Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
The standpoint of morality is the standpoint of the will which is infinite not merely in itself but for itself (see § 104). In contrast with the will’s implicit being, with its immediacy and the determinate characteristics developed within it at that level, this reflection of the will into itself and its explicit awareness of its identity makes the person into the subject.
It is as subjectivity that the concept has now been determined, and since subjectivity is distinct from the concept as such, i.e. from the implicit principle of the will, and since furthermore it is at the same time the will of the subject as a single individual aware of himself (i.e. still has immediacy in him), it constitutes the determinate existence of the concept. In this way a higher ground has been assigned to freedom; the Idea’s existential aspect, or its moment of reality, is now the subjectivity of the will. Only in the Will as subjective can freedom or the implicit principle of the will be actual.
Remark: The second sphere, – Morality, therefore throughout portrays the real aspect of the concept of freedom, and the movement of this sphere is as follows: the will, which at the start is aware only of its independence and which before it is mediated is only implicitly identical with the universal will or the principle of the will, is raised beyond its [explicit] difference from the universal will, beyond this situation in which it sinks deeper and deeper into itself, and is established as explicitly identical with the principle of the will., – This process is accordingly the cultivation of the ground in which freedom is now set, i.e. subjectivity. What happens is that subjectivity, which is abstract at the start, i.e. distinct from the concept, becomes likened to it, and thereby the Idea acquires its genuine realisation, The result is that the subjective-will determines itself as objective too and so as truly concrete.
Addition: So far as right in the strict sense was concerned, it was of no importance what my intention or my principle was. This question about the self-determination and motive of the will, like the question about its purpose, now enters at this point in connection with morality. Since man wishes to be judged in accordance with his own self-determined choices, he is free in this relation to himself whatever the external situation may impose upon him. No one can break in upon this inner conviction of mankind, no violence can be done to it, and the moral will, therefore, is inaccessible. Man’s worth is estimated by reference to his inward action and hence the standpoint of morality is that of freedom aware of itself.
The self-determination of the will is at the same time a moment in the concept of the will, and subjectivity is not merely its existential aspect but its own determinate character (see § 104). The will aware of its freedom and determined as subjective is at the start concept alone, but itself has determinate existence in order to exist as Idea. The moral standpoint therefore takes shape as the right of the subjective Will. In accordance with this right, the will recognises something and is something, only in so far as the thing is its own and as the will is present to itself there as something subjective.
The same process through which the moral attitude develops (see the Remark to the preceding Paragraph) has from this point of view the form of being the development of the right of the subjective will, or of the mode of its existence. In this process the subjective will further determines what it recognises as its own in its object (Gegenstand), so that this object becomes the will’s own true concept, becomes objective (objektiv) as the expression of the will’s own universality.
Addition: This entire category of the subjectivity of the will is once again a whole which, as subjectivity, must also have objectivity. It is in a subject that freedom can first be realised, since the subjective is the true material for this realisation. But this embodiment of the will which we have called subjectivity is different from the will which has developed all its potentialities to actuality. That is to say, the will must free itself from this second one-sidedness of pure subjectivity in order to become the fully actualised will. In morality, it is man’s private interest that comes into question, and the high worth of this interest consists precisely in the fact that man knows himself as absolute and is self-determined. The uneducated man allows himself to be constrained in everything by brute force and natural factors; children have no moral will but leave their parents to decide things for them. The educated man, however, develops an inner life and wills that he himself shall be in everything he does.
The subjective will, directly aware of itself, and distinguished from the principle of the will (see Remark to § 106), is therefore abstract, restricted, and formal. But not merely is subjectivity itself formal; in addition, as the infinite self-determination of the will, it constitutes the form of all willing. In this, its first appearance in the single will, this form has not yet been established as identical with the concept of the will, and therefore the moral point of view is that of relation, of ought-to-be, or demand. And since the self-difference of subjectivity involves at the same time the character of being opposed to objectivity as external fact, it follows that the point of view of consciousness comes on the scene here too (see § 8). The general point of view here is that of the will’s self-difference, finitude, and appearance.
Remark: The moral is not characterised primarily by its having already been opposed to the immoral, nor is right directly characterised by its opposition to wrong. The point is rather that the general characteristics of morality and immorality alike rest on the subjectivity of the will.
Addition: In morality, self-determination is to be thought of as the pure restlessness and activity which can never arrive at anything that is. It is in the sphere of ethical life that the will is for the first time identical with the concept of the will and has this concept alone as its content. In the moral sphere the will still relates itself to its implicit principle and consequently its position is that of difference. The process through which this position develops is that whereby the subjective will becomes identified with its concept. Therefore the ‘ought-to-be’ which is never absent from the moral sphere becomes an ‘is’ only in ethical life. Further, this ‘other’ in relation to which the subjective will stands is two-sided: first, it is what is substantive, the concept; secondly, it is external fact. Even if the good were posited in the subjective will, that still would not give it complete realisation.
This form of all willing primarily involves in accordance with its general character (a) the opposition of subjectivity and objectivity, and (b) the activity (see § 8) related to this opposition. Now existence and specific determinacy are identical in the concept of the will (see § 104), and the will as subjective is itself this concept. Hence the moments of this activity consist more precisely in (a) distinguishing between objectivity and subjectivity and even ascribing independence to them both, and (b) establishing them as identical. In the will which is self-determining,
[a] its specific determinacy is in the first place established in the will itself by itself as its inner particularisation, as a content which it gives to itself. This is the first negation, and the formal limitation (Grenze) of this negation is that of being only something posited, something subjective.
[b] As infinitely reflected into itself, this limitation exists for the will, and the will is the struggle to transcend this barrier (Schranke), i.e. it is the activity of translating this content in some way or other from subjectivity into objectivity, into an immediate existence.
[c] The simple identity of the will with itself in this opposition is the content which remains self-identical in both these opposites and indifferent to this formal distinction of opposition. In short, it is my aim [the purpose willed].
