Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Position Paper # 4 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Role of Human Reason in History

As a Historian, I think it is really important to define the factors that makes and lead History because it decides the direction of our approach to History. However it is not easy to exactly define what those factors are. Every person might have different view on what factors lead History. There have been a lot of arguments on this matter.

There were people who tried to find certain rule and formula which are rationalistic means to analyze History like Rene Descartes. In other hand, some thinkers like Vico argued that things are created according to human’s idea (Vico, 1744) which means History is created by Human being. And Immanuel Kant (1784) believed that things are created by human reason and potentiality. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the one of the greatest philosopher of History also highly valued human reason and mind (Hegel called it “Spirit”) in looking into History.

Actually, I do agree with the view of Vico, Kant, and Hegel rather than the view of rationalist like Rene Descartes who tried to put History into certain rule of formula. I believe that there are two factors that make and lead History- God’s prudence and human reason.

Although the ideas of Vico, Kant and Hegel are different from my idea about History on that point that they do not really consider God’s prudence and intervention on History, their ideas about human reason and potentiality as factor that strongly affects on human History and civilization are logical and reasonable.

According to Hegel’s idea, there are no mathematical laws that can define History and human culture and society. The thing that we can say about Human civilization is that it is developmental. And the development or progression of human society occurs in accordance with development or growth of Human reason and potentiality. Therefore, the ability of human reason is essential to Human History and civilization.

“Reason is the sovereign of the world; that the History of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process. And that reason is substance, as well as infinite power; its own infinite material underlying all the natural and spiritual life which it originates, as also the infinite form.”(Philosophy of History, 2001)

I actually agree with this idea of Hegel that emphasizes the importance of Human reason. Truly, as human species has gone though many problems and difficulties in their lives, their rational ability has been developed and it led them to more civilized society.

Human reason led men to realize their needs and means to achieve their needs. For example, people realized that it was dangerous and uncomfortable to live outside. This rational realization made people to build so-called house.

This rational ability is something that distinguishes and differentiates Human being from animals. Without this we are just like an animal which does not have any development and progression.

Therefore, Human reason can be considered as the factor that greatly affects human society and History and as something makes man a man.


History, Dialectic Process

Reason, the ability to think about something can be grown and developed as it faces problems and barrier. People’s ideas, output of rational thinking can become more systematic and organized through facing contradictions. This process which proposed by Hegel is called “Dialectic”.

Hegelian Dialectic is defined as:

an interpretive method, originally used to relate specific entities or events to the absolute idea, in which some assertible proposition (Thesis) is necessarily opposed by an equally assertible and apparently contradictory proposition (antithesis), the mutual contradiction being reconciled on a higher level of truth by a third proposition (Synthesis).(Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

I agree with the idea of Hegel that History is a dialectic process. I believe that dialectic method is a high level of rational thinking which can reach a great conclusion. Human being establishes an idea which we may call “Thesis” and the thesis will be examined by opposite proposition which proves contradiction of thesis. And through this process he will be able to establish better idea or thesis.

In my opinion, human society has been developed and progressed through questioning against it and answering to that question. Works of human being have always been examined by opposite proposition and it always brought better result.

Kant’s theory is somehow similar to the idea of Hegel. Kant, in the Sixth Thesis of “On History (1784)” suggested three requirements- correct conception of possible common law, great experience gained in many path of life and a good will ready to accept such a constitution- for the solution to the problem proposed in Fifth Thesis (“The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature drives man, is the achievement of a universal civic society which administers law among men.”) What I would like to emphasize here is the fact that Kant suggested the practical knowledge which is gained from trial and error as means to solve the great problem.

For example, group of people can have certain form of government (Thesis). Later on, people will face some problems and disadvantage of the government and they will establish the opposite proposition against the government (Antithesis). And they will finally make up other form of government which synthesizes two propositions (Synthesis). This is an example that shows how practically the Hegelian dialectic can be used in human society.

By this dialectic process, human society has been always developed, strengthened and supplemented its lack. The dialectic method has been being used in various areas like politics, economy, society and culture. It helps human society and civilization go forward. The works of the past can also be considered as work of dialectic process.

Therefore, I admire Hegel for well pointing out dialect process which is a high level of rational thinking as a motive power of human civilization for it to move forward. However I would like to make it sure that God’s prudence and intervention still dominate all the human activities and the world will ultimately go to as God planned.


Vico Giambattista(1744). The New Science New York: Ithaca

Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View(1784). Translation by Lewis White Beck. From Immanuel Kant,“On History,”The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1963. Retrieved June 13, 2009, from htm

Hegel, G.W.F. (2001). The philosophy of history. (J. Libre, Trans.) Kitchener, Ontario: Batoche Books

Marie Hughes Warrington (2009). 50 Key Thinker on History New York: Routlege


  1. I like the way you are able to discuss Hegel with reference to the other thinkers that you have studied.

    But did Descartes really tried to use a rule or formula for History? Or are you merely referring to how Vico criticized Descartes rather than what Descartes said himself? As far as I know, it would be Carl Hempel and his contemporaries who would be using formulas (symbolic logic I think) for modeling causation in history.

  2. At least Descartes' epistemological view is trying to realize things through reasonal experiment and process. I just notice that in the period of Enlightenment, such epistemological way to realize things was prevalent which was affected by Newtonian and Darwinian Scineces.

    and I heard that the such epistemological way to understand things of Descartes made himself to devaluate History. This is why I oppose him.

    But I admit that I have no enough knowledge about Descartes and his Theory.. maybe I need to study more about him and enlightenment period.