Re-discovering Hegel: from Philosophy to social theory (Part-I)

Re-discovering Hegel: from Philosophy to social theory (Part-I)

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Findlay, J. N. (1958). Hegel: A re-examination. London: Allen & Unwin

Hegel, G. W. F., Baillie, J. B., & Lichtheim, G. (1967). The phenomenology of mind. New York: Harper & Row

Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory Image © The Radical Outlook

By Shahzada Rahim

Background

G. W Hegel was one of the influential philosopher ever remained in German history. His philosophical attire is unique because he gave birth to the method of dialectics and has written numerous philosophical manuscripts on history, theology, law and sociology. His landmark contribution to political thought was his ‘Social theory’ and his famous book ‘The philosophy of rights’. His ideas and philosophy influenced various historians, philosophers, political theorists and jurists in the late 18th, 19th and 20th century. Among them was Famous German philosopher and Sociologist Karl Marx, who used Hegelian dialectics to develop his theory of dialectical and historical materialism.

General Overview of Hegel’s Famous works

1. The phenomenology of spirit: Hegel wrote this landmark work in the following domain:

v Consciousness, self-consciousness, and Reason.

v Spirit, religion, and absolute Knowledge

2. The Logic(the science of Logic): Hegel wrote this work in the following contexts:

v Doctrine of being (Being, nothingness, and becoming)

v Doctrine of Essence (Identity, difference, likeness, opposition, and contradiction) — Grounds, reasons and conditions.

3. The Doctrine of Notion: This include the following discursive concepts:

v Universality, specificity, and individuality

v The idea of knowledge

v The absolute idea

It also includes the following methodological domains:

1. The philosophy of subjective spirit: it refers to the Hegelian psychology.

2. The philosophy of objective spirit: It includes the Hegelian theory of law, morals, the state and history. It can be explained in the following discourse:

3. Personal Morality and its perplexities

4. Customary morality: It refers to the family and civil society.

5. Absolute spirit and retrospect: It includes Hegel’s famous work such as aesthetics, philosophy of religion and history of philosophy.

Introduction

It is a deep-rooted fact that Hegel’s writings are so unique in their language and so singular in their mode of argument that makes it difficult to represent it. During the Bismarkian Age, the ascendency of positivism put a huge challenge to German idealism — perhaps; this was the time when the Hegelian philosophy didn’t touch the Anglo-Saxon world. Meanwhile, the philosophy of Hegel had led the world towards social penetration and philosophical confusion. It is because; Hegel was one of the transcendent metaphysicians, one who dealt with the objects beyond our empirical kin (Beyond Knowledge and experience) — cosmic and super-cosmic mind.

In the contemporary discourse, various philosophers our time disagree with G.W Hegel on three major grounds;

1. First, Hegel said our mind (or the mind of God) made up the world in some witting and some unwitting fashion.

2. Second, Hegel is a sort of misconceived subjectivist, one who thinks the realm of nature or history only exists in or for someone’s consciousness. Whether it is the consciousness of mind like ours or some cosmic or super-cosmic mind. [1]

3. Third, Hegel is conceived as some kind of Maniac rationalist, one who seeks to deduce or to foresee the details of nature and experience from the abstract demands of certain notions, who attempts to uphold ‘Priori’ what we now can hold only be done as posteriori.

Similarly, both the phenomenology of spirit and the encyclopedia of sciences differentiate between the words ‘Immediate’ that refers to ‘life’ and ‘Absolute’ that refers to the ‘entire presence of something’. The ‘immediate’ begins with direct certainties of the sense experience and the latter with the abstract notion of being. Likewise, the former ends up with the ‘Absolute Knowing’ while the latter ends up with three forms of ‘Absolute Spirit’ — Art, Religion, and Philosophy. Moreover, ‘Absolute’ according to Hegel means ‘what is entirely present’ — that is ‘one on hand and actual’ not ‘something over above things or behind them’ — etwas druben und hinten (German).

