Thursday, August 22, 2019

Romanticism and Hegel’s Philosophy of Spirit

Portrait of Hegel
Hegel’s philosophy of spirit is connected to the evolutionary perspective on human society that became popular during the age of Romanticism, the counter-Enlightenment movement that swept Europe towards the end of the 18th century. Hegel and the Romanticist thinkers of his time realized that science, as perfected in the age of Newton, was giving a mechanistic explanation of the world that was one-sided and misleading.

They were concerned that the belief in science was leading to the establishment of the belief that the world is the action of corpuscles, and can be understood merely by a study of the laws. They asserted that science was incapable of answering the critical questions: Why the laws are as they are and why is everything the way it is and not in some other way? Hegel was an advocate of the view that for developing a true picture of the world one must examine not only the scientific laws but also the reason behind the laws, because reality is not merely scientific—it’s rational.

The Romanticist thinkers talk about the evolutionary struggle — Sturm und Drang — which leads to an improvement in the human condition in ways that cannot be predicted by using the scientific or mechanistic models. Human beings advance from the stage of basic survival to societies that eventually come to enjoy a high degree of literacy and rationality—every new stage of human development turns out to be better than the previous one.

This point of view was applied by Hegel to history itself. He argued that reason plays a role in history through the being of something that he refers to as the Geist. The word “Geist” is generally translated as the “Absolute” and also as “soul” or “spirit.” But in Hegel’s time, the Absolute was a reference to the state itself. According to Hegel, the Absolute expresses itself in the state, which marches in the world like a god. The Hegelian thinkers defend the state against any claims of the individuals who live in it.

In his theory of history and world spirit, Hegel rejects Immanuel Kant’s viewpoint that the individual’s free will is the source of all morality and good in the world. Hegel notes that if there is dependence on free will of the moral agents, then all kinds of arbitrary and even wicked actions can be sanctioned. He postulates that surrendering the freedom of the individuals to the whole is the only possible way of achieving good in the world.

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