History of Philosophy. G.W.F. Hegel. His Life, Works and Thought. - Stefano Ulliana - ebook

This e-book tries to describe fairly quickly, but at the same time precisely and in an articulated way, the structure in becoming of the thought of G.F.W. Hegel (1870-1831), an idealist German thinker. This work analyzes his thought from its first phase, animated by Jacobin and revolutionary ideals, similar to that ones of his friends Hölderlin and Schelling, to its conclusions, when the Hegelian thought seemed to accompany itself well - as ideological tool – to the movement of Restoration put forward by the regressive and authoritarian powers, imposed by the defeats of Napoleon and by the Nations that gathered themselves in the Congress of Vienna (1815). The text tries to analyze and to summarize the essential speculative elements of two of the most important Hegelian writings: The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1816, 1827, 1830).

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History of Philosophy. G.W.F. Hegel. His life, works and thought

Copyright © 2013-2018 by Stefano Ulliana

The text presented here has been translated from Italian by Dr. Serenella Martufi,

for «Il curatore editoriale», http://ilcuratoreeditoriale.wordpress.com



















The Subjective Spirit

The Objective Spirit

The Philosophy of History

The Absolute Spirit






Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s thought (1770-1831) is generally and rightfully considered by scholars of the History of Philosophy as the supporting pillarof the whole development of the western contemporary ideological horizon. The influence that Hegel’s thought had throughout the XIX century, is equal perhaps only to that of his stronger opponent, Karl Marx. His influence during the XX century was subsequently proved by the – positive or negative – revival of his structural and methodic system, by the different philosophical schools living during the century of the two world wars (phenomenology, existentialism, epistemology and hermeneutics). Still today, Hegel’s approach seems to put forward hidden requests and demands, concerning the shaping of the economically and politically globalized world. For this reason, it is very important to analyze the genetic modalities and the structure of Hegel’s thought’s articulation, to assess the efficacy of the system as an intellectual and moral lead for mankind. Or on the contrary, such study could attempt to indicate the necessity and concrete possibility to leave the said approach behind.

The challenge and the aim of the present work of recapitulation of Hegel’s speculation is to show how it is made of two distinct moments, one opposed to and consecutive to the other. The first moment is related to the production of the so-called Early Theological Writings. The second one – with decisive consequences for the identification of the whole and complete Hegelian speculative system – includes some crucial works, such as The Phenomenology of the Spirit and the Encyclopedia of the philosophical Sciences. To formulate the deep and elevated core of his own thinking, during the first stage of his speculation, Hegel seems to re-draw from the doubly dialectical and creative infinite principle which had set off the history of western philosophy (with Ionic philosophy and later naturalist authors), to be then occulted by the couple Plato and Aristotle. The said principle was then handed to Giordano Bruno’s thinking passionate revival at the beginning of modernity, to be then again left in the hidden and underground oblivion of every later revolutionary proposal until the rise of the French Revolution. The second moment of Hegel’s speculation instead seems to deny from the root the vitality and the open intellectual rationality of the principle of infinite creative through an abstract and distinct overturning of the same. The Hegel of maturity abandons his revolutionary and Romantic ideals to begin to structure the ideological system that will eventually make the traditional and absolutistic element of subjective form, compatible and con-possible with the rational and enlightenment element of the objective and concrete content. He will indeed make a synthesis (in an anti-Schelling prospective) of Fichte’s and of Kant’s positions. Therefore, Karl Marx was not actually mistaken, when, following the critical thoughts put forward by Ludwig Feuerbach, he accused the philosopher from Stuttgart to be a philosopher of “reaction”. In his principle, Hegel had capsized and overturned the real and concrete world, to devise it from an alienated “head”, built on abstraction and separation from reality and from its productive power (therefore practicing a Hegelian style criticism to the very foundations of absolute idealism).

By systematically and briefly addressing Hegelian philosophy the present work will cast a light on the essential turning points of the transition from the first to the second stage, hence showing the possible criticisms that the revival of a creative-dialectical position on natural and rational infinite could and can still be put forward against Hegel’s global approach.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was educated according to the rigid principles of a strict religious and political orthodoxy. He pursued his first humanities and science studies in Stuttgart. As an adolescent he was interested in the Classical world and the Bible and he became acquainted with the works of Goethe, Schiller and Lessing. In 1788 after obtaining his diploma, Hegel was admitted to the theological seminary of Tubing (the Stift), where he had the chance to meet and befriend Hölderlin and Schelling. Here he developed a strong aversion towards the method and the dogmatic content of teachings, as well as the rigid structures of human relationships expressed by teachers. He grew close to the positions of the French revolutionaries, and became very passionate about the history of rationalist thought (Greek Classics, Enlightenment thinkers Kant and Kantians). In 1790 he was appointed Magister Philosophiae. In 1793 he terminated his studies. Working as tutor, he began to write works concerning religious criticism: Life of Jesus (1795), National Religion and Christianity (1795), The Positivity of the Christian Religion (1796).

