Hegel and his Metaphysical Bequeathal to the West

This paper would like to underscore the presence of the Historicist germs surfacing from Hegel, that have grown part of the intellectual arsenal, scientific or otherwise, of the present Enlightened man after Kant, i.e. post the Plato-to-Kant canon [1] in the language of Contemporary Philosophy; more particularly to underscore if there have been indeed historicist origins attributable to Hegel in the way peoples of our day and age participate in the horizons of the activity of thought.

Thinkers, or those who wagers to ruminate—as contrasted to those who are just devoured by the holding-sway of technology, technology in the Heideggerian sense of the word [2] —may in our rather Capitalist state-of-affairs be stereotyped as venturing into either: (1) knowledge or (2) non-knowledge, which we will differentiate conventionally as follows. Oversimplifying grossly, knowledge is that which the intellectually elite few who are sanctioned and warranted by the institutions to practice their activities to thought by warrant of formal disciplines in the social milieu. Under the term knowledge, one may situate the output by the politicians, bureaucrats, academicians and doctors-of-medicine etcetera. The non-knowledge on the other hand, are those aggregate endeavors which are in their heterogeneity of approaches to activities of thought are beyond the legitimation by the presently available civic apparatuses. Encompassed bluntly under this second term would be unorthodoxy; the myths and beliefs; the emotions of the Romanticist in the era of Industrial Age; the heathen weakness of the Semite in the eyes of Hitlerism; those behaviors of the pathologically-insane, the crime of the recidivists, the contagiousness of the lepers—in short, the great rabble of madness which are excluded by power in the Foucauldian sense. [3] In light of such conventional dichotomy of the legitimated formal knowledge and the inutile non-knowledge thus provided, therefore, not every activity there is to thought is categorized as a correct enterprise. That in mind, some ways to thought (or indeed some few thinkers) are formally sanctioned, while some other ways and illegitimate byways to thought (or thinkers, as it were) are simply classified occult. In a word there are always contradictories, like the paradise and the hades below. From which stratification we perceive the palpable dichotomy between a knowledge and a non-knowledge.

Even the diatribes of the young Marx—although with a unique content to that of Hegel’s—may be read as though reducing prevailing knowledge under the Capitalist epoch in the order of economic production. [4] According to such a view, there are always antagonisms or antinomies to the bourgeoise praxis. Present in Hegel as in Marx, both of whom are philosophers in Modernity, was the postulate that there is inherent in the volksgeist that which contradicts and seeks to engineer and then re-engineer more the zeitgeist itself, that which functions to brood the consequent world or the subsequent state-of-affairs. This directional progression of thought, common to both Marx’ and Hegel’s was indistinctly described as the determinative unraveling of History (to wit: Communism in Marx’, the Absolute or Geist in Hegel’s) in obeisance to an a priori metaphysical construct by the title of contradiction—grounded in the apparatus of dialectics proper.

In review, way back the Medieval phase of History Saint Augustine, it may be promptly recalled, has had his own participation—however of the other-wordly sort—in the cultivation of this very Historical marching’s or flow-of-events here on the temporal realm, particularly in the secular affairs of the medieval religious man, in his landmark bifurcation between civitas terrena and Des Civitate Dei. [5] Fast forward to 1888 Nietzsche’s book On the Genealogy of Morals was imbued with (akin to Hegel’s and Augustine’s) a metaphysics of conflict, i.e. between the moralities of the Master and of the Slave. Nietzsche though dug further into genealogical Greek antinomy between gods Apollo and Dionysus, only to resurrect that ancient god Dionysus to serve antithesis to a later God of Christianity. [6] Here emphatically underscored the metaphysics of contradictories, friction, conflict—again, under the governmental apparatus of dialectics as such.

The distinctive Dialectics characteristic of Hegel may at surface be seen a mere modern version of the Socratic germ; a mere revival in the Germany of 1900’s of the Socratic methodology popular in practice at Athenian polemics during its heydey. But whereas Socrates, through the writings of Plato, employed the dialectics of the dialogue assertion-and-rebuttal sort, where the bankruptcy of falsified arguments are left behind as vanquished to pave homage to the unrefuted reality of the better statements as will then result, there was a crucial difference that Hegel has cast on such metaphysics of contradiction; specifically in the metaphysical scholarship of 19th Century Hegel:

