Some Remarks about Hegel’s System As a Whole

The Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences is Hegel’s summary of the whole of philosophy. It is quite meaningless to try and summarize Hegel system in a few notes. But it might be helpful to have a raw sketch of it.

First of all, this Encyclopedia is a systematic presentation of the foundational concepts of philosophy. Philosophy must be a speculative science. We have argued that the speculative moment implies that a true philosophical understanding must demonstrate the necessity of a thought or proposition. That leads to an internal coherence within our thinking; the progress between the various statements within a philosophical system is dictated by logic and necessity. The Encyclopedia presents this whole. It does not demonstrate the necessity of all transitions but gives us the whole system in the form of a summary.

For our purposes, it goes too far to sketch the differences between the treatment e.g. of the Phenomenology and the separate study of the Phenomenology of the Spirit. There is a huge difference. Nevertheless, we can say that all other works of Hegel are detailed expositions of what has been summarized in the Encyclopedia.

The Outline of the Philosophy of Right can certainly be understood as the exposition of the “Philosophy of Objective Spirit” within the Encyclopedia. That is the case too, with the separate Science of Logic, and to a lesser degree, with the Lectures on Aesthetics.

The Phenomenology of Spirit

The separate Phenomenology is the introduction to the System, that is itself recapitulated within the System [of the Encyclopedia] in a different form. The Phenomenology demonstrates the process in which the naïve consciousness develops itself to the point where it becomes able to think in a speculative manner. In this process, our natural consciousness goes through mental experiences in which it purifies itself, loses the opposition and contradiction to and with its object. Ultimately consciousness comes to understand that the active form of reason within our thinking, must also be the form of reason of reality itself: both as nature and as spirit. Naïve consciousness considers itself and its object to be separate and opposite realities. In the end, consciousness understands, that its understanding of its object, is also truly an understanding of itself. In sum, the Phenomenology deals with the apparition of philosophical science, the way in which the standpoint of speculative philosophy is reached.

The Science of Logic

The first philosophical science that now can be developed, is the science of the purely rational, that is to say, the “Science of the Pure Idea, that is the Idea in the abstract element of thought.” We use the word “pure” to designate the fact that we abstract from reality, that is to say, that we do not consider how this rationality appears in reality. We are only dealing with the fundamental determinations that belong to thought itself, in their inner coherence. It looks a bit like the system of categories in the Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. The difference is, that Kant gives us an arbitrary list of these categories, whereas Hegel demonstrates how they develop out of each other dialectically. All categories are determinations of the one and absolute Idea.

Starting with the most elementary determination of thought, i.e. being, we begin a dialectic process in which this first category gets more and more inner determinacy. As we said before, the transitions between these categories are not thought of by Hegel as external; on the contrary, by concentrating on a single category and expressing its contents, we find that the category itself transitions necessarily into another; in terms of the system, into the next one. The whole of the Logic is, therefore, the exposition of the contents of our categories, by these categories themselves. Everything that can be thought, is demonstrated in its limited meaning within the whole of the Absolute Idea. It derives its meaning from its place within the system.

The Philosophy of Nature

Within the Encyclopedia, we find the Philosophy of Nature next . This is the appearance of the Idea, as the opposite of its own spiritual nature. Material nature does not have interiority of thought but is defined by externality in itself and as a different reality. Within nature subjectivity and interiority are lacking, simply because nature does not act consciously or writes a physics manual. Nature does not have a relationship to itself. That is the opposite of the Idea, that is defined by subjectivity and interiority. Nature, therefore, is the estranged and external shape in which the Idea exists.

However, if we have sciences of nature and a philosophy of nature, it is obvious that nature allows for a rational description and explanation. Nature has rational laws. It has levels of externality, and within the organic nature, we ultimately find a glimpse of the subjectivity of the Idea. Every living organism exercises its own identity in a relationship to its other. It is dependent upon an environment, feats of other organisms, as some sort of communal existence. But it does not reach a spiritual existence, which is defined by the ability to be itself in relation to its other; nature does not have reflexivity, it is not directed toward itself.

The Philosophy of Spirit

Within this section, the Idea transforms itself into a mode of existence that is in conformity with its essence. We now find a spiritual reality. That is exactly what “Spirit” means, it is to return of the estranged rationality within nature to itself, to become interiority, to be with itself, to become subjectivity. The Spirit is not simply there, as a separate reality that is the presupposition of the logic of nature. The Spirit is involved in a process of becoming, or in specific spiritual terms, it has a history. The Spirit in its ultimate subjective shape and freedom is the end product of the hard labor through which it develops itself through many historic constellations. Within this realm of the Spirit, everything that is contained within the Idea in its logical shape has become a concrete reality. We now find levels and shapes of human understanding, that is both logical and real.

