Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
| Thinking hard|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
“”He never quite got his hair under control.
|—Alain de Botton|
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a German philosopher and historian whose literary work is notoriously dry and boring to read (besides being almost unintelligible). His main works concern a woo-propagating idea known as the 'World Spirit', and a solid idea known as the Hegelian Dialectic. A true child of Romanticism, he developed coevally with the growing German spirit of his time.
Woo World Spirit
“”Hegel claimed that the Geist is developing toward an ever-expanding knowledge of itself. It's the same with rivers — they become ever broader as they get nearer the sea. According to Hegel, history is the story of the Geist gradually coming to the consciousness of itself. Although the world has always existed, human culture and human development have made the Geist increasingly conscious of its intrinsic value.
The World Spirit is one of the main founders of woo-filled theories like the New Age movement. In his The Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes), Hegel argues that the Geist (ghost, spirit) is not a physical thing nor a transcendental thing, but a force that mediates in history through great men like Napoleon. Hegel believed that our unwitting hero was used by the Geist and then was disposed of, not to be used again once his purpose was complete. As a tie-in to epistemology, Hegel wrote that truth was absolutely subjective and that there were no absolutes in any sense of the word when concerning truth. Something socially acceptable in one culture may be a taboo in another (think wearing shoes in the house), and a truth in one era may be a crime in another (think slavery). Hegel taught that history moved forward in something he called the 'Dialectic' (covered below), and that the Geist is the sum of human experience (since humans are the only things with spirit). Hegel believed that the Geist would become a self-aware, self-realising entity at some point in the future.
The Hegelian Dialectic
The Hegelian Dialectic is Hegel's one solid idea. Hegel taught that it moved the Geist, and history, forward. In its simplest form, the Dialectic goes like this:
- The thesis starts us off.
- The antithesis is the opposite of the thesis.
- They fight, and their love-child is the synthesis.
- We start again with the synthesis
- The antisynthesis is the opposite of the synthesis.
- They clash, and form a new synthesis.
This is actually a solid observation made by Hegel about how history moves forward. Keep in mind though that the Dialectic is not a two-iteration process and will keep going until the Geist becomes self-realising. As an example of the Dialectic, think about the not-so-old sexual revolution in the 1960s. The thesis is the Victorian era of closet sexuality, where it was shunned and taboo. The antithesis is the sexual revolution of the 1960s in which sexuality came out of the closet and was a major theme of the era. History had one extreme, Victorianism, then moved to the other extreme, the 1960s, and finally we'll get a synthesis, something along the lines of a balance of sexuality in society.
“”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains how this is all meant to work thusly, "A transcendental argument begins with uncontroversial facts of experience and tries to show that other conditions must be present—or are necessary—for those facts to be possible." In other words, it's a flexible mix of begging the question, arguing from arbitrary axioms, and mistaking the map for the territory. The goal of this is to skip the legwork and graduate directly to dispensing ultimate metaphysical truth. This all comes as no surprise, considering how much Hegel despised ambivalence, skepticism and uncertainty — and as such, he was more than willing to rely on other ways of knowing in order to be able to divine mystical truth with absolute certainty.
|—The Good Reverend|
Unfortunately, in Hegel's original writing, the description of the dialectic was deeply embedded with assumptions and conclusions of his World Spirit beliefs. Many modern philosophers have generated less bullshit-laden constructions of the idea. Please note that the terms used here are not anywhere found in Hegel's original work, and are terms later used by people trying to patch the holes in this sinking ship of an original idea.
The Hegelian Dialectic was used by Karl Marx to help move his ideas about communism forward. Marx thought that the proletariats (thesis) would rise up to fight the bourgeoisie (antithesis), and at the end of the dialectic a perfectly classless society would be formed (final synthesis).
The Hegelian Dialectic was also used by Charles Darwin in his On the Origin of Species, where the organism (thesis) comes up against its environment (antithesis) and natural selection will shape the population to make organisms better suited for the environment (synthesis).
The Dialectic is also used in the United States Congress, in which one part of the Congress (thesis) will create a bill, and the other part (antithesis) will make changes to the bill and the final bill (synthesis) is created by both houses.
The unfortunate propagation of woomeisters like New-age thinkers comes from the Geist, as eventually all of the human experiences will become part of the Spirit. Apparently, being New-Age-y and meditate-y help us get there faster to become part of the One.
“”If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right.
Further, if I were to say that this summus philosophus [...] scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.
|—Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality. (1840).|
Philosopher of science Karl Popper agreed with Schopenhauer, noting that "there is so much philosophical writing (especially in the Hegelian school) which may justly be criticized as meaningless verbiage," and elsewhere as "bombastic and mystifying cant". Popper moreover viewed Hegel's obscurantism as concealing an essential authoritarianism, in which the State and vast historical panoramas took precedence over mere individuals.
- G.W.F. Hegel, The Book of Life
- Gaarder, Jostein. "Hegel." Sophie's World. Trans. Paulette Møller. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007. 356-67. Print.
- Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (New York: Routledge, 1963), 94.
- Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, (Routledge), p. 28