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Philosophy of History

Hegel

Terms

Context

Section 1

Subjective Will  -  Hegel distinguishes between universal will, which refers to the overall drive of Spirit, Reason, or the State, and subjective will, which refers to the multitude of individual wills of the people that comprise the State. In its strongest form, subjective will commands an "infinite right" to be fulfilled. If individuals are to follow a universal cause, that cause must encompass their own subjective will--it must address their own "sense of self." Subjective will is essentially arbitrary in the sense that it does not necessarily follow fixed, universal principles; Hegel also refers to subjective will as "caprice" in order to point out this fickle, arbitrary nature. Subjective will can be linked very closely to universal will (though it need not be)--the ultimate goal of a given State is to unite the subjective wills of its citizens with the universal will expressed in its abstract central principle (which is an expression of the will of Spirit). The State, Hegel argues, does not limit true freedom but only the most arbitrary, animal aspects of subjective will ("caprice"). Subjective will also becomes linked to the will of Spirit through world-historical individuals, whose own passions and goals stem partly from a recognition of the next step in the development of Spirit.
Original History  -  This is the first historical method Hegel explains. Original history is written by a historian who is himself living in the times he writes about--the spirit of the historian is part and parcel of the spirit of the society about which he writes.
Reflective History  -  This is the second historical method Hegel mentions. Reflective history is written after the time covered in the history has passed, and therefore it involves a remove at which the historian can analyze and interpret the events he covers. Reflective history is divided into four sub-methods: universal history, pragmatic, critical, and specialized.
Universal History  -  This is the first form of reflective history that Hegel sets out. Universal history seeks to provide an account of the whole history of a people, or even of the world. Unlike original history, the spirit in which a universal history is written is not the spirit of the times written about. Since the extremely broad scope of universal history necessitates the intense compression of complex events into simple statements, the primary factor in such histories is the "thought" of the historian as he works to give a coherent, universal account.
Pragmatic History  -  Pragmatic history, the second type of reflective history, involves an ideology or interpretive method on the part of the historian, who uses historical events to back up a pointed argument. Hegel disdains pragmatic histories that seek to provide "moral lessons"--it's readily apparent, he says, that leaders never learn anything from history, and that any such lessons would quickly be lost in the press of current events.
Critical History  -  This third type of reflective history seeks to re-interpret existing historical accounts. Critical history is a kind of history of history, which tests the accuracy of given accounts and perhaps poses alternative accounts. Hegel dislikes this kind of history, which "extorts" new things to say from existing accounts. He points out that this is a cheaper way to achieve "reality" in history, because it puts subjective notions in place of facts and calls these notions reality.
Specialized History  -  This final type of reflective history focuses on one thread in history, such as "the history of art, of law, or of religion." At the same time, it represents a transitional stage to philosophic history because it takes a "universal viewpoint." The very focus taken (e.g., the history of law) represents a choice on the part of the historian to make a universal concept the guiding rationale for his or her specific history. If the specialized history is good, the author will give an accurate account of the fundamental "Idea" (the "inner guiding soul") that guided the particular events and actions discussed.
Philosophic History  -  The focus of this third major category of history is the larger process by which Spirit unfolds in the world as history (this is, of course, Hegel's own historical method). Philosophic history prioritizes thought before history, bringing pure philosophical ideas to bear on events. The thoughts that organize the "raw material" of historical events into philosophic history come first and can stand alone--they are a priori. Thus, the philosophic historian studies both the eternal Spirit (which is non-temporal) and the historical process which is its unfolding (a process which is temporal).
Morality  -  Hegel uses the term "morality" (in contrast to "ethics") to denote the subjective form of duty to others (in contrast to a form of duty based on the universal principles of the State). Philosophic history generally excludes consideration of morals, ignoring the personal moral problems of world-historical individuals. The reason for this exclusion is that subjective morality, like subjective will, is essentially arbitrary unless it is linked to universal principles. True ethics arise only with the State, which makes a people free through voluntary adherence to common principles and laws. Some ancient cultures (Hegel mentions Chinese, Indian, and Homeric civilizations) have moral codes but not ethics.
Universality  -  The term "universal" is extremely wide-ranging in Hegel, but in general it denotes that which transcends the subjective and the particular. The nature and essence of Spirit in and of itself is universal, but universality is only one aspect of Spirit as it unfolds in the world. The opposite aspect is particularity, and the division between these two aspects is based on the division Spirit creates within itself as it becomes self-conscious (which involves the knowing of itself as an object rather than just a subject). The course of history is driven by the dialectic (the back-and-forth) between the universal and particular aspects of Spirit. These aspects are sometimes joined, when the State succeeds in unifying the particular, subjective wills of its citizens with the universal principle that is the common Spirit of the people. Universality, whether it is fully meshed with the particularities of culture or not, must be present in a culture before that culture can be considered a State (since the State is the practical embodiment of a universal national principle). Until this happens, true "history" has not begun for that culture. Universality is first introduced in a culture by thought, which rejects traditional, unconsidered ideas of duty in favor of universal, rational laws. Thus, human culture seeks to know itself in a universal context, even as Spirit seeks to know itself as an objective thing in the world.
Spirit  -  This is the central concept in Hegel's method of philosophic history. The concept of Spirit unifies the three concepts of freedom, Reason, and self- consciousness, which are interdependent almost to the point of identity. Freedom is simply total self-sufficiency, and self-consciousness is absolutely necessary to the sense of freedom Hegel is getting at. Universal Reason is the only true context for this true freedom, because only Reason is truly self- sufficient--it doesn't depend on anything but itself. We might think of Spirit as a kind of catchall term for the conjunction of these concepts as they pass together from their abstract unity to their realization as operative principles in human history. It is this unfolding of Spirit from a self-contained abstraction into a set of worldly human institutions that constitutes history itself. Specifically, Spirit unfolds in a series of stages (each of which is a unique spirit of a historical people, embodied in a State), whose rising and falling away stems from the struggle of Spirit to known itself. This process involves much destruction, but it is overall a rational process: Spirit destroys embodiments of itself as it struggles to effect a more complete union between its universal aspect and the particular aspects by which it becomes a part of the concrete world. Through this dialectical process of self-destruction and self-renewal, Spirit (along with humanity) comes to know itself better and better. The only interest of Spirit is to realize its own principle of true freedom, and it does this by unfolding as human history, where the consciousness of universal, rational freedom is the driving force. Hegel's metaphor for Spirit is a seed, which contains all it will become within itself but which also needs to see those contents actualized in the world.
Idea  -  "Idea" remains a somewhat unclear concept, and is often used nearly interchangeably with "Spirit." Hegel refers to Idea at one point as lying in "the innermost pit of Spirit," and in general he uses the term in the context of a summarized, effective form of the very loose concept of Spirit (almost as a practical, active version of Spirit). The Idea is what directly informs the universal principle of the State in its many forms, and when Hegel is discussing Reason, he often expands the term to "rational Idea" to imply that Reason is not only an abstract concept but also a driving force in human history. The Idea is also referred to as something Spirit has, as the thing it wants to realize in the world. This usage only points out the extent to which Idea and Spirit overlap, since Hegel also says that Spirit only seeks to realize itself.
State  -  The State is the form abstract Spirit "takes in actuality," the "material form" of the rational goal of Spirit. As such, the State is a union between the Idea (the universal principle of rational freedom) and human interests or passion (the particular, subjective wills of individuals). The State arises as the embodiment of the Spirit of a given people, which in turn represents one stage in the development of universal Spirit in the world. Hegel is emphatic that the State does not limit freedom (as the "negative freedom" or social contract model would have it), but only limits the basest aspects of arbitrary subjective will ("caprice"). The limitation of these elements does not check true freedom at all, and in fact such limitation is requisite for any true freedom to exist. Because the State provides the only possibility for universal rational freedom (which emphasizes individual choice in adhering to universal laws), its emergence also marks the beginning of history--no events have the proper historical import without the legal context of the State, and so no people without a State are the concern of history. It's also important to remember that the State refers to the "ethical totality" of a people and their culture, not just to the government.
Nature  -  Hegel discusses nature primarily as an opposing term to the State and the history whose material is the State. The course of nature throughout history is essentially cyclical--nothing truly new ever emerges (i.e., there are no new concepts or laws)--whereas history itself proceeds precisely as entirely new concepts and contents are brought forth by Spirit. Nature does not truly "develop" in the sense of progress toward perfection, though it does "bring forth new forms" of the same essential content. Hegel disparages the idea (promoted in part by Schlegel) of a "state of nature," in which pre-historic man is supposed to have lived in a naive, peaceful state with full knowledge of God. For Hegel, there is no such thing as a "natural" State, since the State necessitates universal concepts and culture. Human nature, without any self-conscious thought, is simply a matter of the basest subjective will or caprice. As Spirit moves humanity away from this state, it must struggle against its own subjective aspect to attain the universal. Spirit also opposes nature in the sense that the aims of Spirit can be temporarily frustrated or stymied by natural conditions--nature "impinges" on history in this sense, but the only substance of history is Spirit.
Dialectic  -  The dialectic is an important Hegelian concept that is only used a few times in the Introduction. It denotes a kind of progress-through-negation, in which Spirit destroys realizations of itself in order to rise again in a new and more fully realized form. This sense of dialectic is closely linked to the self-consciousness of Spirit--in knowing itself (the universal) as its own opposite (the subjective or particular), Spirit struggles against itself as it emerges in the world. The dialectic therefore helps to explain why rational history progresses through violent upheaval rather than through smooth transition.
Passion  -  Passion is Hegel's term for the subjective will as it occupies an individual completely. Someone's passion is their encompassing goal, the cause that defines them, and therefore a means to self-knowledge. The ideal for any State is to realize the union of these subjective passions with the universal principle on which the State is based.
World-Historical Individuals  -  This is Hegel's phrase for those individuals who play a major role in world history--people like Caesar or Napoleon. World-historical individuals benefit from the partial coincidence of their own subjective passions with the universal will of Spirit as it is expressed in the Spirit of the people. That people's Spirit is unconscious until it is brought to consciousness by the world-historical individual; thus, world-historical individuals serve to bring Spirit to a new stage of self-consciousness and help to establish a new State. These individuals are rarely (if ever) aware of universal Spirit itself, though they generally happen to know what the "next step" in the spiritual life of their people must be. They are also often morally dubious, a fact which Hegel claims lies outside the scope of philosophic history (since such issues concern subjective morality rather than universal ethical principles). Hegel therefore disparages any "psychological" analysis of world- historical individuals, seeing such analyses as little more than envious and spiteful musings.

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