But, at the standpoint of morality, where the will is aware of its freedom, of this identity of the will with itself (see § 105), this identity of content acquires the more particularised character appropriate to itself.
(a) The content as ‘mine’ has for me this character: by virtue of its identity in subject and object it enshrines for me my subjectivity, not merely as my inner purpose, but also inasmuch as it has acquired outward existence.
Addition: The content of the subjective or moral will has a specific character of its own, i.e. even if it has acquired the form of objectivity, it must still continue to enshrine my subjectivity, and my act is to count as mine only if on its inward side it has been determined by me, if it was my purpose, my intention. Beyond what lay in my subjective will I recognise nothing in its expression as mine. What I wish to see in my deed is my subjective consciousness over again.
(b) Though the content does have in it something particular, whencesoever it may be derived, still it is the content of the will reflected into itself in its determinacy and thus of the self-identical and universal will; and therefore:
[a] the content is inwardly characterised as adequate to the principle of the will or as possessing the objectivity of the concept;
[b] since the subjective will, as aware of itself, is at the same time still formal (see § 108), the content’s adequacy to the concept is still only something demanded, and hence this entails the possibility that the content may not be adequate to the concept.
(c) Since in carrying out my aims I retain my subjectivity (see § 110), during this process of objectifying them I simultaneously supersede the immediacy of this subjectivity as well as its character as this my individual subjectivity. But the external subjectivity which is thus identical with me is the will of others (see § 73). The will’s ground of existence is now subjectivity (see § 106) and the will of others is that existence which I give to my aim and which is at the same time to me an other. The achievement of my aim, therefore, implies this identity of my will with the will of others, it has a positive bearing on the will of others.
Remark: The objectivity of the aim achieved thus involves three meanings, or rather it has three moments present within it at once; it is:
[a] something existing externally and immediately (see § 106);
[b] adequate to the concept (see § 111);
[c] universal subjectivity.
The subjectivity which maintains itself in this objectivity consists:
[a] in the fact that the objective aim is mine, so that in it I maintain myself as this individual (see § 110); [b] and [c], in moments which coincide with the moments [b] and [c] above.
At the standpoint of morality, subjectivity and objectivity are distinct from one another, or united only by their mutual contradiction; it is this fact more particularly which constitutes the finitude of this sphere or its character as mere appearance (see § 108), and the development of this standpoint is the development of these contradictions and their resolutions, resolutions, however, which within this field can be no more than relative.
Addition: In dealing with formal right, I said [see § 38] that it contained prohibitions only, that hence a right action, strictly so called, was purely negative in character in respect of the will of others. In morality, on the other hand, my will has a positive character in relation to the Will of others, i.e. the universal will is implicitly present within what the subjective will effects. To effect something is to produce something or to alter what already exists, and such changes have a bearing on the will of others. The concept of morality is the inner relation of the will to itself. But here it is not only one will; on the contrary its objectification implies at the same time the cancellation of the single will, and therefore, in addition, just because the character of one-sidedness vanishes, the positing of two wills and a positive bearing of each on the other. So far as rights are concerned, it makes no difference whether someone else’s will may do something in relation to mine, when I give my will an embodiment in property. In morality, however, the welfare of others too is in question, and this positive bearing cannot come on the scene before this point.
The externalisation of the subjective or moral will is action. Action implies the determinate characteristics here indicated:
[a] in its externality it must be known to me as my action;
[b] it must bear essentially on the concept as an ‘ought’ [see § 131];
[c] it must have an essential bearing on the will of others.
Remark: It is not until we come to the externalisation of the moral will that we come to action. The existence which the will gives to itself in the sphere of formal rights is existence in an immediate thing and is itself immediate; to start with, it neither has in itself any express bearing on the concept, which is at that point not yet contrasted with the subjective will and so is not distinguished from it, nor has it a positive bearing on the will of others; in the sphere of right, command in its fundamental character is only prohibition (see § 38). In contract and wrong, there is the beginning of a bearing on the will of others; but the correspondence established in contract between one will and another is grounded in arbitrariness, and the essential bearing which the will has there on the will of the other is, as a matter of rights, something negative, i.e. one party retains his property (the value of it) and allows the other to retain his. On the other hand, crime in its aspect as issuing from the subjective will, and the question of the mode of its existence in that will, come before us now for consideration for the first time.
The content of an action at law (actio), as something determined by legal enactment, is not imputable to me. Consequently, such an action contains only some of the moments of a moral action proper, and contains them only Incidentally. The aspect of an action in virtue of which it is properly moral is therefore distinct from its aspect as legal.
The right of the moral will involves three aspects:
(a) The abstract or formal right of action, the right that the content of the action as carried out in immediate existence, shall be in principle mine, that thus the action shall be the Purpose of the subjective will.
(b) The particular aspect of the action is its inner content [a] as I am aware of it in its general character; my awareness of this general character constitutes the worth of the action and the reason I think good to do it – in short my Intention. [b] Its content is my special aim, the aim of my particular, merely individual, existence, i.e. Welfare.
(c) This content (as something which is inward and which yet at the same time is raised to its universality as to absolute objectivity) is the absolute end of the will, the Good – with the opposition in the sphere of reflection, of subjective universality, which is now wickedness and now conscience.
Addition: If an action is to be moral, it must in the first place correspond with my purpose, since the moral will has the right to refuse to recognise in the resulting state of affairs what was not present inwardly as purpose. Purpose concerns only the formal principle that the external will shall be within me as something inward. On the other hand, in the second moment of the moral sphere, questions may be asked about the intention behind the action, i.e. about the relative worth of the action in relation to me. The third and last moment is not the relative worth of the action but its universal worth, the good.
In a moral action, then, there may be a breach first between what is purposed and what is really effected and achieved; secondly, between what is there externally as a universal will and the particular inner determination which I give to it. The third and last point is that the intention should be in addition the universal content of the action. The good is the intention raised to be the concept of the will.
The finitude of the subjective will in the immediacy of acting consists directly in this, that its action presupposes an external object with a complex environment. The deed sets up an alteration in this state of affairs confronting the will, and my will has responsibility in general for its deed in so far as the abstract predicate ‘mine’ belongs to the state of affairs so altered.
