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Discussing G.W.F Hegel's Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Though he didn't actually write a book with this name, notes on his lectures on this topic were published after his death, and the first chunk of that serves as a good entrance point to Hegel's very strange system.
How should a philosopher approach the study of history? Is history just a bunch of random happenings, or is it a purposive force manipulating us to fulfill its hidden ends? If you have asked yourself this question in this way, then you, like Hegel, are mighty strange.
Here we talk about the unfolding of the world-historical spirit, world-historical individuals (hint: not you), dialectic, his alternative to the social contract, the formation of the self based on what others label you, the geist of America, why a constitutional monarchy is obviously the best form of government, and heaps more.
Read with us: Pages 14-128 of this online version or buy the book with only the part we're concerned with.
End Song: "Cold," by Madison Lint (2004), described in my music blog.
Wes, the GDP per capita in China is certainly NOT equal to the GDP per capita in the USA
China 2010 GDP per capita:$3290
USA 2010 GDP per capita:$45200
Wes Alwan says
I said that? Wow.
yeah that gdp thing threw me, i just figured you meant they surpassed us in some other economic way recently or it was just predicted they would by a certain date, but i think its many decades away
anyways i must say i really love your guys’ podcast but this was the first one that put me to sleep, i was taking a long walk and had to sit down and i went out for about 10 minutes somewhere in the middle.. not really a criticism of you guys so much as hegel just not interesting me i guess
Wes Alwan says
Thanks Matth — I meant to say that China is predicted to soon have the largest GDP. Mark edited in “per capita” to embarrass me.
Mark Linsenmayer says
I’m confident that if this episode made people fall asleep, it must have been Wes or Seth that did the editing on it, though I don’t actually remember at this point. 🙂
Seth Paskin says
Bound to happen with this format, the topics and my voice. I’ll take responsibility. That having been said, if it’s just one EP out of every 10 or so, I’d say we’re doing an OK job.
Compare to how you fare(d) in classes at school.
Very true, as far as 2 hours of straight audio go that keep you engaged the whole way through i dont think i have found much to compare with this podcast. The 3 or 4 friendly voices all trying to understand the topic and each other while mixing in some humor, can not ask for much more, i might even revisit many of these if i ever get real serious about learning someone inside and out.. your perspectives always add to a richer understanding of the philosopher, book, and topic.
Damjan Dobrila says
This particular podcast episode got me to you guys (was searching for some youtube lectures on Hegel and came across a part of this episode) and I was pretty much blown away. I was amazed 🙂 I’m a philosophy student from Belgrade, Serbia, which has a pretty radical analytic school of thought, so after 3 years of Quine and Kripke horror I kinda slowed with my philosophy enthusiasm (which was really on a high level for years) and stopped going to lectures. I had just a couple of exams left, one of which was Hegel. Believe it or not, this podcast episode got me back into Hegel in ways I could’t imagine before. I started being obsessed (in a healthy way 🙂 with his whole philosophy, and got a pure 10 on an exam after almost 2 years of not going to university. I really have an urge to thank you from the bottom of my heart, because of this 🙂 It was really your approach that got to me, I never have seen anything similar on my university. True love for the ideas 🙂 So, sorry for this small rant, but i had to inform you on your influence in south-eastern europe 🙂 I will now definitely finish my exams, and try to find some, at least not-strictly analytic, master or doctorate studies of philosophy. Cheers!
Seth Paskin says
Many thanks for the kind note. I am truly humbled that our endeavors could have such an impact on you and grateful that you shared this with us. That episode was a revelation to all of us as well, I think and really got me invigorated about Hegel and philosophy as well.
All the best as you travel your path,
Wes Alwan says
Thank you Damjan! That’s great to hear — makes doing this worthwhile.
I’ve just listened to the first hour of the Hegel and history episode. I don’t know if I’ll get to the rest of it, but just gotta say:
It seems to me that this Hegelian view of history ascribes to the “plot” of the story of Homo sapiens on earth characteristics similar to the growth and development of an individual member of the genus.
There is an inevitability, a predictable–and yet not at all predictable in specifics–direction in the way a person develops; any reasonably healthy surviving infant will become a child, will become sexually mature, will separate from the parent…and yet there is no way of knowing the exact form of these transitions or the exact character and actions of the person at each stage. But we can predict certain well described traits for the ages of any “normal” human, even though the individuals may look/act/feel different from one another in substantive ways. We can predict the impulses, the passions, the physical, mental etc changes in a growing human which impel to such actions as affection for and later separation from parents, curiosity, rebellion, mating, etc. This is because there have been so many humans to observe and the story happens many times in our own experience. (And as with whole civilizations the specifics of the plot is modified by nature and circumstance and randomness. )
Isn’t it quite like that, in Hegel’s view of history, in which the human species, as a whole, on earth, grows directionally from one age to another inevitably but possibly haltingly, disastrously, even painfully, and yet inexorably transforming with time in a way that recapitulates (in the same way that “phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny”, perhaps?) the ages of the individual man?
