Hegel 1818

Inaugural Address, Delivered at the University of Berlin[1]

Written: 22 October 1818;
Translated: H. B. Nisbet, 1999;
Transcribed: Kwame Genov (youtube.com/kwamegenovv), 2017.


Since today marks my first[101] appearance at this university in that official capacity as a teacher of philosophy to which I was graciously appointed by His Majesty the King,[2] permit me to say by way of introduction that I considered it particularly desirable and gratifying to take up a position of wider academic influence both at this particular moment and in this particular place.[3]

As far as the particular moment is concerned, those circumstances appear to have arisen in which philosophy may once again expect to receive attention and love, and in which this science, which had almost fallen silent,[4] may once more lift up its voice. For not long ago, the urgency of the times on the one hand conferred such great importance on the petty interests of everyday life, and on the other hand, the high interests of actuality, the interest and conflicts involved simply in restoring and salvaging the political totality of national life and of the state, placed such great demands on all [our] mental faculties and on the powers of all [social] classes [Stände] – as well as on external resources – that the inner life of the spirit could not attain peace and leisure; and the world spirit was so bound up with actuality and forced to turn outwards that it was prevented from turning inwards upon itself and enjoying and indulging itself in its proper home.[5] Now once this stream of actuality had been checked, and the German nation at large had salvaged its nationality, the basis of all vitality and life, the time came when, in addition to the empire of the actual world, the free realm of thought might also flourish independently within the state. And at all events, the power of the spirit has asserted itself to such an extent that in the [present] age that only Ideas, and what is in keeping with ideas, can now survive, and nothing can be recognized unless it justifies itself before insight and thought.[6 ]And it is this state in particular,[7] the state which has taken me into its midst, which, by virtue of its spiritual supremacy [Übergewicht], has raised itself to its [present] importance [Gewicht] in actuality and in the political realm, and has made itself the equal, in power and independence, of those states which may surpass it in external resources. Here, the cultivation and flowering of the sciences is one of the most essential moments – even of political life. In this university – as the central university – the center of all spiritual culture [Geistesbildung] and of all science and truth, namely philosophy, must also find its place and be treated with special care.

But it is not just spiritual life in general which constitutes a basic moment in the existence of this state; more particularly, that great struggle of the people, together with its ruler, for independence, for the destruction of soulless foreign tyranny, and for freedom, had its higher source in the soul [Gemüt];[8] it is the ethical power of the spirit which felt its own energy, raised its banner, and expressed this feeling as a force and power in [the realm of] actuality. We must regard it as commendable that our generation has lived, acted, and worked in this feeling, a feeling in which all that is rightful, moral, and religious was concentrated. – In such profound and all-embracing activity, the spirit rises within itself to its [proper] dignity; the banality of life and the vacuity of its interests are confounded, and the superficiality of its attitudes and opinions is unmasked and dispelled. Now this deeper seriousness which has pervaded the soul [Gemüt] in general is also the true ground of philosophy. What is opposed to philosophy is, on the one hand, the spirit’s immersion in the interest of necessity [Not] and of everyday life, but on the other, the vanity of opinions; if the soul [Gemüt] is filled with the latter, it has no room left for reason – which does not, as such, pursue its own [interest]. This vanity must evaporate in its own nullity once it has become a necessity for people to work for a substantial content, and once the stage has been reached when only a content of this kind can achieve recognition. But we have seen this age in [possession of] just such a substantial content, and we have seen that nucleus once more take shape with whose further development, in all its aspects (i.e. political, ethical, religious, and scientific), our age is entrusted.[9]

