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Philosophy of History

Hegel

Section 2

Section 1

Section 3

Summary

Having run through the basic types of recorded history, Hegel turns to the idea that history is essentially a rational process. What philosophy brings to history, Hegel writes, is "the thought that Reason rules the world, and that world history has therefore been rational in its course." Hegel sets this up as a presupposition in his historical method, but also says that the principle will be demonstrated as his lectures continue.

Hegel next claims three characteristics of Reason itself: it is the substance of the historical world, it is infinite power, and it is infinite content. It is the substance of the world treated in history because all reality comes to be by virtue of Reason--anything actual came about because of reason. Similarly, Reason is infinite power because it is not just an abstraction but also "actualizing"--it brings things into existence. Reason is infinite content because it needs nothing outside of itself to create content; it is, Hegel writes, "the only material on which it works." Reason works constantly to bring itself into external manifestation in the world--it is its own goal.

For Hegel, "nothing else is revealed in the world" except this rational "Idea," Reason itself. All "intelligence and self-conscious will" is not subject to chance but only to "the self-conscious Idea." Again, this is both the presupposition of philosophic history and what it will eventually demonstrate. Hegel notes a danger in a priori principles, ideas formulated first and brought to bear on historical fact afterwards. The Germans, he says, are especially bad about this: their idea of a "primeval" Germanic people is just such an "a priori fabrication." But even the most normal, well-meaning historian "brings his categories along with him," and pre-thinking about history is inevitable. The key, Hegel argues, is to use true reason and reflection rather than false association and speculation.

Hegel puts all these questions aside for the moment, however, and returns to his idea about Reason ruling history. There are, he says, two main versions of this idea already out there. The first is from Anaxagoras, who first posited that all nature is rational in the sense that it operates on unchangeable laws. This, however, is not the same idea as Hegel's; Anaxagoras is not talking about conceptual, human, self-reflective reason, but simply immutable physical laws. Hegel notes that Socrates was dissatisfied with Anaxagoras' account because it concerned the interactions of the four elements rather than discussing the way reason itself comes to rule in nature. Anaxagoras still did not recognize nature as "an organic whole brought forth by Reason." Any theory about the rule of Reason in the world, Hegel says, must address the process by which abstract Reason becomes concrete reality--i.e., it must show the organic whole of the rule of Reason, not just some rational laws.

The second version of the conviction that Reason rules the world is religious, claiming that events are determined by divine "Providence." To some extent, Hegel sees this as simply another statement of his own assertion about Reason (a "wisdom with infinite power, realizing its own ends"). But he has an objection to the Providence model that is similar to Socrates' objection to Anaxagoras: there is no complete theory here, since divine Providence must remain hidden from our view. While Anaxagoras failed to see the connection between concrete physical laws and abstract Reason, the theory of divine Providence actually makes that connection impossible--God's reasons are ultimately unknowable.

Making God unknowable is dangerous, Hegel argues, since it leaves us with no way to decide on actions. Christianity moves against this state of affairs to some extent, since it puts God in the realm of men (through Christ, who is God on earth). The Christian belief is that God revealed himself to us and that it is therefore our responsibility to try to know Him. For Hegel, this is a "development of the thinking spirit," placing God in the realm accessible to thought.

If, in the above two examples, God (or Reason, for Hegel) reveals himself in nature and in individuals (saints) and the world generally, why shouldn't we say that God also reveals himself in world history? Hegel feels that the time to look for this transcendent Reason in history "has finally come." In knowledge generally, Hegel writes, "we aim for the insight that whatever was intended by the Eternal Wisdom has come to fulfillment." World history presents the most difficult subject matter for this task of knowledge. The only way to perform this "theodicy" (a justification of the ways of God), Hegel says, is "through the recognition of that positive aspect, in which the negative disappears as something subordinate and overcome."

Commentary

This section begins with some extremely dense and abstract considerations of Reason in and of itself. Hegel's basic argument here is that Reason is like God--infinitely powerful, the cause of everything else, and dependent only on itself. Hegel is attempting to cement the idea that history is a rational process by showing that Reason is capable of realizing and producing all of history on its own. Thus, everything and anything we might study as history has Reason not only as its justification, but also as its very substance (in the sense that it only exists by virtue of reason, and that its essential nature is nothing outside of Reason).

These are big claims, and Hegel is aware that he can bring in here neither the abstract philosophy nor the detailed historical study necessary to back them up. He seems, however, to feel secure in relying largely on the internal coherence of his philosophical model and on the faith of his students. The notes about errant German historians positing an a priori original German race doesn't do much for us, since Hegel only dissociates himself from those crackpots by claiming to be in better touch with true rationality.

If Hegel has built his Reason up to have many of the same characteristics as God, he must now show how his concept relates to other concepts of transcendent reason ruling the world. The first such example is that of Anaxagoras, and by extension the science of natural laws in general. The second is that of believers in God (excepting Christians). Both cases are different from Hegel's theory in that they fail to address the medium between the transcendent principle and its effects in the concrete world. Anaxagoras focuses only on the presence of laws without determining how they came to be, and religion generally refrains from even knowing what the divine will is. Hegel's coup here lies in his claim to know the nature of the divine will (since it is Reason itself, it can be determined through logical philosophy) and also to know how it comes into effect in concrete reality.

Still, at this point we can only have a sort of faith that Hegel knows these things. In this Introduction, he will almost never be talking about actual, recognizable historical events or giving concrete examples of the process by which Spirit manifests itself on earth--it's all general. But we are meant to see, at this point, that his system and method are consistent: he has a supreme power (Spirit, or the rational principle), and he has argued that it is self-sufficient (reason depends on nothing outside of itself). The arguments that the substance of history is Reason itself, and that Reason produces history, depend on the idea that the State is the only thing in history that really matters (since the State can undoubtedly be shown to come about through various forms of or attempts at rational progress).

Thus, Hegel has begun to build the framework of a very cohesive theoretical structure, and has here made much of its similarity to more established, less apparently outlandish or abstract theoretical structures (the laws of nature, the will of God). There are a few fireworks toward the end of the section, when Hegel aligns himself with the Christian principle in believing that God must be known because God can be known, and calls his project a "theodicy" of sorts. This may be posturing to an extent, but Hegel does see concrete connections between his theory and long-standing theological ideas.

We should also note Hegel's reference to the idea of the dialectic toward the end--he says that this awareness of progress through negation is the key to overcoming the difficulties in discovering history to be the work of Reason (his "theodicy"). One suspects that this is a foreshadowing of the way Hegel will deal with the violence and upheaval of history in the context of the rule of Reason; namely, these upheavals and collapses are "negations" that result, eventually, in a progressive realization of Spirit. For now, however, Hegel does not elaborate.

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Hegel's View of State and History

by soberguy7, May 05, 2014

Hegel suggests that no state in any age or any stage of human history can be perfect no matter how high and noble goals it may pursue or achieve. By the time the state achieve those high ideals, human intellect achieves new heights which makes the high goals already achieved by that “next to perfect” state outdated and a quest for achieving the new targets and goals starts, leading human society to its next level, a higher level of development and a new stage in the journey towards perfection.

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