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Throughout the history of philosophy, one peculiar trait has marked all the philosophers and served as their uniting factor. It is the desire to form a coherent and unified interpretation of reality natural to the reflective mind. Starting from the Greek philosophers, this trait is found in their quest for the “urstoff” of all that exists (thereby remaining cosmocentric in their interpretation) through the theocentric interpretation of the medieval era. In the light of this trait, the modern period becomes over-laden with anthropocentricism. In sum, we can bluntly say that philosophy has this single task of forming a unified interpretation of reality to perform.

However, the actual task to be performed presents itself in different ways at different times. For example, the development of physical science in the post-mediaeval world meant that the philosopher who wished to construct an overall interpretation had to grapple with the problem of reconciling the scientific view of the world as a mechanical system with the demands of the moral and religious consciousness. Descartes was faced with this problem. And so was Kant. Even though kant rejected the ways of dealing with this problem which were characteristic of his predecessors and offered his own original solution, it is arguable that in the long run he left us with a “bifurcated reality”[1]. On the other hand, a supersensous world of the free agent is provided. There is no valid reason to assert the existence of the phenomenal realm, as well as a theoretical proof of the supersensuous reality. Even though Kant made effort to bridge the gap between the two realities in a way comprehensible to the remote mind, he however related a problem which the German idealists refused to pass over in silence. Thus, German idealism culminating in Hegel, made effort to make the whole of reality intelligible to the human mind, provided that this mind can be regarded as the vehicle, as it were of absolute thought reflecting on itself. The result of this was the Absolute idea in Hegel’s philosophy or Hegelian idealism.

The point to be made is that Hegel’s point of departure was the theme of the relation between the infinite and the finite or more precisely, between the universal, collectivity and the individual. Hegel evaluated everything on the platform of the Absolute infinite, making the finite, including the human person, a product of the Absolute, and universal. Now, a mind-boggling question surges up: what is actually the role of the individual in this universal? It is obvious at this point that Hegel in order to solve the Kantian dualism created an existential problem for the individual human person who appears to be at sea in the whole Hegelian set up.

Hence the problem, which obviously faced Hegel as an idealist, was that of including, as it were, the finite within the life of the infinite without depriving the former of its reality[2]. The difficulty of solving this problem is responsible for a good deal of ambiguity in metaphysical idealism when it is a question of defining its relation to theism on the one hand and Pantheism on the other. However, the problem lingered on and constituted the fundamental springboard of existentialist trend. As such, it becomes consistent to ask: How can the human person become fully himself, free and independent in this existential order vis-à-vis the Hegelian abstraction that kept his reality or rather existence somewhere beyond this order. Could the individual human person be said to be free, responsible and actually existing yet remaining a moment in the “self-development” of the absolute thought or universal. If the state is the supreme will of the individual and if the individual exists for the good of the state as an institution, is the human person free from this mere objectification or relegation? How could this utilitarian principle of the many against one contribute to his survival? How could man’s authenticity be assured in this all-consuming absolute universal? In the present era, the submerging of the individual takes other forms in the society. These forms constitute the various ways the implications of Hegelian idealism become evident in our society. The powerful evidence towards political and social totalitarianism with its reduction of personal responsibility and its evaluation of personal value in terms of service to the collectivity are not apart from these forms and consequent implications. This constitutes a hard nut to crack as there arises the need to reaffirm the free individual in the face of this powerful tendency.


In the light of the foregone (statement of the problem), one easily discovers the task or aim of the whole work. The work is an effort to reinstate the concrete existence of the individual human person which has been swallowed up in abstractions through absolute idealism. Thus, it is primarily targeted on Hegel who is a prime absolute idealist, and it is a reaction against the abstraction of his idealism, which has depersonalized the individual human person. This would be more effectively done via existentialist emphasis on man to restore the essence of individual human person. Thus, it is a piece of evaluative criticism of  idealism with Hegel as a reflex point.


Within the limits of this consideration, the work even though it exposes idealist tenets, does not claim an absolute and total exposition. Even at that, it does not expose these tenets to empty idealism of its content. However, in order not to build on the blues, Hegelian idealism is chosen as the reflex or focal point of our reflections. Be that as it may, the work does not claim to expose equally the whole edifice of Hegelian system, but exposes through critical inquiry and analysis some aspects of this system as it relates to the individual human person. Even when the writer toes the existentialist line in his criticism, he does not claim to exhaust all themes of the existentialist in order to buttress the deficiencies of Hegelian system.


In line with the purpose of this work, the method employed here is simply expository. This exposition would be addressed via critical analysis and evaluative techniques in order to produce a comprehensive corpus that suits the entire intellectual edifice.