In 1797 he moved from Bern to Frankfurt, where together with Hölderlin and Schelling he wrote the System-Program, the manifesto of German idealism. Hegel also wrote The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate and Fragment of a System (1800), which were the first drafts of a general philosophical theory. In Jena, where Hegel had moved in 1801, he published The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s Systems of Philosophy (1801). Hegel secured the position of lecturer by submitting De orbitis planetarium. In Weimar he met Goethe and Schiller. Between 1802 and 1803 he began a profitable philosophical collaboration with his friend Schelling, and together they published the Critical Journal of Philosophy. Hegel witnessed the Napoleonic occupation of Jena to then move to Bamberg. When Hegel returned to Jena, he published the Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), the work where he reached the critical detachment from his friend’s Schelling speculation. At the end of 1808 he was appointed headmaster and professor of philosophy at the Gymnasium of Nuremberg.

Between 1812 and 1816 Hegel wrote the Science of Logic. From 1816 he began teaching philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. In 1817 he published the Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences. In 1818 he was appointed chair of philosophy at the University of Berlin. In 1820 he published Elements of the Philosophy of Right. He then travelled to the Netherland, he visited Prague and Vienna. In 1827 in Paris he met the philosopher Victor Cousin. In 1829 he was appointed Rector of the University of Berlin, celebrating the alliance between the Prussian State and the freedom of teaching that was granted to scholars. In 1830 he condemned the liberal revolutions occurring in France and Belgium. Shortly before dying in 1831 he also condemned the extension of voting in England, preferring to preserve the traditional system by social order. On the basis of the notes collected by his students the following works were published posthumously: Lectures of the Philosophy of Religion and Lectures on the History of Philosophy (1832), Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837)and Lectures on Aesthetics (1836, 1838).


The utter, complete and absolute (universal) liberty of the factor, of the agent, expressive and creative cause (the Spirit and God), is the foundation, the principle and the essence of Hegel’s juvenile philosophy. Indeed, in his juvenile works (1793-1800) the German philosopher gets caught up in the revolutionary enthusiasm of the early Romantics, libertarians and egalitarians (his friends Schelling and Hölderlin), evoking the doubly dialectic, concrete and material, spirit of the creative infinite. In this manner the theological argument here introduced, allows to critically revisit from the root all dogmatic and systemic (theoretical and practical) contributions of creed and of Christian Church. Hegel’s aim is to redraw the original and revolutionary creative root of Christian religion, to rediscover its liberating, egalitarian and fraternal power (which is neither separated nor abstract). In this way he naturally gets close to the spirit and the concreteness of the facts and the events of the French Revolution, in the attempt of bringing to Germany the same mystical, religious and rational afflatus for a deep and radical transformation of the religious, ethical and political concept concerning the life of European people, and nations (states). To be restored, such a panic, total and revolutionary impulse had to bring forth a new thinking and a new creative imagination. Thus the soul of young Hegel leaped on this spoor, in his very own Hunting of Actaeon. With his fellow colleagues of the Stift, Hegel sets off to find this phoenix that always resurfaces in the history of western thinking (especially at times of crisis). The young Hegel begins to develop a new mythology of reason, with the vision of its evolutionary history and its historical manifestation. In the unity including reason and heart, this path showed an infinite multiple richness, as well as a deep, radical and original creativity of imagination.

This was the principle of the Spirit of the infinite that materialized and lived by moving and by being realized in the history of the world. Through his personal readings of Rousseau, Lessing and Spinoza, the young Hegel, naturally entered the context and the historical conditions of the German Protestant Reformation, which from a mystical, Neo-Platonism and at the same time very concrete point of view had merged together the religious aspect of salvation and the immanent political determination. For this reason, the original open community of free, equal and fraternal men, of the early Christian unions (sharing reason and heart) could provide the model and the archetype, the horizon for comprehension and the ideal for rules of a new society and of a new civil living. The latter could even be able to dissolve the idols of the distinct and overturned ruling of the Church and of its modernly secularized form: the State, which was still organized feudally according to separated and distinct social orders.

In this model community, which was at the same time Edenic and earthly, the acknowledgment of mutual liberty, was the drive and the impulse to accept the possible widening and universal rooting of an equal reason of the heart and of sentiment. The latter was to run throughout space and time, in close communities and people as well as in distant ones, in the persuasion for the possible permanence of the Spirit itself. Therefore, young Hegel began to explore by going back in history the connections, the affinities and similarities of such reason and of such Spirit. In this way in Life of Jesus and in The Positivity of Christian Religion (1795-1797) Hegel grasped the deep difference – the actual overturning - between the message of love and equal liberty originally argued by the Nazarene and the doctrinal and disciplinary formulation of the Christian Church that succeeded to him. Inspired by the Kantian difference between heteronomy and autonomy, young Hegel accentuated the juxtaposition between an intimately felt and lived faith, strong of a shared and equal liberty, and a manner of belief based upon images and the extrinsic determination, which had been imposed due to the total emptying of human spiritual discretion, will and intellect. In the Spirit of Christianity and its Fate