Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Hegel’s philosophy is in the idealist tradition that evolved in Germany in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Immanuel Kant and the post-Kantians felt that the empirical philosophy of David Hume, with its skeptical consequences, was inadequate; that mind through intuition, understanding, and reason could discover the grounds of experience either in an a priori categorical structure or in experience itself, if that experience were looked upon as primarily rational. Kant took the first alternative and argued that although events in themselves are unknowable (thus, keeping an element of Humean skepticism), as phenomena that one perceives, they are constructed according to the categories of the understanding and the forms of intuition. As such, they have their intelligible basis in mind, although there is an empirical content given from the external world. Hegel believed that the categories and forms are as much a part of reality as anything else, that the dichotomy between mind and its objects is a false one, and, hence, that reality is as rational as thought itself. He expressed this view in his famous statement, “What is real (actual) is rational; what is rational is real (actual).”

How is thought to express the nature of reality? Philosophy from Hume through Kant (and earlier) held that the agreement of thought with reality is the criterion of truth. However, Hegel claimed that thought alone brings to light the nature of things; this is the true sense of thought and reality being in agreement.

Like all idealists, Hegel maintained that because reality is known by means of ideas, and because the only thing that can agree with an idea is something like an idea, reality must be mindlike. In seeking to know the nature of things via reflection, the individual concentrates upon the universal character of things. However, thought so directed loses its individual character, for in proceeding in this way, a person reflects as any other individual would who was in pursuit of the truth. Reflective thought thus loses its subjective aspect and becomes objective; thought and reality become one.