“. . . The necessary progression and interconnection of the forms of the unreal consciousness will by itself bring to pass the completion of the series. To make this more intelligible, it may be remarked, in a preliminary and general way, that the exposition of the untrue consciousness in its untruth is not a merely negative procedure. The natural consciousness itself normally takes this one-sided view of it; and a knowledge which makes this one-sidedness its very essence is itself one of the patterns of incomplete consciousness which occurs on the road itself, and will manifest in due course. This is just the skepticism which only ever sees pure nothingness in its result and abstracts from the fact that this nothingness is specifically the nothingness of that from which it results. For it is only when it is taken as the result of that from which it emerges, that it is, in fact, the true result; in that case it is itself a determinate nothingness, one which has a content. . . .” [7]

Hegel points our attention towards that residual and yet crucial importance of each and every ingredients to thought, be it the thesis, the antithesis as well as the synthesis, hence Hegel’s ‘. . . the completion of the series . . . ‘; since all of these three only result from the same root or original source; that the convergence of these three albeit heterogenous constitutes and leads to nowhere else but the Absolute itself at the end of History.

But where exactly was Hegel all throughout this time, particularly in relation to the distinction that was conventionally provided previously, between knowledge and non-knowledge. Where, if any, is his contribution to Historicize situated in the sense it was opened up above, namely in the post Plato-Kant cannon, since his distinctive dialectic was more encompassing and indeed encyclopedic more superior metaphysically than that of the Socratic version. Also what can be said of the Universal History that is implicated in Hegel’s idealism which Marx himself espoused only to be reconfigured in the latter’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism in the 20th Century.

A delve into the book entitled the End of History and the Last Man (1992) by Fukuyama (who read Hegel along with the interpretations of Karl Marx and Alexandre Kojeve alike) may aid the reader of Hegel, particularly in the Chapter that deals with Universal histories; cited verbatim as:

“. . . a reading of Hegel’s historical works will reveal that historical accident and contingency play a large role in them. The Hegelian dialectic is similar to its Platonic predecessor, the Socratic dialogue . . . Such discussions are resolved on the basis of the principle of contradiction: that is, the less self-contradictory side wins, or, if both are found in the course of the conversation to be self contradictory, then a third position emerges free of the contradictions of the initial two. . . .” [8]

The word contingency is the most pivotal word in the cited passage, pivotal as is could turn turtle the hasty readers of Hegel. The term contingency mentioned conjures something of the haphazard kind. It cannot be made foreseen, much less pre-emptively calculated using the arsenal of the typical Enlightened man fledging the Plato-Kant canon under their belt, the tradition that dons the nomenclature of modernity, hence Modern philosophy—the tradition of thought that arrogates unto itself the powerful claim that they can now begin the exodus from the delusions of the past phase of man, particularly with regard to the Kantian “What is Enlightenment”; and the tradition at a sharp divergence at which separation it was unfurled the birthright to and of the phenomenological ego-cogito to knowledge proper. The deference to a contingency was Hegel’s stoppage to that very schizophrenia. In the language of Michel Foucault, the French Historian of Thought who ventured to re-problematize, to re-think critically, what the Enlightenment brought about in the tradition of western philosophy, has emphasized in many occasions this wise:

“. . . The task of philosophy is to describe the nature of today, and of ‘ourselves today.’ With the proviso that we do not allow ourselves the facile, rather theatrical declaration that this moment in which we exist is one of total perdition, in the abyss of darkness, or a triumphant daybreak, and so on. It is a time like any other, or rather, a time that is never quite like any other. . . .” [9]

Moreover, it is in this deference to contingencies and the Other-ness of what will come, which surfaced in the pages of the metaphysics of Hegel’s Phenomenology, that the materialist dialectic of Marx’—which reconfigures the Hegelian dialectical idealism only to self-appropriate onto the Proletariat the antithetical seeds towards a next epoch—has been way different from that of the original, since this reconfiguration by Marxian Materialism in no way admits of an open-ness. Such open-ness was bequeathed the Contemporary thought, that even in the writings of the later Martin Heidegger, a humbling position was uttered in Heidegger’s usual metaphysical ether that was far away past and stricter than the Plato-Kant canon—way past the role of the egotistic Proletariat:

