This manual is designed to render a neglected classic in ethics
accessible for classroom use. The
Philosophy of Right is the text Hegel created for his course at the
University of Berlin in 1821. In
German it has a double title: Natural Law and Political Science in Outline
and Elements of the Philosophy of Right.
The text, in the translation of T. M. Knox (Oxford University Press,
1952), has much to offer students today. It
is unused in most courses in ethics, however, because the student finds that,
despite its flights of intelligibility and rhetorical momentum, it remains
embedded in turgid conceptual vocabulary developed in Hegel's other systematic
works. Even the explanatory notes
provided within the text and those added later ("Additions") based
upon notes taken in Hegel's lectures often fail to alleviate the beginner's
Faced with a great but partly unintelligible text, many flatly refuse to
embark upon the work. Others skim
for the nuggets of readily accessible insight.
A few undertake in full detail Hegel's haunting project--to unfold the logic
according to which the nuggets are not merely happy noticings but, most of all,
moments in an ordered system. We
should mention the ideal of a commentary, not aimed at here, implicit in a
remark of H. S. Harris, who once characterized a book on Hegel as having culled
the obvious things and having clarified none of the difficult things in the
There has been a pervasive ambivalence toward Hegel.
His writing has been so impressive that many a philosopher has been both
perennially frustrated by Hegel's philosophic inadequacies and perennially
intrigued with the prospect of valuable new discoveries that await one's
continued attention to Hegel. How
many philosophers have labored through the stage of regarding him as master or
as enemy (or both: master because he is enemy, enemy because he is master)!
To lay this ghost aright will be to begin to understand and evolve beyond
social systems as they are actualized in our modern, secular age.
Hegel even in some respects points beyond ethical institutions as they
have evolved today. We have begun
to realize that the revolutionary conjunction of idealism and violence is not
the pattern of progress. To evolve
a better way includes rethinking--and to rethink Hegel is to rethink the tangled
system of historical tradition which is largely still our own.
The philosophy of right finds its place in the broad circle of Hegel's
articulation of the system of reality, presented in his Encyclopedia (The
Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, whose final version was done in
1830). In order to get part of the
context for the philosophy of right, it is helpful to review the sections from
the Encyclopedia, specifically from the third part, the Philosophy of
Mind. This part is presented in
three sections--"subjective mind" dealing with psychology, including
feelings and drives and inclinations; "objective mind" dealing with
the matter unfolded in the Philosophy of Right; and "absolute
mind," dealing with art, religion, and philosophy as ultimate realizations
of all-encompassing mind.
It will be useful to pick up the narrative of the Encyclopedia at
the point where will is first introduced (#468).
There are many kinds of mental activity; one standard distinction is
between theoretical and practical intelligence. We break into the narrative right at the transition between
these two functions. Mind is
functioning as intelligence--using categories (or general terms) to explain what
it is thinking about--its contents. Thus
mind is subjectively determining its contents for itself. The point is not that any old category will do equally
well--that is not the notion of "subjectivity" Hegel has in mind.
The point is that mind makes these determinations for itself.
In this sense it is free; i.e., its determining activity is not something
done as a service to any principle outside itself.
When mind realizes that it is doing this, that its contents are its own
property which it possesses by its application of categories, it realizes itself
as will. Hegel is not inviting
cynicism along the lines that personal interests always do (or should lucidly be
allowed to) dominate our way of construing our experience (thus there would be
no truth of any situation in the light of which we could criticize particular
interpretations); the possibility of interest determining what is to count as
knowledge, however, is clear from this paragraph. Hegel is saying that there is an intrinsic freedom, indeed, a
will in play as soon as the mind begins to regard its own domain--the contents
of thought--as a realm in which it exercises determination (and hence, we may
add, the potential for responsible creativity).
The realm of practical mind is the realm in which mind determines itself
and achieves its own fulfillment in reality.
The leading thought of Hegel's philosophy is that neither the natural nor
the social realm is an uncoordinated heap of particular, material facts, without
any interconnections or intelligibility. Rather,
as understanding progresses, the "logic" in each of these realms is
gradually disclosed; insights are gained. Sometimes
we can put these insights into the language of mathematical formulas; sometimes
we need other ways of language. To
find intelligibility is to find the meaning in the facts, the concept inherent
in the phenomena. To find the
concept inherent in the phenomena is to become aware of mind implicit in the
phenomena. This does not mean that
each phenomenon is conscious (or implicitly conscious).
It does mean that intelligibility is the kin of mind itself--and mind
embraces both of these kin. Mind
goes forth to understand, to find the concept in the phenomena, to find itself
in the phenomena. In the social
sphere, mind's effort to find itself is especially rewarded, in that the objects
of study are persons (minded individuals) and their social structures (the
product of mind operating more or less consciously).
One good place to begin The Philosophy of Right is with the
table of contents. Look first
at the Third Part: family, (civil) society, and the state.
If we keep in mind Hegel's thought that in these modern institutions
rational free will finds its fulfillment, then we will have a better grasp of
the long development that is designed to explain the conceptual development of
The first two parts are subordinate aspects or moments of the social and
political totality. What is the
first part, Abstract Right, doing? The
discussion of abstract right occupies the logical place assigned to it in Kant's
doctrine of right. Striving for
internal moral rectitude presupposes an external order in which basic rights,
such as the security of the person, are guaranteed.
In Hegel, Abstract Right is the skeletal system of legal ideas, generated
by the concept of will functioning "immediately," i.e., regarding
external things. "Abstract"
is from the Latin which means to draw away from; here it means "taken out
of context." The ethical context is the set of nested institutions that
comprise the mature state. In this
sense of "abstract," morality, too, is abstract.
Part Two, Morality, considers concepts about what ought to be.
Moral thinking, for example, with the categorical imperative, conceives
of persons without any necessary regard for their institutional context, e.g.,
spouse, employee, citizen.
Part Three, Ethical Life, presents the logic of the family, society, the
state, and world history. Duty
becomes concrete, and the individual becomes fulfilled in his freedom by
participating in these institutions.
A note on language: I will use the terms "man" and
"he," etc. following Hegel's usage because the gender implications of
these terms fits the Hegelian understanding of the sexes and their role in the
family, economy, and state.
The Preface trumpets Hegel's most ambitious claims for philosophy.
The Philosophy of Right is to be is a textbook which covers in a
rigorous ("scientific") way a closed circle of thoughts which have
been familiar and accepted for a long time.
What distinguishes this book is that it shows the inner connection of
these thoughts, following a philosophic method, which does not ape the rigor of
quasi-mathematical deduction, but rather illustrates the method set out in the Science
of Logic. The rigorous form of
this exposition is rooted in the content itself; it is not enough energetically
to proclaim the edifying truths of religion and the heart.
Truth may be realized in a certain way in social life both in practice
and in intuition--but it still needs to be comprehended in thought.
It will not do to begin with what one assumes (without demonstration) to
be universally accepted and to make deductions from that.
The freedom of thought is betrayed if it merely offers opinions or, in
the name of creativity, diverges from what is universally recognized and valid.
Such false freedom in "thinking" has brought philosophy a
terrible reputation for being capricious and easy, and it betrays the truth that
we find our satisfaction in the state. A
romantic, religious, "intuitive," emotional, and anti-intellectual
approach to political understanding ought to mature to the recognition of the
objective principles of law and right. Some
err in clinging to private feeling and "vitality" and scorning duty
and law, the rational form of right. Philosophy
is better exercised as public responsibility than as private art.
To present the foundations of politics as so many subjective aims and
opinions invites the ruin of the inner ethical life, of love and relations
between persons outside the public sphere, and of law and the state as well.
Even though governments are beginning to accord more importance to the
work of philosophers [1821!], philosophy is attacked from many sides, especially
from those who regard the knowledge of truth as "a wild goose-chase,"
reducing all thoughts--those of criminals or judges--to the same level.
It is good and actually inevitable that superficial philosophy, developed
in seclusion, has now come into open clash with public realities.
Philosophy is essentially political, as we can see from the case of
Plato, whose Republic was an account of Greek ethical life in rational
terms (whence the apparent utopia); and he put his finger on the crucial issue
of his time, even though he suppressed the revolutionary truth that was
beginning to break through: "free infinite personality."
"What is rational is actual and what is actual is rational."
What is really rational and what is really actual are the same.
Philosophy's exploration is to uncover this conceptual reality in its
diverse appearances; philosophy is unsuited to giving detailed recommendations
about practical matters, though it does not disdain them.
"Philosophy . . . is its own time apprehended in thoughts."
It is an account of the reality of what has come to be; it cannot remove
itself from its own time; it should not construct a (necessarily empty) ideal of
what ought to be. So the
philosophical form of the exposition in this text follows the rationality of the
content, ethical structures themselves--hence we have a reconciliation between
knowledge and the world. Philosophy
as a reflection on experience can always only follow, not anticipate, the
essential developments of actuality. (Recall
that the owl of Minerva was the symbol of wisdom:) "The owl of Minerva
spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk."
