“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of Right
The owl of Minerva is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. Hegel’s argument is that philosophy and its accompanying wisdom can only be formed in hindsight, that material and historical conditions cannot be truly understood until they fade away. The assumptions, rules, and limitations of any given era are can only be made clear in terms of philosophy after the era has ended. The “inescapable lesson” is that philosophy is not prescriptive, as much as we would like it to be so.
The entire quote is below:
“One word more about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it. As the thought of the world, it appears only when actuality is already there cut and dried after its process of formation has been completed. The teaching of the concept, which is also history’s inescapable lesson, is that it is only when actuality is mature that the ideal first appears over against the real and that the ideal apprehends this same real world in its substance and builds it up for itself into the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.”
(And if you want to really chew on this idea until your head explodes, halfway down the page at this link is a good place to start…)