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(b.1770 - d.1831)


(Some of the material and illustrations are from F. Wiedman's Hegel)



The house in which Hegel was born is still standing today, having survived the terrible devastation of World War II. It is now located in the center of town at 53 Eberhardstrasse, Stuttgart, Germany. On September 29th 1769 George Ludwig Hegel and Maria Magdalena Fromm were married and on August 27, 1770 they had a son who was christened Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Two children were to follow, Christina, the daughter, who eventually outlived her famous brother, contracted a nervous disorder while employed as governess for Count von Berlichingen. Latter while traveling in 1832, within a year of her brother's death, she committed suicide. George Ludwig, their youngest child, died at an early age while an officer in the Russian Campaign.

Hegel proved himself to be an excellent student at the Stuttgart Gymnasium in Swabia, where ancient Greek and Roman classics were the main focus of study. He grew up and was schooled in a region which had produced an outstanding array of writers, philosophers, and theologians including Schelling, Hegel and Schiller. His father wanted him to become a minister and that was the direction he planned to pursue.


In the winter of 1788 Hegel registered for the semester at the University of Tübingen. As the recipient of a scholarship he lived in the Theological Seminary, situated on the slopes of the Neckar River. It is here that he roomed with Hölderlin and Schelling (1790-91). Although he was a good student, he was often known to carouse with his friends. His burning interest in Rousseau and practical and political matters, left him with little concern for theories or metaphysics - although he did read Plato, Kant, Schiller, Jacobi, etc.

BERNE (1793)

Hegel officially received his Masters degree in September 1790, and three years later in June 1793 graduated from the Theological Seminary. Sometime during this period he changed his mind about becoming a minister. Hegel accepted a position as tutor in Berne later that same year, around October 1793, in the home of Karl F. Steiger. Hegel was granted full use of Steiger's father's library with many books on philosophy, history, and political works. It was here that he returned to Kant's works, and the study of Fichte.


A letter from Hölderlin who was residing in Frankfurt, invited Hegel to come and work there for Herr Gogul as a tutor, a position he accepted in 1797 because it gave him more time for his personal studies. By 1800 he had written the "Fragment of a System in Frankfurt" which contained in the closing lines the statement, "Every individual is a blind link in the chain of absolute necessity, along which the world develops. Every individual can raise himself to domination over a great length of this chain only if he realizes the goal of this great necessity and, by virtue of this knowledge, learns to speak the magic words which evokes its shape... this knowledge can be gathered from philosophy alone." Hegel's political interest continued in Frankfurt and he intensely studied Kant's moral, legal and ethical philosophy. He especially found a direct conflict with Kant's insistence that State and Church had no business with each other. For Hegel Church and State cannot be severed, "A human being must not be split into a discrete political and discrete religious being."

JENA (1801)

After the death of his father in 1799 he received an inheritance which allowed him to give up tutoring to prepare himself for an academic career. Hegel wrote to his old friend Schelling who was living in Jena, and Schelling invited him to come there to live. He accepted the invitation in 1801 and shortly thereafter he wrote "The Difference Between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy." In this essay Hegel expressed that Fichte had not attained a concept of nature or ethics, while Schelling's philosophy of nature and mind was more acceptable, although, with caution, pointing out the shortcomings of his philosophy and expressing his own philosophical view point.

On his 31st birthday in August 1801, after presenting his dissertation on "De orbitis planetarium" criticizing Newton's scientific method, Hegel passed the qualifying exam giving him the right to lecture at a German University. Thereafter he became an unsalaried lecturer and spoke on logic, metaphysics, natural law and the history of philosophy. During this time he had gained many friends in Jena, and besides Schelling, his most loyal and helpful friend was Freiderich Niethammer, who moved to Würzburg in 1803. Schelling accepted a tutoring position at the University of Würzburg that same year, so Hegel had to terminate their joint work on the "Critical Journal of Philosophy" which they had started in 1802. Hegel had written most of the articles including "On the Essence of Philosophical Criticism" in which he challenged those who were under the delusion that they could establish different philosophies side by side and forget that all philosophy is one. He also opposed the idea that one's thought could be so original as if not to have any basis in the slow development of history, as well as the erroneous idea of popularizing speculative thinking which could only lead to its degeneration.

