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He was a serious, hard-working and successful student , and a voracious reader from a young age, including Shakespeare, the ancient Greek philosophers, the Bible and German literature. The three became close friends , sharing a dislike for the restrictive environment of the seminary. In , Hegel secured a position as an unsalaried lecturer at the University of Jena with the encouragement of his old friend Schelling , who was Extraordinary Professor there. The same year, he had an illegitimate son, Georg Ludwig Friedrich Fischer by his landlady, Christiana Burkhardt who had been abandoned by her husband.

However, unable to find more suitable employment, he was then forced to move from Jena and to accept a position as editor of a newspaper, the "Bamberger Zeitung" , in Bamberg. From until , he was headmaster of a gymnasium in Nuremberg , where he adapted his "Phenomenology of Mind" for use in the classroom, and developed the idea of a comprehensive encyclopedia of the philosophical sciences later published in In , he married Marie Helena Susanna von Tucher , the eldest daughter of a Senator, and they had two sons, Karl Friedrich Wilhelm in and Immanuel Thomas Christian in and, in , his illegitimate son, Ludwig Fischer, who was by then orphaned , joined the Hegel household.

This period saw the publication of his second major work, "Wissenschaft der Logik" "Science of Logic" in three volumes in , and From to , Hegel taught at the University of Heidelberg , and then he took an offer for the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin , where he remained until his death in At the height of his fame, his lectures attracted students from all over Germany and beyond, and he was appointed Rector of the University in , and decorated by King Frederick William III of Prussia for his service to the Prussian state in A number of other works on the Philosophy of History , Philosophy of Religion , Aesthetics , and the history of philosophy were compiled from the lecture notes of his students and published posthumously.

His works have a reputation for their abstractness and difficulty no less an academic than Bertrand Russell claimed that Hegel was the single most difficult philosopher to understand , and for the breadth of the topics they attempt to cover. These difficulties are magnified for those reading him in translation , since his philosophical language and terminology in German often do not have direct analogues in other languages e.

A History of Philosophy - 57 Hegel

Hegel's thought can be seen as part of a progression of philosophers going back to Plato , Aristotle , Plotinus , Leibniz , Spinoza , Rousseau and Kant who can generally be described as Idealists , and who regarded freedom or self-determination as real, and as having important ontological implications for soul or mind or divinity. He developed a new form of thinking and Logic , which he called "speculative reason" which includes the more famous concept of "dialectic" to try to overcome what he saw as the limitations of both common sense and of traditional philosophy at grasping philosophical problems and the relation between thought and reality.

His method was to begin with ultra-basic concepts like Being and Nothing , and to develop these through a long sequence of elaborations towards solutions that take the form of a series of concepts. He employed the tried-and-tested process of dialectic which dates back to Aristotle and involves resolving a thesis and its opposing antithesis into a synthesis , but asserted that this logical process was not just a matter of form as separate from content, but had applications and repercussions in the real world.

He also took the concept of the dialectic one step further , arguing that the new synthesis is not the final truth of the matter, but rather became the new thesis with its corresponding antithesis and synthesis. This process would continue effectively ad infinitum , until reaching the ultimate synthesis , which is what Hegel called the Absolute Idea. Hegel's main philosophical project, then, was to take the contradictions and tensions he saw throughout modern philosophy, culture and society, and interpret them as part of a comprehensive, evolving, rational unity that, in different contexts, he called "the absolute idea" or "absolute knowledge".

He believed that everything was interrelated and that the separation of reality into discrete parts as all philosophers since Aristotle had done was wrong. He advocated a kind of historically-minded Absolute Idealism developed out of the Transcendental Idealism of Immanuel Kant , in which the universe would realize its spiritual potential through the development of human society , and in which mind and nature can be seen as two abstractions of one indivisible whole Spirit.

