Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel . German philosopher, objective idealist, representative of German philosophy. In his youth he was distinguished by his radical ideas, he greeted the French Revolution , he rose up against the feudal regime of the Prussian monarchy. From 1818 he was a professor at the University of Berlin and the representative and even the creator of the official philosophy of monarchical Prussia . [one]


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  • 1 Biographical synthesis
    • 1 Trajectory
    • 2 Historical – Social Framework
    • 3 The Ideal of the Greek Polis
    • 4 Christianity and the Discovery of Subjectivity and Consciousness
    • 5 French Revolution
    • 6 Philosophical Framework
    • 7 Kant viewed the following issues as insurmountable
  • 2 Dialectic
    • 1 Meaning
    • 2 Concrete and historical character
    • 3 Structure of reality
    • 4 Knowledge structure
    • 5 Structure of the dialectic
  • 3 Philosophy of history
    • 1 Rational view of history
    • 2 Categories
    • 3 History as an explanation of the spirit in time
    • 4 Spirit
    • 5 Explanation in time
    • 6 History as an advance in the consciousness of freedom
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
  • 6 Sources

Biographical synthesis

The son of a public finance official, Hegel grew up in an environment of Protestant Pietism and studied the Greek and Latin classics while at the gymnasium in his hometown. Encouraged by his father to become a Protestant pastor, in 1788 he entered the seminary of the University of Tübingen , where he befriended the poet Friedrich Hölderlin and the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling , of significant romantic affiliation, sharing with them his enthusiasm for the French Revolution and classical antiquity.


After completing a course in Philosophy and Theology , and deciding that he did not want to pursue a religious career, in 1793 he began to practice as a tutor in Bern Switzerland . In 1797 he got a similar position in Frankfurt , but two years later his father passed away, leaving him a legacy whose financial amount allowed him to quit his job as tutor.

In 1801 he moved to the University of Jena, where he studied, wrote, and landed a teaching position. There he finished the Phenomenology of Spirit 1807 , one of his most important works. He remained in Jena until October 1806 , when the city, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars, was occupied by French troops, for which he was forced to flee. From 1807 to 1809 , once the rents provided by his father’s inheritance had been exhausted, he worked as an editor for the Bamberger Zeitung newspaper in Bavaria . However, journalism did not please him and in 1809 he moved to Nuremberg where he was director of a gymnasium for eight years.

During the years that he lived in Nuremberg, Hegel met and married Marie von Tucher , of whom he had three children: a girl who died shortly after birth and two boys Karl and Immanuel. Before his marriage, Hegel had had an illegitimate son Ludwig who would end up living in the Hegel household. After having worked on its editorial for seven years, he published in Nuremberg another of his most famous writings, Science of Logic 1812 – 1816 .

In 1816 he accepted the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg and, shortly after, systematically published his philosophical thoughts in his 1817 Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences . In 1818 he entered the University of Berlin , an institution in which he exhibited and taught all his thoughts until his death, which occurred in that same city on November 14 , 1831 .

The last great work published by Hegel was The Philosophy of Law 1821 , although some notes from his lectures and classes, along with notes from his students, were also published after his death. In the group of these works known by the generic name of Lessons or Lessons from Berlin are Aesthetics 1832 , Lessons on the philosophy of religion 1832, Lessons on the history of philosophy 1833 – 1836 and Lessons on the philosophy of history 1837 .

Very influenced by the ideas of the great Greek thinkers, he also knew the works of the Dutch Baruch Spinoza , the French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the German authors Immanuel Kant , Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Schelling. Although his theories often differed from those of the aforementioned thinkers, the influence they exerted on him is evident in his writings. Hegel’s philosophy emerges closely linked with the social, cultural and philosophical situation of his time, while it is a rational response to the problems posed by that situation.

Historical – Social Framework

Hegel’s philosophy involves a struggle for the lack of freedom and reason. In his opinion, the historical-social situation in which he lived was in need of greater freedom. The situation in Germany. The Thirty Years’ War left Germany behind both politically and economically. There was no modern state, but a state devoid of centralized justice founded on feudal despotism. Furthermore, the peasantry was still very large, industrialization was minimal, and it lacked a powerful middle class that could transform that state of affairs.

Germany was not a state. Freedom was subdued and censorship gripped freedom of expression. Culture and everything that meant illustration were attacked. Hegel lived the Germany of his time as an attack on his democratic aspirations and freedom, and conceived the need for a modern and rational State. It was also necessary, therefore, an idea or concept of a rational State.

