Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bertrand Russell on Hegel - the most intellectual joke I've ever read

For [Hegel] the course of logic and the course of history were broadly identical. Logic, for him, consisted of a series of self-correcting attempts to describe the world. If your first attempt is too simple, as it is sure to be, you will find that it contradicts itself; you will then try the opposite, or "antithesis", but this will also contradict itself. This leads you to a "synthesis", containing something of the original idea and something of its opposite, but more complex and less self-contradictory than either. This new idea, however, will also prove inadequate, and you will be driven, through its opposite, to a new synthesis. This process goes on until you reach the "Absolute Idea", in which there is no contradiction, and which, therefore, describes the real world.

But the real world, in Hegel as in Kant, is not the apparent world. The apparent world goes through developments which are the same as those the logician goes through if he starts from Pure Being and travels on to the Absolute Idea. Pure Being is exemplified by ancient China, of which Hegel knew only that it had existed; the Absolute Idea is exemplified by the Prussian State, which had given Hegel a professorship at Berlin. Why the world should go through this logical evolution is not clear; one is tempted to suppose that the Absolute Idea did not quite understand itself at first, and made mistakes when it tried to embody itself in events. But this, of course, was not what Hegel would have said.

from "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives" in Unpopular Essays