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Philosophy of History

Hegel

Section 2

Section 1

Section 2, page 2

page 1 of 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.

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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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