The concept of freedom through Hegel's method:
Hegel's thinking can be understood as a constructive development within the broadly Platonic tradition that includes Aristotle and Kant. To this list one could add Proclus, Meister Eckhart, Leibniz, Bahlsen, Spinoza, Plotinus, Jakob Boehme, and Rousseau. What all these thinkers share, which distinguishes them from materialists like Epicurus, the Stoics, and Thomas Hobbes, and from empiricists like David Hume, is that they regard freedom or self-determination both as real and as having important ontological implications, for soul or mind or divinity. This focus on freedom is what generates Plato's notion (in the Phaedo, Republic, and Timaeus) of the soul as having a higher or fuller kind of reality than inanimate objects possess. While Aristotle criticizes Plato's "Forms", he preserves Plato's preoccupation with the ontological implications of self-determination, in his conceptions of ethical reasoning, the hierarchy of soul in nature, the order of the cosmos, and the prime mover. Kant, likewise, preserves this preoccupation of Plato's in his notions of moral and noumenal freedom, and God.
In his discussion of "Spirit" in his Encyclopedia, Hegel praises Aristotle's On the Soul as "by far the most admirable, perhaps even the sole, work of philosophical value on this topic" (par. 378). And in his Phenomenology of Spirit and his Science of Logic, Hegel's concern with Kantian topics such as freedom and morality, and with their ontological implications, is pervasive. Rather than simply rejecting Kant's dualism of freedom versus nature, Hegel aims to subsume it within "true infinity", the "Concept" (or "Notion": Begriff), "Spirit", and "ethical life" in such a way that the Kantian duality is rendered intelligible (as mentioned above), rather than remaining a brute "given."
The reason why this subsumption takes place in a series of concepts is that Hegel's method, in his Science of Logic and his Encyclopedia, is to begin with ultra-basic concepts like Being and Nothing, and to develop these through a long sequence of elaborations, including those mentioned in the previous paragraph. In this manner, a solution that is reached, in principle, in the account of "true infinity" in the Science of Logic's chapter on "Quality", is repeated in new guises at later stages, all the way to "Spirit" and "ethical life", in the third volume of the Encyclopedia.
In this way, Hegel intends to defend the germ of truth in Kantian dualism against reductive or eliminative programs like those of materialism and empiricism (which one can see at work in many of Hegel's critics, including Marx, Nietzsche, and Russell). Like Plato, with his dualism of soul versus bodily appetites, Kant wants to insist on the mind's ability to question its felt inclinations or appetites and to come up with a standard of "duty" (or, in Plato's case, "good") which goes beyond them. Hegel preserves this essential Platonic and Kantian concern in the form of infinity's going beyond the finite (a process that Hegel in fact relates to "freedom" and the "ought"), the universal's going beyond the particular (in the Concept), and Spirit's going beyond Nature. And Hegel renders these dualities intelligible by (ultimately) his argument in the "Quality" chapter of the Science of Logic that the finite has to become infinite in order to achieve "reality." This is because, as Hegel suggests by his introduction of the concept of "reality", what determines itself rather than depending on its relations to other things for its essential character, is more fully "real" (following the Latin etymology of "real": more "thing-like") than what does not. Finite things don't determine themselves, because, as "finite" things, their essential character is determined by their boundaries, over against other finite things. So, in order to become "real", they must go beyond their finitude ("finitude is only as a transcending of itself").
The result of this argument is that finite and infinite—and, by extension, particular and universal, nature and freedom—don't face one another as two independent realities, but instead the latter (in each case) is the self-transcending of the former. Thus rather than being merely "given", without explanation, the relationship between finite and infinite (and particular and universal, and nature and freedom) becomes intelligible. And a challenge is issued to reductive and eliminative programs like materialism and empiricism: What kind of "reality" do your fundamental entities or data possess?
Progress through contradictions and negations:
The obscure writings of Jakob Böhme had a strong effect on Hegel. Böhme had written that the Fall of Man was a necessary stage in the evolution of the universe. This evolution was, itself, the result of God's desire for complete self-awareness. Hegel was fascinated by the works of Spinoza, Kant, Rousseau, and Goethe, and by the French Revolution. Modern philosophy, culture, and society seemed to Hegel fraught with contradictions and tensions, such as those between the subject and object of knowledge, mind and nature, self and Other, freedom and authority, knowledge and faith, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Hegel's main philosophical project was to take these contradictions and tensions and interpret them as part of a comprehensive, evolving, rational unity that, in different contexts, he called "the absolute idea" or "absolute knowledge".
