Hegel's Philosophy

The basic tenet of Hegel's philosophy is that the human mind does indeed play a large role in structuring the existence of the individual, but only through its opposition to the outside world. For example, our concept of a chair is something that is formed in our minds, yet this concept could not occur without some sort of sensual perception of the chair itself. When we see, feel and smell something then only we demand for it. Hegel treated all human actions in a dialectical manner. The self was nothing until the mind was able to relate the self to its concept of 'Self' as well as relate it to the other. Hegel believed that the individual, by interacting with other individuals, other objects in the concrete world, as well as other ideas in the world of the spirit, could reach a higher order of self.

In fact, true freedom and the fully realized self could only be achieved through interaction with other individuals, other objects, and other ideas. Consequently, institutions such as the family, civil society, education etc. were absolutely essential to the freedom of the individual.

Hegel's philosophy is speculative in the sense he tried to understand the whole realm of human experience by grasping it as the manifestation of Geist. Geist means both 'mind' and 'spirit' and it may not always be clear whether Hegel is thinking of mind as a philosophical concept, or of spirit, as a theological one. As a last resort he identifies the two, because philosophy in his religion crystallized into thought.

The Phenomenology of Mind

Hegel's greatest work is his The Phenomenology of Mind which is described by Marx as the true birthplace and secret of Hegel's philosophy. It is sometimes referred to in English as, The Phenomenology of Spirit. This, perhaps the most brilliant and difficult of Hegel's books, describes how the human mind has risen from mere consciousness, through self-consciousness, reason, spirit and religion, to absolute knowledge. Though man's nature or attitude towards existence is reliant on the senses, a little reflection is sufficient to show that the reality attributed to the external world is due as much to intellectual conceptions, as to the senses and that their conceptions elude man when he tries to fix them.

In this work Hegel sought to show that all human intellect so far was logically necessary. The logic of this process is, however, not the traditional logic of syllogism, but rather Hegel's own dialectical logic. The study of phenomena is called phenomenology, and Hegel focuses on mental phenomena. Hence the title, Phenomenology of Mind. It is a study of appearances, images and illusions throughout the history of human consciousness.

Seeing the Phenomenology as a whole and at the same time understanding it as a document of Hegel's development, one can easily see his desperate struggle with himself. It is the life of the spirit not to shun his own devastation. But to face them with absolute honesty guided by the preface, one may see the Phenomenology as a great work of art, an immense world-historical stage play. On the stage appears one form of human consciousness after another, each together with what it believes in, its value. Each makes a disappointing experience with its certainty and is replaced by another one, which enjoys and suffers the same fate. At the end of all these various characters, will have contributed their share to the whole play; the audience at the same time becomes aware that all these roles are their own roles. It unfolds their own fable before their eyes and minds.

In the Phenomenology, the whole philosophy is discovering itself in the voyage and adventure, which the human soul undertakes to become aware of its world and of it within itself. Every step and phase of this human consciousness discovers in itself, a perennial human possibility, both in ascending, as well as, in descending directions.

The Philosophy of Right

This is another one of the important works of Hegel. In The Philosophy of Right, Hegel describes this rational quality in a manner that parallels - though is not identical with the Prussian monarchy of his own days. For this, he was accused by Schopenhauer of selling himself to his employer. The Philosophy of Right falls into three main divisions. The first is concerned with law and rights like: persons are the subject of rights, and what is required of them is mere obedience, no matter what the motives of obedience may be. Right is thus an abstract, universal and therefore does merit justice only to the universal element in the human will. The individual, however, cannot be satisfied unless the act that he does accord not merely with law, but also with his own conscientiousness. Thus, the problem in the modern world is to construct a social and political order that satisfies the aims of both. And thus, no political order can satisfy the demands of reason unless it is organized so as to avoid on one hand, a centralization that would make men slaves or ignore conscience, and on the other, an antinomianism that would allow freedom of connection to any individual and so produce a licentiousness, that would make social and political order impossible.