However, the traditional triadic dialectical interpretation of Hegel's approach thesis - antithesis - synthesis is perhaps too simplistic. From Hegel's point of view, analysis of any apparently simple identity or unity reveals underlying inner contradictions , and it is these contradictions that lead to the dissolution of the thing or idea in the simple form in which it presented itself, and its development into a higher-level, more complex thing or idea that more adequately incorporates the contradictions.

Hegel was the first major philosopher to regard history and the Philosophy of History as important. Hegel's Historicism is the position that all human societies and all human activities such as science, art or philosophy are defined by their history , and that their essence can be sought only through understanding that.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

According to Hegel, to understand why a person is the way he is, you must put that person in a society ; and to understand that society, you must understand its history , and the forces that shaped it. He is famously quoted as claiming that "Philosophy is the history of philosophy". His system for understanding history, and the world itself, was developed from his famous dialectic teachings of thesis , antithesis and synthesis.

He saw history as a progression , always moving forward, never static, in which each successive movement emerges as a solution to the contradictions inherent in the preceding movement. He believed that every complex situation contains within itself conflicting elements , which work to destabilize the situation, leading it to break down into a new situation in which the conflicts are resolved. For example, the French Revolution constituted the introduction of real individual political freedom , but carried with it the seeds of the brutal Reign of Terror which followed, and only then was there the possibility of a constitutional state of free citizens, embodying both the benevolent organizing power of rational government and the revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality.

Thus, the history of any human endeavor not only builds upon , but also reacts against , what has gone before. This process, though, is an ongoing one, because the resulting synthesis has itself inherent contradictions which need to be resolved so that the synthesis becomes the new thesis for another round of the dialectic. Crucially, however, Hegel believed that this dialectical process was not just random , but that it had a direction or a goal, and that goal was freedom and our consciousness and awareness of freedom and of the absolute knowledge of mind as the ultimate reality.

We can picture Finite Purpose this way:.

Hegel’s Dialectics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In the dialectical moment, Finite Purpose is determined by the previously ignored content, or by that other content. The one-sidedness of Finite Purpose requires the dialectical process to continue through a series of syllogisms that determines Finite Purpose in relation to the ignored content. The first syllogism links the Finite Purpose to the first layer of content in the object: the Purpose or universality e. But the particularity e. Thus, the first singularity e. This new singularity e. In the speculative moment, Finite Purpose is determined by the whole process of development from the moment of understanding—when it is defined by particularizing into a pre-given object with a content that it ignores—to its dialectical moment—when it is also defined by the previously ignored content.

We can picture the speculative moment of Finite Purpose this way:. As soon as Finite Purpose presents all the content, there is a return process a series of return arrows that establishes each layer and redefines Finite Purpose as Realized Purpose. We can picture Realized Purpose this way:.

Instead of trying to squeeze the stages into a triadic form cf. This sort of process might reveal a kind of argument that, as Hegel had promised, might produce a comprehensive and exhaustive exploration of every concept, form or determination in each subject matter, as well as raise dialectics above a haphazard analysis of various philosophical views to the level of a genuine science.

These interpreters reject the idea that there is any logical necessity to the moves from stage to stage. Solomon writes, for instance,. The connections are anything but entailments, and the Phenomenology could always take another route and other starting points. Solomon A transcendental argument begins with uncontroversial facts of experience and tries to show that other conditions must be present—or are necessary—for those facts to be possible. Taylor 97, —7; for a critique of this view, see Pinkard 7, In his examination of the epistemological theory of the Phenomenology , for instance, Kenneth R.

Ermanno Bencivenga offers an interpretation that combines a narrative approach with a concept of necessity. While some of the moves from stage to stage are driven by syntactic necessity, other moves are driven by the meanings of the concepts in play. A logic that deals only with the forms of logical arguments and not the meanings of the concepts used in those argument forms will do no better in terms of preserving truth than the old joke about computer programs suggests: garbage in, garbage out.

But if you plug in something for those terms that is untrue or meaningless garbage in , then the syntax of formal logic will lead to an untrue or meaningless conclusion garbage out. Against these logics, Hegel wanted to develop a logic that not only preserved truth, but also determined how to construct truthful claims in the first place.