According to Hegel, the main characteristic of this unity was that it evolved through and manifested itself in contradiction and negation. Contradiction and negation have a dynamic quality that at every point in each domain of reality—consciousness, history, philosophy, art, nature, society—leads to further development until a rational unity is reached that preserves the contradictions as phases and sub-parts by lifting them up (Aufhebung) to a higher unity. This whole is mental because it is mind that can comprehend all of these phases and sub-parts as steps in its own process of comprehension. It is rational because the same, underlying, logical, developmental order underlies every domain of reality and is ultimately the order of self-conscious rational thought, although only in the later stages of development does it come to full self-consciousness. The rational, self-conscious whole is not a thing or being that lies outside of other existing things or minds. Rather, it comes to completion only in the philosophical comprehension of individual existing human minds who, through their own understanding, bring this developmental process to an understanding of itself.
(Note: "Mind" and "Spirit" are the common English translations of Hegel's use of the German "Geist." Some have argued that either of these terms overly "psychologize" Hegel, implying a kind of disembodied, solipsistic consciousness like ghost or "soul." Geist combines the meaning of spirit—as in god, ghost or mind—with an intentional force.)
Central to Hegel's conception of knowledge and mind (and therefore also of reality) was the notion of identity in difference, that is that mind externalizes itself in various forms and objects that stand outside of it or opposed to it, and that, through recognizing itself in them, is "with itself" in these external manifestations, so that they are at one and the same time mind and other-than-mind. This notion of identity in difference, which is intimately bound up with his conception of contradiction and negativity, is a principal feature differentiating Hegel's thought from that of other philosophers.
Hegel made the distinction between civil society and state in his Elements of the Philosophy of Right. In this work, civil society (Hegel used the term "buergerliche Gesellschaft" though it is now referred to as Zivilgesellschaft in German to emphasize a more inclusive community) was a stage on the dialectical relationship between Hegel's perceived opposites, the macro-community of the state and the micro-community of the family. Broadly speaking, the term was split, like Hegel's followers, to the political left and right. On the left, it became the foundation for Karl Marx's bourgeois society; to the right it became a description for all non-state aspects of society, expanding out of the economic rigidity of Marxism into culture, society and politics
There are views of Hegel's thought as a representation of the summit of early 19th century Germany's movement of philosophical idealism. It would come to have a profound impact on many future philosophical schools, including schools that opposed Hegel's specific dialectical idealism, such as Existentialism, the historical materialism of Karl Marx, historicism, and British Idealism.
Hegel's influence was immense both within philosophy and in the other sciences. Throughout the 19th century many chairs of philosophy around Europe were held by Hegelians, although Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels were all opposed to the most central themes of Hegel's philosophy. After less than a generation, Hegel's philosophy was suppressed and even banned by the Prussian right-wing, and was firmly rejected by the left-wing in multiple official writings.
After the period of Bruno Bauer, Hegel's influence did not make itself felt again until the philosophy of British Idealism and the 20th century Hegelian Neo-Marxism that began with Georg Lukács. The more recent movement of communitarianism has a strong Hegelian influence, although a Hegel specialist would argue that that influence is not strong enough, since communitarianism tends toward relativism, which Hegel's philosophy does not.
Hegel's legacy (interpretation):
"... a much misunderstood phenomenon in the history of philosophy — the refutation of one system by another, of an earlier by a later. Most commonly the refutation is taken in a purely negative sense to mean that the system refuted has ceased to count for anything, has been set aside and done for. Were it so, the history of philosophy would be, of all studies, most saddening, displaying, as it does, the refutation of every system which time has brought forth. Now although it may be admitted that every philosophy has been refuted, it must be in an equal degree maintained that no philosophy has been refuted. And that in two ways. For first, every philosophy that deserves the name always embodies the Idea: and secondly, every system represents one particular factor or particular stage in the evolution of the Idea. The refutation of a philosophy, therefore, only means that its barriers are crossed, and its special principle reduced to a factor in the completer principle that follows."
Left and Right Hegelianism:
Another confusing aspect about the interpretation of Hegel's work is the fact that past historians have spoken of Hegel's influence as represented by two opposing camps. The Right Hegelians, the allegedly direct disciples of Hegel at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now known as the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), advocated a Protestant orthodoxy and the political conservatism of the post-Napoleon Restoration period. The Left Hegelians, also known as the Young Hegelians, interpreted Hegel in a revolutionary sense, leading to an advocation of atheism in religion and liberal democracy in politics.
In more recent studies, however, this old paradigm has been questioned. For one thing, no Hegelians of the period ever referred to themselves as Right Hegelians. That was a term of insult that David Strauss (a self-styled Left Hegelian) hurled at Bruno Bauer (who has most often been classified by historians as a Left Hegelian, but who rejected both titles for himself). For another thing, no so-called Left Hegelian described himself as a follower of Hegel. This includes Moses Hess as well as Karl Marx. Several Left Hegelians openly repudiated or insulted the legacy of Hegel's philosophy. The critiques of Hegel offered from the Left Hegelians radically diverted Hegel's thinking into new directions. Eventually they came to form a disproportionately large part of the literature on and about Hegel.
