History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions

(contents)


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy
 

Medieval philosophy
 

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


 

Western Philosophy
 

 

 




 

 
 

 

 


Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 
 


Western philosophy


History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.

 




Modern philosophy






Modern philosophy » The 19th century

Kant’s death in 1804 formally marked the end of the Enlightenment. The 19th century ushered in new philosophical problems and new conceptions of what philosophy ought to do. It was a century of great philosophical diversity. In the Renaissance, the chief intellectual fact had been the rise of mathematics and natural science, and the tasks that this fact imposed upon philosophy determined its direction for two centuries. In the Enlightenment, attention had turned to the character of the mind that had so successfully mastered the natural world, and rationalists and empiricists had contended for mastery until the Kantian synthesis. As for the 19th century, however, if one single feature of its thought could be singled out for emphasis, it might be called the discovery of the irrational. But many philosophical schools were present, and they contended with each other in a series of distinct and powerful oppositions: pragmatism against idealism, positivism against irrationalism, Marxism against liberalism.

Western philosophy in the 19th century was influenced by several changes in European and American intellectual culture and society. These changes were chiefly the Romantic Movement of the early 19th century, which was a poetic revolt against reason in favour of feeling; the maturation of the Industrial Revolution, which caused untold misery as well as prosperity and prompted a multitude of philosophies of social reform; the revolutions of 1848 in Paris, Germany, and Vienna, which reflected stark class divisions and first implanted in the European consciousness the concepts of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; and, finally, the great surge in biological science following the publication of work by Charles Darwin (1809–82) on the theory of evolution. Romanticism influenced both German idealists and philosophers of irrationalism. Experiences of economic discord and social unrest produced the ameliorative social philosophy of English utilitarianism and the revolutionary doctrines of Karl Marx (1818–83). And the developmental ideas of Darwin provided the prerequisites for American pragmatism.

A synoptic view of Western philosophy in the 19th century reveals an interesting chronology. The early century was dominated by the German school of absolute idealism, whose main representatives were Johann Fichte (1762–1814), Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). The mid-century was marked by a rebirth of interest in science and its methods, as reflected in the work of Auguste Comte (1798–1857) in France and John Stuart Mill (1806–73) in England, and by liberal (Mill) and radical (Marx) social theory. The late century experienced a second flowering of idealism, this time led by the English philosophers T.H. Green (1836–82), F.H. Bradley (1846–1924), and Bernard Bosanquet (1848–1923), and the rise of American pragmatism, represented by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) and William James (1842–1910). The new philosophies of the irrational, produced by the highly idiosyncratic thinkers Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), ran through the century in its entirety.


Modern philosophy » The 19th century » The idealism of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel

The Enlightenment, inspired by the example of natural science, had accepted certain boundaries to human knowledge; that is, it had recognized certain limits to reason’s ability to penetrate ultimate reality because that would require methods that surpass the capabilities of scientific method. In this particular modesty, the philosophies of Hume and Kant were much alike. But in the early 19th century the metaphysical spirit returned in a most ambitious and extravagant form. German idealism reinstated the most speculative pretensions of Leibniz and Spinoza. This development was due in part to the influence of Romanticism but also, and more importantly, to a new alliance of philosophy with religion. It was not a coincidence that all the great German idealists were either former students of theology—Fichte at Jena and Leipzig (1780–84), Schelling and Hegel at the Tübingen seminary (1788–95)—or the sons of Protestant pastors. It is probably this circumstance that gave to German idealism its intensely serious, quasi-religious, and dedicated character.

The consequence of this religious alignment was that philosophical interest shifted from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (in which he had attempted to account for natural science and denied the possibility of certainty in metaphysics) to his Critique of Practical Reason (in which he had explored the nature of the moral self) and his Critique of Judgment (in which he had treated of the purposiveness of the universe as a whole). Absolute idealism was based upon three premises:

1. That the chief datum of philosophy is the human self and its self-consciousness.
2. That the world as a whole is spiritual through and through—that it is, in fact, something like a cosmic self.
3. That, in both the self and the world, it is not primarily the intellectual element that counts but, rather, the volitional and the moral.

Thus, for idealistic metaphysics, the primary task of philosophy was understanding the self, self-consciousness, and the spiritual universe.

The philosophies of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel had much in common. Fichte, professor of philosophy at the newly founded University of Berlin (1809–14), combined in a workable unity the subjectivism of Descartes, the cosmic monism of Spinoza, and the moral intensity of Kant. He conceived of human self-consciousness as the primary metaphysical fact through the analysis of which the philosopher finds his way to the cosmic totality that is “the Absolute.” Just as the moral will is the chief characteristic of the self, so it is also the activating principle of the world. Thus Fichte provided a new definition of philosophizing that made it the most dignified of intellectual pursuits. The sole task of philosophy is “the clarification of consciousness,” and the highest degree of self-consciousness is achieved by philosophers because they alone recognize “Mind,” or “Spirit,” as the central principle of reality.

This line of thought was carried further by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Fichte’s successor at Berlin and perhaps the single most comprehensive and influential thinker of the 19th century. Kant’s problem had been the critical examination of reason’s role in human experience. For Hegel, too, the function of philosophy is to discover the place of reason in nature, in experience, and in reality—to understand the laws according to which reason operates in the world. But whereas Kant had found reason to be the form that mind imposes on the world, Hegel found it to be constitutive of the world itself—not something that mind imposes but something it discovers. Just as Fichte had projected consciousness from mind to reality, so Hegel projected reason. The resulting Hegelian pronouncements—that “the rational is the real” and that “the truth is the whole”—although they express an organic theory of truth and reality, tended to blur the usual distinctions that previous philosophers had made between logic and metaphysics, between subject and object, and between thought and existence; for the basic tenet of idealism, that reality is spiritual, generates just such a vague inclusiveness.

To the Fichtean foundations, however, Hegel added one crucial corollary: that the Absolute, or Whole, which is a concrete universal entity, is not static but undergoes a crucial development over time. Hegel called this evolution “the dialectical process”. By stressing it, Hegel accomplished two things: (1) he indicated that reason itself is not eternal but “historical,” and (2) he thereby gave new meaning and relevance to the changing conditions of human society in history—which added to the philosophical task a cultural dimension that it had not possessed before.

