Dialectical Materialism and Hegel's
Philosophy of the History of Philosophy

by Theodore Oizerman

What is the attitude of philosophy to the history of philosophy—that is, to its past and to the systematic study of this past? This question did not face Plato and Aristotle, the first philosophers to analyze their predecessors' doctrines in order to substantiate their own views. Later, the history of philosophy was mostly studied by skeptics who held that true philosophy negates itself.

Immanuel Kant saw only two equally fallacious trends in the philosophy that preceded his own: dogmatic metaphysics and its pointless negation, skepticism. The views of Fichte and Schelling on the history of philosophy were, on the whole, equally negative. Manuals on the history of philosophy did appear during their lifetime, but their authors were not prominent philosophers. Hegel was the first to study the history of philosophy as a science, but he put a metaphysical construction on that subject. According to Hegel, the history of philosophy is an authentic form of development, and its theory is of paramount importance for his philosophy. This means that Hegel did not merely study the history of philosophy; he interpreted the history of various philosophies as an inevitable process of philosophical development, with its necessarily interconnected different stages and forms.

The principle of development that Hegel applied to studying the past of philosophy is rooted epistemologically in a dialectical interpretation of the truth. According to Engels, "Truth, the cognition of which is the business of philosophy, was in the hands of Hegel no longer an aggregate of finished dogmatic statements, which, once discovered, had merely to be learned by heart. Truth lay now in the process of cognition itself, in the long historical development of science, which mounts from lower to ever higher levels of knowledge." (3; 3, 339)

This radically changed attitude to the past of philosophy is a critical standpoint that neither admires nor rejects everything about this past. It regards different philosophies not as isolated and independent attempts at studying the history of philosophy but as inherently connected links in the chain of a contradictory development which is "not a harmless process entailing no struggle, like the development of organic life, but hard, unwilling work against one's own self." (63; 1, 152)

In Hegel's view, philosophy can and must be a science in the strict sense of the term. The history of science presupposes a continuity of development, that is, progress. This is also true of the history of philosophy. In working on a dialectical concept of philosophical development, Hegel describes continuity not as a simple accumulation of knowledge but as a contradictory process which derives its momentum from negation and negation of the negation. Continuity does not mean agreement with the past, acceptance of the past in the present. Hegel reinterprets the concept of tradition and says that it is not "just a housekeeper loyally safeguarding what has been entrusted to her and thus keeping it safe for posterity . . . Tradition is not an immobile statue: it is alive and it grows the way a powerful stream grows as it moves farther away from its source". (64; 13, 13) Metaphysical reason, which does not accept the unity of opposites, either simply imitates or totally rejects ideological legacy. But ideological legacy is rather conflicting than uniform in significance. It is "the soul of each following generation, its spiritual substance as something familiar, its principles, prejudice and riches; but the generation who has received this legacy reduces it to the material at hand transformed by the spirit". (64; 13, 14)

Metaphysicists believe that the diversity of philosophies rules out their unity. Therefore they, in Hegel's words, see the history of philosophy merely as a "range of opinions, delusions and intellectual games". (64; 13, 44) This superficial view also dominates studies of human history, and the latter "appears at first glance as a succession of random events". (64; 13, 17) But world history is different: it is an inevitable forward movement. That is true to an even greater degree of the history of philosophy. It even appears that Hegel contrasts the development of philosophy to all other historical processes. According to him, "a close examination of history shows us that men's actions are conditioned by their needs, passions, interests, their character and talent; and this in a way that only those needs, passions and interests are the motive forces in this drama, and only they play the leading role". (63; 1, 79) The picture is different in philosophy where, according to Hegel, the passion for truth rules out any interests and passions that are foreign to it.

The diversity of philosophies, their obvious incompatibility, the struggle of philosophical schools and trends are facts that skeptics use as arguments in their interpretation of the history of philosophy. Hegel interprets them in a totally new way, both dialectical and rationalist‑metaphysical. Diversity if it is significant (and that is the point made in the comparison of philosophical systems) does not exist outside identity; diversity is immanent in identity. Therefore, the diversity of radically different philosophies presupposes their unity, i.e. their necessary interrelationship. Hegel rejects all discourse on different philosophies as pointless and empty, as bogged down in useless abstract notions, and as being oblivious of the fact that "diversity is a flow, it must by definition be regarded as a moving, developing transient moment". (64; 13, 47)

The diversity of philosophies is therefore necessary. The movement from the abstract to the specific, the essence of the history of philosophy, comprises conflicting definitions of unity. Each of these definitions is abstract, one‑sided and therefore not true; truth is their unity. The development of philosophy is the emergence of the unity of philosophical knowledge which puts an end to the motley and disorderly diversity of philosophical statements. According to Hegel, different philosophies are "necessarily one philosophy that is developing, a revelation of God as He knows Himself. Wherever several philosophies are present simultaneously, they are different aspects of one underlying whole; and because they are one‑sided we see one philosophy refuting another." (64; 15, 686)