Perhaps the main reason that so much writing about Hegel emerges from the so-called Left Hegelians is that the Left Hegelians spawned Marxism, which inspired a global movement lasting more than 150 years, encompassing the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and even more national-liberation movements of the 20th century. Yet those movements, to be precise, are not a direct result of Hegel's philosophy.
Twentieth-century interpretations of Hegel were mostly shaped by one-sided schools of thought: British Idealism, logical positivism, Marxism, Fascism and postmodernism. With reference to Fascism, Italy's Giovanni Gentile "...holds the honor of having been the most rigorous neo-Hegelian in the entire history of Western philosophy and the dishonor of having been the official philosopher of Fascism in Italy." However, since the fall of the USSR, a new wave of Hegel scholarship arose in the West, without the preconceptions of the prior schools of thought.
Walter Jaeschke and Otto Pöggeler in Germany, as well as Peter Hodgson and Howard Kainz in America, are notable for their many contributions to post-USSR thinking about Hegel as published by the Hegel Society of America. Perhaps the most challenging publication from that source has been the new English edition of Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1818-1831) which has challenged most 20th century views about Hegel.
In previous modern accounts of Hegelianism (to undergraduate classes, for example), especially those formed prior to the Hegel renaissance, Hegel's dialectic was most often characterized as a three-step process, "thesis, antithesis, synthesis"; namely, that a "thesis" (e.g. the French Revolution) would cause the creation of its "antithesis" (e.g. the Reign of Terror that followed), and would eventually result in a "synthesis" (e.g. the Constitutional state of free citizens). However, Hegel used this classification only once, and he attributed the terminology to Immanuel Kant. The terminology was largely developed earlier by Johann Fichte the neo-Kantian. It was spread by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus in a popular account of Hegelian philosophy, and since then the misfit terms have stuck. What is wrong with the "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" approach is that it gives the sense that things or ideas are contradicted or opposed by things that come from outside them. To the contrary, the fundamental notion of Hegel's dialectic is that things or ideas have internal contradictions. From Hegel's point of view, analysis or comprehension of a thing or idea reveals that underneath its apparently simple identity or unity is an underlying inner contradiction. This contradiction leads to the dissolution of the thing or idea in the simple form in which it presented itself and to a higher-level, more complex thing or idea that more adequately incorporates the contradiction. The triadic form that appears in many places in Hegel (e.g. being-nothingness-becoming, immediate-mediate-concrete, abstract-negative-concrete) is about this movement from inner contradiction to higher-level integration or unification.
Believing that the traditional description of Hegel's philosophy in terms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis was mistaken, a few scholars, like Raya Dunayevskaya, a devout Marxist who was once Leon Trotsky's secretary, have attempted to discard the triadic approach altogether. According to their argument, although Hegel refers to "the two elemental considerations: first, the idea of freedom as the absolute and final aim; secondly, the means for realising it, i.e. the subjective side of knowledge and will, with its life, movement, and activity" (thesis and antithesis) he doesn't use "synthesis" but instead speaks of the "Whole": "We then recognised the State as the moral Whole and the Reality of Freedom, and consequently as the objective unity of these two elements." Furthermore, in Hegel's language, the "dialectical" aspect or "moment" of thought and reality, by which things or thoughts turn into their opposites or have their inner contradictions brought to the surface, what he called "aufhebung", is only preliminary to the "speculative" (and not "synthesizing") aspect or "moment", which grasps the unity of these opposites or contradiction. Thus for Hegel, reason is ultimately "speculative", not "dialectical".
It is widely admitted today that the old-fashioned description of Hegel's philosophy in terms of "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" is inaccurate. Nevertheless, such is the persistence of this misnomer that the model and terminology survive in a number of scholarly works,
According to J.N. Findlay, Hegel is the "Aristotle of modern times", and is, "the greatest of European thinkers, engaged in a self-critical enterprise..." (Foreword, Science of Logic, trans. 1969 by A.V. Miller).
Oswald Spengler admired Hegel, contrasting what he saw as Hegel's authentically German philosophy with what he considered Marx's foreign and fraudulent ideology. "Hegel stands above, Marx below the level of historical actuality", claimed Spengler. "Take away Hegel's metaphysics and you will discover a political thinker with a sense of reality unequaled in modern philosophy. As a 'Prussian' by intellectual choice he placed the state at the center of his extraordinarily profound, well-nigh Goethean vision of historical development, whereas Marx, the Englishman by choice, assigned to the economic life the central role in his Darwinian and mechanistic theory of historical 'evolution' (he would call it 'progress')."
In the latter half of the 20th century, Hegel's philosophy underwent a major renaissance. This was due to: (a) the rediscovery and reevaluation of Hegel as a possible philosophical progenitor of Marxism by philosophically oriented Marxists; (b) a resurgence of the historical perspective that Hegel brought to everything; and (c) an increasing recognition of the importance of his dialectical method.
