xxxxxThe German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel extended the thought of Immanuel Kant, and contributed in large measure to modern philosophy. Unlike Kant (1788 G3b), he believed that all knowledge, not only that presented to the mind, could be understood within a single system. Knowledge, he argued, was constantly being expanded by a “dialectic process”. By this method, a concept, or “thesis” was taken to be true until the recognition of an “antithesis”, and when these two were resolved into a “synthesis”, this advanced concept itself became a “thesis”, and the whole process was repeated until this evolution of thought culminated in a “World Spirit”, the sum total of reality, and one with God. In human affairs this spirit reached its highest level in art, religion and, above all, philosophy, whilst in the history of man it led to the realisation of his total freedom, achieved by the will of all within a unified state. Hegel’s philosophy was not always easy to understand, and led to various interpretations, especially in theology and politics. Right wingers emphasised the conservative value of his work -
GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH HEGEL 1770 -
Hegel: by the German painter Jakob Schlesinger (1792-
xxxxxThe German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was the most influential thinker of the 19th century, extending the thought of his fellow countryman Immanuel Kant (1788 G3b), and playing a large part in shaping the content of modern philosophy. Believing, unlike Kant, that it was possible to embrace all knowledge within a single system, grounded in faith, he cast his thought over a wide variety of topics, leaving few if any philosophical stones unturned.
xxxxxHe argued that reason was progressive because, like a river which, fed by new streams, becomes broader as it travelled to the sea, so human knowledge was constantly being expanded, developed by a process he called “dialectic” (a term associated with the Greek philosopher Socrates). This “Hegelian Dialectic” was made up of three stages: firstly, the acceptance of a thesis which is thought to be true; secondly the realisation that there was an “antithesis”, a contradictory point of view; and, thirdly, the resolution of a “synthesis”, a new advanced concept arising out of the conflict between the two opposites. This concept, in its turn, became a thesis, and the whole process of intellectual or historical development was then repeated, each stage resulting in a higher level of truth (system illustrated below). And it was this gradual unfolding or evolution of thought, Hegel maintained, by which man could attain a “World Spirit” or “World Reason”, the sum total of reality. And the attainment of this ultimate truth went beyond Kant’s metaphysics, wherein he had restricted knowledge to the phenomena presented to the mind, regarding all else as being beyond human understanding.
xxxxxIn human affairs, this “world spirit” reached its highest level of self-
xxxxxHegel was born in Stuttgart, the son of a government revenue officer. He attended the city’s preparatory school, and it was there that he became versed in the Greek and Roman classics. Encouraged by his father to join the ministry, he studied theology and philosophy at the University of Tubingen, and it was here that he became friendly with the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling. Having decided not to enter the church, for the next ten years he worked as a private tutor, first at Berne in Switzerland and then at Frankfurt. In 1801 his father died and left him some money, and he was then able to study at the University of Jena, eventually joining the teaching staff. It was while at Jena that he completed one of his major works, The Phenomenology of Mind (published 1807), but he had to take flight in October 1806 when the French occupied the city. He eventually settled in Nuremberg where he spent eight years as the headmaster of a local school. Here he published his The Science of Logic, finally completed in 1816. In that year he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, and the following year he produced a summary of his entire philosophy in his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline. Doubtless on the strength of this work, in 1818 he was invited to take the chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin, a prestigious appointment, and he remained there for the rest of his life. He died in November 1831 during an outbreak of cholera, leaving a wife and two sons.
xxxxxHis last major work was The Philosophy of Right, written in 1821 while in Berlin, but a number of books were published after his death containing his lecture notes on the History of Fine Art, the History of Philosophy, the Philosophy of History and the Philosophy of Religion, papers in which he attempted a classification of religions. Together with his earlier works these amounted to 26 volumes, most of which had been translated into English by the end of the century. In his philosophical writing he leaned heavily on Greek thought, and he was influenced to varying degrees by the works of the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the French social critic Jean Jacques Rousseau, and his fellow countrymen and philosophers Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and his close friend (for a time) Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling.
xxxxxHegel’s philosophy is not always easy to understand -
Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling
and Arthur Schopenhauer
xxxxxThe German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling (1775-
xxxxxSchelling was born in Leonberg, Wurttemberg, son of a Lutheran minister. A gifted child, he studied theology at the seminary in Tubingen, and it was there that he met Hegel and decided to take up philosophy. After working as a tutor at Leipzig for two years -
xxxxxAs a young man Schelling was clearly inspired by the works of Kant, Fichte and Spinoza, and his early expositions -
xxxxxAt first, Hegel took Schelling’s part in this dispute, and in 1802 they worked well together as co-
xxxxxA nervous, sensitive man, this break down in friendship deeply upset Schelling. Nor did it do his reputation any good. He retreated from public life and went to live in Munich, taking up an appointment in the arts. While in Munich, were he stayed until 1841, his work took on a new direction, and one that brought him a measure of success. In his work Of Human Freedom, written in 1809, he examined the part that the power of evil played in the world, and concluded that man only had complete freedom if it were a freedom for good and evil. There were in every living thing, he maintained, two elements: the dark side, characterised by impulse and carnal lust, and a formative side, sensible and clear-
xxxxxSchelling failed to achieve a comprehensive system of his own, did not always give sufficient depth to his reasoning, and, in his early days in particular, leaned quite heavily on the theories of others. This said, his ideas on nature and his “philosophy of identity” were not without merit, and his insight into man’s own make-
xxxxxIncidentally, during his career Schelling met and became friendly with the Russian lyric poet Fedor Ivanovich Tyutchev (1803-
xxxxxThe German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling (1775-
xxxxxThe German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-
xxxxxA German philosopher at this time, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-
xxxxxThis atheistic and pessimistic view of the world, contained in his The World as Will and Idea, published in 1818, owed its thesis to ancient Hindu as well as Kant’s philosophy. It was not readily understood or appreciated at the time, but came to have a wide-
xxxxxSchopenhauer was born in Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland), but the family moved to Hamburg in 1793 (when Danzig came under the Prussians). He attended Gottingen University to study medicine, but in 1811 left to study philosophy at Berlin. Here he heard lectures from Fichte and the German preacher Schleiermacher, and, on completion of the course, earned a doctor of philosophy from the University of Jena. He then settled in Weimar for a while, and it was here that he immersed himself in the study of Hindu and Buddhist philosophies and mysticism. In March 1820, following the publication of his The World as Will and Idea, he obtained a lectureship at Berlin, but, after five years with little success, he turned his hand to translations and secondary works, spending the last 28 years of his life as a recluse in Frankfurt. To this period belongs his On the Will of Nature, in which he openly attacked Hegel and his followers, his essays -
xxxxxDuring his career he became well known for his hostile attitude towards women, doubtless due to the bitter relationship he had with his mother, a novelist of some repute. He maintained that the attraction of the sexes had nothing to do with the feelings of sentimental love, but was due to the workings of the irrational will. Via his mother he became acquainted with Goethe, and it was this friendship that led to his On Vision and Colour, a work published in 1816 to support Goethe’s theory against that of Isaac Newton.
xxxxxIncidentally, Schopenhauer had no time for Hegel. He disliked him as a person and he opposed his ideas. When on the staff at Berlin he would purposefully organise his lectures to clash with those of Hegel so as to draw students away from his classes. Unfortunately for him, the reverse happened! Indeed, it was not until the last ten years of his life that this "philosopher of pessimism” gained recognition, and his system began to be taught in German universities, and gain adherents in other parts of Europe and in the United States.