Pippin, Hegel’s Practical Philosophy: Ch. 4

This will be our reading for July 22.  You can find the details at our Meetup page.

1. The previous chapter argued that freedom is fundamentally the capacity to “give oneself the law,” to legislate norms and bind ourselves to them.  This self-legislation is not the ratification of passing desires or opinions, some sort of pure subjectivism, but a strange combination of self-creation and self-limitation.  These self-created norms create and sustain social roles and reasons which we can use to justify or criticize behaviour.  We looked at two different models of self-legislation: Kant’s deductive model, which begins with the generic, ahistorical individual, and Hegel’s historical/developmental model, which begins with actually-existing groups.

2. For both Kant and Hegel, a key motivating factor in ethical behaviour is respect for the life-leading capacity of humans, which eventually cashes out in the claim that all value depends on recognizing the value of humanity as an ultimate moral identity.  As Korsgaard says, “A good soldier obeys orders, but a good human being does not massacre the innocent.”  Pippin thinks the Kantian framework cannot establish this value of humanity, but the Hegelian one can.

3. This self-legislation is not only about practical norms, but cognitive norms as well; all of this is attached to a much larger account of rationality in general.  Chapter 4 is about Hegel’s account of concept-formation, and is relevant here because it helps respond to a common criticism of Hegel: that he is an anti-individualist authoritarian.

Continue reading


Pippin, Hegel’s Practical Philosophy: Ch. 3

This is the reading for June 24th’s meeting.  You can get the location and other details at our meetup.com page.

1. In chapters 1 and 2, Pippin argued that Hegel’s practical philosophy—which Hegel would have called a philosophy of spirit—is primarily a theory of freedom.  His idea of freedom is quite far from our usual notions of freedom, which tend to revolve around abstract questions of free will and political questions of what we ought to be free from or to do.  To some degree, Hegel combines these two sides of freedom when he says that a free act is not necessarily one freely caused by me, but rather an act which I can, on reflection, fully endorse.  Further, this sort of reflective endorsement is only possible when one understands one self and others in particular ways and stands in rule-governed institutional relations.

2. Pippin also introduced the claim that “spirit is a product of itself.”  Spirit is the industry-standard translation of the German word Geist, and for our purposes, we can basically define it as both the development and actual existence of a given historical period’s package set of fundamental concepts and practices.  

3. This claim that spirit is a product of itself is important for two reasons.  First, it both connects Hegel to, and differentiates him from, earlier German idealists like Kant and Fichte.  Second, it is one of the main points in his social, collective idea of freedom.  These two points are connected: for Kant and Fichte, cognitive and practical normativity (how we ought to think, what we ought to do) find their origins in the (either logically or practically necessary) cognitive acts of individuals, while for Hegel, both kinds of normativity are the result of collective, historical development.  

Continue reading

Robert Pippin – Hegel’s Practical Philosophy 1: Ch. 1-2

This is will be our reading for June 10th.  You can find all the details on our Meetup.com page.

Chapter 1: Introduction

There are several questions any account of freedom needs to be able to answer, with three being the most obvious.  First, what is freedom, or what would it mean to act freely?  Second, is it possible to act freely? Third, how important is leading a free life?

These days, these sorts of questions are folded into an area of research called “practical philosophy,” which has two questions of its own.  First, are there events that we can demand justifications for, or are all events caused in the same uniform way?  Is there a real distinction between a human act and a rock rolling downhill?  Second, if the answer to the first question is yes, then we need to ask what counts as a good justification.

Hegel’s theory of freedom, as a theory of both action and value, is his answer to all of these questions.  The standard description of Hegel’s theory says it has two elements.  First, to be free is to have a reflective and deliberate relation to one’s actions, and second, that this is only possible when one is in a certain (institutional and rule-governed) relation to others.

Continue reading

A Left of the Thing-in-Itself

This is not a reading for any upcoming meeting; we discussed it a year ago and I did not get around to posting it until now.

The editor’s introduction to The Science of Logic draws a line from Kant through Fichte to Hegel.  The guiding issue is the constraint placed on mental activity; does it arise from the thing-in-itself, or from the freedom of the cogito?  Fichte pushed Kant in the direction of an absolute freedom, but did so at the cause of grounding that freedom in a fundamental mystery.  Hegel’s project, as this editor has it, was to make that freedom non-mysterious and fully conceptualized.  I have also tacked on a political side note.

Continue reading

Absolute Knowing

This will be the reading for January 17th.  Directions are in the sidebar.

