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In 18th- and 19th-century German philosophy, a zeitgeist[1] (capitalized in German; German pronunciation: [ˈtsaɪtɡaɪst] ) ("spirit of the age") is an invisible agent, force, or daemon dominating the characteristics of a given epoch in world history.[2] The term is usually associated with Georg W. F. Hegel, contrasting with Hegel's use of Volksgeist "national spirit" and Weltgeist "world-spirit". Its coinage and popularization precede Hegel, and are mostly due to Herder and Goethe.[3] Other philosophers who were associated with such concepts include Spencer[year needed] and Voltaire.[year needed][4] Contemporary use of the term sometimes, more colloquially, refers to a schema of fashions or fads that prescribes what is considered to be acceptable or tasteful for an era: e.g., in the field of architecture.[4]

Theory of leadership[edit]

Hegel in Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807) uses both Weltgeist and Volksgeist, but prefers the phrase Geist der Zeiten "spirit of the times" over the compound Zeitgeist.[5]

The Hegelian concept is in contrast to the Great Man theory propounded by Thomas Carlyle, which sees history as the result of the actions of heroes and geniuses. Contradistinct Hegel perceived such "great men", specifically Napoleon, as the "embodiment of the world-spirit" (Die Weltseele zu Pferde "the world-soul on horseback"[6]).[7] Carlyle stresses that leaders do not become leaders by fate or accident. Instead, these individuals possess characteristics of great leaders and these characteristics allow them to obtain positions of power.

According to Hegel biographer D. R. Forsyth, Leo Tolstoy disagreed with Carlyle's perspective, instead believing that leadership, like other things, was a product of the "zeitgeist",[year needed][page needed] the social circumstances at the time.[7]

Great Man theory and zeitgeist theory may be included in two main areas of thought in psychology.[7] For instance, Great Man theory is very similar to the trait approach. Trait researchers are interested in identifying the various personality traits that underline human behaviors such as conformity, leadership, or other social behaviors. Thus, they agree that leadership is primarily a quality of an individual and that some people are pre-dispositioned to be a leader whereas others are born to follow these leaders. In contrast, situationist researchers believe that social behavior is a product of society. That is, social influence is what determines human behaviors. Therefore, situationism is of the same opinion as zeitgeist theory—leaders are created from the social environment and are molded from the situation. The concept of zeitgeist also relates to the sociological tradition that stems from Émile Durkheim and recently developed into social capital theory as exemplified by the work of Patrick Hunout.

These two perspectives have been combined to create what is known as the interactional approach to leadership.[7] This approach asserts that leadership is developed through the mixing of personality traits and the situation. Further, this approach was expressed by social psychologist Kurt Lewin by the equation B = f(P, E) where behavior (B) is a function (f) of the person (P) and the environment (E).

In self-help and business models[edit]

Executives, venture capitalists, journalists, and authors have argued that the idea of a zeitgeist is useful in understanding the emergence of industries, simultaneous invention, and evaluating the relative value of innovations. Malcolm Gladwell argued in his book, Outliers, that entrepreneurs who succeeded often share similar characteristics—early personal or significant exposure to knowledge and skills in the early stages of a nascent industry. He proposed that the timing of involvement in an industry, and often in sports as well, affected the probability of success. In Silicon Valley, a number of people (Peter Thiel, Alistair Davidson, Mac Levchin, Nicholas G. Carr, Vinod Khosla[8]) have argued that much innovation has been shaped by easy access to the Internet, open source software, component technologies for both hardware and software (e.g., software libraries, software as a service), and the ability to reach narrow markets across a global market. Peter Thiel has commented: "There is so much incrementalism now."[9]

In a zeitgeist market, the number of new entrants is high, differentiation in high-value products (the strongest predictor of new product success) is more difficult to achieve, and business models emphasizing service and solution over product and process, will enhance success. Examples include innovation in product experience, legal rights and bundling, privacy rights, and agency (where businesses act on behalf of customers).[10][11][12][13]

Aesthetic fashion[edit]