Beside his writings of a political nature is "Faith and Knowledge or the Reflective Philosophy of Subjectivity". It is significant because of its penetrating critique of the philosophies of Kant, Fichte and Jacobi, explaining that the "reflective philosophy" of these three depict reason only at the empirical level, and in opposing thought to the finite they remain wholly within its sphere. Such philosophy can never know God, or the infinite but only Man "as a fixed insurmountable finitude of reason... that can daub itself here and there with an alien metaphysics." He then goes on, perhaps in reference to the Mona Lisa, "...as if art, limited to portraiture, sought its ideal by adding a touch of yearning to the eye of an ordinary face, or a melancholy smile to the mouth, yet was forbidden to depict the gods, who are beyond yearning and melancholy (as if the representation of the eternal images were possible only at the expense of the human)..."

Hegel considered empiricism to be abstract, upon which a superficial metaphysics is hoisted by reference to faith in something higher. That the infinite cannot stand against the finite on equal footing is the truth of the infinite. The true infinite must rather annul the independent truth of the finite and claim it as a moment of itself. Looking for a chance to establish himself in the university, Hegel wrote to Goethe in 1804 who helped him gain an associate professorship at the Ministry at Weimar, though at a very meager salary.


In 1805 Hegel decided to publish his book "The Phenomenology of Spirit" an introductory work to what would become his entire system of philosophy. It was by his friend Niethammer's intervention that he was able to get the financing required to finish the manuscript. By October 1806 Napoleon and his men came riding through Jena and plundered the city. In the midst of the battle, Hegel managed to send off the rest of the manuscript. But his financial situation became a drain on him and once again he wrote to his friend Schelling at the University of Munich, asking for some help in getting a more secure position. Schelling assured him he would do what he could. In the mean time Niethammer came through with an offer for him to edit the "Bamberger Zeitung." This was not exactly the type of work Hegel wanted, but at least it served the immediate purpose of providing some income. It was in 1807 that his landlord's wife, Christina Burkhardt (whom he at one time even considered marrying), bore him an illegitimate son (her third) and this further prompted him to accept the position with the stipulation that it was temporary, in the hope that an offer from Heidelberg was forthcoming.


Feeling unhappy with the routine of the newspaper work he again wrote to Niethammer who this time offered to help him get a position as headmaster at the Nuremberg Gymnasium. Relieved to get out of the newspaper job, Hegel gladly accepted the offer in November 1808. However, the financial problems at the Gymnasium proved to be so difficult that Hegel again wrote to Niethammer that he would be eager to relinquish the job to anyone else.

Since he was also professor of philosophy along with his headmaster duties, he was content with the teaching part of his life at Nuremberg. His students were at the high school level, but Hegel never considered himself too sophisticated to convey the principles of philosophy to younger minds. Rather he may have considered it an opportunity to gain greater clarity of his ideas, and further his conviction that philosophy was teachable. It also provided the opportunity for him to develop the use of his original philosophical terminology.

Hegel, however, felt that philosophy should not be taught at the secondary school level, first, because the students might lose interest in it at the higher levels, thinking they already had enough, and secondly the instructors, lacking proper philosophical training, might arouse more aversion than interest in the subject.

Rather than teaching concrete philosophical concepts to the young, Hegel thought that the abstract forms should be emphasized, that they "must lose their eyesight and their hearing, they must be diverted from thinking concretely, be withdrawn into the inner night of the soul, on this basis they must learn to seek, to retain definitions, and to make specific differentiations." The more natural method of going from concrete to abstract, just because it is natural is therefore unscholarly and unscientific. Furthermore, its is erroneous to regard the natural method as easier than teaching abstract thinking, just as learning to read the letters of the alphabet is easier then learning words. It was his lectures at the high school and the notebooks that the students kept that formed the basis of Karl Rosenkrantz edition of the "Philosophical Propaedeutics." In his tenure at Nuremberg, Hegel was a deeply respected, dutiful and dedicated teacher.