The philosopher’s vocation, in Hegel’s view, is to approach the Absolute through consciousness—to recognize it as Spirit expressing and developing itself (“realizing itself” was his own phrase) in all the manifold facets of human life. Struggle is the essence of spiritual existence, and self-enlargement is its goal. For these reasons, the various branches of intellect and culture, enumerated below, become stages in the unfolding of the “World-Spirit”:

1. The psychological characteristics of human beings (habit, appetite, judgment) representing “Subjective Spirit.”
2. Human laws, social arrangements, and political institutions (the family, civil society, the state) expressing “Objective Spirit.”
3. Human art, religion, and philosophy embodying “Absolute Spirit.”

Therefore, what began in Hegel as a metaphysics of the Absolute ended by becoming a total philosophy of human culture.

 



Johann Gottlieb Fichte
German philosopher

born May 19, 1762, Rammenau, Upper Lusatia, Saxony [now in Germany]
died Jan. 27, 1814, Berlin

Main
German philosopher and patriot, one of the great transcendental idealists.

Early life and career
Fichte was the son of a ribbon weaver. Educated at the Pforta school (1774–80) and at the universities of Jena (1780) and of Leipzig (1781–84), he started work as a tutor. In this capacity he went to Zürich in 1788 and to Warsaw in 1791 but left after two weeks’ probation.

The major influence on his thought at this time was that of Immanuel Kant, whose doctrine of the inherent moral worth of man harmonized with Fichte’s character; and he resolved to devote himself to perfecting a true philosophy, the principles of which should be practical maxims. He went from Warsaw to see Kant himself at Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), but this first interview was disappointing. Later, when Fichte submitted his Versuch einer Kritik aller Offenbarung (“An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation”) to Kant, the latter was favourably impressed by it and helped find a publisher (1792). Fichte’s name and preface were accidentally omitted from the first edition, and the work was ascribed by its earliest readers to Kant himself; when Kant corrected the mistake while commending the essay, Fichte’s reputation was made.

In the Versuch, Fichte sought to explain the conditions under which revealed religion is possible; his exposition turns upon the absolute requirements of the moral law. Religion itself is the belief in this moral law as divine, and such belief is a practical postulate, necessary in order to add force to the law. The revelation of this divine character of morality is possible only to someone in whom the lower impulses have been, or are, successful in overcoming reverence for the law. In such a case it is conceivable that a revelation might be given in order to add strength to the moral law. Religion ultimately then rests upon the practical reason and satisfies the needs of man, insofar as he stands under the moral law. In this conclusion are evident the prominence assigned by Fichte to the practical element and the tendency to make the moral requirements of the ego the ground for all judgment on reality.

In 1793 Fichte married Johanna Maria Rahn, whom he had met during his stay in Zürich. In the same year, he published anonymously two remarkable political works, of which Beitrag zur Berichtigung der Urteile des Publikums über die französische Revolution (“Contribution to the Correction of the Public’s Judgments Regarding the French Revolution”) was the more important. It was intended to explain the true nature of the French Revolution, to demonstrate how inextricably the right of liberty is interwoven with the very existence of man as an intelligent agent, and to point out the inherent progressiveness of the state and the consequent necessity of reform or amendment. As in the Versuch, the rational nature of man and the conditions necessary for its realization are made the standard for political philosophy.

The philosophy of Fichte falls chronologically into a period of residence in Jena (1793–98) and a period in Berlin (1799–1806), which are also different in their fundamental philosophic conceptions. The former period is marked by its ethical emphasis, the latter by the emergence of a mystical and theological theory of Being. Fichte was prompted to change his original position because he came to appreciate that religious faith surpasses moral reason. He was also influenced by the general trend that the development of thought took toward Romanticism.


Years at the University of Jena.
In 1793 there was a vacant chair of philosophy at the University of Jena, and Fichte was called to fill it. To the ensuing period belongs his most important philosophical work. In this period he published, among other works: Einige Vorlesungen über die Bestimmung des Gelehrten (1794; The Vocation of the Scholar), lectures on the importance of the highest intellectual culture and on the duties that it imposed; several works on the science of knowledge (Wissenschaftslehre), which were revised and developed continually throughout his life; the practical Grundlage des Naturrechts nach Prinzipien der Wissenschaftslehre (1796; The Science of Rights); and Das System der Sittenlehre nach den Prinzipien der Wissenschaftslehre (1798; The Science of Ethics as Based on the Science of Knowledge), in which his moral philosophy, grounded in the notion of duty, is most notably expressed.

The system of 1794 was the most original and also the most characteristic work that Fichte produced. It was incited by Kant’s critical philosophy and especially by his Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (1788; Critique of Practical Reason . . .). From the outset it was less critical, precisely because it was more systematic, aiming at a self-sufficient doctrine in which the science of knowledge and ethics were intimately united. Fichte’s ambition was to demonstrate that practical (moral) reason is really (as Kant had only intimated) the root of reason in its entirety, the absolute ground of all knowledge as well as of humanity altogether. To prove this, he started from a supreme principle, the ego, which was supposed to be independent and sovereign, so that all other knowledge was deduced from it. Fichte did not assert that this supreme principle was self-evident but rather that it had to be postulated by pure thought. He followed, thereby, Kant’s doctrine that pure, practical reason postulates the existence of God, but he tried to transform Kant’s rational faith into a speculative knowledge on which he based both his theory of science and his ethics.

In 1795 Fichte became one of the editors of the Philosophisches Journal, and in 1798 his friend F.K. Forberg, a young, unknown philosopher, sent him an essay on the development of the idea of religion. Before printing this, Fichte, to prevent misunderstanding, composed a short preface, “On the Grounds of Our Belief in a Divine Government of the Universe,” in which God is defined as the moral order of the universe, the eternal law of right that is the foundation of all man’s being. The cry of atheism was raised, and the electoral government of Saxony, followed by all of the German states except Prussia, suppressed the Journal and demanded Fichte’s expulsion from Jena. After publishing two defenses, Fichte threatened to resign in case of reprimand. Much to his discomfort, his threat was taken as an offer to resign and was duly accepted.


Years in Berlin
Except for the summer of 1805, Fichte resided in Berlin from 1799 to 1806. Among his friends were the leaders of German Romanticism, A.W. and F. Schlegel and Friedrich Schleiermacher. His works of this period include Die Bestimmung des Menschen (1800; The Vocation of Man), in which he defines God as the infinite moral will of the universe who becomes conscious of himself in individuals; Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (also 1800), an intensely socialistic treatise in favour of tariff protection; two new versions of the Wissenschaftslehre (composed in 1801 and in 1804; published posthumously), marking a great change in the character of the doctrine; Die Grundzüge des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters (1806; lectures delivered 1804–05; The Characteristics of the Present Age), analyzing the Enlightenment and defining its place in the historical evolution of the general human consciousness but also indicating its defects and looking forward to belief in the divine order of the universe as the highest aspect of the life of reason; and Die Anweisung zum seligen Leben, oder auch die Religionslehre (1806; The Way Towards the Blessed Life). In this last-named work the union between the finite self-consciousness and the infinite ego, or God, is handled in a deeply religious fashion reminiscent of the Gospel According to John. The knowledge and love of God is declared to be the end of life. God is the All; the world of independent objects is the result of reflection or self-consciousness, by which the infinite unity is broken up. God is thus over and above the distinction of subject and object; man’s knowledge is but a reflex or picture of the infinite essence.


Last years
The French victories over the Prussians in 1806 drove Fichte from Berlin to Königsberg (where he lectured for a time), then to Copenhagen. He returned to Berlin in August 1807. From this time his published writings were practical in character; not until after the appearance of the Nachgelassene Werke (“Posthumous Works”) and of the Sämmtliche Werke (“Complete Works”) was the shape of his final speculations known. In 1807 he drew up a plan for the proposed new University of Berlin. In 1807–08 he delivered at Berlin his Reden an die deutsche Nation (Addresses to the German Nation), full of practical views on the only true foundation for national recovery and glory. From 1810 to 1812 he was rector of the new University of Berlin. During the great effort of Germany for national independence in 1813, he lectured “Über den Begriff des wahrhaften Krieges” (“On the Idea of a True War”).

At the beginning of 1814, Fichte caught a virulent hospital fever from his wife, who had volunteered for work as a hospital nurse; he died shortly thereafter.

Richard Kroner

 





 
 



Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling
German philosopher

born , Jan. 27, 1775, Leonberg, near Stuttgart, Württemberg [Germany]
died Aug. 20, 1854, Bad Ragaz, Switz.

Main
German philosopher and educator, a major figure of German idealism, in the post-Kantian development in German philosophy. He was ennobled (with the addition of von) in 1806.

Early life and career.
Schelling’s father was a Lutheran minister, who in 1777 became a professor of Oriental languages at the theological seminary in Bebenhausen, near Tübingen. It was there that Schelling received his elementary education. He was a highly gifted child, and he had already learned the classical languages at the age of eight. On the basis of his rapid intellectual development, he was admitted, at the age of 15, to the theological seminary in Tübingen, a famous finishing school for ministers of the Württemberg area, where he lived from 1790 to 1795. The youths at Tübingen were inspired by the ideas of the French Revolution and, spurning tradition, turned away from doctrinal theology to philosophy. The young Schelling was inspired, however, by the thought of Immanuel Kant, who had raised philosophy to a higher critical level, and by the idealist system of Johann Fichte, as well as by the pantheism of Benedict de Spinoza, a 17th-century rationalist. When he was 19 years old Schelling wrote his first philosophical work, Über die Möglichkeit einer Form der Philosophie überhaupt (1795; “On the Possibility and Form of Philosophy in General”), which he sent to Fichte, who expressed strong approval. It was followed by Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie (“Of the Ego as Principle of Philosophy”). One basic theme governs both of these works—the Absolute. This Absolute cannot be defined, however, as God; each person is himself the Absolute as the Absolute ego. This ego, eternal and timeless, is apprehended in a direct intuition, which, in contrast to sensory intuition, can be characterized as intellectual.

From 1795 to 1797 Schelling acted as a private tutor for a noble family, who had placed its sons under his care during their studies in Leipzig. The time spent in Leipzig marked a decisive turning point in the thought of Schelling. He attended lectures in physics, chemistry, and medicine. He acknowledged that Fichte, whom he had previously revered as his philosophical model, had not taken adequate notice of nature in his philosophical system, inasmuch as Fichte had always viewed nature only as an object in its subordination to man. Schelling, in contrast, wanted to show that nature, seen in itself, shows an active development toward the spirit. This philosophy of nature, the first independent philosophical accomplishment of Schelling, made him known in the circles of the Romanticists.


Period of intense productivity.
In 1798 Schelling was called to a professorship at the University of Jena, the academic centre of Germany at the time, where many of the foremost intellects of the time were gathered. During this period Schelling was extremely productive, publishing a rapid succession of works on the philosophy of nature. It was Schelling’s desire, as attested by his famous work System des transzendentalen Idealismus (1800; “System of Transcendental Idealism”), to unite his concept of nature with Fichte’s philosophy, which took the ego as the point of departure. Schelling saw that art mediates between the natural and physical spheres insofar as, in artistic creation, the natural (or unconscious) and the spiritual (or conscious) productions are united. Naturalness and spirituality are explained as emerging from an original state of indifference, in which they were submerged in the yet-undeveloped Absolute, and as rising through a succession of steps of ever-higher order. Fichte did not acknowledge this concept, however, and the two writers attacked each other most sharply in an intensive correspondence.

The time spent in Jena was important for Schelling also in a personal respect: there he became acquainted with Caroline Schlegel, among the most gifted women in German Romanticism, and married her in 1803. The unpleasant intrigues that accompanied this marriage and the dispute with Fichte caused Schelling to leave Jena, and he accepted an appointment at the University of Würzburg.