According to Hegel, the differences among philosophies do not reflect the individual uniqueness of the philosophical genius; that uniqueness rises to grasp the absolute and dissolves in it. Those differences must be interpreted ontologically; they are "fundamental differences of the idea itself; it is only in them that it exists . . . Each system exists within one definition but that does not stop here, and differences do not always remain outside one another. The fate of those definitions must come to pass, meaning that they are united and reduced to the level of moments". (64; 13, 48) Hegel views his philosophy as the fate of the absolute that has come to pass, reflected in the various philosophical systems. Absolute idealism is described as the supreme consummation of the history of philosophy which by its nature presupposes not only the beginning but also the "absolute destination". (64; 13, 48) That assertion stems from the fundamental precepts of Hegel's philosophy: philosophy is the self­cognition of the absolute spirit which does not remain incomplete, imperfect since that is incompatible with the notion of the divine.

Almost all philosophers proclaimed their doctrines as the last philosophy meaning their personal accomplishment. Unlike his precursors, Hegel regards the consummation of philosophy as an ontological process: the absolute spirit overcomes all its alienated forms. "The struggle of final self-consciousness with absolute self‑consciousness, which the former regarded as something happening outside it, is now abating. Final self‑consciousness has ceased to be final, and thanks to this absolute self-consciousness has acquired the power it has lacked before. This struggle is reflected in the entire previous world history, and especially in the history of philosophy." (64; 15, 689‑90)

While the Young Hegelians and Feuerbach were correct in their criticism of Hegel for his acceptance of the finite nature of the development of philosophy, they failed to grasp the fact that this stems from the ontology of the rationalist‑idealist interpretation of history and not merely from the exaggerated claims of the thinker. They blamed Hegel for reducing the history of philosophy to the history of his own philosophy. But Hegel tried to prove that his philosophy summed up the entire history of philosophy. While his predecessors claimed that their doctrines were something radically new, Hegel only claimed that his system adequately expressed the real content of the history of philosophy and critically summed up its accomplishments. For each new system borrows from the legacy of philosophical knowledge, continuing the earlier development of philosophy. Consequently, "essentially, only the way he develops them" [the preceding systems] belongs to the creator of a new philosophical system. (64; 14, 181)

While rejecting Hegel's obviously fallacious precept about the need for the final philosophy to consummate the history of philosophy, one should not lose sight of the fact that Hegel's doctrine was really in a way the final philosophy. That was precisely what Engels meant: "At any rate, with Hegel philosophy comes to an end [in the old sense of the word]: on the one hand, because in his system he summed up its whole development in the most splendid fashion; and on the other hand, because, even though unconsciously, he showed us the way out of the labyrinth of systems to real positive knowledge of the world." (3; 3, 342)

Thus Hegel's interpretation of the development of philosophy proceeds from the recognition of the organic link between philosophy and the history of philosophy. That relationship differs greatly from the one that, say, exists between the given definite level in the development of natural science and its preceding development. The development of the natural sciences reveals now, previously unknown object of study. Natural science today does not deal with issues that were the order of the day in the 17th or 18th centuries. Those issues are, as a rule, already solved and are thus of no interest to researchers. The situation is different in philosophy where even resolved issues acquire a new content and are thus of interest to the researcher. Philosophy develops not so much by discovering new objects as by reviving, enriching and critically reviewing problems posed at the dawn of philosophy. [1] That explains why Hegel wrote that "the study of the history of philosophy is the study of philosophy itself, and that cannot be otherwise". (64; 13, 43)

Hegel does not care which particular philosophy is under consideration; in other words, which philosophical doctrine the study of the history of philosophy leads to. According to Hegel, the answer to that is self‑evident because the multitude of philosophies recorded in history is a single, integrated and progressively developing whole. It is an “organic system, a totality comprising a wealth of stages and moments". (64; 13, 40) Thus Hegel claims to have synthesized in his system this "wealth of stages and moments" which are definitions of the absolute spirit. "The last philosophy is the result of all that precedes it; nothing is lost, all principles are retained." (64; 15, 685)

But if Hegel's system is really the result of the study and summing up of the history of philosophy, theoretically that study must proceed from a definite interpretation of philosophy which, to a certain degree, obviously anticipates the outcome of the study. It is equally obvious that this anticipation of the essence of philosophy is not the result of the given study of the history of philosophy, even though the study confirms it. Thus the question of precedence—whether Hegel's system precedes his study of the history of philosophy or vice versa—oversimplifies the task of the study and makes it impossible.

