thumbnail of From Socrates To Sartre; #19; The Cunning of Reason
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Does history have any meaning. Does the history of human beings in the world have any purpose. Can any pattern any significance be found in history or all the generations upon generations of human beings with all their activities their hopes and beliefs. A meaningless scoring about only an empty chatter. The life of Plato's Cave doest into meaningless dust. Where can we find an answer to this kind of question. Not from what Hegel calls the original history the first hand reports of people who were present at important historical events such as an eye witnesses account of the American plane dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and not from what place from what Hagel calls reflective history. The recording of historical events by professional historians who write about the major events within one country its growth its political and economic changes. Its times of war and peace. Two wrongs of the question does history
have any meaning. We need to look at the whole sweep of history at world history and we need to be concerned not with the accumulation of facts concerning what actually happened here or there but with penetrating the jumble of historical facts to see if there is any underlying orda any rational pattern or meaningful process taking place. Such an approach to history. Hagel calls philosophical history. And this is what he provides a vastly influential philosophy of world history. Hagel's philosophy of history stands with the Christian philosophy of history developed by St. Augustine the Enlightenment philosophy of history and the philosophy of history of Karl Marx. These have been the four most influential philosophies of history of all time world history has this as its meaning. Hegel tells us it is the scene in which the truth of the absolute unfolds itself reveals itself to
the consciousness of humanity. History is the rational structure of the truths of the absolute unfolding becoming manifest becoming revealed in time and this rational structure developing dialectically in time exhibits God's plan for the world. History according to Hegel has a rational structure and is teleological. That is it has a purpose. It is a purposeful movement toward God's goal for humanity. And so history is rational purposeful and good reason which is the unfolding truth of the absolute in Hagel's words. Reason rules the world. You are thinking how can Hegel make such seemingly Prepon StarOffice claims. How can he say that history is rational and purposeful and good in the face of the evils the sufferings that he knew all in his own lifetime. The injustices which the French lower classes and you were good and which drove them to revolt the hideous
cruelties of the reign of terror which followed the deprivations of the German serfs working out their lives on the feudal estates. The sufferings of the German people in the war of liberation against Napoleon the raging epidemics of disease which swept throughout Europe one of which was to bring Hegel himself to an early death. And how can he say that history is a rational structure of God's truth unfolding in time. Where is the evidence of rationality in the bloody centuries of human history. Does Hegel not hear the cries of human pain throughout history. What good purpose could possibly be achieved out of so much suffering and despair. Hegel does not deny the evils which humans have experienced in history. Hagel is no pollyanna about the past. What does look at his own writings to see what he says about history. He says in reason and history without rhetorical exaggeration.
A simply truthful summary of the miseries which have overwhelmed the noblest of nations and politics and the finest examples of private virtue this human misery forms a picture of most fearful aspect he says and excites emotions of the profoundest and most hopeless sadness counterbalanced by no consolation whatever we endure in beholding human misery a mental torture. This is Hegel on the evils of history acknowledging that history is the scene of such a ruination of the noblest Nations and the finest human beings that it is a mental torture to think about it. But there was more of that Hagel has to offer on the terror of history. It is his horrifying image that history is a slaughter a bench a place where the victims are tied down to be killed as a sacrifice in his own words. History is
the slaughter bench at which the happiness of peoples the wisdom of states and the virtue of individuals have been victimized. But then the question arises. For what purpose if any have these enormous human sacrifices been offered. How can the goodness of God and God's plan for the history of the world be justified in the face of such human sacrifice. Hagel claims that his philosophy of history is a theocracy which is a theory which attempts to then indicate God against the charge that he has permitted evil to overrun the world. How then does Hegel justify God in the face of the evil of history. He points out first that the slaughter binge view of history sees only the surface rather than what underlies the surface appearance and is the actual powerful reality which is operative in history. This powerful reality which underlies the surface of history is Spirit the absolute
and the essence of spirit. Hegel says is freedom. The whole sweep of world history is the process in which spirit manifests itself to finite human beings manifest to them. The meaning of their own freedom for Hegel the meaning of history is that it is the progress of humanity in the consciousness of its own freedom. But how is this accomplished. How does the absolute working in and through human history bring human beings to consciousness of the freedom of spiritual beings. He goes on in his own words is that two elements enter into history. The first is the concept of freedom which the absolute is seeking to unfold reveal externalize manifest to finite spirits. The second is human. The absolute has therefore primarily only one element to work with in bringing about in finite minds a consciousness of their own freedom. This element is human desire and
