Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy

Part One: Greek Philosophy

The name of Greece strikes home to the hearts of men of education in Europe, and more particularly is this so with us Germans. Europeans have taken their religion, the life to come, the far-off land, from a point somewhat further off than Greece — they took it from the East, and more especially from Syria. But the here, the present, art and science, that which in giving liberty to our spiritual life, gives it dignity as it likewise bestows upon it ornament, we know to have proceeded from Greece either directly or indirectly — through the circuitous road of Rome. The latter of these two ways was the earlier form in which this culture came to us; it also came from the formerly universal church which derived its origin as such from Rome, and has retained its speech even until now. The sources of authority in addition to the Latin Gospels have been the Fathers. Our law, too, boasts of deriving its most perfect forms from Rome. Teutonic strength of mind has required to pass through the hard discipline of the church and law which came to us from Rome, and to be kept in cheek; it is in this way that the European character first obtained its pliability and capacity for freedom. Thus it was after European manhood came to be at home i with itself and to look upon the present, that the historical and that which is of foreign derivation was given. When man began to be at home with himself, lie turned to the Greeks to find enjoyment in it. Let us leave the Latin and the Roman to the church and to jurisprudence. Higher, freer philosophic science, as also the beauty of our untrammelled art, the taste for, and love of the same, we know to have taken their root in Greek life and to have created therefrom their spirit. If we were to have an aspiration, it would be for such a land and such conditions.

But what makes us specially at home with the Greeks is that they made their world their home; the common spirit of homeliness unites us both. In ordinary life we like best the men and families that are homely and contented in themselves, not desiring what is outside and above them, and so it is with the Greeks. They certainly received the substantial beginnings of their religion, culture, their common bonds of fellowship, more or less from Asia, Syria and Egypt; but they have so greatly obliterated the foreign nature of this origin, and it is so much changed, worked upon, turned around, and altogether made so different, that what they, as we prize, know, and love in it, is essentially their own. For this reason, in the history of Greek life, when we go further back and seem constrained so to go back, we find we may do without this retrogression and follow within the world and manners of the Greeks, the beginnings, the germination and the progress of art and science up to their maturity, even seeing the origin of their decay — and this completely comprehended within their own range. For their spiritual development requires that which is received or foreign, as matter or stimulus only; in such they have known and borne themselves as men that were free. The form which they have given to the foreign principle is this characteristic breath of spirituality, the spirit of freedom and of beauty which can in the one aspect be regarded as form, but which in another and higher sense is simply substance.

They have thus not only themselves created the substantial in their culture and made their existence their own, but they have also held in reverence this their spiritual re-birth, which is their real birth. The foreign origin they have so to speak thanklessly forgotten, putting it in the background — perhaps burying it in the darkness of the mysteries which they have kept secret from themselves. They have not only done this, that is they have not only used and enjoyed all that they have brought forth and formed but they have become aware of and thankfully and joyfully placed before themselves this at-homeness [Heimathlichkeit] in their whole existence, the ground and origin of themselves, not merely existing in it, possessing and making use of it. For their mind, when transformed in this spiritual new birth, is just the living in their life, and also the becoming conscious of that life as it has become actual. They represent their existence as an object apart from themselves, which manifests itself independently and which in its independence is of value to them; hence they have made for themselves a history of everything which they have possessed and have been. Not only have they represented the beginning of the world — that is, of gods and men, the earth, the heavens, the wind, mountains and rivers — but also of all aspects of their existence, such as the introduction of fire and the offerings connected with it, the crops, agriculture, the olive, the horse, marriage, property, laws, arts, worship, the sciences, towns, princely races, &c. Of all these it is pleasingly represented through tales how they have arisen in history as their own work.

It is in this veritable homeliness, or, more accurately, in the spirit of homeliness, in this spirit of ideally being-at-home-with-themselves in their physical, corporate, legal, moral and political existence; it is in the beauty and the freedom of their character in history, making what they are to be also a sort of Mnemosyne with them, that the kernel of thinking liberty rests; and hence it was requisite that Philosophy should arise amongst them.