The Philosophy of Right can and has been read as a political philosophy, which stands independently of the system, but it is clear that Hegel intended it to be read against the background of the developing conceptual determinations of logic. The text proper starts from the conception of a singular willing subject as "the bearer of an abstract right". While this conception of the individual willing subject with some kind of fundamental right is in fact the starting point of many modern political philosophies.

The Science of Logic

In 1812, the first volume of Hegel's Logic appeared; the second volume was published in 1816. His school and his new family life kept him busy during these days.

The Logic is, like the Phenomenologic des geistes, a new creation, a miracle of achievement. And, as in the case of the latter, there are a number of long and careful comments and reproductions, notably those of the orthodox Hegelians Kuno Fischer and Johann Edward Erdmann. But those elegant reproductions of Hegel's Logic are no less artificial than the original; their sequence of categories is not less arbitrary, and many transitions are just as forced. Hegel meant to develop Logic as ontology. He intended to unfold the categories of being itself, present in and pervading all beings, and all of its regional dimensions such as nature and history. He kept working on this theme to his last days but Logic never satisfied him.

Hegel's Philosophy of History

To Hegel, history was a complex, organic process that could never be understood by concentrating solely on the narrow accounts of politicians, kings and aristocrats. To fully understand the history of a nation or of the world, one had to delve into its times, and explore its culture, its pattern of thought, and the interactions of all its people. Hegel's philosophy of history has greatly influenced our modern historical methods and studies. Students of Hegel have proven themselves to be some of the most influential historians of all time. For example, Marx's materialistic interpretation of history and David Strauss' attempt to discover the 'true' life of Jesus are some of the finest examples of the original 'new history' that the modern world has produced since Hegel.

Hegel presents his view of the direction of history in a famous sentence from the introduction to The Philosophy of History.

The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.

The remainder of the work is a long illustration of this thought. Hegel begins with the ancient empires of China, India and Persia. For Hegel, the course of history since the Reformation has been governed by the need to transform the world so as to reflect the newly recognized principle of individual freedom.

One might ask why a philosopher should write a work that is, in one sense, a brief outline of the history of the world, from ancient times to his own day? The answer is that for Hegel the facts of history are raw material to which the philosopher must give some sense. Hegel said that history displays a rational process of development, and, by studying it, we can understand our own nature and place in the world.

Hegel's Philosophy on Nature

Hegel made most strenuous efforts to make into an intelligible whole what contemporary scientists told him about the physical world. According to him, however necessary the mastery of nature was to man; the really important problems lay elsewhere. The stars, which excited Kant, were for Hegel only a 'rash', and the mountains of the Bernese Oberland he found equally unimpressive for knowledge of what is in nature and history he depended on natural scientists and historians. Philosophy's task was indeed to get to the bottom of what they reported, but it could not alter their reports or substitute anything for it. His Philosophy of Nature might have been more highly regarded if it had explicitly adopted a theory of evolution. No theory could have better fitted Hegel's own views.

Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences

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 was followed by the application of its principles to the Philosophy of Nature and The Philosophy of Spirit. In 1821 at Berlin, Hegel published an expanded and developed version of a section of the encyclopaedia dealing with political philosophy, Elements of the Philosophy of Right. The following 10 years up to his death due to cholera in 1831, he continued to teach 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.

Ethics and Politics

Hegel's social and political nature emerges most clearly in his discussion of morality and social ethics. At the level of morality, right and wrong is a matter of individual conscience. One must however, move beyond this to the level of social ethics, for duty according to Hegel, is not essentially the product of individual judgment. Individuals are complete only in the midst of social relationships; thus, the only context in which duty can truly exist is a social one. Hegel considered membership in the state, one of the individual's highest duties. Ideally the state is the manifestation of the general will, which is the highest expression of the ethical spirit. Obedience to this general will is the act of a free and rational individual.