Bildung ("education, formation, etc.") refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation (as related to the German for: creation, image, shape), wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation. This maturation is described as a harmonization of the individual's mind and heart and in a unification of selfhood and identity within the broader society, as evidenced with the literary tradition of Bildungsroman.

In this sense, the process of harmonization of mind, heart, selfhood and identity is achieved through personal transformation, which presents a challenge to the individual's accepted beliefs. In Hegel's (1) writings, the challenge of personal growth often involves an agonizing alienation from one's "natural consciousness" that leads to a reunification and development of the self. Similarly, although social unity requires well-formed institutions, it also requires a diversity of individuals with the freedom (in the positive sense of the term) to develop a wide-variety of talents and abilities and this requires personal agency. However, rather than an end state, both individual and social unification is a process that is driven by unrelenting negations. In this sense, education involves the shaping of the human being with regard to their own humanity as well as their innate intellectual skills. So, the term refers to a process of becoming that can be related to a process of becoming within existentialism.

The term Bildung also corresponds to the Humboldtian model of higher education from the work of Prussian philosopher and educational administrator Wilhelm von Humboldt (2). Thus, in this context, the concept of education becomes a lifelong process of human development, rather than mere training in gaining certain external knowledge or skills. Such training in skills is known by the German words Erziehung, and AusbildungBildung in contrast is seen as a process wherein an individual's spiritual and cultural sensibilities as well as life, personal and social skills are in process of continual expansion and growth. Bildung is seen as a way to become more free due to higher self-reflection. Von Humboldt wrote with respect to Bildung in 1793/1794:

"Education [Bildung], truth and virtue" must be disseminated to such an extent that the "concept of mankind" takes on a great and dignified form in each individual (GS, I, p. 284). However, this shall be achieved personally by each individual, who must "absorb the great mass of material offered to him by the world around him and by his inner existence, using all the possibilities of his receptiveness; he must then reshape that material with all the energies of his own activity and appropriate it to himself so as to create an interaction between his own personality and nature in a most general, active and harmonious form".

Most explicitly in Hegel's writings, the Bildung tradition rejects the pre-Kantian metaphysics of being for a post-Kantian metaphysics of experience that rejects universal narratives. Much of Hegel's writings were about the nature of education (both Bildung and Erziehung), reflecting his own role as a teacher and administrator in German secondary schools, and in his more general writings.

(1) The idea that Bildung is central to Hegel’s account of the unending, historical development of individual human subjects and of humanity at large is widely recognized. However, there is no agreement about the exact meaning in which Hegel uses the term, nor about its systematic significance within his philosophy. This chapter outlines the basic connotations of Bildung, how Hegel conceptualizes it, and discusses the role this concept plays in his philosophy. It shows that in Hegel’s philosophical systematic, Bildung is conceptualized as a fundamental, social-historical project of the spirit’s self-cultivation, a path toward rational autonomy and actively attained freedom from natural immediacy of life, a path, which unfolds through contradiction, difference, dialectic of alienation, and intersubjective interactions within the social realm, and on the plain of cultural history. In this sense, Bildung, which is prominent throughout all of Hegel’s work – from the Phenomenology to Philosophy of Right and to the Lectures on the World History – provides important insights into his humanistic philosophy and is instrumental to understanding of his philosophical project (Springer Link, the Palgrave Hegel Handbook, Hegel's philosophy of Bildung).

(2) Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859) was a German polymath, geographer, naturalist, explorer, and proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. He was the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher, and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). Humboldt's quantitative work on botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography. Humboldt's advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring. Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt travelled extensively in the Americas, exploring and describing them for the first time from a modern scientific point of view. His description of the journey was written up and published in several volumes over 21 years. Humboldt was one of the first people to propose that the lands bordering the Atlantic Ocean were once joined (South America and Africa in particular). Humboldt resurrected the use of the word cosmos from the ancient Greek and assigned it to his multivolume treatise, Kosmos, in which he sought to unify diverse branches of scientific knowledge and culture. This important work also motivated a holistic perception of the universe as one interacting entity. He was the first person to describe the phenomenon and cause of human-induced climate change, in 1800 and again in 1831, based on observations generated during his travels.