Hegelianism is a philosophy developed by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel which can be summed up by Hegel's "the rational alone is real," which means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. His goal was to reduce reality to a more synthetic unity within the system of transcendental idealism.

Life and writings of Hegel

Hegel was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1770 and died in Berlin, Germany in 1831. After studying theology at Tübingen he devoted himself successively to the study of contemporary philosophy and to the cultivation of the Greek classics. After about seven years spent as a private tutor in various places, he began his career as a university professor in 1801. His first appointment was at Jena. After an intermission of a year in which he spent as newspaper editor at Bamberg, and a short term as rector of a gymnasium at Nuremberg, he was made professor of philosophy at Heidelberg in 1816, whence he was transferred to the University of Berlin in 1818. Hegel's principal works are his "Logic" (Wissenschaft der Logik, 1816), his "Phenomenology of Spirit" (Phänomenologie des Geistes, 1807), his "Encyclopedia" (Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften, 1817), and his Philosophy of History (Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie der Geschichte, 1820). His works were collected and published by Rosenkranz in 19 vols., 1832-42, second edition 1840-54.


Hegel's method in philosophy consists in following out the triadic development (Entwicklung) in each concept and in each thing. Thus, he hopes, philosophy will not contradict experience, but will give to the data of experience the philosophical, that is, the ultimately true, explanation. If, for instance, we wish to know what liberty is, we take that concept where we first find it, in the unrestrained action of the savage, who does not feel the need of repressing any thought, feeling, or tendency to act. Next, we find that the savage has given up this freedom in exchange for its opposite, the restraint, or, as he considers it, the tyranny, of civilization and law. Thirdly, in the citizen under the rule of law, we find the third stage of development, namely liberty in a higher and a fuller sense than that in which the savage possessed it, the liberty to do and to say and to think many things which were beyond the power of the savage. In this triadic process we remark that the second stage is the direct opposite, the annihilation, or at least the sublation, of the first. We remark also that the third stage is the first returned to itself in a higher, truer, richer, and fuller form. The three stages are, therefore, styled:
* in itself (An-sich)
* out of itself (Anderssein)
* in and for itself (An-und-für-sich).

These three stages are found succeeding one another throughout the whole realm of thought and being, from the most abstract logical process up to the most complicated concrete activity of organized mind in the succession of states or the production of systems of philosophy.

Doctrine of development

In logic - which, according to Hegel, is really metaphysic - we have to deal with the process of development applied to reality in its most abstract form. According to Hegel, in logic, we deal in concepts robbed of their empirical content: in logic we are discussing the process "in vacuo", so to speak. Thus, at the very beginning of Hegel's study of reality, he finds the logical concept of being. Now, being is not a static concept according to Hegel, as Aristotle supposed it was. It is essentially dynamic, because it tends by its very nature to pass over into nothing, and then to return to itself in the higher concept, becoming. For Aristotle, there was nothing more certain than that being equaled being, or, in other words, that being is identical with itself, that everything is what it is. Hegel does not deny this; but, he adds, it is equally certain that being tends to become its opposite, nothing, and that both are united in the concept becoming. For instance, the truth about this table, for Aristotle, is that it is a table. For Hegel, the equally important truth is that it was a tree, and it "will be" ashes. The whole truth, for Hegel, is that the tree became a table and will become ashes. Thus, becoming, not being, is the highest expression of reality. It is also the highest expression of thought because then only do we attain the fullest knowledge of a thing when we know what it was, what it is, and what it will be-in a word, when we know the history of its development.

In the same way as "being" and "nothing" develop into the higher concept becoming, so, farther on in the scale of development, life and mind appear as the third terms of the process and in turn are developed into higher forms of themselves. (It is interesting here to note that Aristotle saw "being" as superior to "becoming", because anything which is still becoming something else is imperfect. Hence, God, for Aristotle, is perfect because He never changes, but is eternally complete.) But one cannot help asking what is it that develops or is developed? Its name, Hegel answers, is different in each stage. In the lowest form it is "being", higher up it is "life", and in still higher form it is "mind". The only thing always present is the process (das Werden). We may, however, call the process by the name of "spirit" (Geist) or "idea" (Begriff). We may even call it God, because at least in the third term of every triadic development the process is God.

