G. W. F. Hegel (1770 – 1831 A. D. ) is referred to as an “idealist,” who believed that the only thing that is truly in existence is “the ideal” rather than the ordinary. This “ideal” came from the “Absolute Mind,” which was a perfect mind in Hegel’s opinion. He believed that the Absolute Mind evolves itself before its can become self-aware. Besides, everything there is in existence – including human beings and other entities – happens to be a manifestation of the Absolute Mind which contains “the ideal. ” Thus, the human community is synonymous to the Absolute Mind.
What is more, in order for the human community or the Absolute Mind to reach its highest potential, it must evolve in self-awareness throughout the history of humanity. The developmental stages of the Absolute Mind are known as “epochs” in Hegel’s terms. And, the force which moves humanity or the Absolute Mind forward in evolution is called the “dialectic,” which is actually the beginning of change whereby the “way things are” are differentiated from how they should be. There is a “rising conflict” in Hegel’s dialectic, prodding humanity or the Absolute Mind forward on the path of development.
In the end, there is a “resolution. ” This change means that both perspectives on the “way things are” and ‘how they ought to be’ must have been altered. Furthermore, this change entails a movement in human history. Hence, the Absolute Mind grows into the Absolute Spirit, which “culminates within history. ” Karl Marx (1818 – 1883 A. D. ) is referred to as a “left-wing Hegelian,” for although he agreed with most of Hegel’s philosophy, he did not believe that the Mind or the Spirit was the force that moved human history. Marx adopted his predecessor’s ideas on “evolution through history,” plus the dialectic.
He furthered these philosophical notions of Hegel, but separated them from the idealism proposed by his predecessor. Marx viewed himself as “more empirically based,” and therefore replaced the Absolute Spirit or the Absolute Mind with the idea of humanity’s material desires moving history. Thus, the dialectic of Hegel was reinterpreted in the light of materialism. For Hegel, the epochs had been the stages of awareness in the Absolute Mind. For Marx, these stages were based on economics, that is, an evolution of the desire for material achievements with respect to what was economically available in the present.
Marx identified five separate epochs or developmental stages of desire for material achievements, communism being the last epoch. Communism for the philosopher was a stage in which humans reached their highest potential. Capitalism, on the other hand, was the stage immediately preceding communism. Marx also believed that it is the stage of capitalism that humanity is currently going through. At the core of Marxism, therefore, lies the framework for a movement from capitalism to communism. Marx employed his own interpretation of the dialectic of Hegel to explain humanity’s move from capitalism to communism.
During the developmental stage of capitalism, he believed, the unhappy and poor working class will revolt against the capitalists who are seen to be unjust for the simple reason that there is no equality in the economy. The revolution of the working class would be similar to Hegel’s “rising conflict” which would ultimately culminate in communism. Marx’s reinterpretation of Hegel’s ideas is referred to as “historical materialism. ” Both philosophers had been influenced in their thinking by the political events of their respective times. And, both have managed to influence thinkers in different ways.
Many philosophers disagree with Marx’s materialist philosophy, believing instead that the “rising conflict” is not necessarily for economic reasons. Others have found that the ideas of Marx are absolutely correct and representative of worldwide events in the present. Yet another notion put forward by the philosophies of both Hegel and Marx is that of alienation. This concept gained prominence for the first time through Hegel’s writings. David McLellan explains it thus: In the opening sections of the Phenomenology (1808) Hegel attacked the views of common
sense and simplified natural science that the world consisted of discrete objects independent of man’s consciousness. Truth, for Hegel, was not to be found in knowledge that was purified of any influence from man’s own desires and feelings. Ultimately Hegel considered that there could be no truth that was not intimately linked with the ongoing process of human beings as thinking subjects; truth was their truth. The supposed objectivity of the world of nature was in fact an alienation, for man’s task was to discover, behind these appearances, his own essential
life and finally to view everything as a facet of his own self-consciousness. The same principle applied to the world of culture in which such spheres as art and religion, if viewed as independent of man, constituted so many alienations to be overcome by integration into the final understanding and recapitulation which was Absolute Knowledge. The central actor in this process for Hegel was Spirit. Hegel thought that reality was Spirit developing itself. In this process Spirit produced a world that it thought at first was external; only later did it realize that this world was its own production.
Spirit was not something separated from this productive activity; it only existed in and through this activity. At the beginning of this process Spirit was not aware that it was externalizing or alienating itself. Only gradually did Spirit realize that the world was not external to it. It was the failure to realize this that constituted, for Hegel, alienation. This alienation would cease when men became fully self-conscious and understood their environment and their culture to be emanations of Spirit. Freedom consisted in this understanding, and freedom was the aim of history.
Hegel’s system of alienation had already existed in the area of religion. Spiritualists, including the Christians, had believed that man was ultimately responsible for his own development and awareness that must take him through the developmental stages. Moreover, for Christ as well as the followers of various religions, including Buddhism, alienation was meant to be concluded with the awareness that truth is one, or all is one. No wonder, all of Hegel’s “disciples” gave in to his concept of alienation. However, for many of them alienation appeared as a challenge to be overcome in order for man to reach his highest potential.
Thus, many of Hegel’s believers attempted to reinterpret the concept in view of the fact that virtually nothing in their world appeared to have crossed the important stage of alienation to help humanity in the realization of its highest potential. The main concern of these philosophers was that humanity at large could not be expected to realize the singular truth proposed both by religion and by Hegel. Hence, it was difficult to explain alienation in light of the difficulties posed through the crossing of this stage of human development with respect to the Absolute Mind’s conflicts that urge humanity forward in the making of history.