Philosophy is being at home with self, just like the homeliness of the Greek; it is man’s being at home in his mind, at home with himself. If we are at home with the Greeks, we must be at home more particularly in their Philosophy; not, however, simply as it is with them, for Philosophy is at home with itself, and we have to do with Thought, with what is most specially ours, and with what is free from all particularity. The development and unfolding of thought has taken place with them from its earliest beginning, and in order to comprehend their Philosophy we may remain with them — without requiring to seek for further and external influences.

But we must specify more particularly their character and point of view. The Greeks have a starting-point in history as truly as they have arisen from out of themselves : this starting-point, comprehended in thought, is the oriental substantiality of the natural unity between the spiritual and the natural. To start from the self, to live in the self, is the other extreme of abstract subjectivity, when it is still empty, or rather has made itself to be empty; such is pure formalism, the abstract principle of the modern world. The Greeks stand between both these extremes in the happy medium; this therefore is the medium of beauty, seeing that it is both natural and spiritual, but yet that the spiritual still remains the governing, determining subject. Mind immersed in nature is in substantial unity with it, and in so far as it is consciousness, it is essentially sensuous perception : as subjective consciousness it is certainly form-giving though it is devoid of measure. For the Greeks, the substantial unity of nature and spirit was a fundamental principle, and thus being in the possession and knowledge of this, yet not being overwhelmed in it, but having retired into themselves, they have avoided the extreme of formal subjectivity, and are still in unity with themselves. Thus it is a free subject which still possesses that original unity in content, essence and substratum, and fashions its object into beauty. The stage reached by Greek consciousness is the stage of beauty. For beauty is the ideal; it is the thought which is derived from Mind, but in such a way that the spiritual individuality is not yet explicit as abstract subjectivity that has then in itself to perfect its existence into a world of thought. What is natural and sensuous still pertains to this subjectivity, but yet the natural form has not equal dignity and rank with the other, nor is it predominant as is the case in the East. The principle of the spiritual now stands first in rank, and natural existence has no further value for itself, in its existent forms, being the mere expression of the Mind shining through, and having been reduced to be the vehicle and form of its existence. Mind, however, has not yet got itself as a medium whereby it can represent itself in itself, and from which it can form its world.

Thus free morality could and necessarily did find a place in Greece, for the spiritual substance of freedom was bore the principle of morals, laws and constitutions. Because the natural element is, however, still contained in it, the form taken by the morality of the state is still affected by what is natural; the states are small individuals in their natural condition, which could not unite themselves into one whole. Since the universal does not exist in independent freedom, that which is spiritual still is limited. In the Greek world what is potentially and actually eternal is realised and brought to consciousness through Thought; but in such a way that subjectivity confronts it in a determination which is still accidental, because it is still essentially related to what is natural; and in this we find the reason as promised above, for the fact that in Greece the few alone are free.

The measureless quality of substance in the East is brought, by means of the Greek mind, into what is measurable and limited; it is clearness, aim, limitation of forms, the reduction of what is measureless, and of infinite splendour and riches, to determinateness and individuality. The riches of the Greek world consist only of an infinite quantity of beautiful, lovely and pleasing individualities in the serenity which pervades all existence; those who are greatest amongst the Greeks are the individualities, the connoisseurs in art, poetry, song, science, integrity and virtue. If the serenity of the Greeks, their beautiful gods, statues, and temples, as well as their serious work, their institutions and acts, may seem — compared to the splendour and sublimity, the colossal forms of oriental imagination, the Egyptian buildings of Eastern kin doms — to be like child’s play, this is the case yet more with the thought that comes into existence here. Such thought puts a limit on this wealth of individualities as on the oriental greatness, and reduces it into its one simple soul, which, however, is in itself the first source of the opulence of a higher ideal world, of the world of Thought.

