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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born at Stuttgart in 1770; died at Berlin in 1831

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Hegelianism. —(I) Life and Writings of Hegel.—Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born at Stuttgart in 1770; died at Berlin in 1831. After studying theology at Tubingen he devoted himself successively to the study of contemporary philosophy and to the cultivation of the Greek classics. After about seven years spent as private tutor in various places, he began his career as university professor in 1801. His first appointment was at Jena. After an intermission of a year which he spent as newspaper editor at Bamberg, and a short term as rector of a gymnasium at Nuremberg, he was made professor of philosophy at Heidelberg in 1816, whence he was transferred to the University of Berlin in 1818. Hegel’s principal works are his “Logic” (Wissenschaft der Logik, 1816), his “Phenomenology of Spirit” (Phanomenologie des Geistes, 1807), his “Encyclopedia” (Encyklopadie der philosophischen Wissenschaften, 1817), and his “Philosophy of History” (Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie der Geschichte, 1820). His works were collected and published by Rosenkranz in 19 vols., 1832-42, second edition 1840-54.

Aim of his Philosophy.—Hegel’s philosophy is an attempt to reduce to a more synthetic unity the system of transcendental idealism bequeathed to him by Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. Kant had taught that, so far as our theoretical experience is concerned, there exists nothing except the appearances of things and the unknown and unknowable noumenal substrate of these appearances, the Ding-an-sich. Hegel starts out by assuming that, if for Kant’s destructive criticism of theoretical experience we substitute an incessantly progressive and productive immanent criticism, we shall find that the noumenal reality is not an unknowable substrate of appearances but an ever-active process, which in thought and in reality constantly passes into its opposite in order to return to a higher and richer form of itself. This process in its barest and most meagre form is being; in its fullest and richest form it is spirit, absolute mind, the state, religion, philosophy. The business of philosophy is to trace this process through all its stages.

His Method.—Hegel’s method in philosophy consists, therefore, in following out the triadic development (Entwicklung) in each concept and in each thing. Thus, he hopes, philosophy will not contradict experience, but will give to the data of experience the philosophical, that is, the ultimately true, explanation. If, for instance, we wish to know what liberty is, we take that concept where we first find it, in the unrestrained action of the savage, who does not feel the need of repressing any thought, feeling, or tendency to act. Next, we find that the savage has given up this freedom in exchange for its opposite, the restraint, or, as he considers it, the tyranny, of civilization and law. Thirdly, in the citizen under the rule of law, we find the third stage of development, namely liberty in a higher and a fuller sense than that in which the savage possessed it, the liberty to do and to say and to think many things which were beyond the power of the savage. In this triadic process we remark that the second stage is the direct opposite, the annihilation, or at least the sublation, of the first. We remark also that the third stage is the first returned to itself in a higher, truer, richer, and fuller form. The three stages are, therefore, styled: (I) in itself (An-sich); (2) out of itself (Anderssein); and (3) in and for itself (An-und-fur-sich). These three stages are found succeeding one another throughout the whole realm of thought and being, from the most abstract logical process up to the most complicated concrete activity of organized mind in the succession of states or the production of systems of philosophy.

Doctrine of Development.— In logic—which really is a metaphysic—we have to deal with the process of development applied to reality in its most abstract form. For in logic we deal with concepts robbed of their empirical content: in logic we are discussing the process in vacuo, so to speak. Thus, at the very beginning of our study of reality, we find the logical concept of being. Now, being is not a static concept, as Aristotle supposed it was. It is essentially dynamic, because it tends by its very nature to pass over into nothing, and then to return to itself in the higher concept, becoming. For Aristotle, there was nothing more certain than that being=being, or, in other words, that being is identical with itself, that everything is what it is. Hegel does not deny this; but, he adds, it is equally certain that being tends to become its opposite, nothing, and that both are united in the concept becoming. For instance, the truth about this table, for Aristotle, is that it is a table. For Hegel, the equally important truth is that it was a tree, and it will be ashes. The whole truth, for Hegel, is that the tree became a table and will become ashes. Thus, becoming, not being, is the highest expression of reality. It is also the highest expression of thought; because then only do we attain the fullest knowledge of a thing when we know what it was, what it is, and what it will be—in a word, when we know the history of its development.

