The Relationship Between Dialectics and the WorldJune 27, 2021
Hegel’s dialectical treatise includes terms such as emerge, evolve, and act.
On the one hand, these terms reflect something important about this method of philosophy, which is that it allows to start with no assumptions and from the least controversial point and move towards ever richer and more accurate concepts through a process of dialectical opening. On the other hand, however, Hegel openly argues that these developments are not only interesting logical truths, but also real developments that can be seen in the workings of history. For example, a man in ancient Greece and a man in the modern world would of course think differently, but Hegel argues that their ways of thinking are also different and represent different kinds of consciousness—or different stages in the historical development of thought and consciousness.
In his first major work, The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel gives an account of the dialectical development of these forms of consciousness. It starts with the types of consciousness that each person can have and goes all the way to the forms of collective consciousness. And in doing so, he pretends to want to show that these types of consciousness were revealed in certain historical periods or events—the most famous example of this being the American and French revolutions. In fact, Hegel even argues that at certain times in history the next revolutionary change of Spirit may manifest itself as an individual (like Napoleon Bonaparte) completely unaware of his role as an individual consciousness in the history of Spirit. And the progress that these individuals make is always characterized by their rescuing of the Spirit (in human form) from recurring difficult situations—perhaps defeating tyrants who themselves came to power as a result of overthrowing previous tyrants.
This extraordinary idea – that the structure of consciousness changes over time and changes according to a visible pattern in history – means that there is nothing about people that is not historical in nature. Moreover, this historical development of consciousness does not occur randomly. Since it is a dialectical process, there has to be some kind of sense of direction and endpoint. Hegel defines this endpoint as ‘Absolute Spirit’ by which he means an advanced stage of consciousness that no longer belongs to individuals but instead belongs to reality as a whole. At this point in its development, knowledge is now perfect, which is what should happen according to Hegel, because Spirit encompasses both the knower and the known through dialectical synthesis.
In addition, Spirit grasps this knowledge as if it were nothing but its own completed essence—the full assimilation of all forms of “otherness” that are always parts of itself, though it does not know it. In other words, Spirit does not just encompass reality; it becomes aware of itself, which is nothing but a movement towards this siege of reality. As Hegel wrote in “The Phenomenology of Spirit”, “History is the form that mediates itself through knowing. It is Spirit externalized in time.”
But what about the world we live in, which seems completely separate from human history? What does it mean to say that reality is historical? For Hegel, what we ordinarily call “nature” or “world” is also Spirit. Hegel describes it this way: “Nature should be seen as a system of stages. One necessarily arises from the other, and as a being the nearest realization of the stage of which it is the result.” Hegel goes on to say that one of the stages of nature is the development from “only Life” (nature as a living whole) to “existence as Spirit”.
At this stage of nature, a different dialectic begins, consciousness itself forms in the dialectical progression of the absolute spirit towards self-realization. Hegel explains this progression as follows: Consciousness first thinks of itself as an individual in matter or among the consciousness of other individuals occupying a separate place in the natural world. But the later stages of consciousness are no longer the consciousness of these individuals and become the consciousness of social and political groups. And so the dialectic continues to purify itself until it reaches the stage of absolute spirit.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook