Hegel’s System: The New Philosophy of Idealism, Death, Sense of Life/Family
Hegel’s philosophy is regarded as an instance of transcendental philosophy ( Taylor, Westphal). However, this view overlooks or ignores Hegel’s severe criticism of transcendental philosophy. To paraphrase Jacobi’s remark concerning the thing-in-itself, it is impossible to enter the Kantian philosophy without taking a transcendental turn, but it is equally impossible to remain in the Kantian philosophy after taking the transcendental turn. For Kant raised but did not resolve the problem of the ontological interpretation of the transcendental ego, and, with it, transcendental philosophy. Hence, as Hegel repeatedly pointed out (Peperzak 1960, p 12). Kant is trapped in the impossible predicament of attempting to know before he knows. The problem of the ontological interpretation of transcendental philosophy can be postponed, but not avoided, save at the price of a merely methodological idealism, which Kant is not willing to accept. This brings us to the second interpretive model (Aristotle 1984, p 45).
What is the ontological interpretation of the transcendental ego? Several problems rear their ugly heads when this question is addressed. If the transcendental ego is retained, it seems to require a referent or “carrier.” If the referent is identified with “human being,” the result is a “left-Hegelian” interpretation (Aristotle 1984, p 56). However, this interpretation calls into question the foundational status of the transcendental subject as the ultimate condition of possible experience, and calls forth the charges of psychologism and relativism. In order to avoid relativism and anthropologism, the “right-Hegelian” interpretation rejects the identification of the transcendental subject with the human subject, and works out instead an onto-theological interpretation of Geist (Plant 1973, p 16). Then Hegel is regarded as a transcendent metaphysical theologian in the Aristotelian-Neo-Platonic sense: the self-othering of Geist in nature is understood as a version of the Neo-Platonic emanation theory which has been transformed by a concept of subjectivity as negatively dialectical. The problem with this interpretation is that the transcendental method is ruined by the apparently dogmatic postulate of onto-theology. Hegel would recognize and reject both of these alternatives, for the former is basically a warmed-over version of the subjective idealism of Fichte. And the latter a version of the dogmatic Naturphilosophie of the early Schelling. Common to both is the acceptance and/or retention of the transcendental ego. I think that Hegel rejects this concept, or transforms it. He does not take up the ontological question in this form.
Third, there is the social-intersubjective interpretation of Geist. This interpretation of Geist has recently been set forth in an interesting study by Ludwig Siep 1 and has begun to receive attention by other German scholars (Nohl 1966, p 481). I wish to explore this model. The question is. If Geist is fundamentally social-intersubjective, then what does Hegel’s so-called “idealism” mean? For in its common acceptation, “idealism” seems to contradict and exclude intersubjectivity because it eliminates the ontological transcendence of the other, and is haunted by the problem of solipsism, as both Husserl and Sartre have pointed out (Harris 1972, p 108). Moreover, Sartre claims that Hegel’s ontological idealism founders on the problem of intersubjectivity: the Geist that is certain of being all reality has displaced the other ontologically. But it might with greater accuracy be replied that what is interesting about Hegel’s concept of Geist is that it is the result of, and consequently presupposes, the very intersubjective meditation which Sartre (wrongly) thinks it eliminates! (Hegel, 1988).
Connection of Natural Life
This part of the dissertation shall deal with Hegel’s connecting of natural life and mind (Hegel 1988, p 362) .. Hegel too conceives natural life as a self-relating circular movement; but this he comprehends not as an Aristotelian but as a movement (Bewegung) of the Notion, which is ultimately subject. N?, says Hegel, obtains a deeper comprehension in the modern concept of Spirit (Geist) 4 and Spirit as subject is the higher truth of substance (Plant 1973, p 17). Thus. In comparing the Aristotelian and Hegelian connecting of natural life and mind we are comparing the subordination of physical motion to the principles, respectively, of substance and subject, N? And Spirit. In both thinkers, however, natural life attains its perfection in knowing, so that we may refer to the two thinkers’ conceptions of natural life by the term “noetic living” (Gray 1968, p 24).
As in the case of Plato’s concept of nature, circular motion is for Aristotle the best possible kind of motion and the one that enables nature to be as good as possible (Gray 1968, p 25). For Aristotle however, circular motion does not render nature a one Living Creature fashioned in the likeness of the divine in the first place, nature is not at all a one living creature (Hegel, 1988). Rather, circular motion constitutes for all living creatures their ways of attaining the perfections possible for their specific natures. But perfection in the full sense belongs to God, and it is in Aristotle’s separating and connecting the divine perfection of ? “i” (noesis) from the perfections of natural life that we shall see how the latter is conceived as a circular motion and a noetic living.
