The Characterisation of Human Nature

  • Christopher J. Berry
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idees / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 103)


We have seen that the general characterisation of human nature as found in Hume, and in the Enlightenment more generally, as constant and uniform and of its content as particularised into faculties, can be read to have been criticised on those grounds, amongst others, by Herder and his successors. Instead, human nature was now seen, especially in Germany, as an ‘organic unity’ and as contextual or integrally social. Hegel’s own intellectual biography reflects this transition. Thus, according to the exhaustive examination of Hegel’s youthful career undertaken by H.S. Harris, the schoolboy Hegel subscribed to the Enlightenment’s notion of human nature as possessing a fixed essence but the gradual emergence of a historical conception of human nature can be traced back to an essay of 1787. Indeed, from the evidence of Hegel’s remaining juvenilia, Harris argues that “the true focus of Hegel’s researches throughout his life was always, properly speaking, man”.1


Human Nature Empirical Psychology Natural Religion True Infinite Universal Human Nature 
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  1. 1.
    Hegel’s Development: Toward the Sunlight 1770–1801, p. 30.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    History, Man and Reason: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Thought, p. 177.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Harris, Hegel’s Development, p. 176.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Harris, Hegel’s Development, p. 485, 48. The term Seelenkräfte was a commonplace in eighteenth-century German aesthetics, cf. P.H. Reill, The German Enlightenment and the rise of Historicism, p. 62ff.Google Scholar
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    It is thus infelicitous to talk of Vernunft as “a special and distinct mental faculty” from Verstand as Z.A. Pelczynski does in his Introduction to PW, p. 114. Similarly, G.D.O’Brien, Hegel on Reason and History, p. 70.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Mandelbaum’s conclusion — “the very nature of man changes as the world-spirit develops and in order to understand men at one time or another one must place them in their appropriate historical contexts, viewing them in terms of their place in a larger process of spiritual development. Thus Hegel’s organicism and his historicism merged with one another”, History, Man and Reason, p. 187.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague 1982

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  • Christopher J. Berry

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