“From out of thy passions, oh, man,” exclaimed an ancient. “thou hast derived the materials for thy gods,” just as the Easterns, and especially the Indians, did from the elements, powers and forms of Nature. One may add, “out of Thought thou takest the element and material for God.” Thus Thought is the ground from which God comes forth, but it is not Thought in its commencement that constitutes the first principle from which all culture must be grasped. It is quite the other way. In the beginning, thought comes forth as altogether poor, abstract, and of a content which is meagre in comparison to that given to his subject by the oriental; for as immediate, the beginning is just in the form of nature, and this it shares with what is oriental. Because it thus reduces the content of the East to determinations which are altogether poor, these thoughts are scarcely worth observation on our part, since they are not yet proper thoughts, neither being in the form of, or determined as thought, but belonging really to Nature. Thus Thought is the Absolute, though not as Thought. That is, we have always two things to distinguish, the universal or the Notion, and the reality of this universal, for the question here arises as to whether the reality is itself Thought or Nature. We find in the fact that reality at first has still the immediate form and is only Thought potentially, the reason for commencing with the Greeks and from the natural philosophy of the Ionic school.

As regards the external and historical condition of Greece at this time, Greek philosophy commences in the sixth century before Christ in the time of Cyrus, and in the period of decline in the Ionic republics in Asia Minor. Just because this world of beauty which raised itself into a higher kind of culture went to pieces, Philosophy arose. Croesus and the Lydians first brought Ionic freedom into jeopardy; later on the Persians were those who destroyed it altogether, so that the greater part of the inhabitants sought other spots and created colonies, more particularly in the West. At the time of the decline in Ionic towns, the other Greece ceased to be under its ancient lines of kings; the Pelopideans and the other, and for the most part foreign, princely races had passed away. Greece had in many ways come into touch with the outside world and the Greek inhabitants likewise sought within themselves for a bond of fellowship. The patriarchal life was past, and in many states it came to be a necessity that they should constitute themselves as free, organised and regulated by law. Many individuals come into prominence who were no more rulers of their fellow-citizens by descent, but who were by means of talent, power of imagination and scientific knowledge, marked out and reverenced, and such individuals came into many different relations with their fellows. Part of them became advisers, but their advice was frequently not followed; part of them were hated and despised by their fellow-citizens, and they drew back from public affairs; others became violent, if not fierce governors of the other citizens, and others again finally became the administrators of liberty.

Amongst these men just characterised, the seven sages — in modern times excluded from the history of Philosophy — take their place. In as far as they may be reckoned as milestones in the history of Philosophy, something about their character should, in the commencement of Philosophy, be shortly said. They came into prominence, partly as taking part in the battles of the Ionic towns, partly as expatriated, and partly as individuals of distinction in Greece. The names of the seven are given differently: usually, however, as Thales, Solon, Periander, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, Pittacus, Hermippus in Diogenes Laertius (I, 42) specifies seventeen, and, amongst these, various people pick out seven in various ways. According to Diogenes Laertius (I, 41) Dieuearchus, who came still earlier in history, only names four, and these are placed amongst the seven by all; they are Thales, Bias, Pittacus and Solon. Besides these, Myson, Anacharsis, Acusilaus, Epimenides, Pherecydes, &c., are mentioned. Dicaearchus in Diogenes (I, 40), says of them that they are neither wise men (sofouς) nor philosophers, but men of understanding (sunetouς) and law-givers; this judgment has become the universal one and is held to be just. They come in a period of transition amongst the Greeks — a transition from a patriarchal system of kings into one of law or force. The fame of the wisdom of these men depends, on the one hand, on the fact that they grasped the practical essence of consciousness, or the consciousness of universal morality as it is in and for itself, giving expression to it in the form of moral maxims and in part in civil laws, making these actual in the state; on the other hand it depends on their having, in theoretic form, expressed the same in witty sayings. Some of these sayings could not merely be regarded as thoughtful or good reflections, but in so far, as philosophic and speculative; they have a comprehensive, universal significance ascribed to them, which, however, does not explain them. These men have not really made science and Philosophy their aim; it is expressly said of Thales that it was in the latter part of his life that he first took to Philosophy. What had relation to politics appeared most frequently; they were practical men, men of affairs, but not in our sense of the word; with us practical activity devotes itself to a special line of administration or to a particular business, or to economics, &c. They lived in democratic states and thus shared the responsibilities of the general administration and rule. They were not statesmen like the great Greek personalities, like Miltiades, Themistoeles, Perieles and Demosthenes, but they were statesmen in a time when safety, preservation and, indeed, the whole well-being, disposition and well nigh the very foundation of civic life were in question; and certainly when this was so with the foundations of legally established institutions.

