On the Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law by Hegel 1803


But however vacuous these abstractions and the relation of externality to which they give rise may be, the moment of the negatively absolute or infinity (which was noted in this example as determining the relation between crime and punishment) is a moment of the absolute itself which must be identified in absolute ethical life. We shall point out the versatility of absolute form (or infinity) in its necessary moments, and show how they determine the shape of absolute ethical life; from this, the true concept and relation of the practical sciences will in turn emerge. Since our primary concern here is to define the relations which all this involves, and hence to emphasize the aspect of infinity, we shall make the positive presupposition that the absolute ethical totality is nothing other than a people;[1] this will also become evident from the following moments of the negative aspect which we are considering here.

In absolute ethical life, infinity – or form as the absolutely negative – is nothing other than constraint itself, as interpreted above, elevated to its absolute concept. As such, it does not relate to individual determinacies, but to their entire actuality and possibility, namely life itself. Hence matter is equal to infinite form, but in such a way that its positive aspect is the absolutely ethical, namely [the quality of] belonging to a people; the individual proves hie oneness with the people in a negative sense – and in an unambiguous manner – only by [incurring] the danger of death. Through the absolute identity of the infinite, or the aspect of relation with the positive, ethical totalities such as peoples take shape and constitute themselves as individuals, thereby adopting an individual stance in relation to [other] individual peoples. This stance and this individuality are the aspect of reality, and if we think of these as absent, they [i.e. the ethical totalities in question] are [mere] creations of thought; this would be the abstraction of essence without absolute form, and the essence in question would consequently be devoid of essence. This connection [Beziehung] of individuality with individuality is a relation, and is accordingly twofold; firstly, it is the positive connection of tranquil and equable co-existence of the two [ethical totalities or peoples] in peace, and secondly, it is the negative connection of the exclusion of one by the other – and both connections are absolutely necessary. With regard to the second, we have already interpreted the rational relation as a constraint elevated to its concept, or as the absolute formal virtue which is courage. It is this second aspect of the connection which posits the necessity of war for the shape and individuality of the ethical totality. In war, there is the free possibility that not only individual determinacies, but the sum total of these, will be destroyed as life, whether for the absolute itself or for the people. Thus, war preserves the ethical health of peoples in their indifference to determinate things [Bestimmtheiten]; it prevents the latter from hardening, and the people from becoming habituated to them, just as the movement of the winds preserves the seas from that stagnation which a permanent calm would produce, and which a permanent (or indeed ‘perpetual’) peace would produce among peoples.[2]

Since the shapes of the ethical totality and its individuality are defined as outward-directed individuality and its movement is defined as courage, the negative aspect of infinity which we have just been considering is directly linked with its other aspect, namely the [continued] existence [Bestehen] of opposition. The one aspect is infinity, and like the others, it is negative; the first is the negation of the negation, opposition to opposition, and the second is negation and opposition itself in its [continued] existence [Bestehen] as determinacies or manifold reality. In the practical realm, these realities in their pure inner formlessness and simplicity – i.e. the feelings – are feelings which reconstruct themselves out of difference [Differenz], and which proceed from the supersession [Aufgehobensein] of undifferentiated self-awareness to restore themselves through a nullification of the intuitions. They are physical needs and pleasures which, in turn posited for themselves in their totality, obey one single necessity in their infinite complications, and form the system of universal mutual dependence with regard to physical needs and the labor and accumulation [of resources] which these require; as a science, this system is what is known as political economy.[3] Since this system is [rooted] entirely in negativity and infinity, it follows that, in its relation to the positive totality, it must be treated wholly negatively by the latter and must remain subject to the dominance of this relation;[4] whatever is by nature negative must remain negative and may not become a fixture. In order to prevent it from constituting itself on its own account [für sich] and becoming an independent power, it is not enough to put forward the propositions that everyone has the right to live, and that the universal [interest] within a people must endure that every citizen has a livelihood and that complete security and ease of acquisition prevails. The latter proposition, if taken as an absolute principle, would indeed rule out a negative treatment of the system of possession, and would give it complete latitude to become absolutely firmly established. Instead, the ethical whole must ensure that this system remains aware of its inner nullity, and prevent it from growing excessively in terms of quantity and from developing ever greater difference and inequality in keeping with its natural tendency.[5] This does indeed take place in every state, largely unconsciously and in the shape of an external natural necessity which it might well wish to be spared, as a result of ever-increasing expenditure on the part of the state itself; this increases with the growth of the system of possession, and leads to corresponding rises in taxation, thereby reducing possession and making acquisition more difficult. War does most to accelerate this tendency by bringing multiple confusion into the process of acquisition, but also by [encouraging] jealousy on the part of other classes [Stände] and placing restrictions on trade, some of them voluntary, others involuntary and the result of incomprehension, etc. This can go to such lengths that the positive ethical life of the state itself allows [people] independence from the purely real [economic] system, and allows the negative and restrictive attitude to be asserted.

In that context [Beziehung] in which it hast just been considered – and of which physical need, enjoyment, possession, and the objects of possession and enjoyment are various aspects – reality is pure reality; it merely expresses the extremes of that relation. But the relation also contains an ideality, a relative identity of the opposing determinacies; this identity cannot therefore be positively absolute, but only formal. Through that identity which the real element in the nexus [Beziehung] of relations attains, possession becomes property, and particularity in general – including living particularity – is simultaneously determined as a universal; by this means, the sphere of right is constituted.[6]

As for the reflection of the absolute in this relation, it has already been defined above in its negative aspect, as a constraint on the subsistence of the real and the determinate. In its positive aspect with regard to the subsistence of the real, indifference can express itself in this determinate material only as an external and formal equality; and the science which deals with this matter can aim only to define the gradations of inequality on the one hand, and – in order to make this possible – to define on the other hand the way in which something living and internal can be posited sufficiently objectively and externally to be capable of such definition and calculation. The absolute reality of ethical life at this level [in dieser Potenz] is confined to this superficial appearance by the subsistence of the reality which is present within the opposition.[7] Not only does the equating and calculating of inequality have its limits (because of the fixed determinacy which contains an absolute opposition) and, like geometry, come up against incommensurability; it also necessarily [schlechthin] encounters endless contradictions, because it remains wholly within [the sphere of] determinacy and yet cannot abstract as geometry does, but – since it is dealing with living relationships – is necessarily [schlechthin] always faced with whole bundles of such determinacies. In the case of intuition, however, this [mutual] contradiction of determinacies can of course be remedied and removed by specifying [Festsetzen] and adhering to individual determinacies, which allows a decision to be made – and this is always better than reaching no decision at all. For since there is nothing absolute in the material [Sache] itself, the essential factor is actually the formal requirement that some decision and definition or other should be arrived at. But it is quite a different matter for a decision reached in this way to be in accordance with genuine and complete justice and morality [Sittlichkeit]. For this very specification of, and absolute adherence to, determinacies makes such justice impossible; it is possible only when these determines which were posited as absolute and adheres only to the whole. – When Plato, in his simple language, discusses the two aspects of [firstly,] the endless definition of the infinite incorporation [Aufnahme] of qualities into the concept and [secondly,] the contradiction of their individuality in relation to intuition, he says:[8]

It is clear that lawmaking belongs to the science of kingship; but the best thing is not that the laws be in power, but that the man who is wise and of kingly nature be ruler [...] Because law could never, by determining exactly what is noblest and most just for one and all, enjoin upon them that which is best; for the differences of men and of actions and the fact that nothing, I may say, in human life is ever at rest, forbid any science whatsoever to promulgate any simple rule for everything and for all time [...] But we see that law aims at pretty nearly this very thing, like a stubborn and ignorant man who allows no one to do anything contrary to his command, or even to ask a question, not even if something new occurs to some one, which is better than the rule he has himself ordained [...] So that which is persistently simply is inapplicable to things which are never simple.