Basically, Hegel talks about the highest stage of philosophical vision in order to abolish the phenomenon of ‘Time’. Hegel’s doctrine of unlimited coherence and internal relations that refers to everything and everything else is why contemporary philosophers charge Hegel with ‘Metaphysics’ and ‘subjectivism’. In contrast, if we overhaul the subjectivism of Hegel, it was the influence of the writings of Immanuel Kant that led Hegelian philosophy towards utter subjectivism. It is mainly because of Kant’s transcendental object or ‘things in itself’ — the ‘thing’ that exists apart from thought or consciousness. Perhaps, this is often known as Kantian dualism/ dualistic idealism. It was basically Kantian manners, which influenced Hegel to a greater extent.

In the phenomenology of spirit, Hegel makes it plain that both time and space are the forms of external things. Thus, Hegel envisages that the whole natural world was the externalization of the ‘eternal idea’.[2] The absolute spirits also manifest themselves in the form of art, religion, and philosophy that is why Hegel stressed on the self-conscious spirit. Hegel was in favor of the ‘systematic science’ — therefore, we must call him a ‘priorist’ because he mainly focused on ‘priori’.

He espoused both Von Goethe and Kepler at a point that; ‘Newton was as much as a scientist as a philosopher’. On the other hand, besides his intimacy with the writings of various empiricists, he failed to free himself from the aspect of ‘Priori’ because he was too much obsessed with ‘priori’. Likewise, his close obsession with ‘Priori’ created much confusion over philosophy. As Hegel writes;

“For reality in itself, the general outcome of the relations of understanding to the inner nature of things is the distinguishing of what cannot be distinguished or the unity of what is distinguished. The unity is, however, as we saw, just as much as the recoil from itself, and this conception breaks asunder into the opposition of self-consciousness and life: the former is unity for which absolute unity of difference exists, the latter, however, is the only unity itself, so that the unity at the same time for itself”.

This is how; Hegel entwined his philosophy with the aspect of philosophy. Moreover, Hegel ways of expressing himself was metaphysical and the nature of language has always been ambiguous. Hegel often uses metaphors in his writings to explain the contextual domain of philosophy. Therefore, the actual interpretation of his metaphors has always been in ‘limbo’ for the contemporary philosophers. In this regard, in order to read Hegel, we must go through intellectual Crucification — self-nullified and self-stultified.

The metaphors are mixed with the concept of self-nullification and self-stultification. The metaphor’s like ‘it is or it isn’t’ or ‘distinguishing what is distinguishable’. As an illustration, the religious discourse, throughout the history of mankind has been in the form of superficially contradictory language. The same case with Hegel’s ‘Priori’, which he often regarded as the forbearer of ‘Prussianism’ but in contrast, Hegelianism has always supported the foundation of progressive politics. Likewise, Hegel often proclaims that it is our desire to develop thought and language in one sided way. Similarly, famous logician and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said; “philosophy is the battle against the bewitchment of our understanding through the instrument of our speech”. Hegel also said something similar that “philosophy is the battle of reason to overcome the rigidity of our understanding”. Therefore, Hegel laid much stress on the unity of thought and language as the ‘internalization of symbols’ through the externalization of thought.

The Hegelian discourse

Hegel is one of the renowned philosophers of our time because his writings led to both political and intellectual developments in the last 150 years. What Hegel writes in the phenomenology of mind?

“It is merely the restless shifting changing of those moments, of which one is indeed being returned into itself, but merely as being for itself…as abstract moment, appearing on one side over against other”.

The Phenomenology of Mind is one of the important works of G.W Hegel which is full of formidable sentences. The other important work in the contemporary discourse is lectured on Aesthetics, Lectures on the history of philosophy, and lectures on the philosophy of religion. In our time many interpreters of Hegel have not found the ‘Science of Logic’ in his writings. Basically, it was Hegel’s Philosophy of History that has played a great role in the development of modern thought. Hegel praised the French Revolution by calling it the glorious dawn. Even Hegel planted a liberty tree with his fellows to mark the revolution. But in 1806, the French Revolutionary army invaded Germany and defeated the Prussian army at the battle of Jena. In this way, the French revolutionary army has put an end to thousand years old Holy Roman Empire at the battle of Ulm and Austerlitz.[3]

From a cultural point of view, Hegel lived in the Golden Age of German literature. He was a close friend of famous German poet Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin and was also close friend of Famous Romanticists such as Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg), Herder, Schleiermacher, and Schlegel brothers. In Literature, Hegel was influenced by Goethe and Schiller. Famous German philosopher Immanuel Kant published ‘ the Critique of Pure Reason” in 1781, which is today being regarded as one of the milestone work of all times. Through this book, Kant set out the fact what our reason or intellect can and cannot achieve in the way of knowledge. He concluded that our mind is not merely a passive receiver of stimuli from our senses — Knowledge is only possible because our mind plays an active role, organizing and systematizing what we experience.

