Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher who is considered the last great German idealist. He made his impact on leftist theory mainly through his influence on the Young Hegelians, among which Karl Marx is the most prominent figure. Marx's theories can generally be understood with just an overview of Hegel's, but as Vladimir Lenin states:

It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!![1]

And of course, understanding the philosophical aspects of Marx's work requires understanding Hegel first.

Hegel's Method

Hegel's philosophy is notoriously difficult to get a handle on, partially because of his insistence to show how thoughts move by themselves, apart from the subjective considerations of the thinker. This method he called objective logic, opposed to the merely subjective logic that thinkers like Aristotle had developed before him, and that after him became mathematically formalised. (More recently, attempts have been made to make sense of Hegelian logic within the framework of modern mathematics. This is done mainly through the application of category theory, another notoriously difficult and abstract field of study.[2])

Further complicating things is Hegel's insistence that philosophy has to be understood as a whole. To understand a philosophical work one cannot focus merely on the starting point, the method, or the results, since it is exactly the unfolding of an argument that contains the meat of it.[3] Similarly, while Hegel is arguably the first great historicist thinker, he warns us that you cannot simply compare and contrast different philosophical works, but have to understand how they all fit together into a historical unfolding of truth.[3]

Triadic movement

His method is regularly said to propagate according to a thesis-antithesis-synthesis triad. While triads are ubiquitous throughout Hegel's system, barely any instances of this formula can be found. They certainly are not terms Hegel proposed himself, and are rather to be found in Fichte's philosophy. In fact, Hegel was critical of any attempt to reduce reason to the mere application of abstract formulas, saying,

"If the knowing subject carries round everywhere the one inert abstract form, taking up in external fashion whatever material comes his way, and dipping it into this element, then this comes about as near to fulfilling what is wanted – viz. a self-origination of the wealth of detail, and a self-determining distinction of shapes and forms – as any chance fancies about the content in question. It is rather a monochrome formalism, which only arrives at distinction in the matter it has to deal with, because this is already prepared and well known."[4]

Anyone with the facts of history in front of them could write a book describing the alleged "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" patterns in it, but this person wouldn't be making new discoveries, and it would get boring very fast to any critical-minded person.

This is not to say that triadic movement is absent from Hegel, not at all. Many reputable Hegelians have considered his work in such terms.

German Idealism

German idealism was a German philosophical movement that originated with the system proposed by Immanuel Kant. After Kant, it comprises three great philosophers, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling and Hegel.

External links

Audio Lectures


  1. Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic — Book III (Subjective Logic or the Doctrine of the Notion)
  2. Work of this sort is collected on the nLab.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Phenomenology of Spirit, preface §2 and §3.
  4. Phenomenology of Spirit, preface §15.