The fact that there is still support for the belief [Gedanke] that absolute and determinate right and duty with being in themselves [an sich seiend] are possible in this sphere of human affairs is a consequence of that formal indifference or negative absolute which has its place only in the fixed reality of this sphere, and which does indeed have being in itself; but in so far as it has such being, it is empty – or [to put it differently,] there is nothing absolute about it except pure abstraction itself, the completely vacuous thought of unity. It is not, for example, a conclusion derived from prior experience, nor should it be regarded as a fortuitous incompleteness in the concrete [sphere] or in the implementation an idea that is true a priori. On the contrary, it should be recognized [firstly,] that what is here described as an ‘idea,’ and the hope for a better future derived from it, are inherently null and void, and [secondly.] that a perfect legislation, together with true justice in accordance with the determinacy of the laws, is inherently impossible in the concrete realm of judicial authority. As for the first of these impossibilities, since the absolute is supposed to be present in the determinacies as such, it is merely the infinite; and the same empirical infinity and inherently endless determinability is posited here as would be posited if we thought of comparing a determinate measure with an absolutely indeterminate line, or a determinate line with an absolutely indeterminate measure, or of measuring an infinite line or dividing a determinate line absolutely. As for the second impossibility, each of the views [Anschauungen] which are the object of jurisdiction – and which are likewise infinite in number and in their variety of forms – is defined in ever more various ways as the mass of definitions increases. This development [Bildung] of distinctions through legislation makes each individual view [Anschauung] more distinguishable and further developed, and the expansion of legislation is not an advance towards the goal of positive perfection (which, as already shown, has no truth in this context), but only the formal process of increasing development.[9] And in order that the unity [das Eins] of the judicial view [Anschauung] of right and judgment may become organized as a genuine unity [Eins] and whole within this multiplicity, it is absolutely necessary that each individual determinacy should be modified – i.e. partly superseded as an absolute determinacy with being for itself, which is precisely what it professes to be as a law – so that its absoluteness is not respected; and there can be no question of a pure application, for a pure application would involve positing some individual determinacies to the exclusion of others. But by their existence [Sein], these others also demand to be taken into account, so that the interaction [of them all], determined not by parts but by the whole, may itself be a whole. The empty hope and formal conception [Gedanke] both of an absolute legislation and of a jurisdiction unconnected with the inner disposition [dem Innern] of the judge must give way to this clear and definite knowledge.

This examination of the system of reality has shown that absolute ethical life must adopt a negative attitude towards this system.[10] The absolute, as it appears in the fixed determinacy of this system, is posited as a negative absolute, as infinity, which presents itself as a formal, relative, and abstract unity in relation to the opposition. In the former, negative attitude, the absolute is hostile to the system; in the latter, it is itself under its dominion; in neither case is it indifferent to it. But the unity which is the indifference of opposites, and which nullifies and comprehends them within itself, and that unity which is only formal indifference or the identity of the relation between existing [bestehender] realities, must themselves be wholly at one as a result of the complete incorporation [Aufnahme] of the relation into indifference itself; that is, the absolute ethical realm must take non a perfectly organized shape [Gestalt], for relation is the abstraction of the aspect of shape. Although relation becomes wholly undifferentiated as shape, it does not cease to possess the nature of relation: it remains a relation of organic to inorganic nature.[11] But as has already been shown, relation as an aspect of infinity is itself twofold in character: it one case, unity or the ideal comes first and predominates, and in the others, it is the many or the real which does so. In the first case, the relation is properly [to be found] in shape and indifference, and the eternal restlessness of the concept, or infinity, lies in part in the organization itself as it consumes itself and relinquishes the appearance of life, the purely quantitative, in order to rise up eternally out of its ashes, as its own seed-corn, to renewed youth. And it lies in part in its eternal nullification of its outward difference as it feeds on and produces the inorganic, calling forth from indifference a difference [Differenz] or a relation to inorganic nature, then in turn canceling [aufhebend] this relation and consuming both this nature and itself. We shall shortly see what this inorganic natuer of the ethical is.[12] But secondly, the [continued] existence [Bestehen] of what was nullified is also posited in this aspect of relation or infinity, for precisely because the absolute concept is its own opposite, the being [Sein] of difference is also posited along with its pure unity and negativity. Or [to put it differently,] nullification posits something which it nullifies, i.e. the real, so that there must be an actuality and difference which cannot be overcome by ethical life. Since infinity has established itself here in the whole strength of its opposition (not just potentially but in fact), individuality is actually in opposition, and it would not be possible for it to purge itself of difference and be taken up into absolute indifference. If both [aspects], the supersession [Aufgehobensein] of the opposition and its subsistence, are to be not just ideal but also real, we must at all events posit a separation and selection whereby reality, in which ethical life is objective, is divided into one part which is taken up absolutely into indifference, is divided into one part which is taken up absolutely into indifference, and another part in which the real as such is subsistent (and hence relatively identical), and embodies only the reflection of absolute ethical life. What is posited here is a relation between absolute ethical life, as the essence of individuals and wholly immanent within them, and relative ethical life, which is no less real within them.[13 ]Ethical organization cannot preserve its purity in reality unless the universal spread of negativity within it is curbed and set aside.[14] We have shown above how indifference appears in existing [bestehenden] reality as formal ethical life. The concept of this sphere is the real and the practical, in subjective terms with reference to feeling or physical needs and enjoyment, and in objective terms with reference to work and possession; and if this practical realm is taken up into indifference – as can happen in accordance with its concept – it is formal unity, or that right which is possible within this realm. Above these two [realms] is a third, the absolute or the ethical. But the reality of the sphere of relative unity (or of the practical and legal [des Rechtlichen]) is constituted, in the system of this sphere in its totality, as a distinct class [eigener Stand].