“. . . No mere action will change the world, because Being as effectiveness and effecting closes all beings off in the face of Appropriation. Even the immense suffering which surrounds the earth is unable to waken a transformation, because it is only experienced as suffering, as passive, and thus as the opposite state of action, and thus experienced together with action in the same realm of being of the will to will. . . . The desolation of the earth begins as a process which is willed, but not known in its being, and also not knowable at the time when the being of truth defines itself as certainty in which human representational thinking and producing first become sure of themselves. Hegel conceives this moment of the history of metaphysics as the moment in which absolute self-consciousness becomes the principle of thinking. . . .” [10]

Hegel’s were a view of a Universal History that is holding-sway, which history is at surface linear and cumulative, that history has a climactic end—as opposed to the Greek view that history is rather cyclical, the latter antiquated view being exponentially reinvigorated by Nietzsche in his Eternal Recurrence. [11] At surface correctly Hegel’s historicism is a view akin to the Christian inclination to historicize, in a continual fashion from the Creation to the Rupture of the Holy towards the Heavens up high; but Hegel’s is again, in his doctrine of contingencies—to be precise, Consciousness, in his vocabulary of phenomenology—way past. Hegel’s acknowledges the other:

“. . . If we inquire into the truth of knowledge, it seems that we are asking what knowledge is in itself. Yet in this inquiry knowledge is our object, something that exists for us; and the in-itself that would supposedly result from it would rather be the being of knowledge for us. What we asserted to be its essence would be not so much its truth but rather just our knowledge of it. . . . Consciousness provides its own criterion from within itself, so that the investigation becomes a comparison of consciousness with itself . . . In consciousness one thing exists for another, i.e. consciousness regularly contains the determinateness of the moment of knowledge; at the same time, this other is to consciousness not merely for it, but is also outside of this relationship, or exists in itself: the moment of truth. . . . We do not need to import criteria, or to make use of our own bright ideas and thoughts during the course of the inquiry; it is precisely when we leave these aside that we succeed in contemplating the matter in hand as it is in and for itself. . . .” [12]

It is thus underscored the integral importance of the parts if thought is to be, not only correctly, but truthfully thought, in regard of the whole. For the Hegelian Phenomonological Dialectics:

“. . . In every case the result of an untrue mode of knowledge must not be allowed to run away into an empty nothing, but must necessarily be grasped as the nothing of that from which it results . . . Thus the moments of the whole are patterns of consciousness. In pressing forward to its true existence, consciousness will arrive at a point at which it gets rid of its semblance of being burdened with something alien, with what is only for it, and some sort of ‘other’, at a point where appearance becomes identical with essence, so that its exposition will coincide at just this point with the authentic Science of Spirit. And finally, when consciousness itself grasps this its own essence, it will signify the nature of absolute knowledge itself” [13]

And to move farther into the political implications of this absolute slant that was present in Hegel’s nonetheless, his as well as that of Marx’ and the Christian’s historical unraveling which ultimately leads to its respective Truth in the absolute magnitude: it has had been applied correctly or otherwise ethnocentrically. One can only recall the stems traceable to the German Philosophy in relation to World War I that resulted into a metaphysical holding-sway that consumed irredeemable lives.

By way of a quick survey about wars, perhaps the most notable characteristic that can be said of and about world wars, literal conflicts between sovereign states, is its very capacity to alter drastically, if not dramatically, the course of life-events. Such was the impact of the Napoleonic wars which shook 19th century Europe. In England the French Revolution impeded social and political reforms for nearly a generation but the battle with France could not hamper the eventual spread of liberalism in its time. On the other hand France, together with its philosophy of individualism and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, brandished its mighty fist over the Continent and proved itself worthy of power. Here as well, Napoleon’s armies brought the scattered nations liberation from the social and political aggression of its native ruling classes. They replaced the traditional conservative monarchical order prevalent among the European nations with the slogan of liberté, egalité, and fraternité, and heralded reason as man’s most venerable authority. But as time marched down into the abyss of history, the battle for world supremacy between England and France all the more ablazed, the price of which all of Continental Europe had to pay. Among other European nations, Germany in particular bore with much predicament the crippling residuum of these wars. But what was anticipated as the liberating light in the Continent turned out to be yet another severe subjugation under the French tyrannical regime. Germany, after its release from the chains of its conquerors, was brought once more into the hands of the same vehement ruler. As France advanced into Germany, bearing the banner of liberty for the newly-freed nation, monopoly in Germany’s political and economic structures soon followed as a part of the imperious Napoleonic dream of world domination. Germany’s pronounced response to this unanticipated conquest translated itself into what soon became the spirit of the German people. Thus liberty and democracy for them are identified with defeat and downfall. Notably during the First and Second world wars did Germany exemplify such a bold and relentless spirit in the face of its adversaries which, as a result, brought Germany’s name in close affinity with authoritarianism and political fascism. In the German philosophical tradition Hegel stands unique and unparalleled. His momentous contribution to the realm of thought echoes so distinctly the conditions of his own time, up until the West of today.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote his metaphysical thought at the chunk of a time-space where institutional instabilities were, to say the modest, volatile, compared to that of ours in the present-day and age where a kind of liberty is enshrined. If it has been a great thing Hegel’s Historicist germs that surfaced from his encyclopedic writings, it is here deferred to History proper.


[1] Richard Rorty, in Contingency, Irony, Solidarity has pointed among other things the idea that there was a “tip-off” between the thought of Plato up to Kant, and Hegel, p. 46. As Rorty, as well as other thinkers who consider rather than eschew history, in view of Hegel, there was a “certain chunk of space-time” within which the possibilities out-of peoples are inscribed—inscribed in terms of inscriptions in the deconstructions of Jacques Derrida, and/or inscribed by way of Hegel’s account of particular Consciousness of a given epoch. Suffice it to say that that Hegelian historicism, that juncture from Plato-Kant canon, was the spirit behind the distinction of the word “episteme” and the word “epistemes.”

[2] Martin Heidegger, in The Turning (1962) has written: “For thinking is genuine activity, genuine taking a hand, if to take a hand means to lend a hand to the essence, the coming to presence, of Being. . . . Through thinking, we first learn to dwell in the realm in which there comes to pass the restorative surmounting of the destining of Being, the surmounting of Enframing.” [in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays (1977), pp. 40 – 41. In turn, “Enframing comes to pass for its part in the granting that lets man endure—as yet unexperienced, but perhaps more experienced in the future—that he may be the one who is needed and used for the safekeeping of the coming to presence of truth. [ibidem, p. 33].

[3] Michel Foucault in Human Nature: Justice versus Power (1971) recalled: “Mao Tse-tung spoke of bourgeois human nature and proletarian human nature, and he considers that they are not the same thing.” In this passage, he pertained to the plurality as opposed to the idea of a Human nature in the transcendental sense, in view of historicism [Foucault and His Interlocutors (1996), p. 132].

[4] Karl Marx in his Preface to Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859): “In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relation of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation , on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. IT is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but , on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” [in the Marx-Engels Reader (1972), p. 4].

[5] Saint Augustine of Hippo in the City of God (426 A.D.) diametrically distinguished two cities that which is of man and another of God: “the one consisting of those who live according to man, the other of those who live according to God. And thse we also mysticallly call the two cities, or the two communities of men, of which the one is predestined to regin eternally with God, and the other to suffer eternal punishment with the devil . . . The two cities have been formed by two loves: the love of the self even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God. ” [Ebenstein Great Political Thinkers: St.Augustine p. 183].

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche in The Will to Power “Dionysus versus the ‘Crucified’: there you have the antithesis. It is not difference in regard to their martyrdom—it is a difference in the meaning of it.” [Section 1052, p. 543].

[7] Georg Willhelm Friedrich Hegel in Phenomenology of Spirit (1807). Oxford University Press (1977), p. 50-51.

[8] Fukuyama, Francis (1992). The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press, p. 61.

[9] Nealon, Jeffrey (2008). Foucault Beyond Foucault: Power and its Intensifications since 1984. Stanford University Press, 2008 p. 7, citing Michel Foucault during an interview on March 20, 1983.

[10] Heidegger, Martin (1973). The End of Philosophy. New York: Harper and Row, p. 110.

[11] “A humbling, cyclical view of history was common in Greek and Roman cultures. Augustine had countered in the 4th Century A.D. With a bifurcated theory of history; empirical, political history was held to have no detectible meaning or goal for humanity independent of the rise and fall of empires and civilizations. Over the centuries there were challenges to Augustine’s sharp distinction between meaningless secular history and meaningful providential history. Certainly, bu the 19th Century the dominant view was the reverse of Augustine; secular history did have a meaningful linear pattern, and providential history was relegated to the museum of ancient and irrelevant ideas”, [in Hallowell and Porter, Political Philosophy: The search for humanity and order (1997), p. 606].

[12] Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (). The Phenomenology of Spirit. New York: Oxford University Press 2004 , p. 53-54.

[13] Ibid., p. 56-57.


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