Hegel

 

He has been called the “Aristotle of modern times”, and he used his system of dialectics to explain the whole of the history of philosophy, science, art, politics and religion.

Hegel’s thought can be seen as part of a progression of philosophers (going back to Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Leibniz, Spinoza, Rousseau and Kant) who can generally be described as Idealists, and who regarded freedom or self-determination as real,

He developed a new form of thinking and Logic, which he called “speculative reason” (which includes the more famous concept of “dialectic”) to try to overcome what he saw as the limitations of both common sense and of traditional philosophy at grasping philosophical problems and the relation between thought and reality. His method was to begin with ultra-basic concepts (like Being and Nothing), and to develop these through a long sequence of elaborations towards solutions that take the form of a series of concepts.

Hegel was a child of the Romantic period.

Hegel united and developed almost all the ideas that had surfaced in the Romantic period.But he was sharply critical of many of the Romantics, including Schelling. Schelling as well as other Romantics had said that the deeper meaning of life lay in what they called the “world spirit.” Hegel  uses the term “world spirit,” but in a new sense. When Hegel talks “world spirit” or “world reason,” he means the sum of human utterances, because only man has a “spirit.” ‘In this sense, he can speak of the progress of world spirit through history.

Although he denied that man could have any clear cognition of the innermost secrets of nature, he admitted that there exist a kind of unattainable “truth.” Hegel said that “truth is subjective,” thus rejecting the existence of any “truth” above or beyond human reason. All knowledge is human knowledge.

Hegel’s philosophy so all-embracing and diversified that for present purposes we shall content ourselves with highlighting some of the main aspects. l actually doubtful whether one can say that Hegel had his own “philosophy” at all. What is usually known as Hegel’s philosophy is main a method for understanding the progress of history. Hegel’s philosophy teaches us nothing about the inner nature of life, but it can teach us to think productively.’

The philosophical systems before Hegel had had one thing in common, namely, the attempt to set up eternal criteria for what man can know about the world. This was true of Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant. Each and every one had tried to investigate the basis of cognition. But they had all made pronouncements on the timeless factor of human’s knowledge of the world.

Hegel did not believe it was possible. He believed that the basis of cognition changed from one generation to the next. There were yore no “eternal truths,” no timeless reason. The only fixed point philosophy can hold on to is history itself.

The River

A river is also in a constant state of change. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it. But you cannot say at which place in the valley the is the “truest” river.

So to Hegel, history was like a running river. Every tiny movement in the water at a given spot in the river is determined by the falls and eddies in the water higher upstream. But these movements are verrnined, too, by the rocks and bends in the river at the point where are observing it.

And the history of thought—or of reason—is like this river. The plights that are washed along with the current of past tradition, as -4 as the material conditions prevailing at the time, help to determine how you think. You can therefore never claim that any particular thought correct for ever and ever. But the thought may be correct from where you stand.

If you advocated slavery today, you would pest be thought foolish. But you wouldn’t have been considered foolish 2,500 years ago, even though there were already progressive voices in favor of slavery’s abolition. But we can take a more local ample. Not more than 100 years ago it was not considered unreasonable to burn off large areas of forest in order to cultivate the land. But it’s extremely unreasonable today. We have a completely different–and better—basis for such judgments.

Reason is Dynamic

You cannot single out particular thoughts from antiquity, the Mid Ages, the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment and say they were riot or wrong. By the same token, you cannot say that Plato was wrong and that Aristotle was right. Neither can you say that Hume was wrote but Kant and Schelling were right. That would be an antihistorical way of thinking.

In fact, you cannot detach any philosopher, or any thought  from that philosopher’s or that thought’s historical context.

He claimed it as a historical reality. It was not a prediction. Anybody who studies history will see that humanity has advanced toward ever. increasing “self-knowledge” and “self-development.” According to Hegel, the study of history shows that humanity is moving towarc greater rationality and freedom. In spite of all its capers, historical development is progressive. We say that history is purposeful.

History is one long chain of reflections. Hegel also indicated certain rules that apply for this chain of reflections. Anyone studying hisory in depth will observe that a thought is usually proposed on the basis of other, previously proposed thoughts.

