Dates: 1770-1831

Nationality: German

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher, and one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of the total reality, as a whole, revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to continental philosophy.

The obscure writings of Jakob Böhme had a strong effect on Hegel. Böhme had written that the Fall of Man was a necessary stage in the evolution of the universe. This evolution was, itself, the result of God’s desire for complete self-awareness. Hegel was fascinated by the works of Kant, Rousseau, and Goethe, and by the French Revolution. Modern philosophy, culture, and society seemed to Hegel fraught with contradictions and tensions, such as those between the subject and object of knowledge, mind and nature, self and Other, freedom and authority, knowledge and faith, the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Hegel’s main philosophical project was to take these contradictions and tensions and interpret them as part of a comprehensive, evolving, rational unity that, in different contexts, he called “the absolute idea” or “absolute knowledge.”

According to Hegel, the main characteristic of this unity was that it evolved through and manifested itself in contradiction and negation. Contradiction and negation have a dynamic quality that at every point in each domain of reality – consciousness, history, philosophy, art, nature, society – leads to further development until a rational unity is reached that preserves the contradictions as phases and sub-parts by lifting them up (Aufhebung) to a higher unity. This whole is mental because it is mind that can comprehend all of these phases and sub-parts as steps in its own process of comprehension. It is rational because the same, underlying, logical, developmental order underlies every domain of reality and is ultimately the order of self-conscious rational thought, although only in the later stages of development does it come to full self-consciousness. The rational, self-conscious whole is not a thing or being that lies outside of other existing things or minds. Rather, it comes to completion only in the philosophical comprehension of individual existing human minds who, through their own understanding, bring this developmental process to an understanding of itself.

Central to Hegel’s conception of knowledge and mind (and therefore also of reality) was the notion of identity in difference, that is that mind externalizes itself in various forms and objects that stand outside of it or opposed to it, and that, through recognizing itself in them, is “with itself” in these external manifestations, so that they are at one and the same time mind and other-than-mind. This notion of identity in difference, which is intimately bound up with his conception of contradiction and negativity, is a principal feature differentiating Hegel’s thought from that of other philosophers.

Wikipedia contributors. “Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Mar. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. <>

German philosopher. He called his philosophy ‘Absolute Idealism’, holding that Mind or Spirit (Geist) is the ultimate reality and that only Absolute Mind, which he equated with God, is entirely real. He maintained that history demonstrates a continuous progression towards greater self-consciousness of Mind. Art had a major place in Hegel’s account of history, as a mode through which Mind comes to know itself. In a course of lectures (1828) he outlined three stages of its development. The ‘symbolic’ art of early cultures grappled with physical material simplistically; ‘classical’ art, principally that of Greece, achieved an equivalence of matter and thought that remained a lasting norm of beauty; whereas in ‘romantic’ art—meaning all post-classical work—Mind took precedence over its material embodiment, a tendency that might eventually lead to the end of art. The characteristic forms developed by each phase were, respectively, architecture, sculpture, and painting. Hegel’s innovatory historical system, contentious but enlivened by his sensitivity to particular works, had a deep influence on subsequent conceptualization of the field.

Collinson, Diané and Julian Bell. “Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich.” The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online. 12 Mar. 2010 <>

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