Our vocation and business is to nurture the development of philosophy as the substantial basis which has now been rejuvenated and confirmed. Its rejuvenation, whose initial impact and expression were felt in political actuality, makes its further appearance in that greater ethical and religious seriousness, that demand for solidity [Gediegenheit] and thoroughness in general, which has gone out to [people in] all walks of life; the most solid [gediegenste] [kind of] seriousness is essentially [an und für sich selbst] the seriousness of truth.[102] This need, by which spiritual nature is distinguished from that nature which merely feels and enjoys, is for that very reason the deepest need of the spirit;[10] – it is an inherently universal need, and on the one hand, it has been stirred more profoundly by the seriousness of our times, and on the other, it is a characteristic property of the German spirit. As for the distinction of the Germans in philosophical culture, the state of philosophical studies among other nations and the meaning which they attach to the term ‘philosophy’ show that, while they have retained the name, its sense has changed and the thing itself has been debased and dissipated to such an extent that scarcely a memory or inkling of it has remained. This science has sought refuge among the Germans and survived only among them; we have been given custody of this sacred light, and it is our vocation to tend and nurture it, and to ensure that the highest [thing] which man can possess, namely the self-consciousness of his essential being, is not extinguished and lost.[11] But even in Germany, the banality of that earlier time before the country’s rebirth had gone so far as to believe and assert that it had discovered and proved that there is no cognition of truth, and that God and the essential being of the world and the spirit are incomprehensible and unintelligible. Spirit [, it was alleged,] should stick to religion, and religion to faith, feeling, and intuition [Ahnen] without rational knowledge.[12] Cognition [, it was said,] has nothing to do with the nature of the absolute (i.e. of God, and what is true and absolute in nature and spirit), but only, on the one hand, with the negative [conclusion] that nothing true can be recognized, and that only the untrue, the temporal, and the transient enjoy the privilege, so to speak, of recognition – and on the other hand, with its proper object, the external (namely the historical, i.e. the contingent circumstances in which the alleged or supposed cognition made its appearance); and this same cognition should be taken as [merely] historical, and examined in those external aspects [referred to above] in a critical and learned manner, whereas its content cannot be taken seriously.[13] They [i.e. the philosophers in question] got no further than Pilate, the Roman proconsul; for when he heard Christ utter the world ‘truth,’ he replied with the question ‘what is truth?’ in the manner of one who had had enough of such words and knew that there is no cognition of truth. Thus, what has been considered since time immemorial as utterly contemptible and unworthy – i.e. to renounce the knowledge of truth – was glorified before[103] our time as the supreme triumph of the spirit. Before it reached this point, this despair in reason had still been accompanied by pain and melancholy; but religious and ethical frivolity, along with that dull and superficial view of knowledge which described itself as Enlightenment, soon confessed its impotence frankly and openly, and arrogantly set about forgetting higher interests completely; and finally, the so-called critical philosophy provided this ignorance of the eternal and divine with a good conscience, by declaring that it [i.e. the critical philosophy] had proved that nothing can be known of the eternal and the divine, or of truth. This supposes cognition has even usurped the name of philosophy, and nothing was more welcome to superficial knowledge and to [those of] superficial character, and nothing was so eagerly seized upon by them, than this doctrine, which described this very ignorance, this superficiality and vapidity, as excellent and as the goal and result of all intellectual endeavor. Ignorance of truth, and knowledge only of appearances, of temporality and contingency, of vanity alone – this vanity has enlarged its influence in philosophy, and it continues to do so and still holds the floor today.[14] It can indeed be said that, ever since philosophy first began to emerge in Germany, the condition of this science has never looked so bad, nor has such a view as this, such renunciation of rational cognition, attained such [a degree of] presumption and influence. This view has dragged on [into the present] from the period before our own, and it stands in stark contradiction to that worthier [gediegenern][104] feeling and new, substantial spirit [of today]. I salute and invoke this dawn of a worthier spirit, and I address myself to it alone when I declare that philosophy must have a content [Gehalt] and when I proceed to expound this content to you. But in doing so, I appeal to the spirit of youth in general, for youth is that fine time of life when one is not yet caught up in the system of the limited ends of necessity [Not] and is inherently [für sich] capable of the freedom of disinterested scientific activity; nor is it yet affected by the negative spirit of vanity, by purely critical drudgery with no content. A heart which is still in good health still has the courage to demand truth, and it is in the realm of truth that philosophy is at home, which it [itself] constructs, and which we share in by studying it. Whatever is true, great, and divine in life is so by virtue of the Idea; the goal of philosophy is to grasp the Idea in its true shape and universality. Nature is confined to implementing reason only by necessity; but the realm of spirit is the realm of freedom. All that holds human life together, all that has value and validity, is spiritual in nature; and this realm of the spirit exists solely through the consciousness of truth and right, through the comprehension of Ideas.[15]

May I express the wish and hope that I shall manage to gain and merit your confidence on the path which we are about to take. But first of all, the one thing I shall venture to ask of you is this: that you bring with you a trust in science, faith in reason, and trust and faith in yourselves. The courage of truth and faith in the power of the spirit is the primary condition of philosophical study;[16] man should honor himself and consider himself worthy of the highest [things]. He cannot overestimate the greatness and power of the spirit; the closed essence of the universe contains no force which could withstand the courage of cognition; it must open up before it, and afford it the spectacle and enjoyment of its riches and its depths.

