Essays hegelian dialectic

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Hegel For Beginners

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Hegel’s Dialectics

History, or at least the study of it, is in bad shape these days. Almost everyone agrees that knowing history is important, but in the United States, except at the most elite schools, the study of history is in freefall. Our age seems to share the skepticism voiced by the German philosopher G W F Hegel when he said that the only lesson history teaches us is that nobody ever learned anything from history.

Yet the very same Hegel also argued that, although things do indeed always seem unprecedented, history does actually give us a clue as to our ultimate ends. We are a peculiar species: what it is to be the creatures that we are is always a problem for us — in part because we make ourselves into the kinds of creatures that we are, and because we explore this in all the different ways we live out our lives, individually and collectively.

The study of history involves not only telling stories or piling up facts. In its larger structure, it is the account of humanity experimentally seeking to understand itself in all the myriad ways in which it gives shape to itself in daily life, and also how historical change is intimately linked to changes in our basic self-understanding. No one ever conceived of a more sophisticated and dynamic philosophical history than Hegel. His system is built around three fundamental ideas.

First, the key to human agency is self-consciousness. For people to be doing anything in any real human sense is to know what we are doing as we do it. This applies even when we are not explicitly thinking about what we are doing. Without any further thought, you knew that you were not skydiving, taking a bath, gardening or doing the crossword.

Instead, stuff is just happening. To be sure, sometimes we are only vaguely aware of what we are doing. However, even our often more distanced reflective self-consciousness is itself only a further realisation of the deeper and distinctly Hegelian self-relation: all consciousness is self-consciousness.

Each individual self-consciousness is fundamentally social. Without practitioners, there is no practice; without the practice, there are no practitioners. This is sometimes hard to see.

Think of existentialism. Think of what totalitarians dream about. Think of the con artist. Third, for humans, just as with any species, there are ways in which things can go better or worse for individuals within the species. Trees without the right soil do not flourish as the trees they could be; wolves without the right environmental range cannot become the wolves they could be.

Similarly, self-conscious humans build familial, social, cultural and political environments that make it possible to become new, different and better versions of ourselves. But what we can make of ourselves depends on where we are in history. Your great-great-grandparents never dreamed of being computer coders.

Implications of Hegelian Dialectic to Thinking and Education Essay

Medieval villagers did not aspire to become middle-level managers in a global trash-collection firm. It is better to say that we exemplify in better or worse ways what it is for us to really be us — for example, in friendship, chess-playing, vegetable-chopping or citizenship.


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  • The generality of the practice sets the terms in which I can flourish as any one of these things. As self-conscious social individuals, we reshape our lives, give new meanings to old things from sex and food to complicated table manners so that we acquire new sets of habits, round off the contours of our animal life in surprising ways, settle down, and then move on. This is rarely an entirely peaceful process. We exist as individuals-with-social-identities in the social spaces that we mutually institute and keep in place.

    Some of those social relations are based on raw force, subjection and humiliation such as the relations between masters and slaves. Warfare is common. History, Hegel said, looks like a vast slaughter-bench on which the lives and happiness of millions have been sacrificed.

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    Entire civilisations and ways of life come to be and pass away, old ways of living vanish. Nothing seems stable. When these tensions become so great that such a way of living finally makes no sense to the participants, life rapidly becomes uninhabitable. Once it becomes uninhabitable, it breaks down, falls apart, and eventually gives way to another form of life. The new form of life emerges as the people living in the cultural rubble of the breakdown pick up the pieces of what is still working, discard the parts that no longer work, and fashion something new out of that breakdown.

    All told, this aspect of history constitutes the changing shape of self-conscious life itself. As Geist moves through history, it takes on different shapes as it imagines itself in different ways and thus is, for those thinking about it, a moving target. Was Geist getting better at anything? As a 19th-century European, Hegel found little to recommend in the civilisations of Asia, Africa and the Americas.

    Even if the emperor issues laws and enforces them, that is still rule by law, which is still personal rule, and not rule of law, which is impersonal. He alone freely issues laws, the rest must obey, and there is nothing higher by which to measure the edicts. Hegel believed that only in the Ancient Greek world does humanity first move beyond the idea that only one person in the community can be free, and to the daring idea that a limited plurality of people — the adult males of the city — both can and ought to rule together.

    They confront each other as equals possessing no inherent authority over each other.