Remark: An event, a situation which has been produced, is a concrete external actuality which because of its concreteness has in it an indeterminable multiplicity of factors. Any and every single element which appears as the condition, ground, or cause of one such factor, and so has contributed its share to the event in question, may be looked upon as responsible for the event, or at least as sharing the responsibility for it. Hence, in the case of a complex event (e.g. the French Revolution) it is open to the abstract Understanding to choose which of an endless number of factors it will maintain to be responsible for it.
Addition: I am chargeable with what lay in my purpose and this is the most important point in connection with crime. But responsibility contains only the quite external judgement whether I have or have not done some thing. It does not follow that, because I am responsible, the thing done may be imputed to me.
It is, of course, not my own doing if damage is caused to others by things whose owner I am and which as external objects stand and are effective in manifold connections with other things (as may also be the case with my self as a bodily mechanism or as a living thing). This damage, however, is to some extent chargeable to me because the things that cause it are in principle mine, although it is true that they are subject to my control, vigilance, &c., only to an extent varying with their special character.
The freely acting will, in directing its aim on the state of affairs confronting it, has an idea of the attendant circumstances. But because the will is finite, since this state of affairs is presupposed, the objective phenomenon is contingent so far as the will is concerned, and may contain something other than what the will’s idea of it contains. The will’s right, however, is to recognise as its action, and to accept responsibility for, only those presuppositions of the deed of which it was conscious in its aim and those aspects of the deed which were contained in its purpose. The deed can be imputed to me only if my will is responsible for it – this is the right to know.
Addition: The will has confronting it a state of affairs upon which it acts. But in order to know what this state of affairs is I must have an idea of it, and the responsibility is truly mine only in so far as I had knowledge of the situation confronting me. Such a situation is a presupposition of my volition and my will is therefore finite, or rather, since my will is finite, it has a presupposition of this kind. As soon as my thinking and willing is rational, I am no longer at this level of finitude, since the object on which I act is no longer an ‘other’ to me. Finitude, however, implies fixed limits and restrictions. I have confronting me an ‘other’ which is only contingent, something necessary in a purely external way; its path and mine may meet or diverge. Nevertheless, I am nothing except in relation to my freedom, and my will is responsible for the deed only in so far as I know what I am doing. Oedipus, who killed his father without knowing it, cannot be accused of parricide. The ancient penal codes, however, attached less weight to the subjective side of action, to imputability, than we do nowadays. That is why sanctuaries were instituted in ancient times for harbouring and protecting the fugitive from vengeance.
Further, action is translated into external fact, and external fact has connections in the field of external necessity through which it develops itself in all directions. Hence action has a multitude of consequences. These consequences are the outward form whose inner soul is the aim of the action, and thus they are the consequences of the action, they belong to the action. At the same time, however, the action, as the aim posited in the external world, has become the prey of external forces which attach to it something totally different from what it is explicitly and drive it on into alien and distant consequences. Thus the will has the right to repudiate the imputation of all consequences except the first, since it alone was purposed.
Remark: To determine which results are accidental and which necessary is impossible, because the necessity implicit in the finite comes into determinate existence as an external necessity, as a relation of single things to one another, things which as self-subsistent are conjoined in indifference to one another and externally. The maxim: ‘Ignore the consequences of actions’ and the other: ‘Judge actions by their consequences and make these the criterion of right and good’ are both alike maxims of the abstract Understanding. The consequences, as the shape proper to the action and immanent within it, exhibit nothing but its nature and are simply the action itself; therefore the action can neither disavow nor ignore them. On the other hand, however, among the consequences there is also comprised something interposed from without and introduced by chance, and this is quite unrelated to the nature of the action itself.
The development in the external world of the contradiction involved in the necessity of the finite is just the conversion of necessity into contingency and vice versa. From this point of view, therefore, acting means surrendering oneself to this law. It is because of this that it is to the advantage of the criminal if his action has comparatively few bad consequences (while a good action must be content to have had no consequences or very few), and that the full developed consequences of a crime are counted as part of the crime.
The self-consciousness of heroes (like that of Oedipus and others in Greek tragedy) had not advanced out of its primitive simplicity either to reflection on the distinction between act and action, between the external event and the purpose and knowledge of the circumstances, or to the subdivision of consequences. On the contrary, they accepted responsibility for the whole compass of the deed.
Addition: The transition to intention depends on the fact that I accept responsibility only for what my idea of the situation was. That is to say, there can be imputed to me only what I knew of the circumstances. On the other hand, there are inevitable consequences linked with every action, even if I am only bringing about some single, immediate, state of affairs. The consequences in such a case represent the universal implicit within that state of affairs. Of course I cannot foresee the consequences – they might be preventable – but I must be aware of the universal character of any isolated act. The important point here is not the isolated thing but the whole, and that depends not on the differentia of the particular action, but on its universal nature. Now the transition from purpose to intention lies in the fact that I ought to be aware not simply of my single action but also of the universal which is conjoined with it. The universal which comes on the scene here in this way is what I have willed, my intention.
An action as an external event. is a complex of connected parts which may be regarded as divided into units ad infinitum, and the action may be treated as having touched in the first instance only one of these units. The truth of the single, however, is the universal; and what explicitly gives action its specific character is not an isolated content limited to an external unit, but a universal content, comprising in itself the complex of connected parts. Purpose, as issuing from a thinker, comprises more than the mere unit; essentially it comprises that universal side of the action, i.e. the intention.
Remark: Etymologically, Absicht (intention) implies abstraction, either the form of universality or the extraction of a particular aspect of the concrete thing. The endeavour to justify an action by the intention behind it involves the isolation of one or other of its single aspects which is alleged to be the essence of the action on its subjective side.
To judge an action as an external deed without yet determining its rightness or wrongness is simply to bestow on it a universal predicate, i.e. to describe it as burning, killing, &c.