1. As was customary for new faculty members, Hegel delivered an inaugural address upon arriving in Berlin in 1818. By many accounts, this speech reveals on a micro-historical level a philosophical attempt to fuse universalistic German cultural values with the Prussian state (see Meinecke 1970: pp. 23-33, 148-59 and 233ff; cf. Haym 1857: pp. 356-9).

101. Translator’s note: The frequent use of italics in this text is based on Hegel’s manuscript, and was no doubt designed to highlight those words and phrases which he wished to emphasize in delivering his address. In translating the address, I have, as usual, followed Werke (vol. Xii, pp. 399-404) in the first instance; but in marking Hegel’s emphasis, I have been guided rather by the definitive Gesammelte Werke, and have indicated in the following notes those instances where the wording of the text in the latter edition differs significantly from that of the former.

2. See W. Jaeschke and K. Meist (1981: pp. 29-39) on the political tensions surrounding Hegel’s appointment.

3. For many years, Hegel had sought a ‘wider’ audience for his philosophy. In 1816, before his return to university teaching as Heidelberg, her remarked upon this in a letter to a friend (Hegel 1984b: p. 462). In 1816, in the Inaugural Address, he publicly annouced his commitment to help extend ‘the higher interest of science’ to a wider audience. Freiherr K. S. von Altenstein, who oversaw (but did not initiate) the hiring of Hegel for the University of Berlin, saw Hegel’s task in identical terms (see Altenstein in Hegel 1984b: pp. 457, 469, 467). Just as publicly, Hegel’s Proceedings of the Estates Assembly in the Kingdom of Württemberg commends Germany’s young people for the public spirit they had shown in the recent Wars of Liberation (Hegel 1964: pp. 259-65). Hegel insists in Proceedings of the Estates Assembly in the Kingdom of Württemberg that the ‘independence’ which German youth had helped Germany to win during the war of 1813-15 entitled it to participate ‘in the political life of the state.’ He also says there that a ‘rational’ political system requires the participation of the citizens, but he is careful to distinguish his own view of ‘rationality’ from the atomistic one that allegedly governed political behavior in France.

4. The reference to the dismal status of philosophy in the rest of Europe as well as in German echos the Proceedings of the Estates Assembly in the Kingdom of Württemberg. Prior to arriving in Berlin, Hegel consistently pointed to the popularity of Fries’s shallow philosophizing as proof of the precarious condition of German philosophy.

5. In this sentence, Hegel refers to the upheavals of the wars that had disrupted Europe since 1789. It is important to note that his remark about ‘the inner life of spirit’ is not meant to countenance, as Arnold Ruge (1802-80) insinuated in the early 1840s, a Protestant retreat from political life into Mandarinism (Ruge 1983: pp. 218 and 222ff). Rather, Hegel recommends ‘turning inwards’ so that mature (i.e. ‘free’) reflection on how to bring ‘actuality’ into line with rationality (i.e. ‘insight and thought’) can begin. Insight is not, as Ruge mistakenly insinuates, a substitute for political action for Hegel (1983: p. 223). Rather, insight is the point of departure for instilling rationality into the political process. The phrase which Hegel uses to describe this process in the Proceedings of the Estates Assembly in the Kingdom of Württemberg is more apt: spirit turns inward in order to ‘collect itself’ before moving outwards again.

6. Hegel means to set ‘insight and thought’ off against ‘feeling’ here. For years, this had been his position and he always associated feeling with subjectivism both in philosophy (e.g. with Fries) and in religion (with Schleiermacher).

7. The state in question, obviously, is Prussia. The reference to its ‘spiritual supremacy’ acknowledges Prussia’s commitment to the expansion of higher education throughout its university system. The next sentence indicates that Prussia’s creation of the University of Berlin in 1809 is clearly in Hegel’s mind. Altenstein was involved in that effort, and it had all along been his plan to put Hegel in the vanguard of a movement to cultivate ‘the sciences’ at the new university. This agenda suited the King of Prussia because, as early as 1807, just after Napoleon’s defeat of Prussia at Jena in 1806, he realized that Prussia had to ‘establish through spiritual power [geistige Krafte] what it... lost in physical power’ (see Gesammelte Werke, vol. Xviii, p. 411).

