Online Problem #39

The Weltgeist

The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom ... . Itself is its own object of attainment. and the sole aim of Spirit. This result it is, at which the process of the World's History has been continually aiming ... .
- G.W.F. Hegel, The Philosophy of History (1822. J. Sibree translation)

You and I are aware of ourselves ... but is the world aware of itself?

When you walk out under the trees and look up at the moon, that is the universe looking at itself ... . As you and I think our way through the history of philosophy, this is really the infinite Weltgeist--the Absolute Mind, or "World-Spirit"- - coming to self-consciousness through our finite minds. Our knowledge and understanding of the world is actually the world's knowledge and understanding of itself.

Hegel dropped Kant's notion of the noumenal world because, as Kant himself realized, nothing can be known about it. And so we are left with only the phenomenal world, which is purely knowable and rational because it is produced and structured by mind in the first place. Your mind and mine are just finite parts of the infinite Mind, and humanity's process of coming to a fuller and fuller understanding of the universe is just the universe-Absolute Mind objectified as Nature-coming to know itself.

The Absolute Mind, Absolute Spirit, or Weltgeist is Hegel's version of the God of Christianity. It is both the origin and the culmination of the dialectical process of history. It is quite similar to Aristotle's Prime Mover (thought thinking itself). But Aristotle's God is transcendent, beyond human history, a goal far away that draws the world on; Hegel's Absolute is involved in reality. It is the dialectical process itself, the process which generates reality. For the ancient Greeks it expressed itself sensuously, as art. For the Christians it expressed itself pictorially, as religion. In philosophy it expresses itself conceptually. Though man is not God, still the Absolute comes to know itself in and through the spirit of man.

These are deep and tantalizing ideas. But what sense does it make to say that your mind is part of a larger mind? We know what this or that person's mind is, but what is an "Absolute Mind?"

Bibliography

Acton, H.B. "Georg Friedrich Hegel," Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, pp. 435-450.

Friedrich, Carl J. (editor) The Philosophy of Hegel, Modern Library, New York, 1954.