The discrete character of the external world shows what the nature of that world is, namely a chain of external relations. Actuality is touched in the first instance only at a single point (arson, for instance, directly concerns only a tiny section of the firewood, i.e. is describable in a proposition, not a judgment), but the universal nature of this point entails its expansion. In a living thing, the single part is there in its immediacy not as a mere part, but as an organ in which the universal is really present as the universal; hence in murder, it is not a piece of flesh, as something isolated, which is injured, but life itself which is injured in that piece of flesh. It is subjective reflection, ignorant of the logical nature of the single and the universal, which indulges ad libitum in the subdivision of single parts and consequences; and yet it is the nature of the finite deed itself to contain such separable contingencies. The device of dolus indirectus has its basis in these considerations.
Addition: It happens of course that circumstances may make an action miscarry to a greater or lesser degree. In a case of arson, for instance, the fire may not catch or alternatively it may take hold further than the incendiary intended. In spite of this, however, we must not make this a distinction between good and bad luck, since in acting a man must lay his account with externality. The old Proverb is correct: ‘A flung stone is the devil’s.’ To act is to expose oneself to bad luck. Thus bad luck has a right over me and is an embodiment of my own willing.
The right of intention is that the universal quality of the action shall not merely be implicit but shall be known by the agent, and so shall have lain from the start in his subjective will. Vice versa, what may be called the right of the objectivity of action is the right of the action to evince itself as known and willed by the subject as a thinker.
Remark: This right to insight of this kind entails the complete, or almost complete, irresponsibility of children, imbeciles, lunatics, &c., for their actions. But just as actions on their external side as events include accidental consequences, so there is involved in the subjective agent an indeterminacy whose degree depends on the strength and force of his self-consciousness and circumspection. This indeterminacy, however, may not be taken into account except in connection with childhood or imbecility, lunacy, &c., since it is only such well marked states of mind that nullify the trait of thought and freedom of will, and permit us to treat the agent as devoid of the dignity of being a thinker and a will.
The universal quality of the action is the manifold content of the action as such, reduced to the simple form of universality. But the subject, an entity reflected into himself and so particular in correlation with the particularity of his object, has in his end his own particular content, and this content is the soul of the action and determines its character. The fact that this moment of the particularity of the agent is contained and realised in the action constitutes subjective freedom in its more concrete sense, the right of the subject to find his satisfaction in the action.
Addition: In my own eyes, reflected into myself, I am a particular in correlation with the externality of my action. My end constitutes the content of the action, the content determinant of the action. Murder and arson, for example, are universals and so are not the positive content of my action qua the action of a subject. If one of these crimes has been committed, its perpetrator may be asked why he committed it. The murder was not done for the sake of murdering; the murderer had in view some particular positive end. But if we were to say that he murdered for the mere pleasure of murdering, then the purely positive content of the subject would surely be pleasure, and if that is the case then the deed is the satisfaction of the subject’s will. Thus the motive of an act is, more particularly, what is called the ‘moral’ factor, and this has in that case the double meaning of the universal implicit in the purpose and the particular aspect of the intention. It is a striking modem innovation to inquire continually about the motives of men’s actions. Formerly, the question was simply: ‘Is he an honest man? Does he do his duty?’ Nowadays we insist on looking into men’s hearts and so we presuppose a gulf between the objectivity of actions and their inner side, the subjective motives. To be sure, the subject’s volition must be considered; he wills something and the reason for what he wills lies within himself; he wills the satisfaction of his desire, the gratification of his passion. None the less, the good and the right are also a content of action, a content not purely natural but put there by my rationality. To make my freedom the content of what I will is a plain goal of my freedom itself. Therefore it is to take higher moral ground to find satisfaction in the action and to advance beyond the gulf between the self-consciousness of a man and the objectivity of his deed, even though to treat action as if it involved such a gulf is a way of looking at the matter characteristic of certain epochs in world history and in individual biography.
It is on the strength of this particular aspect that the action has subjective worth or interest for me. In contrast with this end – the content of the intention – the direct character of the action in its further content is reduced to a means. In so far as such an end is something finite, it may in its turn be reduced to a means to some further intention and so on ad infinitum.
For the content of these ends nothing is available at this point except [a] pure activity itself, i.e. the activity present owing to the fact that the subject puts himself into whatever he is to look upon and promote as his end. Men are willing to be active in pursuit of what interests them, or should interest them, as something which is their own. [b] A more determinate content, however, the still abstract and formal freedom of subjectivity possesses only in its natural, subjective embodiment, i.e. in needs, inclinations, passions, opinions, fancies, &c. The satisfaction of these is welfare or happiness, both in general and in its particular species – the ends of the whole sphere of finitude.
Remark: Here – the standpoint of relation (see § 108), when the subject is characterised by his self-difference and so counts as a particular – is the place where the content of the natural will (see § 11). comes on the scene. But the will here is not as it is in its immediacy; on the contrary, this content now belongs to a will reflected into itself and so is elevated to become a universal end, the end of welfare or happiness; this happens at the level of the thinking which does not yet apprehend the will in its freedom but reflects on its content as on one natural and given – the level, for example, of the time of Croesus and Solon.
Addition: Since the specifications of happiness are given, they are not true specifications of freedom, because freedom is not genuinely free in its own eyes except in the good, i.e. except when it is its own end. Consequently we may raise the question whether a man has the right to set before himself ends not freely chosen but resting solely on the fact that the subject is a living being. The fact that man is a living being, however, is not fortuitous, but in conformity with reason, and to that extent he has a right to make his needs his end. There is nothing degrading in being alive, and there is no mode of intelligent being higher than life in which existence would be possible. It is only the raising of the given to something self-created which yields the higher orbit of the good, although this distinction implies no incompatibility between the two levels.
