Die Frage könnte eigentlich so gestellt werden: Wie hängt, was uns wichtig ist, von dem ab, was physisch möglich ist?
“Observing Reason” is one of the longest sections of the Phenomenology of Spirit. It is, for instance, twice as long as the much-noted part dedicated to self-consciousness. Yet it is one of the least commented, interpreted, and productively appropriated passages of this seminal work. There are two clusters of reasons that can explain this relative disregard: First, in the section on “Observing Reason” Hegel deals with scientific theories and accounts in the philosophy of nature of his times. These are, at least at first sight, remote from both the actual overarching topic of the Phenomenology and from the model of a socially and historically oriented theory of the mental that is attractive from today's perspective. The problems Hegel deals with here not only lie outside the interests of most interpreters of the Phenomenology. They refer to questions and theories that are unfamiliar to us. It would seem that in this section Hegel's general philosophical program in the Phenomenology can find only sparse anchorage in the subject matter being investigated. Interpreters interested in the systematic sustainability of the entire work tend to look to other parts of the book for arguments in favor of Hegel's attempt to prove the necessity of the sequence of all our epistemic projects on the route to Absolute Knowing.
The Phenomenology of Spirit has just turned two hundred years old. The first book that Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel published has lost none of the inspirational force that it had not only in Hegel's lifetime but, above all, in the decades after his death. The Russian émigré author Alexander Herzen, writing about the intellectual scene in France in the 1840s, reports the following:
Proudhon often went there to listen to Reichel's Beethoven and Bakunin's Hegel: the philosophical discussions lasted longer than the symphonies. They reminded me of the famous all-night vigils of Bakunin and Khomyakov at Chaadayev's and at Madame Yelagin's, where Hegel was also discussed. In 1847 Karl Vogt, who also lived in the Rue de Bourgogne, and often visited Reichel and Bakunin, was bored one evening with listening to the endless discussions of the Phenomenology, and went home to bed. Next morning he went round for Reichel, for they were to go to the Jardin des Plantes together; he was surprised to hear conversation in Bakunin's study at that early hour. He opened the door – Proudhon and Bakunin were sitting in the same places before the burnt-out embers in the fireplace, and were with a few last words just finishing the dispute that had begun the day before.
The power of the Phenomenology to stimulate new thought and provoke philosophical innovation continues unbroken today. It has enjoyed the widest and most intense reception of all Hegel's work.
When I began outlining this book twelve years ago, there was little interest in Hegel among analytic philosophers in Germany, England, and the United States. I also quickly realized that Hegel researchers in Germany (at least the orthodox ones) were not inclined to engage in the debates and research results of analytic philosophy. Therefore, my motivating belief – that a dialogue between Hegelian and analytic philosophy would be fruitful for both sides – found little favor on either side.
In analytic circles, Hegel texts – which are admittedly difficult even for German readers – were taken to be incomprehensible, and his philosophical assumptions written off as simply obscure. This situation has fundamentally changed in the last decade. Robert Brandom and John McDowell, important representatives of contemporary analytic philosophy, have undertaken to draw productive systematic connections with Hegel's philosophy. The publications of Brandom and McDowell up to this point admittedly contain only rather general connections to Hegel's work; detailed analyses of, and confrontations with, Hegel's writings are still lacking from the side of analytic philosophy. Nonetheless, these thinkers have succeeded in awakening interest in Hegel's philosophy within analytic circles, and have weakened the a priori suspicion of meaningless to such an extent that a constructive dialogue between the two philosophical traditions can now be opened. But such a dialogue can, in my opinion, only be meaningful and successful when one engages in detailed and systematically oriented interpretations of central Hegelian texts and concepts.
My concluding remarks consist of two parts: First, I will summarize once more the central results of the investigation, presenting Hegel's theory of action in overview. I will then give a brief summary of a central area of action-theory about which Hegel says nothing in the Philosophy of Right: the explanation of action. The question that arises from this research area is which position Hegel adopts with regard to the mind-body problem (a theme that demands a study of its own). I will therefore only sketch briefly the extent to which Hegel's theory of action and his solution of the mind-body problem are compatible.
For Hegel, actions are “expressions of the subjective will.” That is, they are events for which it is essential that they be known under a specific perspective/description. This essential characteristic of action-events distinguishes them from other events. Hegel understands the inner perspective of the agent as an action-specific belief, whose logical form he analyzes (in R §110). He unfolds the self-ascriptive character of the agent's belief and provides the universal determination of the content of this belief: The agent understands his act (at the time of the action) as the realization of a freely chosen end (cf. Chapter 2). At the heart of the theory of action that Hegel develops in the Philosophy of Right is the distinction between the action-event and its description; Hegel is clearly aware that action-events are registered as actions only under certain descriptions.
