Presentation is loading. Please wait.

Presentation is loading. Please wait.

The Preface to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right.

Similar presentations

Presentation on theme: "The Preface to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Preface to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right

2 1. Historical reception Hegel as ‘the official Prussian philosopher of the Restoration and of the state’, Rudolf Haym (1857) Restoration = period of political reaction and conservatism that occurred after the allied defeat of Napoleon Sought to reverse period of reform that had begun in the wake of the French Revolution (1789) - for example, by introduction of strict censorship laws, which Hegel himself had to work under – Carlsbad Decrees (1819) Hegel viewed as apologist for the reactionary, authoritarian Prussian state of his own time

3 From Hegel to Hitler! Prussia’s role, under guidance of Bismarck’s Machtpolitik, in bringing about German unification – Prussian militarism – First World War – National Socialism But: (1) Hegel began lecturing on PR before he even came to Berlin (2) PR contains institutions (e.g. trial by jury, constitutional monarchy) not found in Prussia – PR reflects plans of reformers within Prussian Government (3) Nineteenth-century German liberals, like Haym, not only wanted a constitution guaranteeing certain rights but also were advocates of German unity – Haym therefore had his own political agenda

4 2. The rationality of the actual – the Doppelsatz What is rational is actual [wirklich]; and what is actual is rational. (PR, p. 20) Is Hegel saying that the (actually) existing (Prussian) state is rational? Or even that whatever exists is rational? For Haym, the Doppelsatz is evidence of (1)political conservatism (2)quietism (3)(misplaced) optimism

5 Emphasis on comprehension [begreifen – Begriff] as opposed to attempts to bring about social and political change The truth concerning right, ethics [Sittlichkeit], and the state is at any rate as old as its exposition and promulgation in public laws and in public morality [Moral] and religion … What it needs is to be comprehended as well, so that the content which is already rational in itself may also gain a rational form and thereby appear justified to free thinking. (PR, p. 11) Truth = reason as it manifests itself in what exists (e.g. laws, morality, religion) The content (e.g. a law or institution) may be implicitly rational while the grounds on which it is accepted as legitimate or valid (e.g. external authority, consensus, feeling) are inadequate

6 Doubts concerning the validity of ‘laws of right’ are bound to arise because these laws differ essentially from laws of nature We must simply accept laws of nature as something given that we are powerless to change; all we can do is to seek to comprehend them Although laws of right can confront us as something merely given in the form of positive laws, they are nevertheless human constructs and can be known as such The variety and the relative nature of positive laws may lead us to think that they are not ‘absolute’ and make us question the grounds of their validity Reflection on the nature and validity of laws and institutions is therefore ultimately needed (even if Hegel sometimes suggests otherwise; cf. association of such reflection with ‘vanity and particularity of opinions’ on p. 12).

7 Comprehension = rational insight By comprehending something in purely conceptual terms, an implicitly rational content is given an explicitly rational form Form = mode of knowledge Content = object of knowledge Thus, the same content can be the object of different forms of knowledge, one of which may be more adequate than others If comprehension means rational insight, rationality seems to provide the norm against which existing states must be judged Introduces critical dimension

8 3. Interpretations of the Doppelsatz (1) Conservative reading – ‘To comprehend what is is the task of philosophy, for what is is reason’. (PR, p. 21) The existing social and political order is already an adequate manifestation of reason and it is therefore only a matter of either (i) accepting that this is so on the basis of faith in its rationality, or (ii) comprehending how reason is at work in this social and political order (but not by applying an external standard, e.g. whether the social and political order is compatible with certain human and political rights Some internal criticism may be possible, though: does this social and political order live up to the standards and goals that it itself proclaims?)

9 This treatise, therefore, in so far as it deals with political science, shall be nothing other than an attempt to comprehend [begreifen] and portray the state as an inherently rational entity. As a philosophical composition, it must distance itself as far as possible from the obligation to construct a state as it ought to be; such instruction as it may contain cannot be aimed at instructing the state on how it ought to be, but rather showing how the state, as the ethical universe, should be recognised. (PR, p. 21) The state is assumed to be ‘good’ or ‘right’ because it is rational The notion of how the state ‘ought to be’, by contrast, implies a normative distinction between how things ought to be and how they actually are

10 (2) Progressive reading Technical sense of actuality (or reality) (Wirklichkeit) = unity of essence and existence Something is actual (or real) only in so far as it expresses, manifests, realises and corresponds to its inner (rational) essence or concept (She is a ‘real’ [i.e. true] friend, that is, someone who genuinely manifests the qualities that define what it means to be an actual friend as opposed to a false or unreliable one) There is an underlying rational structure to which something (or someone) can fail to live up Dynamic process – social and political change is necessary to realise this rational structure in the world

11 Alternative formulation of the Doppelsatz What is rational becomes actual, And the actual becomes rational. Rationality of the actual is the result of a historical process Reason is an active power that is effective in the world and has the tendency to actualise itself By and large, this process of actualisation has for Hegel already taken place in the modern European states of his own time Thus, only a certain type of existing state can be classed as ‘actual’, and only in so far as it realises the essence (or concept) of the rational state

12 No existing state can, however, hope fully to realise this essence or concept We should, however, seek to recognise the ways in which it does so and thus has an underlying rational structure: Any state, even if we pronounce it bad in the light of our own principles, and even if we discover this or that defect in it, invariably has the essential moments of its existence within itself (provided it is one of the more advanced states of our time). But since it is easier to discover deficiencies than to comprehend [begreifen] the affirmative, one may easily fall into the mistake of overlooking the inner organism of the state in favour of individual aspects. The state is not a work of art; it exists in the world, and hence in the sphere of arbitrariness, contingency, and error, and bad behaviour may disfigure it in many respects. (PR § 258A)