This preface, not being itself developed in a rigorous way, is no
substitute for a truly philosophic account; and any criticisms which are not so
developed are to be discounted.
The Introduction characterizes will, describes some forms of immature
willing that might be termed "false freedom," and anticipates the
fulfillment of freedom in the social and political institutions of the modern
The first four paragraphs characterize the enterprise of this book in the
broadest terms: a philosophical treatment (#2) of that part of the life of the
mind, the will (#4), whose concept of right is actualized (#1) in the legal
systems of particular nation states (#3).
Let us look at these opening paragraphs more closely.
We will not merely study a concept or theory of the right, but "the
concept together with its actualization"; the two together form the
"Idea" of Right (Hegel's technical term).(#1)
A concept here, a concept there, unconnected--can a mature philosophy can
be content with an apparently arbitrary gathering? Rather, there is a connection between concepts.
The connection can be traced. A
conceptual narrative can be told. It
is possible to move from simpler to more advanced and complete concepts.(#2)
A couple of extended comments are relevant here.
Hegel's method is always to begin with the most elementary
"thin" concepts, devoid of rich, mature significance and to draw out
the implications of these one-sided concepts to show how they lead to the
downfall of their own initially apparent self-sufficiency and stability.
At the close of each conceptual suicide, it is possible to exit the
rubble by advancing to a higher conceptual level.
Moreover, each concept is part of the whole; it is not to be discarded
into some cosmic garbage can, but rather reinserted in its rightful place in the
eventually understood totality. Concepts
form a coherent system, which cannot be exhibited all at once; therefore, the
conceptual narrative is needed. Such
a narrative is all the more appropriate since so much of modern
"thought" is attached to the illusions that the dialectical process of
Hegel's critical unfolding lays to rest.
We may think of Hegel's text as a story of a path through conceptual
terrain. Sometimes the path
is steep and difficult. Sometimes
Hegel moves off the main path momentarily and returns to it.
Sometimes he doubles back and rehearses part of the path again.
Sometimes the switchbacks are such that one can realize that the present
stretch of the path is analogous to a stretch traversed earlier on a lower
level. There are repeated views of
the Alpine meadow of fulfillment: the mature state, its role in world history,
and its component institutions. There
are also repeated lookout posts where we review segments of our journey thus
far. Sometimes, after ascending a
certain distance, we descend to take up further adventure along a lower level.
Philosophic adequacy, not "height," is the criterion governing
our sequence of topics. Keep in
mind that although it is much easier to understand the earlier steps of the
conceptual journey in terms of their goal in mature institutions, Hegel insists
that philosophy does not operate by presupposing these institutions as
goals to be appreciated and accounted for; rather he proposes to show strictly
that the concept of the will develops, with logical necessity, into these forms
Now to resume the summary. Positive
law is that law which is enacted by a particular governing body, as opposed to
law in the sense of general principles which are supposed to underlie positive
law. The general principles of law
have their own rationality; positive law has is the result, not only of
considerations of principle, but also of diverse historical forces operating at
the time. It is important to keep
the study of the logic of law free from the e.g., considerations of struggle for
economic and political power, etc. that may play a role in positive law.
It is also important to realize that philosophy cannot be expected to
provide deductions that adapt principles to particular situations (#3).
The general preparation for the detailed discussion of will culminates
with the thought that Right is an affair of mind, specifically of the will (See Enc
468ff). Will becomes conscious as
mind recognizes its freedom (in determining its own contents by its own
concepts, or, put less subjectivistically, in finding its own concepts inherent
in what it thinks about) (#4).
Next we have three paragraphs that set forth a pattern of complementary
onesidedness and fulfillment in willing.
Paragraph #5 presents the side that, on the one hand, the will is
indeterminate--without inherent determinations, predicates, characteristics. To speak of the will which "returns to itself"
presupposes a previous engagement of will in some impulse or purpose.
Example: You are feeling awful about yourself because of a professor's
humiliating criticism; your friend reminds you that you are not just that
failure or that injustice. Or you
have workaholic tendencies, and your friend reminds you that your basic identity
is not riding on your performance in this course.
You see the point. You
realize, "I'm me, not this course."
Or consider Gandhi, going on a fast, perhaps unto death, to protest
oppressive policies. He showed that
the will can say no to anything, any external pressure, any internal motivation.
If you can't say no, you don't have a choice.
If you don't have a choice, you're not free.
This capacity for negation can be put into practice in extreme and
destructive ways. Hegel speaks
about "infinite" negativity and "universality" of the will
because it can negate anything and everything.
Paragraph #6 presents the complementary side that the will also has the
capacity to choose a particular, determinate action ("determinate"
means "having specific characteristics").
You drive to Cleveland; you buy a hamburger. If you can't achieve decision-action, you're not free either.
Paragraph #7 calls for the union of these two sides.
Often these two sides of the will fall apart; they are not integrated in
a single action. (I'm especially
conscious of interpreting here, of saying more than Hegel says in order to get
at what I take to be his thought.) For
example, often we just muddle through, we plump or this, we opt for that, we
paddle through the habitual waters of our days, without a radical exercise of
our freedom. We do not gather
ourselves, mobilize our resources as free agents, and invest our freedom in our
decisions. Lacking resoluteness, we
obscure to ourselves the truth of our negative capacity of freedom as we
sheepishly follow along the way of inclination. But this paragraph points beyond onesided rebellion and
thoughtless opting to an integrated function of will. There is a sense of autonomy here, (which is not bound up, as
for Kant, with moral rationality): there is self-determination--I
invest my freedom in this.
Both these capacities, the inner negativity and the outer positivity,
must be preserved and conjoined in order for freedom to be realized.
Dostoevski's Notes from Underground illustrates this problem and
its solution. The underground man
lives in an abyss of negativity, so able to criticize the premisses for any
conclusion or decision, that he is incapable of decision-action.
He rails against the naivete of the "direct man," who plunks
down his sturdy deeds without any awareness of freedom whatsoever.
Liza, however, shows the way of resolution.
She is not naive, knowing evil; but she can act--to bring her love and to
depart when she is abused.
There are different ways in which will may make a particular commitment
(#8); one of these ways concerns external things; I realize my purpose by
dealing with external things. The
will acquires content (determinations of itself, qualities) through its
purposes, whether they are objectively realized or not (#9).
Example: acquiring a house (an external thing) I acquire
"content"; I am not merely myself (the "I=I" of #6), I am a
homeowner. Development is
Paragraphs 10-18 describe false freedom, the immature will,
choosing arbitrarily among its desires. The
will at this stage operates on the level of "immediacy"; immediacy is
complacent satisfaction with intuitive grasp of things, meanings, or values.
The will in its immediacy relates to objects of consciousness without
being aware of their institutional context (#10).
Example: I may go forth to satisfy a sexual interest in sex, or I may buy
a hamburger, or I may drive to Cleveland. But
I do not appreciate my partner in the context of the institution of marriage; I
do not think of the economic relations that are involved in my buying the
hamburger; I do not experience driving as a citizen on the road with other free
citizens, whose political will is reflected in the laws I obey, etc.
At the lower levels, the freedom of the will is not realized by the
At a less philosophically mature stage, will gets its ends (goals,
objectives) from immediate impulses, desires, inclinations.
It seems determined by these "givens," and its true character
as freedom is hidden from itself. There
does not seem to be any underlying reason behind these diverse desires (#11).
Think of the person who can't make up her mind.
Prior to decision, she has a multiplicity of desires, each of which is
oriented to an indefinite number of objects (#12).
In decision, the will resolves the competition and establish itself as an
individual. Once an individual
establishes himself or herself by a decision, the individual becomes separate
from every other will; competition and conflict is possible, mutual respect is
possible, cooperation is possible--but individuals are distinct and separate
There is no integration at this level between will and what it resolves
upon (#14). It chooses . . .
. . . arbitrarily; some people mistake this non-rational
manifestation for true freedom; it could rather be called false freedom (#15).
Each choice, of course, is limited, and will can uproot any decision,
reverse any commitment (#16).
The will subordinates and sacrifices some desires to others to resolve
conflicts between impulses--in order to maximize happiness or according to some
other (equally arbitrary) criterion (#17).
Human nature encompasses these drives, desires, and inclinations which
provide content to the will. They
may be equally be regarded as inherent and thus good or as in opposition to the
will and hence needing to be uprooted, as evil (#18). Life at the level of false freedom spawns a certain kind of
relativism," the view that philosophical commitments are
"relative" to the individual in such a way that rational adjudication
of differences between them is impossible.
When ideas are consigned to such a status, arbitrariness has (for the
moment) overcome the true as well as the good.
