A Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of History” -- By: John Stam

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 108:432 (Oct 1951)
Article: A Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of History”
Author: John Stam

A Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of History”

John Stam

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) was a staunch Lutheran who considered himself in every respect orthodox, and made it his mission in the world to reconcile modern thought with traditional religious ideas, thus “to give science its due—though subordinate—place in a philosophy which should culminate in religion.”1 He accounted himself the savior of Christianity, and in The Philosophy of History2 endeavored to present a historic apologetic for the Christian religion. Himself the son of a minor (financial) official in Württemberg, Germany, he was from his youth an assiduous and painstaking scholar. Even as a boy he made exhaustive analyses of all his reading and copied long passages.3 Then in 1793 he was graduated from the university of Tübingen with high recommendations in theology and philology. They characterized him as “weak in philosophy,” but his first major work, The Phenomenology of Spirit, appeared in 1806; and in 1812 came his Logic, “captivating Germany by its unintelligibility” and winning for him the chair of philosophy at Heidelberg.4 From that time on, until his death in 1831, Hegel ruled the philosophic world with an unchallenged sway as head of the school of German idealists.

The basis of Hegel’s philosophy was his idealism.

Following in the footsteps of Kant he held that “the laws of thought are the laws of reality.”5 All reality seemed to him ultimately mind, finding its unity in the Absolute Mind. “Nature,” he wrote, “is the embodiment of Reason,”6 and human institutions are based, not on a contract but on the ideal laws of infinite Reason, embedded deep within the universe. History is the unfolding in time of this Absolute Spirit.7

The process by which this World Spirit unfolds itself, according to Hegel, is the dialectic. Invented by Plato and resurrected by Kant, the dialectic is a system of rational antinomies—the development from thesis to antithesis and finally to synthesis. Hegel took this as his logic and then applied it universally and systematically. He began by assuming Universal Reason as the thesis of the great dialectic. This thesis is absolutely objective, existing in and of itself apart from particular subjective manifestations. The Absolute Spirit seeks to realize itself, how...

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