passion. Human beings desires their passions their private personal aims their drawing to gain satisfaction of their own selfish wants. These are the most effective springs of human action. These personal desires are what motivate human beings. Human beings are driven to action by their own private subjective wills to satisfy the natural instincts their needs inclinations and interests. But let us not put down human desires as hable desires are expressions of a human will and they may work for good. Any goal which I devote myself to even a selfless goal has to involve me illicit my desire to promote it. I must be into it says Hagel. If I am to exert myself for any object for any goal it must in some way be my goal. I must find in it my own satisfaction and this does seem to be true. Are you for example engaged in a protest movement
against the contamination of a river by industrial wastes or against the using up of the wilderness land for more shopping centers and more suburbs. If so these become your personal goals you find in them the satisfaction of your desires and nothing is ever accomplished unless individuals desire it and find their satisfaction in bringing it about. And Hagel adds nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion. This is the complex web of human desire which the absolute must work with to bring about its Goal for human history. Human desire in all its powerful and motivating forms. From my selfish interests to my satisfaction in feeding the hungry whom I will never see in Bangladesh this complex web of desire serves as the means by which the absolute accomplishes its and its goal and purpose in history. The absolute may be said to use human will as a means to bringing
about but goal of its own divine will. How is this done by coming says Hegel by the masterful shrewdness cleverness subtlety of the absolute in bringing the rational truth of freedom to human minds. The absolute which is reason the totality of truth governs the world. And it does so through what bagle calls the cunning of reason. The coming of reason is the power of the absolute to use the immense force of human passion as a means to its own end of human freedom. To accomplish this goal the coming of reason brings about the existence of a series of great nation states which appear in history and existence as well of the great historical individuals the heroes who bring about profound changes in history. Let us turn first to Hagel's view of the nation state the absolute Spirit does not
manifest itself in the individual human spirit such as you or me. The absolute unfolds and manifest itself in the spirit of an entire people. Here we have come upon one of Hagel's major contributions to the philosophy of history and to the developments after him of the social sciences by the spirit of the people. Hagel means something very close to what today we call culture in par because Hago has taught us to think this way. Halal defines the spirit of a people as consisting in the living totality of the culture of a specific people its own language religion art music poetry architecture law reality philosophy and legal systems. Moreover the concept of the spirit of the people is that it is an organic unity. Here goes theory of organic system is again at work namely his view that nothing can be understood in isolation but only as pawns of the organic totality
to which it belongs. The spirit of the people in which all the elements of a specific culture are pots is an organic totality in which the specific character or style of the people is expressing itself leaving its own mark on every aspect of the culture. Nothing in human culture can be understood in isolation. The religion music language politics and off all of these are pots of one spirit of the people and exhibit as a result the same style and character. For example in ancient Athens the single spirit of the Athenian people can be seen in its characteristically ethylene style of off the texture of religion politics and philosophy. But now Hagel moves on to show that the spirit of the people is incorporated in the life of the nation state. The state says Hagel is also an organic totality which includes the government of a nation as well as the whole of its culture. And
now Hagel makes this startling statement. It is the state the totality of the national culture and its government which is the true individual of history. In hey gos own words the individuals of world history our nations are the absolute using the coming of reason. The important individuals of history who will become conscious of freedom are not individuals such as you and me but the great nation states these great nations are the individuals to whom the absolute manifests the truth of freedom. What then I hear you are asking about the actual human individual the human individual says Hagel has no independence from the nation state. They are parts of the state like the tiny cells of an organism. Here again we see Hagel's organic system. You as an individual part of a larger organism the nation state you are part of its
life you share in its culture and you exist as the parts of an organism exist to serve and maintain the whole which has more importance than you or any other its parts. But you will reply I serve my own purposes. I do what I desire to do within the law. I do not intend by my actions to serve the nation state. But that says Hagel is just the point. Individual human beings are motivated by their own desires. But the cunning of reason uses individual human desires as a means to its own ends. Which is to have the nation state develop a consciousness of freedom. And so while you are going about pursuing your own desire is buying the clothes that you like what you do is being channeled into the manufacturing and marketing functions of your own nation and so help to sustain the nation.