The next two paragraphs leads to a vision of the meadow of maturity--the
Idea of right. The medieval
(especially monastic) enterprise of purification of desire (as actually or
potentially evil) is fulfilled not in some ascetic transcendence, but in the
modern light of intelligence which discloses the implicit rationality in the
Education should teach us how better to gratify our desires.
What education offers are general teachings, "universal"
propositions. They concern the
process of reflecting on, comparing, and weighing groups of satisfactions (#20).
Here comes a vision of the meadow. The
universals that education offers do not have the "concrete
universality" of the Idea (the concept of freedom actualized in the
institutions of a mature state (#21). The
will is actual, and its object is not some external object (obstacle) but itself
(its own inner life as comprehended) (#22).
The will now does not depend on anything outside of itself and is
therefore free (#23). What is at
work in the individual will is the Idea, which may be called "the concrete
universal," because it is all-encompassing (#24).
This implies that even in the most immature moments of will, the Idea is
at work, as the totality which is working itself out, coming to
self-realization, through the process of what is partial (all are lost as
separate individuals; all are saved in the whole).
Hegel next explains what meanings he will attach to the terms
"subjective" and "objective" when discussing the will. The first meaning of "subjective" derives from the
sense operative when we say each person is a subject, i.e., each person is
conscious. In an experience of
consciousness, the subject relates to an object. Note that "subjective" does not mean mistaken, and
"objective" does not mean true; both sides, insofar as they are
conceived in isolation from the other are incomplete and in this sense false.
Now for Hegel, our subjective experience of willing, generally in
one-sided ignorance of larger truth, has three features: the individual has (1)
"self-certainty" (not the same as truth)--the intuitive conviction of
being a willing self (without a sense of any necessary involvement with others,
with nature, or with institutions), (2) the sense of exercising arbitrary choice
regarding various goals that the individual happens to entertain, and (3) the
tendency to regard the individual's purposes as merely personal and as longing
for fulfillment (#25). When we say
that the will is objective, we may mean that it is self-determining, or
that it is true to its concept. Moreover,
the will also can only exist within the objective situation of the individual's
particular limitations; finally, will can see itself objectively realized when
its goals are accomplished (#26).
Again, freedom drives toward self-realization when it has itself as its
object: relating to things and persons in terms of the ethical institutions
evolved by rational will (#27). The
process of overcoming the alienation between subjective and objective will
develops a systematized, substantive, independent whole, (#28) to actually exist
as right, as the Idea (#29). Much
traditional philosophy of law, including Kant's, speaks of restrictions
on individual liberty so that each person may have equal liberty; but this
approach errs in assuming that will is basically private self-will to which
external constraints must be applied! This
philosophy aims to transcend that standpoint.
Right, therefore, is inherent in mind (and hence is); at the same
time, right indicates what ought to be.
The concept of right is a product of the freedom of mind. And the freedom is what ought to be actualized.
This is the bond and the creative tension between what is and what ought
to be that drives the unfolding of the various moments that Hegel will narrate.
The philosophy of right narrates the drama of the actualization of
freedom (a logical, not, primarily, an historical narrative).
In the concrete actualization of freedom, mind produces the institutions
of freedom as a second nature--like itself, derived from itself.
The term "second nature" also connotes that the institutions of
freedom's self-actualization have an objectivity comparable to the objectivity
There are levels of actualization of will: the formal or abstract rights
of personality, moral self-determination, and the familial, economic, and
political spheres, and, ultimately, the "world-mind" (Hegel's God, not
equivalent to humankind as a whole, but not a transcendent Deity either).
Correspondingly there are higher and lower levels of rights.
They can clash only because they are all rights of the will.
But only one level is absolutely overriding--the level of world-mind
Philosophical method, for Hegel, does not presuppose that freedom
is fulfilled in the institutions of the mature state: that must be shown. Nor will this be "applied philosophy" in the sense
that previously developed abstractions (i.e., those of the Science of Logic)
are merely being applied to some foreign material (#31).
What emerges in logical exposition is a series of concepts--and at the
same time a series of experiences (#32). The
stages which we will see unfolding are, first the right of the individual
abstracted from every ethical context--the right of personality, abstract right;
next the level of the individual's (subjective) moral conception of the
good, which faces the world without regard for the actualization of right in
ethical institutions; finally, the ethical realm in which the will has
objective realization while preserving its subjective freedom--in family, civil
society, and the state (in its national, international, and world-historical
life). Note that these divisions
are not drawn from historical sources but will be shown to be conceptually
Comment. Every modern
ethical philosophy labors to interpret the key relation between what is and what
ought to be. Most ethical
philosophies since David Hume have avoided trying to derive value conclusions
simply from factual premises; they have realized that in order to derive
conclusions about what ought to be the case, it is necessary to begin with some
premise about value (or obligation). Hegel
differs from Aquinas in this respect. For
Aquinas the will is inherently directed (though it may err) toward its
good. This fact about human nature
records a value orientation in human nature itself.
Hegel's concept of the will has no such inherent value orientation.
His concept of the will is involved with negating and affirming and in
finding full actualization. Aquinas's
doctrine of the will could become richly concrete as specific goods are
furnished to the will by our God-given natural tendencies.
For Hegel's radical, modern position, the only value inherent in will is
the drive to actualize freedom. It
is on this thin basis that he proposes to derive norms pertaining to law,
morality, and the institutions of ethical life.
Hegel's concept of proof requires him not to begin by directly positing a
substantive concept of right--this would be the way of dogmatic, traditional
philosophy. Rather, he must begin
with the emptiest form of willing and show that it develops
"necessarily" into more mature forms.
The primary experience of will at this level is to realize that, even
though it begins immediately to appropriate the things of the external world, it
involves itself nevertheless in relations with others (through contracts)
contracts; and that the universal will expressed in a contract is not
satisfactorily enforced simply by vengeance, but only by a commitment which
carries will to the next higher level: morality.
The development of the concept of will in Part One can be illustrated by
a story. Sandy, walking by the
beach, finds a lovely sea shell and picks it up.
She wants to keep it. It
becomes hers, her property. Perhaps
she collects many such shells . . . and sells them to Big Al.
She and Big Al make an agreement for her to furnish shells to him.
Their agreement constitutes a "universal will."
They are assumed to be motivated merely by arbitrariness in willing, and
by a relation to things characterized by immediacy. Their contract, however, is one that either may renounce.
The same arbitrary will that formed the agreement can assert its separate
independence over against their universal will.
Suppose Big Al refuses to pay Sandy after she has delivered a load of
shells. This is wrong, as a violation of their contract.
Sandy contemplates revenge: she could torch Big Al's truck.
Then she thinks that he could torch her truck.
The cycle of revenge could go on and on.
She sickens of the prospect. Now
she has arrived at the moment where she can take the step forward to the moral
standpoint. She goes forward and
affirms, first, that justice should be done in this case, not merely revenge;
and, second, that she will uphold the universal will.
Let's now summarize leading points from some of the key paragraphs and
add a few comments. Observe the key
move at the beginning of Part One: the will is characterized from the outset as
operating on the level of immediacy (#34).
The single individual is assumed to confront an external world; i.e.,
consciousness is relating to things in terms of their naive appeal. This is the Achilles' heel that will show the vulnerability
of right outside a proper social and political context. The acquisition of property, the entering into contract, and
the breaking of contract are all conducted on the level of arbitrariness (false
freedom). The story that Hegel
wants to tell here is one that exploits the weakness he finds in the Kantian
attitude toward rights as external constraints on individual liberties.
Remove the tenacious individualism from the foundation of a doctrine of
rights and there is no explanation for why the moral standpoint is to be
discovered only at the end of Part I.
The categorical imperative cited in #36, "Be a person and respect
others as persons," seems to be already a moral principle of right;
moreover Part II, Morality, defining the good in terms of the union of right and
welfare relies on Part I as having given an adequate account of right.
But when it is embraced by will in a condition of immediacy as part of
the logic of property rights outside the institutions within which alone its
legitimacy can flourish, trouble is brewing, though it will take quite a while
for the harvest of false freedom to become manifest.
Hegel moreover, does not mean to imply, by choosing this starting point,
that people come on the scene as individuals before they are members of groups.
Hegel criticizes the romantic dream of a "state of nature" (p.
128). He is ironically presenting
the view of the "origin" of right shared by some enlightenment
thinkers. The point is not that the
notion of individual rights is wrong-headed; only that it comes to its own in
the social and political whole.
The next paragraphs make a second beginning to Part I, introducing the
concepts of personality and rights. Consider
what basic individual rights ("human rights") there are outside the
context of particular political institutions.
