Study Guide

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Quotes

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The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant's existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. The ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes these stages moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and constitutes thereby the life of the whole.
—From Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)

Far be it for me to toot my own horn, but what I do here is kind of beautiful. By using flower imagery I show how my theory–that has often been sloppily described as thesis-antithesis-synthesis–works.

So, you go from one state (the bud) and then, in negating it, you blossom. Into a flower. It's a home run. The bud becomes the flower, and the flower is what the bud was always going to turn into. It represents the completion of the bud's destiny.

People freak out when trying to read my stuff because they don't understand how things can become what they already are. But flowers, man, they say it all.

Our epoch is a birth-time, and a period of transition. The spirit of man has broken with the old order of things hitherto prevailing, and with the old ways of thinking, and is in the mind to let them all sink into the depths of the past and to set about its own transformation.
—From Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)

Keep that metaphor of the bud blossoming into a flower in mind when thinking about this quote. You see, I've got this idea that history is divided into stages called epochs; you know, just like those science-types have designations like the Jurassic period. Anyway, these epochs are all various phases of blossoming. As a people, we're ever changing into the best, final, complete, whole, most unified state possible, so that we can enter a history in which we're most free.

Here, history = the flower bud. In this quotation, I'm basically pointing out that humans are bursting through one epoch to bring about the next. Just like we bust through the week to get to Friday. We, we, we so excited.

There is nothing, nothing in heaven, or in nature or in mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation.
—From The Science of Logic (1812)

I know this sounds wacky, but don't give up on me now. We're finally getting to the good stuff. Immanence; yeah, I went there, and philosophy has been wrestling with it ever since. Okay, Immanuel Kant started talking about immanence and transcendence first, but I think my work did a lot to confuse… I mean, fascinate people.

Basically, I think that material things are fully present, in the here-and-now, but also defined via oppositions. Kind of like how you know what light is because of its relation to dark, so both are light and dark, in a way. I mean, the shadow behind you doesn't undo the glare in your eyes, but they do define each other.

The conception and its existence are two sides, distinct yet united, like soul and body. The body is the same life as the soul, and yet the two can be named independently. A soul without a body would not be a living thing, and vice versa. Thus the visible existence of the conception is its body, just as the body obeys the soul which produced it.
—From Philosophy of Right (1821)

So, I'm doing a couple things here that require some background knowledge. You've heard of Plato, right? He's got these perfect, ideal conceptions of things that have their physical counterparts in the phenomenological world (what most of us consider the real world, because we experience through our senses).

In this quote, I'm trying to intertwine concepts with the material world. Like, it's not as if the puppy you're holding is a lesser version of some ideal puppy. It's freaking adorable. It just embodies its own, conceptual puppy-self in a unique, physical puppy-shape.

You might be thinking, "Fine, but who cares?" Well, this notion is actually rather radical because it posits that, without its body, the idea of that puppy would not exist. The soul needs a body. The concept needs its physical counterpart, even though the concept rules or determines the physical counterpart's existence.

So, this puppy, like everything else, is on its way to becoming a more perfect puppy. Well, dog, I guess. Yeah, it's going from puppy to dog. And then, from dog to Super Dog. You know the drill.

In this experience self-consciousness becomes aware that life is as essential to it as pure self-consciousness. In immediate self-consciousness the simple ego is absolute object, which, however, is for us or in itself absolute mediation, and has as its essential moment substantial and solid independence. The dissolution of that simple unity is the result of the first experience; through this there is posited a pure self-consciousness, and a consciousness which is not purely for itself, but for another, i.e. as an existent consciousness, consciousness in the form and shape of thinghood. Both moments are essential, since, in the first instance, they are unlike and opposed, and their reflexion into unity has not yet come to light, they stand as two opposed forms or modes of consciousness. The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman.
—From The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)

Woot, this is one of my favorite quotes. I do good sometimes, right, mom? Uh. Here, I'm talking about self-consciousness, but I treat the notion of self-consciousness a lot like the division between concept and thing (puppy idea plus puppy body).