The work is divided into five chapters that are linked to one another with each succeeding stage being a further elaboration of the preceding one. The work comprises one theme running through all chapters but in a developmental manner from the first to the last chapter. Chapter one delves into idealism that exposes Hegel as an idealist. Chapter two discusses the idealist predecessors of Hegel as the springboard of Hegelian idealism. This gives us the impetus for a critical exposition of the system to be made in chapter three. Having critically exposed Hegelian idealism, a room was created for the fourth chapter that draws out the implications of this system for the individual. Lastly, chapter five aims at practical solutions by evaluating the two sides of the human person: individuality and collectivity. Consequently, the curtain is drawn with the writer’s standpoint on the whole quagmire.


George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, greatest of German Idealists and one of the renowned philosophers of western tradition was born at Stuttgart on August 27th, 1770. He was the oldest son of a minor state official. In his school years at Stuttgart the future philosopher was not spectacular. However, at this period, his attraction to the great genius, especially the plays of Sophocles and above all in the Antigone was evident. At the age of eighteen he entered the University of Tubingen as a student of theology. However, he showed little aptitude for theology. The certificate which he received in 1793 commended his excellent talents but declared that his industry and knowledge were mediocre and above all deficient in philosophy. He seems to have profited most from the companionship of his friends, notably Holderlin and Schelling, with whom he read Kant and Plato. The friends studied Rousseau together and shared a common enthusiasm for the ideals of the French Revolution, which obviously might have stirred up in Hegel the later development of his philosophical ideals.

After his stay in Tubingen, Hegel became a family tutor at Berne in Switzerland and Frankfurt respectively. During his residence in Switzerland he wrote a life of Jesus, a critique of positive religion and several studies in the history of religion. Later, his attention turned to questions of economics and government, and he left writings on the reform of the Prussian land laws, a commentary on James Stuart’s Political Economy, and other studies of similar character which have since been published. In 1800, he produced a sketch, which is generally regarded as the first systematic statement of his philosophy.

At the time, when Schelling was in his heydays, Hegel made a request from Schelling demanding him to suggest a suitable town for a brief period of studious withdrawal as well as “a good beer”. He joyfully acclaimed the success of his friend in the academic world, which spurred on ambitions in him (Hegel). Consequently, he said: “the ideal of my youth has necessarily taken a reflective form and been transformed into a system… how can I return to influencing the life of mankind?”[3] Shelling must have given him an enthusiastic answer which pushed him into abandoning his previous plans and joined him (Schelling) at Jena. At the university, he became a privatdocent (an unsalaried university lecturer) and gradually famous, through the series of lectures he delivered. As such, before Schellings’s departure from Jena, in 1803, he and Hegel collaborated in the publication of the journal of critical philosophy. This work however, strengthened the impression that Hegel was to all intents and purposes a disciple of Schelling[4]. On the contrary, with the publication of his first great work, The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), Hegel showed his divergence from Schelling. It was while he was engaged in the details of publication of this work that his academic career was brought abruptly to a halt by the Napoleonic campaign culminating in the battle of Jena in the autumn of 1806.

The “Phenomenology of spirit” appeared in 1807 despite the war, but Hegel himself was at loose ends. Two volumes of his science of logic were published in 1812, and a third in 1816, and he was offered professorships at Erlanges, Heidelberg, and Berlin. He accepted the invitation to Heidelberg, but after the publication of his “Encyclopedia of the philosophical sciences” in 1817, the offer of Berlin was renewed and accepted and he occupied the vacant chair following the death of Fichte.

His thirteen years of professorship at the University of Berlin brought him to the peak of his career and made him a recognized leader of philosophic thought in German world. His prestige thus rose until his name was linked with that of Goethe. His publication of “The philosophy of Right”, was significant as the last of the large works published in his life time. His lectures on aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of history, and the history of philosophy were constantly revised and improved and finally published posthumously. In 1830, he became the rector of the university and was decorated by Frederick William III of university of Berlin until his death from Cholera in 1831 at the age of sixty-one.

[1] F. Copleston, A history of Philosophy, Vol. 7 (New York: Continuum pub. Co, 2003), P. 6.

[2]Ibid., P. 12.

[3]R.M. Hutchins (ed) Hegel-The Philosophy of Right – The Philosophy of History (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1982), P.V.

[4] F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 7 (New York Continuum Pub., 2003), P. 160.



The desire to form a coherent and unified interpretation of reality is natural to the reflective mind. But the actual task to be performed presents itself in different ways at different times. Thus, the reflective thinker makes effort to improve on whatever ways his predecessors had handled the task. Rather put in another way, he proffers new solution to the problems that emanate from the prior solutions of his predecessors. When there is an evident uniting factor in solution proffered by philosophers of a particular period, they are often grouped as belonging to one movement. Idealism as philosophical movement is not far from the above elaboration since there exists a uniting factor among the idealist philosophers.

Thus, in line with Bittle we say that:

Idealism arose out of the difficulty of understanding how the human mind can transcend itself and know extra-mental reality.[1]

As such, what is emphasized above is the primacy of consciousness. However, it could be noted that Kant maintained the essential dualism of thought and thing, subject and object, mind and matter, and in fact in Bittle’s estimation,

Kant’s Philosophy left the antithesis between mind and matter, noumenon and phenomenon, the thing in itself and the ego-unsolved[2].

Therefore, Kant promoted the Monistic approach of his followers – Fichte, Schelling and Hegel as a result of his inability to explain these opposing elements in human knowledge.

Idealism is thus the system of philosophy that gives primacy to idea or spirit in its conception of reality. It holds that reality including the physical world is ultimately spiritual or immaterial. It maintains that matter is ultimately reducible to ideas or spiritual substance[3]. In point of fact, idealism is anti-materialistic as well as anti-naturalistic as it upholds the spirit or mind. In the words of S. Sprigge, Idealism in its philosophical sense is “the view that mind is the most basic reality and that the physical world exists only as an appearance to or an expression of mind or somehow mental in its essence”[4]. It is strongly opposed to Realism. It is therefore the denial of the common sense realist’s view that material things exist independently of being perceived. In fact, idealism represents a doctrine or the philosophical movement, which holds that mind, consciousness or some spiritual values is primary. Ordinarily speaking, idealism squares with the acceptance and living by some moral and religious standards or the visualization, that is, imagining and advocating some plan or programme that does not yet exist. Also in its monistic sense, it can embody the vision of life of particular or individual human beings being engineered from a universal institutionalized principle. Broadly speaking, it refers to any theoretical or practical view that emphasizes mind, soul, spirit, life in its interpretation or explanation of the ultimate reality[5]. It asserts that reality consists of ideas, thoughts, minds, or selves rather than of material objects and forces[6].

It is the view that mind is the ultimate reality and that the physical world is mind- dependent. However, a philosophy which makes the physical world dependent upon mind is usually also called “idealist” even if it postulates further some hidden more basic reality behind the mental and physical scenes (for example kant’s things in-themselves). There is also a certain tendency to restrict the term “idealism” to systems for which what is basic is mind, of a somewhat lofty nature so that “spiritual values” are the ultimate shapers of reality, constructing as well as engendering it. According to T. Harold, idealism simply is:

a world view or a metaphysics which holds that the basic reality consists of or is closely related to mind, ideas, thought, or selves[7].

In fact, what the idealists want us to accept is that the “world can be interpreted via the study of laws of thought and consciousness, and not exclusively by the objective method of science, since the world has a meaning beyond appearances. Idealism holds that the mind is in some sense prior to matter and as such, the latter remains the by-product of the former. Reality becomes meaningful in reference to the activity of the mind. Instead of denying nature, and matter, it divinizes and spiritualizes them respectively.

In a broad perspective, idealism includes all the philosophers who maintain that spiritual forces determine the universal process in contrast to naturalistic philosophers who view these forces as manifesting at some latter stage in the cosmological process. On the other hand, when considered in a narrow perspective, all philosophers who regard the universe as radically dependent on the consciousness, mind or spirit, fall under idealism.


The examination of the various kinds of idealism would constitute, without doubt, a further elaboration on the meaning of idealism. There are basically two kinds of idealism, namely, subjective idealism and objective idealism. We would briefly examine them one after the other.


Subjective idealism is the view that:

Physical objects are all products of the mind and that they do not exist independently of the mind. It maintains that the subject of experience (the mind) is the cause of the objects of its experience (physical things) that the latter are constituted and made to exist by the former[8].

From the above, the project of subjective idealism becomes eloquent as the existence of the material world depends on the mind of the thinker. As such, citing Berkeley and Kant as prime examples of this view drives home more the message. Berkeleyan dictum: “esse est Percipi”, “to be is to be perceived” directs every reality to the perceiving mind and as such, all physical objects are all ideas in the mind. It is the fact of this being perceived by the mind that brings them into existence and keeps them in existence for as long as they are being perceived. Kant on his own part maintains that the physical objects are structured by the mind. This the mind achieves through the imposition of its own categories on the objects and as such, the objects appear to us according to the structure of the mind. Thus, the phenomenal world (the world of the senses) is then the product of the human mind. According to Ben Okwu Eboh,

Ideas exist because they are perceived by some minds. Minds are perceivers. What anything would or could be apart from being known, no one can think or say, we can say then that for the subjective idealists what we see or think is mind-dependent, and our world is a mental world[9].


This kind of idealism holds that the physical world / universe is the self-projection  (self-manifestation, self-externalization, self-expression) of a spiritual reality which goes by various names – the universal mind, the Absolute, the Absolute Spirit, the universal consciousness etc. Thus, the physical universe is ultimately spiritual; matter is not an independent substance, but only a reflection of spirit, the mode of its self-expression, self-projection or self-manifestation.[10] This particular kind of idealism was popular at the time of Plato, the German idealists: Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and the British neo-idealists. To underscore fully what objective idealism stands for, a review into the thoughts of some of its proponents becomes necessary.

Plato who toed the footprints of Socrates was an avowed ancient idealist. He opines that “the life of reason was the focus from which all else stems”[11]. This marks him out as an objective idealist. Illustrating this further, Danald Butler says:

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