It would be naive to believe that Hegel first studied the history of philosophy and then summed it up and thus set forth his system of philosophy. But it is equally naive to believe the opposite: that having created his system of philosophy, Hegel applied its hierarchy of categories to the earlier development of philosophy, that is, interpreted it in accordance with the requirements of his system. We know from Hegel's biography that he acted differently, and these facts describe the development of his system and not its results. Hegel built his system by idealistically interpreting Spinoza's doctrine and relying directly on Kant, Schelling and, especially, Fichte. It took Hegel almost 20 years to build his system, and he repeatedly turned to the history of philosophy. The creation of his system of philosophy and a critical summing‑up of the history of philosophy were aspects of a single process. As to Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy, they were written when the system had been completed and underlay the interpretation of the history of philosophy. The latter, like any exposition, differed substantially from the study that preceded it and whose results could not be known in advance.

Hegel's dialectical idealism is a brilliant theory of the history of philosophy which, however, distorts that history by reducing it to the history of idealism. Of course, this does not mean that Hegel ignored materialism: he fought against it. But he largely regarded materialism as nonphilosophical everyday consciousness. He interpreted philosophy (that is, idealism) as a negation of materialism, although occasionally he did recognize the historical accomplishments of materialist philosophy. Still, often Hegel interpreted materialist doctrines as essentially idealist. For example, he said that Thales "described water as an infinite concept, as a simple essence of thought". (64; 13, 209) In Hegel's view, the School of Miletus represented the transition from everyday spontaneous materialism to idealism.

Hegel's idealist theory of development postulates the dialectical identity of the result of development with its initial stage. The identity of being and thought—the basis of absolute idealism seen as the summit of all philosophy—must be revealed at the initial stage of that process, albeit in an undeveloped form. Referring to the concept of the substance emerging from the naive views of the early Greek philosophers, Hegel asserts that they proceeded "from the unconscious precept that thought is also being". (64; 13, 126) That speculative assumption underlies the presentation of ancient Greek materialism as unconsciously idealist philosophy. Viewed from this angle, the transition to the doctrines of Socrates and Plato—the emergence of a truly idealist system of views—is merely the realization of what earlier philosophy could not express conceptually. But this pattern of development excludes Leucippus, Democritus and Epicurus. Hegel attacks the great ancient materialists, claiming that their doctrines do not rise above sense perception.

Idealism—even dialectical idealism—is incapable of grasping the significance of materialist philosophy. Nevertheless, Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy are the most remarkable work in this field, and his theory of philosophical development immediately precedes its scientific, dialectical­materialist interpretation.

Hegel's idealism is passionately scientific, but a truly scientific approach is incompatible with idealism. This contradiction entails the opposition of idealist philosophy to actual scientific knowledge, interpreted as an imperfect form of science, while idealism is described as an authentic manifestation of the scientific approach. That refers above all to the natural sciences. Hegel criticizes their historical limitations: their empirical methodology, mechanistic notions and metaphysical reasoning. But a materialist world outlook is what Hegel considers the most unacceptable thing about natural science.

Hegel's cult of science also extolls idealist philosophizing. He believes that the primacy of spirit over matter makes science all‑powerful. Ontologically, that assertion is based on the principle of the identity of being and thought, maintaining that philosophy as the thought of thought is not only a science of the absolute but the absolute itself, that is, the extratemporal realm of the divine. Hegel wrote. "But it [the absolute spirit] knows itself as the absolute spirit only in science, and only this knowledge, the spirit, is its true existence." (64; 15, 690)

Thus the deification of thought (as the thought of thought in which form coincides with content and the subject with the object) means the deification of philosophy. Plato described God as a geometrician, a cosmic designer, but Hegel's God is a philosopher whose speculative activity creates and maintains the world; everything is born of thought, of philosophical thought. One must admit, however, that Hegel usually avoids extreme conclusions: "Philosophy deals only with the brilliance of idea reflected in world history." (63; 4, 938) But in that case philosophy is a human and not divine occupation. Still, even as such—as historically limited spiritual activity—it is radically contrasted to scientific knowledge per se. Hegel is often a priest (even a high priest), and as such he is not unlike a theologian extolling his "science" as the supreme knowledge, with God as its subject and source.

Thus, according to Hegel, philosophy, or the thought of thought, is, on the one hand, the infinite realm of pure reason that forms the substance of the world, and on the other hand, a specifically human, final historical spiritual sphere. The differentiation between ontological and historical being of philosophy permeates Hegel's entire doctrine of the history of philosophy which cannot be grasped if this idealist assumption is not taken into account. Viewed from this angle, the history of philosophy has two fundamental dimensions. Philosophy is developed directly by philosophers—individuals acting in the historically definite circumstances of a given era, country, nation, etc. Hegel describes this aspect of the history of philosophy as follows: "The history of philosophy is the history of the discovery of thoughts about the absolute, which is its subject." (64; 6, XX) It is the earthly, empirically recorded history, and Hegel calls its agents heroes of reasoning intellect. The philosophical genius is the historically limited personification of the absolute spirit. But, unlike the "empirical" history of philosophy, the absolute spirit is a logical succession not of historically limited systems of philosophy but of their principles and fundamental categories whose hierarchy forms an extratemporal logical process, the subject of The Science of Logic.

