Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy

Delivered at Heidelberg, on the 28th October, 1816

GENTLEMEN, — Since the History of Philosophy is to be the subject of these lectures, and today I am making my first appearance in this University, I hope you will allow me to say what satisfaction it gives me to take my place once more in an Academy of Learning at this particular time. For the period seems to have been arrived at when Philosophy may again hope to receive some attention and love — this almost dead science may again raise its voice, and hope that the world which had become deaf to its teaching, may once more lend it an ear. The necessities of the time have accorded to the petty interests of everyday life such overwhelming attention: the deep interests of actuality and the strife respecting these have engrossed all the powers and the forces of the mind — as also the necessary means — to so great an extent, that no place has been left to the higher inward life, the intellectual operations of a purer sort; and the better natures have thus been stunted in their growth, and in great measure sacrificed. Because the spirit of the world was thus occupied, it could not look within and withdraw into itself. But since this stream of actuality is checked, since the German nation has cut its way out of its most material conditions, since its nationality, the basis of all higher life, has been saved, we may hope that, in addition to the State, which has swallowed up all other interests in its own, the Church may now resume her high position — that in addition to the kingdom of the world to which all thoughts and efforts have hitherto been directed, the Kingdom of God may also be considered. In other words, along with the business of politics and the other interests of everyday life, we may trust that Science, the free rational world of mind, may again flourish.

We shall see in the History of Philosophy that in other European countries in which the sciences and the cultivation of the understanding have been prosecuted with zeal and with respect, Philosophy, excepting in name, has sunk even from memory, and that it is in the German nation that it has been retained as a peculiar possession. We have received the higher call of Nature to be the conservers of this holy flame, just as the Eumolpidae in Athens had the conservation of the Eleusinian mysteries, the inhabitants of the island of Samothrace the preservation and maintenance of a higher divine service; and as, earlier still, the World-spirit reserved to the Jewish nation the highest consciousness that it should once more rise from thence as the new spiritual force. We have already got so far, and have attained to a seriousness so much greater and a consciousness so much deeper, that for us ideas and that which our reason justifies, can alone have weight; to speak more plainly, the Prussian State is a State constituted on principles of intelligence. But the needs of the time and the interests of the events in the world already mentioned, have repressed a real and earnest effort after Philosophy and driven hence any general attention to it. It has thus happened that because vigorous natures turned to the practical, insipidity and dullness appropriated to themselves the pre-eminence in Philosophy and flourished there. It may indeed be said that since Philosophy began to take a place in Germany, it has never looked so badly as at the present time — never have emptiness and shallowness overlaid it so completely, and never have they spoken and acted with such arrogance, as though all power were in their hands! To combat the shallowness, to strive with German earnestness and honesty, to draw Philosophy out of the solitude into which it has wandered — to do such work as this we may hope that we are called by the higher spirit of our time. Let us together greet the dawn of a better time in which the spirit, hitherto a prey to externalities, may return within itself, come to itself again, and win space and room for a kingdom of its own, where true minds will rise above the interests of the moment, and obtain the power to receive the true, eternal and divine, the power to consider and to grasp the highest.

We elders, who in the storms of the age have ripened into men, may think you happy whose youth falls in the day in which you may devote the same undisturbed to Science and to Truth. I have dedicated my life to Science, and it is a true joy to me to find myself again in this place where I may, in a higher measure and more extensive circle, work with others in the interest of the higher sciences, and help to direct your way therein. I hope that I may succeed in deserving and obtaining your confidence. But in the first place, I can ask nothing of you but to bring with you, above all, a trust in science and a trust in yourselves. The love of truth, faith in the power of mind, is the first condition in Philosophy. Man, because he is Mind, should and must deem himself worthy of the highest; he cannot think too highly of the greatness and the power of his mind, and, with this belief, nothing will be so difficult and hard that it will not reveal itself to him. The Being of the universe, at first hidden and concealed, has no power which can offer resistance to the search for knowledge; it has to lay itself open before the seeker — to set before his eyes and give for his enjoyment, its riches and its depths.

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