By 1811 at the age of 41 and again with some encouragement from his friend Niethammer, Hegel married the twenty-year-old Marie Helena von Tucher (1791-1855) of Nuremberg, thus joining the ranks of men like Fichte and Schelling who were also married, in contrast to philosophers like Kant, Spinoza and Descartes who were all bachelors. Their marriage took place on September 16, 1811 and endured in mutual love until Hegel's death in 1831. Their first daughter died shortly after her birth. Their first son, Karl, lived to the age of 85 and became professor of history at the University of Erlangen. Their next son, Emanuel, named after his godfather, Niethammer, became president of the province of Brandenburg, living to 77 years of age. Hegel's illegitimate son, named Ludwig, although accepted into his fathers house, may have felt somewhat estranged and later, at the young age of 24, died in the military in August 1831, only a few months before his father was to suddenly pass away.


A few months after his marriage the first two parts of "The Science of Logic" were completed. Written mostly during his tenure at the Nuremberg Gymnasium, the circumstances there did not permit him to render the manuscript into a more readable form. It remains one of the most difficult philosophical works today. The subject matter itself is not easy to grasp, and as Hegel explains, "... 400 to 500 pp. constitute only the first part, and they do not yet contain anything of what is usually called logic, that they are metaphysical logic...." In a letter to Niethammer he says, concerning the book, "... achieving a suitable form would have taken me another year, an I need money to live on."

For Hegel, Logic was not the same as the conventional idea of it. For him it was, "God's thoughts prior to the creation." Even Aristotle's Logic which consisted of the forms and laws of thinking in concepts, judgments and conclusions, made up only a part of Hegel's Logic, which included, beyond form and contents, the timeless and non-spatial being-in-itself of the Idea, of Spirit (Geist). Concept and logical propositions are not only forms or ways of thinking but essences of thinking. The entire process of the world can be understood as the self development of the Idea or Spirit. At the same time this process or self development is the essential dialectical structure of philosophy itself, where thinking is consonant with experience.


By 1816 Hegel was presented with a three choices for a professorship at Erlangen, Berlin, and Heidelberg. The rather cool and somewhat demeaning offers from Erlangen and Berlin left him with no other choice but to accept Heidelberg. He took up his post there in October 1816. By the end of that year he announced the appearance of the "Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline" formed on the basis of his lectures at the Nuremberg Gymnasium. The book was published in 1817 and was revised and expanded in 1827 and again in 1830. Anecdotes began to spread of his being an absent-minded professor who often became so absorbed in thought that he would forget about his environs, a characteristic Hegel himself noted about Socrates.

BERLIN (1818)

Due to the efforts of Karl von Altenstein, an admirer of Hegel's, a generous offer to accept the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Berlin came to Hegel in 1818, which he gladly accepted, seeing that all his terms would be cordially met. In his inaugural lecture he states, "Obstructions to philosophy are: on the one hand, the involvement of the mind in the problems of necessity and everyday life; and on the other hand, the variety of opinions. The mind captivated by this vanity, leaves itself no room for reason, which does not seek anything of its own. This vanity must banish itself to its own nothingness as soon as striving for substantial value becomes a necessity for mankind, and such value alone asserts itself..." He criticized the practically disappearing science of philosophy in the rest of the world by those who "... do not seek to know the truth but only phenomena, the temporal and accidental--only vain things, and it is this vanity which is spreading through an monopolising philosophy." And further that man "... should honor himself and consider himself worthy of the highest." As Hegel's fame grew, the leading men would not visit Berlin without going to his lectures or dropping in at his home.

Hegel and his wife frequented the theater and opera, and attended other concerts. His three sons were all required to study music. Musical evenings were hosted at their home, as were other social gatherings. Hegel liked to play cards with his friends, and always read the daily newspapers. His sons remember him often commenting on the political events of the day and his fondness for drinking coffee. At home, Hegel would sit at his desk with a sleeping gown on over his clothes wearing an unfashionable black beret on his head. The lithographer Julius L. Sebbers in 1828 portrayed him in this guise though Hegel, himself, disliked the picture. Hegel's wife quipped to his sister, Christiane, that it probably annoyed him because of its "uncomfortable likeness" to him.


Hegel's "Basic Outline of the Philosophy of Right" was published in 1821 for use in connection with his lectures. It was an attempt to present practical philosophy in its compact entirety, "Hegel's entire system in the positive element of practical reason." Because "philosophy grasps its current era in thought," and because law is itself a product of reason, it is not the task of philosophy, to replace political reality, but to understand the rationality in that which is. From this came the famous statement, "The real is the rational, the rational is the real."