(The Roman legal theorists, under the influence of Stoic concepts of
cosmopolitan, rational knowledge of cosmic principles of reason, developed the
doctrine of natural rights--that there are certain rights a person has, not
because of being a Roman citizen or because of any national citizenship, but
just by being a person.) When we
say that the individual is a person, we imply that on the one hand the person is
unique, has various particular characteristics--and is in that sense
determined--and on the other hand has an identity (remember #5) that transcends
these determinations (#35). To
identify someone as a personality is to identify him or her as a bearer of
rights. The basic principle here
is: "Be a person and respect others as persons" (#36).
Persons have basic ("abstract") rights (and correlative duties
to respect others as persons) regardless of their particular aims, or condition
of welfare (#37). The commands or laws of abstract right are negative
prohibitions, i.e., against interfering with the possibilities that pertain to
the actualization of freedom, possibilities that the individual is not obliged
(at this level) to actualize (#38). As
personality confronts an external reality over against itself, knowing its own
inner freedom, it moves to sustain itself above these external realities by
somehow appropriating them (#39).
The most elementary way in which the will moves to establish its own
dominion in the face of an external reality . . . is to appropriate things as
property. Walking along the beach,
I pick up a shell; the shell becomes my property.
Relations between persons follow from property.
What is mine belongs to no one else.
I can exchange my property and make contracts regarding my property.
Furthermore, since the will can negate all its commitments, it may break
contracts, hence crime arises: with this sense of wrong we are
on the threshold
of morality (#40). This paragraph
summarizes the rest of the section on Abstract Right. A crucial move is Hegel's assertion that the primary
expression of will is to actualize itself by the taking
of material property.
Relations to other persons are then mediated by property, rather than the
other way around. I.e., will is
not, in the first instance, in relation to persons but to things.
And the "external world" is understood as a realm that may be
owned before a social realm. Hegel
thus accurately reflects modern law, civil society, and politics which have
grown up around the institution of the private ownership of property.
##41-53, unfolding this notion of property, are especially recommended,
but will not be summarized here. It
should be remembered that the concept of right is here discussed in abstraction
from the institutions of civil society, its concrete place is found in civil
society (cf. ##209, 229).
The key transition to morality is in #103: responding to crime by revenge
perpetuates wrong; but this is a contradiction.
The only way to resolve this contradiction is to seek a justice freed
from subjective interests and the contingencies of power. But such justice must therefore be an expression of a
universal will. Note that the term
"universal will" need not imply that everyone agrees; rather, in the
simplest contract, two persons establish their wills as identical; this is
already a universal will. The one
who breaks the contract asserts his single will explicitly in opposition to the
universal will. In demanding
justice, the subjective will comes to will the universal as such--and this is
the standpoint of morality, loyalty to the universal will.
observe that Hegel's conclusions do not amount to telling the reader what the
reader ought are not merely about what ought to be the case; he presents himself
as simply describing the evolution that has actually come about.
What is, the true seen philosophically, is the same as what ought to be,
what is demanded by freedom's impulse to self-actualization.
Can Hegel succeed in showing that the "mere" drive toward the
actualization of freedom requires the norms he derives?
Let us see what we can.
First a few main points of this section.
The Good is projected by the subjective moral will (conscience) as the
union of right and welfare. And the
will in its transition to the moral standpoint is committed to the universal
will, not merely to its own interests, the welfare in question is the general
welfare, not merely the welfare of the agent.
Morality has no concrete principles from within itself; it lacks the
concrete determinations of the ethical life with its structures of family, civil
society, and the state. Moral
subjectivity is just that of a single individual, which may or may not
correspond to the universal. Since
conscience asserts its right to autonomy--to be itself the judge of what shall
count as right--it may end up opposing the universal; it is vulnerable to ending
in error, evil, hypocrisy, and sociopathic self-deception.
Let's put the main points in story form.
Sandy, having become committed to the universal will, reads Kant and Mill
and formulates a concept of the good that will, at the culmination of world
history, unite the right and the good; indeed all persons rights and interests
will be fulfilled, notwithstanding the diversity of personal interests, and the
caprice of outward circumstance. She becomes fanatically dedicated to this moral goal.
She abandons her family, alienates her employer, and disdains the
patriotism of the mere citizen. Though
her modern moral theory suffices (pace Hegel) to direct her adequately in
a number of moral choices, it gives no concrete direction about the intelligible
structures of the world, no definite guidance about what structures must be
maintained and which must be constituted in order to evolve her goal.
She carries on a one-person campaign for morality and the good.
Eventually, her isolation begins to take its toll.
She makes a few bad decisions. She
abandons her family, and loses her job, and neglects to pay her taxes--all the
while convinced that she is a secular prophet of the moral order, whose
conscience is so devoutly consecrated to the final union of right and welfare
that she forgets that she can err. She
deteriorates further. She begins to
disguise self-interested actions under the banner of righteousness.
Her hypocrisy progresses to the stage where she no longer realizes how
immoral her "morality" has become.
Finally, she has to be taken to the hospital.
Now a closer exposition. The
moral will emerges from the experience with basic rights with a commitment to
the universal will--to the right (at least insofar as that concept was developed
in the previous Part). That
commitment is a level of maturity that Hegel calls moral subjectivity (#105),
and it is important because freedom can only exist in such terrain (#106).
But note: as soon as we have initially characterized this wonderful step
forward into morality, a shadow appears--the partiality and onesidedness of
moral subjectivity begins to emerge. Moral
subjectivity is a commitment of merely the single individual, and even though
that single individual is committed to the universal will, it may well fail to
grasp that universal truly. Moral
subjectivity insists on being shown when moral claims are presented; unwilling
to accept authority, modern moral consciousness demands evidence (#107).
But a commitment to morality does not necessarily involve actually
knowing (and achieving) what is right. Rather,
the moral stands as a goal to be discerned (and actualized) by moral
subjectivity; it is a project. Morality,
therefore, cannot be regarded as something achieved; it is an "ought,"
something demanded (#108).
The following paragraphs, ##109-114, characterize moral action in a
general way. Will both determines
its own content and strives so that subjective consciousness can express itself
objectively. The purpose of
will is what is identical in both the moments of (1) the subjective
self-determination of thought--decision--and (2) the objective movement--the
process of realization of purpose in outward action (#109). In other words, the purpose is the same purpose: intended and
enacted. In this content of my
action, my moral subjectivity acquires outward existence (#110).
The moral will posits its content as right, but is fallible (#111).
A moral action necessarily affects others--and not merely negatively, as
in abstract right (e.g., "You can't take it; it's mine"). The rights to be sought in moral action and the welfare to be
realized in moral action are not merely those of the agent (as we shall see),
but those of others as well (#112). (I
leave ##113-14 without comment.)
Now for some remarks defining responsibility (and guilt) in relation to
the goal (Zweck, "purpose") of one's action.
Action on the level of immediacy presupposes an external object in a
One is responsible for one's action in so far as the resulting
state of affairs is one's own (i.e., not brought about by other factors not
under my control) (##115-16). I am
not responsible for consequences I could not have foreseen (#117).
Some consequences are precisely what I intend; they belong to the action;
changing Hegel's expression slightly, they are the (outer) figure (Gestalt)
of the soul or purpose of the purpose of the action. But beyond that, external factors may contribute to further
consequences which cannot be blamed on me (#118).
Regarding Intention and Welfare, an action may not properly be regarded
merely as a momentary, external event, apart from the intention of the agent
But intentions may not simply be imputed; the agent has a right to
disclaim any alleged intention not part of his/her thinking (#120).
The soul of the action is the particular content intended (e.g.,
the satisfaction of a desire). A
person does not will the evil as such (this assertion is rendered trivially true
in the addition to paragraph 121 found on p. 251); rather these universal
predicates of judgment are applied from the outside upon an action which was
taken, presumably, in order to satisfy some passion, procure some good, rid
oneself of some evil, etc. Thus we
can distinguish the inner motive from what is really done.
But, as the addition remarks, it is possible to live (not just of the
level of the effort to externalize one's inner intentions but) on the level of
willing the right itself; then the outer action (as valued) and inner motive (as
directed to the good) are not separated, opposed, disjunct; in such a happy and
truly normal case, there will be no occasion for an external judgment to ascribe
a predicate to the action that was not part of the soul of the action.
Our contemporary tendency to inquire about inner motives should pass away
as more people come to find satisfaction in the action itself.
(Though there is no right to be successful or to have happiness) there is
a right of the subject to find satisfaction through action (#121).
Since I have a specific intention, my action has subjective value,
interest for me. In any
purposive action there is a relation of means ("the immediate in the
action") to the end, or purpose.
But any finite purpose can serve as a means to a further purpose, and so
on, without limit (#122).
The subject at this point pursues its interests and seeks for welfare
or happiness (#123).
Subjective satisfaction is a legitimate, perhaps tacit, part of one's
goal (#124). That satisfaction is
worthy if the actions are worthy. The
infinite value of the individual, in all his particularity, as expressed in
Christian civilization, validates personal, particular satisfactions.