In the Introduction, Hegel described the basic problem of the book, the relation between the subject and the object.  Recall the quandary he set up: if (something like) reason is the tool we use to understand the world, then the tool mediates between us and the world.  How are we to know the world as it is in itself?  If we abstract away the tool, then either we lose the appearances (i.e. the for-us), or the tool was never needed in the first place.  Either option seems to leave us blind.

The Phenomenology of Spirit is the long story of how the subject and object can be reconciled, or in other words, how we can have genuine knowledge of the object in-itself, apart from our partial, mediated perspective.  One part of the key has been that different forms of consciousness have concerned themselves with different objects: one form of consciousness was concerned with the immediate empirical world, another with the natural sciences, another with the workings of culture.  Each time, there has been a different subjective view on a different object.

Another part of the key is that each form of consciousness initially prefers to see its object in an immediate way; it concerns itself with the way the thing appears.  This is always carried out in a contradictory way; not a contradiction between subject and object, as if the subject were simply confused, but a contradiction in the way that the subject relates to the object.  For example, the ethical form of consciousness saw its world as a harmonious relation between the family and the state, but at the same time required the two elements to be in conflict with one another.  That contradiction is what forces the acceptance of a mediated perspective on the object; consciousness has to accept that the initial harmony and the conflict are both of its own doing, a result of its perspective on the object.

Taken together, we can catch a glimpse of what absolute knowing is.  Absolute knowing has a new object and a new relation to the object.  The object is the mediated relation between the subject and the object itself, and the new relation is the self-conscious awareness of this mediated relationship.  So in short: absolute knowing is knowing that the relation between the subject and the object is mediated, and knowing that one knows this.

Continue reading

The Phenomenology of Spirit: Religion

At the end of the chapter on the moral worldview, we saw a final conflict reminiscent of the original conflict that inaugurated self-consciousness; two self-consciousness each convinced they held the moral high ground, a conflict that could only be reconciled via acts of forgiveness.  As we shall see, this community of forgiveness is necessarily a religious one, and it marks the final transition to absolute spirit.

Religion has two aspects: cultic rituals and faith.  The rituals are the actual practices, while faith is the “theory” underlying these acts.  Hegel argues that religion is essentially about an attempted reconciliation between the particular and the universal; to see how this works, we will be retracing our steps through the entirety of the Phenomenology.

The conflict between the particular and the universal has taken several forms.  It was born in the initial master/slave conflict, but first took recognizable form in the ethical world, in which the universal was expressed in the dread of the underworld.  Antigone forced the appearance of something like individual conscience into this world, and the universal was transformed into reasonable culture.  Culture soon found that the new form of individuality was entirely unruly, and gave way to modern conscience, which eventually necessitated acts of forgiveness.

Continue reading

The Phenomenology of Spirit: The Moral Worldview

Chapter 5, entitled “Spirit”, has passed through two moments.  First, we found that the harmony of the ethical world was unsustainable due to the unstable relation between family and state.  Second, we saw that  culture inevitably produces alienated individuals, an alienation that is quickly recognized as freedom.  The initial attempt to directly realize freedom, the French Revolution, ended in chaos and terror.

The moral worldview is a second attempt to realize freedom, while avoiding anarchy.  It must balance freedom and duty.  Hegel tackles the moral worldview in its Kantian form, which he characterizes as an interplay between two sides of consciousness: the rational self, which recognizes duty, and the natural self, which is driven by various particular, contingent concerns.

In that interplay between the rational and natural selves, Hegel finds “a whole nest of contradictions.”  The rational self seeks after duty, while the natural self seeks happiness.  The basic contradiction is this: because both are moments of the self, they are both equally present and cannot be separated.  However, the moral, rational self is just as much the essential moment, while the natural self is inessential.  Put another way, duty and happiness are equal, but duty is more equal.

This basic contradiction produces a series of other contradictions.  Kant does recognize this, and introduces the postulates of freedom, immortality and God in order to resolve them.  Hegel criticizes the postulates as a series of insincere dissemblances; basically, the moral worldview constantly shuttles back and forth between universal and particular, duty and happiness, rationality and natural impulses, in an attempt to place the contradictions at an infinite distance.

Self-consciousness becomes tired of this endless displacement, and seeks to establish personal conscience as the ultimate authority.  It tries to create a purely moral world, yet discovers that it cannot banish the lower impulses.  Hegel’s own solution to the relation between pure duty and the impure impulse to happiness is forgiveness: moral self-consciousness recognizes that one cannot keep their hands clean, and the natural self-consciousness recognizes its complicity in evil.  They learn to forgive one another, and true spirit – the I that is we and the we that is I – is actualized in the world.

Continue reading