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Philosophy of History


Section 5

Section 4

Section 5, page 2

page 1 of 3

Hegel continues his discussion of the means of Spirit, which come from the union of the abstract universal with the subjective particular. Other wordings of this union include "the realization of the universal Idea in immediate actuality" and "the elevation of the singular [agency] into universal truth." Although humans are generally unaware of their participation in the universal Spirit, they nonetheless generally act in accord with accepted abstract ideals such as honor or duty.

Major historical events occur when there is a clash (on the part of an individual or a group) between these accepted abstract ideals and possible alternative ones. The emergence of such new concepts is "a moving force of the productive Idea," the immediate instrument of Spirit in history. The individuals who introduce these world-impacting concepts are "world-historical individuals" like Caesar or Napoleon. The personal will and passions of such individuals coincide to some degree with the will of the World Spirit, and they aim, whether they know it or not, at "what the time intrinsically demands." These "heroes" gain their personal passions in part "from a source whose content is hidden" rather than from tradition or the status quo.

These heroes are able to lead only because they articulate a passion that others recognize as their own (since it is an articulation of the next step in the universal Idea). Though the hero may not be conscious of it, he is bringing the "unconscious Spirit" to consciousness, and therefore to actualization. Hegel disputes any assumption that these individuals gain happiness from their actions, but he also discards the "psychological" view that would focus on their quirks and immoral passions; focusing on these only expresses "envy" of the heroes, and fails to recognize that they were being used for a higher purpose.

The sole purpose of the world-historical individual is to foster the emergence of the universal from the particular (through its negation). When historical change occurs through upheaval and struggle (as it almost always does) this is a clash on the level of the particular, with "the universal in the background." Hegel coins his famous phrase "the Cunning of Reason" here to denote the process by which worldly particulars (which can be apparently chaotic or random) are used by universal Reason for its own purposes.

Thus, all the particular tragedy that occurs in the course of world history is a sacrifice of the particular for the universal. But even given this higher reason, Hegel says, we cannot approve of a single death. There is something divine about the human, and the needs and insights of human individuals have "an infinite right to be satisfied." This is the realm of "morality, ethics, [and] religious commitment." Individuals have this divine aspect, however, only by virtue of the Reason in them. Humans are the means of the greater rational goal, but they have a part in this goal themselves. They are valuable ends in themselves insofar as they share this goal of Reason. They are to be valued as free individuals precisely because true freedom is Reason (and Reason is freedom because it is entirely "self- activating and self-determining").

But this very freedom also makes humans responsible for maintaining ethics and for any deterioration in those ethics. This responsibility often seems neglected in history, but Hegel warns against pessimistic preachers of "haughty" ideals that are ill-defined and cannot be maintained. Too often, he says, people complain that history has been immoral without choosing moral ideals that are truly universal (rather than simply subjective).

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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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