Hegel’s Conception of Teleology

  • Myriam Bienenstock
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 165)


Most often, it is in order to answer questions bearing upon the philosophy of action that Hegel’s conception of teleology is now examined: many philosophers interested in the nature of action have come to the conclusion that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to account for it in non-teleological, mechanistic terms; and the question thus arises of determining whether Hegel’s conception of teleology can be of some use in the endeavour to develop a more satisfactory, alternative explanatory framework for the human and social sciences. Interpreters acknowledge, of course, that Hegel’s own discussion of the question took place in a completely different context: his would have been a much more ambitious project, one which seems to have consisted in no less than uncovering the conceptual structure of the world in its totality. Yet his conception might be re-formulated for the human sciences; and all things considered, didn’t his own fundamental insight bear mainly upon the philosophy of action, even if it was put in much broader terms?1


Conceptual Structure Social Division Purposeful Action Teleological Explanation Teleological Argument 
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  1. 1a.
    I am referring here mainly to the renewal of interest in Hegel aroused by Charles Taylor’s book Hegel (Cambridge University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  2. 1b.
    See also, more particularly, his “Hegel’s philosophy of mind” in Human agency and language, Philosophical papers I (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985), pp. 77–96.) It should be kept in mind that Taylor’s first work was devoted to The Explanation of Behaviour (Routledge and Kegan, London, 1964).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    On the use of causal explanations in history and the discussion with Popper see in particular R. S. Cohen, ‘Causation in history’, in Physics, Logic, and history, Plenum Press, 1970, pp. 231–251.Google Scholar
  4. 3a.
    The following editions and translations of Hegel’s works have been used: Werke in zwanzig Bänden, Theorie Werkausgabe, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 1969 (abbreviated as Werke);Google Scholar
  5. 3b.
    The following editions and translations of Hegel’s works have been used: Science of Logic (Sc.L.), trans. A. V. Miller. Allen and Unwin, London, 1969;Google Scholar
  6. 3c.
    The following editions and translations of Hegel’s works have been used: The Encyclopaedia Logic, Part I of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences (with the Zusätze), trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting. and H. S. Harris. Hackett, Indianapolis, 1991;Google Scholar
  7. 3d.
    A. Wood (ed.), Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans, by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991 (PhR). I shall follow the usual practice of citing only the paragraph numbers of the Encyclopaedia and the Principles of the Philosophy of Right.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    Whereas the new English translation (by H. B. Nisbet) of the Philosophy of Right does make a distinction between Vorsatz and Zweck, rendering them respectively as “purpose” and “end”, the English editions of the Science of Logic translate Zweck as “purpose”, thus overlooking the distinctive meaning Hegel gives to this term in the Philosophy of Right and obscuring the meaning of his concept of Zweck. It would perhaps be advisable to systematically avoid the terms “purpose” and “purposiveness” in translating Hegel’s Zweck and Zweckmässigkeit, and render them as “end” and “finality”.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    In the Science of Logic, interestingly enough, Hegel also adds that men’s actions arouse “fate” (Schicksal); and he explains that the notion of “fate” itself “falls into mechanism, insofar as it is said to be blind, i.e., as its objective universality is not recognized by the subject in its specific peculiarity” (Werke, vol. 6, p. 420f.; Sc.L., p. 720f.): one may well say, then, that according to him “fate” is one human way of experiencing the effects of causal necessity — and can be overcome by reason, or science. On the distinction between “power” (Macht) and “violence” (Gewalt) see my “Macht and Geist in Hegel’s Jena Writings” In: Hegel-Studien 18, 1983, pp. 139–172).Google Scholar
  10. 6a.
    On Hegel’s criticism of the modern “reflective philosophy of subjectivity”, which takes the “relation of consciousness” as central, cf. my article on ‘The Logic of Political Life: Hegel’s Conception of Political Philosophy’, in M. Dascal and O. Gruengard (eds.), Knowledge and Politics. Case Studies in the Relationship Between Epistemology and Political Philosophy, Westview Press, Boulder/Colorado, 1989, p. 154 ff.;Google Scholar
  11. 6b.
    On Hegel’s criticism of the modern “reflective philosophy of subjectivity”, which takes the “relation of consciousness” as central, cf. my article on ‘The Logic of Political Life: Hegel’s Conception of Political Philosophy’ in French, Politique du jeune Hegel, PUF, Paris, 1992.Google Scholar
  12. 7.
    J. Hoffmeister (ed.), Die Vernunft in der Geschichte, F. Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1955, p.83 ff. ‘Introduction’, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, trans, by H. B. Nisbet with an introduction by Duncan Forbes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1975, p. 71 ff.Google Scholar
  13. 8.
    These fragments are quoted and analyzed by M. Baum and K. Meist in ‘Durch Philosophic leben lernen. Hegels Konzeption der Philosophic nach den neu aufgefundenen Jenaer Manuskripten’, Hegel-Studien 12, 1977, p. 60s. They will be published in G. W. F. Hegel, Fragmente aus Vorlesungsmanuskripten (1803), Gesammelte Werke, vol. 5: Schriften und Entwürfe 17991808, ed. by M. Baum and R. Meist, with the collaboration of T. Ebert. Meiner, Hamburg, p. 367.Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    Jenaer Systementwiirfe HI, in Gesammelte Werke, Band 8, ed. by R. P. Horstmann in collaboration with J.H. Trede. Meiner, Hamburg, 1976, p. 206 f.Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    See also, on this point, N. Waszek, The Scottish Enlightenment and Hegel’s account of ‘civil society’, Dordrecht/Boston/London, 1988, partic. p. 53f.Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    E.g., Jenaer Systementwurfe III, p. 243 f. See also PhR, § 189 and Add.Google Scholar
  17. 12a.
    Kritik der Urteilskraft, Felix Meiner Verlag, Leipzig, 1922;Google Scholar
  18. 12b.
    Critique of Judgment, trans, by J. H. Bernard, New York, 1951.Google Scholar
  19. 13.
    See also, on this point, his criticism of Kant in ‘Glauben und Wissen’ (Werke, vol. 2, pp. 324–328).Google Scholar
  20. 14.
    Posterior Analytics, 90a, 36–90b, 5. Tr. with Notes by J. Barnes, Oxford 1975, p. 53.Google Scholar
  21. 15.
    On this point see, e.g., the Introduction of J. Barnes to his edition, quoted above, of the Posterior Analytics, esp. pp. x–xi.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Myriam Bienenstock
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GrenobleFrance

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