Being simply, or life most complete, is God, who is cause of nature insofar as He is “first in complete reality” (Nohl 1966, p 487). God is substance in the complete sense, not a natural substance containing matter and thereby unrealized potentiality. God is an eternal self-sufficing thinking of thinking — not a motion which is incomplete, but an actuality, hence pure form without matter and therefore without possibility of being otherwise. In the sense that He cannot be other than He is, God is necessary, hence good and the object of desire and thought: in this way He is the ultimate cause of nature’s unfailing motion (Gray 1968, p 26).
To be natural is to be something less than “first in complete reality.” although this does not mean for Aristotle that nature is not fully real or is merely phenomenal in a Kantian sense (Aristotle 1984, p 982). Not to be first in complete reality means above all to be subject to change or becoming other: in the first place, subject to change in place, i.e., locomotion, which is the basis for all natural change. All things in nature, including the imperishable heavenly substances, in some way become other; nothing natural remains eternally selfsame, nothing is in every sense a one in actuality, nothing is wholly self-sufficient, nothing is self-active or necessary with a necessity all its own. In all of these ways natural substances fall short of the perfection of God (Taylor 1975, p 14). At the same time, however, these ways mark the perfections of living beings that pertain to them qua natural: for example, to be self-sufficient, self-active, and a one apply most of all to living beings which for that reason most especially of all natural things deserve the name “substance” (Peperzak 1960, p 18). But how do we distinguish the perfect self-activity of the unchanging Divine Life from the self-activity of a changing natural life? Like his teacher Plato before him, Aristotle puts forward the concept of circular motion: unlike rectilinear motion, which proceeds up to one point and then beyond it to another and so on into the infinite circular motion encompasses a changing and a return upon self of the same (Crites, 1998). As Aristotle contrasts rectilinear and circular motion within a problematic of substance. Hegel will contrast the spurious and the genuine infinite in his problematic of subject (Nohl 1966, p 488).
Living in Harmony and Human Relations
The idea of a living organization that harmoniously rules human relations and makes the State into a true totality is a profound idea that would dominate the nineteenth century. It would be found again in various books of French philosophers who set critical periods of history in opposition to organic periods. They investigate a new constructive theory of the State after the Revolution. Another consequence of the Hegelian theory of right that we are going to study is seen as related to his theory of progress. The Aufklarung envisaged a unilateral progress, a march toward the unity of humanity always the same as itself, but at the same time captive of the prejudices of childhood. But the idea can no longer be true of theoreticians such as Herder and Hegel, who divide divine unicity and in peoples see realizations that are diverse but always expressions of absolute life. “A kind of pluralistic pantheism has taken the place of the rationalistic monism of the Occident,” and we can even say that in his first sketches of philosophy of history, Hegel thinks less about a continued progress than about various developments, about successions of realizations as incomparable in their kind as an ancient tragedy and a drama of Shakespeare (Crites, 1998). However, the idea of historical evolution will have more and more of a place in the Hegelian vision of the world, and it is almost a synthesis of the conception of progress from the Aufklarung with the idea of a variety of expressions of the absolute that he will give at a later time in his philosophy of history. In fact, development of the idea will be substituted for life (Hegel, 1988).
The article on natural right and the System der Sittlichkeit complete each other. The first is destined to reveal a new way of posing the problem of natural right while the second is an attempt to solve this problem by the method proposed here (Goldstein, 2004). The System der Sittlichkeit, like the Platonic republic, is the conception of ethical life from its lower forms that Hegel considers abstract, such as individual desire, possession, work and family, to those higher forms, such as the integration of the lower forms in ethical totality, by which they truly receive their meaning. What Hegel later calls subjective spirit (psychology, phenomenology) is considered there as a preliminary moment of ethical life so that absolute spirit is presented in the form of political and social community. Religion and art, which at a later point ought to be raised above the history of the world and become absolute spirit transcending objective spirit, are still in the state of vestiges. They make themselves part of this totality that is the ethical life of a people. There, religion is religion of the people. There is nothing higher than the people except possibly the history of peoples (Aristotle 1984, p 785).
Natural Right in a Changing World
The article on natural right, which can be considered as a republic in Fichte Naturrecht, thus elaborates this new conception of right in which right is an organic whole. There is no universal right that could transcend the ethical organism (Peperzak 1960, p 23). Hegel ought to have placed his method in opposition to that of his predecessors and taken a position regarding the two possible ways of empiricism and abstract rationalism, which he calls the method of absolute reflection. On one hand, conceptions of natural right are found in philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such as Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke. On the other hand, there is the moral idealism of Kant and Fichte (Peperzak 1960, p 34).
