Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Hegel died in 1831. He put idea, what happens in the brain, at the center of his understanding. The more analytical minded, the empriricists, embraced his description of the way in which ideas moved. One thought led to another, and when it hit a brick wall it had to take a step or two back before it could advance, very sensible. The other thing about Hegel that's often quoted goes something like: we learn from history that we don't learn anything from history. I guess too that with Hegel a whole series of strands in thinking set in place the sense that truth was something of a moving feast, a conversation which when reason is withheld comes to a screaming halt. Something like partisanship is reasonable, otherwise ideas do not move. But if partisanship becomes an end in itself, reason steps out the window for a cigarette break and what you got is pretty much the most recent iteration of western society as practiced by our political classes.

As I understand it, Hegel was in a place called Jena in Germany when Napoleon marched his army into the city. He was excited to see the great man, the world was changing, the ancient regime had been swept away, the chaos of the French Revolution was finally over, new and more just forms would soon be in place. Hegel called Napoleon a world soul. Then Napoleon crowned himself as Emperor, and many people like Hegel went off Napoleon, got depressed and started saying things like: people and governments have never learned anything from history, nor have they ever acted on principles deduced from it. It was in his later life, after Napoleon was gone from power, that Hegel settled in to writing his history of philosophy. He came up with stuff like: education is the art of making man ethical. And my own favorite from Hegel: a genuine tragedy is not the conflict between right and wrong, but a conflict between two rights. An off hand remark possibly, but in my view a symptom of a dry sense of humor.

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