The notion of the second, substantial dimension of the history of philosophy is directly linked to Hegel's panlogisrn which holds that the logical (reason) is not only a means or form of perceiving the essence of things but also that essence itself. This means that the consciousness of its content (philosophical content) is innate, extratemporal and extraspatial to the absolute (called absolute knowledge, subject substance, God, etc.), since space and time are, according to Hegel, forms of alienated being. Mankind apprehends that absolute identity in the course of its development over the ages. And that is what is called the history of philosophy, since historical development is foreign to the absolute.

According to Hegel, the history of philosophy examines the historical forms of philosophical knowledge for their absolute prototypes; that is, it sees each historically definite and limited system of philosophy as a reflection of a certain logical definitiveness of the absolute spirit. "Essentially, the history of philosophy deals not with the past but with the eternal and fully present, and it must be compared in its result not to a gallery of human spiritual errors but rather to a pantheon of divine images." (64; 6, 167‑68) That gallery of divine images is the primordial ideal, an imperative that has been established and exists forever and that opposes the temporal history of philosophy with all its inherent human errors which Hegel freely admits. Because of that contrast between the historical and the suprahistorical, Hegel faces issues that would have been pointless in a different philosophical content. For example, he asks, "what is the cause of the fact that philosophy exists in time and has a history"? (64; 13, 45)

I propose to show that to ignore Hegel's concept of the dual dimension of the history of philosophy means to ignore its major contradictions and oversimplify Hegel's understanding of the real development of philosophy. This point is especially important because Hegel not only divides and contrasts two aspects of the history of philosophy; he is equally intent on reducing those opposites to dialectical identity. For, according to Hegel, the task of philosophy is to reveal the unity of the transcendental and the immanent, the divine and the human, the everlasting and the transient; to see the real as the ideal and vice versa.

Although it proceeds from essentially theological precepts there are profound dialectical insights in the differentiation between the two major aspects of the history of philosophy. There are two methods in the scientific study of history: the logical‑theoretical and the specific‑historical, the latter taking into account the distinctive individual features of a given process in a given country, in particular circumstances, and so on. Hegel regards his logic as the logic of the history of philosophy in its ideal, extratemporal form. As to the actual history of philosophy, it is an alienated and distorted reproduction of philosophy's a priori self‑development. "The succession of philosophical systems in history is the same as that in the logical arrival of definitions of the idea," Hegel writes, and amplifies: "I assert that if we free major concepts emerging in the history of philosophical systems from everything connected with their outward form, their specific applications, etc., if we take them in their pure form, we will have different stages of the definition of the idea itself in its logical interpretation. On the contrary, if we take logical forward motion in itself, we will find in it the forward motion of historical events in their major moments; but of course, one must be able to notice these pure concepts in the content of the historical form." (64; 13, 43)

Applied rationally, the logical‑theoretical and the specific‑historical methods of study are equally necessary and must go hand in hand. But a genuinely scientific application of these methods in studying the history of philosophy is impossible within the framework of Hegel's philosophy. Hegel subordinates the specific‑historical study of the history of philosophy to the a priori schematic approach of substantiated philosophical thinking. Hence the contradiction between his theory of the history of philosophy and the specific study of the development of philosophy, which often does not fit into the theory.

In contrast to the actual development of philosophy, there is no struggle within the framework of the theory of the history of philosophy that operates with a hierarchy of logical principles and categories. In impersonal absolute reason, all philosophical principles underlying different systems exist only as a definition of the "absolute idea". Here there is no history, nothing appears or disappears. Human history, and consequently the history of philosophy, is different. Here "extratemporal" philosophical principles are historically definite systems of philosophy. Each belongs to, and shares the limitations of its own time, and cannot therefore rise above it.

But if, as Hegel maintains, philosophy deals with something everlasting, how can one reconcile that to the thesis that philosophy is "totally identical with its time"? (64; 13, 69) Hegel "reconciles" these mutually exclusive theses as referring to different aspects of the history of philosophy. Yet, precisely this extreme contraposition made to fit Hegel's metaphysical system exposes both theses as fallacious. A historically definite philosophy is not merely identical with its time, and the principles of philosophical systems are not at all extratemporal truths. Systems are indeed transient, but it does not follow that their principles are forever true. The fallacy of the subjective idealist system is the fallacy of its principle, even though a correctly understood subjectivity is the real and substantial definitiveness of the process of cognition. But Hegel opposes historically limited systems of philosophy to their principles, allegedly free from empirical limitations and interpreted as logical definitions of the absolute. Besides, he obviously underestimates the fact that a system is the realization of its principle, and not merely its one‑sided, absolute development and exposition.