But as soon as one thought is proposed, it will be contradicted by another. A tension arises between these two opposite ways of thinking. But the tension is resolved by the –posal of a third thought which accommodates the best of both points view. Hegel calls this a dialectic process.

Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a legitimate child of Rom z– ticism,’ began Alberto. ‘One could almost say he developed with —4 German spirit as it gradually evolved in Germany. He was borr Stuttgart in 1770, and began to study theology in Tubingen at the o?’ of eighteen. Beginning in 1799, he worked with Schelling in Je-c during the time when the Romantic Movement was experiencing it most explosive growth. After a period as assistant professor in Jenc -a became a professor in Heidelberg, the center of German Natic-r. Romanticism. In 1818 he was appointed professor in Berlin, just at time when the city was becoming the spiritual center of Europe died of cholera in 1831, but not before “Hegelianism” had gainec 3f enormous following at nearly all the universities in Germany.’ ‘So he covered a lot of ground.’ ‘Yes, and so did his philosophy. Hegel united and developed alrrs all the ideas that had surfaced in the Romantic period. But he w-s sharply critical of many of the Romantics, including Schelling.’ ‘What was it he criticized?’ ‘Schelling as well as other Romantics had said that the deeper meaning of life lay in what they called the “world spirit.” Hegel c uses the term “world spirit,” but in a new sense. When Hegel talks “world spirit” or “world reason,” he means the sum of human u-e, ances, because only man has a “spirit.” ‘In this sense, he can speak of the progress of world spirit througF’Do. history. However, we must never forget that he is referring to hurry life, human thought, and human culture.’ ‘That makes this spirit much less spooky. It is not lying in wait anyir like a “slumbering intelligence” in rocks and trees.’ ‘Now, you remember that Kant had talked about something he cal e…- “das Ding an sich.” Although he denied that man could have any clea-cognition of the innermost secrets of nature, he admitted that there ex st a kind of unattainable “truth.” Hegel said that “truth is subjective,” tf.z rejecting the existence of any “truth” above or beyond human reaso-All knowledge is human knowledge, he said.’ ‘He had to get the philosophers down to earth again, right?’ ‘Yes, perhaps you could say that. However, Hegel’s philosophy so all-embracing and diversified that for present purposes we shat content ourselves with highlighting some of the main aspects. l actually doubtful whether one can say that Hegel had his own “p– losophy” at all. What is usually known as Hegel’s philosophy is mai-% a method for understanding the progress of history. Hegel’s philosop^. teaches us nothing about the inner nature of life, but it can teach us T. think productively.’

That’s not unimportant.’ )AN the philosophical systems before Hegel had had one thing in nerrion, namely, the attempt to set up eternal criteria for what man -71 know about the world. This was true of Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant. Each and every one had tried to investigate the basis of – on cognition. But they had all made pronouncements on the timeless .-,Dr of human knowledge of the world.’ isn’t that a philosopher’s job?’ -egel did not believe it was possible. He believed that the basis of – Jncognition changed from one generation to the next. There were yore no “eternal truths,” no timeless reason. The only fixed point :sophy can hold on to is history itself.’ afraid you’ll have to explain that. History is in a constant state mange, so how can it be a fixed point?’ A river is also in a constant state of change. That doesn’t mean you ps t talk about it. But you cannot say at which place in the valley the . is the “truest” river.’ No, because it’s just as much river all the way through.’ So to Hegel, history was like a running river. Every tiny movement ie water at a given spot in the river is determined by the falls el eddies in the water higher upstream. But these movements are verrnined, too, by the rocks and bends in the river at the point where are observing it.’ ;get it . . . I think.’ And the history of thought—or of reason—is like this river. The plights that are washed along with the current of past tradition, as -4 as the material conditions prevailing at the time, help to determine -wf you think. You can therefore never claim that any particular thought correct for ever and ever. But the thought can be correct from where 1. stand.’ Itat’s not the same as saying that everything is equally right or aapily wrong, is it?’ Certainly not, but some things can be right or wrong in relation to Main historical context. If you advocated slavery today, you would pest be thought foolish. But you wouldn’t have been considered ash 2,500 years ago, even though there were already progressive pes in favor of slavery’s abolition. But we can take a more local ample. Not more than 100 years ago it was not considered unreason–3e to burn off large areas of forest in order to cultivate the land. But s extremely unreasonable today. We have a completely different–d better—basis for such judgments.’ Now I see.’