This is also the section of The Phenomenology of Spirit that gives critics the analytic tool of the master/slave dialectic. Definitely some interesting, albeit tricky, things have come out of that dialectic –particularly in literary theory.

Back to my quotation, though. So, this progressive, transformative path of becoming your best self has a driving force: self-consciousness (or, you psychoanalytic types might say, self awareness). Say what? Yep. We're aware that change is happening, and being alert to something, I argue, gives you control over it.

However, our pure, unadulterated self-consciousness is necessarily filtered. It's mediated through our bodies, through our experiences in the phenomenological world. Again, just like with the puppy, there are two parts to self-consciousness.

This time, though, those two parts are not just summed up by pointing to some mind-body dichotomy. No, you've got this pure-consciousness, which is the best, the crème-de-la-crème consciousness. And it's sort of guiding you to itself, to, you know, be as awesome as it is–as awesome as you are, or are intended to be.

The pure-consciousness is the truest conception of you. So that's the consciousness that makes all of the rules. Or, to think of it another way, it's the flower end-goal for the seedling (remember that little bud?).

Now, your secondary consciousness is the one that does all the legwork. It's who you are at each stage (or personal epoch), as you move toward your big flowering. It's with you as you go from seed, to sprout, to bud, to full-blown rose.

But it is subordinate to the pure-consciousness, because it follows the rules set out by the pure-consciousness, and because it is filtered through our bodies. I don't mean subordinate in terms of less important, though. Instead, I argue that embodiment is actually essential to pure-consciousness. What good is giving orders if there's no one to carry them out? Seriously.

Reason governs the world and has consequently governed its history. In relation to this Reason, which is universal and substantial, in and for itself, all else is subordinate, subservient, and the means for its actualization. Moreover, this Reason is immanent in historical existence and reaches its own perfection in and through this existence.
—From the General Introduction to the Philosophy of History (1831)

This baby brings it all together. Sort of. Remember how I said that history itself progresses through stages called epochs? Well, events don't just transition into other events all willy-nilly. These transitions have an internal logic (pure self-consciousness, maybe?).

Basically, I think history is its own creator, or governing force, continuously moving itself from seedling-stage to flower-state. There's an end goal, and everything in love is moving toward it. There's always an end goal of history, because without that, there's nothing.

In my eyes, the whole universe (people, wars, tidal waves) is all Lego pieces ordered and reordered by history, as history makes history according to its own plan. We're contingent on history, see? Like it or not, history totally owns our butts.

Hence, imperfection of the artistic form betrays itself also as imperfection of idea. If, then, at the origin of art, we encounter forms which, compared with the true ideal, are inadequate to it, this is not to be understood in the sense in which we are accustomed to say of works of art that they are defective, because they express nothing, or are incapable of attaining to the idea which they ought to express. The idea of each epoch always finds its appropriate and adequate form, and these are what we designate as the special forms of art. The imperfection or the perfection can consist only in the degree of relative truth which belongs to the idea itself; for the matter must first be true, and developed in itself before it can find a perfectly appropriate form.
—From Introduction to Lectures on Aesthetics (1886 ed.)

Art? Love the stuff. And literature and music and architecture, too. No surprise that I came up with a value system to judge it then, right? Here's what I did.

First, I took my ideas about, well, ideas, and made them an important part of art criticism. I argue that beauty is an ideal, a perfect idea, kind of like pure self-consciousness. And art tries to reach that ideal. That's why, in this quotation, I say that art needs to tell the truth. It needs to tell the truth of beauty.

I generously allow for each epoch to have its own forms of achieving this beauty, though I've definitely got my own preferences. But I think what happens in each epoch of art parallels each epoch's historical transformation: the better the epoch, the better the art.

I do make a distinction between art that is bad at expressing beauty (lack of truth in art) and art that expresses some unpalatable idea (flawed form). I figure that good art uses the best available form in each epoch to express beauty… truthfully.

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