G. W. F. Hegel


Hegel was born in Stuttgart on August 27, 1770, the son of Georg Ludwig Hegel, a revenue officer with the Duchy of Wurttemburg. Eldest of three children (his younger brother, Georg Ludwig, died young as an officer with Napoleon during the Russian campaign), he was brought up in an atmosphere of Protestant pietism. His mother was teaching him Latin before he began school, but died when he was 11. He was very attached to his sister, Christiane, who later developed a manic jealousy of Hegel's wife when he married at age 40 and committed suicide three months after his death. Hegel was deeply concerned by his sister's psychosis and developed ideas of psychiatry based on concepts of dialectics.

Hegel soon became thoroughly acquainted with the Greek and Roman classics while studying at the Stuttgart Gymnasium (preparatory school) and was familiar with German literature and science. Encouraged by his father to become a clergyman, Hegel entered the seminary at the University of Tübingen in 1788. There he developed friendships with the poet Friedrich Hölderlin and the philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling. From Hölderlin in particular, Hegel developed a profound interest in Greek literature and philosophy. Early on and throughout his life, Hegel recorded and committed to memory everything he read - and he read profusely! Hegel worshipped Goethe and long regarded himself as inferior to his brilliant contemporaries Schelling and Hölderlin.

The Germany of Hegel's time was extremely backward from an economic point of view. Germany was a myriad of tiny, backward states, relatively insulated from the turmoils of Europe. He was an avid reader of Schiller and Rousseau. Hegel was 18 when the Bastille was stormed and the Republic declared in France and Hegel was an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution, and participated in a support group formed in Tübingen. Hegel finished his first great work, The Phenomenology of Mind on the very eve of the decisive Battle of Jena, in which Napoleon broke the Prussian armies and dismembered the kingdom. French soldiers entered Hegel's house and set it afire just after he stuffed the last pages of the Phenomenology into his pocket and took refuge in the house of a high official of the town. In the Phenomenology he attempts to understand the revolutionary terror of the Jacobins in terms of their interpretation of Freedom. Hegel celebrated Bastille Day throughout his life.

Having completed a course of study in philosophy and theology and having decided not to enter the ministry, Hegel became (1793) a private tutor in Berne, Switzerland. In about 1794, at the suggestion of his friend Hölderlin, Hegel began a study of Immanuel Kant and Johann Fichte but his first writings at this time were Life of Jesus and The Positivity of Christian Religion.

In 1796, Hegel wrote The First Programme for a System of German Idealism jointly with Schelling. This work included the line: "... the state is something purely mechanical - and there is no [spiritual] idea of a machine. Only what is an object of freedom may be called 'Idea'. Therefore we must transcend the state! For every state must treat free men as cogs in a machine . And this is precisely what should not happen ; hence the state must perish". In 1797, Hölderlin found Hegel a position in Frankfurt, but two years later his father died, leaving him enough to free him from tutoring.

In 1801, Hegel went to the University of Jena. Fichte had left Jena in 1799, and Schiller had left in in 1793, but Schelling remained at Jena until 1803 and Schelling and Hegel collaborated during that time.

Hegel studied, wrote and lectured, although he did not receive a salary until the end of 1806, just before completing the first draft of The Phenomenology of Mind - the first work to present his own unique philosophical contribution - part of which was taken through the French lines by a courier to his friend Niethammer in Bamburg, Bavaria, before Jena was taken by Napoleon's army and Hegel was forced to flee - the remaining pages in his pocket.

Having exhausted the legacy left him by his father, Hegel became editor of the Catholic daily Bamberger Zeitung. He disliked journalism, however, and moved to Nuremberg, where he served for eight years as headmaster of a Gymnasium. He continued to work on the Phenomenology. Almost everything that Hegel was to develop systematically over the rest of his life is prefigured in the Phenomenology, but this book is far from systematic and extremely difficult to read. The Phenomenology attempts to present human history, with all its revolutions, wars and scientific discoveries, as an idealistic self-development of an objective Spirit or Mind.

During the Nuremberg years, Hegel met and married Marie von Tucher (1791-1855). They had three children - a daughter who died soon after birth, and two sons, Karl (1813-1901) and Immanuel (1814-91). Hegel had also fathered an illegitimate son, Ludwig, to the wife of his former landlord in Jena. Ludwig was born soon after Hegel had left Jena but eventually came to live with the Hegels, too.

While at Nuremberg, Hegel published over a period of several years The Science of Logic (1812, 1813, 1816). In 1816, Hegel accepted a professorship in philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. Soon after, he published in summary form a systematic statement of his entire philosophy entitled Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences which was first translated into English in 1959 and includes The Shorter Logic, as Part I. The Encyclopaedia was continually revised up till 1827, and the final version was published in 1830.

In 1818, Hegel was invited to teach at the University of Berlin, where he was to remain. He died in Berlin on November 14, 1831, during a cholera epidemic.

The last full-length work published by Hegel was The Philosophy of Right (1821), although several sets of his lecture notes, supplemented by students' notes, were published after his death. Published lectures include The Philosophy of Fine Art (1835-38), Lectures on the History of Philosophy (1833-36), Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1832), and Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837).

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