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§5. Hegel ’s Legacy as a Critic of Liberalism

§5. Hegel ’s Legacy as a Critic of Liberalism

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   

that public culture is one way citizens learn that conception of themselves,

a conception which, if left to their own reflections, they would most likely

never form, much less accept and desire to realize.

Consider further how the various contingencies of social life affect the

content of people’s final ends and purposes, as well as the vigor and confidence with which they pursue them. We assess our prospects in life according to our place in society, and we form our ends and purposes in the

light of the means and opportunities we can realistically expect. Whether

we are hopeful and optimistic about our future, or resigned and apathetic,

depends both on the inequalities associated with our social position and on

the public principles of justice that society not merely professes but more

or less effectively uses to regulate the institutions of background justice.

Hence the basic structure of a social and economic regime is not only an

arrangement that satisfies given desires and aspirations but also an arrangement that arouses further desires and aspirations in the future. This it does

by the expectations and ambitions it encourages not only in the present

but over a complete life as well.

Moreover, native endowments of various kinds (say, native intelligence

and natural ability) are not fixed natural assets with a constant capacity.

They are merely potential and cannot come to fruition apart from social

conditions; and when realized, they can take but one or a few of many

possible forms. Educated and trained abilities are always a selection, and a

small selection at that, from a wide range of possibilities that might have

been fulfilled. Among what affects their realization are social attitudes of

encouragement and support, and institutions concerned with their early

discipline and use. Not only our conception of ourselves and our aims and

ambitions, but also our realized abilities and talents, reflect our personal

history, opportunities and social position, and the influence of good and ill

fortune. These kinds of reasons show our rootedness in society, as a reasonable liberalism fully recognizes.

. A third criticism of liberalism is that it cannot account for the intrinsic

value of institutions and social practices as such. As Hegel sees it, the good

of these social forms must go beyond the fulfillment of the aims and desires

of individuals, even though these aims are social: they are the aims of citizens, officeholders, and politicians, all engaged in maintaining their democratic institutions; they are the aims of composers, performers, and conduc[  ]

    

tors, all engaged in carrying on the traditions of music; and similarly for

indefinitely many other cases. But the achievement of such aims, while of

course satisfying to individuals whose aims they are, is not the private good

of individuals as such; that is presumably a good they could have apart

from the appropriate social relationships.

Then what is meant in saying that Hegel holds that collective goods

have a value not reducible to the good of individuals? Hegel is said to hold

that what makes the state rational and what makes it an end in itself is

the systematic identification of its institutions with the actualizing of the

subjective freedom and the private good of individuals.

What is crucial here is what is meant by the good of individuals, the

private good of individuals, and the private good of individuals as such. Do

these mean the same thing? Let’s say that they are not the same, and distinguish them as follows.

First, the good of individuals consists, in part at least, of the achievement

of individuals’ final aims of all kinds, including here especially their social

and public aims as defined above, together with the satisfaction of these


Next, we say that the private good of individuals is the achievement of

their nonpublic final aims of various kinds, counting here as nonpublic their

aims as members of families, as husbands and wives, as sons and daughters.

We consider the family and certain other institutions as nonpublic, which

is not to say they are not subject to moral and legal constraints.

Finally, the private good of individuals as such is the good of individuals

regarded purely individualistically, or singly: say, in terms of an individual’s

overall happiness, perhaps but not necessarily viewed hedonistically.

Granting that the liberal tradition can and indeed does allow for the

good of individuals of all these kinds (especially the first), there is not so

far any conflict between it and Hegel’s view. As a scheme of free institutions, the basic structure of liberal institutions provides for the achievement

of final aims of all these kinds; and this is what makes the state rational

and an end in itself.

