The idea of change as the center of universe was present in Philosophy since ancient Greece. However, it was only after Hegel that the suggestion of humans as a changing reality and makers of change gains consistency, materializes (Marx and Engel) and achieves supremacy in other areas of philosophy that were not being considered worthy of deep reflection – as the case of human history. Hegel himself impeaches that historians and philosophers where not considering history, or the philosophy of history, as something extremely profound and significant. In Philosophy of History he starts by explaining how the approaches taken by others are improper in matters of capturing the true value of history; and how it becomes, in the hands of historians, a superficial subject. For him, history is anything but shallow. It holds the character – or essence – of human life and the truth about human existence. It is maybe the most insightful topic that philosophy can reflect on. But Hegel doesn’t denigrate other systems as unimportant or absolutely inutile.
On the contrary, they are quite valuable in pursuing their purpose – describing historical facts, finding relation between historical events or verifying the plausibility of historical narrations – but they are inefficient in the pursue of truth about human life and existence. Truth is only attainable through dialectical thinking – Philosophy – and it is in that way that historians fail to conquer the supreme value of history: the meaning of history within itself. Attached to the these ideas of changing reality and of a proper dialectical exercise to capture it, Hegel introduces a core learning: that the process of change has a direction, it has a purpose. History, according to Hegel, is not unintended. The transformations of the forms of human life don’t just happen by chance but as part of a reasonable process. Societies transform because their members become aware that its structure (values shared by community, institutions, laws) and the mode of life are incompatible with their aspirations. Change is therefore driven by conflicts and the awareness of their existence.
Furthermore, this historical change is dialectical and continual, because every new proposition of human reality (Thesis) binds opposing elements (Antithesis), thus the situation cannot continue indeterminately; it falls by the force of reason. But at the same time, through reason a new superior proposition (Synthesis), that combines the truer parts of Thesis and Antithesis, emerges. So individuals, identify and resolve the conflicts between the self and the object (reality) because they are rational beings. And Reason, for being “ negative and dialectical” – this is, it denies itself due its own principles and through them finds a new and superior Reason – it is the only path to uncover the truth about anything. This is a contradiction to Kant’s theory of humanity being perpetually doomed by a division of their reason and their desires. For Kant, ideas are things for themselves, they are never a complete correspondence of reality because reality is too complex, and individuals trough cognition simplify it and select what matters to them.
So individuals are perpetually torn by their human condition and can never know reality. But for Hegel, humans hold in themselves the key to uncover the truth about reality, and if effect, about themselves. As an Idealist, Hegel defends that reality is an apprehension of Mind. In fact, reason and reality are identical, given that reality can only be learned through reason and simultaneously if reality is reasonable – otherwise it cannot be accessed by human cognition. So every new reality created by reason is in fact reason realizing itself and transcending itself into a more reasonable reason. Consequently, any change in human reality is a transcendence of its previous and a movement of reason towards superiority. Historical development is then Mind becoming more aware of its existence as creator of reality – as ultimate reality. Given this, history of men is the story of emancipation of the Mind.
It is humanity releasing itself from the “unseen hand of reason” and knowing itself as creator of reality. It is a process of men progressively not seeing reality as something external and hostile to them, but as part of them. According to Hegel, human history is individuals accomplishing freedom, because they realize that it is Mind who controls the world and not the other way around. Historical dynamism, is then a movement of societies becoming more organic, where the laws and the social framework are in conformity to the men’s true nature, and they can act rationally, understanding their aspirations and fulfilling them, in a harmonious way. It is in this rational society that humans truly understand the why of their caprices and hence are able to fulfill them rationally and in true harmony.