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Hegel’s Absolute Idealism

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s philosophy privileges Absolute idealism attained by the “world spirit” or Weltgeist through “its meditation between the self and its development into something different”, as translated by Walter Kaufman in Hegel’s Texts and Commentary.

World Spirit

The world spirit inheres the whole of human history and is in ever progressing motion to give itself a new form. It does so by sublimation i.e., by negating and at the same time preserving all that is necessary for its progress towards the attainment of the conceived form or Concept (Begriff). Sublimation occurs in three phases:-

  • The Subjective Spirit

  • The Objective Spirit

  • The Absolute Spirit

Parallels of this motion (this aspect of “motion” alone of the, world spirit), can be located in Jon Snow’s character arc, where his concept to lead so as to transcend his given state, embedded in the natural world leads him to develop his fencing skills, join the Night’s watch, form an alliance with the Wildlings etc. The concept however, is not a “whole itself” but only its “immediacy” or “the whole shrouded in simplicity”, as Kaufman notes.

The concept thus attained by the world spirit, towards which it decides to work, is not the whole itself; indicating a long development to follow before the concept transforms into an actual reality. e.g.- the concept of a building is very different from the objective form which actualises in reality. (Kaufman, 1965)


“ To know what history is one must therefore know what man who realises it is”, are the words, employed by Alexandre Kojève in his book, Introduction to the reading of Hegel, to give substance to the basic proposition around which the central claims of the Dialectic are based.

According to Hegel desire has the potency to transform a knowing subject, since desire is what constitutes a knowing subject who is conscious of their reality. Desire of the knowing subject causes action, which in turn satisfies the desire only by the negation or at least the transformation of the desired object. (Kojève 1969, 17-18) e.g. - to satisfy the desire for hunger one must destroy food.

For Hegel, human reality is registered in the universal history, the historical dialectic then is a dialectic of “master” and “slave” through the course of history, or of an autonomous and a non-autonomous being. However, the non-autonomous being, does not destroy the “object if its desire” but transforms it by working, which also transforms the world and eventually its self, the non- autonomous being. The knowing subject realises their subjective human reality only after the production of an artificial objective world and only in this real and objective product thus conceptualised, do they become conscious of their subjective human reality.

Reiterating Jon Snow’s trajectory with the sole purpose of emphasising this aspect of the subjective human reality highlights his unresolved inner conflict. This conflict in him, which arises from an absence of autonomy (something he realises in Robb Stark) and insignificance then pushes him towards the conception of an artificial object (the desire to lead, autonomy). This inner conflict stemming from insignificance can be traced to his given state i.e., being considered an illegitimate heir and Robb’s step brother, to which he is fenced in, at the beginning of the series. Therefore, he wills to overcome this insignificance and resolve his inner conflict by transcending his given state. He desires to lead but he does not destroy this “object of his desire” (as stated above), rather he transforms it. He educates himself, trains under Ser Rodrik – Cassel and joins the Night’s watch. The “risk of life” is “what completes the liberation which was begun by his work” (Kojève 1969, 231) and this “completion”, too can be located in the chain of events to follow with the execution of Ser Alliser Thorne and Jon becoming the Lord Commander.

The conception of objective reality and work are contributing factors, essential in the translation of the “concept” into the real world. Work therefore, helps in the actualization of the “real objective world”, which is a non- natural world and it is only in the conceptualisation of this world at the beginning which is not a “whole itself”, that the non- autonomous being realises a different life from that arising from their given state in the natural world. To quote from The Introduction To The Reading Of Hegel,

“by negating his own given nature through work , he raises himself above his given nature”

“the entities which he creates by work and which consequently have no natural reality reflect themselves in him as ideal entities – that is, as “ideas”, which appears to him as models”

- (Kojève 1969, 229)

The conditions of the new objective world created through work set the ground for the “liberating fight for recognition” and with this, the non- autonomous being “annulls” the autonomous being while actualising “the ideal of autonomous Self-Consciousness which is its Truth.”(Kojève 1965, 30) The “truth” then passes over to the Objective Spirit which constitutes the moral order of the human reality for the manner in which knowing subject affects the realm of morality with its respective laws, customs, etc. is equally importantfor the self- discovery of the World Spirit in general through which it becomes, Absolute or the Absolute Spirit.

References –

Kaufman, Walter. Hegel texts and Commentary. Notre Dame, Indiana: Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1965.

Kojève, Alexandre. Introduction To The Reading Of Hegel, Lectures On The Phenomenology Of Spirit. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969.

“George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“What is History?”, Aeon Newsletter

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