Just as we can look back on past historical ages critically and discern “progress”, we can see the “improvements” in the progressively more mature stages of an individual’s life; we also see what is lost in each transition. Many missteps in our personal lives reveal themselves to be so only in hindsight while we remain blind to the future, even if we do profess to submit to the influence of spirit AKA the will of God—and historians look back and tell us Joan of Arc was actually sick and the seeds of some terrible war may have been sown in an act of mercy or altruism.
In short, could one say that history tells the story of the birth and maturation of a population of social animals and that its birth and maturation recapitulates the birth and maturation of the individual member animals (or vice versa)? In this sense the story of humans on earth is a one way narrative, like our lives, and there was a beginning and there will be an end. We, most of us bit players in the story with a cast of billions, are somewhere between the two, and we can’t see the former clearly or the latter at all, but we can sense the general direction.
I found the points raised about the relationship between the Hegelian dialectic, Marx and science very pertinent, since the question of what the dialectic means to us as late capitalist subjects does encroach on questions of social analysis and criticism. It might be useful to do a dedicated podcast on the Hegeian-Marxist tradition, looking at the debate between the historicists, the determinists and the dialectical materialists. Even though a flawed work, Engels’s Dialectic of Nature could be a worthy springboard for such a discussion (the New Dialectic school currently reads Hegel’s Science of Logic rather than the Phenomenology of Spirit as the main thrust of the Marxist dialectic, the question is whether the dialectic is a natural law emanating from objectivity and recurring in the subject and the social sphere, a historical law which describes the development of spirit, as society, in history, or something that merely best describes the reifying logic of the movement of capital). Wes you were on the right track, since the theorisation of the relationship between natural evolution and social development, in a non-determinist sense, still relies on background knowledge, presuppositions, rather than really going to the heart of the issue, what I think Georg Lukacs tried to do in all his most perceptive works (History and class consciousness and Social Ontology). Will become a paid subscriber upon my next paycheque, thanks.
I am a recent convert to PEL and am working my way through the podcasts. Just listened to your thoughts on Hegel and the conversation about different social structures and whether one system was better than another was of particular interest to me. I was wondering if you were familiar with the work of Clare Graves, which has been taken up by Don Beck as “Spiral Dynamics”. Graves’ work present some great insights into the development of new value systems in response to problems created by an community’s existing values system. The result is an evolving process of culture that over time moves from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional approaches to arranging social systems. It also speaks to a capacity to deal with greater complexity.
You guys got Hegel wrong. I don’t know enough, but can definitely say: to think that inevitable in Hegel means this determinism you talk about is misunderstanding.
Remember the owl of Minerva…
If Hegel weren’t such a towering figure in philosophy, I would have given up on understanding him a long time ago. I am taking it on faith that there is a reason why he’s such a prominent figure so I’m extending him extra slack than I would someone else.
One thing I will credit to him is that he seems to be much more optimistic than most other philosophers. It is much more pleasant to believe that history is moving in a meaningful direction. That we come from a past that will find its fulfillment in the future. Accordingly, we believe that time has a narrative logic which means time is not just one damn thing after another. History is more than a tale told by an idiot. I will admit this is difficult for me to see history this way. It seems like history simply is what it is in all its vastness and complexity. This dialectical directedness of history strikes me as almost a modernization of Christian eschatological grammar. It is the very assumption that history has a direction that is the necessary condition that underwrites the story of modernity.
As far as Hegel’s account of the state, I had even more trouble with that than anything else. I could only think of MacIntyre’s comments on the state as standing in laughable contrast:
“The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.”
Tim Elston says
I think it was Mark who said Hegel’s Spirit was more or less the same as Plato’s forms and Kant’s noumena. Hegel thought positing forms and noumena was what consciousness did at a less advanced stage of development than self-consciousness, so I’m pretty sure Hegel would take issue with Mark’s depiction. But I get Mark was intending to draw attention to the common thread through Plato, Kant, and Hegel, so the point is taken.
I’m 57 and just beginning to read the great philosophical works. I”m like an infant discovering a whole new world around me. I love to hear you guys talk about things I’m reading. It makes it relevant. Thanks for your podcast. All three of you are so smart and articulate! I could only hope. But the Gheist takes all kinds, I guess.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Thanks, Tim, welcome to the podcast!