Thales and Bias thus appear as the representatives of the Ionic towns. Herodotus (I. 169-171) speaks of both, and says of Thales that he advised oven before the overthrow of the Ionians (apparently through Creesus), that they should constitute a supreme council (en bouleuthrion) in Teos, in the centre of the Ionian people, and thus make a federal state with a capital and principal federal town, so that they might still remain separate nations (dhmoi) as before. However, they did not follow this advice, and this isolated and weakened them, and the result was their conquest; it has always been a difficult thing for the Greeks to give up their individuality. Later on, when Harpagus, the general of Cyrus who accomplished their overthrow, pressed in upon them, the Ionians took no better the most excellent advice of Bias of Priene, given them at the decisive moment when they were assembled at Panionium, “to go in a common fleet to Sardinia, there to found an Ionic, state. By so doing they would escape servitude, be happy, and, inhabiting the largest island, subdue the others. But if they remained in Ionia there was no hope of liberty to be seen for them.” Herodotus gives his corroboration to this advice — “If they had followed him they would have been the happiest of Greeks.” Such things take place, but through force and not voluntarily.

We find the other sages under similar conditions. Solon was an administrator in Athens, and thereby became famous; few men have attained the honourable position of being a law-giver. Solon shares it with Moses, Lyeurgus, Zaleuens, Numa, &c., alone. No individuals can be found amongst Teutonic peoples who possess the distinction of being the law-givers of their people. Nowadays there can be law-givers no longer; legal institutions and regulations are in modern times always ready to hand, and the little that can still be done by means of the law-giver and by law-making assemblies is simply the further modification of details or making very insignificant additions. What is dealt with is the compilation, wording and perfecting of the particular only; and yet neither Solon and Lyourgus did more than respectively bring the Ionic mind and the Doric character — being that which had been given them and which was implicitly present — into the form of consciousness and obviate the temporary inconvenience of disorder through effective laws. Solon was thus not a perfect statesman; this is manifest from the sequel of This history. A constitution which allowed Pisistratus in Solon’s own time to raise himself into the Tyranny, showing itself to be so destitute of strength and organisation that it could not prevent its own overthrow, (and by what a power!) manifests some inward want. This may seem strange, for a constitution must be able to afford resistance to such an attack. But let us see what Pisistratus did.

