Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich: Philosophy

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.

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.

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.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Philosophy: Biographies