At first, Schelling lectured there on the philosophy of identity, conceived in his last years in Jena, in which he tried to show that, in all beings, the Absolute expresses itself directly as the unity of the subjective and the objective. It was just on this point that G.W.F. Hegel initiated his criticism of Schelling. Hegel had at first taken Schelling’s side in the disagreement between Schelling and Fichte, and complete unanimity seemed to exist between them in 1802 when they coedited the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie (“Critical Journal of Philosophy”). In the following years, however, Hegel’s philosophical thought began to move significantly away from Schelling’s, and his Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807; The Phenomenology of Mind) contained strong charges against Schelling’s system. To Schelling’s definition of the Absolute as an indiscriminate unity of the subjective and the objective, Hegel replied that such an Absolute is comparable to the night, “in which all cows are black.” Besides, Schelling had never explicitly shown how one could ascend to the Absolute; he had begun with this Absolute as though it were “shot out of a pistol.”

This criticism struck Schelling a heavy blow. The friendship with Hegel that had existed since their time together at the seminary in Tübingen broke up. Schelling, who had been regarded as the leading philosopher of the time until the publication of Hegel’s Phänomenologie, was pushed into the background.

This situation caused Schelling to retreat from public life. From 1806 to 1841 he lived in Munich, where, in 1806, he was appointed as general secretary of the Academy of Plastic Arts. He lectured from 1820 to 1827 in Erlangen. Caroline’s death on Sept. 7, 1809, led him to write a philosophical work on immortality. In 1812 Schelling married Pauline Gotter, a friend of Caroline. The marriage was harmonious, but the great passion that Schelling had felt for Caroline was unrepeatable.

During the years in Munich, Schelling tried to consolidate his philosophical work in a new way, producing a revision that was instigated by Hegel’s criticism. Schelling questioned all idealistic speculations built on the assumption that the world presents itself as a rational cosmos. Were there not also irrational things, he asked, and was not evil the predominant power in the world? In his Philosophische Untersuchungen über das Wesener menschlichen Freiheit (1809; Of Human Freedom), Schelling declared that the freedom of man is a real freedom only if it is freedom for good and evil. The possibility of this freedom is founded on two principles that are active in every living thing: one, a dark primal foundation that manifests itself in carnal desire and impulse; the other, a clearheaded sensibleness that governs as a formative power. Man, however, has placed the dark stratum of impulse, which was meant only to serve the intellect as a source of power, above the intellect and has thus subordinated the intellect to the impulses, which now rule over him. This reversal of the right order is the occurrence known in the Bible as the Fall from grace, through which evil came into the world. But this perversion of man is revoked by God, who becomes man in Christ and thus reestablishes the original order.


Period of the later, unpublished philosophy.
The position developed in the work on freedom forms the basis of Schelling’s later philosophy, covering the time from 1810 until his death, which is known only through a draft of the unpublished work Die Weltalter (written in 1811; The Ages of the World) and through the manuscripts of his later lectures. In Die Weltalter Schelling wanted to relate the history of God. God, who originally is absorbed in a quiet longing, comes to himself by glimpsing in himself ideas through which he becomes conscious of himself. This self-consciousness, which is identical to freedom, enables God to project these ideas from himself—i.e., to create the world.

Schelling’s appointment to the University of Berlin in 1841 gave him an opportunity once again to develop public interest in his conceptions. The Prussian king of that time, Frederick William IV, hoped that Schelling would combat the so-called dragon’s seed of Hegelianism in Berlin, where Hegel had been working until his death in 1831. Schelling’s first lecture in Berlin manifested his self-consciousness. Schelling declared that in his youth he had opened a new page in the history of philosophy and that now in his maturity he wanted to turn this page and start yet a newer one. Such notables as Friedrich Engels, Søren Kierkegaard, Jakob Burckhardt, and Mikhail Bakunin were in his audience. Schelling, however, had no great success in Berlin. Moreover, he was embittered when his lectures were plagiarized by an opponent who wanted to submit the positive philosophy of Schelling, now finally disclosed in these lectures, to the public for examination. Schelling initiated a legal suit but lost the case. He resigned and discontinued lecturing.

The content of these final lectures, however, represented the climax of Schelling’s creative activity. Schelling divided philosophy into a negative philosophy, which developed the idea of God by means of reason alone, and, in contrast, a positive philosophy, which showed the reality of this idea by reasoning a posteriori from the fact of the world to God as its creator. Schelling then explained (referring to his work on freedom) that man, who wanted to be equal to God, stood up against God in his Fall into sin. God, however, was soon elevated again as the principle. During the era of mythology, God appeared as a dark power. During the era of revelation, however, God emerged in history as manifestly real in the figure of Christ. Thus, the complete history of religion should be conveyed through philosophical thought.


Personality and significance.
Schelling is described as a man of thickset build, and, according to favourable reports, his high forehead and sparkling eyes were impressive. Opponents of his philosophy, however, such as Karl Rosenkranz, a disciple of Hegel, spoke of a sharp and piercing look. His character was unbalanced. Schelling has been described as nervous, unpredictable, and deeply sensitive in his proud fashion. Particularly striking was his unwavering consciousness that it was his mission to bring philosophy to a definite completion.

Great philosophical influence was denied to Schelling. The philosophical situation at the time was determined not by the few disciples of Schelling but by the Hegelians. The right-wing Hegelians occupied all of the philosophical professorial chairs and handed down the tradition of Hegel’s system. The left-wing Hegelians explained that, even to suspend Hegel’s system, an analysis of Hegel’s philosophy was necessary. Thus, in tracing the development of German Idealism, the early and middle Schelling—that is, the Schelling who drew up the philosophy of nature and the philosophy of identity—has been placed between the Idealism of Fichte, who started from the ego, and Hegel’s system of the Absolute spirit.

The independence of Schelling and his importance for philosophy are only now being recognized, and that in connection with Existential philosophy and philosophical anthropology, which conceive themselves as counteracting the philosophy of absolute reason. The later Schelling now turns out to have been the first thinker to illuminate Hegel’s philosophy critically. In particular, Schelling’s insight that man is determined not only by reason but also by dark natural impulses is now valued as a positive attempt to understand the reality of man on a level more profound than that attained by Hegel.