In the same way as being and nothing develop into the higher concept becoming, so, farther on in the scale of development, life and mind appear as the third terms of the process and are in turn developed into higher forms of themselves. But, one cannot help asking, what is it that develops or is developed? Its name, Hegel answers, is different in each stage. In the lowest form it is being, higher up it is life, and in still higher form it is mind. The only thing always present is the process (das Werden). We may, however, call the process by the name of spirit (Geist) or idea (Begriff). We may even call it God, because at least in the third term of every triadic development the process is God.

Division of Philosophy.—The first and most wide-reaching consideration of the processes of spirit, God, or the idea, reveals to us the truth that the idea must be studied (I) in itself; this is the subject of logic or metaphysics; (2) out of itself, in nature; this is the subject of the philosophy of nature; and (3) in and for itself, as mind; this is the subject of the philosophy of mind (Geistesphilosophie).

Philosophy of Nature.—Passing over the rather abstract considerations by which Hegel shows in his “Logik” the processes of the idea-in-itself through being to becoming, and finally through essence to notion, we take up the study of the development of the idea at the point where it enters into otherness in nature. In nature the idea has lost itself, because it has lost its unity and is splintered, as it were, into a thousand fragments. But the loss of unity is only apparent, because in reality the idea has merely concealed its unity. Studied philosophically, nature reveals itself as so many successful attempts of the idea to emerge out of the state of otherness and present itself to us as a better, fuller, and richer idea, namely spirit, or mind. Mind is, therefore, the goal of nature. It is also the truth of nature. For whatever is in nature is realized in a higher form in the mind which emerges from nature.

Philosophy of Mind.—The philosophy of mind begins with the consideration of the individual, or subjective, mind. It is soon perceived, however, that individual, or subjective, mind is only the first stage, the initself stage, of mind. The next stage is objective mind, or mind objectified in law, morality, and the State. This is mind in the condition of out-of-itself. There follows the condition of absolute mind, the state in which mind rises above all the limitations of nature and institutions, and is subjected to itself alone in art, religion, and philosophy. For the essence of mind is freedom, and its development must consist in breaking away from the restrictions imposed on it in its otherness by nature and human institutions.

Philosophy of History.—Hegel’s philosophy of the State, his theory of history, and his account of absolute mind are the most interesting portions of his philosophy and the most easily understood. The State, he says, is mind objectified. The individual mind, which, on account of its passions, its prejudices, and its blind impulses, is only partly free, subjects itself to the yoke of necessity—the opposite of freedom—in order to attain a fuller realization of itself in the freedom of the citizen. This yoke of necessity is first met with in the recognition of the rights of others, next in morality, and finally in social morality, of which the primal institution is the family. Aggregates of families form civil society, which, however, is but an imperfect form of organization compared with the State. The State is the perfect social embodiment of the idea, and stands in this stage of development for God Himself. The State, studied in itself, furnishes for our consideration constitutional law. In relation to other States it develops international law; and in its general course through historical vicissitudes it passes through what Hegel calls the “Dialectics of History”. Hegel teaches that the constitution is the collective spirit of the nation and that the government is the embodiment of that spirit. Each nation has its own individual spirit, and the greatest of crimes is the act by which the tyrant or the conqueror stifles the spirit of a nation. War, he teaches, is an indispensable means of political progress. It is a crisis in the development of the idea which is embodied in the different States, and out of this crisis the better State is certain to emerge victorious. The “ground” of historical development is, therefore, rational; since the State is an embodiment of reason as spirit. All the apparently contingent events of history are in reality stages in the logical unfolding of the sovereign reason which is embodied in the State. Passion, impulse, interest, character, personality—all these are either the expression of reason or the instruments which reason moulds for its own use. We are, therefore, to understand historical happenings as the stern, reluctant working of reason towards the full realization of itself in perfect freedom. Consequently, we must interpret history in purely rational terms, and throw the succession of events into logical categories. Thus, the widest view of history reveals three most important stages of development, Oriental monarchy (the stage of oneness, of suppression of freedom), Greek democracy (the stage of expansion, in which freedom was lost in unstable demagogy), and Christian constitutional monarchy (which represents the reintegration of freedom in constitutional government).