Hegel is not denying the tautology that collective goods also have value

because they have a value for individuals. So if we construe collective goods

as things like institutional states of affairs—say, the scheme of free institutions itself—that benefit individuals generally, then again there is no conflict

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   

with the liberal tradition. For liberalism recognizes that individuals as citizens and politicians may, in view of their final aims, strive to establish a

scheme of free institutions for its own sake. Doing so fulfills their desire

for public justice, their devotion to the ideal of democracy. Surely Hegel

is not saying the liberal tradition recognizes no such aspirations. Their success in realizing this aspiration settles how far they realize their good (socially and institutionally defined).

. Hegel claims that what has the most value for individuals, what actualizes their freedom most completely, is the pursuit of a universal or collective end, not the pursuit of their own private ends as such. But the liberal

tradition does not in general deny this. What it does deny is that the greatest

good of human beings generally is realized in politics, as in the public life

of the Greek polis. Rather, liberalism stresses other great collective values,

those of science, art, and culture, or those of the private and personal life,

those of affection, friendship, and love.

. I think we have still to get at the root of Hegel’s view, since the

alleged conflict with liberalism seems so far not to exist. The criticisms we

have canvassed depend on a mistaken conception, actually a parody, of

liberalism. So I try another tack.

The root of Hegel’s view is found in his conceptions of history, Geist,

and the role of reason in philosophical reflection. Hegel often characterizes

the greatness of great historical figures in terms of their contribution to the

progressive development of the institutional structure of human social life.

The actions of historical agents over time unintentionally realize great social

transformations that philosophy, looking back after the fact, understands

in terms of the cunning of reason. Great figures seek their own narrow

ends, yet unknown to them they serve the realization of Geist. Hegel often

speaks of the fate and suffering of individuals in a way that cannot but strike

us as callous and indifferent. They get used up in the course of history

as so much material; they come and go as transient and fungible parts of

institutions and culture. Yet the social framework remains and manifests

the gains Geist has made in its goal of passing from substance to a subject

fully conscious of itself, having articulated all its latent potentialities. This

last is of higher, even of religious, importance and not simply of human

importance. How are we to make sense of this?

Let’s put the matter this way. There are three points of view. There is

[  ]

    

the point of view of humanity, the point of view of God, and the point of

view of Geist. The idea of the point of view of Geist is the idea of a point

of view that is at once human and divine, just as Geist is introduced as

the mediation and reconciliation of the traditional concepts of God and

humankind. Geist is not cruel and certainly not malicious. In the development of Geist from substance to subject, human beings suffer and die, not

to be resurrected at the last day. But it’s essential that social institutions be

a framework to realize the good of individuals. Only so does Geist achieve

its full expression in reasonable and rational social institutions. Only so can

individuals become bearers of culture—of religion and philosophy, science

and art—in the human awareness of which Geist itself achieves its conscious

self-awareness. For Hegel, Geist achieves its highest self-awareness in religion, art, and philosophy only insofar as human beings can engage in and

realize religion, art, and philosophy. The collective self-awareness of human

beings in higher culture is that in which Geist achieves its fullest realization

and complete manifestation. Whether they know it or not, human beings

live in the service of the goal of Geist—a goal which is in some important

sense their own. From the point of view of Geist, that is the higher value

of human life and culture, not the values and goods as seen from the human

point of view. These things are shown in Hegel’s remarks about war and

historical development.

But what is the point of view of Geist? It is not the point of view of

the separate transcendent God of Christianity. For although Hegel thought

of himself as a Lutheran, the whole point of his philosophical theology is to reject the idea of the radical otherness of God. Rather the selfconsciousness of Geist is collective human self-consciousness over time, the

self-consciousness expressed in different forms of human life in culture, and

especially in art and religion and philosophy. Now, the highest form of

human self-consciousness occurs in philosophy when it achieves the realization of absolute knowledge. So the point of view of Geist must be the point

of view of the absolute knowledge achieved by philosophy in its highest

and final stage of development. From that point of view, looking back on

the whole course of history and culture, it must be possible for philosophy

to see that the development of that history and culture is in itself the highest

good, the good the realization of which individuals suffered and died for,

and nations came and passed away—all for reasons unknown to them ex[  ]

   

cept insofar as they grasped the truths of philosophy itself, foreshadowed

in art and religion. The good of individuals and peoples is indeed good,

but not the highest good: not the highest good for the sake of which there

is the world as we see it spread over time and space, and which makes the

world intelligible to itself through and through.

