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Hegel background II
economic thought
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On the Origin of Facts

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

First published Thu Feb 13, 1997; substantive revision Mon Jun 26, 2006

Hegel's Philosophy

Hegel's own pithy account of the nature of philosophy given in the “Preface” to his Elements of the Philosophy of Right captures a characteristic tension in his philosophical approach and, in particular, in his approach to the nature and limits of human cognition. “Philosophy,” he says there, “is its own time raised to the level of thought.”

On the one hand we can clearly see in the phrase “its own time” the suggestion of an historical or cultural conditionedness and variability which applies even to the highest form of human cognition, philosophy itself. The contents of philosophical knowledge, we might suspect, will come from the historically changing contents of contemporary culture. On the other, there is the hint of such contents being “raised” to some higher level, presumably higher than other levels of cognitive functioning — those based in everyday perceptual experience, for example, or those characteristic of other areas of culture such as art and religion. This higher level takes the form of “thought,” a type of cognition commonly taken as capable of having “eternal” contents (think of Plato and Frege, for example).

This antithetical combination within human cognition of the temporally-conditioned and the eternal, a combination which reflects a broader conception of the human being as what Hegel describes elsewhere as a “finite-infinite,” has led to Hegel being regarded in different ways by different types of philosophical readers. For example, an historically-minded pragmatist like Richard Rorty, distrustful of all claims or aspirations to the “God's-eye view,” could praise Hegel as a philosopher who had introduced this historically reflective dimension into philosophy (and setting it on the characteristically “hermeneutic” path which has predominated in modern continental philosophy) but who had unfortunately still remained bogged down in the remnants of the Platonistic idea of the search for ahistorical truths. Those adopting such an approach to Hegel tend to have in mind the (relatively) young author of the Phenomenology of Spirit and have tended to dismiss as “metaphysical” later and more systematic works like the Science of Logic. In contrast, the British Hegelian movement at the end of the nineteenth century, for example, tended to ignore the Phenomenology and the more historicist dimensions of his thought, and found in Hegel a systematic metaphysician whose Logic provided a systematic and definitive philosophical ontology of an idealist type. This latter traditional “metaphysical” view of Hegel dominated Hegel reception for most of the twentieth century, but has over the last few decades been contested by many Hegel scholars who have offered an alternative “post-Kantian” view of Hegel.

The traditional “metaphysical” view of Hegel's philosophy

The peculiarity of Hegel's form of idealism, on this account, lies in his idea that the mind of God becomes actual only via its particularization in the minds of “his” finite creatures. Thus, in our consciousness of God, we somehow serve to realize his own self-consciousness, and, thereby, his own perfection. With its dark mystical roots, and its overtly religious content, it is hardly surprising that the philosophy of Hegel so understood is regarded as being very distant to the largely secular and “scientific” conceptions of philosophy that have been dominant in the twentieth century.

An important consequence of Hegel's metaphysics, so understood, concerns history and the idea of historical development or progress, and it is as an advocate of an idea concerning the logically-necessitated teleological course of history that Hegel is most often derided. To many critics, Hegel had not only advocated a disastrous political conception of the state and the relation of its citizens to it, a conception prefiguring twentieth-century totalitarianism, but he had also tried to underpin such advocacy with dubious logico-metaphysical speculations. With his idea of the development of “spirit” in history, Hegel is seen as literalising a way of talking about different cultures in terms of their “spirits,” of constructing a developmental sequence of epochs typical of nineteenth-century ideas of linear historical progress, and then enveloping this story of human progress in terms of one about the developing self-conscious of the cosmos-God itself.

Hegel's Philosophy of Right

Perhaps one of the most influential parts of Hegel's Philosophy of Right concerns his analysis of the contradictions of the unfettered capitalist economy. On the one hand, Hegel agreed with Adam Smith that the interlinking of productive activities allowed by the modern market meant that “subjective selfishness” turned into a “contribution towards the satisfaction of the needs of everyone else.” But this did not mean that he accepted Smith's idea that this “general plenty” produced thereby diffused (or “trickled down” ) though the rest of society. From within the type of consciousness generated within civil society, in which individuals are grasped as “bearers of rights” abstracted from the particular concrete relationships to which they belong, Smithean optimism may seem justified. But this simply attests to the one-sidedness of this type of abstract thought, and the need for it to be mediated by the type of consciousness based in the family in which individuals are grasped in terms of the way they belong to the social body. In fact, the unfettered operations of the market produces a class caught in a spiral of poverty. Starting from this analysis, Marx later used it as evidence of the need to abolish the individual proprietorial rights at the heart of Hegel's “civil society” and socialise the means of production. Hegel, however, did not draw this conclusion. His conception of the exchange contract as a form of recognition that played an essential role within the state's capacity to provide the conditions for the existence of rational and free-willing subjects would certainly prevent such a move. Rather, the economy was to be contained within an over-arching institutional framework of the state, and its social effects offset by welfarist state intervention.


Collected Works

  • Gesammelte Werke, Rheinisch-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, ed., (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1968-).
  • Werke in zwanzig Bänden, Moldenhauer, Eva and Michel, Karl Markus, ed., (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971).

