Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (gā´ôrkh vĬl´hĕlm frē´drĬkh hā´gəl), 1770–1831, German philosopher, b. Stuttgart; son of a government clerk.

Life and Works

Educated in theology at Tübingen, Hegel was a private tutor at Bern and Frankfurt. In 1801 he became privatdocent [tutor] and in 1805 professor at the Univ. of Jena. While considered a follower of Schelling, he was developing his own system, which he first presented in Phenomenology of Mind (1807). During the Napoleonic occupation Hegel edited (1807–8) a newspaper, which he left to become rector (1808–16) of a Gymnasium at Nuremberg. He then returned to professorships at Heidelberg (1816–18) and Berlin (1818–31), where he became famous.

In his lectures at Berlin he set forth the system elaborated in his books. Chief among these were Science of Logic (1812–16); Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), an outline of his whole philosophy; and Philosophy of Right (1821). He also wrote books on ethics, aesthetics, history, and religion. His interests were wide, and all were incorporated into his unified philosophy.


The Hegelian Dialectic

Hegel's absolute idealism envisaged a world-soul that develops out of, and is known through, the dialectical logic. In this development, known as the Hegelian dialectic, one concept (thesis) inevitably generates its opposite (antithesis), and the interaction of these leads to a new concept (synthesis). This in turn becomes the thesis of a new triad. Hegel regarded Kant's study of categories as incomplete. The idea of being is fundamental, but it evokes its antithesis, not being. However, these two are not mutually exclusive, for they necessarily produce the synthesis, becoming. Hence activity is basic, progress is rational, and logic is the basis of the world process.

Nature and the State

The study of nature and mind reveal reason as it realizes itself in cosmology and history. The world process is the absolute, the active principle that does not transcend reality but exists through and in it. The universe develops by a self-creating plan, proceeding from astral bodies to the world, from the mineral kingdom to the vegetable, from the vegetable kingdom to the animal. In society the same progress can be discovered; human activities lead to property, which leads to law.

Out of the relationship between the individual and law develops the synthesis of ethics, where both the interdependence and the freedom of individuals interact to produce the state. The state thus is a totality above all individuals, and since it is a unit, its highest development is rule by monarchy. Such a state is an embodiment of the absolute idea. In his study of history, Hegel reviewed the history of states that held sway over lesser peoples until a higher representative of the absolute evolved. Though much of his development was questionable, the concept of the conflict of cultures stimulated historical analysis.

Aesthetics and Religion

Hegel considered art a closer approach to the absolute than government. In the history of art he distinguished three periods—the Oriental, the Greek, and the romantic. He believed that the modern romantic form of art cannot encompass the magnitude of the Christian ideal. Hegel taught that religion moved from worship of nature through a series of stages to Christianity, where Christ represents the union of God and humanity, of spirit and matter. Philosophy goes beyond religion as it enables humankind to comprehend the entire historical unfolding of the absolute.


Hegel has influenced many subsequent philosophies—post-Hegelian idealism, the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Sartre, the socialism of Marx and Lasalle, and the instrumentalism of Dewey. His theory of the state was the guiding force of the group known as the Young Hegelians, who sought the unification of Germany. His lectures on philosophy, religion, aesthetics, and history were collected in eight volumes after his death.


See biographies by F. Wiedmann (1968) and T. Pinkard (2000); S. Hook, From Hegel to Marx (1936, repr. 1962); H. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution (1955, repr. 1963); J. N. Findlay, Hegel: A Re-examination (1958, repr. 1964); W. A. Kaufman, Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts and Commentary (1965); Z. A. Pelczynski, ed., Hegel's Political Philosphy (1971); S. Rosen, Hegel (1974); H. S. Harris, Hegel's Development (2 vol., 1983); E. E. Harris, An Introduction to the Logic of Hegel (1984); S. Zizek et al., ed., Hegel and the Infinite (2011).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Selected full-text books and articles

A Companion to Hegel By Stephen Houlgate; Michael Baur Wiley-Blackwell, 2011
G. W. F. Hegel--Political Writings By G. W. F. Hegel; Laurence Dickey; H. B. Nisbet; H. B. Nisbet Cambridge University Press, 1999
Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Greek Philosophy to Plato By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; E. S. Haldane University of Nebraska Press, vol.1, 1995
Lectures on the History of Philosophy By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; E. S. Haldane; Frances H. Simson University of Nebraska Press, vol.2, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Vol. 2: Plato and the Platonists
Lectures on the History of Philosophy By Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; E. S. Haldane; Frances H. Simson University of Nebraska Press, vol.3, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Vol. 3: Medieval and Modern Philosophy
Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit By Peter G. Stillman State University of New York Press, 1987
Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition By Glenn Alexander Magee Cornell University Press, 2001
Hegel's Dialectical Logic By Ermanno Bencivenga Oxford University Press, 2000
Hegel's Idea of Freedom By Alan Patten Oxford University Press, 1999
Introduction to Hegel's Philosophy of History By Jean Hyppolite; Bond Harris; Jacqueline Bouchard Spurlock University Press of Florida, 1996
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