Nineteenth Century Philosophy

Friedrich Hegel

What are some highlights of Friedrich Hegel’s career?

Hegel was the eldest of three children. His father was a minor government official in the Duchy of Wittenberg; his mother died when he was 11. He attended the theological seminary or “Stift,” which was a subsidiary of the University of Tübingen. His roommates were the great German Romanic poet Johann Christian Friedrich Holderlin and the philosopher Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854), who would be his colleague and intellectual opponent. (They disputed the importance of Reason, with Hegel proudly affirming it and Schelling expressing a lack of enthusiasm for it.) When he graduated, Hegel first worked as a tutor for a Bern family, and then he moved to Frankfurt. His father’s death provided him with sufficient income to concentrate on his own scholarly work in hopes of getting a university position. His early interests were in reconciling fluid notions of reason with non-institutionalized Christianity.

In 1805, Schelling assisted Hegel in moving to Jena, where he lectured for several years and became a professor at the University of Jena. By this time, as expressed in his early essays, Hegel was having doubts about the freedom promised by the Enlightenment. He loved the thought and ways of life of ancient Greece and believed that Enlightenment rights would result in new forms of repression. One motivation for this concern might have been his experience of the French Revolution. On a deeper philosophical level, he thought that what was most noble in human beings required society and government for its development. This view conflicted with the individual rights doctrine, which assumed that government was the enemy of natural human rights.

At Jena, he co-edited the Critical Journal of Philosophy with Schelling, which was dedicated to exploring the consequences of Immanuel Kant’s (1724–1804) transcendental idealism, in light of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and Schelling’s own work. Hegel left Jena when the University closed after Napoleon Bonaparte’s victory in October 1806. He then edited a pro-Napoleon newspaper in Bavaria, and became headmaster of a Nuremberg high school in 1808.

In 1807 Hegel’s important Phenomenology of Spirit was published, and then his Science of Logic (1812) resulted in a professorship at Heidelberg. In 1818 he assumed his last post, which was as a professor at Berlin, lecturing widely on philosophy of history, history of philosophy, aesthetics, and philosophy of religion, much of which was unpublished until it was posthumously compiled from his notes and those of students. Hegel’s Foundations of the Philosophy of Right: Natural Right and Political Science in Outline was published in 1821.

Friedrich Hegel was a philosopher who could think about the entire world with an Aristotelian comprehensiveness (AP).

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