‘Hegel pointed out that as regards philosophical reflection, alsci,. reason is dynamic; it’s a process, in fact. And the “truth” is this sorsa process, since there are no criteria beyond the historical process itself that can determine what is the most true or the most reasonable.’ ‘Examples, please.’ ‘You cannot single out particular thoughts from antiquity, the Mid Ages, the Renaissance, or the Enlightenment and say they were riot or wrong. By the same token, you cannot say that Plato was wrong and that Aristotle was right. Neither can you say that Hume was wrote but Kant and Schelling were right. That would be an antihistorical waft of thinking.’ ‘No, it doesn’t sound right.’ ‘In fact, you cannot detach any philosopher, or any thought at .7.! from that philosopher’s or that thought’s historical context. But—on: here I come to another point—because something new is always be n: added, reason is “progressive.” In other words, human knowledge a constantly expanding and progressing.’ ‘Does that mean that Kant’s philosophy is nevertheless more rig-tr than Plato’s?’ ‘Yes. The world spirit has developed—and progressed—from Pion: to Kant. And it’s a good thing! If we return to the example of the river we could say that there is now more water in it. It has been running for over a thousand years. Only Kant shouldn’t think that his “truths” wit remain on the banks of the river like immovable rocks. Kant’s idea get processed too, and his “reason” becomes the subject of future generations’ criticism. Which is exactly what has happened.’ ‘But the river you talked about . . ‘Yes?’ ‘Where does it go?’ ‘Hegel claimed that the “world spirit” is developing toward an eve–expanding knowledge of itself. It’s the same with rivers—they become broader and broader as they get nearer to the sea. According t: Hegel, history is the story of the “world spirit” gradually coming ‘: consciousness of itself. Although the world has always existed, humor culture and human development have made the world spirit increasing!. conscious of its intrinsic value.’ ‘How could he be so sure of that?’ ‘He claimed it as a historical reality. It was not a prediction. Anybod∎ who studies history will see that humanity has advanced toward ever. increasing “self-knowledge” and “self-development.” According tc Hegel, the study of history shows that humanity is moving towarc greater rationality and freedom. In spite of all its capers, historicc

rvelopment is progressive. We say that history is purposeful.’ So it develops. That’s clear enough.’ Yes. History is one long chain of reflections. Hegel also indicated –toiy rules that apply for this chain of reflections. Anyone studying irory in depth will observe that a thought is usually proposed on the :sis of other, previously proposed thoughts. But as soon as one thought Droposed, it will be contradicted by another. A tension arises between ese two opposite ways of thinking. But the tension is resolved by the –posal of a third thought which accommodates the best of both points view. Hegel calls this a dialectic process.’ Could you give an example?’ You remember that the pre-Socratics discussed the question of pri-evol substance and change?’ More or less.’ Then the Eleatics claimed that change was in fact impossible. They ve therefore forced to deny any change even though they could gister the changes through their senses. The Eleatics had put forward Haim, and Hegel called a standpoint like that a thesis.’ Yes?’ But whenever such an extreme claim is proposed, a contradictory ogre will arise. Hegel called this a negation. The negation of the odic philosophy was Heraclitus, who said that everything flows. ere is now a tension between two diametrically opposed schools of aught. But this tension was resolved when Empedocles pointed out *both claims were partly right and partly wrong.’ Yes, it all comes back to me now . . The Eleatics were right in that nothing actually changes, but they re not right in holding that we cannot rely on our senses. Heraclitus d been right in that we can rely on our senses, but not right in ding that everything flows.’ Because there was more than one substance. It was the combination flowed, not the substance itself.’ Right! Empedocles’ standpoint—which provided the compromise veen the two schools of thought—was what Hegel called the potion of the negation.’ Nhat a terrible term!’ ie also called these three stages of knowledge thesis, antithesis, synthesis. You could, for example, say that Descartes’s rationalism a thesis—which was contradicted by Hume’s empirical antithesis. the contradiction, or the tension between two modes of thought, resolved in Kant’s synthesis. Kant agreed with the rationalists in e things and with the empiricists in others. But the story doesn’t end

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