Thus, two classes [Stände] are formed in accordance with the absolute necessity of the ethical. One of these is the class of the free, the individual of absolute ethical life; its organs are the single individuals. From the point of view of its indifference, it is the absolute living spirit, and from the point of view of its objectivity, it is the living movement and divine self-enjoyment of this whole in the totality of the individuals who constitute its organs and members. But its formal or negative side must also be absolute – namely work, which is directed not towards the nullification of individual determinacies, but towards death, and whose product is again not something individual, but the being and preservation of the whole of the ethical organization. Aristotle defines the proper business of this class as what the Greeks called πολιτεύειν, which means living in and with and for one’s people, leading a universal life wholly dedicated to the public interest, or philosophizing, while Plato, with his superior vitality, does not wish to regard[101] these two activities as separate but as indissolubly linked.[15] – Then there is the class [Stand] of those who are not free, and which has its being [ist] in the differentiation [Differenz] of need and work and in the right and justice of possession and property; its work deals with matters of detail and consequently does not entail the danger of death. To these must be added the third class which, in the crudity of its non-educative work, is solely concerned with the earth as an element; its work confronts it with the whole [sphere] of need as its direct object, with no intermediate links, and it is consequently itself an unalloyed totality and indifference, like an element. Lacking the differentiated understanding of the second class, it accordingly maintains its capacity, in body and spirit, for formal and absolute ethical life and for courage and a violent death, and is consequently able to reinforce the first class with its numbers and elemental being. – These two classes relieve the first class of a situation [Verhältms] in which reality, partly in its passive and partly in its active aspect [Beziehung], is fixed either as possession and property or as work, in the same way as, among modern nations, the earning class [Klasse] has confined itself to this function [of earning its living] and has gradually ceased to do military service, while valor has become more purified and developed into a particular class [Stand] released by the former from the need to earn its living, and for which possession and property, at least, are a contingent matter. The constitution of this second class, in its material aspect, is defined by Plato as follows.[16] The art of kingship removes

those men who have no capacity for courage and self-restraint and the other qualities which tend towards virtue, but by the force of an evil nature are carried away into godlessness, violence, and injustice [...] by inflicting upon them the punishments of death and exlie and deprivation of the most important civil rights [...] And those in turn who wallow in ignorance and craven humility it places under the yoke of slavery.

And Aristotle places in the same category anyone who is by nature not his own but someone else’s, and who is like a body in relation to spirit.[17]

But the relation of one who is by nature someone else’s, and who does not have his spirit within himself, to absolutely independent individuality may, in formal terms, be of two kinds – either a relation of the individuals of this class [Stand] as particulars to the individuals of the first class as particulars, or a relation of universal to universal. The former relation (of slavery) vanished of its own accord in the empirical phenomenon [Erscheinung] of the universality of the Roman Empire: with the loss of absolute ethical life and the debasement of the nobility, the two previously distinct classes became equal, and with the demise of freedom, slavery necessarily came to an end. When the principle of formal unity and equality was enforced, it completely canceled [hat... aufgehoben] the true inner difference between the classes, did not at first bring about that separation between them which was posited above. Still less did it bring about that form of separation whereby their relation to one another, under the form of universality, is one of domination and dependence, and purely that of one whole class ti another, so that, even within this relation, the two associated classes remain universal. (In the relation of slavery, on the other hand, the form of particularity is the determining factor; it is not a case of one class against the other – on the contrary, the unity of each group [Teil] is dissolved in their real association [Beziehung], and individuals are dependent on individuals.) The principle of universality and equality first had to take possession of the whole in such a way as to mix the two classes together instead of separating them. In this mixture, under the law of formal unity, the first class is in fact completely annulled [aufgehoben],[18] and the second alone becomes the people.[19] Gibbon portrays this change in the following terms:[20]

This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military spirit evaporated [...] Their personal valor remained, but they no longer possessed that public courage which is nourished by the love of independence, the sense of national honor, the presence of danger, and the habit of command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign [...] The posterity of their boldest leaders was contented with the rank of citizens and subjects. The most aspiring spirits resorted to [...] the standard of the emperors; and the deserted provinces, deprived of political strength or union, insensibly sunk into the languid indifference of private life.[102]

This universal private life, and a state of affairs in which the people consists solely of a second class, immediately introduces the formal legal relationship [Rechtsverhältnis] which fixes individual being and posits it absolutely; and it was indeed out of such corruption and universal debasement that the most comprehensive development of legislation relevant to this relationship grew and evolved.[21] This system of property and right which, because of the fixation of individuality already referred to, does not consist in anything absolute and eternal but wholly in the finite and formal, must constitute itself as a distinct [eigenen] class, really detached and set apart from the nobility, and then be able to expand throughout its entire length and breadth. To this system belong the inherently [für sich] subordinate and purely formal questions concerning the rightful basis of property, contract, etc., but also the whole endless expansion of legislation at large on matters which Plato categorizes as follows:[22]

These legal issues in contracts made by individuals with other individuals concerning goods or services, as well as [actions] for injury and assault, rulings on the competence and appointment of judges, or on the need to collect or impose tariffs in markets or ports, are matters on which it is unworthy to law down rules for good and admirable men. For they will easily find out for themselves the many points which have to be settled in this regard, provided that God grants them the blessing of a truly ethical constitution. But if this is not the case, it follows that they will spend their lives regulating and amending many such things, in the belief that they will finally reach the best result; they will live like invalids who, out of intemperance, will not abandon their unhealthy diet, and achieve nothing by their remedies other than producing more varied and more serious illnesses, while constantly hoping to be cured by whatever means they are prescribed. Equally amusing are those who make laws on the matters in question, and constantly amend them in the belief that they will reach a conclusive result – unaware of the fact that they are, so to speak, cutting off a Hydra’s head.

It is true that, as licentiousness and disease increase among a people, many lawcourts are opened, and no clearer sign of bad and shameful comportment can be found than that excellent physicians and judges are required not only by bad men and artisans, but also by those who pride themselves on having enjoyed a liberal education, and who are compelled to accept a justice imposed on them by others as their masters and judges and spend much time in courts of law with actions and defenses.

This system must simultaneously develop as a universal condition, and must destroy free ethical life whenever it is combined with such circumstances and not separated from them and their consequences from the outset.[23] Thus it is necessary that this system should be consciously adopted, recognized in its [own] right, kept apart from the nobility, and given a class [Stand] of its own as its realm in which it can establish itself and develop its full activity by way of its own confusion and the superseding of one confusion by another. The status [Potenz] of this class is accordingly determined by the fact that its province is possession in general and the justice which is possible in this context, that it at the same time constitutes a coherent system, and that, as a direct consequence of the elevation of the relation of possession to formal unity, each individual who is inherently [an sich] capable of possession is related to all the others as a universal entity, or as a citizens in the sense of a bourgeois. For the political nullity which results from the fact that the members of this class are private individuals, these citizens find compensation in the fruits of peace and of gainful employment [des Erwerbes], and in the perfect security, both as individuals and as a whole, in which they enjoy them.[24 ]But the security of each individual is related to the whole, inasmuch as he is released from [the need for] courage and from the necessity (to which the first class is subject) of exposing himself to the danger of violence death, a danger which entails for the individual absolute insecurity in every enjoyment, possession, and right. Through the superseding of this mixture of principles and their constitutional and conscious separation, each of these principles receives its due [sein Recht], and only what ought to be is put into effect, namely the reality of ethical life as absolute indifference, and at the same time as the real relation within the opposition which is still present [im bestehenden Gegensatze], so that the latter is overcome [bezwungen] by the former and this constraint [Bezwingen] is itself rendered indifferent and reconciled. This reconciliation consists precisely in the recognition of necessity, and in the right which ethical life accords to its own inorganic nature – and to the chthonic powers – by giving up and sacrificing part of itself to them. For the potency of the sacrifice consists in facing up to [in dem Anschauen] and objectifying this involvement with the inorganic, and it is by facing up to it that it is dissolved. By this means, the inorganic is separated out and recognized as such, and thereby itself taken up into indifference, while the living, by relegating what it knows as part of itself and to the inorganic [realm] and consigning it to death, simultaneously acknowledges the right of the inorganic and purges itself of it.[25]