What the so-called tyrants really were, is most clearly shown by the relation borne by Solon to Pisistratus. When orderly institutions and laws were necessary to the Greeks, we find law-givers and regents of states appearing, who laid down laws, and ruled accordingly. The law, as universal, seemed and still seems now to the individual to be force, inasmuch as he does not have regard to or comprehend the law : it applies first to all the people, and then only, to the individual; it is essential first of all to use constraint until the individual attains discernment, and law to him becomes his law, and ceases to be something foreign. Most of the law-givers and administrators of states undertook themselves to constrain the people and to be their tyrants. In states where they did not undertake it, it had to be done by other individuals, for it was essential. According to Diogenes Laertius’ account (I. 48-50), we find Solon — whom his friends advised to secure the mastery for himself since the people held to him (proseicon), and would have liked to see him become tyrant — repulse them, and try to prevent any such occurrence, when he became suspicious of Pisistratus’ intentions. What he did when he remarked upon the attitude of Pisistratus, was to come into the assembly of the people, and tell them the design of Pisistratus, accoutred in armour and shield; this was then unusual, for Thucydides (1, 6) makes it a distinguishing feature between Greeks and Barbarians, that the former, and pre-eminently the Athenians, put aside their arms in time of peace. He said, “Men of Athens, I am wiser than some and braver than others: I am wiser than those who do not see the deceit of Pisistratus, braver than those who certainly see it, but say nothing from fear.” As he could not do anything, he left Athens. Pisistratus is said to have then written a most honourable letter to Solon in his absence, which Diogenes (I. 53, 54) has preserved for us, inviting him to return to Athens, and live with him as a free citizen. “Not only am I not the only one of the Greeks to have seized the tyranny, but I have not taken anything which was not my due, for I am of the race of Codrus. I have only taken back to myself what the Athenians swore they would preserve to Codrus and his race, and yet took from them. Moreover I am doing no evil toward gods and men, but as thou hast given laws to the Athenians, I take care (epitropw) that in civil life they shall carry them out (politeuein)” His son Hippias did the same. “And these relations are carried out better than they would be in a democracy, for I allow nobody to do evil (ubrizein), and as Tyrant, I lay claim to no more (pleion ti feromai) than such consideration and respect and specified gifts (to rhta gera) as would have been offered to the kings in earlier times. Every Athenian gives the tenth part of his revenue, not to me, but towards the cost — of the public offering, and besides for the commonwealth, and for use in case of war. I am not angry that thou hast disclosed my project. For thou didst it more out of love to the people than hate against me, and because thou didst not know how I would conduct my rule. For if thou hadst known this, thou wouldst have submitted to it willingly, and wouldst not have taken flight;” and so he goes on. Solon, in the answer given by Diogenes, (I. 66, 67) says, that he “has not a personal grudge against Pisistratus, and he must call him the best of tyranta; but to turn back does not befit him. For he made equality of rights essential in the Athenian constitution, and himself refused the tyranny. By his return he would condone what was done by Pisistratus.” The rule of Pisistratus accustomed the Athenians to the laws of Solon, and brought them into usage, so that after this usage came to be general, supremacy was superfluous; his sons were hence driven out of Athens, and for the first time the constitution of Solon upheld itself. Solon undoubtedly gave the laws, but it is another thing to make such regulations effectual in the manners, habits and life of a people. What was separate in Solon and Pisistratus, we find united in Periander in Corinth, and Pittacus in Mitilene.

This may be enough about the outward life of the seven sages. They are also famed for the wisdom of the sayings which have been preserved to us; these sayings seem in great measure, however, to be superficial and hackneyed. The reason for this is found in the fact that, to our reflection, general propositions are quite usual; much in the Proverbs of Solomon seems to us to be superficial and commonplace for the same reason. But it is quite another thing to bring to the ordinary conception for the first time this same universal in the form of universality. Many distichs are ascribed to Solon Which we still retain; their object is to express in maxims general obligations towards the gods, the family and the country. Diogenes (I. 58) tells us that Solon said: “Laws are like a spider’s web; the small are caught, the great tear it up: speech is the image of action,” &c. Such sayings are not philosophy, but general reflections, the expression of moral duties, maxims, necessary determinations. The wisdom of the sages is of this kind; many sayings are insignificant, but many seem to be more insignificant than they are. For instance, Chilon says: “Stand surety, and evil awaits thee” (eegua, para data). On the one hand this is quite a common rule of life and prudence, but the sceptics gave to this proposition a much higher universal significance, which is also accredited to Chilon. This sense is, “Ally thyself closely to any particular thing, and unhappiness will tall upon thee.” The sceptics adduced this proposition independently, as demonstrating the principle of scepticism, which is that nothing is finite and definite in and for itself, being only a fleeting, vacillating phase which does not last. Cleobulus says, metron ariston, another mhden agan, and this has likewise a universal significance which is that limitation, the peraς of Plato as opposed to the apeiron — the self-determined as opposed to undetermined — is what is best; and thus it is that in Being limit or measure is the highest determination.