Since the subjective satisfaction of the individual himself (including the recognition which he receives by way of honour and fame) is also part and parcel of the achievement of ends of absolute worth, it follows that the demand that such an end alone shall appear as willed and attained, like the view that, in willing, objective and subjective ends are mutually exclusive, is an empty dogmatism of the abstract Understanding. And this dogmatism is more than empty, it is pernicious if it passes into the assertion that because subjective satisfaction is present, as it always is when any task is brought to completion, it is what the agent intended in essence to secure and that the objective end was in his eyes only a means to that. – What the subject is, is the series of his actions. If these are a series of worthless productions, then the subjectivity of his willing is just as worthless. But if the series of his deeds is of a substantive nature, then the same is true also of the individual’s inner will.
Remark: The right of the subject’s particularity, his right to be satisfied, or in other words the right of subjective freedom, is the pivot and centre of the difference between antiquity and modern times. This right in its infinity is given expression in Christianity and it has become the universal effective principle of a new form of civilisation. Amongst the primary shapes which this right assumes are love, romanticism, the quest for the eternal salvation of the individual, &c.; next come moral convictions and conscience; and, finally, the other forms, some of which come into prominence in what follows as the principle of civil society and as moments in the constitution of the state, while others appear in the course of history, particularly the history of art, science, and philosophy.
Now this principle of particularity is, to be sure, one moment of the antithesis, and in the first place at least it is just as much identical with the universal as distinct from it. Abstract reflection, however, fixes this moment in its distinction from and opposition to the universal and so produces a view of morality as nothing but a bitter, unending, struggle against self-satisfaction, as the command: ‘Do with abhorrence what duty enjoins.’
It is just this type of ratiocination which adduces that familiar psychological view of history which understands how to belittle and disparage all great deeds and great men by transforming into the main intention and operative motive of actions the inclinations and passions which likewise found their satisfaction from the achievement of something substantive, the fame and honour, &c., consequential on such actions, in a word their particular aspect, the aspect which it has decreed in advance to be something in itself pernicious. Such ratiocination assures us that, while great actions and the efficiency which has subsisted through a series of them have produced greatness in the world and have had as their consequences for the individual agent power, honour, and fame, still what belongs to the individual is not the greatness itself but what has accrued to him from it, this purely particular and external result; because this result is a consequence, it is therefore supposed to have been the agent’s end and even his sole end. Reflection of this sort stops short at the subjective side of great men, since it itself stands on purely subjective ground, and consequently it overlooks what is substantive in this emptiness of its own making. This is the view of those valet psychologists ‘for whom there are no heroes, not because there are no heroes, but because these psychologists are only valets’.
Addition: In magnis ... voluisse sat est [In great things to have willed is enough] is right in the sense that we ought to will something great. But we must also be able to achieve it, otherwise the willing is nugatory. The laurels of mere willing are dry leaves that never were green.
The subjective element of the will, with its particular content – welfare, is reflected into itself and infinite and so stands related to the universal element, to the principle of the will. This moment of universality, posited first of all within this particular content itself, is the welfare of others also, or, specified completely, though quite emptily, the welfare of all. The welfare of many other unspecified particulars is thus also an essential end and right of subjectivity. But since the absolutely universal, in distinction from such a particular content, has not so far been further determined than as ‘the right’, it follows that these ends of particularity, differing as they do from the universal, may be in conformity with it, but they also may not.
My particularity, however, like that of others, is only a right at all in so far as I am a free entity. Therefore it may not make claims for itself in contradiction to this its substantive basis, and an intention to secure my welfare or that of others (and it is particularly in this latter case that such an intention is called ‘moral’) cannot justify an action which is wrong.
Remark: It is one of the most prominent of the corrupt maxims of our time to enter a plea for the so-called ‘moral’ intention behind wrong actions and to imagine bad men with well-meaning hearts, i.e. hearts willing their own welfare and perhaps that of others also. This doctrine is rooted in the ‘benevolence’ (guten Herzens) of the pre-Kantian philosophers and constitutes, e.g., the quintessence of well-known touching dramatic productions; but today it has been resuscitated in a more extravagant form, and inner enthusiasm and the heart, i.e. the form of particularity as such, have been made the criterion of right, rationality, and excellence. The result is that crime and the thoughts that lead to it, be they fancies however trite and empty, or opinions however wild, are to be regarded as right, rational, and excellent, simply because they issue from men’s hearts and enthusiasms. (See the Remark to § 140, where more details are given.) Incidentally, however, attention must be paid to the point of view from which right and welfare are being treated here. We are considering right as abstract right and welfare as the particular welfare of the single agent. The so-called ‘general good’, the welfare of the state, i.e. the right of mind actual and concrete, is quite a different sphere, a sphere in which abstract right is a subordinate moment like particular welfare and the happiness of the individual. As was remarked above, it is one of the commonest blunders of abstract thinking to make private rights and private welfare count as absolute in opposition to the universality of the state.
Addition: The famous answer: Je n’en vois pas la nécessité, given [by Richelieu] to the lampooner who excused himself with the words: Il faut donc que je vive, is apposite at this point. Life ceases to be necessary in face of the higher realm of freedom. When St. Crispin stole leather to make shoes for the poor, his action was moral but wrong and so inadmissible.
The particularity of the interests of the natural will, taken in their entirety as a single whole, is personal existence or life. In extreme danger and in conflict with the rightful property of someone else, this life may claim (as a right, not a mercy) a right of distress, because in such a situation there is on the one hand an infinite injury to a man’s existence and the consequent loss of rights altogether, and on the other hand only an injury to a single restricted embodiment of freedom, and this implies a recognition both of right as such and also of the injured man’s capacity for rights, because the injury affects only this property of his.
Remark: The right of distress is the basis of beneficium competentiae whereby a debtor is allowed to retain of his tools, farming implements, clothes, or, in short, of his resources, i.e. of his creditor’s property, so much as is regarded as indispensable if he is to continue to support life – to support it, of course, on his own social level.