The Ideal of the Greek Polis

The Greek polis appears as a model against the situation in Germany. In the Greek polis the harmonization of the individual with society was fulfilled: the life of man was born, developed and died in the life and in the spirit of the polis, to the point that the individual was nothing separate from the political community , social and cultural city.

In connection with this, the concept of Volkgeist spirit of the people is very important. This spirit is the only concrete and effective, since the individual spirit is only abstract. For Hegel the spirit of the people gives fullness to the individual. However, it seems to this philosopher, this realization and harmony is deficient and merely formal, since the individual has not yet discovered the consciousness of his own individuality and freedom. In the Greek polis only some became really free.

Christianity and the Discovery of Subjectivity and Consciousness

With respect to the Greek polis, Christianity comes to mean, negatively, the dissolution of life in harmony and in social community. Positively, it means the discovery of the concept of subjectivity, which will be interpreted by Hegel as an absolutely necessary moment for the full realization of freedom and the development and perfection of the spirit.

Religion constitutes for Hegel a fundamental aspect of the life of a people. The concept of subjectivity will come to mean, ultimately, a criticism and an opposite to the positivization concept that can be made of political – social life. The term positivity comes to mean a ‘limit’ that is imposed on life from a reality imposed externally and by the force of tradition, without being founded and justified by reason itself. Positivity would amount to alienation. The discovery of subjectivity and its character as a rational and free principle will represent for Hegel a guiding principle in the social and political organization of the life of the spirit.

French Revolution

The French Revolution meant for Hegel the triumph of Reason. The French Revolution established the principle that thought must govern reality and the political – social order; Hegel also had the conception that only that which realizes the demands and ends of Reason can be considered as true reality.

Furthermore, the French Revolution aimed to combine community life with the principle of subjectivity: the realization of freedom and feeling free. However, the experience of Terror in the time of Robes Pierre showed Hegel the tremendous difficulty of rationally combining human freedom and political-social organization in an equilibrium in which neither pole is reduced and dissolved in the other, for in that case objective freedom and the life of the Spirit would be ended.

Philosophical Framework

Hegel’s work can be considered as the philosophical and cultural maturity of the western tradition. His philosophy happens to be the last great philosophical system, in which practically all the previous philosophies converge. Hegel himself interpreted his system in this way, as the state of maturation and internal unity of all thought prior to him does so in his Lessons on the History of Philosophy.

Hegel’s philosophy is based on the relationship between the two fundamental concepts of the previous philosophy: Nature in Greek philosophy and the Spirit in Christian philosophy and, from Descartes , in modern philosophy. Hegel intends the internal unity and the connection between Nature and Spirit, so that a unitary, total and closed theory can be elaborated on reality in its entirety. But for this he needed to review and overcome Kant’s philosophy, which was the one that had reached greater maturity but, on the other hand, offered greater difficulties for this project of a unified, closed and total philosophical system.

Kant saw the following questions as insurmountable

  • The distinction between understanding and reason. Kant’s understanding only reached phenomena, the finite and limited. Although reason tends towards the absolute and the infinite, it cannot reach that fullness.
  • The distinction between phenomenon and noumenon. This distinction assumes that the order of reality is divided, without it being possible to develop an absolute and total theory about reality in its entirety.
  • The distinction between being and should be. This distinction established a radical distinction between theory, thought and praxis, action.
  • The split between the finite and the infinite world – God, Nature – Spirit.

Aristotle conceived philosophy as the tendency towards a universal and necessary knowledge of the reality of the total. For Kant this task will be something unattainable for limited human reason and for this reason for Kant philosophy was a criticism. Hegel corrects Aristotle affirming that philosophy has to stop being a tendency to know in order to be an effective and full Knowledge; and he corrects Kant saying that it has to be science and, therefore, not critical, but system: the absolute system of the totality of the real a rational system.



The term dialectic , although Hegel was not the first to use it, had already been used, to cite two examples, Plato and Kant, it serves to characterize his entire philosophy by calling it the dialectical method or the dialectical nature of reality.

Concrete and historical character

We have already talked about the fact that Hegel’s philosophy was born united to a certain historical and social framework, in which Hegel denounced the lack of freedom of man. The term dialectic is used by Hegel to understand and express the real situation in the world. In Hegel’s dialectic, therefore, a willingness to act on a split, contradictory and alienated reality that struggles to overcome this situation is evident.

The dialectic thus expresses both the contradiction of the existing world and the need to overcome the present limits in a desire to overcome driven by the need for a total and effective realization of freedom and infinity.