The first two parts of the article on natural right are devoted to an appreciation of these two different conceptions (Harris 1972, p 109). Hegel, following his customary procedure, does justice to both. He analyses them in order to transcend and integrate them to his own point-of-view. The third part of the article is devoted to the original spirit of Hegel’s moral philosophy and concludes with some profound remarks on tragedy and comedy, their meaning for human life and for philosophy of history (Dickey, 1987). In a last part Hegel shows the relation that can exist between the theory of natural right and what may be called positive right, between its general conception of ethical totality and history (Harris 1972, p 108). Most comparisons which our philosopher uses are borrowed from life. Doubtless the idea of life already played a principal role in Hegel’s meditations at Frankfurt, but one can say that Schelling’s philosophy of nature into which Hegel has just been initiated at Jena only reinforces this tendency. Hegel has not yet succeeded in translating his thought into a language that is suitable to him, namely, the language of spirit. If he already affirms in this article that “spirit is higher than nature,” because nature is idea only for spirit and because spirit alone is capable of being reflected, he still appears to be Schelling’s disciple on many of the points (Crites, 1998; Hegel, 1988).
Findings and Conclusion
In the modern State a world is necessarily interposed between the individual and the State, which Hegel calls civil society ( Die buirgerliche Gesellschaft) (Hegel, 1991). In the course of 1805-1806 he becomes clearly aware of the existence of this civil society, which is constituted by all private men as they are separated from the natural group, which is the family, and as they do not yet clearly have awareness of directly wanting their substantial unity, the State (Dickey, 1987). But already in earlier works that we have studied, Hegel has noted this opposition between the spiritual world of the State and the economic world, the world of needs and wealth. In the Philosophy of Right of Berlin in 1821, civil society will be more clearly characterized as one of the instances of the idea of the State in the broader sense (Taylor 1975, p 25). (The first instance is the family, the second civil society, the third the State in the restricted sense of the term, that is, the general will conscious of itself.)
Civil society (Gesellschaft and not Gemeinschaft) is none other than the state of economic liberalism (Nohl 1966, p 501). To this State, which is the ideal for theoreticians of political economy, Hegel gives a place in his system, but a subordinated place. “If one confuses the State with civil society, and if one fixes it in the security and protection of property and personal liberty, the interest of individuals as such is the supreme end for which they are gathered together, and the result is that it is optional to be a member of a State. But the State’s relation to the individual is completely otherwise (Hegel, 1988). If the State is objective spirit, then the individual himself has objectivity, truth, and morality only if he is a member of it. The association as such is itself true content and true purpose, and the destination of individuals is to lead a collective life. And their other satisfaction, their activity, and the modes of their conduct are that substantial and universal act, both as point of departure and as result” (Dickey, 1987).
From 1805 Hegel is aware of the work of Adam Smith, Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which Garve has just translated into German (Goldstein, 2004). He incorporates it into his political philosophy, but far from seeing in this economic doctrine a political philosophy that might be sufficient in itself, he sees in it rather a necessary moment, but one that reveals its own insufficiency. In this economic world man believes himself to be free. He works and possesses, has chosen his own profession, and seeks to realize his personal interest. In fact, he clashes everywhere within these limits (Peperzak 1960, p 44). He remains in contingency, and instead of desiring the universal directly, he submits to it as a hard constraint that may be foreign to him. That is why on this level the State appears as the State of understanding and necessity (Hegel, 1991). Civil society is a mediated realization of the universal. Its harmony, as the economists have seen, results from a kind of ruse. Each believes himself to be working for himself and even gives others the opportunity to work.
What is in fact realized (the universal) and what is willed in each case (the particular) are distinct. However, from 1805, Hegel, in distinction from the earliest economists, senses the harshness of this world of wealth. He pursues these inherent contradictions and discredits it almost as a prophet (Crites, 1998). The freedom that man attains in this search for his personal interest is only an empirical freedom. That is why another form of State is necessary above this world of particularity. In civil society man is trained only in the universal; he is prepared to become a citizen and to desire the universal as such. Therefore, let us consider this economic world as Hegel envisions it. Each works for himself or his family. Division of labor allows the exchange of products, and the laws of marketing always restore a harmony at the breaking point (Hegel, 1988). The visible mover of this society is individual interest, but society’s inner purpose is the realization of the universal. “There is a mediation of the particular by the universal, a dialectical movement that means that each, by gaining, producing, and enjoying for his own benefit, at the same time gains and produces for the enjoyment of others” (Haering 1963, p 88).