Philosophies differ substantially, and so do their histories. The doctrines of Democritus, Epicurus, Plato and Aristotle greatly affected the development of philosophy. The same cannot be said of all outstanding philosophical theories. It follows that the overall relation of philosophical doctrines to their times and to future social developments is different too. Some philosophies are revived in later periods, developed and transformed under the impact of new doctrines; others remain but landmarks of mankind's intellectual history. The thesis about the extratemporal essence of philosophy, leading to the conclusion that all systems of philosophy, viewed in substance, form a chain of images of the absolute, is also wrong because it is incompatible with the self‑evident fact that philosophers of different eras are not contemporaries. This simple statement leads to a conclusion that is far from trite: philosophers of each successive era possess a heritage their predecessors could not have had.

While correctly stressing the historical limitations placed on each philosophy by its time, Hegel refers to the development of philosophy which, according to his doctrine, is absent from the realm of the impersonal philosophical (absolute) idea. But precisely because he refers to an actual, empirically verifiable process, that truth is exaggerated; it is finally asserted that any philosophy "can therefore satisfy only those interests which are in keeping with its time". (64; 13, 60) But great philosophies retain their significance, influence and, to a certain degree, their topical value for several considerably different eras. Of course, Hegel is well aware of it but, in his view, it is true exclusively of the ideal aspect of the history of philosophy and can refer to its empirical aspect only insofar as it ascends toward the ideal level. The latter is thus the standard, the norm, the imperative, but since it is primordial it is certainly not the imperative as understood by Kant or Fichte. In this strictly speaking purely logical and not historical aspect of self‑development "each philosophy existed and still necessarily exists: therefore, none has disappeared but all are retained in philosophy as moments of one whole". (64; 13, 50) Hegel is right in stressing the eternal in the historical development of philosophical knowledge. But he exaggerates and even makes an absolute of that moment, though it is no doubt important in the historical dialectics of truth and error. Besides, Hegel strives to avoid absolutely opposing the logical and the historical because he is aware of the fact that, contrary to the fundamentals of his system, that contraposition is relative. This explains his attempts at interpreting the historical aspect of philosophies not simply as something historically transient but also as something historically eternal. In this connection Hegel offers a specific interpretation of the relation of a philosophy to its time. "While a philosophy, in its content, does not rise above its time, it is still above it in its form because, as thought and knowledge of the substantial spirit of its era, this philosophy makes it its subject". (64; 13, 69) But this differentiation of form and content in philosophy is a deviation from the fundamental thesis of absolute idealism which holds that form and content are identical in philosophy as the thought of thought.

Thus Hegel's distinction between the logical and the historical aspects of the history of philosophy is clearly justified and epistemologically necessary. But he identifies epistemology with ontology; hence the conflicting assessments of his philosophy often given by its students. For example, students of Hegel's views on the history of philosophy usually quote the following very important point: "The latest philosophy is the result of all preceding philosophies; it must then contain the principles of all; it is therefore, when it is a philosophy, the most developed, the richest, and the most concrete." (64; 6, 21) While quoting that precept, students of Hegel seldom think about the way it describes his view of the actual history of philosophy. Since the quotation refers to the latest philosophy, it appears self‑evident that it applies to the history of philosophy. But the assertion that each following philosophy is higher than its predecessor fits only the logical order of the definitions of the absolute which, as the "absolute spirit", deploys its logical definitions in time, that is, historically.

Jean Hyppolite, a well‑known French student of Hegel's philosophy, refers to that and other similar tenets and accuses Hegel of discrediting great philosophies by treating them as fully surpassed: "The fault of Hegel's history of philosophy, which claims to present philosophies in a logical and chronological order, is that it turns each subsequent philosophy into a superior one comprising the principle of, and surpassing the one that preceded it." (69; 82) In the light of the quotation from Hegel cited above, this evaluation of his concept of the history of philosophy appears convincing. But it clearly underrates the contraposition of the substantial and the historical (the logical and the chronological, according to Jean Hyppolite) aspects of the history of philosophy on which Hegel insists so much, whereas it is clear from his Lectures on the History of Philosophy that he does not follow his own principle in specific studies of the history of philosophy. For example, he does not regard Stoicism, Epicureanism or Skepticism as the summit of ancient philosophy despite the fact that they were its latest stages. He even refers to Epicurus as a thinker who did not rise above the level of sensory concepts. He is equally disdainful of Skepticism, and describes even Stoicism as a decadent reflection of philosophy's crisis.

Hegel does not consider medieval philosophy as surpassing the philosophies that preceded it. Later Scholasticism, in his opinion, lost its distinctly philosophical content, with theology replacing philosophy.

