Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770–1831)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC036-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2004
Retrieved June 10, 2023, from

1. Life and works

Hegel was born on 27 August 1770 in Stuttgart, son of a Württemberg official. In the autumn of 1788, after attending the local grammar school, he began a course of study at the Protestant Seminary in Tübingen in preparation for a career as a Protestant clergyman. Two of his fellow students and friends were F.W.J. Schelling and F. Hölderlin. In autumn 1793, after successfully completing this period of study, Hegel became a private tutor in Berne, Switzerland, and remained there until 1796. From January 1797 until the end of 1800 he was a private tutor in Frankfurt am Main, where he again came into contact with Hölderlin, who played an important role in the formation of Hegel’s early philosophical convictions. Thanks to a legacy, Hegel was able to abandon his position as a tutor and pursue his academic ambitions. Early in 1801 he went to Jena. His student friend Schelling had become Fichte’s successor and was lecturing in philosophy at the university there. With Schelling’s energetic support Hegel qualified as a Privatdozent in the autumn of 1801 with a thesis on natural philosophy. Initially, Schelling and Hegel worked closely together, a fact which is documented by a philosophical periodical which they published jointly from 1802 (although it ceased publication following Schelling’s departure from Jena in 1803). In 1805 Hegel was appointed Extraordinary Professor, but financial difficulties forced him to abandon his activities at the University of Jena in the autumn of 1806. A friend’s intervention enabled him to take over as editor of a daily newspaper in Bamberg in March 1807. In November 1808 the same friend then ensured that Hegel was nominated rector and professor at a grammar school in Nuremberg. After a few years in this capacity, Hegel was able to return to university life. In 1816 he was called to the University of Heidelberg, which he left again in 1818 to take a chair at the University of Berlin, as Fichte’s successor. There he revealed a considerable talent for academic teaching and succeeded in assuring a dominant position in contemporary discussions for his philosophical doctrines. Hegel died in Berlin during a cholera epidemic on 14 November 1831, at the height of his fame.

Hegel’s works can be divided into three groups: (1) texts written by Hegel and published during his lifetime; (2) texts written by him, but not published during his lifetime; and (3) texts neither written by him nor published during his lifetime. Two texts from his early years in Frankfurt do not fit into this scheme. The first is the translation of a pamphlet by Cart, a Berne lawyer, on the political situation in the Canton of Vaud, which was translated and annotated by Hegel, and which he published anonymously in 1798. This is the first printed text by Hegel; the second is a fragment dating from the same period and known as the Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus (System-Programme of German Idealism). The text has survived in Hegel’s handwriting, but his authorship remains controversial.

The earliest writings in the first group date from the beginning of Hegel’s time in Jena. His first philosophical work is entitled Differenz des Fichte’schen und Schelling’schen Systems der Philosophie (The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy) (1801b). This was followed later during the same year by the essay which he had to submit in order to qualify as Privatdozent, De Orbitis Planetarum (On the Orbits of the Planets). In 1802–3 Hegel published various philosophical works in the periodical which he edited with Schelling, the Kritisches Journal der Philosophie (Critical Journal of Philosophy). The most important among these were Glauben und Wissen (Faith and Knowledge), Verhältnis des Skeptizismus zur Philosophie (The Relationship of Scepticism to Philosophy) and Über die wissenschaftlichen Behandlungsarten des Naturrechts (On the Scientific Ways of Dealing with Natural Law). Immediately after his period as a university teacher in Jena and at the beginning of his period in Bamberg, Hegel published his first great philosophical work, the Phänomenologie des Geistes (Phenomenology of Spirit) (1807). During the eight years in which he taught at the grammar school in Nuremberg, Hegel published his three-volume Wissenschaft der Logik (Science of Logic) (1812, 1813, 1816). While in Heidelberg, the complete presentation of his system appeared for the first time, in his Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline) (1817), which was reprinted twice during his Berlin period in two completely revised editions (1827, 1830). Also during this period he published Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse. Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Natural Law and Politics in Outline. The Principles of the Philosophy of Right) (1821). Apart from these, Hegel published only minor writings during his lifetime. These were written partly in response to events at the time, although most articles were for the Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Kritik (Yearbooks of Scientific Criticism), which he co-edited from 1827. Among these is his final published work, Über die englische Reform-Bill (On the English Reform Bill) (1831).

The second group of texts includes those works which were written by Hegel but not published by him. Almost all these texts first became accessible in a more or less authentic form during the twentieth century. They can again be divided into three groups. The first group consists of the manuscripts which Hegel wrote between the end of his time as a student and the end of his time in Jena. Among the most important are the so-called Theologische Jugendschriften (Early Theological Writings), which were published in 1907 at the instigation of Wilhelm Dilthey by his pupil, H. Nohl. Today they are known as Hegel’s Frühschriften (Early Writings). Further important texts from this period are the three Jenaer Systementwürfe (Jena Drafts of a Philosophical System), written between 1803 and 1806, partly for publication and partly as lecture notes. The second group of writings not published by Hegel consists of works produced during his period in Nuremberg. Hegel’s first biographer, K. Rosenkranz, presented excerpts from these writings as the Philosophische Propädeutik (Philosophical Propaedeutic) (1840). In this text Hegel attempted to present his philosophical views in a form suitable for use within the framework of his grammar-school teaching courses. The third group of texts comprises manuscripts and notes which he wrote in connection with his lectures in Heidelberg and Berlin. They are partly contained in the editions in which his pupils and friends published his works after his death.

The third major group of texts covers those works which were neither written nor published by Hegel. They form almost half the texts contained in the first complete edition of Hegel’s works. Among them one finds Hegel’s extremely influential lectures on aesthetics, the philosophy of history, the history of philosophy and the philosophy of religion. In the form in which they have become influential, these texts are the product of students, in most cases representing the result of notes compiled during Hegel’s lectures. Insufficient attention has been paid to this remarkable fact, that is, that some of Hegel’s most influential texts actually have the status of second-hand sources.

The first complete edition of Hegel’s work, published during the years 1832–45, proved to be influential but highly unreliable both from a historical and a critical point of view. Since the beginning of the twentieth century several attempts have been made to produce a new edition. To date, none has reached a successful conclusion. Since 1968 a new historical and critical edition of Hegel’s complete works has been in preparation. By the end of 2003 eighteen volumes had been published.

Citing this article:
Horstmann, Rolf-peter. Life and works. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770–1831), 2004, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC036-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.

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