Philosophy of Absolute Mind.—Even in the State, mind is limited by subjection to other minds. There remains the final step in the process of the acquisition of freedom, namely, that by which absolute mind in art, religion, and philosophy subjects it-self to itself alone. In art, mind has an intuitive contemplation of itself as realized in the art material, and the development of the arts has been conditioned by the ever-increasing “docility” with which the art material lends itself to the actualization of mind or the idea. In religion, mind feels the superiority of itself to the particularizing limitations of finite things. Here, as in the philosophy of history, there are three great moments, Oriental religion, which exaggerated the idea of the infinite, Greek religion, which gave undue importance to the finite, and Christianity, which represents the union of the infinite and the finite. Last of all, absolute mind, as philosophy, transcends the limitations imposed on it even in religious feeling, and, discarding representative intuition, attains all truth under the form of reason. Whatever truth there is in art and in religion is contained in philosophy in a higher form, and free from all limitations. Philosophy is, therefore, “the highest, freest and wisest phase of the union of subjective and objective mind, and the ultimate goal of all development.”

Hegelian School.—Hegel’s immediate followers in Germany are generally divided into the “Hegelian Rightists” and the “Hegelian Leftists”. The Rightists developed his philosophy along lines which they considered to be in accordance with Christian teaching. They are Goschel, Gabler, Rosenkranz, and Johann Eduard Erdmann. The Leftists accentuated the anti-Christian tendencies of Hegel’s system and developed systems of Materialism, Socialism, Rationalism, and Pantheism. They are Feuerbach, Richter, Karl Marx, Bruno Bauer, and Strauss. In England, Hegelianism was represented during the nineteenth century by Stirling, Thomas Hill Green, John Caird, Edward Caird, Nettleship, McTaggart, and Baillie. Of these the most important is Thomas Hill Green. Hegelianism in America is represented by Thomas Watson and William T. Harris. In its most recent form it seems to take its inspiration from Thomas Hill Green, and whatever influence it exerts is opposed to the prevalent pragmatic tendency. In Italy the Hegelian movement has had many distinguished adherents, the chief of whom at the present time is Benedetto Croce, who as an exponent of Hegelianism occupies in his own country the position occupied in France by Vacherot towards the end of the nineteenth century. Among Catholic philosophers who were influenced by Hegel the most prominent were George Hermes (q.v.) and Anton Gunther (q.v.). Their doctrines, especially their rejection of the distinction between natural and supernatural truth, were condemned by the Church.

Influence of Hegel.—The far-reaching influence of Hegel is due in a measure to the undoubted vastness of the scheme of philosophical synthesis which he conceived and partly realized. A philosophy which undertook to organize under the single formula of triadic development every department of knowledge, from abstract logic up to the philosophy of history, has a great deal of attractiveness for those who are metaphysically inclined. But Hegel’s influence is due in a still larger measure to two extrinsic circumstances. His philosophy is the highest expression of that spirit of collectivism which characterized the nineteenth century, and it is also the most extended application of the principle of development which dominated nineteenth-century thought in literature, science, and even in theology. In theology especially Hegel revolutionized the methods of inquiry. The application of his notion of development to Biblical criticism and to historical investigation is obvious to anyone who compares the spirit and purpose of contemporary theology with the spirit and purpose of the theological literature of the first half of the nineteenth century. In science, too, and in literature, the substitution of the category of becoming for the category of being is a very patent fact, and is due to the influence of Hegel’s method. In political economy and political science the effect of Hegel’s collectivistic conception of the State supplanted to a large extent the individualistic conception which was handed down from the eighteenth century to the nineteenth. Whether these changes are for good or for ill remains to be seen. Some of them have certainly wrought so much evil, especially in theology, in our own day, that one can hardly dare to hope that they will in the future be productive of much benefit to philosophy or to scientific method.

Estimate of Hegel’s Philosophy.—The very vastness of the Hegelian plan doomed it to failure. “The rational alone is real” was a favorite motto of Hegel. It means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. This is a Gnosticism more detrimental to Christian conceptions than the Agnosticism of Huxley and Spencer. It implies that God, being a reality, must be capable of comprehension by the finite mind. It implies, moreover, as Hegel himself admits, that God is only in so far as He is conceived under the category of Becoming; God is a process. It is by this doctrine, which is at once so out of place in a great system of metaphysics and so utterly repugnant to the Christian mind, that Hegel’s philosophy is to be judged. Hegel attempted the impossible. A complete synthesis of reality in terms of reason is possible only to an infinite mind. Man, whose mental power is finite, must be content with a partially complete synthesis of reality, and in his failure to attain completeness he should learn that God, Who evades his rational synthesis and defies the limitations of his categories, is the object of faith as well as of knowledge.


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