Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1770-1831), the most prominent proponent of German Idealism, was exceptional also for the importance he placed on ancient philosophy, studying it with genuine and substantial interest. His engagement with Plato’s oeuvre was continuous, and is reflected both in his systematic works (The Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807, The Science of Logic, 1812-16, The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline, 1817) and his famous Lectures on the History of Philosophy of his Berlin period (1819-1830). His initial interest about a series of Platonic issues gradually became focused on Plato's late dialogues, especially the dialectic ontology of the Ideas introduced there.

Rejecting the view that the Ideas are situated in an unreal Beyond, Hegel argued that they constitute the “result” of human mental activity, and thus are largely identified with what Hegel described as “concept”. Plato’s dialectic is approached as a rough model of Hegel's own dialectic, which he proclaims to be the sole true method – without sharing the view that it needs to be developed dialogically. While in Plato oppositions are expressed through a number of interlocutors participating in actual dialogues, in Hegel these become contradictions inherent in reality itself.

In Hegel’s reception of Plato’s work, the dialogues Parmenides and the Sophist hold a prominent place; he also has great respect for the Republic, which he believes conveys not a utopian ideal, but the true nature of ancient Greek political “ethical order” (Sittlichkeit). There, the problem of justice can apparently be solved only in the context of an organized state – this is a view that Hegel will adopt and further expand on in his Philosophy of Right.

Author: Panagiotis Thanassas
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