In analyzing the philosophy of the New Age, Hegel is even further from presenting the latest philosophy as a synthesis of all those that preceded it. While praising the metaphysical systems of the 17th century, he criticizes 18th‑century philosophers, especially bourgeois Enlighteners, as thinkers who had even fallen short of their predecessors, at least in the specific content of their doctrines. It goes without saying that Hegel does not regard Berkeley and Hume as representing a higher stage of philosophy than the doctrines of Descartes, Leibniz or Spinoza.

If we now turn from Lectures on the History of Philosophy that trace the historical development of philosophical knowledge to The Science of Logic, whose hierarchy of categories leads from the lower to the higher, it becomes obvious which aspect of the history of philosophy Hegel means when saying that each subsequent philosophy is more developed, richer and more concrete (Hegel's logic, of course, does not refer to the particular philosophy but to its fundamental precept, principle and categories).

One must also remember that generally Hegel's concept of the development of philosophy is much richer than the oversimplified version that maintains that each new phenomenon represents a stage of development higher than the previous one. We know that Hegel considered negation a necessary component of development, differentiating between abstract and concrete negation. Both occur in development, but only concrete negation means transition from a lower to a higher stage. Contrary to the simplistic understanding of direct transition from lower to higher, from imperfect to perfect, Hegel describes development as a spiral in which past stages are revived on a new basis.

Thus the differentiation between the logical and the historical in Hegel's interpretation of the development of philosophy is equally necessary both for criticizing Hegel's idealist errors and for singling out his brilliant dialectical insights. That is the standpoint from which we should view Hegel's concept of the motive forces of the development of philosophy and the sources of the historical definitiveness of its content. If the logical is accepted not only as a specific quality of the cognizing subject but also as the substantial, it is thus accepted as causa sui, as self‑determining. That is Hegel's principal conviction directly referring to philosophy, and the development of the latter is interpreted as a substantial process; "the entire history of philosophy is essentially an inherently necessary forward­moving succession, which is reasonable in itself and is determined . . . by its a priori idea. The history of philosophy must prove it by its example." (64; 13, 50) The goal of this logical process, contained in it from the start, is its internal motive force; this means that its result is preordained from the start. The contradiction between the historically limited form of philosophy and its infinite content is the direct motive cause of the development of philosophical knowledge. According to Hegel, the finite is not yet true, and therefore "the inner idea destroys these finite forms" (64; 13, 50) — in other words, it makes the transition from one system of philosophy to another a necessity. Therefore, since the history of philosophy is regarded as a logical‑ontological succession of the definitions of the "absolute idea", it is also determined by the latter and is thus immanent‑teleological. Everything that happens in the world is, in the final analysis, a manifestation of reason. In Hegel's view, "this great precept . . . —which is the only thing that makes the history of philosophy so interesting—is nothing other than the belief in Providence, only in a different guise". (64; 13, 49)

All those definitions refer directly to the aspect of the history of philosophy Hegel describes as substance. But the latter does not exist outside the "empirical" development of philosophy because it forms its essence. According to Hegel's well‑known definition, philosophy as a historically developing phenomenon is an epoch apprehended by thought; it is "thought and the apprehension of the spirit of the time". (64; 13, 66) Of course, the "spirit of the time" does not exist independently of the "absolute spirit", so that the speculative and the historical definitions of philosophy are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, that which specifically describes a particular historical era (and consequently a particular stage in the development of philosophy) is not contained in the general concept of the absolute, in the speculative view of the thought of thought, the self‑alienation of the absolute spirit, etc.

Thus, on the one hand, Hegel reduces the motive forces of the history of philosophy to pure thought, while, on the other, he tries to connect the emergence and subsequent development of philosophy to certain history‑making social upheavals. Discussing the historical premises that led to the emergence of philosophy, Hegel says they included the division of labor, the rise of "estates", that is, the disintegration of the patriarchal clan, the emergence of the human personality independent of the patriarchal way of life, the crisis of spontaneous religious consciousness (see 64; 13, 66‑67). But Hegel gives no specific description of historical epochs whose content is expressed by this or that philosophy. Usually, he merely gives a general outline of the "spirit of the time", the intellectual climate, the convictions that dominated this or that historical epoch; and therefore philosophy itself, as a rule, appears as the most important manifestation of the spirit of the time. Hegel's view of the relation of philosophy to social relations as a whole does not provide any definite answer to the question but is rather the question itself.

