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The Philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

I. Life and Works

Georg Hegel ( picture) was born in Stuttgart in 1770. He studied theology and philosophy, and at first gave his sympathies to the philosophy of the Enlightenment and to Kantian Criticism, only to turn to Romantic historicism and become attached to Fichte and Schelling. He lectured in various German universities, and ultimately at the University of Berlin, where he exercised great influence. He died in 1831.

Hegel's most representative philosophical works are: Phenomenology of Spirit; Logic; and Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences. German Idealism and modern thought, generally speaking, reach the greatest heights of immanentism in the compact dialectic system of Hegel.

II. Being and the New Logic of the Concrete

The primordial Being, as it is conceived by Hegel, is the poorest and simplest unity. Indeed, so poor and simple is it that it blends with nothingness. Primitive and absolute Being is non-being. (Cf. the Being of Parmenides.) But this non-being-Being is a subject; it is perennial activity. Through this perennial activity, primitive absolute Being becomes intrinsically differentiated, constructing itself in an unlimited series of phenomena. That is to say, the "pure indeterminateness" (nothing) builds itself upon itself, passing from state to state, developing explicitly (in a series of determinate beings) what is implicitly contained in itself. In any passage of this kind (and such passages are continually occurring) the primordial indeterminateness becomes ever richer and more conscious.

The rhythm which makes possible this self-revelation and self-construction is that of the "coincidence of opposites." Because the development of Being is achieved with the intention of becoming what it is not, any link in this chain of development is characterized by a point of "coincidence" of being and non-being, united to affirm a higher entity. Being, affirming this higher entity, does not nullify the preceding entity, but revaluates it, together with its opposite (non-being), in a higher synthesis. Being, in other words, is characterized in its development by three stages: being (thesis), non-being (antithesis), becoming (synthesis). In other words, the preceding entity (being) is affirmed with its opposite (non-being) in a higher entity (becoming). It is in this that Hegel's system of triads consists.

This higher entity, at the same time it becomes being, is lacerated, so to speak, by its opposite (i.e., by non-being), and tends to affirm itself in a still higher entity, and so on ad infinitum. This activity of building and of tearing itself apart, with the intention of rebuilding itself ad infinitum, is the life of Being. To stop this activity would mean to destroy Being itself.

Hegel believed that he had found a confirmation of this dynamic development, in which nothing is nullified but everything is revaluated in a higher development, in the growth of our stable ego. At every moment of the development of our personality we pass from state to state, and yet the preceding reality is not nullified, but is affirmed in a richer and more conscious ego.

Another important characteristic of the primordial reality is its rationality. Primordial Being is essentially thought, idea, logos. Hence logic is the rule of the entire series of its developments; the entire unbroken series in which Being divides itself and recomposes itself in thesis, antithesis and synthesis is rational. In the primordial Being, thought is identified with reality, so that the order of ideas coincides perfectly with the order of beings. Hence Hegel's principle: Every real being is rational and every rational being is real.

This new concept of reality as the realization and overcoming of opposites (being, non-being, synthesis) requires a new logic, which Hegel calls the logic of the concrete, as opposed to that of Aristotle, which Hegel calls formal. According to Hegel, formal logic is founded on an abstract and static concept of being, a being which has been forcibly divorced from the dynamism that is the true life of reality. This abstract concept of being, drawn from reality, is understood as being always identical with itself.

According to Aristotle, the principle of identity could be formulated because the concept of being is always the same -- A is equal to A, and A cannot be its negation (non-A) at the same time and in the same respect. For Hegel, this logic is faulty because it misinterprets reality. For him reality is never identical with itself, but at every moment changes, passing from what it is to what it is not. Contradiction, therefore, is the life of concrete being.

Now, since the rhythm of logic is identical with the dynamic rhythm of reality, we need a new logic, which makes possible the reconciliation of the terms of the contradiction (being and non-being) in a higher reality. In other words, in any synthesis there must be present the terms of contradiction, the former reality and its negation (the opposite), being and non-being. Hegel maintains that this new logic of the concrete must take the place of the formal logic of Aristotle.