After that, the only lengthy writing which Hegel accomplished was the elaboration of his lecturer courses on the "Philosophy of Religion" and the "Philosophy of World History." In his Philosophy of History the principle was again "reason rules the world, and therefore world history advances rationally." Thus Hegel saw that, "the aim of world history is that the mind acquire the knowledge of what it itself really is an that it make the knowledge concrete, realize it for an existing world, and produced itself as something objective." The Weltgeist or World Spirit achieves its purpose through the actions of individuals, especially the world historical personalities who embody the universal Concept (Begriff) though they may feel compelled by their own individual purposes.

Hegel's "Lectures on Aesthetics" were only published posthumously by Hotho between 1835-38. The substance of Religion coincides with that of Philosophy as does Art. The State and Church are also related as Philosophy is to Religion. Ultimately philosophy is not just absolute knowledge for man, but the consummation of Gods reality, thus giving philosophy the highest rank ever accorded it.

Hegel's wife did not accompany him on his travels. This led him to write many letters to her describing the details of his journeys, such as his cordial relation with Goethe, his visit to the Hague, his praise for Holland and the beauty of Vienna. At home his married life in Berlin was enjoyed with much socializing and parties. He was adored by his wife and children, and did everything he could to make his guests feel comfortable. But he also possessed a sternness that would make anyone tremble at his rebuke, and his categorical ways often put him at odds with even his friends. His firm stand on political issues often became a source of anger and vexation for himself.



A cholera epidemic swept through Berlin in the Summer of 1831. Quite unexpectedly on November 14, 1831 Hegel, at the age of 61, died with the diagnosis of "cholera sicca." There are, however, those who maintain that the cause of death may have been due to the exacerbation of a chronic stomach ailment that had become noticeable during his trip to Paris in 1827, and again in the summer of 1830 when he was bedridden for three months. No one had even the slightest idea that his illness that November would lead to his death. His funeral was a dignified one deserving of a person of his importance. He was buried next to Fichte and near Karl Solger, in a place he had personally chosen at Solger's funeral.


Following Hegel's death, his best trained students set themselves the task of continuing his work and handing down his teachings to future generations. It was only in the Natural Sciences that their influence seemed to gain few advocates. None of Hegel's students seemed to have the creative genius of their master however, and soon their pedantic efforts became an object of ridicule. When Schelling took the Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Berlin, although he attracted much attention he could only present a doctrine which was incomparably inferior to Hegel's treatment, and had to make up for such deficiencies with mystical and confusing phraseology, without advancing his or anyone else's thinking. Thus natural philosophy soon after vanished from Berlin and with it the age of Natural Science exerted its unrestrained influence.

Hegel's opponents were not only found in the Natural Sciences. His idea of history as unfolding reason was attacked by those who held a more empiric or even romantic perspective. Even the students of Hegelianism divided into opposing sides, the conservative right wing defending the historical tradition in politics, philosophy, and theology, and the radical left wing turning the dialectical method into a principle of revolution. We should note that both sides were directed toward the more historico-empirical dimension of existence devoid of the current of Hegel's rational, conceptual and logical development of Spirit. Perhaps no greater opposition arose to Hegelianism than in the relationship of Philosophy to Religion. David Strauss, Bruno Bauer and Karl Rosenkrantz each took a different stance on the Hegelian interpretation of Christianity.


In 1839 Ludwig Feuerbach published a critique of Hegelian philosophy as a sublation of Hegel's philosophy, bringing the absolute down from Spirit to Man, changing men from theologians to anthropologists, lovers of God into lovers of humanity. By the 1850's the triumphs of empirical natural sciences became evident and the philosophies of materialism prevalent. Hegel's Philosophy of Nature, in particular, was laughed at.

By 1845 Karl Marx like Feuerbach tried to interpret Hegel with man and nature as the subject of dialectical development, rather than the Absolute Idea. Furthermore, where Hegel held that self-awareness was produced out of man's work, Marx considered work to be the self-alienation of man in that what he produces no longer belongs to himself in paid labor. Friedrich Engles also tried, in the same way, to establish a more naturally grounded subject for philosophy.