This is nothing other than the enactment, in the ethical realm, of the tragedy which the absolute eternally plays out within itself – by eternally giving birth to itself into objectivity, thereby surrendering itself in this shape to suffering and death, and rising up to glory from its ashes.[26] The divine in its [visible] shape and objectivity immediately possesses a dual nature, and its life is the absolute oneness of its two natures. But the movement of the absolute antagonism between these two natures presents itself in the divine nature, which has thereby comprehended itself, as the courage with which this nature liberates itself from the death of the other, conflicting nature. Through this liberation, however, it gives up its own life, because this life exists [ist] only in its association with the other life, but is just as absolutely resurrected from it; for in this death, as the sacrifice of the second nature, death is overcome [bezwungen]. But appearing in its second nature, the divine movement presents itself in such a way that the pure abstraction of this nature (which would be a merely chthonic and purely negative power) is superseded by its living union with the divine nature. This union is such that the divine illuminates this second nature and, by this ideal spiritual oneness, makes it into its reconciled living body which, as body, simultaneously remains in difference [Differenz] and transience and, through the spirit, perceives the divine as something alien to itself. – The image of this tragedy, in its more specifically ethical determination, is the outcome of that legal process between the Eumenides (as the powers of the right which resides in difference) and Apollo (the god of undifferentiated light) over Orestes, played out before the organized ethical entity of the Athenian people.[27] In a [very] human way, the latter, as the Areopagus of Athens, puts equal votes in the urn for each of the two powers, and so acknowledges their co-existence. This does not, however, resolve the conflict or define the connection and relationship between them. But in a divine way, the Athenian people, as the goddess Athena, wholly restores to the god the man [i.e. Orestes] whom the god himself had involved in difference; and by separated those powers, both of which had had an interest in the criminal, it also effects a reconciliation in such a way that the Eumenides would [thereafter] be honored by this people as divine powers and have their abode in the city, so that their savage nature might enjoy and be pacified by the sight of Athena enthroned high above on the Acropolis, opposite the altar erected to them in the city below.

Tragedy arises when ethical nature cuts its inorganic nature off from itself as a fate – in order not to become embroiled in it – and treats it as an opposite; and by acknowledging this fate in the [ensuing] struggle, it is reconciled with the divine being as the unity of both. Comedy, on the other hand (to develop this image further), will generally come down on the side of fatelessness.[28] Either it falls under [the heading of] absolute vitality, and consequently presents only shadows of antagonisms or mock battles with an invented fate and fictitious enemy; or it falls under [the heading of] non-vitality, and consequently presents only shadows of independence and absoluteness. The former is the old (or Divine) comedy, the latter is modern comedy. The Divine Comedy [of Dante] is without fate or genuine struggle, because absolute confidence and certainty concerning the reality of the absolute are present in it without opposition, and whatever opposition dose bring movement into this perfect security and peace is only an opposition without seriousness or inner truth.[29] This opposition may present itself – in contrast to the divinity which appears as alien and external, though rooted in absolute certainty – as the remnant or dream of a consciousness of isolated self-sufficiency, or as a consciousness of individuality [Eigenheit] which, though fixed and firmly held on to, is completely impotent and powerless. Alternatively, the opposition may present itself in a divinity, sensible of itself and inherently conscious, which consciously generates antagonisms and forms of play [Spiele] in which, with absolute frivolity, it sets some of its members to compete for a specific prize and gestates its manifold aspects and moments until they are born into perfect individuality and develop organizations of their own. And even as a whole, it cannot treat its own movements as movements in response to fate, but as contingent happenings, and it regards itself as invincible, counts loss as nothing, is certain of its absolute control over every idiosyncrasy and eccentricity, and is aware of what Plato said in another context, namely that a city[103] is remarkably strong by nature.[30] Thus, an ethical organization such as this will, for example, without risk or fear or envy, drive individual members to extremes of accomplishment in every art and science and skill, and make them special in their field, confident within itself that such divine monstrosities of beauty do not disfigure its shape, but are comic traits which enhance a [particular] moment within it. To cite one specific people, we may regard Homer, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristophanes, etc. as such serene enhancements of individual traits. But both in the serious reaction to the increasingly serious nonconformity [Besonderung] of Socrates (not to mention the [subsequent] remorse this aroused), and in the teeming profusion and high energy of the individualizations which were simultaneously emerging, we must not fail to recognize that the inner vitality [of the city] had thereby reached its extreme limits, and that it proclaimed, in the ripening of these seeds, not only its own strength but also the imminent death of the body which bore them.[31] It [i.e. the city] thus had to accept the antagonisms which it had itself provoked (and which it could formerly stir up and pursue as fortuitous events and with corresponding frivolity, even in their more serious and far-reaching manifestations such as wars) no longer as shadows, but as an increasingly overwhelming fate.[32]

But that other comedy whose complications are devoid of fate and genuine struggle (because ethical nature is itself caught up in that fate) is of a different class. Its plots are woven in conflicts which are not playful, but of serious significance for this ethical drive (though nevertheless comical for the spectator); and deliverance from these conflicts is sought in an affectation of character and absoluteness which constantly finds itself disappointed and deflated. The ethical drive (for it is not conscious and absolute ethical nature which features in this comedy) must, in short, transform the status quo [das Bestehende] into the formal and negative absoluteness of right, and thereby relieve its anxiety over the security and certainty by means of agreements can contracts with all imaginable clauses and safeguards, deducing the requisite systems from experience and reason as [equivalent to] certainty and necessity itself, and backing them up with the most profound ratiocinations. But just as, according to the poet,[33] the spirits of the underworld saw the plantations they had established in the wilderness of hell swept away by the next tempest, so must the ethical drive observe how the next change of course (or indeed resurgence) of the earth-spirit washes away half, or even the whole, of sciences which were proved by experience and reason, how one legal system is supplanted by another, how on the one hand humanity takes the place of severity, while on the other the will to power takes the place of contractual security, and how in the world of science and in actuality alike, the most well-earned and assured possessions of rights and principles are utterly destroyed. It [i.e. the ethical drive] must then either conclude that it is its own endeavors, hovering above fate with reason and will, which wear themselves out in such matters and have produced the changes in question, or grow incensed at their unexpected and gratuitous intervention, and first invoke all the gods in face of this necessity, and then resign itself to it. In both cases, the ethical drive, which looks for absolute infinity in these finite things, merely enacts the farce of its own faith and undying illusion which – at its darkest and when it burns brightest – is already forlorn and mistaken [im Unrecht] when it believes that it rests in the arms of justice, stability, and enjoyment.

Comedy separates the two zones of the ethical in such a way as to allow each full play in its own right, so that in the one, oppositions and the finite are insubstantial shadows, whereas in the other, the absolute is an illusion. But the true and absolute relation is that the one does in all seriousness illuminate the other, each is tangibly [leibhaft] connected with the other, and each is the other’s serious fate. The absolute relation is accordingly presented in tragedy.

