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2/6/2016 6:24:17 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 2/6/2016 1:25:54 AM, Deathbeforedishonour wrote:
Can anyone give me a simple explanation of what Hegel's philosophy actually was?

Hegel isn't really a writer who can be easily summarized. His work is an attempt to take the 'logos' (guiding rationality) of all previous philosophy and give it an ultimate synthesis in an elaborate philosophical system. The reason Hegel's philosophy cannot be simply summarized is because it is just this concept of a simple summary which it attempts to criticize: A short summary (as Hegel talks about in his Preface to the PoS) defines something only by its outermost boundary, whereas the true substance of a thing is in its whole development over time.

History itself takes on an important role in Hegel's thought: While other rationalist philosophers such as Descartes and Kant believed that philosophy could discover some timeless principles, independently of the progression of events in the world, Hegel saw the purity of principles and reason which prior philosophers sought to establish as only possible as the end-result of an actual, political and historical process of events, not as something arrived at by an independent individual engaging in armchair speculation.

Thus, Hegel takes from both the rationalist and romanticist movements, and takes the focus on self-actualization through active participation with the outside world that characterized the romanticists such as Goethe, but throws away the anti-intellectualism and relativism by fusing it with those elements of rationalist and Kantian philosophy that rightly prioritize the role of reason. We end up with a romantic vision of the purity of rational principles as the ideal end-result of the gradual process of the engagement of each individual with society and nature.

The radical shift in Hegel is the different view he takes of the relationship between the Absolute (which is that ultimate functioning of pure rational principles, the 'logos') and time. When prior philosophers looked at the events of the world, they were faced wherever they turned with the unbearable 'contingency' of it all. Descartes saw the danger which threatened the certainty of philosophical speculation in the possibility that all we see could be only the imaginings of some malevolent daemon, and religious believers were so taunted by the 'problem of evil' that they may have begun to actually take that to be the case. So, they sought refuge in the armchair (or church) to seek out independent principles, outside of time (and thus beyond those events) which could provide meaning. Hegel's insight is that this center of meaning, this absolute, cannot be found independently of temporal events - it was this attempt which led Kant's philosophy into what Hegel called 'empty formalism'. The absolute is the functioning of logos itself, which does not simply ignore the contingency of things by seeking to bracket them in a 'summary', but gradually subsumes that contingency by providing ever-more encompassing explanations.