Categorization of philosophies

Division of philosophy

The first and most wide-reaching consideration of the process of spirit, God, or the idea, reveals to us the truth that the idea must be studied (1) in itself; this is the subject of logic or metaphysics; (2) out of itself, in nature; this is the subject of the philosophy of nature; and (3) in and for itself, as mind; this is the subject of the philosophy of mind (Geistesphilosophie).

Philosophy of nature

Passing over the rather abstract considerations by which Hegel shows in his "Logik" the process of the idea-in-itself through being to becoming, and finally through essence to notion, we take up the study of the development of the idea at the point where it enters into otherness in nature. In nature the idea has lost itself, because it has lost its unity and is splintered, as it were, into a thousand fragments. But the loss of unity is only apparent, because in reality the idea has merely concealed its unity. Studied philosophically, nature reveals itself as so many successful attempts of the idea to emerge out of the state of otherness and present itself to us as a better, fuller, richer idea, namely, spirit, or mind. Mind is, therefore, the goal of nature. It is also the truth of nature. For whatever is in nature is realized in a higher form in the mind which emerges from nature.

Philosophy of mind

The philosophy of mind begins with the consideration of the individual, or subjective, mind. It is soon perceived, however, that individual, or subjective, mind is only the first stage, the in-itself stage, of mind. The next stage is objective mind, or mind objectified in law, morality, and the State. This is mind in the condition of out-of-itself. There follows the condition of absolute mind, the state in which mind rises above all the limitations of nature and instituitions, and is subjected to itself alone in art, religion, and philosophy. For the essence of mind is freedom, and its development must consist in breaking away from the restrictions imposed on it in it otherness by nature and human institutions.

Philosophy of history

Hegel's philosophy of the State, his theory of history, and his account of absolute mind are the most interesting portions of his philosophy and the most easily understood. The State, he says, is mind objectified. The individual mind, which, on account of its passions, its prejudices, and its blind impulses, is only partly free, subjects itself to the yoke of necessity---the opposite of freedom---in order to attain a fuller realization of itself in the freedom of the citizen. This yoke of necessity is first met with in the recognition of the rights of others, next in morality, and finally in social morality, of which the primal institution is the family. Aggregates of families form civil society, which, however, is but an imperfect form of organization compared with the State. The State is the perfect social embodiment of the idea, and stands in this stage of development for God Himself. The State, studied in itself, furnishes for our consideration constitutional law. In relation to other States it develops international law; and in its general course through historical vicissitudes it passes through what Hegel calls the "Dialectics of History". Hegel teaches that the constitution is the collective spirit of the nation and that the government is the embodiment of that spirit. Each nation has its own individual spirit, and the greatest of crimes is the act by which the tyrant or the conqueror stifles the spirit of a nation. War, he teaches, is an indispensable means of political progress. It is a crisis in the development of the idea which is embodied in the different States, and out of this crisis the better State is certain to emerge victorious. The "ground" of historical development is, therefore, rational; since the State is the embodiment of reason as spirit. All the apparently contingent events of history are in reality stages in the logical unfolding of the sovereign reason which is embodied in the State. Passions, impulse, interest, character, personality---all these are either the expression of reason or the instruments which reason moulds for its own use.We are, therefore, to understand historical happenings as the stern, reluctant working of reason towards the full realization of itself in perfect freedom. Consequently, we must interpret history in purely rational terms, and throw the succession of events into logical categories. Thus, the widest view of history reveals three most important stages of development. Oriental monarchy (the stage of oneness, of suppression of freedom), Greek democracy (the stage of expansion, in which freedom was lost in unstable demagogy), and Christian constitutional monarchy (which represents the reintegration of freedom in constitutional government).