Structure of reality

Hegel’s philosophy was embedded in a very precise philosophical framework. In this sense, as an expression of Hegel’s philosophy, dialectic means Hegel’s radical opposition to any fragmentary interpretation of reality and knowledge.

The dialectical character of the real means that each thing is what it is, and only becomes so in an internal relationship, union and dependence with other things and, ultimately, with the totality of the real. Hegel’s dialectic conceives reality as a whole, without affecting in any way the relative independence of each thing in its singularity.

This conception is opposed to the empirical interpretation of experience. Faced with the supposed autonomy of the facts as they are given in experience, the dialectical structure of the real ends up showing that the facts are nothing but the result of an internal set of relationships that are what ultimately constitute things, although it may seem that the facts have an independence.

But the dialectical character of the real not only means that it has an internal relationship, but, more profoundly, that each thing is only what it is in a continuous process. That is, reality, as a dialectic, is not fixed or determined once and for all, but is in a constant process of transformation and change, whose engine is, at the same time, both its internal contradiction, limitation and mismatch in relationship with its demand and intention of totality, infinity and absolute, as the internal relationship in which it is with another reality, which appears as its opposite.

Reality as a dialectic is, therefore, governed and moved by contradiction, internally related and constituted as opposition of opposites. In this way, each particular reality refers to the totality, to the whole, and can only be understood and explained in relation to the whole. And, on the other hand, each reality, each thing, is only a moment of the whole, which is constituted in the whole, but which is also assumed and dissolved in the whole. In his own words, the true is everything.

Knowledge structure

The dialectical character of Hegelian philosophy has the same scope in what refers to knowledge or to knowing dialectical knowledge or dialectical method. For Hegel, for his own conception of philosophy as the effective knowledge of what is in truth, the theory about reality requires investigating what knowledge is, knowing, thinking, remember that the relationship being – thinking has been a fundamental question throughout the history of philosophy.

For Hegel, knowledge has a dialectical structure. And it has that structure, in short, because reality is dialectical and, therefore, knowledge is also dialectical, insofar as it is a dimension of the real and insofar as it is dialectically configured by adequately manifesting the dialectical nature of reality. But, in truth, the distinctions between knowledge and reality, thinking and being, etc., are, according to Hegel, inadequate, precisely because of the dialectical character of reality in general and the Hegelian principle that what is true is everything. What there is, in any case, is the internal and structural relationship between being and thinking, or, what is the same, between the object and the subject.

Let us now see three fundamental points of the dialectical structure of knowledge: Knowledge, structurally, consists of the subject-object relationship, so that each moment of this relationship is only for the benefit or consideration of the other. But with the peculiarity that each of them denies and contradicts the other, giving each other an inequality and imbalance that, if definitive and insurmountable, would make a full truth impossible, an inequality that imposes a process of transformation in which one tends to equality. or identity.

The process aimed at overcoming the difference between object and subject tends to the identity of both. That is, there is a tendency to reduce one to the other. Only in the total identity that is achieved in total reduction is it possible to achieve total and absolute knowledge, that is, knowledge that knows the totality of the real. Hegel tries to make philosophy a system to arrive at absolute knowledge. Only a total knowledge and that knows the totality in an absolute way deserves, according to Hegel, the name of true knowledge he calls science. Dialectical knowledge is absolute knowledge; and not only because it comes to know the totality of the real, but also because it knows each particular reality in relation to the whole and as forming a moment of the whole. Thus only thanks to absolute knowledge or knowledge does each provisional, relative and partial knowledge acquire validity and meaning. Dialectical knowledge is thus absolute knowledge. This epistemological thesis is closely connected with the ontological thesis that what is true is everything.

In the reduction to absolute identity in which true and full dialectical knowledge is achieved, the dissolution of one of the structural moments of knowledge in the other takes place. Hegel will interpret this dissolution and reduction as the reconversion of the object in the subject: it will be, therefore, in the subject and as a subject that absolute identity is reached. The identity will be an identity in and of the subject. But with this reduction, not only is there an epistemological reduction from the object of knowledge to the subject of knowledge, but also an ontological reduction of being in thinking. And being the Subject of knowledge, ultimately, thought, reason or idea, the reduction to the subject, the reduction of being to thinking, turns Hegelian philosophy into an absolute idealism. It’s not so much about the reduction of the being when thinking, as for the interpretation of the real, of being, as Idea or Reason: Everything real is rational; the one that the true is only real as a system or the one that the substance is essentially subject, is expressed in the representation that states the absolute as spirit, the highest concept of all and that belongs to the modern age … Only the spiritual is the real.

