Study Guide

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Introduction

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Introduction

Philosophers tend to focus on truth, but Hegel takes truth-mongering to a whole new level. No, like, seriously, he thinks people, animals, things—even history itself—all link up to, and eventually become, greater truths. How does this happen, you ask? Enter the "dialectic."

Apparently, we're all constantly changing in order to get closer to some ideal concept of ourselves, or some final stage of being. We may never get there (just like you may never get to be the Supreme Overlord of All Living Things), but the path Hegel describes for this truth leveling-up is pretty specific.

We all start out at the ground floor—think little Mario before he runs into a mushroom. But Hegel believed that everything is manifested in sets of opposites or contradictions, so while we're on that ground floor, something occurs to counteract whatever we already are, and whatever we're already doing.

See, Hegel believed in a kind of philosophical version of Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal-and-opposite reaction. And those action-reaction pairs can keep on keeping on until, finally, you end up at a unified end-point that manages to hold all of your oppositions together.

So, in Hegel's view of the world, light doesn't win out over darkness, or vice versa; the end-points for us all are higher truths that are big enough to encompass our worldly contradictions.

Sounds like Hegel was aiming pretty high, huh? Writing during the early 19th century, he pushed for a way to explain everythingthe world, history, artas one complete system. That's why he developed this notion of the dialectic.

Hegel figured our crazy, mixed-up universe has got to progress on some reasonable plan, or be built on some logical blueprint. And if that is true, he thought, then why don't we just say reality is made of reason? Like, as if reason were the very material of reality.

It's kind of tricky, we know. But we're trying to go easy on the guy. After all, he spent most of his life in the shadow of fellow German Idealists Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schelling. In that shadow, though, he learned to use Kant's work to catapult his own philosophy with texts that include The Phenomenology of Mind, Science of Logic, Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences and the Philosophy of Right.

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