Younkins on Hegel

seddon's picture
Submitted by seddon on Sat, 2006-02-18 03:04


Thanks for your article on Hegel. Just a few thoughts.

1. “Kant thus proposed the paradox that the world consists of antinomies—contradictions that cannot be resolved.” But they can be resolved and Kant himself proposed the resolution. Hence the title of Section VI, in Book II, chapter II, to wit: “Transcendental Idealism as the Key to Solving the Cosmological Dialectic.” (i.e., antinomies).

2. “the State, . . . is an end in itself.” And yet Hegel can write, human beings “are ends in themselves—not merely formally, as is the world of other living beings, whose individual life is essentially subordinate to that of man and is properly used us as an instrument. Men, on the contrary, are ends in themselves in regard to the content of the end. This defines those elements which we demand to be exempt from the category of means: morality, ethics, religion. [Remember that for Hegel, religion is a primitive form of philosophy.] Man is an end in himself. (REASON IN HISTORY, 44-5)

3. It is lines like the above that may have caused Kaufmann to write, “It would be absurd to represent Hegel as a radical individualist; but it is equally absurd to claim that Hegel’s state is totalitarian. . . The state alone makes possible the development of art, law, morals, religion and science….Hegel’s philosophy is open to many objections, but to confound it with totalitarianism means to misunderstand it.” (FROM SHAKESPEARE TO EXISTENTIALISM, 113)

4. “Ayn Rand has observed that for Kant one’s knowledge lacks validity because to truly know involves relating to reality directly without depending on one’s conceptual mechanism.” This idea of Rand’s has been shown to be hollow by George Walsh in his 1992 talk to the Ayn Rand Society at the APA and was reprinted in JARS in Fall, 2000. I have also taken up the cudgels on this issue in the now defunct SOLOHQ in my paper on Miller’s comments on Walsh’s paper. (Oct. 1, 2004)

5. “Hegel’s State has no room for the idea of individual rights or a liberal theory of the State.” In section 44 of the PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT, [all quotes that have section numbers refer to this work] one of many such passages Hegel writes, “A person has as his substantive end the right of putting his will into any and every thing and thereby making it his, because it has no such end in itself and derives its destiny and soul from his will. [Reminds me of Roark.] This is the absolute right of appropriation which man has over all ‘things’.” Or in section 46 we read Hegel complaining against Plato, “The general principle that underlies Plato’s ideal state violates the right of personality by forbidding the holding of private property.” Hm.

6. “Because men across different groupings (nations) disagree in their moral feelings, each State rightly legislates its own moral code—true morality is expressed in and through the laws of the State that must be obeyed by the citizens of that State but not by the members of other States.” I read Hegel to be saying that good laws are based on the customs of the people and since different peoples have different customs, they will have different laws. In section 257 he writes, “The state exists immediately in custom….” In that sense Younkins is correct when he writes, “the laws of the State …must be obeyed by the citizens of that State but not by the members of other States.”

7. “The State has supreme right against the individual, whose highest duty is to submerge himself into the State.” And yet in section 66 Hegel condemns the following forms of alienation: “slavery, serfdom, disqualification from holding property, encumbrances on property, and so forth.” And especially he regards as “inalienable” and “imprescriptible” such characteristics of “my personality as . . . my universal freedom of will, my ethical life, my religion.”

Perhaps this is a good place to mention the following item, (I don’t think it is really an argument.) Hegel had a special love for Socrates and Antigone, two individuals not noted for their submissive attitude to the state. In the PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT, practically the whole of the chapter on Sittlichkeit deals with Antigone’s defiance of the state. It would be akin to Rand having a warm spot in her heart for Peter Keating.

8. “Hegel calls for an antidemocratic authoritarian State that has absolute right over its component members precisely in order to attain maximal freedom.” Hardly. Hegel sees the goal of the state as providing freedom to the individual to pursue art, religion, property, family, philosophy etc. Always remember that the state of only a moment of social ethics, which is only a moment of Objective Spirit. The telos of the system is to be found in Absolute Spirit, specifically art, religion and philosophy. [By the way I have a foldout of the Hegelian system measuring about 12” x 20.” Looking at this foldout one can see at a glance how tiny and almost insignificant the state is in the whole Hegelian scheme of things. Its hard to find despite the fact that I even know roughly where it is on the page.]


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Neil Parille's picture


Many good points here.

Objectivists see the history of philosophy as little more than a history of errors (with a few exceptions). So studying philosophy for them often seems to be coming up with the worst quotes (e.g. "denying reason to make room for faith") and explaining how these fit in with the someone's alleged premises (Kant wanted to save religion). (I'm not saying Ed does this and I haven't read the paper in question.)

I'm all in favor of getting to essentials, but how a thinker's ideas fit within his system is key. With respect to Kant one shouldn't ignore the fact that he believed in private property, a secular state, and opposed traditional religion. I even read the other day that he supported the US revolution. I wonder if Aristotle would have.

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