Thursday, August 01, 2002

Someone emailed me and asked my opinion on "how is Hegel's philosophy useful in a modern context?"

Hegel has been very useful to me in creating my own vision, but there are many (philosophers even) who do not find Hegel useful at all.

There are some superficial ways in which Hegel contributed to the contemporary vision, and some more profound ways. Walter Kaufmann listed some of the superficial ways in his book Goethe Kant and Hegel. One example is that he taught us to look at a proposition, or an argument, or an artwork in the context of its origin, its end, and its purpose, rather than to look at it as a timeless, decontextualized entity.

But in a more profound (and "fuzzy-minded") way, one can see all of existence as emerging, as developing, as evolving. Both the individual, and the group, and the world evolves. And this evolution is not the intellectually or existentially trivial type that is described by most scientistic Darwinists. Rather than the nihilistic survival of the most boring that Gould portrayed evolution as, for example, existence simply tends to evolve or develop. And this develoment does not stop with contemporary man. We have farther to go.

Further, mind is developing, and minds develop at diferent rates. The differences between minds is often what produces conflict. Therefore, one can see conflict (whether violent, intellectual, cultural, etc.) as differences between people who are acting equally appropriately and ethically, but from different frames of reference, different perspectives, different stages of development. Rather than the Christian/Medieval outlook of the world as conflict between Good and Evil, Hegel saw conflict as understandable differences of values. Conflict between different stages along the same path.

Further, unlike scientistic or moralistic views of existence, Hegel's Idealism allows for the legitimacy of these opposing conceptions--egoism, moralism, scientism, relativism. They are earlier stages (ancient, medieval, renaissance, Enlightenment), and thus appropriate to that stage of development. Therefore, to the moralist, the Hegelian is wrong, but to the Hegelian, the moralist is acting appropriately.

To Hegel, every stage of development was absolutely necessary. Seedling, plant, fruit, seed. Similarly, no aspect of life is worthless. No perspective is irrelevant. Quite a different perspective than the typically dualistic moral conception.

Even further, I believe that Hegel was somehow influenced by Eastern religion. Hegel posited Geist as the ultimate reality, the single mind of which our separate minds, our seperate selves, are mere individuated parts. And it is Geist that is developing through the development of each of our individual selves. As we pass into self-consciousness, it is Geist that is becoming self-conscious.

I think that Hegel saw the world, and the individual, as ontologically developmental. As becoming, rather than being. This is not easy to grasp, and Hegel's writing style obscures. (That's why I tend to recommend Goethe instead. Not that he's easy to grasp, but at least he's clear.)

But I believe that you have to be at a certain cognitive level before you can want to see all aspects of the world as necessary, right, ethical, and correct. That's why many (most?) professional philosophers are quite happy being totally ignorant of Hegel's vision. The moralistic and scientistic views of the world are incapable of grasping a holistic view.

In short, Hegel's vision is in my opinion so beautiful, so superior to the relativistic or materialistic or the moralistic visions, that it's truth value is almost secondary in importance.


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