III. Dialectical Process of Being

According to Hegel, reality is a logical process developing in accordance with the law of coincidence of opposites. This process depends upon a fundamental triad: Idea (Logos), Nature, Spirit. This triad indicates a logical rather than a chronological succession, for the entire process is actuated within the primordial Spirit, in which all is immanent.

Idea or Logos is the system of the pure concepts which lie at the foundation of all reality. Nature is the self-extrinsication, the objectivation of the Idea. It is the Idea's becoming other than itself, or its self-extension in time and space. But it is the Universal Spirit which establishes itself in the series of phenomena extended in space and time, with the purpose of developing itself and revealing to itself with the intention of gaining consciousness of self. Indeed, nature reaches the acme of perfection in the human organism, and the human organism attains the acme of perfection in individual consciousness. With the attainment of this supreme stage of perfection there begins the return of nature to the Universal Spirit.

Indeed, individual consciousness (or the subjective spirit) is the first appearance of the Universal Spirit as rationality and freedom. But in the narrow limits of individuality, the Spirit can never reach the fullness of rationality and freedom, which are the consummation of the entire process of the Spirit. To realize this ultimate end (the fullness of rationality and freedom), the subjective spirit (individual consciousness) objectivates itself in many superindividual dorms; i.e., it constructs the ethical world. The first objectivation is the juridical order, right, which guarantees freedom to all in a measure compatible with the freedom of others.

Right can regulate only external conduct. The spirit which aspires to regulate the interior world also, objectivates itself in a higher form, i.e., in morality. Morality concretizes itself: 1. In the family, in which the spirit reveals itself as a union of souls; 2. In civil society, which is a larger and higher community of souls; and, lastly, 3. In the state, the highest revelation that the spirit gives to itself.

The state is the living God, who concretizes Himself in the spirit of the people (the "national spirit"). The living God incarnates Himself now in this, now in that nation, according as the nation realizes more perfectly than any other the ideal of civilization. This passing of the Spirit from one nation to another is what history is made of.

The Spirit is not limited, but circulates among the entire multitude of particular institutions. The passage of the Spirit from one nation to another, according to Hegel, is necessary, rational and progressive. So also conflict and war are necessary, rational and progressive. Hence, to the one chosen people another succeeds. The new chosen people possesses all rights over the former for the sufficient reason that it is the conqueror; similarly, the vanquished people are wrong merely because they have been vanquished.

History, therefore, is a tribunal before which all the injustices, evils and crimes with which the world is filled, find their rational justification. Such is the conclusion of a dialectic in which the real has been proclaimed the rational, and values have been leveled because all are equally necessary for the manifestation of the Spirit.

Although the state is the highest objectivation and manifestation of the Spirit, Hegel places the Universal or Absolute Spirit over the objective spirit. The Absolute Spirit -- through the last triad: art, religion and philosophy -- fully actuate the consciousness of its divine nature in a full equation with itself.

In art the Spirit apprehends its absolute essence as an idea expressing a sensible object: the beautiful is an idea sensibly concretized, in which the infinite is seen as finite.

In religion, on the other hand, there is the unity of the finite with the infinite. The infinite is immanent in the finite, but in a sentimental, imaginative, mythical form. In tracing the history of religion, Hegel places Christianity above all other religions because of the mystery of the Incarnation, in which the human spirit acquires a consciousness of its divine nature.

Above religion stands philosophy, which has the same content as religion, but with this difference -- that the content has been drawn up on logical, conceptual and rational form. In philosophy the Absolute Spirit reaches its full consciousness and rationality.

The Hegelian concept, in which the state is the living God and individuals but passing shadows, and in which, moreover, conflict and war are affirmations of the vitality of the state, has been put to the test in the German nation. The course which Germany followed -- with disastrous results -- in two world wars is rightly judged the consequence of such a concept. Needless to say, Hegel's concept of reality is immanentist, pantheistic and atheistic.

Adapted from the book: "Modern Philosophy"

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