Walter Schulz

 





 
 



Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
German philosopher

born August 27, 1770, Stuttgart, Württemberg [Germany]
died November 14, 1831, Berlin

Main
German philosopher who developed a dialectical scheme that emphasized the progress of history and of ideas from thesis to antithesis and thence to a synthesis.

Hegel was the last of the great philosophical system builders of modern times. His work, following upon that of Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schelling, thus marks the pinnacle of classical German philosophy. As an absolute Idealist inspired by Christian insights and grounded in his mastery of a fantastic fund of concrete knowledge, Hegel found a place for everything—logical, natural, human, and divine—in a dialectical scheme that repeatedly swung from thesis to antithesis and back again to a higher and richer synthesis. His influence has been as fertile in the reactions that he precipitated—in Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish Existentialist; in the Marxists, who turned to social action; in the Vienna Positivists; and in G.E. Moore, a pioneering figure in British Analytic philosophy—as in his positive impact.

Early life
Hegel was the son of a revenue officer. He had already learned the elements of Latin from his mother by the time he entered the Stuttgart grammar school, where he remained for his education until he was 18. As a schoolboy he made a collection of extracts, alphabetically arranged, comprising annotations on classical authors, passages from newspapers, and treatises on morals and mathematics from the standard works of the period.

In 1788 Hegel went as a student to Tübingen with a view to taking orders, as his parents wished. Here he studied philosophy and classics for two years and graduated in 1790. Though he then took the theological course, he was impatient with the orthodoxy of his teachers; and the certificate given to him when he left in 1793 states that, whereas he had devoted himself vigorously to philosophy, his industry in theology was intermittent. He was also said to be poor in oral exposition, a deficiency that was to dog him throughout his life. Though his fellow students called him “the old man,” he liked cheerful company and a “sacrifice to Bacchus” and enjoyed the ladies as well. His chief friends during that period were a pantheistic poet, J.C.F. Hölderlin, his contemporary, and the nature philosopher Schelling, five years his junior. Together they read the Greek tragedians and celebrated the glories of the French Revolution.

On leaving college, Hegel did not enter the ministry; instead, wishing to have leisure for the study of philosophy and Greek literature, he became a private tutor. For the next three years he lived in Berne, with time on his hands and the run of a good library, where he read Edward Gibbon on the fall of the Roman empire and De l’esprit des loix, by Charles Louis, baron de Montesquieu, as well as the Greek and Roman classics. He also studied the critical philosopher Immanuel Kant and was stimulated by his essay on religion to write certain papers that became noteworthy only when, more than a century later, they were published as a part of Hegels theologische Jugendschriften (1907). Kant had maintained that, whereas orthodoxy requires a faith in historical facts and in doctrines that reason alone cannot justify and imposes on the faithful a moral system of arbitrary commands alleged to be revealed, Jesus, on the contrary, had originally taught a rational morality, which was reconcilable with the teaching of Kant’s ethical works, and a religion that, unlike Judaism, was adapted to the reason of all men. Hegel accepted this teaching; but, being more of a historian than Kant was, he put it to the test of history by writing two essays. The first of these was a life of Jesus in which Hegel attempted to reinterpret the gospel on Kantian lines. The second essay was an answer to the question of how Christianity had ever become the authoritarian religion that it was, if in fact the teaching of Jesus was not authoritarian but rationalistic.

Hegel was lonely in Berne and was glad to move, at the end of 1796, to Frankfurt am Main, where Hölderlin had gotten him a tutorship. His hopes of more companionship, however, were unfulfilled: Hölderlin was engrossed in an illicit love affair and shortly lost his reason. Hegel began to suffer from melancholia and, to cure himself, worked harder than ever, especially at Greek philosophy and modern history and politics. He read and made clippings from English newspapers, wrote about the internal affairs of his native Wurtemberg, and studied economics. Hegel was now able to free himself from the domination of Kant’s influence and to look with a fresh eye on the problem of Christian origins.


Early life » Emancipation from Kantianism
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance that this problem had for Hegel. It is true that his early theological writings contain hard sayings about Christianity and the churches; but the object of his attack was orthodoxy, not theology itself. All that he wrote at this period throbs with a religious conviction of a kind that is totally absent from Kant and Hegel’s other 18th-century teachers. Above all, he was inspired by a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of man, his reason, is the candle of the Lord, he held, and therefore cannot be subject to the limitations that Kant had imposed upon it. This faith in reason, with its religious basis, henceforth animated the whole of Hegel’s work.

His outlook had also become that of a historian—which again distinguishes him from Kant, who was much more influenced by the concepts of physical science. Every one of Hegel’s major works was a history; and, indeed, it was among historians and classical scholars rather than among philosophers that his work mainly fructified in the 19th century.

When in 1798 Hegel turned back to look over the essays that he had written in Berne two or three years earlier, he saw with a historian’s eye that, under Kant’s influence, he had misrepresented the life and teachings of Jesus and the history of the Christian Church. His newly won insight then found expression in his essay “Der Geist des Christentums und sein Schicksal” (“The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate”), likewise unpublished until 1907. This is one of Hegel’s most remarkable works. Its style is often difficult and the connection of thought not always plain, but it is written with passion, insight, and conviction.

He begins by sketching the essence of Judaism, which he paints in the darkest colours. The Jews were slaves to the Mosaic Law, leading a life unlovely in comparison with that of the ancient Greeks and content with the material satisfaction of a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus taught something entirely different. Men are not to be the slaves of objective commands: the law is made for man. They are even to rise above the tension in moral experience between inclination and reason’s law of duty, for the law is to be “fulfilled” in the love of God, wherein all tension ceases and the believer does God’s will wholeheartedly and single-mindedly. A community of such believers is the Kingdom of God.

This is the kingdom that Jesus came to teach. It is founded on a belief in the unity of the divine and the human. The life that flows in them both is one; and it is only because man is spirit that he can grasp and comprehend the Spirit of God. Hegel works out this conception in an exegesis of passages in the Gospel According to John. The kingdom, however, can never be realized in this world: man is not spirit alone but flesh also. “Church and state, worship and life, piety and virtue, spiritual and worldly action can never dissolve into one.”