Hegel is well aware of the fact that since the question is the existence of philosophy in history, philosophy is not the cause of social transformations; the idea of philosophy dependent on those transformations is incompatible with rationalist idealism. "The relationship between philosophy and political history, forms of government, art and religion is not such that they are the roots of philosophy or vice versa; rather they are all rooted in the spirit of the time." (64; 13, 69)

Apparently, Hegel proceeds from the concept of the single, universal absolute spirit, a certain stage of which appears as the spirit of the time, and its diversity is expressed in religion, art, government and, most adequately, in philosophy. The relationship between philosophy and all other forms of social life is that of correlation, parallelism, correspondence in time and, apparently, also of interaction and interpenetration. The basic postulate of Hegel's idealist system rejects the essential differentiation between social consciousness and social being, because both are reduced, in the final analysis, to the thought of thought, the substance‑subject, the identity of being and thought.

True, Hegel's philosophy of law draws a firm dividing line between the state and civil society—the sphere of private interests, above all economic ones. But this division has no counterpart in his analysis of the development of philosophy. The actual structure of a class society evaporates in the speculative annihilation of the empirical. All that leads the study of the specific historical content and social role of philosophy away from the already perceptible correct (but, of course, not idealist) way. The final conclusion—absolute idealism does not dare go further than that in its analysis of philosophy's place in the social life of each given historical era—merely recognizes that philosophy and all other forms of the social comprise a single whole, and that the intrinsic composites of that whole form a relationship of necessary correspondence. "A definite kind of philosophy correlates therefore with a definite kind of people among which it exists, with their state system, government, . . . their social life." (64; 13, 68) But what determines this correspondence, which is no mere temporal coincidence? Hegel's philosophy answers this question in the most general way: the uniqueness of the absolute spirit. This means that the substantial difference between two historical epochs is predetermined by the logical structure of the absolute spirit, in which each epoch is a necessary step on the way to its self‑consciousness.

According to Marx, Hegel turns world history into the history of philosophy. He identifies the specific historical (economic, political, ideological, technological, etc.) development of society with the development of knowledge and self‑consciousness; and philosophy is proclaimed the authentic form of the latter. This fully accords with the interpretation of world history as progress in the understanding of freedom. The diversity of human history is reduced to the development of philosophical consciousness. In Hegel's words, "world history is the expression of the divine, absolute process of the spirit in its supreme manifestations; it is an expression of that succession of steps through which it realizes its truth and reaches self‑consciousness . . . World history only shows how self‑consciousness and the striving for truth gradually awaken in the spirit; there are glimmers of consciousness, it apprehends the main points, and finally it becomes fully conscious." (63; 1, 75)

That one‑sided interpretation impoverishes and distorts the diversity of the content of world history.

Idealism has always presented human history above all as the history of intellectual development, as the struggle of reason against error, of good against evil. Although Hegel's doctrine of the objective logic of the history of society to some degree overcomes certain flaws in the idealist interpretation of history, he is obviously a captive of that philosophical-historical precept. But in his analysis of certain systems of philosophy Hegel often convincingly shows their relation to specific features of, the given historical epoch. For example, he reveals the historical necessity of, and justification for, bourgeois French Enlightenment. According to Hegel, its anticlericalisin and even atheism are an expression of the struggle against the obsolete feudal ways and their mainstay, the Catholic Church. The Revolution of 1789 is seen by him as directly linked to that intellectual movement to which he refers with obvious enthusiasm, despite his well-known hostility to naturalism and especially materialism.

Hegel's The Science of Logic admits only of logical connections between philosophies, but not of the historical relationship recorded by him between philosophy and the social conditions that are independent of it. Still, Hegel needs a sociological assessment of philosophies because, according to his fundamental concept, he recognizes not only the logical self‑motion of the philosophizing absolute spirit but also the development of philosophy in history.  The latter is, of course, necessary because the absolute cannot be content with mere self‑contemplation. And “the deeper the spirit plunges into itself, the more intensive becomes the contraposition, and the broader is the richness directed outside; we must fathom the depth by the degree of the need, the yearning of the spirit with which it directs its search outward to find itself". (64; 15, 684) Thus, without violating the principles of his panlogical system, Hegel combines the logical and the historical as the internal and the external. These contrapositions are dialectical, and the external becomes internal, while their union forms world history and, as its quintessence, the developing philosophical spirit. Naturally, primacy is accorded to the logical; the empirical is reduced to a means by which the spirit becomes conscious of its content.

In his analysis of various aspects of social life, often quite alien to philosophy, Hegel, of course, cannot ignore the fundamental link of philosophy with nonphilosophical studies and other forms of social consciousness: religion, art, morality. In examining the philosophy of the New Age, he explicitly states: "Without the independent development of the experimental sciences, philosophy would never have risen above the level of the ancients." (64; 15, 283) But this admission does not fit the structure of the system and therefore does not lead to appropriate theoretical conclusions about the motive forces of philosophical development: the historical succession connecting systems of philosophy has no place for the natural or social sciences.