Within the philosophy of Subjective Spirit encounter the emergence of natural beings that are characterized by interiority. This subjective moment is still clouded by the distinction and opposition to its own objectivity. Here we find the classic categories of an apology and psychology, like sentiments, desire, consciousness, perception, imagination, volition, language etc. but this is not the endpoints of the development of the Spirit. The individual human subject, and it’s in their life of feeling and thinking, as opposed to the objective nature of the world, is not the highest form of subjectivity. This is a subjectivity that exists within a world that it has not produce itself. Therefore, in the anthropology and psychology, we have not yet reached the stage of the Spirit.

That is why we now need to move on to the philosophy of the Objective Spirit, where we find the world of justice, morality, labor, social institutions, politics and history itself. The Spirit constructs a separate externality and objectivity. And objectivity that does not have the basic characteristic of nature, because we do find here conscious action, reflexivity, and internal coherence. Objective Spirit is like a second nature, in which the Spirit is embodied and in which it can recognize itself. This is the basis on which the Outline of the Philosophy of Right rests.

Finally, we come to the philosophy of Absolute Spirit. Although in society and history the Spirit can recognize itself, it only recognizes itself in its other. Social institutions, politics, and history are to some degree external. This final externality must also be sublated (negated and elevated). The true understanding of the Spirit, that all reality is identical to itself, is the final outcome of Hegel’s System. This final step rests on the ability of the Spirit, to truly understand, what it has gone through in his development. It’s a looking back upon the processor history in which it comes to be.

The Three Forms of the Absolute Spirit

The Spirit is able to express its absolute nature, in the shape of something that can be perceived by the senses. In the classic form of Art, we find the complete harmony of the spiritual and the material. The human body e.g. appears within Greek sculpture as the full expression of self-aware consciousness. This leads to a philosophy of absolute Art, that Hegel dealt with in his Aesthetics, which has a basic structure that is not easily connected to the position of such a science of art within the Encyclopedia.

This is transcended by the Christian religion, in which the Absolute is grasped by sentiments and imaginative representations. According to Hegel the concepts of the Trinity and the incarnation do not truly express an understanding of the Absolute. The identity of the finite and the incident, of the human and the divine, is perceived by the imagination. A Christian community senses, more than understands, the absolute nature of the Spirit.

Within Christianity there is a speculative content, that can only be truly understood within philosophy. Now the Spirit thinks itself, understands itself conceptually. So we end up with the concept of philosophy itself. The Absolute Spirit in its self-understanding is in actuality what philosophy does. Philosophy, therefore, is the way in which human subjectivity executes the understanding of the Spirit by itself.

The Philosophy of History

This sketch of Hegel’s system, presupposes that the Encyclopedia gives us the solid basis for understanding Hegel’s intentions. However, the Dutch philosopher Jan Hollak has provided us with an alternative view, that sees the whole system in these three parts: first the appearance of the Spirit in the separate Phenomenology. Then the self-understanding of philosophy in the Encyclopedia – up to and including the spirit as Absolute Idea. But then the third part of the System, which is the separate Philosophy of History. The Phenomenology describes the Spirit in its being in itself, the Encyclopedia as becoming for itself, and then as History as becoming in and for itself. The Spirit these only real as its history.

This approach may shed some light on Hegel’s idea, but philosophy is nothing more than “its own time grassed the form of thought.” This does not mean that philosophy is simply limited by the era in which it is produced. And it certainly does not mean, that Hegel intended to say, that in his philosophy, history came to an end, as Fukuyama has argued. It simply means that philosophy is the attempt to understand the inner rationality of what is – not the rationality of what could be, or should be. It is the exposition of the true and essential in its own culture.

It also does not mean, that philosophy is merely concerned with the actuality of the moment. If Hegel’s philosophy is indeed a philosophy of history, it takes the actuality of the moment as the result of a process. What has gone before is present in what now is. How come we understand our present as the result of the continuous process of self-expression of the Spirit? How can we understand their own era as a stage in this development of the Spirit? Philosophy is not a victim of its own time. Nor is it the schoolmaster that can tell the world how it should be. Only when a culture has reached a particular stage of his own development, when a culture has grown old, is philosophy able to understand it. But no renewal of culture can be expected from philosophy. The Spirit of our time, when considered as the Spirit that thinks itself, is present within philosophy. All beams of light come together in one focal point. To have a philosophy is not to have a theory. To have a philosophy is to become enlightened by the inner rationality of our culture itself.

We cannot simply reiterate Hegel’s propositions, nor can we take his system as the final word in philosophy. But his thinking does remind us continuously, that a philosophy of our time must comply with certain specific demands, and must be nothing less than the self- understanding of the Spirit in its present stage.

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