Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (HAY-guhl), one of the leading philosophers of modern Europe, did not develop a distinctive philosophy of his own; rather, he integrated the contributions of previous philosophers, added his own concepts, and thereby produced a historical philosophical system. In this regard, Hegel can be compared to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. He believed that historical sequence in the development of philosophy is extremely important in understanding the changing human mind.
Hegel is perhaps as important for the stimulation he provided his students as for his own writing. Inspired by Hegel, they produced significant work in the history of ideas, art, and religion. They also published many of their notes from Hegel’s classes.
Hegel was the son of a Stuttgart revenue officer. Before he entered the Stuttgart grammar school, his mother had taught him the rudiments of Latin, which was still a vital part of the European academic curriculum. As a student, Hegel kept a file of extracts on morals, mathematics, and other topics from newspapers and major literary works of the day.
At the age of eighteen, Hegel began his university studies at Tübingen. Although he studied theology, he devoted much more time to the study of philosophy. A contributing factor to this change of direction may have been a lifelong deficiency in oral exposition.
Leaving Tübingen in 1793 with no desire to enter the ministry, Hegel became a private tutor in Berne, Switzerland. During three years there, he spent his free time reading Greek and Roman classics as well as more recent writers such as the historian Edward Gibbon and the philosophers Baron Montesquieu and Immanuel Kant. Stimulated especially by Kant, Hegel wrote essays in which he tried to interpret Christianity according to Kant’s ideas. These essays were published more than a century later as part of Early Theological Writings.
In late 1796, Hegel moved to...
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