The mechanistic world outlook, directly related to the natural science of the New Age, was of great importance for the development of philosophy. But Hegel pays little attention to that fact, apparently because he is a critic of the mechanistic approach. His Philosophy of Nature contains many dialectical conclusions drawn from the natural sciences. But since they proceed from materialist precepts, Hegel fails to correctly evaluate their relations to philosophy. He expands the concept of philosophy to the maximum and regards it as an all‑encompassing science, comprising the speculatively assimilated natural sciences. Thus he admits, albeit indirectly, the importance of the natural (and social) sciences for the development of philosophy. But that admission is worded so that specific sciences appear to owe their outstanding achievements to philosophy. Hegel puts an extreme construction on the traditional contraposition of philosophy to nonphilosophical activity (both practical and theoretical), and that inevitably affects his doctrine on the history of philosophy.

Hegel both underrates the importance of specific sciences for the development of philosophical knowledge and, not surprisingly, overestimates the role of religion. Since philosophy is, in his view, essentially idealist, it differs from religion not so much in content as in form. While in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy Hegel asserts that philosophy exists only inasmuch as it dissociates itself from religious consciousness, in his Philosophy of Religion he very often slurs over that fundamental difference, so important for idealism too, and even states that "philosophy and religion are identical". His reservations about the dialectical nature of that identity fail to make it plausible.

A point to remember is that Hegel's arguments to prove the identity of the subjects of philosophy and theology are mostly exoteric. And essentially, they even prove the opposite: that philosophy is independent of religion. In Hegel's opinion, religion cannot claim that its subject stands higher than that of philosophy. Philosophy is on the top ruing of the hierarchy of knowledge because its supreme subject is the divine. Philosophy is higher than religion because what is the subject of the imagination and emotion (and Hegel thinks little of their cognitive value) in religion is the subject of conceptual knowledge in philosophy. This explains why, in Hegel's lifetime, theologians viewed his contention as an act of arrogance on the part of philosophy, an attempt at usurping the prerogatives of theology.

In creating his theory of the history of philosophy, Hegel's studies form the basis of that subject as a science. That essentially dialectical theory is the theory of the development of philosophical knowledge which, in turn, serves as a basis for Hegel's specific and systematic study of the worldwide history of philosophy. He interprets the development of philosophy as a distinct form of development, radically different from other forms of development in nature and society. The existence and struggle of opposing doctrines is a salient feature of the development of philosophy; according to Hegel, their conflict does not rule out the interrelationship of their content or the inevitable transition from one doctrine to another. The concept of the conflicting unity of the history of philosophy and the dialectical understanding of historical continuity are the greatest accomplishments of Hegel's history of philosophy.

His idealism distorts all the achievements of his philosophy. The idealist interpretation of development distorts that concept and subordinates it to a theological system which largely dismisses the true motive forces of the development of philosophy and, in the final analysis, reconciles dialectics with the metaphysical interpretation of the history of philosophy. Hegel's metaphysical system offers a one‑sided interpretation of the history of philosophy which ignores the study of the development of the materialist outlook; consequently, it ignores the struggle of materialism and idealism, a most important aspect in the development of philosophy. The panlogical concept of the two major dimensions of the history of philosophy, the ontologization of its logical‑theoretical interpretation, the reduction of philosophy to the thought of thought elevated to the status of the subject‑substance—all that, together with the theological precepts and conclusions of Hegel's philosophy, puts a mystical construction on his history of philosophy and gives rise to contradictions that cannot be solved by absolute idealism, and to conservative (and partly reactionary) ideological conclusions.

Marxist philosophy removed the mystical shroud from Hegel's concept of the history of philosophy; it not only exposed its major flaws but also revealed its outstanding discoveries, accomplishments and insights, whose critical assimilation and development helped create a scientific theory of the history of philosophy.

[1] The following specifically historical point Engels made is especially important in this connection: ". . . the manyfold forms of Greek philosophy contain in embryo, in the nascent state, almost all later modes of outlook on the world." (8; 395) [—> main text]

SOURCE: Oizerman, Theodore [Oizerman, Teodor Il´ich]; translated from the Russian by Dmitri Beliavsky. Dialectical Materialism and the History of Philosophy: Essays on the History of Philosophy (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), chapter 1, section 2, pp. 41-61.

Dialectical Materialism and the History of Philosophy: Contents

Problems of the History of Philosophy (Extracts) by Theodore Oizerman

Problems of the History of Philosophy by Theodore Oizerman, review by Ralph Dumain

Principles of the Theory of Historical Process in Philosophy by T.I Oizerman & A.S. Bogomolov

Principles of the Theory of Historical Process in Philosophy by T.I Oizerman & A.S. Bogomolov, review by R. Dumain

The Main Trends in Philosophy (Contents) by T. I. Oizerman

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Philosophy of History of Philosophy & Historiography of Philosophy: Selected Bibliography


Problems of the History of Philosophy by Theodore Oizerman
(entire book online)

The Problem of the Scientific Philosophical World-Outlook by T. I. Oizerman

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