Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born in Stuttgart in 1770; his father was a civil servant. He studied in Stuttgart, and after graduating from the gymnasium there he began to study philosophy and theology in the seminary in Tübingen. Among his close friends in the seminary were Friedrich Schelling and Friedrich Hölderlin who became, respectively, a significant philosopher and poet. After graduating from the seminary, Hegel became a family tutor, and in 1800 joined Schelling at the University of Jena, where Schelling had been made a professor at the age of twenty-three. Hegel became an associate professor there in 1805: Jena was then a major philosophic center in Germany. Hegel had already engaged in much theological and philosophical writing, and in 1806 wrote his first major book, the Phenomenology of Spirit, in which, among other matters, he showed how various world views (e.g., those of medieval Christianity and the Enlightenment) followed each other with logical necessity.

Hegel left Jena when Napoleon captured the city in October of 1806. He then edited a newspaper in Bamberg and became headmaster in the gymnasium in Nuremberg. During this period, and afterward, he wrote several articles on current affairs. He married in Nuremberg in 1811, and in 1812 published the first, basic work in his philosophical system, The Science of Logic. In 1816, he became professor of philosophy at the University of Heidelberg and gave lectures there on art and the history of philosophy (versions of which were published by friends and students after his death from cholera in 1831) and on logic and natural right. He published his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in 1817, in which he outlined his complete system. In 1818 he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Berlin, arguably then the chief university in the German-speaking world, and published the Philosophy of Right in 1821. At Berlin, his influence was great in all areas, and he was generally considered to be the leading thinker of his time. In addition to the areas we have mentioned, he also gave lectures on the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of history, versions of which were also published by friends and students after his death.

For a generation after Hegel’s death, he remained a dominant figure, as various political reforms and academic movements took their measure from his work even (as in the case of Karl Marx) in opposition to him. His work was central in British thought until the end of the nineteenth century, and also important among the teachers of American political progressives. Although his dominance inevitably faded, the breadth, rigor, and power of his intelligence place him in the first rank among philosophers.

— Excerpted from Leo Rauch’s introduction to his translation of Introduction to the Philosophy of History, London: 1988.

For further biographical reading, see also:

Terry Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography, Cambridge: 2000.

Franz Wiedmann, Hegel: An Illustrated Biography, Pegasus: 1968.