The Telos of History as Understood by Hegel
Hegel’s Logic of Spirit
To understand how history has an already actual purpose, one must first consult Hegel’s logic of Spirit. According to Hegel Spirit is ultimately a totality, and thus nothing is outside of it.103 Consequently, a separation between Spirit and anything that exists would produce a multiplicity, and thus, it would cease to be a true totality or unity if anything were genuinely distinct from it.104 Hegel refutes the possibility of this separation through logic, and he persists that one can only maintain a truly monistic view of reality if one admits that only the unity of all predicates can ultimately pertain to Spirit as their subject.105 For example, if one were to claim that “Spirit is human,” that assertion would be wrong because humanity is not the totality of existence. Antithetically, one may posit that “Spirit is non-human,” but one must remember that this claim leads to a conceptual separation between Spirit and humanity, which cannot be the case since nothing can be external to Spirit. Therefore, to attempt to capture the conceptual totality of Spirit or God’s essence, one would have to posit a statement that balances “Spirit is human” with “Spirit is non-human,” which would appear to be achievable through the statement “Spirit is all beings.” But, that resolution is just an appearance, since objects are not beings, yet, they too must be part of Spirit if it is to be a true totality. To Hegel, this dialectical progression is how reality, Spirit, or God’s essence moves, and he believes that if people studied it, they would have an easier time comprehending history’s development, or God’s progress toward realizing his/her freedom as understood in the terrestrial realm.106
Another facet of the logic of Spirit includes the notion that that which is actual precedes that which displays actuality.107 In other words, Spirit, which follows the pattern of the dialectic, is actual since it is Becoming, or displays ceaseless activity. But, the results of Spirit are not as actual as it, and instead they display actuality, which is similar but not the same as its activity.108 Also, one may claim that for something to possess actuality it must have inherited it from a cause that displays either the same degree of actuality or is actual itself, and since Spirit is a totality, and thus, always active, it is actual.109 Hence, one may claim that at least conceptually a purpose exists before that which displays purposiveness, and thus one may continue to claim that something such as history’s final point is actual before history displays finality in its actuality.110
It is also important to stress that in a Hegelian view that which is actual is real, or rational. To Hegel, the Pure and Actual, or Spirit as Becoming, follows the nature of the dialectic since it is ultimately identical to it.111 That is, the rational progression or self-conscious growth of Spirit as the essence of the totality of existence follows the dialectical pattern as described above, and since it is a pattern, one may assert that it is an example of order and reason.112 Hence, one may equate actuality to reality, or rationality, since Spirit logically disseminates throughout conceptual existence in a dialectical way, or it is the case that Spirit is Reason since both actively move according to the same logical structure.113 Finally, from this, one may state that the progression of Spirit follows the same paradigm as people’s minds, and since it is they who recognize Spirit’s growth through their own inner struggles, it follows that history reflects Spirit as people, and people as Spirit.
Interpreting Hegel’s Telos, or Purpose of History as a Present Reality
It is arguable that in a Hegelian view, the end of history is already a conceptual reality, and thus, it exists in the present. One reason why one may make this claim is that to Hegel history would not display purposiveness if its purpose were not already real.114 That is, history’s end is already a reality since that which displays finality must have derived from a concept that is already complete.115 That complete concept, Hegel calls objective freedom, and it is the limitless dialectical structure that Spirit travels and fills with content.116 Furthermore, if history’s progressive nature did not follow a rational pattern, its progress would be unreal, and thus, people would be unable to be aware of its trends. Instead, because people are rational and cognizant, it follows that it is in their power to take notice of history’s progress, which would be impossible if that progress were irrational or random.
Moreover, since objective freedom, or the dialectical pattern that houses Spirit, is without bounds, it follows that in a Hegelian view the end of history is already present due to past, present, and future being ultimately illusory concepts.117 That is, the dialectic, which is the eternal logical structure that the ceaseless becoming of Spirit follows, is timeless since by being everlasting it always was, is, and will be.118 Therefore, because past, present, and future cannot pertain to that which is eternal, it is the case that history’s end is already real within that everlasting framework. From this, one may continue to claim that history is determinate since its goal is already real, and it is both Spirit and people that have to come to recognize the concreteness of that end.
Another reason why one may interpret Hegel as ascribing to the view that history’s end is already present is that it treks a determined path, and thus, for it to be determinate, there must be a determinant paradigm that is complete for it to traverse.119 That framework, the dialectic, as a totality, necessarily encompass all ideas concerning its end, and it is when Spirit becomes aware of the whole of those ideas that it will realize that its end was already real within it.120 That is, people throughout time and culture have theorized about history’s end, and it is when Spirit becomes aware of those ideas that it will know that the dialectic’s end was always present.121 Finally, because Spirit is determinate and moves according to the pattern of the dialectic, and since human consciousness moves according to that same pattern, it is the case that people can become more cognizant of its end on earth or the completion of world history.
It is also justifiable to claim that in a Hegelian view people must become more cognizant of the way history, or Spirit’s conceptual manifestation on earth progresses, so that they may realize that its end is already actual.122 That is, as an objective conceptual framework, the dialectic already includes history’s end or Spirit’s finality on earth, and it is important that people take notice of its progressions with reference to that end.123 That end, or the perfection of every national ethos, Spirit displays in its progressiveness, and it is people’s duty to respond to history’s advancement by making its end a tangible reality on earth.124 In other words, because the ideal of history is conceptually real, it follows that it is already present, and it is the job of people to make that ideal alive in their communities so that others may come to recognize the same. Consequently, one may claim that in a Hegelian view it is not history that has to catch up with people, rather it is people who have to catch up to it.125 Lastly, one may also claim that history’s end is already a reality that is inherent to a nation’s geography.
Furthermore, the landscape of a nation also houses the end of its history, and thus, one may claim that the national ethos of a state is already complete.126 In other words, the ethos that a populace abstracts from its land are already complete since it is an aspect of Spirit, or that becoming force that travels along the complete path of the dialectic.127 Moreover, since Spirit’s path is already entire and whole, it follows that the facets of Spirit that are present in each and every one of earth’s terrains are complete, and therefore, it is humanity that must make that completion an earthly reality.128 From this, one may claim that because history’s end is already present within each and every nation, it is also the case that to realize those ends, people must do so in a way that illuminates concepts that will lead to concrete progress.129 Finally, when people realize those concepts by making them material realities, it follows that to Hegel the need for history will begin to decline due to people becoming aware of the ever-present end that is inherent to history’s telos, or purpose.130
This piece was intended to illuminate Hegel’s understanding of history, how it proceeds, and its ultimate aim. Next, by explicating history’s end and Hegel’s logic of Spirit, I have hoped to show how one may claim that he believes history’s telos, or purpose is already a reality. Finally, I hope that this piece will spark new debate on the meaning of Hegel’s philosophy of history and how it may be applicable in modern times.
Hegel, G.W.F. Lectures on the Philosophy of History trans., Ruben Alvarado., Wordbridge Publishing. 2011. 1-428.
Hegel, G.W.F. Hegel: Texts and Commentary, Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit trans., Walter Kaufmann., Anchor Books. 1966. 1-111.
Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. Simon and Schuster/Touchstone. 1967. 1-895.