Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
   A German idealist philosopher, Georg Hegel was born in Stuttgart, Germany, on August 27, 1770. Through his schooling years Hegel mastered English, Greek, French, and Hebrew; obtained a master’s degree in philosophy in 1790; and spent the years 1788–1793 as a theology student in nearby Tübingen. There he formed lasting friendships with Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) and Friedrich von Schelling (1775–1854), both of whom became major figures of the German philosophical scene in the first half of the nineteenth century. All three witnessed the unfolding of the French Revolution and immersed themselves in the emerging criticism of the idealist philosophy of Immanuel Kant.
   Hegel belongs to the period of German idealism in the decades after Kant. He was fascinated by the works of Benedictus de Spinoza, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and by the French Revolution. As the most systematic of the post-Kantian idealists, Hegel effectively elaborated a comprehensive and systematic ontology from a “logical” starting point throughout his published writings as well as in his lectures. He is best 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. Hegel’s famous philosophy is his theory of the dialectic. According to this logic, thesis inevitably generates antithesis, its dialectical opposite, and in the next stage the interaction between thesis and antithesis creates a new condition, defined by Hegel as the synthesis. In time, this resultant synthesis transforms into another negative element leading to a more comprehensive synthesis. The final result in this process is the Hegelian “absolute” or the perfect whole. As an absolute idealist, Hegel used this theory to read nature and events through history. Hegel’s conception of history stressed the concept of monarchy as the highest and most permanent situation in society. He distinguished world history into four categories: the Oriental Empire based on absolute monarchy, the Greek Empire where the monarchy was replaced by the republic, the Roman Empire in which the individual is reduced to obedience, and the Germanic Empire in which individual and state are effectively harmonized. Correspondingly, in his studies on aesthetics, Hegel distinguished three periods: the Oriental, the Greek, and the Romantic. In extension he describes architecture’s difference from related arts in terms of the externality of function in the architectural work. Further, his three stages of art and architecture are organized around their relation to function: symbolic architecture appearing before any posited separation of function and means, classical architecture achieving a perfect balance of the two, and romantic architecture going beyond the dominance of function. Hegel’s views were widely taught in Germany and elsewhere. His followers were divided into two groups, right wing and left-wing Hegelians. Right-wing followers had a conservative interpretation, and the other group offered a free, frequently controversial, understanding of Hegel. This group included Feuerbach, Bauer, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx. Hegel’s philosophies also influenced other philosophies that developed in Europe in the nineteenth century such as post-Hegelian idealism, the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Sartre, the socialism of Marx and Lasalle, and the instrumentalism of Dewey.
    Avineri, Shlomo. Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972;
    Crites, Stephen. Dialectic and Gospel in the Development of Hegel’s Thinking. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998;
    Forster, Michael N. Hegel and Skepticism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989;
    Forster, Michael N. Hegel’s Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998;
    Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Hegel’s Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies. Translated by P. Christopher Smith. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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