A logic that defines concepts semantics as well as their relationships with one another syntax will show, Hegel thought, how concepts can be combined into meaningful forms. Maybee xvii—xx. In the Phenomenology , for instance, the moves are driven by syntax, semantics, and by phenomenological factors. Sometimes a move from one stage to the next is driven by a syntactic need—the need to stop an endless, back-and-forth process, for instance, or to take a new path after all the current options have been exhausted cf.

And sometimes a move is driven by a phenomenological need or necessity—by requirements of consciousness , or by the fact that the Phenomenology is about a consciousness that claims to be aware of or to know something. The logic of the Phenomenology is thus a phenomeno -logic, or a logic driven by logic—syntax and semantics—and by phenomenological considerations.

Still, interpreters such as Quentin Lauer have suggested that, for Hegel,. Lauer 3. Other scholars who also believe there is a logical necessity to the dialectics of the Phenomenology include Hyppolite 78—9 and H. Harris xii. Even in these logics, there can often be more than one path from some premises to the same conclusion, logical operators can be dealt with in different orders, and different sets of operations can be used to reach the same conclusions.

We can begin to see why Hegel was motivated to use a dialectical method by examining the project he set for himself, particularly in relation to the work of David Hume and Immanuel Kant see entries on Hume and Kant. Although we may have to use careful observations and do experiments, our knowledge of the world is basically a mirror or copy of what the world is like. Take the scientific concept of cause, for instance.

According to that concept of cause, to say that one event causes another is to say that there is a necessary connection between the first event the cause and the second event the effect , such that, when the first event happens, the second event must also happen. It follows that the necessary, causal connection between the two events must itself be out there in the world. There is nothing in the world itself that our idea of cause mirrors or copies.

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Nicholas Copernicus was the Polish astronomer who said that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than the other way around. We can reestablish a connection between reason and knowledge, however, Kant suggested, if we say—not that knowledge revolves around what the world is like—but that knowledge revolves around what we are like. For the purposes of our knowledge, Kant said, we do not revolve around the world—the world revolves around us.

Because we are rational creatures, we share a cognitive structure with one another that regularizes our experiences of the world. This intersubjectively shared structure of rationality—and not the world itself—grounds our knowledge. While the intersubjectively shared structure of our reason might allow us to have knowledge of the world from our perspective, so to speak, we cannot get outside of our mental, rational structures to see what the world might be like in itself.

How, for Hegel, can we get out of our heads to see the world as it is in itself? Plato argued that we have knowledge of the world only through the Forms. The Forms are perfectly universal, rational concepts or ideas. Because the world is imperfect, however, Plato exiled the Forms to their own realm. Although things in the world get their definitions by participating in the Forms, those things are, at best, imperfect copies of the universal Forms see, e. The Forms are therefore not in this world, but in a separate realm of their own. Aristotle argued, however, that the world is knowable not because things in the world are imperfect copies of the Forms, but because the Forms are in things themselves as the defining essences of those things see, e.

As Hegel apparently put it in a lecture, the opposition or antithesis between the subjective and objective disappears by saying, as the Ancients did,. If we were to deprive a dog of its animality we could not say what it is.

2. Applying Hegel’s dialectical method to his arguments

We can use our reason to have knowledge of the world because the very same reason that is in us, is in the world itself as it own defining principle. The rationality or reason in the world makes reality understandable, and that is why we can have knowledge of, or can understand, reality with our rationality. But why does Hegel come to define reason in terms of dialectics, and hence adopt a dialectical method? Plato argued that we can have knowledge of the world only by grasping the Forms, which are perfectly universal, rational concepts or ideas.

Because things in the world are so imperfect, however, Plato concluded that the Forms are not in this world, but in a realm of their own. After all, if a human being were perfectly beautiful, for instance, then he or she would never become not-beautiful. But human beings change, get old, and die, and so can be, at best, imperfect copies of the Form of beauty—though they get whatever beauty they have by participating in that Form.