For although, in the living shape or organic totality of ethical life, what constitutes the real aspect of that life is [to be found[ in the finite, and therefore cannot in and for itself fully incorporate [aufnehmen] its own bodily essence into the divinity of that life, it nevertheless already expresses the absolute Idea of ethical life, albeit in a distorted form. Admittedly, ethical life does not inwardly unite into absolute infinity within itself those moments of the Idea which are of necessity kept apart; on the contrary, it has this unity only as a simulated negative independence, namely as freedom of the individual. But this real essence is nevertheless completely bound up with the absolute indifferent nature and shape of ethical life; and if it must perceive this nature only as something alien, it does nevertheless perceive it and is at one with it in spirit. Even for this real essence, it is of primary importance that the completely pure and indifferent shape and the absolute ethical consciousness should be, and it is a secondary and immaterial consideration that this essence, as the real, should relate to it [i.e. the absolute consciousness] only as its empirical consciousness – just as it is of primary important than an absolute work of art should be, and only of secondary importance whether this specific individual is its author, or merely someone who contemplates and enjoys it. However necessary this existence of the absolute may be, it is equally necessary that there should be a division whereby there is on the one hand the living spirit, the absolute consciousness, and the absolute indifference of the ideal and real aspects of ethical life itself, and on the other, that spirit’s corporeal and mortal soul and its empirical consciousness, which cannot completely unite its absolute form and its inner essence (although it enjoys its perception of the absolute as something alien, as it were, to itself). In its real consciousness, this spirit is at one with the absolute through fear and trust, as well as obedience; but in its ideal consciousness, it is wholly united with it in religion and the worship of a universal [gemeinschaftlichen] God.[34]

But what we [earlier] put on one side in connection with the external form of the first class [Stand] is the real absolute consciousness of ethical life. It is consciousness and, as such, in its negative aspect pure infinity and the highest abstraction of freedom – i.e. the relation of constraint [Bezwingen] pushed to the point of its own cancellation [Aufhebung], or freely chosen violent death; but in its positive aspect, this consciousness is the singularity and particularity of the individual. But this inherent negativity – namely consciousness in general – of which the distinctions just indicated are merely the two aspect, is absolutely incorporated [aufgenommen] into the positive, while its particularity and infinity or ideality are absolutely incorporated, in a perfect manner, into the universal and real; this oneness [of universal and particular] is the Idea of the absolute life of the ethical. In this oneness of infinity and reality in the ethical organization, the divine nature (of which Plato says that it is an immortal animal, but one whose soul and body are eternally born together) seems at the same time to display its rich multiplicity in the highest energy of infinity and in that unity which becomes the wholly simply nature of the ideal element.[35] For although the most perfect mineral displays the nature of the whole in every part which is broken off from its mass, its ideal form is that of mutual externality, whether as the inner form of fragmentation or as the outer form of crystallization, in contrast to the elements of water, fire, and air, in which each separate part is the perfect nature and representative of the whole, both in its essence and in its form (or infinity). Nor is the real form of such a mineral permeated by the true identity of infinity, for its senses are devoid of consciousness. Its light is a single color, and it does not see; or it is indifferent to color, and offers no point of resistance to the passage of color through it. Its sound is heard when it is struck by an external body, but it does not sound of itself; its taste does not taste, its smell does not smell, and its weight and hardness have no feeling. If it does not share in the individual determinations of sense, but unites them in indifference, it is undeveloped and closed undifferentiatedness rather than that internally self-dividing unity which subordinates its own divisions. In the same way, those elements whose parts are all identical have within them only the possibility, but not the actuality, of difference [Differenzen], and have indifference only in the form of quantity, not qualitatively posited indifference. But the earth, as the organic and individual element, extends throughout the system of that element’s shapes, from its primal inflexibility and individuality to qualitative characteristics and differentiation. Only in the absolute indifference of ethical nature does it reach it summation, attaining perfect equality of all its parts, and the absolute and real oneness of the individual with the absolute – in that primal aether[36] which, from its self-identical, fluid, and flexible form, disseminates its pure quality through individual formations into singularity [Einzelheit] and number, and completely dominates [bezwingt] this absolutely unyielding and rebellious system by refining number to pure unity and infinity, so that it becomes intelligence. Thus, the negative can become completely one with the positive by becoming absolutely negative; for the absolute concept is its own absolute and immediate opposite and, as one of the ancients puts it, ‘the nothing is not less than the something.'[37] And in intelligence, the form of the ideal is absolute form and, as such, real; and in absolute ethical life, absolute form is combined with absolute substance in the most authentic manner [auf das wahrhafteste]. Of those individualized formations which lie between simple substance in reality as pure aether, and substance in its marriage with absolute infinity, none can bring form and qualitative unity to absolute indifference with the essence and substance that are found in ethical life (whether through the quantitative and elemental equality of the whole and the parts, or, in higher formations, through the individualization which extends to more detailed aspects of the parts themselves), and at the same time bring about the formal unification of the parts into the whole (through the social bond among leaves in plants, in sexual union, or in the gregarious life and collective labor of animals). This is because it is in intelligence alone that individualization is taken to its absolute extreme – namely to the absolute concept – and that the negative is taken to the absolute negativity of becoming its own unmediated opposite. Thus, intelligence is alone capable of being absolute universality (inasmuch as it is absolute individuality), absolute position [Position] and objectivity (inasmuch as it is absolute negation and subjectivity), and the highest identity or reality and ideality (inasmuch as it is absolute difference and infinity, absolute indifference, and totality – actually, in the development [Entfaltung] of all oppositions, and potentially, in their absolute nullification and unity).

The aether has disseminated its absolute indifference among the indifferences of light to [create] a multiplicity, and in the flowering of solar systems. It has given birth to its inner reason and totality in expansive form. But whereas these individualizations of light [i.e. the stars] are scattered in multiplicity, those which form their orbiting petals [i.e. the planets] must adopt a posture of rigid individuality towards them, so that the unity of the former lacks the form of universality, while the unity of the latter lacks pure unity, and neither of them embodies the absolute concept as such. In the system of ethical life, on the other hand, the unfurled flower of the heavenly system has closed up again, and the absolute individuals are completely united into universality. Reality – or the body – is in the highest degree at once with the soul, because the real multiplicity of the body is itself nothing other than abstract ideality, and the absolute concepts are pure individuals, so that the latter can themselves be the absolute system. Consequently, if the absolute is that which intuits [anschaut] itself as itself, and that absolute intuition and this self-cognition, that infinite expansion and this infinite withdrawal into itself, are completely one – and if both [processes], as attributes, are real – then spirit is higher than nature.[38] For if nature is absolute self-intuition and the actuality of the infinitely differentiated mediation and development [Entfaltung], then spirit, which is the intuition of itself as itself – or absolute cognition – is, in the withdrawal of the universe into itself, both the scattered totality of this multiplicity with it [i.e. the spirit] encompasses, the and the absolute ideality of this same multiplicity, in which it nullifies this separateness and reflects it into itself as the unmediated point of unity of the infinite concept.[39]

Now from this idea of the nature of absolute ethical life, a relation arises which has still to be discussed, namely the relation of the individual’s ethical life to the real absolute ethical life, as well as the relationship between the corresponding sciences, namely morality [Moral] and natural law.[40] For since real absolute ethical life comprehends and unites within itself infinity (or the absolute concept) and pure individuality in general and in its highest abstraction, it is immediately the ethical life of the individual; and conversely, the essence of the ethical life of the individual is quite simply the real (and hence universal) absolute ethical life – the ethical life of the individual is one pulse-beat of the whole system, and is itself the whole system. We also note in this connection a linguistic indicator which, though dismissed in the passed, is completely vindicated by the foregoing – namely that it is in the nature of absolute ethical life [Sittlichkeit] to be a universal or an ethos [Sitten]. Thus, both the Greek word for ethical life and the German word express its nature admirably,[41] whereas the newer systems of ethics, which make a principle out of individuality and being-for-itself, cannot fail to reveal their allegiance [Beziehung] in [their use of] these words.[42] Indeed, this internal indicator proves so powerful that, in order to define their own enterprise [Sache], these systems were unable to misuse the words in question and adopted the word ‘morality’ [Moralität] instead; and although the latter’s derivation points in the same direction, it is more of an artificial coinage and consequently does not so immediately resist its debased meaning.