What philosophical view is expressed in the point of view of Geist so

that, when it looks back at the final and highest stage, it sees the whole

course of history as good? I suppose there could be no answer to this except

the answer that Geist sees that it is good, as it were, as a given fact. But

this could not really be Hegel’s answer, I think, because he is committed

to the view that the world is fully intelligible through and through as a

basic thesis of his idealism. So when Geist sees the world as good, it does

so for a reason: what is this reason?

The reason, I believe, is that Hegel affirms the exacting standards Aristotle set up for the highest good: namely, that it be complete, desired only

for its own sake, self-sufficient, and such that no added good could make

it any better.9 This complete, or perfect, good cannot be achieved by any

human individual, or group, or nation, but it can be achieved by Geist—

at once human and divine—over the whole course of world history.

This good is rooted in the potentialities of things and peoples. Good is

achieved by the full expression of these potentialities in acts of various kinds.

So when the potentialities of Geist reach their full expression in the world,

Geist, in looking back in philosophy, brings them to self-consciousness and

from the point of view of philosophy sees the course of history as itself


This good of the course of history as a whole is complete because all

the potentialities of Geist have been realized and they express a reasonable

and rational view of the whole, the outlines of which are given in Hegel’s

account of logic. The actualization of potentiality is desired for its own sake,

the course of history as a whole is self-sufficient, and there is no added

good that could make it any better: every potentiality has been expressed,

everything reasonable and rational and good has been done. At last the true

and the good are at peace in harmony.

9. This formulation I take from Gisela Striker, “Ataraxia: Happiness as Tranquillity,” Monist

(), .

[  ]


Course Outline: Problems in Moral Philosophy

In the Harvard University Catalogue of Courses this class is described as a

study of Kant’s moral philosophy, with some attention to Hume and Leibniz and, if time allows, to Hegel’s criticisms of Kant. The outline of proposed lecture topics given below reflects this description, though it gives

more attention to Hume than the description may suggest. As circumstances allow, there is some discussion of different approaches to moral

philosophy and of how its problems may be seen to arise depending on

writers’ different points of view and on what they see as calling for philosophical reflection given the historical and cultural background of their day.

While reading historically important works is but one approach to moral

philosophy, we hope to gain some of its advantages.

A. Hume

. The Treatise: a fideism of nature and reason and passions

. His account of deliberation and of the role of reason

. His account of justice as an artificial virtue and the role of sympathy

. His critique of the Rationalists: Clarke and Cudworth

. His account of moral judgments: the judicious spectator

B. Kant: The Moral Law

. The Grundlegung: Preface and the argument of Part I

. The categorical imperative: the first (law of nature) formulation

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       

. The second (treating humanity as an end-in-itself ) formulation

. The third (universal legislation) formulation: relation of formulations

. The realm of ends and the order of nature and other difficulties

C. Leibniz

. Metaphysical perfectionism and his theory of truth

. Spirits as free and rational substances

. The Theodicy and the conception of freedom of the will

D. Kant: The Fact of Reason (Das Faktum der Vernunft)

. The priority of right and the sequence of conceptions of the good

. Moral constructivism and the reasonable and the rational

. The fact of reason: texts and interpretation

E. Kant: Philosophy as Defense

. The moral law as a law of freedom

. Moral psychology of Religion I and die freie Willkuăr

. The practical point of view and the unity of reason

F. Hegel

. His official criticisms of Kant: what and how serious

. His idea of ethical life (die Sittlichkeit) and of freedom

. His implicit criticism of Kantian liberalism: what

G. Texts

Hume: Treatise of Human Nature, ed. P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ).

Kant: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. H. D. Paton (New

York: Harper and Row, ); Critique of Practical Reason, trans.