Hegel believed that art reflected, by its very nature, the culture of the time in which it is created. Culture and art are inextricable because an individual artist is a product of his or her time, so brings that culture to any given work of art. Furthermore, he believed that in the modern world, producing classical art, which he believed represented a "free and ethical culture", is impossible and depended more on the philosophy of art and theory of art, rather than a reflection of the social construct, or zeitgeist in which a given artist lives.[14]

This use of zeitgeist is taken in the sense of intellectual or aesthetic fashion or fad. Research from empirical aesthetics investigated the relation between zeitgeist as temporal context and the evaluation of creative works. In a study of the musical originality of 15,618 classical music themes, the importance of objective characteristics and zeitgeist for popularity was examined. Both the musical originality of a theme relative to its contemporary works (the zeitgeist), as well as its "absolute" originality influenced in similar magnitude the popularity of a theme.[15] Similarly, objective features and temporal context both influenced the evaluation of linguistic originality.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "zeitgeist noun - Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes - Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary at OxfordLearnersDictionaries.com". www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  2. ^ Theo Jung: "Zeitgeist im langen 18. Jahrhundert. Dimensionen eines umstrittenen Begriffs", in: Achim Landwehr (ed.): Frühe Neue Zeiten. Zeitwissen zwischen Reformation und Revolution, Bielefeld 2012, 319-355; idem: "The Politics of Time: Zeitgeist in Early Nineteenth-Century Political Discourse", in: Contributions to the History of Concepts 9, Nr. 1 (2014), 24-49.
  3. ^ Zeitgeist "spirit of the epoch" and Nationalgeist "spirit of a nation" in L. Meister, Eine kurze Geschichte der Menschenrechte (1789). der frivole Welt- und Zeitgeist ("the frivolous spirit of the world and the time") in Lavater, Handbibliothek für Freunde 5 (1791), p. 57. Zeitgeist is popularized by Herder and Goethe. Zeitgeist in Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch.
  4. ^ a b Eero Saarinen (2006), Shaping the Future, Yale University Press, p. 15, ISBN 978-0-972-48812-9
  5. ^ c.f. use of the phrase der Geist seiner Zeit ("the spirit of his time") in Lectures on the Philosophy of History, for example, "no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit." Glenn Alexander Magee (2010), "Zeitgeist (p. 262)", The Hegel Dictionary, London: A & C Black, ISBN 978-1-847-06591-9
  6. ^ Hegel, letter of 13 October 1806 to F. I. Niethammer, no. 74 (p. 119) in Briefe von und an Hegel ed. Hoffmeister, vol. 1 (1970). See also H. Schnädelbach in Wolfgang Welsch, Klaus Vieweg (eds.), Das Interesse des Denkens: Hegel aus heutiger Sicht, Wilhelm Fink Verlag (2003), p. 223, T. Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography, (2000), p. 228.
  7. ^ a b c d Forsyth, D. R. (2009). Group dynamics: New York: Wadsworth. [Chapter 9]
  8. ^ "Silicon Valley's Trouble with Innovation". MIT Technology Review.
  9. ^ "Peter Thiel". Bloomberg.[full citation needed]
  10. ^ Myhrvold, Conor (19 June 2012). "Max Levchin". MIT Technology Review. Archived from the original on 20 January 2013.
  11. ^ Nicholas Carr (6 July 2012). "Why Modern Innovation Traffics in Trifles - WSJ". WSJ.
  12. ^ Vinod Khosla (13 July 2012). "Vinod Khosla: Maintain the Silicon Valley Vision". The New York Times.
  13. ^ "The Book - Innovation Zeitgeist". eclicktick.com. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015.
  14. ^ Hendrix, John Shannon. Aesthetics & The Philosophy Of Spirit. New York: Peter Lang. (2005). 4, 11.
  15. ^ Simonton, Dean K. (1980). "Thematic fame, melodic originality, and musical zeitgeist: A biographical and transhistorical content analysis". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 38 (6): 972–983. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.38.6.972. ISSN 0022-3514.
  16. ^ Form, Sven (2018-01-30). "Reaching Wuthering Heights with Brave New Words: The Influence of Originality of Words on the Success of Outstanding Best-Sellers". The Journal of Creative Behavior. 53 (4): 508–518. doi:10.1002/jocb.230. ISSN 0022-0175.

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