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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Excerpts from Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (1817)

The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), the most eminent representative of German idealism, postulated a comprehensive theory of the unity of systematic knowledge. In his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline (1817), passages from which are reproduced here, he practically summarizes this approach; he addresses his central tenet that history constitutes the dialectical progress of the philosophical idea of freedom, and situates philosophy as the master discipline vis-à-vis the empirical sciences.

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All sciences other than philosophy deal with issues that are assumed to be immediate to representation. Such issues are thus presupposed from the beginning of the science and, in the course of its further development, determinations considered necessary are also derived from representation.

Such a science does not have to justify the necessity of the issues it treats. Mathematics, jurisprudence, medicine, zoology, botany, and so on, can presuppose the existence of magnitude, space, number, law, diseases, animals, plants, and so on. These are assumed to be ready at hand for representation. It does not occur to us to doubt the being of such issues, nor do we expect to be shown conceptually that magnitude, space, disease, animals, or plants must exist in and for themselves.— In the first place such an issue is given its familiar name. This name is fixed, yet for the moment gives only the representation of the object. Still further determinations of the object also have to be made. They can, of course, be derived from the immediate representation. At this point the difficulty may easily arise, however, that certain determinations are apprehended which, it will readily be admitted, are already at hand in the object and are essential to the object. For the formal aspect of this problem, logic or the doctrine of definitions and classifications can be used; but for content one usually proceeds in an empirical manner, in order to discover for oneself and for others whether attributes like those in fact occur in the representation of the general issue. The assessment of this fact can then give rise to sharp controversy.

By contrast, the beginning of philosophy involves the awkward problem that its object immediately and necessarily provokes doubt and controversy. 1) There is a problem regarding content: in order to be seen as not merely a representation, but as the very object of philosophy, the content must not be found in the representation. Indeed, the cognitive procedure in philosophy is actually opposed to representation, and the faculty of representation should be brought beyond itself through philosophy.

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