It is a mistake to array the universality of the understanding against
them. When I think of the will and
subjectivity in general terms, I recognize that there is a right to
satisfaction, not only as my own right, but also as the right of others, even of
all subjects, whose particular goals may or may not harmonize with the universal
What is crucial here is that we have made the turn from describing the
action of one person to discussing the right of many subjects.
Next comes the efficient drama of the mutual limitation of right and
welfare. Each subject has rights
only because of being free; no intention aiming at
welfare (mine or anyone else') can justify an action contrary to right (#126).
(Note: the opposition between right and welfare only arises on the level
where abstract right may oppose the welfare of a particular individual.)
Nevertheless, a person whose life is at stake has a legitimate welfare
claim against other's normal rights (#127).
Thus we see the onesidedness right and welfare (each of which overrides
the other in certain situations) (#128).
We move to the next section by projecting the good as what conscience
intends, namely the integration and fulfillment of these two moments, right and
welfare, which we posit as capable of ultimate harmony (#129).
Welfare in this escatological sense is not merely individual, nor is it
divorced from right, even as right cannot be right without welfare; rather the
right of the whole prevails over the rights of the parts--e.g., property rights
and particular welfare aims (#130). The
will initially relates to this projected Good as the essence to which it must
measure up, although the Good is dependent upon the will for its actualization
(#131). The subjective will has the
legitimate right to recognize for itself the validity of whatever demand may be
placed upon it (#132). The Good
projected by will is essentially will itself; thus it is essentially knowable,
not some transcendent Reality of which human mind may form merely an
approximation; at the same time, the "insight" of this abstractly
autonomous rational subject remains formal (not mediated through concrete
ethical systems) and may err; the right of autonomy is overridden by the higher
right of objectively established systems.
I have a duty to the Good; but the Good is just essence of will itself,
projected as the universal essence of will.
But this essence is abstract and formal; hence duty is to be done simply
for the sake of duty (#133). We may
say that duty is to do right and take care for the welfare of self and others
(#134); but these contents are not contained within the empty identity of
unconditioned duty itself (#135).
If we think of the Good over against ourselves as being so abstract, then
our particularity--those qualities of ourselves that make us unique and that
represent our special interests and desires and needs--is consigned to the realm
of the subjective. Conscience
is that function of subjectivity which is certain of itself, and which
determines and decides upon particular goals (#136).
The will provides itself with basic laws of duty; but these fall short of
ethical knowledge (#137). Conscience,
in its self-certainty, calls into question all objective ethical determinations
(#138). (This alienation is
understandable when the social sphere enshrines unethical norms.)
When conscience reduces all objective ethical norms to mere appearance,
prima facie claims, etc., then it has reverted to the state of the merely
arbitrary will (Willkur) which is potentially evil in that it may well
raise itself above the objective universal ethical accomplishments of historical
reason (#139). Conscience--which
insisted on seeing for itself just what was to be counted as good or evil, right
or wrong, a requirement of duty or not--has revealed itself as empty and as
arrogant. Morality, the commitment
to the Good without regard for the objective ethical structures of society, has
revealed itself as empty and dangerous--as potentially evil.
Both the subjective conscience and the projected Good are the same in
that each is lacking in concrete, definite structure; and their identity is,
ironically, what constitutes ethical life (#141).
The concept of freedom is actually realized in stable, valid laws and
institutions (##142-44). These are
substantive structures that endure, even though individuals come and go,
regulated by them, and giving them actuality.
The responsible individual finds these institutions to be the very
essence of his or her self (as a rational will) (##146-47).
Duties within the context of valid institutions are like duties to
oneself; they are liberating, not properly experienced as constraints upon
arbitrary impulse (##148-49). Virtue
means the individual appropriation of the qualities required by ethical
institutions; when a society is stable, having achieved rational institutions,
the opportunity for heroism is reduced and virtue is little noticed (##150-52).
The individual finds fulfillment in the rights and duties of the diverse
spheres of the ethical, each of which has its own higher level of mind; i.e.,
the state is the ethical substance, a mind of a higher order (##153-58).
love involves felt unity. Can
that feeling of unity be experienced beyond the family (in the socio-biological
sense)? How wide a sphere can it
encompass? The young Hegel hoped
for such energies to course through the state; the aging Hegel looks only to an
unfeeling order in civil society and the state. The surrender of one's sense of identity as an individual
personality (as a bearer of rights), finding a new identity as a member of the
larger group, is essential to the family.
It is only when the family is dissolving that family members relate to
each other in terms of rights (#129). The
coming paragraphs portray a classic Hegelian process of a level of life that
contains within itself the "seeds" of its own destruction: the family
begins in feeling, it is outwardly embodied in property, and it breaks up when
the resulting children are educated and leave home (#160).
Marriage. In marriage the
biological process is raised to consciousness (#162); in marriage persons freely
enter an ethical union superior to the inclination or arrangement that may have
led them into the marriage initially (#163).
In the new bond, passion becomes but a moment in a larger mindal reality
The marriage ceremony is not merely a matter of getting "a piece of
paper; rather the linguistic and public decision establishes something of a
higher order (#164).
The difference between the sexes is a vital and psychological
complementarity of male--knowing, volitional, powerful, active--and
female--passive, subjective. He has
the articulate life of politics and economic activity outside the home, which
furnishes him a haven of intuitive warmth.
Her destiny is in the home.
. . .
The family has capital, administered by the husband, as a common
property, though each family member has rights in it (##170-72).
Children represent the unity of a loving marriage; they have a right to
be educated--elevated beyond a natural existence into an ethical one.
What are the goals of parents? What
dispositions are especially important for children to acquire? What is the relation between the feelings appropriate to
children and ethical principles? (##173-75).
In what ways can a family be "dissolved"?
As families multiply, diversify, separate, they come to treat each other
as separate (#181). The family as
the ethical realm of immediacy--feeling--gives way to the next level at which
difference, particularity whose universality is merely implicit, emerges:
The members of civil society are particular individuals, motivated by
diverse appetites and drives, who interact to one another's mutual benefit
through selfishness, arbitrariness, and accident, who regard the state merely as
an external force needed for certain purposes (##182-88).
How does Hegel explain that the system of mutual benefit results in such
unfairness, ethical degeneration, and poverty?
We see the self-interested individual, full of wants, arbitrary will,
confronting external physical necessities--just the same as the immature will of
##10-18 and the person of abstract right ##34ff except that in this
context the individual can only satisfy his own needs by satisfying the needs of
others [through market exchange] (#182). The
"livelihood,k happiness, and legal status" of one are interwoven with
the "livelihood, happiness and rights of all" (#183).
From the perspective of civil society, there is no higher (state) reality
(#184). But false freedom in
pursuit of self-gratification is suicidal.
Desires multiply without limit. Luxury
and poverty emerge; each degenerate physically and morally (#184).
(Remark on the historical importance of the emergence of individual
personality: The principle of the "infinite" personality of the
individual, existing on his own in subjective freedom, was recognized and
suppressed by Plato; the structures of the ancient world could not accommodate
the free individual, and broke as the individual arose.)
In consequence of the conditions produced by false freedom, government is
required to step in (and able to step in) with force.
Through education these self-interested citizens learn to
socialize ("universalize") their thinking, willing, and acting (#187).
One grows to live, no longer on the basis of natural inclinations, but, by
undergoing the discipline of work, to integrate with universal
understandings and practices. Thus
individuals become able to participate in society--and to get what they want and
need from it. Education is clearly
not just a matter of schooling, but a thorough cultural upliftment from a
natural condition to a truly human participation in common life.
#188 gives a nice preview of the development of civil society.
The System of Needs
The key to this sphere of life is that level of thinking that Hegel calls
the "understanding" (Verstand ["v" is pronounced
"f"; "st" is pronounced "sht"; the "a"
is long]); it is inferior to philosophical Reason (Vernunft) in depth,
self-awareness, and conceptual flexibility.
Understanding is (1) especially occupied with external things; it
is (2) occupied with thinking how to select efficient means to gain its ends
[the use of thinking called "instrumental rationality" and charged by
J. Habermas et al. as the dominant, if not exclusive function of reason in 20th
century society]. In its scientific
use, the understanding is (3) devoted to detecting hidden regularities in piles
of empirical data that seem unordered. The
understanding also experiences (4) subjective discontent and moral frustration
in modern society (#189).
In society man's needs and means (unlike those of an animal) become
multiplied and differentiated without limit; and man can transcend them (#190);
and can judge with discrimination which of them are suitable (#191).
As needs and means become more abstract, relations between persons
become more abstract (one does not relate as a whole person to a whole
person, but as, say, a clerk to a customer).