Moreover, for Plato, things in the world are such imperfect copies that we cannot gain knowledge of the Forms by studying things in the world, but only through reason, that is, only by using our rationality to access the separate realm of the Forms as Plato argued in the well-known parable of the cave; Republic , Book 7, —b. First, it rests on the claim that the world is an imperfect and messy place—a claim that is hard to deny.

Introductions by Hegel

But it also rests on the assumption that the Forms—the universal, rational concepts or ideas of reason itself—are static and fixed, and so cannot grasp the messiness within the imperfect world. Hegel is able to link reason back to our messy world by changing the definition of reason. Instead of saying that reason consists of static universals, concepts or ideas, Hegel says that the universal concepts or forms are themselves messy. Moreover, because later concepts build on or sublate cancel, but also preserve earlier concepts, the later, more universal concepts grasp the dialectical processes of earlier concepts.

As a result, higher-level concepts can grasp not only the dialectical nature of earlier concepts or forms, but also the dialectical processes that make the world itself a messy place. The highest definition of the concept of beauty, for instance, would not take beauty to be fixed and static, but would include within it the dialectical nature or finiteness of beauty, the idea that beauty becomes, on its own account, not-beauty. This dialectical understanding of the concept of beauty can then overgrasp the dialectical and finite nature of beauty in the world, and hence the truth that, in the world, beautiful things themselves become not-beautiful, or might be beautiful in one respect and not another.

Dialectics is what drives the development of both reason as well as of things in the world. A dialectical reason can overgrasp a dialectical world.


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  • 1. Hegel’s description of his dialectical method.

Two further journeys into the history of philosophy will help to show why Hegel chose dialectics as his method of argument. To show that reason is in the world itself, however, Hegel has to show that reason can be what it is without us human beings to help it. He has to show that reason can develop on its own, and does not need us to do the developing for it at least for those things in the world that are not human-created.


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As we saw cf. Thus reason, as it were, drives itself, and hence does not need our heads to develop it. Ironically, Hegel derives the basic outlines of his account of self-driving reason from Kant. Kant divided human rationality into two faculties: the faculty of the understanding and the faculty of reason. The understanding uses concepts to organize and regularize our experiences of the world. Reason coordinates the concepts of the understanding by following out necessary chains of syllogisms to produce concepts that achieve higher and higher levels of conceptual unity.

Indeed, this process will lead reason to produce its own transcendental ideas, or concepts that go beyond the world of experience. In the end, Kant thought, reason will follow out such chains of syllogisms until it develops completely comprehensive or unconditioned universals—universals that contain all of the conditions or all of the less-comprehensive concepts that help to define them.

Once reason has generated the unconditioned concept of the whole world, for instance, Kant argued, it can look at the world in two, contradictory ways. In the first antinomy, reason can see the world 1 as the whole totality or as the unconditioned, or 2 as the series of syllogisms that led up to that totality. If reason sees the world as the unconditioned or as a complete whole that is not conditioned by anything else, then it will see the world as having a beginning and end in terms of space and time, and so will conclude the thesis that the world has a beginning and end or limit.

But if reason sees the world as the series, in which each member of the series is conditioned by the previous member, then the world will appear to be without a beginning and infinite, and reason will conclude the antithesis that the world does not have a limit in terms of space and time cf. Reason thus leads to a contradiction: it holds both that the world has a limit and that it does not have a limit at the same time. Kant was right that reason speculatively generates concepts on its own, and that this speculative process is driven by necessity and leads to concepts of increasing universality or comprehensiveness.

Kant was even right to suggest—as he had shown in the discussion of the antinomies—that reason is dialectical, or necessarily produces contradictions on its own. The fact that reason develops those contradictions on its own, without our heads to help it , shows that those contradictions are not just in our heads, but are objective, or in the world itself.