Although you did not intend this when you bought your clothes nor did you even understand this and also why you go about pursuing your own desires in picking your career whether in health care or in library science or in business or in teaching. Hagel shows you that you can choose only from those careers offered to you by the social system and the culture you live in. And that when you work at your career you are helping to keep the school. The shops and the factories of your so CYA going. Your actions have unintended consequences which you do not recognize. In this way the cunning of reason uses all the passions and desires of human individuals to serve not to them but the ongoing functions of the nation. But what about my beliefs you may ask what about my attitude my values my own religious convictions have I no independence even here from the culture of the nation state.
None says Hegel. Your thoughts your values your beliefs and attitudes. How do you arrive from the culture of which you are ripoffs. You are a carrier of your culture. You are a culture carrier. You are a cultural product as well as being a product of the spirit of the times. That is you are a product of the changes within your own culture do you not now have different attitudes from those of the intense a vibrant radicalism that swept through our culture in the 1960s inhales own words. All the work of which the human being possesses as a goal he has only through the state. But there was more on Hagel's view not even the greatest philosophers can escape from being the product of their own culture and of their own times. Philosophers to our culture carry is parts of a cultural totality and deride their thoughts from their own culture and its times. In a famous line Hugo says it is as
silly to suppose that any philosophy goes beyond its contemporary world as that an individual can jump beyond his time can leap over the great statue of Rhodes philosophy says Hagel cannot transcend its time. It cannot predict the future. It is only in its own time reflectively considered in thought. The coming of reason uses the desires of ordinary individuals to maintain as we have seen the ongoing functions of the nation. But the coming of reason also uses the great heroes of history and their desires in order to bring about major historical changes so that the full consciousness of freedom will progress. He calls these heroic figures world historical individuals since they are the great individual agents of change in history. Who are these figures. They include Alexander the Great Julius Caesar
and Napoleon. All of these are political heroes who are motivated by their own desires for power and greatness in their own times but says Hegel the coming of reason uses these world historical individuals for its own ends to bring about a new stage in history toward the development of the consciousness of freedom. They were says hey you know all of them these hero's practical men. Nevertheless as Hagel they did have insight into what was needed and to know the necessary next step for the world. And then Hagel adds these great men bring to consciousness what in other human beings is unconscious. This is the reason that others follow them. The same thought is part of their inmost soul. They feel unconsciously that the leader is on the right track. Hagel is here talking about the psychology of leadership and saying that the successful leader is one who gets a strong following because he is doing what the followers
themselves unconsciously want and approval. But Hagel is also showing that the greatness of the leader is limited. The leader is only the formulator and activator of what is already ripe for development as the next stage of history. And Hagel adds in the same bitter a tone in which he talked of history as a slaughter Benj that the world historical individuals are innovators and therefore must destroy the many existing peoples and institutions that stand in their way. But although this is morally wrong especially according to the people who are destroyed hable says. So mighty a form as the world historical individual must try and pull down many an innocent flower and crush to pieces. Many an object in its path. Here we see in its most glaring form Hagel's attempt to vindicate the absolute against the charge
of evil. Evil is necessary in history. Hegel argues evil may be a necessary stage to bring about a greater good. Our nations trample down our human beings kill the hopes and values of cultures wiped out by a conqueror. It is to serve a higher good that the coming of reason is bringing about as a goal. Hegel is here giving a divine blessing to the evils of history. What then would Hago have said about that and the massive slaughter bench at which he killed 6 million. Only a necessary stage to the achievement of a higher good. Where is that good. But this destructive mastery is in turn how the coming of reason deals with the world historical individual himself. The whole nature of the world historical individuals as a whole was nothing but their own desire them monster a passion. Once they have served the purposes for which the coming of reason
uses them as means they fall off says a goal. Like empty holes from the kernel of corn they die early. Like Alexander the Great. They are murderers like Caesar. They are transported into exile at Saint Helena like Napoleon. And so it is also the case with nation states. Once they had been used in history to develop a stage in the consciousness of freedom the absolute moves on to another nation state to embody the next development of freedom leaving the original nation state to stagnate and lose for ever more its historical importance. But none of these disasters or tragedies is really evil to Hegel. Each has its role to play in bringing about the greater good which the absolute has in store human failures all the successes of the absolute. Finally we have come now to the actual account which Hagel gives of world history as progress in the consciousness of freedom.