13 (3) ‘Neutral’ reading Differs from both (1) and (2) which assume that what is rationally intelligible is something ‘good’ or ‘right’ by arguing that Hegel is not making a normative claim Rather, he is simply offering a defence of philosophical rationalism and method What is actual can be investigated by means of rational inquiry of a certain kind It can thereby be shown to be structured in a (systematic) way that is fundamentally rationally intelligible A matter of making sense of the social and political world, rather than asking whether it is good or right

14 The appropriate method must be the ‘speculative’ one which was developed by Hegel himself and exemplified in his Science of Logic What, then, is the relation of PR to the other parts of Hegel’s philosophical system, especially his logic? Hegel’s own vagueness: I have presupposed a familiarity with scientific method; and … it will readily be noticed that the work as a whole, like the construction of its parts, is based on the logical spirit. (PR, p. 10)

15 4. Comprehension and reconciliation All three interpretations suggest that Hegel is in some way attempting to reconcile his contemporaries to their social and political world To recognise [erkennen] reason as the rose in the cross of the present and thereby to delight in the present – this rational insight is the reconciliation with actuality which philosophy grants to those who have received the inner call to comprehend, to preserve their subjective freedom in the realm of the substantial, and at the same time to stand with their subjective freedom not in a particular and contingent situation, but in what has being in and for itself. (p. 22)

16 Three elements: Subjective = subjective freedom Involves awareness of oneself as having particular, separate interests and a particular, separate identity Objective = ‘the realm of the substantial’, ‘what has being in and for itself’ (later ‘ethical life’) – independently true, valid Relation of subjective aspect to objective one = in some way universal and necessary (later the type of relation that obtains in ethical life) Sense of oneself as essentially part of a collective body at the same time as being aware of oneself as having particular, separate interests and a particular, separate identity

17 The idea of reconciliation [of subjective and objective] implies (1) A process – overcoming of alienation from one’s social world Alienation can be objective or subjective or both: (i) One can experience a sense of alienation because objective conditions are essentially alienating ones (ii) One can fail to experience a sense of alienation even when objective conditions are essentially alienating ones (iii) One can experience a sense of alienation even when objective conditions are not alienating, because one has in some sense misunderstood them (2) A state – sense of being at home in one’s social world

18 5. Subjectivism The subjective = individual’s beliefs, desires, feelings, convictions etc. The subjective can be in harmony with that which is objective (e.g. when one has true beliefs about something, when one experiences an emotion, such as fear, that is appropriate in the circumstances) Subjectivism is when the objective element is lacking

19 Hegel’s criticisms of ethical subjectivism (1) Type of dogmatism … human beings think and look for their freedom and the basis of ethics [Sittlichkeit] in [the realm of] thought. But however exulted, however divine this right may be, it is nevertheless transformed into a wrong if the only criterion of thought and the only way in which thought can know itself to be free is the extent to which it diverges from what is universally acknowledged and valid and manages to invent something particular for itself. (PR, p. 12) It is assumed that an ethical theory is of value only if it offers something radically different from the existing generally recognised norms, laws and institutions This divergence is taken to be the criterion of this theory’s truth

20 This viewpoint simply presupposes that the existing, generally recognised norms, laws and institutions are invalid, while making no attempt to discover the extent to which they may be rational (2) Particularity To base ethics and right on what is purely subjective in the form of feeling, personal conviction etc., is to turn them into something that is: (i) valid only for the individual who experiences this feeling or conviction (ii) indeterminate – there is, as it stands, no necessary relation between the feeling or conviction and its object – it is conceivable that feeling or conviction could have a directly opposed object on another occasion

21 Demonstrates ‘hatred of law’ (PR, p. 17) - opposition to the universality and determinacy of rational law which by its very nature: (i) applies equally and generally to all (i.e. has universal validity) (ii) has a determinate object and is itself determinate (i.e. every specific law has an object which it determines) Feeling and conviction can, however, be given a rational form by being comprehended in purely conceptual terms, in which case they are demonstrated to be not merely subjective

22 ( 3) Anti-utopianism In the light of (1) and (2), there is the tendency to construct ideal theories of a society or state that ‘ought’ to be Such intellectual constructions abstract entirely from existing conditions and it cannot, therefore, be known how they could ever be realised In seeking to comprehend that which exists, in the sense of discovering the rationality implicit within it, genuine philosophy is more realistic The ideal that this philosophy constructs – the account its gives of the essential structure of a rationally ordered society and state – is therefore something that must come after the real development of such a society and state

23 As ‘its own time comprehended [erfaßt] in thoughts’, philosophy recognises the limits to which the philosopher, as a child of his or her own time, is subject (PR p. 21) As the thought of the world, it appears only at a time when actuality has gone through its formative process and attained its completed state. (PR, p. 23) For Hegel, even Plato’s Republic does this, in that it captures something essential about the nature of the ancient Greek form of ethical life (Sittlichkeit) Plato shows an awareness of how a ‘deeper principle’ (i.e. the principle of subjective freedom) was undermining this essentially collectivist and unreflective form of ethical life (PR, p. 20) Plato attempted to suppress this principle instead of accommodating it within a new form of ethical life.

Download ppt "The Preface to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right."

Similar presentations

Ads by Google