The Addition explains that one abstracts from one's personal style to
conform with (to please) others (#192). Desire
also multiply through vanity and envy (the desire to keep up with the Joneses)
In the liberation offered by this society, one is dealing no longer with
tigers and foraging for food; rather the struggle for survival is carried out in
job interviews, etc. Social factors
become more prominent than physical factors (#195). But this liberation remains abstract (not concrete,
integrated, fulfilled) since its content remains contingent particularity
(whatever people happen to desire). The
possibility of luxury arises with the possibility of poverty.
And things are tougher on the poor person: in an earlier age he could go
get what he needed from nature. Now,
what he needs is the property of others. It belongs to them, and so resists his appropriation with the
force of law (#195).
In the work characteristic of modern civil society, raw materials of
nature are transformed by labor (#196) through disciplined work (#197) in which
the tasks become so subdivided that machines can take over the work (#198).
#199 sets forth the way the economic system is supposed to work.
There is a universal satisfaction for all participants.
All are capable of drawing on the wealth of society through the
contribution of their labor. But
(#200) there are in fact unequal abilities to participate in the economy--for
many reasons; classes evolve--agricultural, civil service, and business classes
(#201-06). A person has to
specialize in order (to make a contribution and) to make something of himself
Morality has its proper place in this sphere where the paramount
thing is reflection on one's doings, and the quest of happiness and private
wants . . . ." It is uncertain whether the individual will be able to win
his satisfaction. The needs of
others arise as external and disconnected to the individual's basic
motivation--which makes altruism a duty (#207).
administration of justice: for persons as equals according to the principles of abstract
right (#209). Right is made
actual by legislation and recognized by all (#211, 215).
It is determined in particular cases--without regard for subjective
interests--by the courts (#219). Hegel
notes that the right to a trial and to sue can be abused; better try to settle
out of court (#223). In the courts
determination of facts, it is a matter of sensuous intuition and subjective
certainty; no higher kind of certainty is available for this kind of question
and the Corporation" (the role of government for this level).
It is not within the capacity of philosophy to determine how to draw
lines regarding e.g., injury, amid the detailed and subtle grey areas in which
determinations must be made (#234).
Civil society tears the individual away from his (and her!) family ties
[e.g., as both parents work and pay others to rear the children].
Several factors make for poverty: wasteful spending, impulsiveness,
accidents of various sorts, physical conditions (cf. #200).
The poor are deprived of opportunity, education, public health services,
and even religious welcome. Public
authority has to step in regarding not only the physical needs of the poor, but
also regarding the vices of poverty--laziness and vices that arise from
hostility toward the System (#241). Morality
has a role to play: charity. But
many people who need charity do not receive it.
Society needs to get at the causes of poverty and to coordinate
charity and organize relief (#242). At
the very time when the economy is booming, workers are tied to jobs which
restrict their participation in the life of the culture (#243).
Then some group falls below subsistence level; and this leads to a moral
decline and the origin of an underclass and (2) a concentration of
disproportionate wealth in a few hands (#244).
Welfare destroys self-reliance and independence (the principle of civil
society). Artificially created jobs
don't solve the problem either; they distort the economy by creating product
beyond the level of real demand (#245). The
capitalist society is driven to seek new markets abroad (#246), which leads to
world trade and international culture (#247).
Colonies are established, in which some of the society's population
returns to the older tradition of family life, which, moreover, creates new
demand for the products of industry (#248).
A mini quiz:
Classical economics, representing a certain level of intellectual
understanding, has discerned the law-like results of the operations of countless
arbitrary and unconnected phenomena.
As society becomes more complex, what happens to human relationships?
How do luxury and poverty originate? (#195)
What is one end result of the division of labor? (#198)
How do the market operations of particular, selfish persons conduce to
universal welfare? (#199)
What are the three classes of civil society? (##202-205)
The Administration of Justice
It is through government that the abstract right of persons becomes
effective--is known and possess the appropriate power (#209-10)
What can go wrong in law? (#212)
Can you "legislate morality"?
How can the courts be abused? (#223)
What kind of certainty is achievable in determining the facts in a case
at law? (#227)
How are particularity and universality operative in the administration of
In this section we see Hegel's nationalism and secularism. It is interesting to think of alternatives to this position.
What if sovereignty were regarded as being located, primarily, on the one
hand, in the individual, and, on the other hand, in humankind as a whole?
Do any of Hegel's affirmations about the part and the whole make more
sense in this transposed context? One
might even consider the notion of cosmic citizenship; but only a much richer
concept of personality (such as Berdyaev's) could sustain such a proposal.
For Hegel, the state, finally, is where the Idea is consciously and actually
enacted (#257). The state has
supreme right over the individual, whose duty it is to be a member of the state
(#258). The state is organized via
the constitution, relates to other states via international law, and functions
as a moment in world history (#259).
A. Constitutional Law.
The state and the individual find their true fulfillment in each other
(#260). The state cannot be mature
if the individual is squished (suppressed); that would be a throw-back to a
pre-modern form of political organization.
And, of course, the state needs individuals in order to exist in
actuality. Hegel philosophizes on
the family and civil society as essential moments in the overarching unity of
the state (##261-67). There is an
important remark to (#261) that helps clarify his concept of abstract (Kantian)
duty; see, esp. p. 162.3: "Duty on its abstract side, goes no further than
the persistent neglect and proscription of a man's particular interest, on the
ground that it is the inessential, even the discreditable, moment in his
life." In the state, by
contrast, the individual's satisfaction is to be replete.
An interesting discussion of patriotism is found in #268 (cf. ##324-28).
Recall from the introduction to Ethical Life that the virtues are simply
those qualities pertaining to one's station in ethical institutions.
Since the survival of the individuals is bound up with the survival of
the state to which they belong, it is the duty of every citizen to support the
state, even at the cost of his life. The
sentiment of patriotism is not classified as an opinion since it is based on
truth. Patriotism involves trust,
which is the consciousness that one's interest is contained and preserved in the
other. Such practical
identification with the other is freedom. Recall
that freedom for Hegel means self-determination.
If (as in the standpoint of civil society) I see the state as a power
over against myself, I do not experience freedom in relation to the state.
From the mature standpoint of citizenship, I identify with the state.
It is not an Other over against me.
I find my freedom precisely as a member within this realm.
In this connection we have a remarkable and little noticed pillar of
Hegelian epistemology: "Action in conformity with these institutions gives
rationality its proper proof." Presumably
there are two kinds of proof, the conceptual deduction which Hegel has tried to
present in the strict interconnection of concepts in his philosophical system,
and a practical, experiential proof. Presumably
without the latter experience, the former, logical connections will seem to lack
meaning and hence to lack persuasiveness. In
The Phenomenology of Mind (1807) Hegel had rehearsed the historical
experience of western civilization, developing various modes of consciousness
and discovering their limitations. On
that basis he had then written The Science of Logic (1816) distilling a
conceptual narrative developing from the simplest concept to the fullest Idea
(which implies its own actualization [Remember the ontological proof for the
existence of God?]). There is a
tendency to obscure the persistent rooting of Hegel's thought in reflection on
historical experience. Not that
immediate experience is the foundation for the derived concept; that would be a
naive notion of the relation of experience and concept. The point, again, is that there is a practical proof of what
Hegel is asserting. If we are not
as content with Hegel's results, we might say, more generally: Action in accord
with evolving ethical institutions gives the rationality attributed to them its
The famous organic conception of the state is set forth in #269.
This conception is notorious for its liability to totalitarian
distortion. Hegel may in fact,
despite his insistence on the liberty and satisfaction of the individual, have
lurched into totalitarian thinking in his doctrine of the absolute right of the
state over the individual. Emmanuel
Levinas in Totality and Infinity leaves no doubt about the challenge
represented by all such thinking, even the very enterprise of a systematic
philosophy in which persons are located within an overarching totality.
Hegel intends with this conception of the state to heal
individualistic-competitive civil society and its discontents.
In an organic state, one does not merely have a monarch (or elite
government) and a horde of random individuals.
Rather, difference are articulated into a well-formed totality . . .
"based on distinct spheres of activity, according to consciously adopted
ends, known principles and laws . . . in which the government is supposed to act
with precise knowledge of existing conditions" (#270).
One idea that Hegel proposes is that the people may be politically
organized into groups according to their different spheres of activity.
What role is religion to play in the organic state?
In medieval times, the church set itself forth as the agent of the cosmic
order, and subordinated the state to itself. In the modern secular state, the relation is reversed.
The extended remark to (270) may be summarized in the following way.
Religion at its best achieves the recognition of absolute truth.
The truth it articulates overlaps with that which is known and actualized
in the life of the state. The state
does not concern itself with creed, doctrine, ritual, and ecclesiastical
organization. Religion does not
concern itself with the (full range of) details of civil society, law,
government, and international relations. But
they share a common concern with the ethical.
Religion presents truth as given (revealed, as a package, from above).