The progress through World History of the consciousness of freedom takes the form of the great triadic dialectic of history which the cunning of reason brings about by using the passions of private individuals and their nation states and the passions as well of the great world historical individuals the great dialectical triad of history is from the ancient Oriental world in which there was consciousness only that one is free to the antithesis of this in the Greek and Roman world in which the human spirit has by this time learned that some are free and finally to a synthesis in the modern Christian Germanic world in which at last the human spirit has learned that all are free and the consciousness of freedom has at last become complete. In the ancient Oriental world in which the supreme example is China the individual human being is scarcely differentiated from matter. He has no
spiritual individuality. He exists without being differentiated from other human beings in the cost structure of society in which religion custom and a law on not even yet separated. Most importantly in the ancient Oriental world only one individual is free. The Oriental despot having played this role in the beginning of the development of the consciousness of freedom the nation of China is then left to live out its life in slow stagnation and the spirit moves on to the rise of ancient Greece and the consciousness of a new development of freedom is reached in the awareness of Athens that some offer free namely the citizens. The nation state of Roan carries on the Athenian consciousness that some are free but it also carries on the incompleteness of this freedom which is shown by the denial in both Athens and Rome. Or freedom to slaves and to conquered peoples
And finally we have the development of the complete consciousness of freedom in the modern Christian Germanic world the Christian Germanic world preserves from the thesis the Oriental world the importance of having a head of state a king. It preserves from the antithesis the Greek and Roman world a constitution granting freedoms which the Greek and Roman world had and which the Enlightenment developed in England and France but it remained in Germany as a nation state to have the role of lifting thesis and antithesis up into a new synthesis and bodying the most complete consciousness of freedom because it fused with thesis and antithesis. The Lutheran Protestant Christian sense of the spiritual freedom of all human souls and soul of the German nation state emerges as the pinnacle of a consciousness of freedom and as the pinnacle of world history. Is hable philosophy of history a whitewash over all the evils of history
as he himself says. The history of the world is the justice of the world then is there no other meaning to justice than that whatever exists is just. Is he not saying that everything including only human sufferings of evil is for the best is hopeless philosophy of history as some critics have said only a glorification of the German nation and Lutheran Protestantism. Finally note how far is this philosophy of history from the Enlightenment optimistic view of history as simple direct progress in science technology and the natural rights of individuals. For Hegel. History rests with the group not with the individual. History is concerned with the spirit of a people with their whole culture not with science and technology. History for Hagel does not move directly straight forwardly in progress but dialectically in a roundabout way.
History is not clear and conscious to individual reason but is filled with unintended consequences and with unconscious desires. History for Hegel does not bring progress to individual human beings in the form of the growth of science and technology for human benefit to the individual nor in the growth of natural rights and democracy for the individual. The Enlightenment had a vast optimism that these are great developments of science technology and democracy were taking place. But history was finally moving toward the betterment of human life on Earth. But all of this Hegel flatly denies history he says is not a theatre of happiness. It is a movement toward freedom. But for nations not individuals. And it moves not through good alone but necessarily through evil. And it moves not through our conscious intentions but through using our personal desires for
consequences which we do not know. We are only very small pawns in the game of history. But the greatest difference between hable philosophy of history and that of the French Enlightenment raises political questions. What of my own political rights. What doesn't my freedom really mean to have a goal. How powerful is the state over me. How much am I subordinated to it. To the formidable politics of Hegel we will next to. The studios of the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.
From Socrates To Sartre
Episode Number
The Cunning of Reason
Producing Organization
Maryland Public Television
Contributing Organization
Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/394-61djhmpn).
Episode Description
Hegel IV: The State Verses the Individual - Hegel's Philosophy of History is his dialectical method applied to the whole of human history. History as a slaughter-bench. But Spirit, the Absolute is embodied in human society. The spirit of a people. All history is the history of groups, nations. The dialectic of human history is the triadic movement in the development of the concept of freedom from the Oriental World to the Graeco-Roman World to the Christian-Germanic World. How is this accomplished in the face of conflicting human desires? The Cunning of Reason accounts for the stability of societies and for social change. "The history of the world is the justice of the world." Problems with Hegel's philosophy of history, raised also against Marx.
Series Description
"From Socrates to Sartre is an educational show hosted by Dr. Thelma Z. Lavine, who teaches viewers about the theories and history of philosophy."
Created Date
Asset type
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
Producing Organization: Maryland Public Television
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Maryland Public Television
Identifier: 36587.0 (MPT)
Format: Digital Betacam
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:30:00?
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “From Socrates To Sartre; #19; The Cunning of Reason,” 1978-11-17, Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023,
MLA: “From Socrates To Sartre; #19; The Cunning of Reason.” 1978-11-17. Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <>.
APA: From Socrates To Sartre; #19; The Cunning of Reason. Boston, MA: Maryland Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from