The philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

DURING the thirteen years that Hegel held the chair of philosophy at Berlin he devoted the whole of his intellectual energy to his lectures. The rugged and uneven construction of much of his published work is to be explained by the fact that many of his books are editorial compilations from the notes of his students. This applies particularly to his Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of History, and History of Philosophy. These defects in form detract somewhat from the value of the lectures as scientific treatises, but they have some compensating advantages, for, as Dr. Edward Caird remarked, 'their very artlessness gives them something of the same stimulating and suggestive power which is attained by the consummate art of the Platonic dialogues.' The Philosophy of Religion was published at Berlin in 1832


THE object of religion is the same as that of philosophy; it is the eternal verity itself in its objective existence; it is God. Nothing but God and the unfolding of God. Philosophy is not the wisdom of the world, but the knowledge of things which are not of this world. It is not the knowledge of external mass, of empirical life and existence, but of the eternal, of the nature of God, and of all which flows from His nature. For this nature ought to manifest and develop itself. Consequently, philosophy in unfolding religion merely unfolds itself, and in unfolding itself it unfolds religion.

In so far as philosophy is occupied with the eternal truth, the truth which is in and for itself; in so far as it is occupied with this as thinking spirit, rather than in an arbitrary fashion and in view of a particular interest, philosophy has the same sphere of activity as has religion. And if the religious consciousness aspires to abolish all that is peculiar to itself and to be absorbed in its object, the philosophic spirit likewise plunges with the same energy into its object and renounces all particularity.

Religion and philosophy are thus at one in having one and the same object. Philosophy, in fact, also is the adoration of God, it is religion; for, seeing that God is its object, it involves the same renunciation of every opinion and every thought that is arbitrary and subjective. Philosophy is, in consequence, identical with religion. Only it is religion in a peculiar manner, and this it is which distinguishes it from religion commonly so called. So philosophy and religion are both religion, and that which distinguishes one from the other is no more than the characteristic mode in which respectively they consider their object, God.

Here is the difficulty of understanding how philosophy can make but one with religion, a difficulty which has even been mistaken for impossibility. Thence also arise the fears which philosophy inspires in theology and the hostile attitudes which they assume towards each other. What brings about this attitude is, on the side of theology, that for her philosophy does nothing but corrupt, pull down and profane the content of religion, and that she understands God in a totally different manner from that after which religion understands Him.

It is the same opposition which long ago among the Greeks caused a free and democratic people like the Athenians to burn books and to condemn Socrates. In our own day, however, this opposition is considered a thing which it is natural to admit--more natural indeed than the other opinion concerning the unity of religion and philosophy.

Diverse religions offer us, it is true, only too often the most bizarre and monstrous representations of the divine essence. But we must not confine ourselves to a superficial consideration and consequent rejection of these representations and the religious practices which follow upon them as being engendered by superstition, by error, or by imposture, or even by a simple piety, and so neglect their essential value. There is need to discover in these representations and in these practices their relation with truth.


FOR us, who have a religion, God is a familiar being, a substantial truth existing in our subjective consciousness. But, scientifically considered, God is a general and abstract term. The philosophy of religion it is which develops and grasps the divine nature and which teaches us what God is. God is a familiar idea, but an idea which has still to be scientifically developed.

The result of philosophic examination is that God is the absolute truth, the universal in and for itself, embracing all things and in which all things subsist. And in regard to this assertion, we may appeal in the first place to the religious consciousness, and to its conviction that God is the absolute truth whence all things proceed, whither they all return, upon which all things depend and in respect of which nothing can possess a true and absolute independence.

The heart may very well be full of this representation of God, but science is not built up of what is in the heart. The object of science is that which has arisen to the level of consciousness, and of thinking consciousness; in other words, which has attained the form of thought.

In so much as He is the universal, God is, for us, in relation to development, Being enclosed in itself, Being at unity with itself. When we say God is Being enclosed in itself, we enunciate a proposition which is bound to a development which we await. But this envelopment of God in Himself which we have called His universality we must not conceive, relatively to God Himself and His content, as an abstract universality, outside of which, and as opposed to which, the particular has an independent existence.

So we must consider this universal as an absolutely concrete universal. This sense of fullness is the sense in which God is one, and there is but one God--that is to say, God is not one merely by contrast with other gods, but because it is He that is the One, that is, God.

The things which are, the developments of the worlds of nature and of mind, show a multiplicity of forms and an infinite variety of existences. But whatever may be their difference of degree, of force, of content, these things have no true independence; their being is consequent and, so to speak, contingent. When we predicate being of particular things, it is not of absolute Being that we speak--Being of and from itself; that is, God--but a borrowed being, a semblance of being.

God is His universality--that is, this universal Being which has no limit, no bounds, no particularity--is a Being which subsists absolutely, and which subsists alone; all else which subsists has its root in this unity, and by this alone subsists. In thus representing to ourselves this first content we may say that God is absolute substance, the only veritable reality. For not everything which has a reality has a reality of its own, or subsists by itself. God is the only absolute reality, and thereby the absolute substance.

If we stop at this abstract thought we have Spinozism, for in Spinozism subjectivity is not yet differentiated from substantiality, from substance as such. But in the pre-supposition just made there is also this thought--God is spirit, absolute and eternal; spirit which comes not forth from itself in differentiation. This ideality, this subjectivity of spirit, which is transparency, ideality excluding all particular determination, is precisely the universal, pure relation to self, Being which remains absolutely within itself.

If we halt at substance, we fail to grasp this Universal under its concrete form. In its concrete determination spirit always preserves its unity, this unity of its reality which we call substance. But one should add that this substantiality, the unity of the absolute reality with itself, is but the foundation, but a moment in the determination of God as spirit. Hence, principally, arises the reproach which is directed against philosophy--to wit, that philosophy, to be consistent with itself, is necessarily Spinozism, and consequently atheism and fatalism. But at the beginning we have not yet determinations distinguished one from another as aye and nay. We have the one but not the other.

Consequently, what we have here is, to start with, content under the form of substance. Even when we say, 'God,' 'spirit,' we have only words, indeterminate representations. The essential point is to know what has been produced in the consciousness. And that is, first, the simple, the abstract. Here, in this first simple determination, we have God only under the form of universality. Only we do not halt at this moment.

Nevertheless, this content remains the foundation of all further developments, for in these developments God comes not forth from His unity. When God creates the world--to use the expression of every day--there comes not into existence an evil, a contrary, existing in itself independently of God.

Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I