George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)


Hegelianism is the philosophy of George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) that can be summed up by his “Dialectics” which is a term used to describe a method of philosophical argument that sees the world in two opposing forces thesis, antithesis, that then produce the synthesis. The triad of thesis, antithesis, synthesis was never used the terminology by Hegel himself. That originated with Johann Fichte. However, the relationship between the these three abstract terms of the triad is what has become known as Hegel’s dialectical method of reasoning. To Hegel, the two conflicting ideas are reconciled to form a new proposition. Therefore, Hegelianism can be summed up as “the rational alone is real”, which means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. Hegel’s goal was to reduce reality to a more synthetic unity within the system of absolute idealism. Hence, Hegel’s dialectic can be expressed as:


  1.  a beginning proposition called a thesis,
  2.  a negation of that thesis called the antithesis, and
  3.  a synthesis whereby the two conflicting ideas are reconciled to form a new proposition.

Perhaps the most classic version of “dialectics”, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato presented his philosophical argument as a back-and-forth dialogue or debate. He created this debate between the character of Socrates, on one side, and some person such as Thrasymachus or group of people to whom Socrates was talking on the other side. Socrates’ interlocutors propose definitions of philosophical concepts or express views that Socrates then challenges or opposes. The back-and-forth debate between opposing sides produces a kind of linear progression or evolution in philosophical views or positions. Hegel saw this method of a back-and-forth dialectic between Socrates and his interlocutors thus becomes Plato’s way of arguing against the earlier, less sophisticated views or positions and for the more sophisticated ones later.

Hegel’s dialectics relies on this same contradictory process between opposing sides. Hegel’s work depends on the subject matter he discusses. For example, Hegel’s work on logic presents the two opposing sides are different definitions of logical concepts. Hegel acknowledged that his dialectical method was part of a philosophical tradition stretching back to Plato, he criticized Plato’s version of dialectics. He argued that Plato’s dialectics deals only with limited philosophical claims and is unable to get beyond skepticism or nothingness (SL-M 55–6; SL-dG 34–5; PR, Remark to §31). According to Hegel, if an argument leads to a contradiction, we must conclude that the premises are false.