HCJ TWO: Hegel and Schopenhauer

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) is described by Bertrand Russell as ‘the culmination of the movement in German philosophy that started from Kant.’ Russell argues that although Hegel often criticised Kant, his system ‘could never have arisen’ if Kant’s had not existed. (Notes on Kant: https://brackenstockley.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/hcj-kant/). Hegel’s influence has been very great, not only in Germany, but in the world as a whole.

Hegel believed the universe to be moving to an end, and that everything in it, had a purpose. This doctrine that final causes exist is known as teleology.

A key part in Hegel’s philosophy was his belief in the unreality of separateness; the world, in his view, was not a collection of hard units, whether atoms or souls, each completely self-subsistent, but something as a whole.

Unlike the way in which Spinoza conceived “the whole”, Hegel regarded it to be, not as a simple substance, but as a complex system that we should call an organism.

“The whole” is termed by Hegel as the Absolute. Everything that happens is willed by a spiritual force – the Absolute (or Geist). This spiritual force is the universe, and everything in it. However, Hegel rejected Spinoza’s view that this Geist had the attribute of extension as well as that of thought and unlike Spinoza he was not a Pantheist as he did not use God to describe the unity of all substance.

In the historical development of Spirit, Russell explains how there have been three main phases: The Orientals, the Greeks and Romans, and the Germans. Hegel assigns the highest role to the Germans in the terrestrial development of Spirit.

Hegel divides German history into three periods: the first, up to Charlemagne; the second, from Charlemagne to the Reformation; the third, from the Reformation onwards. These three periods are distinguished as the Kingdoms of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Hegel’s Dialectic

According to Hegel, the task of philosophy is to chart the development of Absolute Spirit. This involves three things:

(1) Making clear the internal rational structure of the Absolute.

(2) Demonstrating the manner in which the Absolute manifests itself in nature and human history.

(3) Explicating the teleological nature of the Absolute, that is, showing the end or purpose toward which the Absolute is directed.

Hegel’s philosophy has been separated into three categories:

(1) Thesis;

(2) Antithesis; and

(3) Synthesis

The thesis might be an idea or a historical movement. This idea or movement contains within itself incompleteness that gives rise to a conflicting idea or movement (antithesis). As a result of the conflict a third point of view (a synthesis) overcomes the conflict by reconciling at a higher level the truth contained in both the thesis and antithesis. Russell describes Hegel’s work to be based on the idealistic concept of a universal mind that, through evolution, which seeks to arrive at the highest level of self-awareness and freedom. The evolution of ideas occurs through a dialectical process that is, a concept gives rise to its opposite, and as a result of this conflict, a new and third view, the synthesis, arises. This synthesis is at a higher level of truth than the first two views.

One of the earliest forms of the dialectical method was the Dialogues of Plato through his study of truth in the form of questions and answers. (Notes on Plato: https://brackenstockley.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/history-and-context-classical-theory-of-state/).

Hegel and the State

In Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History (originally given as lectures at the University of Berlin in 1821, 1824, 1827, and 1831), Hegel says that “the State is the actually existing realised moral life,” and that all the spiritual reality possessed by a human being he possesses only through the State.

Rousseau thought the State should not tolerate other political organisations. In relation to the distinction between the general will and the will of all, Hegel says; “Rousseau would have made a sounder contribution towards a theory of the State, if he had always kept this distinction in sight“.

Russell describes the ‘odd’ sense in which Hegel uses the word “freedom.” For him there is no freedom without law; but he tends to convert this, and to argue that wherever there is law there is freedom. Thus “freedom” for him, means little more than the right to obey the law.

“Freedom of the Press”, Hegel says, does not consist in being allowed to write what one wants. Russell identifies this view as ‘crude’ and ‘superficial’.

Glorification of the State begins, so far as modern times are concerned, with the Reformation.

Hegel’s Logic

Hegel holds the underlying assumption that nothing can be really true unless it is about Reality as a whole. Following the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides, Hegel argued that ‘what is rational is real and what is real is rational’. Hegel’s identification, in Russell’s point of view, of the real and the rational leads to some of the complacency inseparable from the belief that “whatever is, is right”.

In Hegel’s logic, truth and falsehood are not sharply defined opposites as nothing is wholly false, and nothing that we can know is wholly true – “we can know in a way that is false” and this happens when we attribute absolute truth to some detached piece of information.

Reason, Hegel says, “is the conscious certainty of being all reality.”


Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) is described Russell as in many ways ‘peculiar among philosophers’ due to his position as a pessimist. He is not fully academic, like Kant and Hegel and he dislikes Christianity (preferring the religions of India, both Hinduism and Buddhism). He began the emphasis on Will which is characteristic of much nineteenth and twentieth-century philosophy; but for him Will, though metaphysically fundamental, is ethically evil an opposition only possible for a pessimist.

Arguably, Schopenhauer’s key work was, The World as Will and Representation, published at the end of 1818. He, himself believed his work to be of great importance and even argued that some paragraphs in it had been dictated by the Holy Ghost.

Russell describes Schopenhauer’s system as ‘an adaptation of Kant’s’, but one that emphasizes quite different aspects of the Critique from those emphasised by Fichte or Hegel. Schopenhauer held that what appears to perception, as your body is really your will. 

Schopenhauer’s philosophy

Schopenhauer believed the cosmic will to be “wicked” and identified it as the source of all our endless suffering. He thought that suffering was essential to all life, and is increased by every increase of knowledge. Will has no fixed end, which if achieved would bring contentment.  In On Suicide, published in 1851, Schopenhauer said: “There is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person”. Schopenhauer believed that suicide was possibly the best act we can commit in life as the only way to tolerate existence is to struggle against the Will. (However, this theory is flawed as we, as humans, are part of the Will, therefore we cannot struggle against ourselves?)

Schopenhauer famously said that we pursue our futile purposes: “as we blow out a soap-bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.”

And finally, as regards to women, Schopenhauer’s view of them was very poor: “Taken as a whole, women are . . . thorough-going philistines, and quite incurable.”

Although Schopenhauer was a contemporary of Hegel and pupil of Kant, his pessimism on life set him apart and Russell concludes that his philosophy has considerable importance as a stage in historical development.

About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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