Who Is G. W. F. Hegel?

To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in its turn presents a rational aspect. The relation is mutual.

- G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History

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His thought was hugely influential and hugely difficult. The philosopher Bertrand Russell once described him as the single most difficult philosopher to understand. He was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Though he enjoyed relative fame during his lifetime, in the decades after his death in 1831, according to one writer, Hegel's ideas were treated with "a mixture of contempt, horror and indifference."

But something happened during the 20th century that brought Hegel back into sight for philosophers and thinkers. This week on The Philosopher's Zone find out what that was.

Listen to The Mystery of Hegel on the The Philosopher's Zone podcast

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...Hegel, of course, never directly wrote about Wall Street, but he was philosophically invested in the logic of market relations.  Near the middle of the “Phenomenology of Spirit” (1807), he presents an argument that says, in effect: if Wall Street brokers and bankers understood themselves and their institutional world aright, they would not only accede to firm regulatory controls to govern their actions, but would enthusiastically welcome regulation.  Hegel’s emphatic but paradoxical way of stating this is to say that if the free market individualist acts “in [his] own self-interest, [he] simply does not know what [he] is doing, and if [he] affirms that all men act in their own self-interest, [he] merely asserts that all men are not really aware of what acting really amounts to.”  For Hegel, the idea of unconditioned rational self-interest — of, say, acting solely on the motive of making a maximal profit — simply mistakes what human action is or could be, and is thus rationally unintelligible.  Self-interested action, in the sense it used by contemporary brokers and bankers, is impossible.  If Hegel is right, there may be deeper and more basic reasons for strong market regulation than we have imagined....

Continue reading J. M. Bernstein's short article: Hegel on Wall Street

Further Reading

...Hegel attempted, throughout his published writings as well as in his lectures, to elaborate a comprehensive and systematic philosophy from a purportedly logical starting point. He is perhaps most well-known for his teleological account of history, an account that was later taken over by Marx and “inverted” into a materialist theory of an historical development culminating in communism...

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 comprehended in thoughts” (PR: 21).

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 its cultural context. On the other, there is the hint of such contents being raised to some higher level, presumably higher than other levels of cognitive functioning such as those based in everyday perceptual experience, for example, or those characteristic of other areas of culture such as art and religion....

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Hegel by Paul Redding

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Each day I post short quotes by great thinkers on a particular philosophical, scientific or historical topic, along with videos, interviews and articles by contemporary thinkers that explore each topic in more detail. Find me on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to learn about the ideas that helped shape our world.