(The article below is reproduced at hegel.net with the kind permission of its author, Stephen Cowley. It first appeared 11/2012 on the hegel.net Hegel mailing list and was then published 12/2012 as article with the pictures below on his blog ‘Hegelian News & Reviews’)
This post is the first of several, dealing with Hegel's time in Berlin from 1818 to 1831. The material is drawn from Karl Rosenkranz's Life of Hegel (1844), the first biography of Hegel. During this time Hegel taught at Berlin University and was involved in the development of Prussian politics, culture and society. Many of his posthumously published lectures date from this period, during which his original works included the Philosophy of Right (1821), the second and third editions of his Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences (1827, 1830) and some notable contributions to journals.
Book III - Hegel in Berlin
This final book of Rosenkranz's biography is fairly short (150 pages), but I find it particularly interesting for the fresh and surprising tone and colour with which he writes about Prussia, based on his personal experience. It also contrasts with Hegel literature that projects back the supposed paternalism of the Prussia of the post-Bismarck era.
Chapter One - The Move to Prussia
Hegel's years in Berlin were in the period known as the Restoration that followed the defeat of Napoleonic France in 1815 and the peace settlement of the Congress of Vienna.
It became clear at Heidelberg that Hegel had gained in intelligibility as a lecturer and his self esteem was boosted. Heidelberg the town is surrounded by nature and its spirit is a joyous realism focused on vocational knowledge. Those with ability, such as Jakob Fries, soon sought to move on.
Whilst Swabia was deeply German, Prussia was peopled by Germanised Slavs and bordered Russia rather than France. Prussia was seeking to unify herself and to do this at first culturally. It had absorbed French influences, both reformed (i.e. the Huguenots) and atheistic in the time of the Regency. The Academy of Sciences had been founded by Leibniz in 1700. Since the defeat at Jena in 1806, art and science had flourished in Prussia. The Friedrich Wilhelm University was founded in 1810. The University mediated between science (largely an aristocratic endeavour) and public opinion.
The borders of Prussia have no natural frontiers except the Baltic Sea and she is thus in contact with many quite diverse cultures. Her territory consists about half of conquest, half of dynastic inheritance. Its population was at first Protestant, to whom Catholics were added after 1815. Rosenkranz writes:
In renouncing science, Prussia would renounce herself, for she is throughout an artificial state, a constructed state that can arrive at unity only by means of culture. (490)
That is there is no confessional unity, natural borders, or common natural resource to hold people together. Rosenkranz developed this idea in his History of the Kantian Philosophy (p99). The philosophy of duty of Kant spoke to this and Hegel as its developer had a natural role here. The Prussian Minister of Public Education and Religion was von Altenstein (1770-1840, below) since 1817:
Altenstein worked to secure Hegel's appointment. (see D’Hondt: Biographie, 275). This, thinks Rosenkranz was simply an expression of progressive tendencies in Prussia. Karl Solger, a native Prussian, had drawn Altenstein's attention to Hegel. His letters to Hegel are respectful and Hegel accepts a new offer on 24 January 1818 (Corr. II L328).
Hegel himself thought theory alone ineffective (Letter to Schelling 2.11.1800) and welcomed a situation of practical influence. Altenstein contributed 3,000 Thalers upfront (including moving expenses). He agreed to appoint Carové and Ludwig von Henning as reporters of Hegel's courses and was solicitous to Hegel. His sister helped Hegel to move in. Hegel's letters [these are now lost, but Rosenkranz had sight of them] show great enthusiasm for Berlin in the summer of 1818. He lived at first in Leipziger Strasse and then in Kupfergraben. This latter is on an island on the River Spree:
His home looked out on the Montbijou gardens and the river Spree:
Letters of Solger to Tieck show Solger's appreciation of Hegel, combined with curiosity. Unfortunately, Solger was to die soon after this.
Chapter Two - Berlin and Philosophy
There is a critical spirit in Berlin, which Rosenkranz describes as follows:
Berlin is the town of absolute reflection and this restlessness of thought co-exists with the yet incomplete development of the Prussian state, as of the capital itself. In Berlin, there exists nothing naive, nothing immediate, but everything in it is the work of reflection. (494)
There is an acute judgement in all classes of society, which gives them a practical turn. Reflection can lead to a turn towards irony, even boredom and inactivity. To be surmounted, it must be pursued relentlessly.
Philosophy surmounts the dualism of reflection. Religion surmounts contradictions at the level of feeling: at Vienna this is so for example. But in Berlin religion itself is suffused by reflection. Its faith is not spontaneous devotion, but an effort to comprehend its own content.
