Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Introduction

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 1770-1831

German philosopher.

The following entry presents criticism of Hegel from 1971 through 2002. For additional information on Hegel's life and career, see NCLC, Volume 46.

One of the foremost philosophers of the nineteenth century, Hegel is best known for his attempt to elaborate a systematic account of reality. Hegel called this reality the Absolute Spirit, and he explored it in his best-known works, Die Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807; The Phenomenology of Spirit), Wissenschaft der Logik (1812-16; The Science of Logic), and Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, oder Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse (1820; The Philosophy of Right). Hegel is also known for his thought on historical progress, which Karl Marx transformed into his materialist theory of history. Although Hegel's stature has declined significantly, his works continue to be read for their historical importance and the influence they had on some of the great thinkers and intellectual movements of the twentieth century, including Jean-Paul Sartre and the critical school of deconstructionism.

Biographical Information

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1770, Hegel was the eldest son of a revenue officer. As a child, he was taught at home by his mother, a pious Protestant who died when he was eleven. After her death Hegel attended the Stuttgart Gymnasium, a preparatory school where he became acquainted with the Greek and Roman classics as well as German literature and science. Upon graduation, he entered the Tübingen Stift, a Protestant seminary attached to the university in Württemberg, where he studied philosophy and theology. He befriended Friedrich Wilhelm Josef von Schelling, who later gained renown as a philosopher, and Friedrich Hölderlin, who would become one of the great poets of the German Romantic movement. Both men would have a profound effect on Hegel's intellectual development. While at Tübingen Hegel became interested in the works of the philosophers Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Inspired by Hölderlin, he also developed a deep interest in Greek literature and philosophy. He was profoundly affected by the French Revolution, which was occurring at the time, and he participated in a group formed at the seminary in support of it. After completing his course at Tübingen, Hegel decided not to enter the ministry, and in 1793 he began work as a private tutor in Berne, Switzerland, and then in Frankfurt. For four years, while tutoring for several families, he continued to read widely and develop his own ideas on religion, philosophy, politics, and education. In 1799, his father left him a modest income, and Hegel abandoned tutoring in order to pursue his own work—including a study of Kant and his pupil Johann Fichte—in the hope of securing a university position.

In 1801, Hegel moved to the University of Jena, where Schelling was teaching and had earned a reputation as the most innovative of the Kantian philosophers, especially for his reworking of the ideas of Fichte. In 1801, Hegel published Differenz des Fichte'schen und Schelling'schen Systems der Philosophie, in Beziehung auf Reinholds Beiträge zur leichteren Übersicht des Zustandes der Philosophie zu Anfang des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (The Difference between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy), earning himself a reputation as a disciple of Schelling. Hegel worked closely with Schelling, co-editing a philosophy journal with him until Schelling's departure from Jena in 1803. In 1807, Hegel was completing the manuscript of his first major work, The Phenomenology of Spirit, as Napoleon's troops began to burn down his house. After Napoleon's troops occupied Jena and the university was closed, Hegel left the city.

After the Phenomenology was published in 1807, Schelling took offense at some critical remarks in the work's preface, believing they were aimed at him, and he and Hegel broke off their long friendship. Hegel worked for a short...

(The entire section is 1,851 words.)