THE PHILOSOPHY OF HEGEL
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831)
It has been said that all philosophy is simply a series of footnotes on the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. It can also be said that all modern philosophy is a series of footnotes no the work of Emmanuel Kant. Writing in the early Nineteen Century, G. W. F. Hegel inherited the philosophy of Kant and accepted the (Copernican) notion that the mind constructed the world but then proceeded to modify much that was Kantian in his own philosophical system. In The Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), Hegel assumed the universe was rational and that through a progress of deduction, human beings would eventually find and agree upon the truth.
The question was the starting point for the process of deducing the truth. Kant had introduced the notion of the Thing-in-Itself, a concept that Hegel found difficult to accept. Like Plato, Kant assumed there were what Plato called “Forms” that were beyond the reach of human consciousness. The forms are unseeable and unknowable and exist only as ideas. Ideas are “beings” that produce the world. All existence is Appearance and all appearance is dependent upon the world. According to Plato, Things of the world are mere “copies” of Universals or Ideas. Copies of the form/idea are made by and/or through Images of Ideas being stamped upon Matter by God(s). Matter, for Plato was formless; matter was emptiness. Matter is “not-being”, something that has not yet arisen from Idea. Matter is primordial and independent. The Thing comes into being only when matter is acted upon.
According to Aristotle, the Form, the Universal of a Thing, is also its End or Purpose. The final cause (end) (thing) is identical with the formal cause (form). A purpose must logically exist prior to the execution of the form. This conclusion leads Aristotle to the distinction between potentiality and actuality. Matter in itself is absolutely formless, the substrate of things. In other words, matter is actually nothing but it is also potentially all things. Matter gains actuality—becomes a “thing”—by acquiring Form. Form is actuality, for Aristotle. With the Greeks, the world process is crucial: there is the end, the form, and the universal. A “thing” is a combination of matter and form. Without form, which must always be Universal, the thing cannot exist. Compared to the universality of form, the object/matter must be particular.
All things strive towards their own ends. Form molds matter and impels it to a higher state of existence. The end must be present at the beginning; otherwise the end could not exert propelling force. There is no new element, in other words, for the new must be present as a potentiality of the old. The ancients considered development to be the process by which that which was latent or hidden came to light. For the ancients, and for Plato and Aristotle, the world was driven by this dualism between idea and actuality, by these contradictions, which drive development. These ancient ideas will be Hegel’s starting point and the source of his famous Dialectical Method, an invention that allowed him to ground truth and reality in the process of deductive Logic.
An idealist, who learned from Kant, Hegel accepted Kant’s Copernican Revolution or Kant’s concept of the self or Self as an enduring entity, that is independent of events and stands alone in a condition of self-awareness. This “awareness” is the awareness of the object. This recognition of the object results in the realization of the difference between the self and the “other”. This moment is the origin of consciousness or being, an awareness of object as “other-than-me”. Things are content, and Hegel distinguished between the object, as it is “in itself,” and the object as it is for an observer. Although the concept of duality originated in ancient philosophy, modern philosophy credits René Descartes with the “Cartesian split.” Since Descartes, Western thought assumed a split between mind and matter.
It was David Hume who questioned Greek idealism, exposing the inherent weakness of the dualism between mind and matter by returning to the question of how do we know reality? Or what is knowledge? Hume explored the most basic concept upon which all knowledge depends: cause and effect, both of which must be both universal and necessary. True, we experience what we name “cause” and then we experience what we call “effect.” But we have done nothing more than placed a convenient label upon the events that transpired. We have not established knowledge. Experience in itself is never universal nor is experience in itself ever necessary. The connection between cause and effect is an assumption and any “knowledge” is therefore illusionary. Hume determined that knowledge could never arise out of experience and thus exposed the metaphysical base of philosophy. Kant immediately understood the implications of Hume’s thought: once the metaphysics of philosophy had been revealed as a “faith based” system, any knowledge of the world was now impossible. We knew nothing but our own beliefs and belief is not knowledge.
In order to correct David Hume and to put philosophy back on track, Kant proposed space and time as conditions that are both universal and necessary. The universal and necessary conditions of Space and Time give us objects. Space and Time are a priori conditions, they preexist thought and make thought possible. Space and Time are perceptions of our own minds and do not exist apart form us and are forms of our own perceptive faculty. Space and time are Forms of sensations and these forms are filled with sense data. The objects perceived by us through space and time are not real objects: they are Appearances. Thought is conceptual and non-sense-based concepts—synthetic a priori judgments—are derived, not from experience, but from constructions made by the mind. These concepts are the result of formal judgments of Logic.
We arrive at these concepts thorough the epistemological operations of the mind, Kant called “categories”, and there were twelve of them. The twelve categories were subjective, and, because they were universal, were necessarily static, and unchanging. However, as Hegel noticed, these categories were not deduced one from another and were therefore arbitrary models made up by Kant in order to show the way the mind worked. If the categories were not Logical, then the Reason-based philosophy of Kant was not on a firm base. And this is the problem Hegel wanted to solve: to build a Logical base for the foundation of the Categories.
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