It follows from what has been said, however, that absolute ethical life is so essentially the ethical life of everyone that one cannot describe it as reflected, as such, in the individual; for it is as much the essence of the individual as the aether which permeates nature is the inseparable essence of natural forms [Gestalten], and as space, the ideality of nature’s appearances, is in no way particular to any of them. On the contrary, just as those lines and angles of the crystal in which it expresses the external form of its nature are negations, so likewise is ethical life, in so far as it expresses itself in the individual as such, negative in character [ein Negatives]. For first of all, it cannot express itself in the individual unless it is his soul, and it is his soul only in so far as it is a universal, and the pure spirit of a people.[43] The positive is by nature prior to the negative; or, as Aristotle puts it:[44]

The state [Volk] is more in accord with nature than is the individual; for if the individual, in isolation, is not self-sufficient, he must – like all [other] parts – constitute a single unit with the whole. But anyone who cannot belong to a community [wer ... nicht gemeinschaftlich sein kann], or who requires nothing since he is self-sufficient, is not part of the state [Volk] and is therefore either an animal or a god.

And secondly, in so far as ethical life expresses itself in the individual as such, it is posited in the form of negation: that is, it is the possibility of the universal spirit, and the ethical qualities which pertain to the individual, such as courage or moderation or thrift or generosity, etc., are negative ethical life (for in the particular sphere of the individual, no individual characteristic is truly fixed, and no real abstraction is truly made), and possibilities or capabilities of partaking in universal ethical life. These virtues, which in themselves are potentialities and have a negative significance, are the object of morality [Moral]; and it can be seen that the relation between natural law and morality has in this way been inverted, because only the sphere of the inherently negative properly belongs to morality, whereas the truly positive belongs to natural law (as its name suggests).[45] [The task of] natural law is to construct the way in which ethical nature arrives at its true right. Conversely, if the negative – both in itself and as the abstraction of externality, of the formal moral law [Sittengesetz], of the pure will and the will of the individual – along with the syntheses of these abstractions (such as coercion, the limitation of individual freedom by the concept of universal freedom, etc.), were defining properties of natural law,[104] it would then be natural wrong [Naturunrecht], for if such negations are treated as basic realities, ethical nature is plunged into the utmost corruption and misfortune.

But given that these qualities are the reflection of absolute ethical life in the individual as the negative (but the individual who is in absolute indifference towards the universal and the whole), and are consequently the reflection of that life in its pure consciousness, they must also be reflected in its empirical consciousness, thereby constituting the ethical nature of that second class [Stand] which is rooted in firmly established reality – in possession and property as distinct from courage. Now it is this reflection of ethical life which corresponds, more or less, to morality [Moralität] in the usual sense – the formal positing of the determinacies of the relation as indifferent, as in the ethical life of the bourgeois or private person, in which the difference [Differenz] of relations is fixed, and which depends on them and is in them.[46] A science of this morality is consequently in the first place a knowledge [Kenntnis] of these relations themselves, so that, in so far as they are considered with reference to the ethical realm (a reference which, given the absolute fixity [of these relations], can only be formal), that tautological formulation which was referred to above now comes into its own: this relation is only this relation; and if you are in this relation, then be in it with reference to the same; for if, in actions which have reference to this relation, you do not act with reference to it, you will nullify and cancel [aufheben] this relation. The true sense of this tautology likewise presupposes that this relation itself is not absolute, and consequently that the morality [Moralität] which is based on it is also relative [etwas Abhängiges] and not truly ethical. In the light of what was said above, this true sense emerges from the fact that only the form of the concept – i.e. its analytic unity – is the absolute, and hence the negatively absolute, because its content, which is determinate, contradicts the form.

But if those qualities which are truly ethical (inasmuch as the particular or negative appears within them) are wholly taken up into indifference, they can indeed be called ethical qualities; but they can be called virtues only if they are individualized once gain with enhanced energy, and if they become – albeit within absolute ethical life – so to speak distinctive living shapes, like the virtues of Epaminondas, Hannibal, Caesar, and a few others. As energies of this kind, they are [particular] shapes, and are therefore not absolute in themselves, no more than are the shapes of other organic products [Bildungen]. They are rather a more powerful manifestation of one aspect of the Idea of the whole, and the morality [Moral] of virtues, or ethics [Ethik] (if we wish to define the morals of morality [die Moral der Moralität] in general and use the term ‘ethics’ [Ethik] as a description of virtue), must therefore consist only of a natural description of the virtues.

Now given that ethics is associated with the subjective or the negative, a distinction must be made, within the negative at large, between the negative as the subsistence of difference [Differenz] and the negative as the absence of difference.[47] We have already discussed the first of these negatives; but the second, i.e. the absence of difference, presents the totality as something enclosed and undeveloped [unentfaltet], in which movement and infinity are not present in their reality. In this negative form, and living principle [das Lebendige] is the development [das Werden] of ethical life, and education [Erziehung] is by definition the emergent and progressive cancellation [Aufhebung] of the negative or subjective. For the child, as the potential form of an ethical individual, is a subjective or negative being whose growth to maturity marks the end of this form, and whose education [Erziehung] is the correction or suppression [Bezwingen] of it. But the positive and essential aspect of the child is that it is nourished at the breast of universal ethical life, lives at first in the absolute intuition of that life as an alien being, increasingly comprehends it, and so becomes part of the universal spirit. It follows automatically that neither the above-mentioned virtues nor absolute ethical life – nor the development of these through education [Erziehung] – is an attempt to attain a distinct and separate ethical life, and that it is futile and inherently impossible to strive for an ethical life of a distinct and positive kind. As far as ethical life is concerned, the words of the wisest men of antiquity are alone true: the ethical consists in living in accordance with the ethics [Sitten] of one’s country; or (with reference to education), as a Pythagorean replied when someone asked him how best to education his son: ‘make him a citizen of a well-managed nation [Volk]’.[48]

Thus, the absolutely ethical has its proper organic body in individuals; and its movement and life [Lebendigkeit] in the common being and activity of everyone is absolutely identical in its universal and particular forms.[49] We have just considered it in its particularity – though in such a way that its essence is the absolutely identical; but at all events, we have considered it in that identity. Thus, in the form of universality and cognition, it must also present itself as a system of legislation – so that this system perfectly expresses reality, or the living customs [Sitten] of the present. This will ensure that a situation does not arise – as often happens – in which it is impossible to recognize what is right and what has actuality within a people by looking at its laws. Such ineptitude in expressing [a nation’s] genuine customs in the form of laws, and the fear of thinking[105] these customs, of regarding and acknowledging them as one’s own, is the mark of barbarism.[50] But this ideality of customs and their form of universality in the laws must also – in so far as it subsists as ideality – in turn be perfectly united with the form of particularity, so that the ideality as such may take on a pure and absolute shape, and thus be perceived and worshiped as the god of the people; and this perception itself must in turn have its active expression [Regsamkeit] and joyful movement in a cult.[51]


1. Hyppolite (1996: pp. 5-6, 51) regards this as a decisive point in this text, the point where Hegel begins to ground the absolute in the ethical life of a people. At this time, Hyppolite also notes (pp. 62, 84 n 6), Hegel had not yet distinguished absolute spirit from ‘ethical totality.’