8. In designating the soul (Gemüt) as the ground of philosophy, Hegel makes the formation of ‘spiritual culture’ (Geistesbildung) the goal of his philosophy as a means of Bildung. In turn, the point of spiritual culture is to translate Geist into Sittlichkeit (or social Geist). The references in the remainder of the paragraph to the need for people to strive for ‘substantial content’ is Hegel’s way of saying that only Sittlichkeit can meet the standard of political rationality set by the spirit of the age.

9. The second half of the paragraph identifies ‘necessity’ and ‘the vanity of opinions’ as obstacles to spirit’s realization of its proper (i.e. historically appropriate) form. In both instances, the obstacles arise because of ‘spirit’s immersion’ in self-regarding subjectivity. Large parts of the Philosophy of Right describe how self-regarding subjectivism manifests itself institutionally in the form of civil society.

102. Translator’s note: Werke adds the words zu erkennen ('and of cognition’) at the end of this sentence.

10. Like Plato and Cicero before him, Hegel plays with the idea of ‘need’ here. The deepest needs are spiritual and communal, not biological and personal. For that reason, Hegel sets philosophy the task of directing thinking towards the satisfaction of spiritual needs. But those needs cannot be met through either feeling or enjoyment, the two most prevalent forms of subjectivity in the modern world. Again, the outline of Hegel’s theory of civil society is visible here.

11. Hegel is alluding here to the cultural mission of philosophy in Germany. In the 1790s, that mission had expressed itself in cosmopolitan terms among a variety of German thinkers (see Meinecke 1970: pp. 42-7 and 55-6). As we saw earlier, Hegel had already shown little patience with cosmopolitan thinking in The German Constitution. But in his writings after 1813, there is evidence that he thought circumstances in Europe after Napoleon’s fall had become propitious for what the Germans had longed awaited: a translatio, a shift of leadership within Europe towards Germany and, in this case, away from France (see Voegelin 1971; Butler in Hegel 1984b: pp. 122, 300-2, 317, and 324). In the Inaugural Address, Hegel had alluded to a series of translationes by which the ‘sacred fire’ of religious insight has passed from one religious people to another. He mentions the Jewish contribution in particular here (perhaps as a rebuff to the rabid antisemitism of Fries and his followers in the Burschenschaften). But he is also interested in using the idea of translatio to explain the shift of the ‘world spirit’ from Catholic France to Protestant Germany. From this time on, Prussia and Protestantism are intimately connected in his thinking by way of the translatio of the ‘world spirit’ from France to Germany.

12. Hegel is drawing attention to the subjectivist tendency in critical philosophy, especially as developed by the self-declared Kantian, Fries. As early as Faith and Knowledge (1802), Hegel had denounced critical philosophy for its subjectivism.

13. This long sentence might have provoked the anger of Schleiermacher and/or Savigny, the two champions of historical thinking at Berlin. There is evidence that Altenstein planned to use Hegel to contest the hold which these two thinkers had on the university (see, for example, Toews 1980: p. 60).

103. Translator’s note: Gesammelte Werke reads vor ('before’): Werke reads von ('by’).

14. Throughout the 1820s, Hegel discussed the difference between feeling and cognition. With Fries’s subjectivist philosophy in mind, he here suggests that Fries collapses cognition into feeling. Hegel wishes to separate the two without making his own conception of cognition excessively rational.

104. Translator’s note: Werke reads gediegenen, but Gesammelte Werke has the comparative gediegenern.

15. The last three sentences measure the evolution of human consciousness in terms of reason’s movement from necessity to freedom. As consciousness evolves, it shifts its focus towards spiritual (i.e. ethical and divine) ends. While in Berlin, Hegel devoted much lecture time to fleshing out what such a progression entails.

16. Earlier in the address, Hegel had referred to ‘the ethical power of the spirit’ (die sittliche Macht des Geistes). Here and elsewhere in the address he simply alludes to the ‘power of the spirit.’ Throughout the Berlin years, the aim of his philosophy is to ground spirit in ethical life (Sittlichkeit). This demands an ethical turn outwards after spirit has ‘collected itself’ inwardly.