Philosophy of absolute mind

Even in the State, mind is limited by subjection to other minds. There remains the final step in the process of the acquisition of freedom, namely, that by which absolute mind in art, religion, and philosophy subjects itself to itself alone. In art, mind has the intuitive contemplation of itself as realized in the art material, and the development of the arts has been conditioned by the ever-increasing "docility" with which the art material lends itself to the actualization of mind or the idea. In religion, mind feels the superiority of itself to the particularizing limitations of finite things. Here, as in the philosophy of history, there are three great moments, Oriental religion, which exaggerated the idea of the infinite, Greek religion, which gave undue importance to the finite, and Christianity, which represents the union of the infinite and the finite. Last of all, absolute mind, as philosophy, transcends the limitations imposed on it even in religious feeling, and, discarding representative intuition, attains all truth under the form of reason. Whatever truth there is in art and in religion is contained in philosophy, in a higher form, and free from all limitations. Philosophy is, therefore, "the highest, freest and wisest phase of the union of subjective and objective mind, and the ultimate goal of all development."

Influence of Hegel

The far reaching influence of Hegel is due in a measure to the undoubted vastness of the scheme of philosophical synthesis which he conceived and partly realized. A philosophy which undertook to organize under the single formula of triadic development every department of knowledge, from abstract logic up to the philosophy of history, has a great deal of attractiveness to those who are metaphysically inclined. But Hegel's influence is due in a still larger measure to two extrinsic circumstances. His philosophy is the highest expression of that spirit of collectivism which characterized the nineteenth century. In theology especially Hegel revolutionized the methods of inquiry. The application of his notion of development to Biblical criticism and to historical investigation is obvious to anyone who compares the spirit and purpose of contemporary theology with the spirit and purpose of the theological literature of the first half of the nineteenth century. In science, too, and in literature, the substitution of the category of becoming for the category of being is a very patent fact, and is due to the influence of Hegel's method. In political economy and political science the effect of Hegel's collectivistic conception of the State supplanted to a large extent the individualistic conception which was handed down from the eighteenth century to the nineteenth.

The Hegelian schools

Hegel's immediate followers in Germany are generally divided into the "Hegelian Rightists" and the "Hegelian Leftists" (the latter also referred to as the "Young Hegelians"—to which Karl Marx belonged).

The Rightists developed his philosophy along lines which they considered to be in accordance with Christian theology. They included Karl Friedrich Göschel, Johann Philipp Gabler, Johann Karl Friedrich Rosenkranz, and Johann Eduard Erdmann.

The Leftists accentuated the anti-Christian tendencies of Hegel's system and developed schools of materialism, socialism, rationalism, and pantheism. They included Ludwig Feuerbach, Richter, Karl Marx, Bruno Bauer, and Otto Strauss. Max Stirner socialized with the left Hegelians but built his own philosophical system largely opposing that of these thinkers.

In Britain, Hegelianism was represented during the nineteenth century by, and largely overlapped the British Idealist school of James Hutchison Stirling, Thomas Hill Green, William Wallace, John Caird, Edward Caird, Richard Lewis Nettleship, J. M. E. McTaggart, and Baillie. British interest in Hegel was largely driven by political thought.

In Denmark, Hegelianism was represented by Johan Ludvig Heiberg and Hans Lassen Martensen from the 1820s to the 1850s.

Hegelianism in North America was represented by Thomas Watson and William T. Harris. In its most recent form it seems to take its inspiration from Thomas Hill Green, and whatever influence it exerts is opposed to the prevalent pragmatic tendency.

In Poland, Hegelianism was represented by Karol Libelt, August Cieszkowski and Józef Kremer.

Benedetto Croce and Étienne Vacherot were the leading Hegelians towards the end of the nineteenth century in Italy and France, respectively. Among Catholic philosophers who were influenced by Hegel the most prominent were Georg Hermes and Anton Günther.

Hegelianism also inspired Giovanni Gentile's philosophy of actual idealism and Fascism, the concept that people are motivated by ideas and that social change is brought by the leaders.

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