From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Geist is a German word. Depending on context it can be translated as the English words mind, spirit, or ghost, covering the semantic field of these three English nouns. Some English translators resort to using "spirit/mind" or "spirit (mind)" to help convey the meaning of the term.

Geist is a central concept in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes).


Etymology and translation

Edmund Spenser's usage of the English-language word 'ghost', in his 1590 The Faerie Queene, demonstrates the former, broader meaning of the English-language term. In this context, the term describes the sleeping mind of a living person, rather than a ghost, or spirit of the dead. The word Geist is etymologically identical to the English ghost (from a Common Germanic *gaistaz) but has retained its full range of meanings, while some applications of the English word ghost had become obsolete by the 17th century, replaced with the Latinate spirit. For this reason, English-language translators of the term Geist from the German language face some difficulty in rendering the term, and often disagree as to the best translation in a given context.

Analogous terms in other languages include the Ancient Greek word πνεῦμα (pneuma), the Latin animus and anima, the French esprit, and the Chinese medical 神 shen.


Geist is a central concept in Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes). According to Hegel, the Weltgeist ("World Spirit") is not an actual thing one might come upon or a God-like thing beyond, but a means of philosophizing about history. Weltgeist is effected in history through the mediation of various Volksgeister ("Folk Spirits"), the great men of history, such as Napoleon, are the "concrete universal".

This has led some to claim that Hegel favored the great man theory, although his philosophy of history, in particular concerning the role of the "universal state" (Universal Stand, which means as well "order" or "statute" than "state"), and of an "End of History" is much more complex.

For Hegel, the great hero is unwittingly utilized by Geist or Absolute Spirit, by a "ruse of Reason" as Hegel puts it, and is irrelevant to history once his historic mission is accomplished; he is thus submitted to the teleological principle of history, a principle which allows Hegel to re-read all the history of philosophy as culminating in his philosophy of history.

Weltgeist, the world spirit concept, designates an idealistic principle of world explanation, which can be found from the beginnings of philosophy up to more recent time. The concept of world spirit was already accepted by the idealistic schools of ancient Indian philosophy, whereby one explained objective reality as its product. (See metaphysical objectivism) In the early philosophy of Greek antiquity, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all paid homage, amongst other things, to the concept of world spirit. Hegel later based his philosophy of history on it.


Geist is a component of several German loanwords such as Zeitgeist, the spirit of the time or collective unconscious, and poltergeist, the mischievous ghosts that are believed to make noises.

In Christian theology, the term Heiliger Geist (heilig = holy) is the German translation of Holy Spirit; in Catholic and Lutheran liturgies is also the equivalent to "spirit" (lat. spiritus) in the liturgical greeting (And with thy spirit/Et cum spiritu tuo -> Und mit deinem Geist[e]).

Geisteskrank is a German word literally meaning "of an ill mind" and is sometimes used to describe someone suffering from mental illness. In professional psycho-scientific language, however, the term is obsolete nowadays.

Geistlos means 'mindless' or 'without spirit'.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Geist" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools