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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831)


Phenomenology of Spirit, Chapters 5 to 8: “Free Concrete Mind” and “Absolute Knowledge”

Summary Phenomenology of Spirit, Chapters 5 to 8: “Free Concrete Mind” and “Absolute Knowledge”

One of Hegel’s most original and influential ideas is that culture is a dynamic force and subject to change. While deeply influenced by Kant and German idealism, Hegel was also close to the Romantic movement that was strong in Germany when he came of age intellectually. German romantic philosophers such as Herder took issue with the image of the human experience that Kant and his students promoted. The Kantians and the rationalists of the Enlightenment sought to establish reason as a universal and unchanging bedrock of knowledge. The romantics thought the Kantians did not fully appreciate the profound differences in human experience from age to age and culture to culture. Hegel came along to fuse the insights of both camps, and the resulting view sees the human mind striving for stable categories of thought and referencing the common interpretations and customs of society to do so. In other words, one approaches the world through a common mind. This common mind operates as a consciousness in and of itself, seeking to understand the world, bumping up against contradictions in the process, sorting through these contradictions, and moving forward. One gets a glimpse here of Hegel’s view of history as the dynamic unfolding of the collective mind or spirit.