Dialectic structure

We have seen that for Hegel dialectics is not limited to being a method of knowledge, but rather something more. Dialectics constitutes the nature and structure of the real, and that is why it constitutes the way of proceeding of knowledge.

The structure and essence of dialectics is a complex whole made up of three moments or aspects implied by each other and this is the authentic interpretation, and not that they are theses, antitheses and synthesis terms, on the other hand, that Hegel never used three successive steps:

  • What has been called thesis is the abstract or intellectual aspect or moment. The thesis is usually interpreted as any statement, a reality, a concept. But this statement carries with it an opposite, since reality is not static, but dynamic.
  • What has been called antithesis the aspect or dialectical or negative-rational moment. It is usually interpreted as the negation of the previous statement, since that contradiction is the engine of dialectics. This negative moment is what makes reality more dynamic.
  • What has been called synthesis is the speculative or positive – rational aspect or moment. It is usually interpreted as overcoming the conflict, the negation of the previous negation. The two previous moments are both eliminated and preserved, that is, raised to a higher plane. The synthesis preserves all the positive that was in the previous moments. So synthesis is enrichment and perfection, it is the assurance that reality is in constant progress. The synthesis immediately becomes the thesis of the following process, which the antithesis will oppose to give rise once again to a synthesis that will be at the same time the thesis of the following process: everything is in constant dialectical progress.

These three moments of the Hegelian dialectic are vertebrated and constituted in a structure whose adequate understanding is achieved through what we could call fundamental categories of dialectics:

  • Immediacy – mediation.
  • Negativity – contradiction.

Philosophy of history

Hegel tries to understand dialectically what has happened in history and for this he submits and contrasts his entire doctrinal framework with the historical events of each age. For Hegel, reflection on history implies an interpretation: impartiality is impossible. History must be interpreted from rationality; one must attend to the facts to discern the rational process that occurs in history.

The philosophy of history is the reflective consideration of history insofar as it is the spirit that directs that history. It is necessary to contemplate the facts, but interpreting them in the light of the spirit as it unfolds in time.

Rational view of history

For Hegel, reason rules the world and, therefore, history has passed rationally. Reason, then, is the substance of history. If history has passed rationally, this means that it has passed according to certain categories or laws, and it is necessary for the historian to confront history with these weapons in order to explain history convincingly and rationally.


  • It becomes clear if we look at the change of individuals, peoples and States that are happening: We see a huge picture of events, peoples, States and individuals in constant succession. When one disappears, another comes at once to take his place.
  • The spirit in its historical journey does not cease to be constantly destroyed and built. This means that the historical stages have a dialectical internal development that makes them disappear to transform them into others that are richer and more powerful: it is the dialectic applied to history. Each historical stage is shown as an individual and, as such, it is born, flourishes, matures, decays and dies. In the death of a stadium lies the engine of change of the historical process, since it carries within itself the germ of a new stadium. In this sense, we must understand the phrase From death comes life. This idea was explained in ancient times through the Phoenix bird: from its ashes emerges a rejuvenated and fresh life.
  • The story unfolds in the field of the spirit. The spirit is a consciousness not only of the subject, but also of the object Hegel called this self-consciousness. And this self-awareness is freedom, that is, self-awareness.
  • It is the fundamental principle that makes history possible. Only by being aware of freedom can one be free from the three types of freedom that Hegel distinguishes – natural, capricious, and rational – Hegel refers to rational freedom. But it is not enough to be aware of freedom, it is necessary to make it a reality, objectify it. This freedom is objectified through the State.

To know how freedom is objectified, it is necessary to know what the objective spirit is. The subjective spirit ends in the consciousness of freedom, but it is necessary that the objective conditions exist that make the exercise of freedom possible. These conditions are the right, the morality and the ethics, of which we are not going to speak, that constitute the objective spirit. The State is the perfect expression of rationality and freedom, and therefore represents the highest form of the objective spirit.

The State represents for Hegel the only reality capable of achieving and fully realizing freedom. In the State, the individual and the universal are fully inserted. Individual whim is not freedom. Only in the State does man have a rational existence. These ideas of Hegel have motivated some to accuse him of being totalitarian. Hegel says that to think that the State does nothing but restrict the freedom of individuals is to think negatively and idealistically, since only the State is the only guarantee of freedom and that individuals live freely. The rest would be to think that the individual whim can be elevated to the rank of freedom.

