Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Philosophy of History and Religion
His all-embracing philosophical system, set forth in such works as Phenomenology of Mind (1807), Science of Logic (1812-16), and Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), includes theories of ethics, aesthetics, history, politics, and religion. At the center of the universe Hegel posited an enveloping absolute spirit that guides all reality, including human reason. His absolute idealism envisages a world-soul, evident throughout history, that develops from, and is known through, a process of change and progress now known universally as the Hegelian dialectic. According to its laws, one concept (thesis) inevitably generates its opposite (antithesis); their interaction leads to a new concept (synthesis), which in turn becomes the thesis of a new triad. Thus philosophy enables human beings to comprehend the historical unfolding of the absolute. Hegel's application of the dialectic to the concept of conflict of cultures stimulated historical analysis and, in the political arena, made him a hero to those working for a unified Germany. He was a major influence on subsequent idealist thinkers and on such philosophers as Kiekegaard and Sartre; perhaps his most far-reaching effect was his influence on Karl Marx, who substituted materialism for idealism in his formulation of dialectical materialism.