The university thus gave Berlin an opportunity of self expression. Fichte taught there (1810-1814), having left Jena in 1799 and taught briefly in Erlangen in 1805. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) was a more important figure for the Berliners. Karl Solger (below) had studied under Fichte, taught and spent 1811 to his death in 1819 in Berlin as a Professor:
Hegel wrote about Solger 10 years after his death (SW16; French translation, Ironie romantique, 1997). Solger was an intermediary figure between Schelling and Hegel and had replies to those who sought to put speculation to the test. Like Schelling, he wrote on dialectic, ethics as politics, aesthetics and philosophy of religion, but not in a systematic way. He had little to say on the philosophy of nature. He agreed with Hegel politically. Dialectic he presented as a dialogue. Philosophical activity thus took a social form: that of question and answer. He stopped short before Hegel's idea of the "self movement of the concept", which abstracted from such subjective forms. Solger sticks with a dialogical standpoint and does not endorse Hegel's privileging of a speculative scientific thought. Solger wrote:
Doubtlessly these philosophers [like Hegel] in effect recognise the higher speculative thought as an entirely different kind from common thought, but they hold it, in its lawfulness and universality for the only effective and all that is not it, including empirical consciousness in the measure that it is not related back to these laws, for a fragmentation of these, erroneous and empty in all its relations. (498) [c.f. Ironie romantique, 104]
Rosenkranz writes on this:
Hegel never disputed the necessity of experience as such, but he showed thoroughly how, by its own contradictions, it pushes on from itself to universality and to the necessity of determinations. (498)
Solger studied the ideas of creation, love and sacrifice through ancient mythology. He used irony to introduce negation into his speculations. Solger and Hegel were friends and exchanged teaching duties terms about.
We now return to Hegel's relations with Friedrich Schleiermacher (below), which are also the subject of another chapter.
Schleiermacher's early literary reputation arose from his Speeches on Religion to its Cultured Despisers (1799). He had been a preacher in Berlin and a community had gathered around him. He lectured at Berlin on:
- history of philosophy.
He contributed to the theory of faith and the development of Protestantism. A typically North German character, he was self-contained, self-controlled but open to activity, a "masterwork of reflection become nature". However, with him there was no common understanding with Hegel. At this time, the theologian De Witte (1789 -1849) had written to the mother of Sand, the theology student who had stabbed Kotzebue to death as a suspected Russian spy. De Witte was dismissed from the university and Sand was executed. [See Corr. Letters 359, 390 on this.] This led to an altercation between Hegel and Schleiermacher in 1819. They wrote respectful letters to each other in its wake once tempers had cooled. Edouard Gans  supposes that the source of antipathy was Schleiermacher's opposition to receiving Hegel into the Academy. Fichte too had not been in the Academy and this was thought inappropriate for a philosopher who formed a school. In public, the two men related well together and even went tobogganing together in the Tivoli Gardens. Their pupils formed hostile camps though. Hegel in turn did not want Schleiermacher involved in the Berlin Jahrbucher.
Hegel taught his system in a disciplined way. This methodical approach supplemented Schleiermacher s versatility. It also had the benefit of inspiring Hegel through emulation to out do his colleague. Rosenkranz [in a passage cited by Kaufmann] says that it was necessary for the North east and South Western elements of the German spirit to be brought into relation. Many people from all over Germany and Switzerland attended both men's courses.
The Inaugural Speech at Berlin
On 22 October 1818, Hegel gave an inaugural discourse. In philosophical content, it was the same as the one two years earlier at Heidelberg. There were also some remarks about Berlin and Prussia though. The pompous phrases about their role in philosophy and world history are here in germ. Rosenkranz remarks:
It must be that the Berliners' pride had something contagious about it. (503)
This central university, Hegel says, must teach the central science of philosophy. The Germans are the elect people of God in philosophy (unlike in Heidelberg, he does not invoke the Jews as predecessors). Philosophy holds the self consciousness of man's essence. The critical philosophy claimed to prove the unknowability of the eternal and divine and used this proof to usurp the name of philosophy. Hegel's philosophy on the contrary has a content. He feels that the youth will again seek and build the kingdom of truth.
Chapter Four - The Commission of Scientific Evaluation
In June 1820, Hegel was appointed scientific evaluator for the Province of Brandenburg in Prussia. In this role, he had to conduct viva voce exams of candidates for teaching and prospective students; also to review the Gymnasium verbal exams and German compositions, which he was well qualified for as a former Rector at Nürnberg.
Nonetheless, this was a distraction from higher tasks and he was relieved of the duty in 1822. He did not expect originality from young pupils, but clarity about what they had been taught. [Note: this would be worth comparing with the contemporary writings of Victor Cousin and George Jardine on education.]
An Essay On Philosophy Teaching in the Gymnasium survives from 1823 (SW17; see Textes Pédagogiques (trans. Bourgeois)). Hegel thought that two hours of formal logic and empirical psychology a fortnight would generalise scientific education, more so than the idea of "thinking for oneself", as praised by Kant. Herbart agreed with Hegel and this was taken up in Prussian schools. Herbart (1766-1841) was a leading educationalist then based in Königsberg who was developing a realist philosophy in opposition to post-Kantian idealism. Rosenkranz [who was also based in Prussia] thinks this initiative was valuable as an endorsement by the State.