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Hegel

Week of: 
June 6, 2006
What is it: 

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is without doubt one of the most influential philosophers of all time. He has, however, been largely ignored by American "analytic" philosophers of the twentieth century. John in particular, and Ken to a lesser extent, don't know nearly as much about Hegel and his philosophy as they should. They will be lively if somewhat obtuse students for Allen Wood, Stanford's resident expert on virtually all aspects of modern philosophy, when Philosophy Talk goes to the bookshelf and pulls down the big volumes of Hegel's collected works.

Listening Notes: 

Ken and John admit their ignorance about Hegel. When Ken and John received their education, Hegel was thought of as "the anti-christ of analytical philosophy". Ken quotes Rorty as saying "the problem with analytical philosophy is that it is stuck in a Kantian moment The great thing about literary criticism is that it has advanced to a Hegelian moment."

Ken and John introduce Allen Wood, professor of philosophy at Stanford University. Wood asserts that Hegel was the outcome of the German Idealist movement that Kant had begun. Hegel's mature system was the culmination of that idea. A widely held idea at the time was that what French did in the political realm, Germans were to do in the philosophical realm, namely revolutionizing it in a positive way.

Hegel was a constitutional monarchist, even though he believed in representative institutions. John tries to draw an analogy between current conservatism and Hegel's political orientation at the time. Wood points out that Hegel believed in the regulation of free markets so that the gap between the rich and poor would not reach a harmful degree. This side of Hegel would not be favored by current conservatives. Wood identifies underpinnings of the Marxist idea of proletariat as a revolutionary class in Hegel.

Allen Wood debunks a common misconception about Hegel. Hegel actually did not invent the "thesis, antithesis, synthesis" but Fichte and Schelling originated these terms. Hegel used these terms only when discussing their work.

Hegel's dialectic is best thought of how different concepts show their limitations and develop into other concepts. Some concepts run into philosophical contradictions at their limitations and the way one resolves these contradictions is by moving onto the next concept.

Fukuyama's "End of History" wasn't inspired by Hegel but by a Russian named Alexander Kurjev. Hegel thought that we were limited about what we could know about the future. He cheekily asserted "the history ends in the present." Hegel doesn't think that history is just accidents and bad behavior. Even human bad behavior plays a rational role in history. Hegel's idea is that history can be understood based on reason.

  • Polly Stryker The Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 04:20): Polly Stryker interviews John McCumber, the president of Hegelian Society.
  • Ian Schoales The 60-second Philosopher (Seek to 49:40): Ian Schoales discusses Hegel's life, what was said about Hegel and Hegel's influence.

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