I was perplexed and overwhelmed when I first tried to wrap my head around Hegel’s philosophy in 2016. But after reading more and thinking about it over the years, I’ve better understood some of his ideas.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He’s known for his complex and abstract ideas, particularly his concept of “absolute idealism.”
This means that he believed that the ultimate reality was a spiritual one rather than a material one. In other words, he thought that the physical world we see around us is an outward manifestation of an underlying spiritual reality.
One of the key ideas in Hegel’s philosophy is the concept of the “dialectic.” This is the process by which opposing ideas or forces come into conflict and eventually synthesize into a higher truth.
For example, the thesis (an idea) and the antithesis (the opposite of that idea) come into conflict, and from this conflict, a synthesis is formed. This synthesis then becomes the new thesis, and the process starts again.
Hegel believed that the world was constantly evolving and progressing through this dialectical process. He called this the “world spirit,” which is like a cosmic force driving the universe’s evolution. This world spirit is always moving forward, synthesizing new truths and ideas, and ultimately leading humanity toward a higher level of consciousness.
Hegel’s concept of “zeitgeist” refers to the spirit or guiding principle of a particular age or historical period. “zeitgeist” is German and translates to “time spirit.” In Hegel’s philosophy, the zeitgeist manifests the human spirit’s progression through history, moving towards greater freedom and self-awareness. He believed that the zeitgeist of a particular time is the product of the collective consciousness of the people living in that time and that it changes as people’s understanding of the world changes.
Hegel believed that history is the story of the progression of human consciousness toward greater freedom and understanding. The zeitgeist is the driving force behind this progression and is the source of the values and ideas that shape the culture and society of a particular historical period. He also believed that individuals could help bring the zeitgeist to its fullest potential, but at the same time, it gives purpose to an individual. The concept of the zeitgeist is closely related to the idea of historical progress, a central theme in Hegel’s philosophy.
The Science of Logic
Science of Logic (1812~1816) is one of his most important works and is considered a cornerstone of his philosophical system. This work focuses on the logic process and how it relates to reality and knowledge. Here are a few key points from “Science of Logic” that are worth mentioning in an essay about Hegel’s philosophy:
The Idea of Becoming: One of the main ideas in “Science of Logic” is the concept of becoming. Hegel believed that reality is constantly changing and evolving and that this change process results from the movement of ideas. This is different from traditional logic, which defines; something is or isn’t. Hegel argues that the concept is always becoming.
The Dialectical Method: the work is heavily influenced by the dialectical method, a crucial concept in Hegel’s philosophy. This method is a process of understanding how things change and evolve through the interaction and conflict of opposing ideas.
The Absolute Idea: Hegel introduced the concept of “Absolute Idea” as the highest stage of the dialectical process, the point at which all contradictions are resolved, and the ultimate truth and unity of all that exists are reached. He argued that the Absolute Idea is the ultimate reality and that all other concepts are just different manifestations of it.
The Concept of Pure Logic: Another notion in the “Science of Logic” is that of pure logic, which Hegel defined as the study of the formal principles of thought. He believed that this study is essential for understanding the nature of reality and knowledge.
The concept of categories: He proposed the concept of categories, which he argued are the building blocks of reality. Hegel believed that all concepts could be divided into categories; each is related to and dependent on the others. The concept of categories is essential for understanding the interconnection between ideas and how they evolve.
It’s worth mentioning that the “Science of Logic” is a very complex work; these are just a few examples of its ideas. Nevertheless, these points can be a great addition to your reading on Hegel to understand the complexity of his thought and the influence he had on the world of philosophy.
Elements of the Philosophy of Right
Hegel’s “Elements of the Philosophy of Right,” known as “The Philosophy of Right,” is one of his most important and well-known works. It was published in 1821 and provides a detailed account of his ideas on politics, law, and social institutions. In this work, Hegel presents his vision of a rational and just society, one that is based on the principle of freedom.
One of the fundamental concepts of that work is the idea of the “ethical state.”
Hegel believed that the state is not just an instrument of coercion and oppression but an embodiment of a society’s moral and ethical values. He firmly believed that the state should be a rational and ethical organization that reflects the people’s will and that its purpose is to promote the freedom and well-being of its citizens.
Another essential concept embodies the idea of “civil society.” Hegel believed that society comprises a complex web of individuals, groups, and institutions, each with its own interests and goals. He saw civil society as the arena in which these different groups interact and compete. He believed that this competition was essential for promoting progress and freedom.
Hegel also discussed the notion of “right” in his work. He believed it was an integral part of any rational and just society. Hegel defined right as the agreement among individuals and groups about how to live together and resolve conflicts fairly and peacefully. He argued that a society in which individuals have a sense of right, and are capable of upholding it, is a truly free society.
In summary, Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right” presents a vision of a rational and just society in which the state reflects the moral and ethical values of the people. Civil society is an arena for the free interaction of individuals, groups, and institutions. The concept of “right” is an integral part of society, and individuals can uphold it. It can be seen as a critique of the traditional authoritarian state and an argument for constitutional democracy, individual freedom, and rights and obligations.
Right-wing and left-wing Hegelians
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, different groups of philosophers and political theorists were influenced by the ideas of Hegel but interpreted and applied his ideas differently. These groups can broadly be categorized as “right-wing” and “left-wing” Hegelians.
Right-wing Hegelians, also known as “conservative Hegelians,” tended to emphasize the importance of tradition, authority, and the state in Hegel’s philosophy. They tended to view his ideas as supportive of conservative political views and as opposed to revolutionary change. They also focus more on the state’s role in Hegel’s thought as the highest expression of the collective will.
Left-wing Hegelians, also known as “progressive Hegelians,” tended to focus on the importance of individual freedom and human rights in Hegel’s philosophy. They saw his ideas as supportive of progressive and liberal political views and as supportive of revolutionary change. They also focus on the role of individuals in the state and how they can bring about change.
One of the most prominent right-wing Hegelians was Eduard Gans, a German political theorist who sought to reconcile Hegel’s ideas with his time’s traditional conservative political views. On the other hand, the most prominent left-wing Hegelian is probably Karl Marx, who was heavily influenced by Hegel’s ideas, particularly his concept of the “dialectic” and his emphasis on human freedom. Marx developed a critique of capitalism and advocated for a communist revolution to bring about a classless society.
My understanding of Hegel’s philosophy is based on my reading. It can be tough to wrap your head around Hegel, but I hope this helped clarify a few things. Just remember, if you ever feel like you’re about to lose your mind trying to understand Hegel, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the world spirit is moving forward, and you’re right there with it.