Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

(1770–1831). 1. Ger. philos.; b. Stuttgart; educ. Tübingen; prof. Jena, Heidelberg, and (1818–31) Berlin.

2. Hegel viewed the task of philos. as comprehending what is, a task that is possible because what is, is reason; the structure of mind and reality is one. Language, the medium of knowledge, is conceptual: words always refer beyond particulars to universals. Since all words are concepts and all concepts are universal terms, it follows that truth is likewise universal; the individual self who grasps this discovers that the process of realization of the content of the universal-as-Spirit is the very process by which Spirit comes to Self-consciousness as the universal Self of Reason. In the attainment of absolute knowledge, the Self recognizes its own unity and its objects as Absolute Spirit. Philos. traces the structure of the Absolute (God) by investigating the structure of Idea (Mind) and Nature, which are integral parts of the singular process of the Absolute's Self-manifestation, apart from which there is no Absolute.

3. I. Kant* tried to end inconclusive philos. speculation, but his efforts gave way to absolute idealism. Hegel's philos. was in this stream of idealism.

4. Hegel's entire system rests on the triad Idea-Nature-Spirit. (1) Idea-in-itself (God in His eternal essence before Creation of Nature and finite mind) is the dynamic reality that gives rise to all that exists. All existence is the manifestation (actualization) of Idea-in-itself, which receives full reality only by being so manifested. In this state God does not yet “exist,” but in Creation God passes out of Himself into Nature. (2) Idea-outside-of-itself (the antithesis of Idea-in-itself) is Creation, the divine manifestation in space as Nature. Essence assumes existence. Logic (thesis) is externalized as Nature (antithesis). The triadic structure of Nature emerges as mechanics, physics, and organics—developing from mineral and vegetable stages to man, in whose consciousness Idea becomes Self-conscious. The highest synthesis of organics is the free ego; Nature passes back into Spirit as mind awakens to the realization of the unity of idea (logic) and Nature (space) in the free ego (Self), conscious of itself as Spirit. (3) Idea-in-andfor-itself (Self-conscious or Spirit) is the antithesis of idea-in-itself and Idea-outside-of-itself, whose development in time is history.

5. History, as the Self-developing movement of Spirit, is embedded in a metaphysical flow of universal scope; universal hist. is a dialectical process of actualization of the divine Idea. Hence it is hist., not Nature, that is divine, for hist. is the unfolding of the divine plan, a theodicy. The philos. of Spirit is the emergence of the divine mind as Reason in hist. Tension bet. Spirit and its own hist. phases in world-historical individuals and nations constitutes the dialectic of history. The State as the cultural whole, the totality of all the artistic, pol., economic, moral, and religious ideas and institutions of a people who uniquely express Spirit. is the march of God on earth. Spirit is also the unfolding of mind as Reason in philos., which is the divine Idea knowing itself, and in religion, wherein the Idea-Nature-Spirit triad is seen as the Kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Thus, in this vast dialectical structure of triads and triads-within-triads, God's infinitude is realized by the mind of man.

6. Kant's postulate of the external, unknowable “thing-in-itself” (see Ding an sich) was regarded by Hegel as an untenable contradiction in terms, for to say that anything is unknowable and exists is to know something about it, namely that it exists. Hence there is no reason to assume there is anything intrinsically unknowable behind appearances. What appears to us (phenomena) is not an appearance of an underlying, unknowable “thing-in-itself” beyond thought, but Reality itself. Thought and thingsprocesses-events are dialectically interrelated.

7. Hegel found the clue to the nature of reality in the dialectical process by which mind proceeds in its logical operations. Examination shows that our mind fastens upon some idea (thesis) as true; then, in the face of difficulties, the opposite (antithesis) is held to be true. It is subsequently seen that though each alternative taken in abstraction is false, the whole truth is found in a synthesis of the two alternatives that takes up, reconciles, and preserves (aufheben) what is worthwhile and necessary in each partial, contradictory thesis. This synthesis serves as a new thesis for another train of thought ad infinitum; the whole world is enveloped in this dialectical chain until the attainment of the ultimate synthesis: God, or Absolute Spirit.

8. Since what is real in existence is only that which is divine in it, everything else is contingent and must perish. Thus the dialectical process is not only logical and ontological, but also chronological in nature and in significance; the temporal is but an aspect of the eternal in its ontological structure. The eternal Idea is affected by its actualization in the world, for man's spirit (the synthesis of the divine Idea and Nature) makes the indeterminate reality of Idea become determinate in existence. Hence by developing his own consciousness more fully, man makes Idea (the divine mind) more conscious of Himself. This process goes on throughout the course of human generations in the hist. of states and nations. History is thus the progressive Self-determination and Self-development of concrete Idea (Spirit), and the sequence of hist. events is both temporal (as Self-development of Spirit) and logical (as Self-development of Idea). Temporal process thus follows dialectically after the logical process of Idea-in-itself (God) and Idea-outside-of-itself (spatial Nature). Since Spirit, or the synthesis of Idea and Nature, is in essence free, hist. is the progress of freedom, the development of Spirit in time. Real freedom is found neither in anarchy nor in despotism, but in that which accepts the limitations imposed by reasonable law; real law is that which is accepted by its subjects as what they will because it is seen to be reasonable. Thus hist. is not a mere catalog of events (some good, some evil), but the dialectical unfolding of the nature of Mind or Spirit in which one-sided principles conflict with their contradictories and are reconciled in a solution that does justice to both. Universal Reason, acting through men (citizens, persons, heroes, victims), thus providently shapes history.

9. Aside from the impetus his thought gave to historicism, Romanticism, and later absolute idealism, as well as the reaction of Kierkegaardian existentialism,* 3 streams may be noted as arising in Hegel's thought: (1) K. H. Marx* used Hegel's dialectical method, in union with a dynamic of economic determinism and the materialism of P. H. D. Holbach,* to formulate a scientific system of dialectical materialism, the revolutionary “Hegelian Left” of communism (see Socialism); (2) Hegel's conservatism (what is logically must be, and is both rational and right) was adopted by the authoritarian voices of the “Hegelian Right” of fascism (see Socialism, 3); J. Dewey's* philos. is largely a tr. of Hegel's method into terms of experimental science deemed necessary in the modern industrialized, urbanized, and democratized order, a philos. in which dualisms of all sorts are “overcome” in the unity of “experience” and “nature.” Dewey replaces the notion of Absolute Mind with that of Society and naturalizes Hegel's thought in light of Darwinism.

Works include Phänomenologie des Geistes; Wissenschaft der Logik; Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse; Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts; Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte; Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie. RVS

See also Absolute; Dualism; Lutheran Theology After 1580, 10; Monism; Philosophy.

J. N. Findley, Hegel: A Re-examination (London, 1958); W. T. Stace, The Philosophy of Hegel (London, 1924); F. Wiedmann, Hegel, tr. J. Neugroschel (New York, 1968).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

Stay Connected! Join the LCMS Network:

Contact Us Online
(Staff Switchboard)
(Church Info Center)
1333 S Kirkwood Rd
Saint Louis, MO 63122-7226 | Directions


Featured Publication

The Lutheran Witness

LCMS Communications

Interpreting the contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.
Visit TLW Online