Self-Knowledge of the Absolute
The goal of the dialectical cosmic process can be most clearly understood at the level of reason. As finite reason progresses in understanding, the Absolute progresses toward full self-knowledge. Indeed, the Absolute comes to know itself through the human mind’s increased understanding of reality, or the Absolute. Hegel analyzed this human progression in understanding in terms of three levels: art, religion, and philosophy. Art grasps the Absolute in material forms, interpreting the rational through the sensible forms of beauty. Art is conceptually superseded by religion, which grasps the Absolute by means of images and symbols. The highest religion for Hegel is Christianity, for in Christianity the truth that the Absolute manifests itself in the finite is symbolically reflected in the incarnation. Philosophy, however, is conceptually supreme, because it grasps the Absolute rationally. Once this has been achieved, the Absolute has arrived at full self-consciousness, and the cosmic drama reaches its end and goal. Only at this point did Hegel identify the Absolute with God. “God is God,” Hegel argued, “only in so far as he knows himself.”
Philosophy of History
In the process of analyzing the nature of Absolute Spirit, Hegel made significant contributions in a variety of philosophical fields, including the philosophy of history and social ethics. With respect to history, his two key explanatory categories are reason and freedom. “The only Thought,” maintained Hegel, “which Philosophy brings. . . to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of Reason; that Reason is the Sovereign of the world, that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.” As a rational process, history is a record of the development of human freedom, for human history is a progression from less freedom to greater freedom.
Ethics and Politics
Hegel’s social and political views emerge most clearly in his discussion of morality (Moralität) and social ethics (Sittlichkeit). At the level of morality, right and wrong is a matter of individual conscience. One must, however, move beyond this to the level of social ethics, for duty, according to Hegel, is not essentially the product of individual judgment. Individuals are complete only in the midst of social relationships; thus, the only context in which duty can truly exist is a social one. Hegel considered membership in the state one of the individual’s highest duties. Ideally, the state is the manifestation of the general will, which is the highest expression of the ethical spirit. Obedience to this general will is the act of a free and rational individual. Hegel emerges as a conservative, but he should not be interpreted as sanctioning totalitarianism, for he also argued that the abridgment of freedom by any actual state is morally unacceptable.
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Friday, December 26, 2008
Self-Knowledge of the Absolute