Saturday, April 11, 2015

A compressed 500-word summary of ‘Reason in History’ by G. W. F. Hegel (1837)

     History is driven by the quest for self-knowledge from primitive darkness. Rational Spirit is the “substance” of world history. There is a rational cause for all events.
     Spirit strives to penetrate the barrier of nature, physicality, and instinct. Spirit and Matter have distinct essences, the former freedom (as it is self-contained) and the latter gravity (as it seeks outside itself). However, God is not separate from the world, and human nature is universally defined as the intersection of spirit and nature.
     God is the Idea of Freedom and he wills what is like himself. Freedom is the ultimate aim of world history and is "God's purpose with the world.” Although Christianity gave rise to this “highest concept” (Chinese and Indian ethical systems have no concept of freedom), history had to play out before slavery was abolished. Nature is cyclical but humans progress.
     Society, law, morality, and the state are essences to be discovered and are necessary for freedom. The state is the divine Idea on earth, the "medium of historical change” and the subject of history. The ideal of freedom must be developed from the violent state of nature; therefore, the state creates freedom, rather than limiting it.
     All thought, including religion and morality, begins with feeling, the "lowest form" and "worst mode" possessed even by animals. Reducing everything to feeling prevents discussion about what’s right or true. Philosophy is higher, freer, and wiser than Art and Religion because it appeals to reason.
     Knowledge of God is "of supreme value." Everyone is obligated to know the revealed Christian God. The state must be based on God, because freedom depends on the realization of existence in divine Being and because temporal, secular, private interest can only be justified by the universal in God.
     Moral duties are based on social, legal, and familial relationships. Part of who we are is conditioned by our ancestors. We find happiness by choosing to fulfill our culturally determined relationships and duties. Following the law—which is the people’s will, reason, and freedom--makes one free.
     The state enables knowledge, art, and religion. It shapes great individuality; men have value, self-consciousness and morality only within it.
     “World-historical” great men, the “heroes,” "stand outside of morality." They are restless, unhappy nonconformists inspired by mysterious sources. Their personal passion helps them achieve universal goals.
     Freedom isn’t about personal whim but about understanding the people’s evolving, maturing general will. Each people has its own spirit or essence, and adopts a constitution according to its level of development. The highest point of a people's development is its understanding of its state.
     Morality suppresses individual will and creates common will. Morality means (privately) wanting to do what one is supposed to do (publicly). The example of individual virtue in primitive, savage states should not cast doubt on whether the progress of history improves morality. An immoral person may advance history and a moral person may stall it. "World history [is]...the development of...the consciousness of freedom."

G. W. F. Hegel. Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Translated by Robert S. Hartman. Indianapolis: Library of Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1953. Lectures on the Philosophy of History originally published 1837.

This summary was written in 2005, along with a series of other 500-word summaries of philosophy books, as an exercise in brevity.

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