1. Some sweeping metaphysical categorizations about Hegel


Monism: The metaphysical position that “all reality [being] is one,” in other words that there is only one thing that (really) exists, and everything else is somehow amounts to it.  [Other positions are dualism (reality is two, say spirit and matter) and pluralism.]

For Hegel, all reality (everything) was interrelated within one vast, complex system or whole which he called the “Absolute.” All consciousness is part of Absolute Knowing [Phenomenology of Spirit], all concepts belong to the Absolute Idea [Science of Logic], all the world is Absolute Spirit [Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline].

However, Hegel's monism is something intended [by Spirit], the outcome of a process, and not presupposed. (Does that mean he doesn't have to prove it?)   Therefore Hegel's reality is monistic and not monistic—a multiplicity or world of differences that “drives itself beyond itself” towards “difference in identity” and “multiplicity in unity.”

Idealism: The idea that “mind or spirit is [the ultimate] reality [being]” or that “thought is the world” [and not just stuff circling around in your head].

The Absolute (see above) is also a thinking/speaking reality, “thought thinking itself” as self-consciousness.  Hegel’s idealism is again the result of process, not a “presupposition.”  All material reality (so it does “exist”!) will be ultimately subsumed in the ideal.

Critique: Kant introduced the term for the critical examination of reason by itself.  Kant’s presupposition that analyzing the structures of thought is the key to understanding reality. For Hegel, reality is identical to thought: “The real is rational and the rational real.” Reality is rational process.  The Absolute emerges through “critique” of itself—something like critical introspection of whatever “stages” of consciousness it happens to be at, and which will result in TOTAL CONSCIOUSNESS or ABSOLUTE KNOWING.

Romanticism: the basic idea that “man is a finite principle tending to the infinite.”  Obviously Hegel is a Romantic.  His romanticism is that the infinity is only fulfilled and realized by speculative thought, reason, self-consciousness—and things like religious feeling, moralism, or aesthetic contemplation cannot achieve infinity because each involves a self-annihilation of the human spirit.


DETERMINATE NEGATION (or “no means yes”--Matthew Stewart)

When Hegel says that negation is always “determinate," he means that it always has a positive element.  The negation of a philosophical system, for example, is always [always produces] a more complete philosophical understanding.  That something new.

The “dialectic” advances because, says Hegel, its “second moment”, the negation of a thesis, does not simply obliterate the thesis.  That's what most negations do [if you "negate" “there is a pizza on the table” you get "there is no pizza on the table"--the obliteration of the pizza.]  Not so, says Hegel.


Hegel distinguishes between the “abstract universal concept” and the “concrete universal concept” which is the abstract such as it is realized in the world.  But this is still a thought: there are still [what we would call] the “realities” themselves, which don’t really exist according to an idealist.


Understanding = the ordinary way of thinking that presupposes that thoughts are not things and things are not thoughts.  It cannot tolerate contradictions.  I.e., this is how most of us think.

Reason = philosophical way of thinking, “that thinks things through,” turns them into thought.  Reason is embodied in the dialectic. "Reason" is able to transcend contradictions, to see difference-in-identity and multiplicity-in-unity.


Process of contradiction that underpins all of reality.

For Socrates, the dialectic was a method of discovering truth through questioning and debate 
For Kant, dialectic expressed reason's capacity to reach contradictory conclusions from apparently sound premises. 
For Hegel, dialectic drove the necessary unfolding and development of concepts in history. 
That which experiences the dialectic, in other words, SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS [whose is never made clear] first becomes its other, (“is negated”), then returns to itself in richer, differentiated form, through “negation of the negation.”  Self-consciousness [the absolute, being-in-itself] posits itself as other (being-as-other, reality as known by human beings)—depending on whose viewpoint you assume) and then eventually recognizes its identity with that other.  Dialectically “othering” yourself is a universal as concrete.


A kind of therapy—a knowing which heals, which makes whole. On Hegel’s view, human beings especially, but all being or reality, is in a state of constitutive alienation.

Man needs healing, to be made whole (=alienation).  Speculative knowledge, pure thought, is healing knowledge for Hegel—by philosophy man’s alienation is mediated and remedied, and though philosophy, all of being, the Absolute, realizes itself since all is one.

In man, "being" [or the Absolute] becomes aware of its alienation.  In man, being can take the steps to heal its alienation.  As philosophy has an affect on all of being (reality), man is a savior of the cosmos.  (Remember how Socrates comes off better in Hegel’s comparison of Socrates and Jesus?)

A good hegel page on the web

Some things to remember about Hegel

  1. Process: its a system in motion
  2. Contradiction (the dialectic) is the motor
  3. The system is all-embracing
  4. The appearance of things is different to their reality (in motion/thought)
  5. Spirit works itself "out" through time (=history)
  6. logic = metaphysics
  7. Reality is constructed by the mind; only the mind doesn't know this at first (understanding). Mind thinks reality is "out there."  Mind is therefore alienated from itself.  Recognizing that reality is its own creatin reconciles mind with itself.