In this essay the leading ideas of Hegel’s system of philosophy are rooted. Kant had argued that man can have knowledge only of a finite world of appearances and that, whenever his reason attempts to go beyond this sphere and grapple with the infinite or with ultimate reality, it becomes entangled in insoluble contradictions. Hegel, however, found in love, conceived as a union of opposites, a prefigurement of spirit as the unity in which contradictions, such as infinite and finite, are embraced and synthesized. His choice of the word Geist to express this his leading conception was deliberate: the word means “spirit” as well as “mind” and thus has religious overtones. Contradictions in thinking at the scientific level of Kant’s “understanding” are indeed inevitable, but thinking as an activity of spirit or “reason” can rise above them to a synthesis in which the contradictions are resolved. All of this, expressed in religious phraseology, is contained in the manuscripts written toward the end of Hegel’s stay in Frankfurt. “In religion,” he wrote, “finite life rises to infinite life.” Kant’s philosophy had to stop short of religion. But there is room for another philosophy, based on the concept of spirit, that will distill into conceptual form the insights of religion. This was the philosophy that Hegel now felt himself ready to expound.


Early life » Career as lecturer at Jena
Fortunately, his circumstances changed at this moment, and he was at last able to embark on the academic career that had long been his ambition. His father’s death in 1799 had left him an inheritance, slender, indeed, but sufficient to enable him to surrender a regular income and take the risk of becoming a Privatdozent. In January of 1801 he arrived in Jena, where Schelling had been a professor since 1798. Jena, which had harboured the fantastic mysticism of the Schlegel brothers and their colleagues and the Kantianism and ethical Idealism of Fichte, had already seen its golden age, for these great scholars had all left. The precocious Schelling, who was but 26 on Hegel’s arrival, already had several books to his credit. Apt to “philosophize in public,” Schelling had been fighting a lone battle in the university against the rather dull followers of Kant. It was suggested that Hegel had been summoned as a new champion to aid his friend. This impression received some confirmation from the dissertation by which Hegel qualified as a university teacher, which betrays the influence of Schelling’s philosophy of nature, as well as from Hegel’s first publication, an essay entitled “Differenz des Fichte’schen und Schelling’schen Systems der Philosophie” (1801), in which he gave preference to the latter. Nevertheless, even in this essay and still more in its successors, Hegel’s difference from Schelling was clearly marked; they had a common interest in the Greeks, they both wished to carry forward Kant’s work, they were both iconoclasts; but Schelling had too many romantic enthusiasms for Hegel’s liking; and all that Hegel took from him—and then only for a very short period—was a terminology.

Hegel’s lectures, delivered in the winter of 1801–02, on logic and metaphysics, were attended by about 11 students. Later, in 1804, with a class of about 30, he lectured on his whole system, gradually working it out as he taught. Notice after notice of his lectures promised a textbook of philosophy—which, however, failed to appear. After the departure of Schelling from Jena (1803), Hegel was left to work out his own views untrammelled. Besides philosophical and political studies, he made extracts from books, attended lectures on physiology, and dabbled in other sciences. As a result of representations made by himself at Weimar, he was in February 1805 appointed extraordinary professor at Jena; and in July 1806, on Goethe’s intervention, he drew his first stipend—100 thalers. Though some of his hearers became attached to him, Hegel was not yet a popular lecturer.

Hegel, like Goethe, felt no patriotic shudder when Napoleon won his victory at Jena (1806): in Prussia he saw only a corrupt and conceited bureaucracy. Writing to a friend on the day before the battle, he spoke with admiration of the “world soul” and the Emperor and with satisfaction at the probable overthrow of the Prussians.

At this time Hegel published his first great work, the Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807; Eng. trans., The Phenomenology of Mind, 2nd ed., 1931). 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 native attitude toward existence is reliance 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 these conceptions elude a man when he tries to fix them. If consciousness cannot detect a permanent object outside itself, so self-consciousness cannot find a permanent subject in itself. Through aloofness, skepticism, or imperfection, self-consciousness has isolated itself from the world; it has closed its gates against the stream of life. The perception of this is reason. Reason thus abandons its efforts to mold the world and is content to let the aims of individuals work out their results independently.

The stage of Geist, however, reveals the consciousness no longer as isolated, critical, and antagonistic but as the indwelling spirit of a community. This is the lowest stage of concrete consciousness, the age of unconscious morality. But, through increasing culture, the mind gradually emancipates itself from conventions, which prepares the way for the rule of conscience. From the moral world the next step is religion. But the idea of Godhead, too, has to pass through nature worship and art before it reaches a full utterance in Christianity. Religion thus approaches the stage of absolute knowledge, of “the spirit knowing itself as spirit.” Here, according to Hegel, is the field of philosophy.


Gymnasium rector
In spite of the Phänomenologie, however, Hegel’s fortunes were now at their lowest ebb. He was, therefore, glad to become editor of the Bamberger Zeitung (1807–08). This, however, was not a suitable vocation, and he gladly accepted the rectorship of the Aegidiengymnasium in Nürnberg, a post he held from December 1808 to August 1816 and one that offered him a small but assured income. There Hegel inspired confidence in his pupils and maintained discipline without pedantic interference in their associations and sports.

In 1811 Hegel married Marie von Tucher (22 years his junior), of Nürnberg. The marriage was entirely happy. His wife bore him two sons: Karl, who became eminent as a historian; and Immanuel, whose interests were theological. The family circle was joined by Ludwig, a natural son of Hegel’s from Jena. At Nürnberg in 1812 appeared Die objektive Logik, being the first part of his Wissenschaft der Logik (“Science of Logic”), which in 1816 was completed by the second part, Die subjecktive Logik.


University professor
This work, in which his system was first presented in what was essentially its ultimate shape, earned him the offer of professorships at Erlangen, at Berlin, and at Heidelberg.