History as an explanation of the spirit in time

To better understand this notion of history, let’s look separately at the concepts of spirit and explicitness in time.


Spirit is not the opposite of matter. It is the strongest, deepest and most real of what exists. It is the spirit of the world or universal spirit, the force of all forces, the depth of all depths. It is the reconciliation of man with reality, the reconciliation of the thinking subject with the thought object.

It is not static. On the contrary, it evolves dialectically: subjective spirit, self-discovery, objective spirit, practical realization: here we must place history and the Absolute Spirit as the definitive encounter between man and reality, the subject and the object.

Explanation in time

Little by little, the spirit develops, expresses itself in the midst of an always progressive process, without being able to go back.

So the story is:

  • The passage from all partial to totality.
  • The time that lasts the progressive enrichment of beings, of truth, of freedom …
  • The encounter and reconciliation of the subject with the object, of man with reality.

History is the peak in the Absolute Spirit: it is the total overcoming of all processes, the maximum unity of opposites, the culmination and the fullness of all being, the maximum expression of Freedom, of Truth, of Thought … History as a Scenario of God in the World Dialectical reason is what governs the world, and therefore universal history has passed rationally.

The philosophical understanding of History becomes for Hegel a justification of the leading role of God in History, in which everything negative appears as something subordinate to the Whole, to the total plan of the Spirit. Hegel has a theological vision of history that implies that all the cruel, unjust and barbaric events that have occurred in history had no choice but to take place. They were instruments in the hands of the Spirit of the World. That infinite Reason is the one that operates in the history of humanity for which that infinite Reason realizes itself.

Hegel does not focus on the painfulness of the historical path, but on the goal, the end with which these unpleasant events have been carried out. For Hegel, that goal is the Spirit, and the end pursued by the Spirit is the conquest of freedom.

History as an advance in the consciousness of freedom

History is the process of development of freedom. This process is the same as the unfolding of the partial truth towards the totality until reaching the total Truth. Universal history is for Hegel a set of historical phases or epochs that are happening dialectically in a progressive advance of the realization of freedom through the State, which not only does not restrict the freedom of individuals, but is the only way that individuals live in freedom.

Hegel distinguishes three stages in this progress of the conscience in freedom that constitutes the plot of history:

  • It is the first period, the childhood of humanity, characterized by the absence of freedom. The Orientals do not know that man as such is free, and since they do not know, they are not. Only one man was free: the despot. It is the age of despotism in which the power of the State is concentrated in a single individual. The individual, then, is absorbed by the State. In the individual – collectivity relationship, the community element prevails. China, India, Persia, Asia Minor and Egypt belong to this period.
  • West: Greece and Rome. It is the second period, which contains the history of the Greco-Roman world. It is the adolescence stage of humanity. The consciousness of freedom begins, and for this reason freedom is fought. But among Greeks and Romans they only knew that some men were free, but not that man as such was free. For this reason slavery occurred. The community element continues to prevail over the Greek polis individual element.
  • Germanic peoples. They represent the old age of humanity. It is a period that extends from the arrival of Christianity to the current time of Hegel, it is understood. Freedom, which arose with Christianity, did not come to have immediate expression in laws and institutions because with Christian triumph, slavery lasted. A long process of development of peoples has been necessary before the explicit recognition of freedom. The reconciliation of the subject-object = individual-community split occurs. Only the Germanic nations have come to the awareness that man is free as a man. It is the maturity stage of History: we are all free. All men feel and are free abolition of slavery, and realize their freedom through the State.

What means does the spirit use to accomplish this end? At first glance, they may seem the least suitable. It is about the small interests, needs and human passions that constantly appear in history. Hegel even claims that without passion nothing great has been accomplished in the world. But how can the Spirit, with that enormous mass of individual interests and passions, achieve the universal end of history? It is true that without passion nothing serious is done in history, but the passions of the great figures of history are used as instruments of the Spirit of the World and show the cunning of reason. Reason makes the particular interest of passion serve as a bait to the realization of the universal interest. Its instruments are the great historical figures, men whose individual end includes the universal end of the Spirit. Such men Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon were not necessarily aware that their particular ends were only moments of the universal end.

The institution that ensures the achievement of the end to which history is directed is the State. This is something like the material with which history is built and reaches the ultimate end of the Spirit. The State is the realization of freedom, the union of the universal will of the Spirit and the subjective will of the individual. Only in obedience to the State is the man truly free. That is why the great historical individuals have been the creators of the great States.

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