A psychobiography of G. W. F. Hegel: An individual consciousness seeking to know itself – Padmavathy Desai


This presentation will look at the personal biography of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, one of the most influential philosophers of the 19th century. Most known for his grande oeuvre, The Phenomenology of Spirt, Hegel remains one of the most important thinkers in the German Idealist tradition whose body of work remains relevant even today. In order to learn about his personal history, I will draw on the biography by Hegel scholar Terry Pinkard and make inferences as to the psychodynamics that may have influenced Hegel’s system of philosophy. In particular, I will examine Hegel’s relationships with his parents, siblings, friends and colleagues in the sociocultural milieu in which he lived. As a post-Kantian thinker, Hegel viewed that both the individual and society have a teleological purposive destiny toward Absolute Knowledge that negates and builds on previous stages of development in a continuous process of becoming. Was Hegel’s comprehensive philosophy an attempt to make meaning and cope with persistent periods of depression, anxiety and feelings of helplessness that were constant companions throughout his life? This paper will attempt to understand the convergent influences in Hegel’s life and work through the work of Donald Winnicott’s facilitating environment and Andre Green’s the “dead mother”.

Short bio:

Padmavathy Desai is a psychoanalyst and psychoanalytic psychotherapist practicing in New York, N.Y. She is a graduate from the Object Relations Institute for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in New York, a member of the American Psychoanalytical Association (APsA), member of the Psychotherapist Associates Committee and the Editor of the Psychotherapist Associates E-Newsletter and a member of the International Psychohistory Association (IPha).