A Synopsis of Hegel’s Philosophy

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a renowned German philosopher who is universally acknowledged for his immense contributions to the Western philosophy. His philosophy of spirit formed the background for the conceptual integration of psychology, the state, history, art, religion, and philosophy. Hegel was an idealist who believed that the only reality we know is a virtual reality. He opined that the human minds do not perceive the world or anything directly, but through ideas about the images they perceived. In this article, we provide a synopsis of Friedrich Hegel’s philosophy to give you a glance into his contribution to knowledge.

Philosophical Beliefs

Hegel’s philosophical beliefs emphasized the development of freedom and the consciousness of freedom over the course of world history. Hegel was an idealist who believed that the ideas that we possess individually are utterly shaped by the ideas that other people possess. He was of the opinion that the human minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, including the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part. Hegel tagged this process “spirit,” which is the collective consciousness of a given society that helped to shape the consciousness of the individual member of the society. Hegel also believed in the rationality of events. He opined that men who pursue their private and selfish interests are contributing to the achievement of history. Now, let’s consider at some of Hegel’s philosophical ideology.

A Summary of Hegel’s Philosophy

Hegel’s principal achievement is his development of a distinctive articulation of idealism in which the dualisms of, for instance, mind and nature and subject and object are overcome. Here is a brief discussion on Hegel’s philosophy.

  • Hegel’s Dialectic: Unlike Socrates’ dialectic which tried to refute previous proposition in order to clear the way for a better, more convincing argument to take its place, Hegel used dialectic for another purpose. He used dialectic to explain how the societies evolve. According to Hegel, every thesis, or idea, contains an inherent contradiction, which gives rise to its antithesis, a proposition that contradicts the thesis. In the end, the thesis and antithesis are reconciled to form a synthesis, a new idea combining the elements of both. Hegel perceived the human societies as evolving in the same manner that an argument might evolve.
  • Philosophy of Spirit: Geist is the German word for spirit or mind. Hegel used spirit to refer to the collective consciousness of a society. In his work titled “Phenomenology of Spirit,” Hegel philosophized that the human consciousness begins by trying to understand phenomenon through sensory inputs and then proceeded to more sophisticated techniques of relating to the external world until it finally attains the Spirit level. The individuals are bound to other individuals in a single communal consciousness or culture. Thus, Hegel concluded that spirit is the self-consciousness of the society, a whole of which individuals are only a part. When collective consciousness changes, so also are the values and actions of the individual parts.
  • Hegel’s Philosophy of Lordship and Bondage: According to Hegel, the relationship between the lordship and the bondman is the basis for social relation. Hegel believed that the individual becomes aware of self through the eyes of another. Consciousness of self is always the consciousness of the other. He suggested that self-consciousness involves not only a subject and an object but other subjects as well. Hegel explained that in the relationships of inequality and dependence, the bondsman (the subordinate and dependent), is always conscious of his lesser status in the eyes of the lord (the independent). The lord, however, enjoys the freedom of negating the consciousness of the bondman (who is insignificant to him). The lord soon felt guilty for negating a consciousness (bondman) with which he identifies himself of his independent and free status. Hegel concluded that social life is founded on the continuous competing moments of mutual identification and objectification. A continuous changing dynamic of identifying with and also distancing oneself from the other.
  • Hegel’s Ethical Life Philosophy: Hegel’s ethical life philosophy was about the fundamental interdependence among individuals in a society and how they articulate their shared customs and morals. According to Hegel, ethical life expressed a collective entity that is beyond all individuals but determines their beliefs and actions whether they are conscious of it or not. He argued that the modern society is characterized by economic individualism as against the social bond that was more important in the period prior to the Enlightenment. Thus, Hegel opined that the modern state is the institution that will correct this imbalance in modern culture. He predicted the emergence of institutions that will establish common bonds and ethical life while preserving individual freedom in the society. Hegel concluded that the state must regulate the economy, provide for the poor in society and allows individuals the freedom to belong to corporative institutions.


Hegel was an important figure of German Idealism. He was not only influential within the philosophical discipline; his influence was also felt in the field of psychology, sociology, politics, and other sciences. Hegel’s philosophy was to have profound impacts on many future philosophical schools, including schools that opposed his specific dialectical idealism, such as existentialism, the historical materialism of Marx, and British Idealism.

Photo Credit: Biography