Religion presents truth to feeling, in the form of representation
(story-telling, with picturizations of truth, such as God the Father on a
throne). Religion appeals to
authority ("This comes from God, from the apostles, from the Church").
Religion offers an ultimate legitimation for duty.
Religion inculcates the feeling of unity among human beings (a genuine
service to the state).
Religion develops best when left in independence from the state.
Religion is a necessary means of education (from living on the basis of
naive opinion and natural inclination to living on the basis of discipline to a
mature comprehension of truth). Religion
is an end in itself, and religion also has its own proper embodiment within the
state: the church.
Religion at its worst encourages indifference to urgent public
matters in times of crisis (seeking heavenly peace when responsible engagement
is most needed).
Religion holds an attitude of superiority toward the state, regarding all
matters outside religion as merely accidental, regarding the state as an
institution that merely serves as a means to the higher purposes of religion,
regarding state activities as inferior, merely material; regarding the state
with the condescension of (Roman Catholic) priests toward the laity.
A haughty religious attitude proposes to supervise and direct the
activities of state. It claims a
monopoly on the realm of Geist (spirit or mind)--a monopoly which it once
had as the patron of learning during the middle ages.
It offers prayer as a substitute for thought.
It promotes a tragically simplistic morality of wholehearted
righteousness and thus tends toward fanaticism.
Or religion submits with ugly resentment to the force of state power.
Religion at its worst dehumanizes its devotees, leading them to bow down
to animals, etc. The state needs to
protect people from dehumanizing religion.
The church should support the state.
We have to construct what Hegel might have had in mind. Presumably the common concern for the ethical would supply
the content. Religion exalts the
ideals of family life; teaches self-control, honesty, and diligence (all
important for participation in civil society; a moral concern for charity toward
the unfortunate; contentment in difficult conditions; recognition that "all
power comes from God" and hence that citizens should obey their rulers;
that faithful citizens should "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to
God what is God's."
A strong state should permit a wide variety of churches. It should be able to provide alternate service to those who
object on religious grounds to military service (a fundamental and essential
obligation to the state).
Membership in some church should be required by the state.
The church holds property; it should not be exempt from taxes.
It needs the protection of the state.
And, as a corporation, it is appropriately subject to public control.
The state is the divine will in actuality, Mind on earth.
Whenever the state comes into conflict with religion, it is the state
that really knows.
It realizes truth, not as given from above, but as rationally
self-produced. The state is allied
with study, science, discipline, and work.
The state has the right to maintain itself against challenges from
misguided religion, science, and education.
The state must be free of religious control (partly so as to avoid
getting caught up in conflicts between sects).
Constitution (#272-320). This
section, here left without comment, shows the constitutional monarchy and a way
of conceiving the division of powers of government as motivated not by fear of
usurpation of power by a power elite but rather by conceptual articulation.
Hegel's conceptual articulation, however, does not follow the standard
division into legislative, judicial, and executive branches.
2. Sovereignty vis-a-vis foreign States (##321-29).
Here the absolute power of the state, the sovereignty of the state, is
set forth. #324 and the remark to
it present the justification for war: (1) Everything finite and material,
property, human life, the things we see and hold dear, all pass away.
They are, in their very nature transient.
War demonstrates the reality of these things as transient.
(2) The state needs to be invigorated after a period of peaceful
stagnation. (3) War unifies the
state. (4) War defends freedom.
All have a duty to sacrifice for the state, especially the class of
soldiers whose special virtue is courage (#325).
If it is necessary to mobilize the entire nation for defense, the state
may turn to conquest (#326). People
with a wide spectrum of motives can show courage; but the true value of courage
derives from allying with the genuine good of the state (#327-28).
To identify with the state ("the universal") involves not only
courage but willingness to cooperate in effective (military) organization
(Addendum to #327). Modern warfare, in accordance with the modern thought of
universality, is becoming more impersonal, more directed against groups; the
soldier manifests a thorough absence of mind (in renouncing his own opinion or
reasoning about when and where to advance, etc.) combined with "the most
intense and comprehensive presence of mind and decision in the moment of
acting" (Addendum to #328).
The monarch, who represents the individuality of the state, must
represent the state in the conduct of international relations.
Law. Thomas Hobbes had envisioned a
"state of nature" theoretically preceding the emergence of civil
society and the state, in which each individual lived in a "war of all
against all"; in the state of nature each could rightfully use all possible
means to defend himself; life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and
short." The problem of the
state of nature was resolved for individuals by the compact through which they
formed a state and accorded the sovereign (e.g., the monarch) the power to
enforce civil order over themselves. Immanuel
Kant was concerned that the several sovereign nations still remained in a state
of nature with respect to each other. The
possibility for war and the tendency for war is inherent in such a "world
order" (cf. Kant's "Idea for a history from a cosmopolitan point of
view" and "Perpetual Peace").
Only through the formation of a federation of nations could international
law ever be enforced, ever become a reality.
Hegel objects to Kant's proposal for a new world order that the will of
sovereign nations could still disturb the peace.
According to Hegel, there can and should be no political organization
higher than the nation; such a notion would compromise the very concept of
Because each single state is autonomous, sovereign, the notion of
international law remains a mere "ought," contingent upon the will of
the parties involved (#330). Each
state should be formally recognized as sovereign, but it is might not have
achieved mature inner development (#331). Hegel's
notion of statehood includes an empirical claim about self-sufficiency: Whereas
in civil society constant exchange is vital, states to a large extent produce
what they need (#332).
The fundamental law of international relations is contractarian: Treaties
ought to be kept (#333). Hegel
remarks that Kant's League of Nations rests on a contingent assumption that some
religious or moral or other ground will motivate membership.
Persistent disputes may only be settled by war (and there
is no Criterion on the basis of which to measure at what point the actual
or threatened injury to a nation's welfare provides a just cause for war)
(##334-36). The state should not be
subordinated to abstract moral notions. The
state's principle of conduct is itself "and not only of the many universal
thoughts supposed to be moral commands" (#337 Remark).
(Kant had insisted that politicians must restrict their actions in
pursuit of even the best ends by the principles of morality. "Perpetual
Peace, Appendix 1.) The fact that states
recognize each other during wartime implies, first of all, that the war
should end; i.e., the point of war is not annihilation.
This fact also implies a number of important requirements for the just
conduct of war: that one avoid fighting in a way which would be so angering
that it would make it impossible to agree to stop fighting (e.g., not kill
envoys); not make war on civilian populations or against persons except insofar
as they are part of the military (#338). In
other matters regarding proper conduct in war, custom (i.e., since the capacity
of philosophy to decide matters on principle is limited).
Through all the blundering contingencies of international relations, the
universal mind of the world is disclosed (#340).
History. It is clear from the remark
to #270 to what extent Hegel has secularized the concept of God.
Mind (Geist, spirit) achieves its actuality in the state and its
supreme self-realization in philosophy. There
is a function of the old-time God of the Hebrews and their religious successors,
however, which is strikingly preserved in Hegel: God as the Lord of history.
While Hegel refuses the notion of a universal will with constitutional
power over the Sovereign nations (#333), he does preserve the notion of the
universal mind which brings forth its own purpose through the apparently blind
sequence of historical events.
The opening sentence of #341 is summarizes the summit of Hegelian thought
that is presented in the encyclopedic system after the philosophy of objective
mind (the philosophy of right) is completed.
"The element in which the universal mind exists in art is intuition
and imagery, in religion feeling and representative thinking, in philosophy pure
freedom of thought. In world
history this element in the actuality of mind in its whole compass of
internality and externality alike." So
world history includes the history of art, religion, and philosophy.
This statement of Hegel then puts his philosophy of religion in a new
context and makes it more paradoxical. On
the one hand, God turns into a moment within the self-articulation of
philosophic mind and a title for the process that is consummated in philosophy.
God is simply the completed harvest of the history of human thought.
On the other hand, God is the real Lord of history.
Such a deity has a chance of cosmic status.
Is Hegel inconsistent? Is
there a wondrous depth for the ongoing contemplation of students?
Or is the Lord of history simply thought (and there is no other thought
in question than human thought) on a level that is often unconscious to
individuals in the throes of it all?
It might seem clever, but it would be missing out on the concealed truth
to regard human history as merely a chaos of brutal and sometimes not so brutal
contingencies. There is a purpose
working itself out: the necessary development of the moments to freedom (#342).
History is the act of mind achieving consciousness of itself (#343).
We must regard its governance as intelligible. A Providence that was inscrutable would be hardly different
from arbitrariness and chaos. Nations
and particular individuals serve destiny without realizing it (#344).
World history is beyond good and evil (#345).
Each stage is necessary. Happy
is the nation which embodies its advance. History
is spread out in the space-time externality of diverse geographical and
anthropological (racial) conditions. In
each stage of the development of freedom, one nation carries the ball and has
its hour of glory, after which it is unceremoniously plucked from center stage.