University professor » At Heidelberg
He accepted the chair at Heidelberg. For use at his lectures there, he published his Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1817; “Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline”), an exposition of his system as a whole. Hegel’s philosophy is an attempt to comprehend the entire universe as a systematic whole. The system is grounded in faith. In the Christian religion God has been revealed as truth and as spirit. As spirit, man can receive this revelation. In religion the truth is veiled in imagery; but in philosophy the veil is torn aside, so that man can know the infinite and see all things in God. Hegel’s system is thus a spiritual monism but a monism in which differentiation is essential. Only through an experience of difference can the identity of thought and the object of thought be achieved—an identity in which thinking attains the through-and-through intelligibility that is its goal. Thus, truth is known only because error has been experienced and truth has triumphed; and God is infinite only because he has assumed the limitations of finitude and triumphed over them. Similarly, man’s Fall was necessary if he was to attain moral goodness. Spirit, including the Infinite Spirit, knows itself as spirit only by contrast with nature. Hegel’s system is monistic in having a single theme: what makes the universe intelligible is to see it as the eternal cyclical process whereby Absolute Spirit comes to knowledge of itself as spirit (1) through its own thinking; (2) through nature; and (3) through finite spirits and their self-expression in history and their self-discovery, in art, in religion, and in philosophy, as one with Absolute Spirit itself.

The compendium of Hegel’s system, the “Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences,” is in three parts: “Logic,” “Nature,” and “Mind.” Hegel’s method of exposition is dialectical. It often happens that in a discussion two people who at first present diametrically opposed points of view ultimately agree to reject their own partial views and to accept a new and broader view that does justice to the substance of each. Hegel believed that thinking always proceeds according to this pattern: it begins by laying down a positive thesis that is at once negated by its antithesis; then further thought produces the synthesis. But this in turn generates an antithesis, and the same process continues once more. The process, however, is circular: ultimately, thinking reaches a synthesis that is identical with its starting point, except that all that was implicit there has now been made explicit. Thus, thinking itself, as a process, has negativity as one of its constituent moments, and the finite is, as God’s self-manifestation, part and parcel of the infinite itself. This is the sort of dialectical process of which Hegel’s system provides an account in three phases.


University professor » At Heidelberg » “Logic”
The system begins with an account of God’s thinking “before the creation of nature and finite spirit”; i.e., with the categories or pure forms of thought, which are the structure of all physical and intellectual life. Throughout, Hegel is dealing with pure essentialities, with spirit thinking its own essence; and these are linked together in a dialectical process that advances from abstract to concrete. If a man tries to think the notion of pure Being (the most abstract category of all), he finds that it is simply emptiness; i.e., Nothing. Yet Nothing is. The notion of pure Being and the notion of Nothing are opposites; and yet each, as one tries to think it, passes over into the other. But the way out of the contradiction is at once to reject both notions separately and to affirm them both together; i.e., to assert the notion of becoming, since what becomes both is and is not at once. The dialectical process advances through categories of increasing complexity and culminates with the absolute idea, or with the spirit as objective to itself.


University professor » At Heidelberg » “Nature”
Nature is the opposite of spirit. The categories studied in “Logic” were all internally related to one another; they grew out of one another. Nature, on the other hand, is a sphere of external relations. Parts of space and moments of time exclude one another; and everything in nature is in space and time and is thus finite. But nature is created by spirit and bears the mark of its creator. Categories appear in it as its essential structure, and it is the task of the philosophy of nature to detect that structure and its dialectic; but nature, as the realm of externality, cannot be rational through and through, though the rationality prefigured in it becomes gradually explicit when man appears. In man nature rises to self-consciousness.


University professor » At Heidelberg » “Mind”
Here Hegel follows the development of the human mind through the subconscious, consciousness, and the rational will; then through human institutions and human history as the embodiment or objectification of that will; and finally to art, religion, and philosophy, in which finally man knows himself as spirit, as one with God and possessed of absolute truth. Thus, it is now open to him to think his own essence; i.e., the thoughts expounded in “Logic.” He has finally returned to the starting point of the system, but en route he has made explicit all that was implicit in it and has discovered that “nothing but spirit is, and spirit is pure activity.”

Hegel’s system depends throughout on the results of scientific, historical, theological, and philosophical inquiry. No reader can fail to be impressed by the penetration and breadth of his mind nor by the immense range of knowledge that, in his view, had to precede the work of philosophizing. A civilization must be mature and, indeed, in its death throes before, in the philosophic thinking that has implicitly been its substance, it becomes conscious of itself and of its own significance. Thus, when philosophy comes on the scene, some form of the world has grown old.


University professor » At Berlin
In 1818 Hegel accepted the renewed offer of the chair of philosophy at Berlin, which had been vacant since Fichte’s death. There his influence over his pupils was immense, and there he published his Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse, alternatively entitled Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (1821; Eng. trans., The Philosophy of Right, 1942). In Hegel’s works on politics and history, the human mind objectifies itself in its endeavour to find an object identical with itself. The Philosophy of Right (or of Law) falls into three main divisions. The first is concerned with law and rights as such: persons (i.e., men as men, quite independently of their individual characters) 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 justice only to the universal element in the human will. The individual, however, cannot be satisfied unless the act that he does accords not merely with law but also with his own conscientious convictions. Thus, the problem in the modern world is to construct a social and political order that satisfies the claims of both. And thus no political order can satisfy the demands of reason unless it is organized so as to avoid, on the one hand, a centralization that would make men slaves or ignore conscience and, on the other hand, an antinomianism that would allow freedom of conviction to any individual and so produce a licentiousness that would make social and political order impossible. The state that achieves this synthesis rests on the family and on the guild. It is unlike any state existing in Hegel’s day; it is a form of limited monarchy, with parliamentary government, trial by jury, and toleration for Jews and dissenters.

After his publication of The Philosophy of Right, Hegel seems to have devoted himself almost entirely to his lectures. Between 1823 and 1827 his activity reached its maximum. His notes were subjected to perpetual revisions and additions. It is possible to form an idea of them from the shape in which they appear in his published writings. Those on Aesthetics, on the Philosophy of Religion, on the Philosophy of History, and on the History of Philosophy have been published by his editors, mainly from the notes of his students, whereas those on logic, psychology, and the philosophy of nature have been appended in the form of illustrative and explanatory notes to the corresponding sections of his Encyklopädie. During these years hundreds of hearers from all parts of Germany and beyond came under his influence; and his fame was carried abroad by eager or intelligent disciples.