Addition: Life as the sum of ends has a right against abstract right. If for example it is only by stealing bread that the wolf can be kept from the door, the action is of course an encroachment on someone’s property, but it would be wrong to treat this action as an ordinary theft. To refuse to allow a man in jeopardy of his life to take such steps for self-preservation would be to stigmatise him as without rights, and since he would be deprived of his life, his freedom would be annulled altogether. Many diverse details have a bearing on the preservation of life, and when we have our eyes on the future we have to engage ourselves in these details. But the only thing that is necessary is to live now, the future is not absolute but ever exposed to accident. Hence it is only the necessity of the immediate present which can justify a wrong action, because not to do the action would in turn be to commit an offence, indeed the most wrong of all offences, namely the complete destruction of the embodiment of freedom. Beneficium competentiae is relevant here, because kinship and other close relationships imply the right to demand that no one shall be sacrificed altogether on the altar of right.
This distress reveals the finitude and therefore the contingency of both right and welfare of right as the abstract embodiment of freedom without embodying the particular person, and of welfare as the sphere of the particular will without the universality of right. In this way they are established as one-sided and ideal, the character which in conception they already possessed. Right has already (see § 106) determined its embodiment as the particular will; and subjectivity, in its particularity as a comprehensive whole, is itself the embodiment of freedom (see § 127), while as the infinite relation of the will to itself, it is implicitly the universal element in freedom. The two moments present in right and subjectivity, thus integrated and attaining their truth, their identity, though in the first instance still remaining relative to one another, are (a) the good (as the concrete, absolutely determinate, universal), and (b) conscience (as infinite subjectivity inwardly conscious and inwardly determining its content).
The good is the Idea as the unity of the concept of the will with the particular will. In this unity, abstract right, welfare, the subjectivity of knowing and the contingency of external fact, have their independent self-subsistence superseded, though at the same time they are still contained and retained within it in their essence. The good is thus freedom realised, the absolute end and aim of the world.
Addition: Every stage is really the Idea, but the earlier stages contain it only in rather an abstract form. Thus for example, even the ego, as personality, is already the Idea, though in its most abstract shape. The good, therefore, is the Idea further determined, the unity of the concept of the will with the particular will. It is not something abstractly right, but something concrete whose contents are made up of both right and welfare alike.
In this Idea, welfare has no independent validity as the embodiment of a single particular will but only as universal welfare and essentially as universal in principle, i.e. as according with freedom. Welfare without right is not a good. Similarly, right without welfare is not the good; fiat justitia [Let justice be done ...] should not be followed by pereat mundus [... though the world perish]. Consequently, since the good must of necessity be actualised through the particular will and is at the same time its substance, it has absolute right in contrast with the abstract right of property and the particular aims of welfare. If either of these moments becomes distinguished from the good, it has validity only in so far as it accords with the good and is subordinated to it.
For the subjective will, the good and the good alone is the essential, and the subjective will has value and dignity only in so far as its insight and intention accord with the good. Inasmuch as the good is at this point still only this abstract Idea of good, the subjective will has not yet been caught up into it and established as according with it. Consequently, it stands in a relation to the good, and the relation is that the good ought to be substantive for it, i.e. it ought to make the good its aim and realise it completely, while the good on its side has in the subjective will its only means of stepping into actuality.
Addition: The good is the truth of the particular will, but the will is only that into which it puts itself; it is not good by nature but can become what it is only by its own labour. On the other hand, the good itself, apart from the subjective will, is only an abstraction without that real existence which it is to acquire for the first time through the efforts of that will. Accordingly, the development of the good has three stages: (i) The good should present itself to my volition as a particular will and I should know it. (ii) I should myself say what is good and should develop its particular specifications. (iii) Finally, the specification of the good on its own account, the particularisation of the good as infinite subjectivity aware of itself. This inward specifying of what good is, is conscience.
The right of the subjective will is that whatever it is to recognise as valid shall be seen by it as good, and that an action, as its aim entering upon external objectivity, shall be imputed to it as right or wrong, good or evil, legal or illegal, in accordance with its knowledge of the worth which the action has in this objectivity.
Remark: The good is in principle the essence of the will in its substantiality and universality, i.e. of the will in its truth, and therefore it exists simply and solely in thinking and by means of thinking. Hence assertions such as ‘man cannot know the truth but has to do only with phenomena’, or ‘thinking injures the good will’ are dogmas depriving mind not only of intellectual but also of all ethical worth and dignity.
The right of giving recognition only to what my insight sees as rational is the highest right of the subject, although owing to its subjective character it remains a formal right; against it the right which reason qua the objective possesses over the subject remains firmly established.
On account of its formal character, insight is capable equally of being true and of being mere opinion and error. The individual’s acquisition of this right of insight is, on the principles of the sphere which is still moral only, part and parcel of his particular subjective education. I may demand from myself, and regard it as one of my subjective rights, that my insight into an obligation shall be based on good reasons, that I shall be convinced of the obligation and even that I shall apprehend it from its concept and fundamental nature. But whatever I may claim for the satisfaction of my conviction about the character of an action as good, permitted, or forbidden, and so about its imputability in respect of this character, this in no way detracts from the right of objectivity.
This right of insight into the good is distinct from the right of insight in respect of action as such (see § 117); the form of the right of objectivity which corresponds to the latter is this, that since action is an alteration which is to take place in an actual world and so will have recognition in it, it must in general accord with what has validity there. Whoever wills to act in this world of actuality has eo ipso submitted himself to its laws and recognised the right of objectivity.
Similarly, in the state as the objectivity of the concept of reason, legal responsibility cannot be tied down to what an individual may hold to be or not to be in accordance with his reason, or to his subjective insight into what is right or wrong, good or evil, or to the demands which he makes for the satisfaction of his conviction. In this objective field, the right of insight is valid as insight into the legal or illegal, qua into what is recognised as right, and it is restricted to its elementary meaning, i.e. to knowledge in the sense of acquaintance with what is legal and to that extent obligatory. By means of the publicity of the laws and the universality of manners, the state removes from the right of insight its formal aspect and the contingency which it still retains for the subject at the level of morality. The subject’s right to know action in its specific character as good or evil, legal or illegal, has the result of diminishing or cancelling in this respect too the responsibility of children, imbeciles, and lunatics, although it is impossible to delimit precisely either childhood, imbecility, &c., or their degree of irresponsibility. But to turn momentary blindness, the goad of passion, intoxication, or, in a word, what is called the strength of sensual impulse (excluding impulses which are the basis of the right of distress – see § 127) into reasons when the imputation, specific character, and culpability of a crime are in question, and to look upon such circumstances as if they took away the criminal’s guilt, again means (compare § 100 and the Remark to § 120) failing to treat the criminal. in accordance with the right and honour due to him as a man; for the nature of man consists precisely in the fact that he is essentially something universal, not a being whose knowledge is an abstractly momentary and piecemeal affair.
