GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH HEGEL
Georg W. F. Hegel was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1770, and became the most prominent Continental philosopher in the nineteenth century. Taught Greek by his mother, he developed a love of Greek philosophy while still in high school. In 1788 he entered the University of Tubingen to study theology. As a student he became friends with the poet Holderlin and the philosopher Schelling. After graduating from the university in 1793, he became a family tutor in Bern and Frankfurt for six years. In 1799 he became an unsalaried lecturer at the University of Jena. While there he wrote his major work, The Phenomenology of Mind, a portion of which is reprinted below.The work was completed just as Napoleon launched the Battle of Jena, which closed the university. Hegel became the principal of a high school, married, and had two sons. In 1816 he joined the faculty of Heidelberg, where he continued to develop his ideas, publishing the Science of Logic (1816). In 1818 he was appointed to the prestigious Chair of Philosophy at the University of Berlin, where he published his Philosophy of Right (1821). He died of cholera in 1831.
Hegel is the pivotal philosopher between Kant and Marx. He was profoundly influenced by Kant, yet criticized him and then transformed his system into Absolute Idealism. He himself was then subjected to the same treatment by Karl Marx, who criticized and transformed his dialectical idealism into dialectical materialism. Hegel thought that Kant had brought philosophy to a new crisis by denying knowledge of metaphysical truth. Hegel accepted Kant's criticisms of previous rationalist thought but thought Kant had not gone far enough. He rejected Kant's theory of knowledge, which claimed that we had no metaphysical knowledge, that we must be in ignorance regarding the thing-in-itself, ultimate reality. Following criticisms inaugurated by his friend Johann Fichte (1762–1814), Hegel pointed out that Kant's system contained an apparent contradiction: he says that we are both ignorant of the thing-in-itself, reality (the noumenal world), and that we know that it exists and causes our appearances. If we are ignorant of the noumenal world, how do we know that it exists at all? and how do we know that it causes our perceptions?
Hegel transformed Kant's categories of the mind into his system of Absolute Idealism, building a comprehensive and coherentist metaphysical system. Whereas Kant thought the categories were purely subjective, part of the structure of our minds, Hegel argued that they had objective reality.
The intricacies of Hegel's dialectical method, the overcoming internal contradictions inherent in the triadic process of “Being-Nothingness” and “Becoming” and the resolution of the dichotomy of “Idea-Nature” in “Spirit” have challenged some of the greatest minds in Western philosophy. Hegel defines “dialectics” this way: