Reason in History: A General Introduction to the Philosophy of History

ISBN: 0672602008
ISBN 13: 9780672602009
By: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Robert S. Hartman

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About this book

PrefaceIntroductionNote on the TextThe three methods of writing historyReason as the basis of historyThe idea of history & its realizationThe idea of freedom The means of realization The idea & the individualThe individual as subject of historyThe individual as object of history The State The State as realization of the ideaLaw as realization of freedom The legal foundation of the State (The Constitution)The religious foundation of the State The course of world history The principle of development The origin of history The pre-history of reason The State as condition of historyThe historical role of language The course of development The principle of a people The dialectic of national principles

Reader's Thoughts


This is a really good place to start for those new to Hegel.


i would more consider myself a young hegelian. this presents itself more as theology than philosophy.

Erik Graff

I read this book alongside Hegel's Philosophy of Right which had been assigned for Dave Schweickart's Social and Political Philosophy course taught at Loyola University Chicago during the second semester of 1980/1. Published posthumously and based on notes, Lectures on the Philosophy of History is not among Hegel's better works. It does, however, serve as a quick refresher.

Bob Nichols

This book is a nearly 100 page introduction to Hegel's "The Philosophy of History." In this introduction, Hegel traces the development of freedom (self-determination)through history, from its beginnings in inorganic matter, through the earliest life forms, and then to humanity (the rest of Hegel's "Philosophy of History" deals with the geographic development of freedom). God determines but is not Himself determined. Freedom is God's nature. God's freedom manifests itself in the material world and that world abides by God's laws that are rational (hence, the title of this book/introduction). History is the progressive unfolding of rationality, from the laws of nature in the inorganic world to its highest expression in humans where freedom becomes conscious of itself and humans unite with their divine essence that was implicit all along. This is God's plan for the world and his plan for humans. Time (history) is the linear unfolding of God's plan that becomes ever more rational, universal (law-like), conscious, and self-determined. The end state of freedom's development is rational humanity and human institutions (the state and its laws and culture) that act in accord with universal, rational principles. In the Hegelian formulation, individual subjectivity has become transformed. Subjectivity and objectivity become one, and humans become united with their divine essence. It is interesting to speculate whether Hegel was divining God's plan for the world or whether he was unwittingly describing the natural (i.e., no divine agent) unfolding of freedom in our corner of the cosmos. Matter moves freely until it meets and interacts with other matter. At the beginning of life, matter takes on new characteristics that perpetuate freedom. Matter becomes life that preserves its freedom ("self-determination") by adjusting its actions to fit what the environment requires and, in doing so, this allows life to perpetuate itself through time (individual survival and reproduction). Life now follows a new cosmic path. Life, seeking to survive and reproduce, meets other life forms and, through a Hegelian-like dialectical process, this confrontation forces the evolution of species and freedom's capacity that is seen in mental components that increasingly allow for freedom of choice about how to respond to the challenges of the environment. This development culminates (thus far) in humans. In this alternative perspective regarding the evolution of freedom, Hegel's God recedes into the deep background, if not from the cosmos all together, and natural processes take its place. Freedom has emerged from its embedded place in matter to its transcendent place in human consciousness that can think in law-like, universal terms that are free of time and place. Hegel did not write this introduction or the Philosophy of History himself. His words were recorded by students and compiled in this book. There is therefore room for interpretation in what Hegel said exactly and how his thoughts were captured. In this version, Hartman writes not only a good introduction, but also includes alternative text from other translations that aid in understanding Hegel's thoughts. Hartman relies primarily on Hegel's son's (Karl's) 1840 translation and relies only minimally on the "pioneer" Sibree translation of the "Philosophy of History" that includes this introduction (1899). Even with this uncertainty about Hegel's actual words and thoughts, his prose at times truly soars. Hegel begins with a divine premise and develops a philosophy that pulls the world's history into a unified system that centers on the development and full expression of freedom. This is why his introduction and his larger work is not a history per se, but a philosophy of history. Whether one agrees with him, Hegel is a first-class thinker who challenges more familiar ways of viewing the world and our place in it.


A interesting overview of Hegel's Philosophy of History as well as the additional translation of the introduction of Hegel's Philosophy of history. However, one could spend time on reading Hegel's actual book Philosophy of History which already includes much of what the author translated.

Anthony D Buckley

I am pursuing, with some fortitude, a policy of reading some difficult books, starting with Hegel. This particular volume was collated by students from Hegel’s lectures on history. Hegel seems to think that history consists of God’s developing self-understanding. I have read enough Marx and Feuerbach, however, to be aware that Hegel is susceptible to the following criticism. God’s developing self-understanding consists largely of a developing human self-understanding. It is an argument that is difficult to get around. In short, is not the concept of God, as used here, merely redundant?Hegel starts by claiming that there are three approaches to history, "Original History", "Reflective History" and his own topic, "Philosophical History". He claims that nature, both physical and psychic, is permeated with Reason or thought. The essence of psychic nature or “Spirit” (human thought about nature = divine self-consciousness) is, however, Freedom: “All the properties of Spirit exist only through Freedom. All are but means of attaining Freedom; all seek and produce this and this alone.” In self-consciousness, Spirit knows itself, and indeed, world history itself may be considered to be Spirit trying to attain knowledge of its own nature which is Freedom. In earlier periods of history and in other geographical places, Freedom did not become fully self-conscious. Hegel thinks that Oriental peoples (he may be thinking of the Ottomans)know that only the one (the despot) is free. The Ancient Greeks knew only that some were free - they had slaves for example. Only with German Christianity (Luther) was there a discovery that all people were free, and even here, it took many centuries for this truth to be manifested in the secular world. Hegel says that the realization of the self-knowledge of the Spirit comes about through the passions and self-interested actions of human individuals. Freedom, which for Hegel is the essence of the Spirit, is not, for Hegel, “the caprice of individuals”. Rather, Freedom is enshrined in human institutions, in morality, law, religion, art and, above all, in the constitutional “State” which seems to incorporate all these others. “A state is then well-constituted and internally vigorous when the private interest of its citizens is one with the common interest of the state and the one finds gratification and realization in the other.” His conception here approaches that of Adam Smith (1786). Like Smith - who speaks of the "invisible hand", presumably God's - he assumes that morality and common welfare arises out of the selfish pursuit of individual passions. “These vast congeries of volitions, interests, and activities constitute the tools and means of the World Spirit for attaining its purpose, bringing it to consciousness, and realizing it.” Hegel uses a simile of suggesting that the state resembles a house. In both contrasting pressures exerted by the different parts come together to create a well-constituted entire building or state. Not all states, however, are well-constituted. At specific historical moments, when a state is in decline, world-historical individuals (heroes) make their appearance on the world’s stage. Such heroes realize the Spirit’s purpose which follows a higher law than their own individual interests. He thinks here of men such as Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon. These men, pursuing their own ambition, nevertheless align themselves with the purposes of the divine World Spirit and thereby advance the divine purpose. However, these heroes, like many non-heroic individuals, are often mistreated by history. Hegel describes history as “the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of states, and the virtue of individuals have been sacrificed.” Hegel’s philosophical history, therefore, tells of the progress of Spirit towards its own self-consciousness when freedom discovers itself embedded in human institutions. It is, therefore, a strange and rather mystifying tale.

Petter Nordal

This book messed with my mind: are people and leaders and armies and ideologies and politcal ideas and economics all shadow representations of ideas we generate as we live and breathe and act out history?

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