Hegel remains a towering figure in European philosophy and human thought. A very long career-philosopher, father of many key concepts in philosophy and immensely influential in his time and beyond. In this post, we shall see few key ideas from this philosopher.
Segment Problem : Hegel wrote his works as if everyone is a professional philosopher and is reading with the same or similar motivation. This is the reason why he is more regarded among professional philosophers and thinkers rather than among lay persons who need his wisdom. Hegel did not write or rather design products keeping market segmentation in view. This is the problem or rather a self-defeating purpose of a rigorous, intellectually honest and erudite idealist. If you want your ideas to be well circulated and remain in broader spectrum, keep two product portfolios : one for the professional class and one for lay readers. This choice will decide many things, including your ideas widely available for applicability in life by people few centuries or even millennium apart.
World Spirit (geist) : Hegel approached the subject of philosophy of history in a novel way. He had asked, for example, how does history work and why should we study history ? In a prose, filled with too much jargon and too much verbosity, he provides with some very important tools and pathways into these fundamental questions. Briefly, he considers an abstract concept called geist – a kind of ghost that possesses a man and an ordinary individual suddenly reflects and radiates the dominant spirit of the age. No one knows how this process works but its effects are everywhere in history. In Hegel’s time, it was Napoleon – a lowly Corsican soldier, pointing his finger towards a future, while supported at the blood-soaked sword of the French Revolution that was the “national razor”. In Art also, we find such figures who appear to have captured the spirit of the Age in a certain age. The greatest insight from this is that : we, a private individual runs the great risk or fortune to be possessed by the spirit of the age and hence there will always remain a realm of history completely inaccessible to the standard and developing tools of historical analysis. The greatest of Roman historian in first century AD could not have comprehended that a lowly Jew would become the central cultural figure of Europe in next four hundred years. Or an imaginative and thoughtful youth, a failure in becoming a scholar, barrister, business man will grow to become the greatest poet and wordsmith of Bengali language : Tagore.
The Triad : Hegel systematized the concept of Action-Reaction- Solution or Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis. This is a crucial concept not only to understand how history works but how our minds function. This is used pervasively everywhere. Here is one for Indian TV watchers
“Does your toothpaste contain salt ?” [ Action / Thesis]
Now the reaction can be varied but a segment will think : “My god ! there must be some salt. What a great lack. Thank God, I know now. How do I correct this omission ? “
“Take this toothpaste” [Solution]
Or in more serious way of modifying behaviour :
“Terrorists are carrying bombs inside their shoes”.
“My God ! The fellow in front of me having a beard and wearing a strange shoe”
“A law is enacted to have every passenger to remove shoes before boarding.”
This provides us with a very important tool of analysis, not only how events take place but how we respond to an event and both are connected and is a dialectic. The equilibrium is always at a different point and in this way, what we call change is nothing but continuous change of equilibrium points.
Learning from Opposition: Hegel teaches us to learn from opposite viewpoints because the opposition has dialectic-ally consistent view of Reality. Since our thesis is incomplete without an antithesis, those who oppose us provide us with an important aspect of view. Our opposition is not our enemy but compliment. This aspect becomes strikingly pre-sentinel when we find the enemies of Rome (the Barbarians) hammering the marbles at Roman Forum built by Augustus but the concept of dialectics teaches us to see the germ of a Pieta in every Frank, Goth, Visigoth and Vandal hammer that was chiseling at the map and achievements of modern Europe.
Learning from every Age : Though we find some practices and concepts of antiquity or ages before us weird or reprehensible or both : slavery, human sacrifice, public execution, burning at the stake, burning widows (Sati), burning of witches, torture, we must remember that every age has something very particular and specific to teach us. Being old or being dated does not necessarily mean that we do not have anything to learn from it. This is a grand justification for study of history and a direct answer to a schoolboy’s attractive argument : What is the benefit of learning who was the father of Akbar ?
In his works, especially related to history, Hegel has provided us with some key concepts which allow us to grapple the momentous thing called History and our relation with it.