological account of history, an account that was later taken over by Marx and “inverted” into a materialist theory of an historical development culminating in communism. While idealist philosophies in Germany post-dated Hegel (Beiser 2014), the movement commonly known as German idealism effectively ended with Hegel’s death. Certainly since the revolutions in logical thought from the turn of the twentieth century, the logical side of Hegel’s thought has been largely forgotten, although his political and social philosophy and theological views have continued to find interest and support. Since the 1970s, however, a degree of more general philosophical interest in Hegel’s systematic thought and its logical basis has been revived.

Glenn Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, 2001:

  • There are, furthermore, numerous Hermetic elements in Hegel's writings. These include, in broad strokes, a Masonic subtext of "initiation mysticism" in the Phenomenology of Spirit; a Böhmean subtext to the Phenomenology's famous preface; a Kabbalistic-Böhmean-Lullian influence on the Logic; alchemical-Paracelsian elements in the Philosophy of Nature; an influence of Kabbalistic and Joachimite millennialism on Hegel’s doctrine of Objective Spirit and theory of world history; alchemical and Rosicrucian images in the Philosophy of Right; an influence of the Hermetic tradition of pansophia on the system as a whole; an endorsement of the Hermetic belief in philosophia perennis; and the use of perennial Hermetic symbolic forms (such as the triangle, the circle, and the square) as structural, architectonic devices.
  • Hegel's library included Hermetic writings by Agrippa, Böhme, Bruno, and Paracelsus. He read widely on Mesmerism, psychic phenomena, dowsing, precognition, and sorcery. He publicly associated himself with known occultists, like Franz von Baader. He structured his philosophy in a manner identical to the Hermetic use of 'Correspondences.' He relied on histories of thought that discussed Hermes Trismegistus, Pico della Mirandola, Robert Fludd, and Knorr von Rosenroth alongside Plato, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton. He stated in his lectures more than once that the term "speculative" means the same thing as "mystical." He believed in an "Earth Spirit" and corresponded with colleagues about the nature of magic. He aligned himself, informally, with "Hermetic" societies such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians. Even Hegel's doodles were Hermetic, as we shall see in chapter 3 when I discuss the mysterious "triangle diagram".

External links



  1. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  2. Hegelianism