SL-dG 35 , or to the nature of concepts themselves. Fichte argued that the task of discovering the foundation of all human knowledge leads to a contradiction or opposition between the self and the not-self it is not important, for our purposes, why Fichte held this view. The kind of reasoning that leads to this contradiction, Fichte said, is the analytical or antithetical method of reasoning, which involves drawing out an opposition between elements in this case, the self and not-self that are being compared to, or equated with, one another.

While the traditional reductio ad absurdum argument would lead us to reject both sides of the contradiction and start from scratch, Fichte argued that the contradiction or opposition between the self and not-self can be resolved. In particular, the contradiction is resolved by positing a third concept—the concept of divisibility—which unites the two sides The Science of Knowledge , I: —11; Fichte — Indeed, Fichte argued, not only is the move to resolve contradictions with synthetic concepts or judgments possible, it is necessary.

As he says of the move from the contradiction between self and not-self to the synthetic concept of divisibility,. The Science of Knowledge , I: ; Fichte Without the synthetic concepts or judgments, we are left, as the classic reductio ad absurdum argument suggests, with nothing at all. The synthetic concepts or judgments are thus necessary to get beyond contradiction without leaving us with nothing.

Fichte suggested that a synthetic concept that unifies the results of a dialectically-generated contradiction does not completely cancel the contradictory sides, but only limits them. Instead of concluding, as a reductio ad absurdum requires, that the two sides of a contradiction must be dismissed altogether, the synthetic concept or judgment retroactively justifies the opposing sides by demonstrating their limit, by showing which part of reality they attach to and which they do not The Science of Knowledge , I: —10; Fichte —9 , or by determining in what respect and to what degree they are each true.

For Hegel, as we saw cf. From the point of view of the later concepts or forms, the earlier ones still have some validity, that is, they have a limited validity or truth defined by the higher-level concept or form. Ultimately, Hegel thought, as we saw cf. In many places, the dialectical process is driven by a syntactic necessity that is really a kind of exhaustion: when the current strategy has been exhausted, the process is forced, necessarily, to employ a new strategy.

As we saw section 2 , once the strategy of treating Being and Nothing as separate concepts is exhausted, the dialectical process must, necessarily, adopt a different strategy, namely, one that takes the two concepts together. The concept of Becoming captures the first way in which Being and Nothing are taken together. In the stages of Quantum through Number, the concepts of One and Many take turns defining all the elements cf.

Hegel’s Dialectics

Maybee , xviii—xix :. Since One and Many have been exhausted, the next stage, Ratio, must, necessarily, employ a different strategy to grasp the elements in play. Maybee , xviii—xix, 95—7. So long as the dialectical process is passing endlessly back and forth between two elements, it is never finished, and the concept or form in play cannot be determined. Spurious infinities must therefore be resolved or stopped, and they are always resolved by a higher-level, more universal concept.

In some cases, a new, higher-level concept is introduced that stops the spurious infinity by grasping the whole, back-and-forth process. Being-for-itself cf. However, if the back-and-forth process takes place between a concept and its own content—in which case the concept already embraces the content—then that embracing concept is redefined in a new way that grasps the whole, back-and-forth process. As a result, it is really defined only in relation to itself.

In the logic, Being-for-itself cf. Maybee —6. The genuine concept of animal, for instance, is not only defined by embracing its content namely, all animals from the bottom up, but also has a definition of its own, separate from that content, that leads it to determine, from the top down, what counts as an animal. As we saw section 2 , Hegel regarded Becoming as the first concrete concept in the logic. In spite of—or perhaps because of—the difficulty, there are a surprising number of fresh ideas in his work that have not yet been fully explored in philosophy.

As he puts the argument, then, the scepticism that ends up with the bare abstraction of nothingness or emptiness cannot get any further from there, but must wait to see whether something new comes along and what it is, in order to throw it too into the same empty abyss. Why does Hegel use dialectics? As Hegel suggests in the Phenomenology , such an argument is just the skepticism which only ever sees pure nothingness in its result and abstracts from the fact that this nothingness is specifically the nothingness of that from which it results.

We can picture the concept of Being-for-itself like this: Figure 1. Figure 2.