Superphysics Superphysics
Section 1

The Historical Status of Philosophy

by Hegel Icon
8 minutes  • 1681 words


The history of philosophy is not independent (fur sich) but is connected with history in general, with external history as well as with the history of religion, etc.

It is natural, then, that we should recall the principal. moments of political history, the character of the time and the overall situation of the people, wherein philosophy comes info being. In addition, however, the connection with general history is internal, i.e., essential and necessary, not merely external; nor is it merely a question of one being simultaneous with the other (simultaneity is no relationship at all).

There are, then, two aspects we must take into consideration: first, the properly historical aspect of the relationship, and, secondly, the factual connection, i.e., the connection of philosophy itself with religion and with the other sciences which are related to it.

These 2 aspects are to be looked at more in detail, in order to distinguish more precisely the concept which characterizes philosophy.

I. The Historical Status of Philosophy

  1. With regard to the historical status of philosophy the first thing to be taken into account is the general relationship which the philosophy of an era has with the rest of the manifestations which characterize the same era.

It is customarily said that the political situation, religion, mythology, etc., are to be taken account of in the history of philosophy, because they have greatly influenced the philosophy of an era, and, in its turn, philosophy has had a great influence on them. If, however, one is to be content with categories such as “great influence,” the effect of one on the other, etc., all one has to do is to show an external connection, i.e., the point of view implies that each is for itself, one independent of the other.

Here, however, we must take an entirely different view of this relationship: the essential category is unity, the inner connection of these diverse manifestations. We must be convinced that there is only one spirit, one principle which manifests itself just as much in the political situation as in religion, art, morality, social relations, commerce, and industry – in such a way that these diverse forms are but branches of one main trunk. This is the main point of view.

The spirit is only one, it is the one substantial spirit of one period, one people, one era, but a spirit which takes multiple forms; and these diverse forms are the moments which are to be brought out.

It is not to be imagined that politics, civil constitutions, religions, etc., constitute the root or the cause of philosophy, nor that conversely the latter is the foundation of the former.

In all of these moments there is one character, which is the foundation of all and penetrates all. No matter how diverse the different aspects are, there is nothing contradictory in this. No one of them contains anything heterogeneous to the foundation, however much they may seem to be mutually contradictory. They are simply shoots coming from the same root; and philosophy is one of them.

  1. Philosophy, then, is one aspect of the total manifestation of spirit – consciousness of spirit being its supreme flowering, since its effort is to know what spirit is.

It is, in fact, the dignity of man to know what he is and to know this in the purest manner, i.e., to attain to the thinking of what he is. The result of this is a revelation of the place which philosophy holds among the other manifestations of spirit.

a. Philosophy is identical with the spirit of the era in which it makes its appearance.

It is not superior to its era but simply the consciousness of what is substantial in it, or, it is thinking knowledge of what belongs to that era.

By the same token an individual is not superior to his era; he is its son; what is substantial in it is his essence, he simply manifests it in a particular form. No one can escape from what is substantial in his era – any more than he can get out of his own skin. Thus, from the substantial point of view, philosophy cannot leap beyond its own times.

b. Nevertheless, philosophy does stand over and above its own era, which is to say, from the point of view of form, since it consists in the thinking of what is substantial in that era.

To the extent that it knows the substantial, i.e., makes it an object over against itself, it has the same content but as a knowledge of it goes beyond. The difference, however, is simply formal; there is no difference in content.

c. Now, this very knowledge is the actuality (Wirklichkeit) of spirit

I am only to the extent that I know myself.

It is the spirit’s self-knowledge which formerly was not present. Thus, the formal difference is also a real, actual one. This knowledge it is, then, which produces a new form in the development of spirit. In this context developments are simply ways of knowing.

By self-knowledge spirit posits itself as distinct from what it is; it posits itself for itself [as independent], develops in itself. This involves a new difference between what it is in itself and what its actuality is; and, thus, a new manifestation emerges.

In itself, then, philosophy is already a further determinateness or character of spirit; it is the interior birthplace of the spirit which is later to appear in actuality.

Its concretion emerges in the history of philosophy itself. In this connection we shall see that what Greek philosophy was came to actuality in the Christian world.

Here, then, is the second determination, i.e., that philosophy is first and foremost simply the thinking of what is substantial in its own time, that it does not stand above that time but only brings out its content.

  1. The third thing to be taken into account with regard to its historical situation has to do with the time when philosophy emerges, in comparison with other manifestations of spirit.

The spirit of an era is its substantial life; it is the spirit as immediately vital, actual.

Thus, at a time when Greek life flourishes, we see the Greek spirit in the freshness and strength of its youth, unaffected by decadence. The Roman spirit we see during the era of the republic. And so it goes.

The spirit of the era is also the way a particular spirit is present as actual vitality. Philosophy, however, is this spirit’s thinking; and thought, no matter how a priori it may be, is essentially the result of spirit, for spirit is the vital activity which produces itself; in its progress it produces itself as a result.

This movement contains a negation as an essential moment. If something is to be produced, then it must be produced from something else, and precisely that other is negated in the movement. Thus, thinking negates the natural way of living.

The child, for example, exists as a human being, but still immediately, naturally; education, then, is the negation of this natural way, it is the discipline which spirit imposes on itself in order to raise itself from its immediacy. By the same token, thinking spirit as it begins its movement is in its natural form.

Then, as it be comes reflective it goes beyond its natural form, i.e., it negates it; ultimately it realizes itself by grasping itself in concept. This is where thinking enters. The consequence of this is that the spirit with its realistic norms based on custom (Sittlichkeit), which constitute its vital force, is negated.

This means that thought, which is the spirit’s substantial manner of existing, attacks and weakens simple custom, simple religion, etc., thus ushering in a period of decadence.

Then, with further progress, thought recollects itself, becomes concrete, and in this way produces for itself an ideal world in contrast to the former real one. So, when philosophy is to make its appearance among a people, a rupture must have occurred in the actual world.

Then philosophy remedies the decadence which thought had begun. The remedial action takes place in the ideal world, the world of spirit where man takes refuge when the earthly world satisfies him no longer. Philosophy begins with the decline of a real world. When it appears and – painting gray on gray – spreads its abstractions, then is the fresh color and vitality of youth gone.

What it produces, then, is a remedy, but only in the world of thought, not in the earthly world.

Thus the Greeks, when they began to think, withdrew from the state; and they began to think at a time when in the world around them there was nothing but turbulence and wretchedness, e.g., during the time of the Peloponnesian War.

That was when the philosophers withdrew into their thought-world; as the people said of them, they became idlers.

So it has been with almost all peoples; philosophy makes its first appearance when public life is no longer satisfying and ceases to hold the interest of the people, and the citizen finds it so difficult to take any part in government.

All this is an essential determination of philosophy, which the history of philosophy preserves.

As the Ionic cities declined, Ionic philosophy blossomed. The external world no longer satisfied the spirit. In the same way among the Romans, philosophizing began with the fall of the republic, when demagogues took over the government, and everything was caught up in a dissolution of the old and a striving toward the new.

It was not until the decline of the Roman Empire, which although so great, so rich, and so imposing, was internally already dead, that the earlier Greek philosophies experienced their highest cultivation in the work of the Neoplatonists or Alexandrians. In similar fashion with the decline of the Middle Ages we see the revival of older philosophies.

This brings us to the more precise connection between philosophy and the other forms of spirit’s existence.

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