This is an austere formation of natural man that is necessary in the modern world, and Hegel goes on to say, “As citizens of this State individuals are private individuals who have their own interest as their end. As this is obtained through the universal, which thus appears as a means, this end can be attained by them only if they set their knowledge, will, and action by a universal scheme and are transformed into links of the chain that forms this whole thing (Hegel, 1991). Here the benefit of the idea, which is not as such explicit in the consciousness of the members of civil society, is the process that raises their natural individuality to formal freedom and to formal universality of knowledge and will, both by natural necessity and by the arbitrariness of needs, and which gives to particular subjectivity a culture” (Taylor 1975, p 28).
In 1805 Hegel already notes this harshness of the economic world in which man is shaped. “Society has, for private man, the nature of elementary movement and is blind to what it depends on, what sustains it or suppresses it spiritually and materially” (Plant 1973, p 16). By his labor and technical progress man has escaped, it seems, from the domination of nature. As Descartes would say, he has become “master and possessor,” and this mastery is affirmed by the social division of labor (Haering 1963, p 90). The content of his work goes beyond his particular need. However, if man therefore dominates nature by the power of his understanding and the common force of society, he submits to slavery, a slavery of that very society that constitutes the universal above him. In place of domination of nature and natural necessity, social necessity is thus substituted: “The individual no longer accomplishes merely an abstract work” (Dickey, 1987). Hegel now describes the contradictions of this economic world with almost as much precision as those descriptions that will be made after his time in the course of the nineteenth century (Peperzak 1960, p 98).
The particular skill of the individual is the means of maintaining his existence. He can work more but thereby make the value of his work diminish. Needs are indeed multiplied and divided, taste is refined, only then man becomes a machine, “but by the abstract character of his work, man becomes more mechanical, more indifferent, less spiritual” (Plant 1973, p 19). However, the machine can still be substituted for man, “as his own work becomes more conventional in this case, his work limits him to a point, and work is more perfect as it is more monotonous” (Hegel, 1991). Demand varies according to vogue. Some industries ought to disappear while new ones make their appearance, leaving the individual, who works at the mercy of those contingencies, blind to the movement of the whole thing (Goldstein, 2004). The consequence, perceived by Hegel, is the condemnation of a whole “class of men in the labor of fabrics and manufactures, a work completely indifferent, unhealthy, and without security, no longer truly making appeal to ability and personal capacities” (Haering 1963, p 84). This class is afterward thrown into poverty by the incessant variations of the market.
Then the more heartrending opposition of the modern world is manifest, an opposition peculiar to civil society: that opposition of poverty and wealth. By a kind of concentration that is produced by a certain necessity, wealth increases on one hand as poverty rises on the other. “Wealth is like a crowd that attracts others to itself.”He who has, it is to him that we give.” And Hegel can add: “This inequity of wealth and poverty becomes the greatest rending of the social will, inner revolt, and hatred” (Taylor 1975, 19).
Aristotle, 1984, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Hippocrates G. Apostle Grinnell, Iowa: Peripatetic P, bk. Z.13, 1145a5-10.
Crites, Stephen. 1998, Dialectic and Gospel in the Development of Hegel’s Thinking. University Park: The Pennsylvania State UP, 72-80.
Dickey, Laurence. 1987, Hegel: Religion, Economics, and the Politics of Spirit, 1770-1807 Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Gray, Glenn J. 1968, Hegel and Greek Thought New York: Harper and Row, 24-28.
Goldstein, Joshua D. 2004, Hegel’s Idea of the Good Life: Virtue, Freedom, and the Modern Self Studies in German Idealism Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, forthcoming, Chapter 3.
Hegel, G.W.F. 1991, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W. Wood, trans H.B. Nisbet Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 21 emphasis in original.
Haering, Theodor L. 1963, Hegel: Sein Wollen und Sein Werk [Hegel: His Will and His Work], vol. 1 Stuttgart: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 84-90.
Harris, H.S. 1972, Hegel’s Development: Towards the Sunlight 1770-1801 Oxford: Clarendon P, 108-9.
Hegel, G.W.F. 1988, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: The Lectures of 1827 One-Volume Edition, ed. Peter C. Hodgson, trans R.F. Brown, P.C. Hodgson, and J.M. Stewart Berkeley: U. Of California P, 362.
Nohl, Herman. 1966, Frankfurt/Main: Minerva GmbH, 1-29, followed by H.S. Harris’s English translation Hegel’s Development, 481-507.
Peperzak, Adrien T.B. 1960, Le Jeune Hegel et la Vision Morale du Monde [The Young Hegel and His Moral Vision of the World] The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 18.
Plant, Raymond. 1973, Hegel Surrey: George Allen & Unwin, 16.
Taylor, Charles. 1975, Hegel Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 13-36.
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