In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Philosophy of History

  • Introduction
  • General Works on the Philosophy of History
  • General Overviews of Hegel’s Philosophy
  • Anthologies on Hegel’s Philosophy
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Hegel’s Conception of Spirit and World Spirit
  • Hegel’s Conception of Reason in History
  • Hegel’s Conception of World-Historical Individuals
  • Hegel’s Conception of Freedom in History
  • Hegel’s Eurocentrism
  • Hegel on History and Political Thought
  • Hegel’s Conception of Historical Development
  • Hegel’s Conception of History and Morality

Philosophy Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Philosophy of History
David Duquette
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 October 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0133


Hegel’s philosophy of history emphasizes the development of freedom and the consciousness of freedom over the course of world history. For G. W. F. Hegel (b. 1770–d. 1831), this development is marked by conflict and struggle, rather than smooth uninterrupted progress, and is manifested for the most part in political developments construed broadly, including world-historical events such as the French Revolution, in the significant actions of world-historical “heroes” such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, and in the achievements of peoples and nations. According to Hegel, the end or goal of history is the actualization of freedom in the life of the modern nation-state. He claimed that history was a rational process of development and that it could be understood and made intelligible for anyone willing to look at it rationally, which means looking at it holistically and as an endeavor of the World Spirit with a discernible purpose. Moreover, he attempted to show that history exhibited real progress toward the ultimate goal of freedom and that the modern period, the time in which he lived up until his death in 1831, brought this development to fruition and, in a way, a culmination. This theory of history has been both highly influential and controversial—it is essential to any overall study of the philosophy of history.

General Works on the Philosophy of History

These works are by notable authors on the general topic of the philosophy of history. The books have sections or chapters on Hegel, except for Kant 1963, (an important precursor of Hegel). Löwith 1957 and Collingwood 1946 tend to deal with the continental traditions, whereas Atkinson 1978, Walsh 1967, White 1973, and Dray 1964 focus more on Anglo-American “analytic” approaches. Gardiner 1959, an anthology, includes essays by the major thinkers of both the continental and the Anglo-American orientations. Sweet 2004 (cited under Anthologies on Hegel’s Philosophy) is wide ranging in covering movements from the beginning of the 20th century. Beiser 2011 and Bernasconi 2011 are from the collection Houlgate and Bauer 2011 (cited under Anthologies on Hegel’s Philosophy) and each situates Hegel’s philosophy of history in the context of a particular issue or in its topics and themes. Houlgate 1990 (cited under Various Thematic Approaches to Hegel’s Philosophy of History) provides an explication and defense of Hegel’s approach to the philosophy of history.

  • Atkinson, R. F. Knowledge and Explanation in History: An Introduction to the Philosophy of History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-15965-9

    The six chapters in this book address central topics in the philosophy of history, such as the relationship of philosophy and history and the concepts of historical knowledge, objectivity, and explanation as well as the role of moral judgment. Although discussion of Hegel or of the “speculative” approach to history is minimal, the author addresses important issues relevant to any philosophy of history and makes connections to major thinkers on the subject, such as R. G. Collingwood, William Dray, W. H. Walsh, and Morton White. A nontechnical but sophisticated work.

  • Beiser, Frederick C. “Hegel and Ranke: A Re-examination.” In A Companion to Hegel. Edited by Stephen Houlgate and Michel Bauer, 332–350. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444397161.ch16

    Examines Leopold von Ranke’s critique of Hegel’s philosophy of history, which condemned it altogether, claiming that it could not be a science. The author argues that Ranke’s criticisms were inaccurate, in particular as relates to Hegel’s methodology, and that the two thinkers held more in common on the philosophy of history than has been acknowledged.

  • Bernasconi, Robert. “The Ruling Categories of the World: The Trinity in Hegel’s Philosophy of History and the Rise and Fall of Peoples.” In A Companion to Hegel. Edited by Stephen Houlgate and Michel Bauer, 315–331. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

    The author argues that in contrast to a too common approach to Hegel’s philosophy of history that relies almost solely on the separately published introduction, the Philosophy of History must be read and studied in its entirety and that doing so reveals the organizing structure of Hegel’s lectures on this topic. Hegel’s concept of the Trinity provides this structure, but Hegel also provides “a history of the emergence of the Trinity within history” (p. 315).

  • Collingwood, R. G. The Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1946.

    A revised edition was published in 1994. Includes a very accessible account of Hegel’s philosophy of history, the influence of Hegel’s predecessors, the reaction of Hegel’s critics, and the impact on later thought, especially that of Karl Marx.

  • Dray, William H. Philosophy of History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1964.

    Chapter 6 discusses the “metaphysical approach” in Hegel’s speculative philosophy of history, noting difficulties in several of his main ideas, such as rationality, freedom, world-historical individuals, and dialectic and necessity.

  • Gardiner, Patrick L. Theories of History. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1959.

    An anthology of readings in the philosophy of history that is divided into two parts: Part 1 covers thinkers, mostly European, in the tradition of “speculative” philosophy of history, whereas Part 2 includes only English and American philosophers in the “analytic” movement of the 20th century. The virtue of this collection is that it includes all of the major traditional and contemporary thinkers.

  • Kant, Immanuel. On History. Edited and translated by Lewis White Beck, Robert E. Anchor, and Emil L. Fackenheim. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963.

    This volume is a collection of seven essays by Kant that are his reflections on “universal history” or the philosophy of the history of humankind. Kant’s writings on history proved influential to Hegel, especially with regard to the idea of historical development. However, Hegel rejected Kant’s conception of world government as presented in the essay “Perpetual Peace.”

  • Löwith, Karl. Meaning in History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226162294.001.0001

    This interesting work traces the theological implications of the philosophy of history in thirteen authors, from the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the Bible. Included is a chapter on Hegel’s lectures on the philosophy of history.

  • Pompa, Leon, and William H. Dray, eds. Substance and Form in History: A Collection of Essays in Philosophy of History. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981.

    There are thirteen essays in this collection that for the most part cover the history of the philosophy of history. Three of the essays, chapter 3, 4, and 5, focus specifically on Hegel.

  • Tucker, Aviezer, ed. A Companion To The Philosophy of History and Historiography. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

    This collection of fifty essays covers a very wide range of topics on the philosophy of history and historiography. Part 4 focuses on the “classical schools” and philosophers (i.e., 18th to 20th centuries) and includes an essay on Hegel; see Rockmore 2010 (cited under Various Thematic Approaches to Hegel’s Philosophy of History).

  • Walsh, W. H. Philosophy of History: An Introduction. London: Harper & Row, 1967.

    Chapter 7 addresses Hegel’s speculative philosophy of history with a focus on his dialectical approach, the distinction between a science of Spirit versus a science of Nature, and the conceptions of reason, freedom, historical progress, and the role of the passions in the “cunning” of history. Also considers at some length criticisms of Hegel’s theories. A sophisticated treatment by a notable scholar.

  • White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

    A study of the main forms of historical thinking in 19th-century Europe. Proposes a theory of the poetic nature of historical narrative. Includes a substantial chapter on Hegel titled “Hegel: The Poetics of History and the Way beyond Irony.”

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