Philosophy of History (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Hegel's philosophical history of the world is a work that grows out of a genre in philosophy that looks at history as the development of human abilities and charts the progress of humankind through a series of epochs. For Hegel, history is centered largely on political developments, on the deeds of the great historical figures, such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, leading up to the modern nation-state. Moreover, he shows that history exhibits real progress toward the ultimate goal of freedom and ...
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Overview

Hegel's philosophical history of the world is a work that grows out of a genre in philosophy that looks at history as the development of human abilities and charts the progress of humankind through a series of epochs. For Hegel, history is centered largely on political developments, on the deeds of the great historical figures, such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, leading up to the modern nation-state. Moreover, he shows that history exhibits real progress toward the ultimate goal of freedom and that the modern period, the epoch in which he lived, brought this development to a culmination.<%END%>


About the Author:

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the son of an official in the government of Württemberg, was born in Stuttgart on August 27, 1770. At seminary in Tübingen where he met German poet Hölderlin and Friedrich Schelling, who would have a profound influence on Hegel's philosophy. He published his first major work, the Phenomenology of Spirit, in 1807. On November 14, 1831, Hegel died of cholera in Berlin, a year after being elected rector of the University of Berlin and four months after having been decorated by Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.<%END%>

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Introduction

G.W.F. Hegel's Philosophy of History is one of the most ambitious projects of its kind, executed by one of the most brilliant and well-known philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hegel's philosophical history of the world is a work that grows out of a very important genre in Enlightenment philosophy that looks at history as the development of human abilities and charts the progress of humankind through a series of epochs. Unlike the typical Enlightenment version, however, such as Jean Condorcet's Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind (1795) which focuses on the development and perfectibility of human powers by means of the arts, science, and industry, leading to prosperity and happiness, Hegel's account of history emphasizes the development of freedom and consciousness of freedom, a development marked by conflict and struggle rather than a smooth progress. For Hegel, history is centered largely on political developments in the broad sense, on the deeds of the great historical figures, such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, and on the rise and accomplishments of peoples and nations, leading up to the modern nation-state. Hegel claimed that history was an understandable process of development that could be understood and made intelligible for anyone willing to look at it rationally, which means looking at it as a whole with a discernable purpose. Moreover, he attempted to show that history exhibited real progress toward the ultimate goal of freedom and that the modern period, the epoch in which he lived, brought this development to a culmination.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the son of an officialin the government of Württemberg, was born in Stuttgart on August 27, 1770. His early education, typical of the preparatory school or Gymnasium, included the classics and the literature of the European Enlightenment. In October 1788, Hegel entered the theological seminary in Tübingen where he met Hölderlin, later to become the famous German poet, and Friedrich Schelling, who would have a profound influence on Hegel's philosophy. In 1790, one year after the fall of the Bastille in France, Hegel received a degree in philosophy and theology, but instead of becoming a Lutheran church minister he served as tutor to a wealthy Swiss family in Berne from 1793 to 1796. Two years after the death of his father, Hegel in January 1801 ceased tutoring and took a position as unsalaried lecturer (Privatdozent) at the University of Jena. He was made Professor Extraordinaire without salary in 1805 and published his first major work, the Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes), in 1807, at the time that Napoleon's armies were occupying Jena. With the victory of the French in Prussia, the university closed and Hegel fled to Bavaria where he took a job as editor of a newspaper in Bamberg (Die Bamberger Zeitung). Shortly thereafter in 1808 Hegel moved to Nuremberg where he became headmaster at a Gymnasium where he also taught philosophy until 1816. During this time Hegel married, had children, and published his Science of Logic (Wissenschaft der Logik) in three volumes (1812, 1813, 1816).

In 1816, one year following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, Hegel was invited to be the chair of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg, and in 1817, he published his first edition of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse) , a systematic summary of his entire philosophy. In 1818, through invitation by a Prussian minister, Hegel became professor of philosophy at the University of Berlin, where he remained until his death. Hegel lectured on several topics in philosophy, including art, religion, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of history. In 1821, he published the Philosophy of Right (Philosophie des Rechts), a seminal work in social and political thought. On November 14, 1831, Hegel died of cholera in Berlin, a year after being elected rector of the University of Berlin and four months after having been decorated by Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.

The text that comprises The Philosophy of History was not published until after Hegel's death and is based on his lecture notes, supplemented by notes from students in his classes. Hegel delivered lectures on the philosophy of history for five winter semesters at the University of Berlin, beginning with the 1822-23 term and then every other year, giving his last in the1830-31 semester. He was not known as a dynamic speaker, but his penetrating mind made him popular as a lecturer and he apparently left a great impression on a number of young men who would find their way into significant positions in society and government. The first German edition of Hegel's lectures appeared in 1837, edited by Eduard Gans, and a revised and enlarged edition was published by Hegel's son, the historian Karl Hegel, in 1840. The 1857 English translation of this second edition by J. Sibree is the text of the new Barnes & Noble publication. There are three subsequent German editions, the third critical edition by Georg Larsson in 1917, the fourth edition by Johannes Hoffmeister in 1955, and the edition published as Vol. XII of Hegels Werke (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970). There has been some controversy as to which of the editions is the most authoritative, but Karl Hegel's is the only one that contains the complete material of the course lectures.