English Translations of Key Texts:

  • Early Theological Writings, trans. T. M. Knox, (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1948).
  • The Difference Between Fichte's and Schelling's System of Philosophy, trans. H. S. Harris and W. Cerf, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977).
  • Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).
  • Hegel's Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, translation and running commentary by Yirmiyahu Yovel, (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2005).
  • Hegel's Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller, (London: Allen and Unwin, 1969).
  • The Encyclopedia Logic: Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991).
  • Philosophy of Nature (Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences), trans. Michael John Perry, 3 vols, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1970).
  • Hegel's Philosophy of Mind: Being Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, trans. William Wallace, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
  • Political Writings, ed. Laurence Dickey and H. B. Nisbet, trans. H. B Nisbet, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Secondary Literature

  • Avineri, Shlomo, 1972, Hegel's Theory of the Modern State, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Beiser, Frederick C., 1993, The Cambridge Companion to Hegel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Beiser, Frederick C., 2005, Hegel, New York and London: Routledge.
  • Brandom, Robert B., 1994, Making It Explicit, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Brandom, Robert B., 2002, Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical Essays in the Metaphysics of Intentionality, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Crites, Stephen, 1998, Dialectic and Gospel in the Development of Hegel's Thinking, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • de Laurentiis, Allegra, 2005, Subjects in the Ancient and Modern World: On Hegel's Theory of Subjectivity, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Dickey, Laurence, 1987, Hegel: Religion, Economics, and Politics of Spirit, 1770-1807, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ferrarin, Alfredo, 2001, Hegel and Aristotle, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Forster, Michael N., 1989, Hegel and Skepticism, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Forster, Michael N., 1998, Hegel's Idea of a Phenomenology of Spirit, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Franco, Paul, 1999, Hegel's Philosophy of Freedom, New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Fulda, Hans Friedrich, 1965, Das Problem einer Einleitung in Hegels Wissenschaft der Logik, Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.
  • Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 1976, Hegel's Dialectic: Five Hermeneutical Studies, P. Christopher Smith (trans.), New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Harris, H. S., 1972, Hegel's Development: Toward the Sunlight 1770-1801, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Harris, H. S., 1983, Hegel's Development II: Night Thoughts (Jena 1801-6), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Harris, H. S., 1997, Hegel's Ladder, 2 volumes, Indianapolis: Hackett.
  • Hartmann, Klaus, 1972, “Hegel: A Non-Metaphysical View,” in A. MacIntyre (ed.) Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays, New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday; reprinted in Klaus Hartmann, Studies in Foundational Philosophy, Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1988.
  • Horstmann, Rolf-Peter, 1990, Wahrheit aus dem Begriff: eine Einführung in Hegel, Frankfurt am Main: Hain.
  • Hösle, Vittorio, 1987, Hegels System: Der Idealismus der Subjectivität und das Problem der Intersubjectivität, 2 volumes, Hamburg: Meiner Verlag.
  • Houlgate, Stephen, 2005, An Introduction to Hegel: Freedom, Truth and History, 2nd edition, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Jaesche, Walter, 1990, Reason in Religion: The Foundations of Hegel's Philosophy of Religion, J. M. Stewart and Peter Hodgson (trans.), Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Kant, Immanuel. 1781, Critique of Pure Reason, N. Kemp-Smith (trans.), London: Macmillan, 1929.
  • Kojève, Alexandre, 1969, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Allan Bloom (ed.), J. H. Nichols, Jr. (trans.), New York: Basic Books.
  • Lukács, Georg, 1975, The Young Hegel, trans. R. Livingston, London: Merlin Press.
  • McDowell, John, 1994, Mind and World, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Neuhouser, Frederick, 2000, Foundations of Hegel's Social Theory: Actualizing Freedom, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Pelczynski, Z. A. (ed.), 1984, The State and Civil Society: Studies in Hegel's Political Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pinkard, Terry, 1994, Hegel's Phenomenology: The Sociality of Reason, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pinkard, Terry, 2000, Hegel: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pippin, Robert B., 1989, Hegel's Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pippin, Robert B., 1997, Idealism as Modernism: Hegelian Variations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pöggeler, Otto, 1973, Hegels Idee einer Phänomenologies des Geistes, Freiburg: Karl Alber.
  • Redding, Paul, 1996, Hegel's Hermeneutics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Rosen, Michael, 1982, Hegel's Dialectic and Its Criticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sellars, Wilfrid, 1997, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, with an Introduction by Richard Rorty and a Study Guide by Robert Brandom, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • Siep, Ludwig, 1979, Anerkennung als Prinzip der praktischen Philosophie: Untersuchungen zu Hegels Jenaer Philosophie des Geistes, Freiburg: Karl Alber Verlag.
  • Solomon, Robert, 1983, In the Spirit of Hegel, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Stern, Robert, 1990, Hegel, Kant and the Structure of the Object, London: Routledge.
  • Stern, Robert, (ed.), 1993, G. W. F. Hegel: Critical Assessments, 4 volumes, London: Routledge.
  • Stern, Robert, 2002, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hegel and the Phenomenology of Spirit, London: Routledge.
  • Taylor, Charles, 1975, Hegel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Toews, John, 1980, Hegelianism: The Path toward Dialectical Humanism, 1805–1841, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wallace, Robert M., 2005, Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Westphal, Kenneth R., 1989, Hegel's Epistemological Realism: A Study of the Aim and Method of Hegel's ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  • Westphal, Kenneth, 2003, Hegel's Epistemology, Indianapolis: Hackett.
  • Westphal, Merold, 1998, History and Truth in Hegel's Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Williams, Robert R., 1992, Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other, Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Williams, Robert R., 1997, Hegel's Ethics of Recognition, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Wood, Allen W., 1990, Hegel's Ethical Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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