Just as what the incendiary really sets on fire is not the isolated square inch of wooden surface to which he applies his torch, but the universal in that square inch, e.g. the house as a whole, so, as subject, he is neither the single existent of this moment of time nor this isolated hot feeling of revenge. If he were, he would be an animal which would have to be knocked on the head as dangerous and unsafe because of its liability to fits of madness.
The claim is made that the criminal in the moment of his action must have had a ‘clear idea’ of the wrong and its culpability before it can be imputed to him as a crime. At first sight, this claim seems to preserve the right of his subjectivity, but the truth is that it deprives him of his indwelling nature as intelligent, a nature whose effective presence is not confined to the ‘clear ideas’ of Wolff’s psychology, and only in cases of lunacy is it so deranged as to be divorced from the knowing and doing of isolated things.
The sphere in which these extenuating circumstances come into consideration as grounds for the mitigation of punishment is a sphere other than that of rights, the sphere of pardon.
The particular subject is related to the good as to the essence of his will, and hence his will’s obligation arises directly in this relation. Since particularity is distinct from the good and falls within the subjective will, the good is characterised to begin with only as the universal abstract essentiality of the will, i.e. as duty. Since duty is thus abstract and universal in character, it should be done for duty’s sake.
Addition: From my point of view the essence of the will is duty. Now if my knowledge stops at the fact that the good is my duty, I am still going no further than the abstract character of duty. I should do my duty for duty’s sake, and when I do my duty it is in a true sense my own objectivity which I am bringing to realisation. In doing my duty, I am by myself and free. To have emphasised this meaning of duty has constituted the merit of Kant’s moral philosophy and its loftiness of outlook.
Because every action explicitly calls for a particular content and a specific end, while duty as an abstraction entails nothing of the kind, the question arises: what is my duty? As an answer nothing is so far available except: (a) to do the right, and (b) to strive after welfare, one’s own welfare, and welfare in universal terms, the welfare of others (see § 119).
Addition: This is the same question as was put to Jesus when someone wished to learn from him what he should do to inherit eternal life. Good as a universal is abstract and cannot be accomplished so long as it remains abstract. To be accomplished it must acquire in addition the character of particularity.
These specific duties, however, are not contained in the definition of duty itself; but since both of them are conditioned and restricted, they eo ipso bring about the transition to the higher sphere of the unconditioned, the sphere of duty. Duty itself in the moral self-consciousness is the essence or the universality of that consciousness, the way in which it is inwardly related to itself alone; all that is left to it, therefore, is abstract universality, and for its determinate character it has identity without content, or the abstractly positive, the indeterminate.
Remark: However essential it is to give prominence to the pure unconditioned self-determination of the will as the root of duty, and to the way in which knowledge of the will, thanks to Kant’s philosophy, has won its firm foundation and starting-point for the first time owing to the thought of its infinite autonomy, still to adhere to the exclusively moral position, without making the transition to the conception of ethics, is to reduce this gain to an empty formalism, and the science of morals to the preaching of duty for duty’s sake. From this point of view, no immanent doctrine of duties is possible; of course, material may be brought in from outside and particular duties may be arrived at accordingly, but if the definition of duty is taken to be the absence of contradiction, formal correspondence with itself – which is nothing but abstract indeterminacy stabilised – then no transition is possible to the specification of particular duties nor, if some such particular content for acting comes under consideration, is there any criterion in that principle for deciding whether it is or is not a duty. On the contrary, by this means any wrong or immoral line of conduct may be justified.
Kant’s further formulation, the possibility of visualising an action as a universal maxim, does lead to the more concrete visualisation of a situation, but in itself it contains no principle beyond abstract identity and the ‘absence of contradiction’ already mentioned.
The absence of property contains in itself just as little contradiction as the non-existence of this or that nation, family, &c., or the death of the whole human race. But if it is already established on other grounds and presupposed that property and human life are to exist and be respected, then indeed it is a contradiction to commit theft or murder; a contradiction must be a contradiction of something, i.e. of some content presupposed from the start as a fixed principle. It is to a principle of that kind alone, therefore, that an action can be related either by correspondence or contradiction. But if duty is to be willed simply for duty’s sake and not for the sake of some content, it is only a formal identity whose nature it is to exclude all content and specification.
The further antinomies and configurations of this never-ending ought-to-be, in which the exclusively moral way of thinking – thinking in terms of relation – just wanders to and fro without being able to resolve them and get beyond the ought-to-be, I have developed in my Phenomenology of Mind.
Addition: While we laid emphasis above on the fact that the outlook of Kant’s philosophy is a high one in that it propounds a correspondence between duty and rationality, still we must notice here that this point of view is defective in lacking all articulation. The proposition: ‘Act as if the maxim of thine action could be laid down as a universal principle’, would be admirable if we already had determinate principles of conduct. That is to say, to demand of a principle that it shall be able to serve in addition as a determinant of universal legislation is to presuppose that it already possesses a content. Given the content, then of course the application of the principle would be a simple matter. In Kant’s case, however, the principle itself is still not available and his criterion of non-contradiction is productive of nothing, since where there is nothing, there can be no contradiction either.
Because of the abstract characterisation of the good, the other moment of the Idea – particularity in general – falls within subjectivity. Subjectivity in its universality reflected into itself is the subject’s absolute inward certainty (Gewissheit) of himself, that which establishes the particular and is the determining and decisive element in him, his conscience (Gewissen).