The lectures on the philosophy of world history were a popular and accessible introduction to Hegel's philosophy overall. Indeed, it could be said that the philosophy of history was central to his philosophy in that in seeking for the Absolute, a totality of Truth that is all encompassing, one must attend to its relation to temporal existence, which is the historical development of Spirit. The text of The Philosophy of History has two significantly distinguishable segments. The first is the introductory lectures which provide a theoretical framework for understanding what constitutes a philosophical history of the world. Hegel begins by distinguishing three sorts of historical writing, what he calls "Original History," "Reflective History," and "Philosophical History." In the first type, the historical recorder is involved in the events that take place. The individual who lives in the historical situation also records it, and so the spectator, being caught up in the events of the time, can directly express the spirit of the time (Hegel is thinking of individuals like Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Xenophon, Caesar). However, the scope of this recording must be limited to those events with are present to the spectator and such historical writing will tend to reflect ideological and class presuppositions of the writer. Hegel assumes that political events are at the core of history and that the task is to discern the cultural consciousness of these events without the distorting influence of arbitrary personal reflection, which the great recorders of the periods succeeded in doing. In order to begin grasping history at all, one must, according to Hegel, immerse oneself in histories of this kind.

"Reflective History" is the attempt to increase the scope of "original history" by moving beyond the events of the recorder's present to include the past as a whole. This means that the historical writer must give an account of events other than those of his own time, which raises the issue of interpretation and of projecting into the past the biases of one's own present.

Hegel identifies several varieties of reflective history. "Universal history" aims to present the entire history of a nation, or of the whole world, and because of the immensity of this task tends to dispense with individual accounts of reality and to make do with abstractions, summaries, and abridgments. "Pragmatical history" is concerned with understanding the present through the past and is didactic in producing moral lessons from history. "Critical history" concerns the "history of history," a survey of the method of historical writing that evaluates historical narratives and examines their authenticity and credibility. Finally, "specialized history" selects a single perspective, such as the history of art, of law, or of religion, from the wider context of national life. This last version of reflective history serves as a transition to philosophical history of the world because despite its focus on specific topics it still maintains a general perspective insofar as the wider context of national life is brought into view. It is the adopting of a general perspective that allows for the discovering of internal, as opposed to merely external, threads that unify historical events and deeds.

A philosophical history of the world also adopts a general perspective, but without focusing exclusively on a single aspect of national life to the neglect of the others. Philosophical history deals with world history concretely and thoughtfully and looks for unity in the inclusive whole. This approach is guided by the philosophical idea that Reason rules the world because it is the substance of reality and, therefore, that the history of the world is a rational process. Hegel is well aware of the prejudice of professional historians against philosophy, that philosophers introduce their own constructions a priori into the historical record. However, the idea that the historian can be faithful to history merely by adopting an impartial "receptive attitude" is an oversimplification, for all historians bring their "categories" into play in interpreting the phenomena presented to them. Philosophical world history is neither a priori, since it must give attention to concrete historical fact, nor is it merely empirical, since the significance of the facts is not simply given but unavoidably a matter of human interpretation. In short, history is objective for us, which is captured most appropriately in the study of historical self?consciousness. Moreover, the internal thread of historical events cannot be discovered without considering self?consciousness, or historical Spirit, since historical continuity is a matter of awareness of connections between events as these are reflected upon in thought. As Hegel had already explicated in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), knowledge is a function of its significance for the knower who is always implicated with the object of knowledge. In the science of history all knowledge is ultimately self-knowledge.

After treating the methods of historical writing, Hegel in the introduction discusses a variety of preliminary topics, including the idea of reason as the basis of history, the idea of freedom, the role of the individual in history, the significance of the state, the principle and course of historical development, and the geographical basis of history. The last section of the introduction entitled "Classification of Historical Data" in effect provides a synopsis of his comprehensive historical survey, identifying and defining the main historical epochs that constitute the developmental structure of world history: the Asian World, the Greek World, the Roman World, and the German World (the translation of Germanische with 'German' is misleading insofar as Hegel clearly intended reference to the "Germanic" people of the modern European World and not to Germany, or the German states, as such). Hegel's survey of these epochs constitutes the second large segment of the work, which is the philosophical history proper that charts the development of the Weltgeist, World Spirit. Hegel claims that in the history of the world we can distinguish several important formations of the self-consciousness of Spirit in the course of its free self-development, each corresponding to a significant principle. The major world-historical epochs each manifest a principle of Spirit as expressed through a particular dominant culture.

