The Spirit of the Time



Zeitgeist is originally an expression in German. The spirit (Geist) of the time (Zeit.) It announces the conceptual and cultural environment of a period of time. The pronunciation of the German word is [ˈtsa͡ɪtga͡ɪst]. The Zeitgeist concept began with the philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder. In 1769, Herder wrote a critique of the work Genius seculi by the philologist Christian Adolf Koltzand and introduced the word Zeitgeistinto German as a translation of the latin “genius (guardian spirit) saeculi” (of the century.)1

The term Zeitgeist is better recognized in relation to Hegel’s historical philosophy. In 1807, Hegel developed a complex theodicy: Phänomenologie des Geistes (Phenomenology of Spirit), which based its conception of history on dialectics. The negative part: wars, poverty, inequality, etc. was conceived by Hegel as the motor of history. Hegel argued that history is a constant process of dialectic clash. The clash of both provokes a purification process, a conjunction that conserves the contradiction between thesis and its antithesis. Without the active opposition of an antithesis working through the dialectic, Hegel asserts, existence is simply an empty task: Periods of happiness are empty pages in history, for they are the periods of harmony, times when the antithesis is missing.”2 What is left to life is simply habit, activity without opposition. If history ends in the ultimate realization of the Spirit, then all opposition apparently has been negated.

History was best seen as directed by a zeitgeist, or Spirit of the Age, and traces of the zeitgeist could be seen by looking backward. Hegel theorized this in his famous dialectic of Zeitgeist and gained high popularity among nations having translations of the word in English, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese.

The term Zeitgeist is referred to the experience of a cultural dominant environment that defines the Hegelian thought, an era of dialectic progression of the person and moreover the whole world. Hegel’s most important contribution is the formulation of the Weltgeist concept, “the spirit of the nation.” This spirit is essentially alive and active throughout human history. Today, the Weltgeist is stuck on an intermediate stage known as the global historic spirit. The stagnation is caused by the lack of cultural renaissance of the people, because they finished with the creativity in the historic growth of the spirit guiding us. [back to top]

1 The terminology above was obtained from "Philosophy of History" and "Zeitgeist" from Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia."

2 Quote obtained from Brian J. Hayes in his work "Hegel Philosophy of History."