But despite the density and difficulty of his prose style, "friend Hegel" had a fairly straightforward message:
To the degree that we are thinking beings, Hegel says, we have to consider ourselves as part of a larger whole and not as neatly individuated. He calls this mental whole Geist, or Spirit, [or Absolute Reason,] and tries to work out the rules by which it develops through time… Robert ProwseThe message is that we're all a part of a progressive history, towards freedom and enlightenment.
Hegel thinks that one important movement in history is the movement from thinking that just one of us is entitled to freedom (a king, say) to some (the patricians of ancient Athens, say) to all of us, where obviously this development relates to changing views of what freedom is, what we are, how we relate to one another... I'm not free unless I'm working for the good of society. Robert SternLess mystifyingly expressed, Hegel seems to be saying the same thing Carl Sagan used to say: we are the universe, coming gradually but steadily to know itself. History (personal, social, and natural) is the process of dawning self-awareness. We're waking up. This is good!
So Hegel's an optimist, unlike his countryman Schopenhauer* and perhaps oddly more like the Brits Mill and Darwin.**
A few pithier-than-usual Hegel quotes:
“Only one man ever understood me, and he didn't understand me.”
“Truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.” [There's a pedestrian example of what Hegel means by "dialectic" in The Cave and the Light: think of automobiles as the thesis, traffic jams as the antithesis, and stop signs & traffic laws as the synthesis... and so on, ho hum.]
“We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.”
“What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”
“To be independent of public opinion is the first formal condition of achieving anything great.”