On the contrary, it is a fact that we know the world within the framework of time, space, and substance, but space, time, and substance are not the objective realities that exist ‘out there’, independently of us — this was Kant’s major description in the critique of pure reason. [4] Is the world really independent of the framework within which we have to grasp it?

According to Kant, this question can never be assumed — independent reality. Kant called it the world of ‘thing-in-itself’ is forever beyond our knowledge. In the critique of practical reason, which is on ethics, Kant pictured a man as being capable of following a rational moral law but also swayed to it by the non-rational desires that mainly originate from human nature — to act morally is always a struggle. Likewise, in the closing part of the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ Kant hopes that by following the critical philosophy before the turn of century, human reason will achieve a complete satisfaction about which it has always engaged its curiosity. With the passage of time, Kant’s ‘thing-in-itself’ received much dissatisfaction from many philosophers. The fact that something that exists and yet to be unknowable seems an unsatisfactory limitation of human reason.

First, it was Johann Fichte, who took the bold step of denying the existence of thing-in-itself — According to Fichte, the whole world was to be seen as something constituted by our active minds — what mind cannot know does not exist. Similarly, Kant’s model of aesthetic judgment was unity between understanding and imagination. It was actually Schiller who criticized Kant’s moral philosophy in his famous lectures on the aesthetic education of man. But later Schiller improved himself by bringing from the critique of pure judgment, the model of aesthetics as the unity of understanding and imagination.

According to Schiller, Immanuel Kant divided human nature between passion and reason, and our moral life as an eternal struggle between two is degrading and defeatist. Schiller dragged this criticism from ancient Greece, wherein the purity of artistic form, there was unity between reason and passion. For Schiller, to restore the latter harmony suggests the revival of aesthetics in every aspect of life. Hegel later wrote about Kant’s philosophy that “His philosophy contains the basis and point of departure from modern German philosophy”. [5] For Hegel, only aesthetics cannot overcome the disharmony rather it needs philosophy to overcome it. Before Hegel; it was Frederick Schelling, who was famous for philosophy across Germany, but when Hegel took over his fame, Frederich Wilhelm Schelling complained that his former friend took over his own ideas.

Thus, to clarify his own thoughts, Hegel wrote essays on religion accompanied by a hardliner approach. He compared Jesus with Socrates and declared Jesus as the inferior teacher of ethics as compared to Socrates. For Hegel, Orthodox religion is a barrier to the goal of restoring man to the state of harmony, for it makes man subordinate his own powers of thought to an external authority. It was in 1803, he published his famous work ‘The Phenomenology of mind’ and it was in 1807, his work finally appeared. Hegel published his Science of Logic, which appeared in three volumes in 1812, 1813, and 1816 — his work dragged much attention and admiration. [6]


Author

Shahzada Rahim is a Geopolitical analyst and International Relations, Expert.


Footnotes

[1] Hegel is charged as political reactionary, who gave birth to Nazism. Likewise, Famous German philologist and philosopher Frederich Nietzsche was also charged with Nazism or racism by various historians during the twentieth century.

[2] Basically, Hegel tried his best for the reconciliation of religion and philosophy — what Hegel said; ‘Objects exist not because of the conscious mind’.

[3] When Napoleon was defeated Hegel referred to this tragic thing as the ‘Spectacles of immense genius destroyed by the mediocrity’.

[4] It is a fact that without intuition and reason, we cannot comprehend the world.

[5] In some accounts, Kant himself also denied ‘thing-in-itself’.

[6] From 1818–1831 till his death, he taught at the university of Berlin.


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The Radical Outlook is an online news web Portal designed for in-depth news analysis from the Eurasian region and beyond. It is Founded by a geopolitical analyst Shahzada Rahim.
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