After its moment of world-historical greatness/service, the nation can
decline or wander about without direction, or do its best to keep up with the
nation where the forefront of progress is happening (remark).
There are two levels of description for important actions. On the one hand, the deed was done by this individual or
group, etc. On the other hand, the
deed was done by World Mind. It is
important to see that Hegel wants to sustain both of these levels of description
as legitimate--in particular he does not want to volatilize the first level.
Individuals are not mere sparks fleeting across the face of Infinity;
without human individuals the Infinite wouldn't actually exist or be able to
figure out what's going on. On the
other hand, the higher truth is to recognize the higher Agent at work in the
deeds of history. Individuals enact
the deeds of world mind (for which, as such, they receive no appreciation)
Political evolution (from families, clans, tribes . . .) must achieve
statehood in order to achieve sovereignty (#349).
It is the right of the Idea to step into history, (e.g., as tough leaders
form states by subjecting neighboring tribes, warring factions, etc., under the
their own unifying rule; or by making clear cut laws; or by starting up
institutions such as agriculture[!]) (#350).
Civilized nations may treat less-developed nations as barbarians,
treating their unequal rights as a mere formality (#351).
Hegel draws language from the New Testament book of Revelation to
describe the leading nations as executives around the throne of the World Mind
The four moments of history are (1) the stage in which the individual is
not recognized; (2) the next stage, self-aware, alive, achieving ethical
individuality, and fulfilled in beauty; (3) deepening inwardness to the point of
opposition to objectivity: "mind-forsaken" [this seems like a poorly
edited text in which Hegel, who repeatedly revising his attempt to stuff history
into a formula, at times assigned a special place to Jewish history]; (4) the
reconciliation of subjectivity [Jewish--or Roman?--inwardness] and [Greek?]
objectivity (#353). Each of these
moments is explained further. They
are identified as Oriental, Greek, Roman, and Germanic (#354).
The Oriental state is a patriarchal theocracy (he thinks of Hinduism or
Islam as providing the religious conception) in which individual liberties are
absent, the rule arbitrary, class ossifies into caste, and a vague restlessness
agitates a feeble and exhausted society (#355).
The Greek state achieve the beautiful ethical differentiation of
individuality (especially in art, where the infinite and the finite are
identified); a multiplicity of city-states, never politically unified, remained
until Macedonian autocracy put an end to their independence.
Unlike the modern state, free men never did the essential work of
society, leaving that to slaves (#356). The
Roman state presided over the destruction of ethical life through class
polarization and degeneration held together by "abstract, insatiable
self-will" of the Emperors (#357). The
"Germanic" state grandiosely incorporates the Jewish tragedy of the
failure to recognize the unity of the divine and the human (Jesus); it achieves
the reconciliation of objective truth [as expounded by science] with
subjectivity [the principle of the individual, developed in Hebrew and Christian
religion, reasserted by Luther in one way and by Descartes in another] (#358).
From an early devotion to an abstract harmony of faith, hope, and love,
the medieval period developed its crude, barbarian actuality, over against which
the medievals posited a "higher realm" "beyond"
"this" one. They
conceived of this spiritual reality in terms of a Power acting with
"compulsive and frightful force" (#359).
Modernity emerged in a struggle against that medieval order.
Heaven was lowered down to earth. The
opposition between the earthly and the heavenly disappeared as rational thought
achieved the construction of its universals: thought, law, etc.
The state arose as the "image and actuality" of reason in its
two functions, knowing and willing. Religion
continues to represent truth as an ideal essentiality (i.e., as separable from
the concrete details of mundane life). Philosophy
finds the same structure in nature and in the state and in the ideal world [of
the set of concepts articulated in logic] (#360).
Hegel's concept of right (Recht) is hard to translate, and it
is fitting that Knox has just taken the cognate in English rather than
substituting another term. Nevertheless,
we would like to have a rough equivalent in English to get ourselves started
with this new term. I propose
that the right is roughly equivalent to "the ethical" as long as I
can emphasize a few special added connotations of this term: (1) duty--the
right is what ought to be the case; (2) law--right is a legal concept,
roughly equivalent to justice in a broad sense; (3) the right is especially
actualized in the state.
Are there any essentials of social truth that are not actualized to a
significant degree in modern society? Hegel
rejoices that the essentials of social truth are actualized in modern
society. For all the
imperfections and ominous tendencies of modernity, the essentials of social
truth are recognizable in our institutions of property, law, family,
business organizations, and the state.
The term "Idea" was used by Plato to name the transcendent
eternal pattern of those shadowy realities which we perceive; by Kant to
name a metaphysical hypothesis which was philosophically important but which
we could never really know; by Hegel to mean the historically
self-actualized totality of mind (especially, here) the state.
Note the alternate path taken by Thomas Aquinas: to define will as
oriented by God, through our basic desires, toward certain basic goods,
which are to be enjoyed in social and political institutional life.
On this account, the will is intrinsically oriented toward the good.
Those who call for the purification of our desires have in mind the
ordered fulfillment of these desires in the institutions of property,
family, etc.; they sometimes claim in a facile and misleading way that those
institutions are implicit in the desires themselves; this saves them the
logical labor of the philosophy of right--they simply leap to the conclusion
and attribute the result to the original desires. Thus Hegel suggests a criticism of previous thinkers
Hegel's concept of personality as the bearer of (abstract) rights
continues Stoic legal tradition and abandons the Christian tradition in
which God, the Creator Personality, infinitely loves the individual creature
personality, whose meaning and value transcend the legal realm altogether.
Moreover, personality is a concept subordinated in Hegel's philosophy
of religion to the category of mind. It
is arguable that the Kantian categorical imperative, here quoted, implies a
far deeper concept of personality than Hegel admits.
It is not clear that the imperative to be a person and respect others
as persons can be restricted to the domain of abstract right; it appears to
be a fundamental moral principle. If
so, why does Hegel need to use such a principle here?
And if a moral principle sponsors such definite concepts as those
pertaining to property, is it as empty as Hegel claims in his criticism of
Kant in Part Two on morality?
What is the character of this demand for justice?
Notice that Hegel is trying to show how the moral ought evolves
logically from the self-unfolding of rudimentary will.
If the demand for justice is a demand of frustration, then the demand
itself should not be characterized as moral.
The universal might mean merely "what we had agreed upon."
On this minimalist interpretation, we do not have a truly moral
perspective emerging here. Hegel
clearly wants more than a contractarian concept of justice and more than an
emotivist concept of morality. It
is not clear that he has derived what he wants.
At some point, it would seem, a genuinely moral insight arises,
qualitatively different from the frustration over the vicious cycle of
revenge over broken agreements. Perhaps
Hegel's logical "proof" of the moral standpoint is simply to lead
the mind to that conceptual location from which one could proceed only by
making the leap to another level. The
point then would not be that the leap itself was logically derived, but
rather that the leap was logically prepared.
We should not say that Hegel claims to have deduced an
"ought" at this point. Rather,
he is merely pointing to the fact that the goal of moral subjectivity is an
ideal, which is altogether unspecified at this point, except (following
#104) that it should be something on which various individuals could agree
(a universal will). The very
lack of specification of this ought is itself a matter of concern, and
points beyond the moral to the ethical stage.
This immediacy is analogous to #11 and ##40-43.
The difference is that before we spoke of the will in relation to
natural things; now in relation to actions that affect a change in a state
of affairs--the two are not mutually exclusive, but the emphasis is
importantly different--here the standpoint of morality is assumed.
What is "the right of the subject to find his satisfaction in
the action"? Perhaps it
means that every person has the right to seek satisfaction in action.
Perhaps the implicit paradigm of action is one in which there is no
uncertainty regarding the success of the action.
In that case, Hegel could be asserting the freedom of the individual
to act according to his choice. Hegel
may be, in part, asserting the right to the pursuit of happiness.
Alan Gewirth claims that there is a right to whatever (welfare) an
agent requires in order to have a meaningful opportunity to engage in
action. Hegel's claim here
appears not to overlap with Gewirth's.
Hegel seems here to use his thought that universal mind (the mind of
mature culture) activates the rational thinking of each thinker.
Thus in negating my particularity and returning to the universality
of the first moment of freedom (#5), I am returning not just to my own ego
but to the universal mind itself. Thus
the question can be meaningfully opened, whether other subject's happiness
can be coordinated with the universal.
It surely does not mean that it is a question whether other's goals
can be harmonized with my own. Hegel
does not here argue for the connection between the universality of the
reflective ego and the universality of the mind of mature civilization.
Compare Hegel's with previous concepts of love in the history of
western thought. Can we observe
here the Platonic eros which moves from physical passion to the highest
level of satisfaction? Can we
see a trace here of the unity called for in John's gospel ("May they be
one . . .")? Why is the
infused grace of caritas absent (which Thomas Aquinas regarded as the
gift of love that only God can give)?