2. As he had done in The German Constitution, Hegel criticizes cosmopolitanism here. The reference to perpetual peace may indicate that he has Kant, and his essay Perpetual Peace (1795), in mind.

3. As scholars now fully appreciate, Hegel’s willingness to consider the interplay between ethical and economic tendencies in the modern world sets him off from other German thinkers of his age. In what follows, he begins to allow political economy to shape the discussion of Sittlichkeit. One of the results of this will be his recognition and construction of a ‘system of reality’ (i.e. a ‘system of needs’) that is organized in terms of negative unity. He will later assimilate this system to his conception of civil society.

4. Hegel later uses his understanding of this ‘system of universal mutual dependence’ to express the ‘semblance’ of social unity that liberals see in civil society. In his opinion, this semblance simply masks the atomism of a market society, and the blindness of liberals to this circumstance is one reason why he is himself anti-liberal.

5. The last three sentences contain Hegel’s critique of civil society, in so far as civil society is understood as a realm of civil liberty and socio-economic inequality.

6. What Hegel means by the formal absolute becoming a ‘living particularity’ is what Habermas (1975: p. 76) seeks to evoke through his idea of ‘civil privatism.’

7. This sentences shows that, for Hegel, political economy, after constituting itself as a system of social reality, inhibits the development of Sittlichkeit by confining ethics to a sphere of life dominated by economics.

8. Hegel appeals to Plato here (Statesman, 294a-c) in order to underpin his own criticism of formalism. Plato’s original Greek is to be found in Gesammelte Werke, vol. Iv, p. 615; the translation is by H. N. Fowler in Plato, The Statesman, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1925), pp. 133-5.

9. A critique of what, in the twentieth century, becomes modern pluralism is evidence in this sentence.

10. This recalls Hegel’s contention that political economy forms a system of reality which operates independently of the state and which is opposed to ‘the goal of ethical perfection.’

11. As Hegel proceeds to argue, organic stands to inorganic as Sittlichkeit stands to Moralität.

12. Ultimately, civil society will constitute the ‘inorganic nature of the ethical.’

13. An excellent example of Hegel’s conception of subjectivity as both other-regarding and self-regarding.

14. In other words, self-regarding subjectivity must be contained. Political economy, however, naturally increases subjectivity. Thus, its expansive powers must be contained too.

101. Translator’s note: Reading sehen (with Werke, vol. Ii, p. 489) for the sein of the first edition.

15. The passages referred to in Aristotle (Politics, 1255b 35-7) and Plato (Republic, 473b and 484a-486a) discuss qualities of political leadership that lead to justice and promotion of the common good. Gesammelte Werke, vol. Iv, p. 616 reproduces the Greek originals.

16. Plato (Statesman, 308e-309a); again, the topic is political leadership. The translation is by Fowler, p. 187.

17. Aristotle (Politics, 1254a, 13ff); the theme discussed by Aristotle is the implication for political leadership of relations between masters and slaves.

18. At this point, Hegel begins a criticism of Rome that focuses on the depoliticization of Roman public life. This marks a decisive moment in his development as a political thinker, because he also beings here to discuss the decline of the public life of the polis in terms of the emergence of a form of individualism that he relates to issues of economic enjoyment and personal security. As will become obvious later in the essay, Gibbon’s notion of the increasingly ‘privatized’ life of Roman citizens helped him to make this initial connection. But it is crucial to realize that, when the introduces the world bourgeois to characterize this privatized type of life, he is adding an economic dimension to the argument concerning privatization, one that dovetailed with the view of Christianity as a ‘private religion’ which he had developed in his early theological writings. (In addition to Gibbon, Hegel’s reading of Scottish works on political economy is also relevant here.) The point to grasp, then, is that, here and in the following pages, Hegel posits a connection between two long-term processes of historical development: (1) the depoliticization of the idea of citizenship in the ancient world; and (2) the privatization of life that Hegel (and Gibbon, according to J. Pocock (1977)) sees as anticipating developments in the modern world. In other words, Hegel here begins to address on a philosophical level the famous argument about ancient and modern liberty.

19. It is important to remember that, when the ‘second’ class becomes ‘the people,’ the people in question are constituted more by their economic than by their political interests. That is why Hegel quotes Gibbon on private life, and why he later uses the French term bourgeois to express what he is talking about.

20. Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. J. B. Bury (London 1925), vol. I. pp. 56-7. Gibbon is discussing what he calls (just before the passage which Hegel quotes) ‘the latent causes of [Roman] decline and corruption’.

102. Translator’s note: The italics in this quotation are Hegel’s.

21. In this sentence, we see Hegel identifying Roman law as the source of the kind of rights-based individualism he associates with self-regarding subjectivity and social and political atomism. In his later discussions of the French Revolution (e.g. in the Philosophy of History, pp. 212), he projects the abstractionism inherent in Roman Law forward in time and uses it to explain tendencies in French thinking (i.e. Natural Law theory during the Enlightenment) and French politics (i.e. the French Revolution). In the 1820s, he will also associate these tendencies with Catholic philosophical and political thinking.

22. The quotations from Plato are from his Republic, 425c-427e and 404e-405b. Hegel’s rendering of the Greek into German is rather free: for example, he slips the word sittlich ('ethical’) in ('provided that God grants them the blessing of a truly ethical constitution’) where there is no linguistic justification for it (the Greek refers to the preservative – perhaps redemptive – character of law or nomos). Our English translation is accordingly based directly on Hegel’s German, not on Plato’s Greek. For comparison, the following is a modern English translation of the phrase in question by a classical scholar (B. Jowett, The Dialogues of Plato (New York, 1937) vol. 1, p. 688): ‘if God will only preserve to them the laws which we have given them.’

23. In this sentence, Hegel means to contrast private life and public life. But, because private life has a semblance of universality about it, it appears to be ‘social’ too. Again, Habermas’s idea of ‘civil privatism’ is relevant here. In the next two sentences, Hegel will identify this system of privatized life as bourgeois.

24. Hegel had discussed the idea of ‘political nullity’ in The German Constitution. There and here, his concern is that privatization entails depoliticization. Obviously, he wishes to reverse that process, or at least to contain it. During the rest of his life, he will suggest a number of ways of repoliticizing citizens – that is, of turning the burgher as bourgeois into the burgher as citoyen.

25. Facing up to the ‘right of the inorganic’ – say, to the necessity of political economy – consequently does not entail eliminating it.

