Hegel

Hegel

Contemporary philosophy

Hegel was a German philosopher of the 19th century (1770-1831). He was born in Stuttgart and studied at the seminary in Tübingen, where he became friends with Hölderlin and Schelling. He became a tutor in Bern and Frankfurt and then taught at the University of Jena. He wrote the Phenomenology of Spirit. Holding a chair at the University of Heidelberg and then Berlin, his fame grew as other works appeared, such as his Outlines of the Philosophy of Right.


Hegel's works summarised on this site

coming soon

The Phenomenology of Spirit

This work presents the successive figures that the mind takes in its self-development towards absolute knowledge: sensible certainty, perception, understanding... and the dialectical process that leads from one figure to another.



coming soon

Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art

Hegel here defines aesthetics as the science of the Beautiful, and particularly of the beautiful produced by Art, and distinguishes the three kinds of art, as so many moments of the Spirit.


Bibliography

Here are the essential books if you want to gain a better understanding of this author's thought:

Frederick C. (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
Brandom, Robert B. (2019). A Spirit of Trust: A Reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Katerina Deligiorgi (ed.). Hegel: New Directions. McGill-Queen's University Press
Allegra de Laurentiis and Jeffrey Edwards (ed.). The Bloomsbury Companion to Hegel. Bloomsbury Academic.
Kenneth R. Westphal (ed.). The Blackwell Guide to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Wiley-Blackwell.

Recommended videos

Conferences, symposia, radio broadcasts... here are 10 videos that will help you better understand Hegel's thought.

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Biography: life of Hegel

Youth

Hegel was born in Stuttgart, in southern Germany, in 1770. His father was a civil servant at the Court of Audit.

He studied at the Gymnasium in his town; a brilliant pupil, he was able to recite Latin declensions from the age of five. One of his teachers gave him a Shakespeare book as a present when he was eight, and he was learning the rules of syllogism by the age of eleven. He enjoyed Greek tragedies, astronomy and physics.


At eighteen, Hegel thought of becoming a theologian. He went to Tübingen to attend the Seminary (the Stift). He deepened his knowledge of philosophy, physics, mathematics...

In 1790 he obtained a Master's degree in philosophy. He was then able to enrol in the Faculty of Theology, but ultimately showed little interest in the teaching he received, which was mainly devoted to learning about Christian dogma. The disciplinary organisation of life at the Stift also proved burdensome.

As a result, he loses his diligence at work, preferring to chat and joke with two other, as yet unknown, students at the Seminary, Hölderlin and Schelling. One would become a poet, the other a philosopher, and both would leave their mark on their era, as did Hegel.

Enthusiastic about the French Revolution, whose distant echoes they heard, they planted a Tree of Liberty, as was done in Paris during this period of uprising.

Passionate about both Greek antiquity and revolutionary ideas, the three friends sang the Marseillaise and venerated Rousseau.

This, it seems, was his first philosophical phase: he was inspired by Aufklârung (the German Enlightenment), believed in the virtues of Kantian moralism, and embraced the ideas of Fichte.

The tutor

After completing his studies in Tübingen, Hegel abandoned his intention to become a theologian, and took up the profession of preceptor.

In 1793, he moved to Bern, Switzerland, where he looked after the education of two children. He stayed there for four years.

He took advantage of this first experience to devour the many books in the library of the Steiger family, who employed him. He followed the development of the ideas of Kant, Fichte, Schiller.

He devoted his thoughts to religious philosophy and wrote his first works, such as a Life of Jesus, of which a few posthumous fragments remain.

This is thought to be the second phase of his spiritual journey: rejecting abstract Kantian moralism, and beyond that, the Aufklârung, he considers that religion transcends this abstraction and these contradictions. He thus joined Schelling and Romanticism in their opposition to the Enlightenment.

He travelled in the surrounding mountains, but remained more or less indifferent to the spectacle of nature ; he was more interested in human activities, in culture.


He complained of his isolation in Switzerland, and Hölderlin, sympathetic to his friend's complaints, found him a job as a tutor in Frankfurt, Germany.

In 1797, Hegel took up his new post. Hölderlin took up the same post with another family in Frankfurt, and the ties between the two friends grew stronger.

He began to write articles on Christianity and economics.

In 1799, his father died, and Hegel's inheritance enabled him to leave his position as tutor and become financially independent. He went to Jena to teach as a private tutor (Privatdozent) at the university. He was paid by his pupils, not by the University.

The Jena professor

In a work he defends the thought of his friend Schelling against that of Fichte, which makes him well known. As Schelling was a professor at the University of Jena, he became his assistant, and they shared the same accommodation.

This was what might be called his Schellingian period: a loyal disciple, he confined himself to defending his master's Naturphilosophie against critics.

However, he gradually distanced himself from his master's ideas.


The third moment of his philosophical journey then takes shape: between abstract moralism and the indeterminate feeling of faith, a conciliation must be sought. Truth lies in the synthesis of opposites, a synthesis that preserves the opposing terms while transcending them: the dialectic.

Having now found his own consistency of thought, he began to write the Phenomenology of Spirit.


He was appointed honorary professor, but ran into financial difficulties, having exhausted his inheritance and having to support a natural child.


It was the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The Emperor, whom Hegel admired, seized Jena in 1807, which interrupted university teaching.

To survive, Hegel became editor of the newspaper in Bamberg, a town in southern Germany where he lived briefly. At the same time, he published the Phenomenology of Spirit.

He begins to write the Science of Logic, and tired of journalism, accepts a teaching post at Nuremberg grammar school.

The rector of Nuremberg

For eight years he was rector of the Gymnasium Nuremberg, where he was faced with management problems. As the school catered for pupils aged between 8 and 20, he taught the upper classes certain parts of his doctrine, in the form of an introduction that was nevertheless difficult for these young minds to understand.


During this period he published the three volumes of The Science of Logic.

He married, and from this union two sons were born.


In 1816, he was given a chair at the University of Heidelberg. The following year, he published the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences.

The Berlin chair

Two years later, a successor to Fichte, who had just died, was sought at the University of Berlin. He was offered his professorship and accepted this unexpected promotion. He would hold the post for thirteen years until his death.

Accession to this prestigious chair took his thinking out of the secrecy in which it was still confined. A wide audience of philosophers, jurists and theologians attended his lectures and discovered his works.

At a time when censorship was intensifying against democratic aims, Hegel had his Principles of the Philosophy of Law published, a book which, unlike his previous works, met with great success.


The purpose of Hegel's lectures is to teach his philosophical system, as it may have been set out in the Encyclopaedia. They encompass the philosophy of law, aesthetics, history, etc.

The school holidays gave him plenty of time to travel all over Europe: to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Vienna, Prague, etc. He met Goethe in Jena.

The French philosopher Victor Cousin, a fervent admirer of Hegel's works, invited him to Paris.


Appointed rector of the University of Berlin in 1829, Hegel reached the crowning achievement of his academic career. He was undoubtedly recognised as the greatest German philosopher of his time. Many students, sometimes from other countries, came to attend his lectures.


Hegel died in 1831 in Berlin of a cholera epidemic that ravaged Europe that year. He was buried alongside Fichte, in accordance with his own wishes.

After his death some of Hegel's writings were published, such as The Aesthetic.

This work is actually a collection of lectures on aesthetics that he gave at the University of Heidelberg and then Berlin, and not a work that would have been written by Hegel himself.

Main works

The Phenomenology of Spirit
Science of Logic
Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences
Outlines of the Philosophy of Right
Lectures on the Philosophy of History
Lectures on the History of Philosophy
Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art