Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher, one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of reality as a whole revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Continental philosophy and Marxism.
His all-embracing philosophical system, set forth in such works as Phenomenology of Mind (1807), Science of Logic (1812-16), and Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), includes theories of ethics, aesthetics, history, politics, and religion. At the center of the universe Hegel posited an enveloping absolute spirit that guides all reality, including human reason. His absolute idealism envisages a world-soul, evident throughout history, that develops from, and is known through, a process of change and progress now known universally as the Hegelian dialectic. According to its laws, one concept (thesis) inevitably generates its opposite (antithesis); their interaction leads to a new concept (synthesis), which in turn becomes the thesis of a new triad.
Hegel divides history into several distinct stages (namely, the Oriental, the Persian, the Greek, the Roman, the German, and the Modern). Each of these civilizations is defined by its relationship to Spirit; from the Oriental to the Modern stage, this relationship with Spirit has expanded and become more subjective. Each civilization undergoes a dialectical clash with the next; for example, the Romans took the unrestrained individual subjectivity of the Greeks and subjugated it to the political objective Universality of the Roman state. The result of this dialectical opposition was a new relationship with Spirit that was more complex than it had previously been, but had not yet reached the ultimate peak of complete subjective individuality.
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 concrete 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 I see, feel, smell, etc., a chair, I do not yet know that it is a chair; only when my mind has formed a concept of "chair" can I comprehend the chair. This dialectical process continues; for the next chair I see will have different characteristics, yet it is still a chair. By experiencing this new chair and comparing it to my previous concept of "chair," I come to a fuller realization of "chair."
Hegel's aim was to set forth a philosophical system so comprehensive that it would encompass the ideas of his predecessors and create a conceptual framework in terms of which both the past and future could be philosophically understood. Such an aim would require nothing short of a full account of reality itself. Thus, Hegel conceived the subject matter of philosophy to be reality as a whole. This reality, or the total developmental process of everything that is, he referred to as the Absolute, or Absolute Spirit. According to Hegel, the task of philosophy is to chart the development of Absolute Spirit. This involves (1) making clear the internal rational structure of the Absolute; (2) demonstrating the manner in which the Absolute manifests itself in nature and human history; and (3) explicating the teleological nature of the Absolute, that is, showing the end or purpose toward which the Absolute is directed.
Hegel adopted a new principle of philosophy = Spirit. Hegel's Geist (Spirit) does develop itself in the perspective of time such that it will completely actualize itself through a variety of stages. [...] This Spirit, therefore, has the purpose (telos) and meaning to be actualized. [...] Now reality according to Hegel, is to be understood not by means of the principle of the mechanical efficient causality, but teleological causality. This is a great leap in the development of the Western philosophy.
There are a number of pieces that, together, constitute the motivation and context for Hegel’s philosophical system.
A dangerous, unstable world: Napoleon is spreading the political principles of the French Revolution through much of Europe
Sturm und Drang: a vision of history as Storm and Stress
A clash between Enlightenment rationality (represented by Kant) and Romanticism (expressed in poetry, in a return to nature, and in a quest for apprehension of an aesthetic unity beneath the craziness of life)
The question then arises: how closely must a philosophy of history mirror the scope of world events to be acceptable -- or useful? The answer Hegel gives is that facts are important to theory, but only to a limited extent. As he asserts in Phenomenology, "the individual has the right to demand that science should at least provide him with the ladder" to any philosophical perspective. In other words, the objective facts should at least underlay the theory, offering empirical evidence of its possible validity. Hegel recognizes the significance of historical events, but only insofar as they provide evidence to confirm the underlying philosophy.
Hegel, himself, directly explains that his purpose is to present philosophy in a strictly scientific form, and that this must be done in terms of concepts. [...] Personality is such a concrete concept that it is really only to be invoked at the conclusion of Science, for, as we have indicated, it is also where the whole of Science comes from - therefore it is both the origin and conclusion. Consequently Hegel claims that genuine philosophy is a circle or as we shall discover - a circle of circles.
"Hegel's entire system in the positive element of practical reason." Because "philosophy grasps its current era in thought," and because law is itself a product of reason, it is not the task of philosophy, to replace political reality, but to understand the rationality in that which is. From this came the famous statement, "The real is the rational, the rational is the real."
Hegel’s reflections on philosophy, religion, aesthetics, history, and law—all included here—have profoundly influenced many subsequent thinkers, from post-Hegelian idealists or materialists like Karl Marx, to the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre; from the phenomenological tradition of Edmund Husserl to Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida and other post-moderns, to thinkers farther afield, like Japan’s famous Kyoto School or India’s Aurobindo.
Since the Hegel renaissance of the 1970s, Hegel has become an established figure in the history of philosophy.The dissertations, books and articles on every aspect of his philosophy have increased exponentially since then. […] The reason for he Hegel renaissance lies to some degree in an overdue recognition of Hegel's historical importance. […] In the 1970s and 1980s Hegel became, at least in the Anglophile world, the rallying figure for the reaction against analytical philosophy.
Hegel's philosophy is indeed essentially negative: critique. In extending the transcendental philosophy of the Critique of Pure Reason through the thesis of reason's identity with what exists and making it a critique of what exists, a critique of any and every positivity, Hegel denounced the world, whose theodicy constitutes his program, in its totality as well; he denounced it as a web of guilt […] in which, as Mephistopheles says in Faust, everything that exists deserves to perish.
One of Hegel's main concerns in the revolutionary book he wrote in the German city of Jena while only in his thirties, his Phenomenology of Spirit, is a familiar modern philosophical concern: the attempt to understand the various competencies involved in distinctly human sentience, sapience, and agency, and, especially and above all in Hegel's project, the complex inter-relations among all such competencies.
Hegel took history seriously. In contrast to Kant, who thought he could say on purely philosophical grounds what human nature is and always must be, Hegel accepted Schiller's suggestion that the very foundations of the human condition could change from one historical era to another. This notion of change, of development throughout history, is fundamental to Hegel's view of the world.