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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - Biography

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born on August 27, 1770 in Stuttgart. His father was a revenue officer with the civil service, and he had a Protestant upbringing. He studied at the Stuttgart gymnasium where he became familiar with Greek and Roman classics. Hegel's father wished him to be a clergyman, and from 1788 to 1793 he studied theology at the seminary at the University of Tübingen. It was here that he first formed important friendships with Friedrich Hölderlin and Friedrich W.J. von Schelling. The intellectual lives of these three friends were closely entwined and they had profound influences on one another's philosophical foundations.

After Hegel graduated from Tübingen he went Bern and then Frankfurt to work as a private tutor. In Frankfurt he met with Friedrich Hölderlin again. He was able to end his work as a tutor when he inherited a sufficient amount on the event of his father's death, and he proceded to dedicate himself to his work on religious and social themes. At this time it seems that he imagined his work to be in the area of educational reform. In 1800 his work took a turn, and he became interested in the "critical" philosophy of Immanuel Kant. In 1801 he moved to join his friend Friedrich W.J. von Schelling at the University of Jena, where the two of them edited the Critical Journal of Philosophy. This same year Hegel published his first philosophical essay entitled The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy, in which he argues for Friedrich W.J. von Schelling success and Fichte's failure in the project of completing Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism.

Hegel wrote a number of essays during his stay at Jena. In On the Scientific Modes of Treatment of Natural Law-Its Place in Practical Philosophy and Its Relationship to the Positive Science of Law, often refered to as the essay on Natural Law, he criticizes both British empirical and Kantian formal approached to natural law. His argument is that empricism forms conclusions that are limited by its contexts and materials, therefore it is unable to form propositions that are universally valid regarding the concepts of reflective consciousness to social and political experience or the concepts of social and political institutions. The problem with formalist conclusions is that they remain insubstantial, and too abstract, failing to form a concrete link between human reason and human experience. Hegel felt philosophical science had the responsibility to definitvely link the develpment of the rational powers of the human mind to lived experience.

In 1807 Hegel published Die Phänomenologie des Geistes (The Phenomenology of Spirit), his first major work. He originally imagined this work as the first part of a comprehensive scientific philosophy, but eventually came to see it as an introduction to his system. Written in the context of epistemological, anthropological, and cultural themes of human histroy, this text is an account of the devlopment of consciousness and self-consciousness, or the development of spirit. Hegel traces the development of the mind in relation to experience, concentrating on questions regarding the meaning of cognitive activities like perceiving and knowing, and the nature of reality and reason. The fundamental characteristic of human awareness, according to Hegel, is the relationship between self and otherness. His ontology is based in humankind's desire for and estrangement from objects, what he considers to be the primordial experience of the world. He claims that individual consciousness is prevented from finding freedom and independence when it comes up against the barrier of otherness in the external reality of the natural and social world. This otherness cannot be destroyed without the destruction of self, so we search for reconciliation with otherness and a universalization of consiousness through the other. Hegel uses a model of dominant and subservient consciousnesses to illustrate the problem of acheiving integration of consciousness with itself through the overcoming of its otherness. This dialectic sets up the main difficulty for gaining self-recognition through mutual recognition, or the realization of self-consciousness. The relationship between the dominant and the obedient, or the independent and the dependent, is what leads to the incomplete resolution of the struggle for recognition, or mutual recognition, between consiousnesses.

Hegel worked as an editor of a newspaper in Bamberg, then from 1808-1815 he was a philosophy teacher and the headmaster at a gymnasium in Nuremberg. He was married in Nuremberg during this time, and he wrote and published Science of Logic. In 1816 he was appointed to chair of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. In Heidelberg he published the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, in which appears an abgreviated version of Science of Logic and an application of its prinicples to the Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Spirit. In 1818 he took the prestigious position of chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin. In 1821 Hegel published Elements of the Philosophy of Right grounded on the section of the Encyclopaedia exploring the "objective spirit". In this major work in political philosophy Hegel gives an account of the nature of philosophy, setting out his approach to the nature and limits of human cognition.

Hegel published other versions of the Encyclopaedia during the next ten years, enjoying great recognition in Berlin. After his death in 1831 versions of his lectures were published on the history of philosophy and the philosophy of religion, history and aesthetics.

Hegel's goal was to form a comprehensive philosophical system in which both the history and future of philosophy might be included and understood. He saw the main subject of philosophy to be reality, and understood the necessity of conceiving of a full account of reality, or the developmental process of everything that is. He referred to this as the Absolute, or Absolute Spirit, and felt that philosophy's task was to chart its development. This charting involves the clarification of the Absolute's internal rational structure, the demonstration its manifestation in nature and human history, and the explication of its teleological nature, or revealing its end purpose.

In his political work, Hegel describes three types of government: tyranny, found in underdeveloped states; democracy, found in states where there is no distinction between the public and private individual; and hereditary monarchy, found where a central government is combined with indirect representation through Estates. He felt hereditary monarchy to be the most appropriate form of political authority for the modern world. He saw the role of the State as expressing the Spirit of a society, as a realization of God in the world. His view was that any true religion would support this kind of kingdom of God on earth, so a religion's position could never be in opposition or dominance to the state.

Hegel followed the Greek philosopher Parmenides in believing that what is rational is real, and what is real is rational. This is his rational structure of the Absolute, and must be regarded in conjunction with his idea that the Absolute must be seen as pure Thought, Spirit, or Mind, in a process of self-development, governed by the logic of dialectic. The dialectical method is the notion that the conflict of opposites creates movement or progress. The dialectical method is often studied in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, although Hegel seldom used this terminology. The thesis is a primary idea, whose incompleteness gives rise to an opposite or conflicting idea, or antithesis. The synthesis is a third term which arrises from the conflict between the first two, overcoming the opposition by reconciling the truth found in both the thesis and antithesis. This synthesis becomes a new thesis, inspiring a new antithesis and synthesis, and continuing an evolution of intellectual or historical development. Hegel argues that this dialectical develpment describes the movement of Absolute Spirit toward an ultimate goal. Reality is the Absolute in a process of dialectical unfolding, manifesting itself in nature and history as it develops. In The Phenomenololgy of Mind Hegel traces the manifestation of the Absolute through the stages of consciousness, self-consciousness, and reason.

Friedrich W.J. von Schelling took the chair at Berlin after Hegel's death, reputedly because the government of the time wished to counter the enormous influence Hegel's philosophy had had on a generation of students. Although they had been close, Friedrich W.J. von Schelling was more of a religious philosopher than Hegel, and criticized Hegel's rationalism. Friedrich W.J. von Schelling's criticisms of Hegel's work influenced existentialist thought, primarily through the works of Kierkegaard, who attended Friedrich W.J. von Schelling's lectures. Friedrich W.J. von Schelling's interpretations of Hegelian philosophy has had a major influence on its subsequent study, contributing to the common understanding of it as a somewhat dogmatic metaphysics. Hegel had suppported progressive but non-revolutionary politics, however many of his admirers split into extreme political factions. Karl Marx was among them and, inspired by Hegel's work, was to develop his own scientific approach to society and history. Hegel is counted among the most influential philosophers in Western philosophical and political history.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German Philosopher. (August 27, 1770 - 1831)