Three courses of lectures are especially the product of his Berlin period: those on aesthetics, on the philosophy of religion, and on the philosophy of history. In the years preceding the revolution of 1830, public interest, excluded from political life, turned to theatres, concert rooms, and picture galleries. At these Hegel became a frequent and appreciative visitor, and he made extracts from the art notes in the newspapers. During his holiday excursions, his interest in the fine arts more than once took him out of his way to see some old painting. This familiarity with the facts of art, though neither deep nor historical, gave a freshness to his lectures on aesthetics, which, as put together from the notes taken in different years from 1820 to 1829, are among his most successful efforts.

The lectures on the philosophy of religion are another application of his method, and shortly before his death he had prepared for the press a course of lectures on the proofs for the existence of God. On the one hand, he turned his weapons against the Rationalistic school, which reduced religion to the modicum compatible with an ordinary worldly mind. On the other hand, he criticized the school of Schleiermacher, who elevated feeling to a place in religion above systematic theology. In his middle way, Hegel attempted to show that the dogmatic creed is the rational development of what was implicit in religious feeling. To do so, of course, philosophy must be made the interpreter and the superior discipline.

In his philosophy of history, Hegel presupposed that the whole of human history is a process through which mankind has been making spiritual and moral progress and advancing to self-knowledge. History has a plot, and the philosopher’s task is to discern it. Some historians have found its key in the operation of natural laws of various kinds. Hegel’s attitude, however, rested on the faith that history is the enactment of God’s purpose and that man had now advanced far enough to descry what that purpose is: it is the gradual realization of human freedom.

The first step was to make the transition from a natural life of savagery to a state of order and law. States had to be founded by force and violence; there is no other way to make men law-abiding before they have advanced far enough mentally to accept the rationality of an ordered life. There will be a stage at which some men have accepted the law and become free, while others remain slaves. In the modern world man has come to appreciate that all men, as minds, are free in essence, and his task is thus to frame institutions under which they will be free in fact.

Hegel did not believe, despite the charge of some critics, that history had ended in his lifetime. In particular, he maintained against Kant that to eliminate war is impossible. Each nation-state is an individual; and, as Hobbes had said of relations between individuals in the state of nature, pacts without the sword are but words. Clearly, Hegel’s reverence for fact prevented him from accepting Kant’s Idealism.

The lectures on the history of philosophy are especially remarkable for their treatment of Greek philosophy. Working without modern indexes and annotated editions, Hegel’s grasp of Plato and Aristotle is astounding, and it is only just to recognize that it was from Hegel that the scholarship lavished on Greek philosophy in the century after his death received its original impetus.

At this time a Hegelian school began to gather. The flock included intelligent pupils, empty-headed imitators, and romantics who turned philosophy into lyric measures. Opposition and criticism only served to define more precisely the adherents of the new doctrine. Though he had soon resigned all direct official connection with the schools of Brandenburg, Hegel’s real influence in Prussia was considerable. In 1830 he was rector of the university. In 1831 he received a decoration from Frederick William III. One of his last literary undertakings was the establishment of the Berlin Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Kritik (“Yearbook for Philosophical Criticism”).

The revolution of 1830 was a great blow to Hegel, and the prospect of mob rule almost made him ill. His last literary work, the first part of which appeared in the Preussische Staatszeitung while the rest was censored, was an essay on the English Reform Bill of 1832, considering its probable effects on the character of the new members of Parliament and the measures that they might introduce. In the latter connection he enlarged on several points in which England had done less than many continental states for the abolition of monopolies and abuses.

In 1831 cholera entered Germany. Hegel and his family retired for the summer to the suburbs, and there he finished the revision of the first part of his Science of Logic. Home again for the winter session, on November 14, after one day’s illness, he died of cholera and was buried, as he had wished, between Fichte and Karl Solger, author of an ironic dialectic.


Personage and influence
In his classroom Hegel was more impressive than fascinating. His students saw a plain, old-fashioned face, without life or lustre—a figure that had never looked young and was now prematurely aged. Sitting with his snuffbox before him and his head bent down, he looked ill at ease and kept turning the folios of his notes. His utterance was interrupted by frequent coughing; every sentence came out with a struggle. The style was no less irregular: sometimes in plain narrative the lecturer would be specially awkward, while in abstruse passages he seemed especially at home, rose into a natural eloquence, and carried away the hearer by the grandeur of his diction.

The early theological writings and the Phenomenology of Mind are packed with brilliant metaphors. In his later works, produced as textbooks for his lectures, the “Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences” and the Philosophy of Right, he compresses his material into relatively short, numbered paragraphs. It is only necessary to translate them to appreciate their conciseness and precision. The common idea that Hegel’s is a philosophy of exceptional difficulty is quite mistaken. Once his terminology is understood and his main principles grasped, he presents far less difficulty than Kant, for example. One reason for this is a certain air of dogmatism: Kant’s statements are often hedged around with qualifications; but Hegel had, as it were, seen a vision of absolute truth, and he expounds it with confidence.

Hegel’s system is avowedly an attempt to unify opposites—spirit and nature, universal and particular, ideal and real—and to be a synthesis in which all the partial and contradictory philosophies of his predecessors are alike contained and transcended. It is thus both Idealism and Realism at once; hence, it is not surprising that his successors, emphasizing now one and now another strain in his thought, have interpreted him variously. Conservatives and revolutionaries, believers and atheists alike have professed to draw inspiration from him. In one form or another his teaching dominated German universities for some years after his death and spread to France and to Italy. The vicissitudes of Hegelian thought to the present day are detailed below in Hegelianism. In the mid-20th century, interest in the early theological writings and in the Phänomenologie was increased by the spread of Existentialism. At the same time, the growing importance of Communism encouraged political thinkers to study Hegel’s political works, as well as his “Logic,” because of their influence on Karl Marx. And, by the time of his bicentennial in 1970, a Hegelian renascence was in the making.

Sir T. Malcolm Knox

 

 

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