The book that did the most to reintroduce Hegel into the Marxist canon was perhaps Georg Lukács' History and Class Consciousness. This sparked a renewed interest in Hegel reflected in the work of Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Raya Dunayevskaya, Alexandre Kojève and Gotthard Günther among others. The Hegel renaissance also highlighted the significance of Hegel's early works, i.e. those published prior to the Phenomenology of Spirit. The direct and indirect influence of Kojève's lectures and writings (on the Phenomenology of Spirit, in particular) mean that it is not possible to understand most French philosophers from Jean-Paul Sartre to Jacques Derrida without understanding Hegel.
Beginning in the 1960s, Anglo-American Hegel scholarship has attempted to challenge the traditional interpretation of Hegel as offering a metaphysical system: this has also been the approach of Z.A.Pelczynski and Shlomo Avineri. This view, sometimes referred to as the 'non-metaphysical option', has had a decided influence on many major English language studies of Hegel in the past 40 years.
U.S. neoconservative political theorist Francis Fukuyama's controversial book The End of History and the Last Man was heavily influenced by Alexandre Kojève. Among modern scientists, the physicist David Bohm, the mathematician William Lawvere, the logician Kurt Gödel and the biologist Ernst Mayr have been interested in Hegel's philosophical work.
A late 20th century literature in Western Theology that is friendly to Hegel includes such writers as Dale M. Schlitt (1984), Theodore Geraets (1985), Philip M. Merklinger (1991), Stephen Rocker (1995) and Cyril O'Regan (1995). The contemporary theologian Hans Küng has also advanced contemporary scholarship in Hegel studies.
Recently, two prominent American philosophers, John McDowell and Robert Brandom (sometimes, half-seriously, referred to as the Pittsburgh Hegelians), have produced philosophical works exhibiting a marked Hegelian influence. Each is avowedly influenced by the late Wilfred Sellars, also of Pittsburgh, who referred to his seminal work, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, as a series of "incipient Méditations Hegeliennes" (in homage to Edmund Husserl's treatise, Meditations Cartesiennes).
Beginning in the 1990s, after the fall of the USSR, a fresh reading of Hegel took place in the West. For these scholars, fairly well represented by the Hegel Society of America and in cooperation with German scholars such as Otto Pöggeler and Walter Jaeschke, Hegel's works should be read without preconceptions. Marx plays a minor role in these new readings, and some contemporary scholars have suggested that Marx's interpretation of Hegel is irrelevant to a proper reading of Hegel. Some American philosophers associated with this movement include Clark Butler, Vince Hathaway, Daniel Shannon, David Duquette, David MacGregor, Edward Beach, John Burbidge, Lawrence Stepelevich, Rudolph Siebert, Randall Jackwak, Theodore Geraets and William Desmond.
Hegel used his system of dialectics to explain the whole of the history of philosophy, science, art, politics and religion, but he has had many critics over the centuries. Perhaps the most famous critics were the Left-Hegelians, including Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and their followers in the 19th century.
In Britain, Hegel exercised an influence on the philosophical school called "British Idealism", which included Francis Herbert Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet, in England, and Josiah Royce at Harvard. However, Analytic philosophy, which still continues to dominate philosophy departments in the United States and the United Kingdom, was virtually founded when G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell rejected British Idealism and their colleagues' admiration for Hegel. Hegel remains largely out of fashion in these departments even to this day. Logical Positivists such as Alfred Jules Ayer and the Vienna Circle criticized his ideas and their supporters such as F. H. Bradley.
The trend towards criticism of Hegel has been widespread in the 19th and the 20th centuries, and has included individuals such as Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Eric Voegelin, Alfred Ayer, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, and many others. In the late 20th century this trend was resisted by Professor Jon Stewart (Northwestern University, Illinois) in 1996 with his book, The Hegel Myths and Legends.
Some 20th century critics suggested that Hegel glosses over the realities of history in order to fit it into his dialectical mold. Erich Heller opines in his The Disinherited Mind (1952) that Hegel was proved wrong — by the poets who succeeded him, not by the unfolding reality. Some newer philosophers who prefer to follow the tradition of British Philosophy have made similar statements.
a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage...
– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality.
The height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had been only previously known in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most barefaced, general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, as a monument to German stupidity.
– Arthur Schopenhauer, Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy.
Nietzsche criticized Hegel's claims about the Absolute.
Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth. ... Thus it is, today, after Kant, an audacious ignorance if here and there, especially among badly informed theologians who like to play philosopher, the task of philosophy is represented as being quite certainly "comprehending the Absolute with the consciousness", somewhat completely in the form "the Absolute is already present, how could it be sought somewhere else?" as Hegel has expressed it.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, § 11.
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