This July, the OUP Philosophy team honors Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) as their Philosopher of the Month. Although Hegel was a hugely successful philosopher in his own right–described as “the most famous modern philosopher” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe–his legacy remains the influence he had on later philosophers. A huge proportion of critical theory philosophers acknowledge his influence, with most major positions from the last 150 years having been developed in response to Hegelian thought, including Marxism, existentialism, pragmatism, and many more.
Born in Stuttgart, Hegel studied theology and philosophy at the theological seminary in Tübingen where he became close friends with Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling (1775-1854). Schelling did not have the lasting impact of Hegel, but during Hegel’s early years Schelling was a much larger name in the discipline. Not only did Hegel’s early work The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s Systems of Philosophy (1801) discuss his friend’s ideas, but so too did the preface of Hegel’s first major publication, the monumental Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). This work follows the historical and logical process of the mind reaching its final goal of being free and fully self-conscious. It has been described as one of the most influential philosophical works ever written, and famously includes the master and slave example of freedom and self-consciousness which Karl Marx used when relating capitalists to workers. Marx also took inspiration from Hegel’s Science of Logic volumes (1812-1816) for his theory of dialectical materialism.
Other titles include the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821), and his posthumously published lecture notebooks. Hegel’s lecture notebooks focused on aesthetics, the history of philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and the philosophy of history. Not only did Hegel’s disciples preserve his legacy through these publications, they also continued engaging with his ideas, albeit in two factions: the Right Hegelians and the Young (or Left) Hegelians. The Right Hegelians focused on Hegel’s later years but quickly declined, with no major thinkers coming from the group. The Young Hegelians however were more radical leaning, using Hegel’s work to demand a better world, and famously included Marx in their membership. Hegel’s thinking is not only significant because of his influential publications, but also because of the continuation of his ideas through other philosophers.
For more on Hegel’s life and work, browse our interactive timeline below.
Featured image: The New Palace in Stuttgart, Germany. Photo by Julian Herzog. CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.