The influences upon Hegel's philosophical approach to history, and his influence upon a host of historical thinkers, are significant historical subjects in themselves. In the context of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German philosophy, the main thinkers with whom Hegel was intimately acquainted intellectually and personally were Goethe (1749-1832), Fichte (1762-1814), and Schelling (1775-1854). In terms of an orientation to history, Wilhelm von Humbolt (1767-1835), Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) are perhaps the most significant influences. Kant, in particular with his essays on history such as "What is Enlightenment" and "The Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View" (both appearing in 1784), provided some very important themes for Hegel, including the idea of progress in freedom, the rationality of history, the role of conflict by means of which humans learn to advance, and the associated idea of the "cunning" of reason in history, whereby historical reason utilizes selfish passion or corrupt tendencies for positive ends. One notable point of difference between Kant and Hegel was the former's view of the overcoming of war and achieving of world peace in a future commonwealth of nations. Hegel, by contrast, considered warfare to be an inevitable feature of history, one that gives testimony to the finitude of all nation-states-war is a manifestation of the "higher right" of World Spirit to render its verdict upon states in history's "world court of judgment." Moreover, the sovereignty of a state is its guiding principle; hence nations are to this extent in a state of nature in relation to each other, where each wills its national interest and survival without any overarching constitutional power. The universal provisos of international law, therefore, do not go beyond an ought-to-be. If states come to disagree about the nature of their treaties, etc., and if there is no acceptable compromise for each party, then matters will ultimately be settled by war.

Given these considerations, what then does it mean politically for Hegel to speak of freedom as the goal of history? It means not the eventual creation of a world commonwealth or government, but of modern nation states that manifest a "personality" and a self-consciousness of their inherent natures and goals, with an ability to act rationally and in accordance with their self-awareness. The modern nation state is a "spiritual individual," the true historical individual, precisely because of the level of realization of self-consciousness that it actualizes, manifested particularly in its constitutional development. The development of the perfected nation state is the end or goal of history because it provides an optimal level of realization of self-consciousness, a more comprehensive level of realization of freedom than mere natural individuals, or other forms of human organization, can produce.

Hegel's influence was significant in his time and his philosophy has seen alternating periods of decline and renaissance ever since. Prior to his death he had already become the philosopher par excellence of Germany, indeed he was thought of as the official philosopher of the Royal Prussian Court. Part of his legacy was a significant "Hegelian School" that promoted his philosophy, although it would soon divide into the "Right" (Old) and "Left "(Young) Hegelians, representing respectively conservative and liberal interpretations of Hegelian conceptions of theology and of politics. Karl Marx was one of these "Young Hegelians" who would eventually take an even more radical turn toward a historical materialism, which inverted the Hegelian idealist conception in placing Hegel on his feet, after presumably having been "standing on his head." Other German thinkers influenced by Hegel include Leopold von Henning (1791-1866), Karl Michelet (1801-1893), Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), Karl Rosenkranz (1805-1879), David F. Strauss (1808-1874), Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), and Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950), to name just several of the most notable. Beyond Germany, Hegel's philosophy, and in particular his philosophy of history, had profound effect upon philosophers in other European countries. In Italy we have Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) and Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944); in France there are Alexander Kojève (1902-1968), Jean Hyppolite (1907-1963?), and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980); in England the British Hegelians were F. H. Bradley (1846-1924), Bernard Bosanquet (1848-1923), and J. M. E. McTaggart (1866-1925), as well as T. H. Green (1836-1882) and R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943); and in America Hegel's influence was most prominent on Walt Whitman (1819-1892), William James (1842-1910), and John Dewey (1859-1952), as well as on the formation of two Hegelian "schools" in the nineteenth century, one in St. Louis and another in Cincinnati. In the United States today, the foremost association of scholars promoting Hegel studies is the Hegel Society of America.

One of the more controversial issues in Hegel's philosophy of history is the meaning of the "end of history," of both when and how history comes to an end. Hegel claimed that his own time was the last stage of history, the stage where the principle of the freedom of the will is realized theoretically and practically, in the German philosophy of the state and in the French transformation of the ancien regime into a modern constitutional nation. Spirit finally knows itself because its freedom is expressed in a free people. Hegel, however, did recognize that further development remained in the future as when, in the introduction, he remarks that America is the "land of the future" that will take up the burden of world history and perhaps proceed to a new basis of historical development. In this sense, history does not appear to come to an end. Of course, the future is not yet and thus not part of history, and so history, at least in the sense of historical narrative, must come to an end, and to a conclusion and sense of completion.

David A. Duquette is a professor of philosophy at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Kansas, and he writes frequently on Hegel, Marx, and the history of philosophy and social and political thought.
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