One of the most celebrated sayings is that of Solon in his conversation with Crcesus, which Herodotus (I. 30-33) has in his own way given us very fully. The result arrived at is this:- “Nobody is to be esteemed happy before his death.” But the noteworthy point in this narrative is that from it we can get a better idea of the standpoint of Greek reflection in the time of Solon. We see that happiness is put forward as the highest aim, that which is most to be desired and which is the end of man; before Kant, morality, as eudoemonism, was based on the determination of happiness. In Solon’s sayings there is an advance over the sensuous enjoyment which is merely pleasant to the feelings. Let us ask what happiness is and what there is within it for reflection, and we find that it certainly carries with it a certain satisfaction to the individual, of whatever sort it be — whether obtained through physical enjoyment or spiritual — the means of obtaining which lie in men’s own hands. But the fact is further to be observed that not every sensuous, immediate pleasure can be laid hold of, for happiness contains a reflection on the circumstances as a whole, in which we have the principle to which the principle of isolated enjoyment must give way. Eudaemonism signifies happiness as a condition for the whole of life; it sets up a totality of enjoyment which is a universal and a rule for individual enjoyment, in that it does not allow it to give way to what is momentary, but restrains desires and sets a universal standard before one’s eyes. If we contrast it with Indian philosophy, we find eudaemonism to be antagonistic to it. There the liberation of the soul from what is corporeal, the perfect abstraction, the necessity that the soul shall, in its simplicity, be at home with itself, is the final end of man. With the Greeks the opposite is the case; the satisfaction there is also satisfaction of the soul, but it is not attained through flight, abstraction, withdrawal within self, but through satisfaction in the present, concrete satisfaction in relation to the surroundings. The stage of reflection that we reach in happiness, stands midway between mere desire and the other extreme, which is right as right and duty as duty. In happiness, the individual enjoyment has disappeared; the form of universality is there., but the universal does not yet come forth on its own account, and this is the issue of the conversation between Croesus and Solon. Man as thinking, is not solely engrossed with present enjoyment, but also with the means for obtaining that to come. Croesus points out to him these means, but Solon still objects to the statement of the question of Croesus. For in order that any one should be conceived of as happy, we must await big death, for happiness depends upon his condition to the end, and upon the fact that his death should be a pious one and be consistent with his higher destiny. Because the life of Croesus had not yet expired, Solon could not deem him happy. And the history of Croesus bears evidence that no momentary state deserves the name of happiness. This edifying history holds in its embrace the whole standpoint of the reflection of that time.

In the consideration of Greek philosophy we have now to distinguish further three important periods: — in the first place the period from Thales to Aristotle; secondly, Greek philosophy in the Roman world; thirdly, the Neo-platonic philosophy.

1. We begin with thought, as it is in a quite abstract, natural or sensuous form, and we proceed from this to the Idea as determined. This first period shows the beginning of philosophic thought, and goes on to its development and perfection as a totality of knowledge in itself; this takes place in Aristotle as representing the unity of what has come before. In Plato there is just such a union of what came earlier, but it is not worked out, for he only represents the Idea generally. The Neo-platonists have been called eclectics, and Plato was said to have brought about the unity; they were not, however, eclectics, but they had a conscious insight into the necessity for uniting these philosophies.

2. After the concrete Idea was reached, it came forth as if in opposites, perfecting and developing itself. The second period is that in which science break,; itself up into different systems. A one-sided principle is carried through the whole conception of the world; each side is in itself formed into a totality, and stands in the relation of one extreme to another. The philosophical systems of Stoicism and Epicureanism are such; scepticism forms the negative to their dogmatism, while the other philosophies disappear.

3. The third period is the affirmative, the withdrawal of the opposition into an ideal world or a world of thought, a divine world. This is the Idea developed into totality, which yet lacks subjectivity as the infinite being-for-self.

First Period, from Thales to Aristotle


First Period, First division

A. The Ionic Philosophy
B. Pythagorus and the Pythagoreans
C. The Eleatic School
D. Heraclitus
E. Leucippus and Democritus and Empedocles
F. Philosophy of Anaxagoras

First Period, Second Division

A. The Sophists
B. Socrates
C. The Philosophy of the Socratics

First Period, Third Division

A. The Philosophy of Plato
B. The Philosophy of Aristotle

Second Period, Dogmatism and Scepticism

A. The Philosophy of the Stoics
B. The Philosophy of the Epicureans
C. The Philosophy of the New Academy
D. Scepticism

Third Period, The Neo-Platonists

A. Philo
B. The Cabala and Gnosticism
C. The Alexandrian Philosophy

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