What is Hegel’s philosophy ultimately about? My answer to that question involves a reading of the structure of Hegel’s philosophy as a whole.
Hegel’s system of philosophy is aimed at understanding Reality in the absolute sense of the word, i.e. as Spirit, as the identity of subjectivity and “substance.” Expressions like “being with itself in its other”, or: “identity of identity and difference”, or even the notion of the Absolute are mere “markers” for what Hegel can only say with the whole of his system. It can be confusing that Hegel uses different markers to express the idea of the whole. In the various parts of the system the ultimate and most adequate category for this Ultimate Reality is expressed in different ways.
- • In the Phenomenology of Spirit, which deals with the Absolute as it appears to itself in the form of specific types of knowledge, the absolute is basically self-consciousness i.e. Absolute Knowledge.
- • In the Logic we find the notion of the Idea, as the highest conceptual expression of the identity of subjectivity and objectivity.
- • In the Encyclopedia that deals with the order of philosophical categories as such, the highest concept that expresses the Absolute is the notion of Philosophy, the philosophical sciences in itself, as the triad of Logic, Natural philosophy and Spiritual philosophy.
- • The Philosophy of Religion shows how Christianity, in its doctrinal content (incarnation, trinity) and in its reality (congregation of the Spirit) is the highest form of religion and the only one in which the principle of the Spirit – the Absolute being manifest to and within the believer – is adequately expressed.
- • In the Philosophy of Right the Absolute is understood as the reality of organized freedom that is real as the world history of States.
- • In the Aesthetics we find this highest level both of reality and human understanding expressed as Romantic self expression – implying also the “end” of Art.
But Hegel’s thinking in all of these separate perspectives is ultimately focused on an understanding of History, in the sense of the dynamic self-development of the Absolute Spirit through human actions and concepts, in the organization of liberty called the State, in Art, Religion and Philosophy – in short, within human culture.
In that sense, the pivotal perspective in which the entire system is expressed, is Hegel’s Philosophy of History. Only as the Spirit (Idea etc.) that realizes itself through History and that is in that dynamic sense identical to itself through time, is the Absolute conceived in a manner that is adequate to its nature.