Week 7: Hegel – World History

 

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The parts of the text that are not italicized are based on notes of Hegel’s students. These parts of the text, then, are not as reliable as Hegel’s own writings.

 

‘Spirit’ > ‘Geist’. By ‘spirit’ Hegel means: the principle of rationality that concretely unfolds itself as self-reflection (‘It is in the nature of spirit to have itself as its object’). In this context, Hegel distinguishes between the way in which the principle of rationality unfolds itself in an individual human being (= subjective spirit, cf. 48, below) and in the societies that have developed throughout the history of mankind (= objective spirit, cf. 51, second paragraph). What hegel calls ‘objective spirit’ comes close to what we would call ‘culture’. Because Hegel considers the consecutive societies to be part of a single encompassing development, he terms the principle of rationality that has developed throughout world history ‘world spirit’ (German: ‘Weltgeist’) or absolute spirit. This absolute principle is traditionally conceived of as God. Despite the fact that Hegel refers to this theological conception, Hegel’s position should not be identified with the latter.

 

Theodicy: the attempt to philosophically explain how evil in the world can be reconciled with God’s power and wisdom.

 

Substance: the essential principle of a thing; that which remains the same throughout a process.

Reading Questions

 

  1. What is, according to Hegel, the difference between matter and spirit?

 

Hegel suggests matter to possess gravity as it is impelled to move towards a central point and has no unity therefore striving towards ideality because it wishes to overcome itself (Forces, physical reality). Spirit does also strive towards its centre but always finds its substance within itself compared to matter whose substance is external. In this way Hegel sees spirit as both freedom and consciousness (a self-awareness).

 

  1. (49, lines 2-5). Of which philosopher, discussed during this course, does this passage remind you?

 

The lines 2-5 of 49:

 

“He then tries to distinguish himself between himself and this determinate quality, and sets about creating an internal division within himself. Thus, my feelings are split up into an external and an internal world. My determinate nature thereby enters a new phase, in that I have a feeling a deficiency or negativity; I encounter a contradiction within myself which threatens to destroy me. But, I nevertheless exist; this much I know, and I balance this knowledge against my feeling of negation or deficiency. I survive and seek to overcome the deficiency, so that I am at the same time an impulse.”

 

  • These lines remind me of Fichte’s process resulting in an absolute-I, but also of Immanuel Kant.

 

  1. (50). Hegel here states that human beings actualize themselves – that is, become rational and free – by means of upbringing/education and discipline, which implies that others determine what is good for them. Is his position contradictory?

 

No I do not think Hegel is contradictory because he states clearly that it is up to the individual to decide what end to follow, so even though we have impulses and then a subsequent demand to satisfy them, a human unlike an animal can restrain this movement and thereby master his behaviour. I think its possible to read this as a contradiction however this does not fully appreciate the capacity for a person to know themselves to the point of changing such things as education and upbringing.

 

  1. (52). Hegel notes here that individuals – by means of their insight into the inner contradiction that is contained within a specific culture – can contribute to great historical changes, but can never stop a necessary development. What does Hegel mean? And can you give an example?

 

One reads Hegel as suggesting there are people who have successfully translated the will of the national spirit into reality. But, note this is not a common occurrence because prior to this we are told that, ‘the universal substance is not of a worldly nature and no worldly agency can successfully oppose it.’ Here we encounter the notorious ambiguity of Hegel what exactly does he 100 % intend to say. One feels that Hegel is suggesting that yes history is composed of one unstoppable force and that individuals can not choose its direction. There will always be powerful individuals but these individuals are not fully conscious of the part they play in the world spirit. Napoleon the French leader is an example of such a representation or manifestation of spirit (as a matter of fact Hegel actually travelled just to catch a glimpse of this historical figure). Other examples could be Alexander the Great, and the French Revolution that paved the way for Enlightenment. Hegel would see these as evidence for the world spirit revealing itself through human consciousness.

 

  1. (151). Hegel claims that his philosophy of world history not only bears on the totality of historical events, but also on that which exists eternally (that is, that which is not subject to change). In what respect is Hegel’s approach to history distinct from other forms of historiography?

 

Putting it very simply other forms of historiography are heavily inclined towards the past as you would expect. Hegel’s revolutionary approach is that no matter what the strength or seeming relevance of past and future events they are always to be dealt with, encountered, and thought here in the present.

 

‘Spirit has all the stages of the past still adhering to it, and the life of spirit in history consists of a cycle of different stages, of which some belong to the present and others have appeared in forms of the past. Since we are concerned with the idea of spirit and look upon everything in world history merely as a manifestation of it, we are invariably occupied with the present whenever we  review the past, no matter how considerable that past may be. For philosophy is concerned with what is present and real.’

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