The Transition from Right to Morality
“Crime and avenging justice represent the shape of the will's development when it has proceeded to the distinction between the universal will which has being in itself, and the individual will which has being for itself in opposition to the universal” (R §104). In Hegel's view, the universal being-in-itself will is the system of the determinations of Right that constitute Abstract Right. These determinations are based on the principle of “personality,” which itself is the expression of the universal moment of the will qua concept. Hegel describes this universal moment with the formula “I = I,” which expresses the thinking self-relation. The subject-object difference is overcome in this self-relationship, because – as Hegel interprets the formula I = I – the copula expresses an identity of the subject with the object. This formula also expresses a thinking will's consciousness of freedom; such a will is free from all determination and can direct itself to all possible objects. The “realizations” of this object-relationship (at the level of the in-itself) are taking-possession and the property relationship. In addition, for Hegel the formula I = I also indicates that this self-relationship is completely universal. Each thinking will stands in this relationship to itself – that is, in a relationship containing nothing of its individuality, of its particular will.
In his analysis of the formal character of the subjective will, Hegel employed the concept “content,” and connected it with “end.” Determining a content as an end derives from the fact that the content of the subjective will remains indifferent to whether the form is subjective or objective; the content is “The simple identity of the will with itself in this opposition” (R §109). In the context of the subjective will, Hegel understands by “end” the following (the emphases are Hegel's):
End is α) content in me as subjectively determined – representation – β) determined to be objective – and to remain the same.
What can be inferred from this marginal note is that an end is a content that “as subjectively determined” is also determined “to be objective” – and as mediated in this realization through the activity of the will – “to remain the same.” Obviously this description relies on determinations that Hegel gives to the concept “content.” It is therefore necessary to investigate Hegel's use of this term and the special meaning of this concept “within the moral point of view” (R §110). The use of the concept “representation” indicates that with “content,” a cognitive component will be at issue.
Content vs. Need. In the marginal notes to §§108 and 109, Hegel makes the following remark: “Here content first comes to the fore as such.” In these notes, Hegel also makes the statement (Hegel's emphasis):
Formal determinations of content. Subjective will has a content – earlier mere need – not a question of whether it was right, – but now content exists as content of the will, and therefore essentially.
Hegel proceeds in the Philosophy of Right as in other parts of his system: He begins each part with an overview of the logical structure. Paragraph 114 serves this function for the Morality chapter; in it, he presents the “three aspects” (R §114), along with the concepts belonging to them, that are contained in the “right of the moral will” (ibid.).
In these paragraphs, Hegel names a great number of logical determinations, evidently in the attempt to present the structure of the Morality chapter as the systematic development of his conceptual system. Yet, in examining the relationships of the “three aspects” (ibid.) to one another, some difficulties come to light. “Intention” and “welfare,” then “the good” and “conscience,” appear as the second (b) and third (c) “aspects,” corresponding to the titles of the latter two sections of the Morality chapter. But in the first point (a), only “purpose” appears, whereas “responsibility” is nowhere to be found. This is noteworthy, since in the title of the first section, both concepts appear, and in the paragraphs of the first section the concept “responsibility” is central. It is also noteworthy that a further concept is missing, one decisive for the first section: the concept of “deed.”
But this discrepancy – which on its own is perhaps external – is not the only one that strikes the reader. Attention to the relationship of the first two “aspects” to each other reveals an “asymmetrical” construction.
In this concluding chapter, I will pursue two questions. First (in Section 5.1), I look at the statements in which Hegel addresses the content of actions. My underlying thesis is that Hegel's connection of “intention” and “welfare” is plausible even if one is not ready to go along with the speculative transition from form to content. As I discussed in the last chapter, Hegel provides, with his analysis of “intention,” the action-theoretic basis that enables him to unfold the freedom of action that is normally called instrumental or means-end rationality. I take as my starting point the claim that this freedom belongs to the concept of attributable action. Since the issue at hand is Hegel's theory of action, in this first section I only interpret those concepts that Hegel deems necessary to the concept of action. I will therefore not discuss the fact that with these concepts Hegel also depicts and grounds a certain conception of ethics – namely, the doctrine of happiness.
The second question I will discuss in this chapter is the connection of rational action and the moral attitude. I have already argued (in Chapter 3) that in the Morality chapter, Hegel not only unfolds his concept of action, but also develops his interpretation of moral philosophy. The question remains open as to whether Hegel asserts an analytic connection between the concept of morality and his concept of action.
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