Term of Art: Zeitgeist

“Zeitgeist: The characteristic spirit (Geist) of a historical era (Zeit). Eighteenth-century philosophers like Voltaire were intrigued by the idea of ‘the spirit of the age,’ but it was most fully developed by Hegel. Philosophies and works of art, he argued, cannot transcend the spirit or the age in which they are produced. Their expression is always symbolic and imperfect, and the progress of the human spirit is marked by the greater or lesser degree to which it captures the absolute spirit, or truth itself, beyond the limitations of any particular era. The term Zeitgeist has come to be used more loosely to describe the general cultural qualities of any period, such as ‘the sixties’ or ‘the romantic era,’ and does not carry the strong historicist connotations of Hegelian philosophy.”

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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