Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

1770-1831. The dominant figure in German idealism, and one of the great philosophical system-builders. He studied at Tübingen (1788-93), and after holding teaching positions at various universities, including Jena and Bern, was professor of philosophy at Berlin (1818-30). Hegel rejected both realism (the view that reality exists independently of the mind) and subjective idealism (that reality is the product of individual consciousness) because, in his view, they involved unavoidable contradictions. Rather, true knowledge is only possible of ultimate reality, the product of the Spirit which, in a dynamic development, reconciles the self- contradictions that permeate every aspect of human experience. The ideas of the unity and comprehensiveness of thought, and of its dynamic development, are dominant.

In claiming that realism and subjective idealism embodied fundamental contradictions, Hegel held that all experience presupposes the unity of the knower and the known. This unity, however, is not achieved, but is in the process of fulfillment in human experience, becoming explicit in aesthetic and religious experience, and fully developed in truly philosophical thinking. The dialectical method is the only true philosophical method, since it alone corresponds to the process of nature and history and of all reality. Error lies in partiality and incompleteness. This basic view underlies his diverse philosophical productions. Some of the most notable of these are The Phenomenology of Mind (1897), an account of various stages of human consciousness from sense awareness to absolute knowledge; Logic (1812-16), the analysis of categories basic to all discourse; Philosophy of Right (1821), in which Hegel's view of the state, as the synthesis of the family and civil society, is given.

Hegel is important in any account of the development of Christian thought, with which his philosophy is fundamentally incompatible. Religion for Hegel is simply an imaginative, pictorial way of representing philosophical truth. His overall position obviously has strong affinities with pantheism. Hegel's system was the inspiration behind the destructive biblical criticism of D.F. Strauss,* and, in more complicated ways, Hegel influenced both Feuerbach and Marx.