Hegel, Evil, and the End of History

JVF Conference Papers

This paper investigates the twin themes of evil and history in Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. It explores the close linkage between Hegel’s understanding of his work as a theodicy, and his feeling that it occupies a certain “stage” of history, what some scholars have called Hegel’s “end of history” thesis.

By suggesting that Hegel has no such end of history thesis in his philosophy, I will also show that reading Hegel’s philosophy as a theodicy is equally problematic. Or, more accurately, since Hegel saw no need to offer a final answer to the question of historical progress (though he certainly felt entitled to say why it had turned out as it had up to his time), his claims to offer a theodicy are rather hollow and actually run counter to his openness to the future. What I address in this paper is the “hard” claim that Hegel believed history to have come to an end with his philosophy, that no further progress was possible for world history, defined as “the progress of the consciousness of freedom,” and not the “softer” claim that his philosophy was the culmination of Spirit’s work on the world stage, and that all the pieces were in place for the final realization of history’s goals. I think it evident that he did believe the latter; there is little serious evidence that he ever held the former view, however.

This being the case, Hegel’s strong claim regarding his philosophy of history as a theodicy has serious flaws. I conclude the paper with a sketch of what I call finite or local theodicies, and a suggestion that such theodicies (not theodicies at all in the traditional sense) offer a way forward for the philosophical problem of evil because they are ethical rather than metaphysical in their makeup.

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