26. The relationship between Hegel’s conception of tragedy and his view of Sittlichkeit has often been discussed by scholars (e.g. by A. C. Bradley (1959: pp. 69ff). In what follows, he moves from language associated with Greek tragedy to language associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

27. Aeschylus was the author of The Eumenides, the third play in the trilogy known as the Oresteia. C. Meier (1990: pp. 82ff) has ably discussed the political dimensions of this tragedy. Harris (1983: p. 219) relates the political meaning of the Oresteia directly to Aristotle. Hyppolite (1996: pp. 56-9) and Cassirer (1946: p. 318) relate the tragic motif directly to Hegel’s political thinking. Hyppolite correctly argues that much of what passes for ‘dialectic’ in Hegel’s thought is a reflection of his ‘pantragic’ vision of world history.

28. Hyppolite (1996: p. 83 n 67) argues that comedy represents depoliticized Greek thinking. In the next paragraph, Hegel hints at something similar. Harris (1983: p. 219) relates the comedy motif to depoliticized Protestantism.

29. Hegel discusses Dante in Gesammelte Werke, vol. Iv, pp. 486ff. See Harris (1983: p. 218ff) for comments on his view of Dante.

103. Translator’s note: Hegel uses the Greek term polis.

30. A reference to Plato (Statesman, 302a). Plato is discussing the failure of political leaders to grasp the science of politics.

31. Hegel seems to be arguing here that a proliferation of cultural forms at one historical moment signals an impending dissolution of the political order.

32. Throughout the 1790s, Hegel had developed the idea of ‘fate’ as a way of explaining continuity and change in history.

33. According to the editors of Gesammelte Werke, vol. Iv, p. 617, the passage in question is to be found in the second canto of Klopstock’s Messiah; in our opinion, the resemblance is not sufficiently close to warrant the attribution to Klopstock.

34. Clearly, in this sentence, Hegel links different kinds of consciousness with different kinds of character.

35. Plato, Phaedrus, 246c-d. Plato is discussing the mortal and immortal aspects of the soul.

36. According to Knox (1975: p. 110 n), Hegel derives the aether reference from Schelling’s philosophy of nature.

37. Knox (1975: p. 110 n) sees a possible allusion to either Aristotle or Plato.

38. The idea that spirit is higher than nature is a main theme of the lectures on the philosophy of history which Hegel delivered in Berlin between 1822 and 1831.

39. The first installment of On the Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law ends here. The remainder of the essay appeared in the next issue of The Critical Journal of Philosophy (vols. 2, 3, 1803).

40. The opening sentence sets up the distinction, soon to be discussed more fully, between Moralität and Sittlichkeit.

41. A cautionary note is needed here, because Hegel does not reduce Sittlichkeit to the simple matter of abiding by laws that are traditional and/or in accordance with custom (Sitte). In this respect, his view seems to be similar to that of Aristotle. See, for example, E. R. Goodenough (1928: p. 67) and Loe Strauss (1964: p. 25).

42. By ‘allegiance,’ Hegel simply means that placing the private advantage of the individual before the common good will make it difficult for philosophers of Moralität ever to talk coherently about the ‘ethical life of everyone.’

43. As was noted above, Hyppolite makes much of Hegel’s grounding of Sittlichkeit in ‘the spirit of a people.’

44. Aristotle (Politics, 1253a 25-9). Hegel’s rendering into German of Aristotle’s Greek raises fundamental questions about how we should interpret his own social and political theory. To begin with, he uses the German Volk for the Greek polis. That in itself could be interpreted as a depoliticization of Aristotle’s language, for Aristotle (Politicsi, 1252b) is clearly discussing the polis as the ‘final and perfect’ partnership/association (koinonia) in which citizens pursue the ‘good life’ as distinct from ‘mere life.’ At 1253a 39, Aristotle links pursuit of the good life both to ‘political partnership/association’ (politike koinonia) and to a disposition within individuals that requires membership in such an association. Hegel also uses the German phrase wer... nicht gemeinschaftlich sein kann (literally ‘who cannot belong to a community’) to translate a phrase in which koinonein (to share) is the key word. Modern translations of Aristotle’s Greek different significantly here: ‘unable to share in the blessings of political association’ (Barker); unable to ‘enter into partnership’ (Rackham); or ‘unable to live in society’ (Jowett). With regard to Hegel’s translation, the problem is twofold: (1) does gemeinschaftlich refer to a political partnership/association, or to a social and/or communal partnership/association that lacks a political dimension but in any case fulfills the human need for association; or (2) does it refer to a communal ideal whose political and/or social content Hegel deliberately leaves open? And how do we ourselves translate Aristotle’s koinonia and (in its verb form) koinonein? For example, we confuse social and political spheres if we render koinonia at 1253a 28 as ‘social’ (as Jowett does), because that translation tends to make the political just one form of association among many equal forms of non-political partnership/association. This results in a depoliticization of Hegel’s language and makes it seem as if he were a pluralist – which he is not. Similarly, to read political content into koinonein where Aristotle’s Greek is indeterminate obscures the fact that Aristotle often (e.g. Ethics 1170b 10-14) uses koinonein to express the idea of spiritual communion among human beings. Obviously, on single translation of Hegel’s rendering of Aristotle can fully capture all the possible meanings. In the passage which Hegel quotes, however, Aristotle is clearly discussing membership in the polis and trying to distinguish political membership from membership of other kinds of association. There is, therefore, a political dimension in this passage. Barker’s translation captures it, whereas the other two do not. Hegel’s German needs to be read in this light. In view of these translation problems, the English version supplied in the text is based directly on his German version.

45. The last two sentences make it perfectly clear that Hegel thinks the doctrine of Moralität stands the ethical world upside down. Conversely, Sittlichkeit stands the world right side up. Accordingly, Hegel associations Sittlichkeit with his refigured conception of natural law. This allows him to reserve the term Moralität for the kind of rights-based individualism that had begun to emerge in Germany in the late eighteenth century (see Klippel 1990).

104. Translator’s note: Literally, ‘natural right,’ which makes possible the subsequent contrast with ‘natural wrong.’

46. Because Moralität is the Sittlichkeit of the bourgeoisie, it is an agent of depoliticization, too. As such, it cannot be ‘truly ethical’ in Hegel’s judgment.

47. In this paragraph, Hegel begins to alter his perspective on the relationship between citizen and bourgeois. Previously, the latter had arisen as the privatization process undermined the ‘ethical life’ of the polis. Here, however, Hegel begins to view the private life of the bourgeoisie as simply lacking in Sittlichkeit rather than as something unalterably opposed to Sittlichkeit. In this respect, the bourgeois qua ‘child’ is potentially an ‘ethical individual.’ It follows that the mark of a mature individual is ultimately the ability to share in the ethical life of the community.

48. The reference to ‘a Pythagorean’ is to Diogenes Laeritus, Book VIII, I. 16. See Gesammelte Werke, vol. Iv, p. 617 n.

49. This sentence is a good example of Hegel’s commitment to ethical holism. ‘Common being’ here translates the German gemeinsamen Sein.

105. Translator’s note: Translator’s italics.

50. In the opening sentences of the paragraph, Hegel seems to draw a distinction between, on the one hand, custom qua unreflective obedience to what has been, and, on the other hand, living custom which is brought into line with an ever-changing reality through thinking.

51. It is noteworthy that, in the 1820s, Hegel went on to present Sittlichkeit as the active expression of a religious cultus.