L. W. Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, ); Religion within the

Limits of Reason Alone, trans. T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson (New

York: Harper and Row, ); Doctrine of Virtue, trans. M. Gregor

(New York: Harper and Row, ).

Leibniz: Philosophical Essays, ed. and trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber

(Indianapolis: Hackett, ).

Also recommended: Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans. H. B.

Nisbet, ed. A. W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ).

[  ]

 

R      :

Hume: Lectures –: Treatise II, iii, §§–; cf. §§–. Lecture : ibid., III,

ii, §§–; II, i, §. Lecture : ibid., III, i, §§–. Lecture : III, iii,


Kant: Lecture : Grundlegung (Gr), Preface and Part I. Lectures –: ibid.,

Part II; and with this Critique of Practical Reason (KP) Analytic: Chs.

I, Ak. –, and II, – (The Typic). Lecture : Gr II, Ak. ff.;

KP Analytic: Ch. I, Ak. f.

Leibniz: Lecture : Discourse on Metaphysics, Garber # and #, , , , .

Lecture : Garber #, , . Lecture : Garber #, , .

Kant: Lecture : KP Analytic: Ch. II, Ak. –. Lecture : KP Analytic:

Ch. III, Ak. –; and Doctrine of Method: Ak. –. Lecture

: texts to be given. Lecture : KP Analytic: Elucidation: Ak. –

; see also KR B–. Lecture : Religion (Rel), Bk. I, and KP

Dialectic: Chs. I and II and §: Ak. –. Lecture : KP: Dialectic:

§§–: Ak. –.

Hegel: Lecture : Philosophy of Right: Intro., Abstract Right and Morality,

§§–. Lecture : Ethical Life: The Family and Civil Society,

§§–. Lecture : State and World History, §§–.

It should be mentioned that the lectures consist largely in examining texts

and in trying to present a forceful but reasonably accurate interpretation

of the doctrine they express. I shan’t give Hume’s view, say, and then proceed to criticize it to show how he could have done much better from a

contemporary point of view. Some critical comments, yes, when sparing

and fundamental, but we should be interested in understanding Hume (and

the others), as wrongheaded as he may seem at times. One can say this of

any author worthy of careful study and reflection, as the ones we read

certainly are.

There will be a final examination, weekly sections, and written work summing to about ,–, words.

[  ]


A priori, –; principles, ; synthetic

a priori knowledge, ; objects of the

moral law given a priori, –; categorical imperative, –

Action (Hume). See Motives; Passions;

Practical reason: Hume’s official view

of; Reason (Hume)

Action (Kant), –. See also CIprocedure; Motives; Practical reason;

Reason (Kant)

Adam, 

Adams, Robert, 

Aesthetics, , 

Alienation, Kantian morality as, –


Allison, Henry, n, n

Ameriks, Karl, n

Apology, See philosophy as defense

Aquinas, Thomas (Saint), , , 

Aristides (the Just), , 

Aristotle, , , , , , 

Arnauld, Antoine, 

Augustine (Saint), , n

Autonomy: self-conception of an agent,

; and foundation of morality, ,

, –, ; formulation of categorical imperative, –. See also

Choice; Freedom; Heteronomy; Spontaneity

Axelrod, Robert, n

Beattie, James, , 

Beck, Lewis White, n

Belief, , , –; mistaken belief and

rationality, –

Bellarmine, Robert (Saint), 

Benevolence: as a calm passion, , ; as

natural virtue, –; in Butler, –;

in Clarke, ; rational benevolence,

. See also Duty: of mutual aid

Bentham, Jeremy, , 

Bismarck, Otto von, 

Bouvet, Father Joachim, n

Bradley, F. H., , n

Brutus, 

Burnyeat, M. F., 

Butler, Joseph (Bishop), n, , , –,


Caesar, Julius, , , , , 

Calvin, John, , 

Carnap, Rudolph, 

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§5. Hegel ’s Legacy as a Critic of Liberalism

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