Addition: We may speak in a very lofty strain about duty, and talk of the kind is uplifting and broadens human sympathies, but if it never comes to anything specific it ends in being wearisome. Mind demands particularity and is entitled to it. But conscience is this deepest inward solitude with oneself where everything external and every restriction has disappeared – this complete withdrawal into oneself. As conscience, man is no longer shackled by the aims of particularity, and consequently in attaining that position he has risen to higher ground, the ground of the modern world, which for the first time has reached this consciousness, reached this sinking into oneself. The more sensuous consciousness [For the distinction between sense-consciousness and ‘more highly developed types of consciousness’, see Remarks to §§ 21 and 35.] of earlier epochs had something external and given confronting it, either religion or law. But conscience knows itself as thinking and knows that what alone has obligatory force for me is this that I think.
True conscience is the disposition to will what is absolutely good. It therefore has fixed principles and it is aware of these as its explicitly objective determinants and duties. In distinction from this its content (i.e. truth), conscience is only the formal side of the activity of the will, which as this will has no special content of its own. But the objective system of these principles and duties, and the union of subjective knowing with this system, is not present until we come to the standpoint of ethical life. Here at the abstract standpoint of morality, conscience lacks this objective content and so its explicit character is that of infinite abstract self-certainty, which at the same time is for this very reason the self-certainty of this subject.
Remark: Conscience is the expression of the absolute title of subjective self-consciousness to know in itself and from within itself what is right and obligatory, to give recognition only to what it thus knows as good, and at the same time to maintain that whatever in this way it knows and wills is in truth right and obligatory. Conscience as this unity of subjective knowing with what is absolute is a sanctuary which it would be sacrilege to violate. But whether the conscience of a specific individual corresponds with this Idea of conscience, or whether what it takes or declares to be good is actually so, is ascertainable only from the content of the good it seeks to realise. What is right and obligatory is the absolutely rational element in the will’s volitions and therefore it is not in essence the particular property of an individual, and its form is not that of feeling or any other private (i.e. sensuous) type of knowing, but essentially that of universals determined by thought, i.e. the form of laws and principles. Conscience is therefore subject to the judgement of its truth or falsity, and when it appeals only to itself for a decision, it is directly at variance with what it wishes to be, namely the rule for a mode of conduct which is rational, absolutely valid, and universal. For this reason, the state cannot give recognition to conscience in its private form as subjective knowing, any more than science can grant validity to subjective opinion, dogmatism, and the appeal to a subjective opinion. In true conscience, its elements are not different, but they may become so, and it is the determining element, the subjectivity of willing and knowing, which can sever itself from the true content of conscience, establish its own independence, and reduce that content to a form and a show. The ambiguity in connection with conscience lies therefore in this: it is presupposed to mean the identity of subjective knowing and willing with the true good, and so is claimed and recognised to be something sacrosanct; and yet at the same time, as the mere subjective reflection of self-consciousness into itself, it still claims for itself the title due, solely on the strength of its absolutely valid rational content, to that identity alone.
At the level of morality, distinguished as it is in this book from the level of ethics, it is only formal conscience that is to be found. True conscience has been mentioned only to indicate its distinction from the other and to obviate the possible misunderstanding that here, where it is only formal conscience that is under consideration, the argument is about true conscience. The latter is part of the ethical disposition which comes before us for the first time in the following section. The religious conscience, however, does not belong to this sphere at all.
Addition: When we speak of conscience, it may easily be thought that, in virtue of its form, which is abstract inwardness, conscience is at this point without more ado true conscience. But true conscience determines itself to will what is absolutely good and obligatory and is this self-determination. So far, however, it is only with good in the abstract that we have to do and conscience is still without this objective content and is but the infinite certainty of oneself.
This subjectivity, qua abstract self-determination and pure certainty of oneself alone, as readily evaporates into itself the whole determinate character of right, duty, and existence, as it remains both the power to judge, to determine from within itself alone, what is good in respect of any content, and also the power to which the good, at first only an ideal and an ought-to-be, owes its actuality.
Remark: The self-consciousness which has attained this absolute reflection into itself knows itself in this reflection to be the kind of consciousness which is and should be beyond the reach of every existent and given specific determination. As one of the commoner features of history (e.g. in Socrates, the Stoics, and others), the tendency to look deeper into oneself and to know and determine from within oneself what is right and good appears in ages when what is recognised as right and good in contemporary manners cannot satisfy the will of better men. When the existing world of freedom has become faithless to the will of better men, that will fails to find itself in the duties there recognised and must try to find in the ideal world of the inner life alone the harmony which actuality has lost. Once self-consciousness has grasped and secured its formal right in this way, everything depends on the character of the content which it gives to itself.
Addition: If we look more closely at this process of evaporation and see how all specific determinations disappear into this simple concept and then have to be condensed out of it again, what we find is that it is primarily due to the fact that everything recognised as right and duty may be proved by discursive thinking to be nugatory, restricted, and in all respects not absolute. On the other hand, just as subjectivity evaporates every content into itself, so it may develop it out of itself once more. Everything which arises in the ethical sphere is produced by this activity of mind. The moral point of view, however, is defective because it is purely abstract. When I am aware of my freedom as the substance of my being, I am inactive and do nothing. But if I proceed to act and look for principles on which to act, I grope for something determinate and then demand its deduction from the concept of the free will. While, therefore, it is right enough to evaporate right and duty into subjectivity, it is wrong if this abstract groundwork is not then condensed out again. It is only in times when the world of actuality is hollow, spiritless, and unstable, that an individual may be allowed to take refuge from actuality in his inner life. Socrates lived at the time of the ruin of the Athenian democracy. His thought vaporised the world around him and he withdrew into himself to search there for the right and the good. Even in our day there are cases when reverence for the established order is more or less lacking; man insists on having the authoritative as his will, as that to which he has granted recognition.
Once self-consciousness has reduced all otherwise valid duties to emptiness and itself to the sheer inwardness of the will, it has become the potentiality of either making the absolutely universal its principle, or equally well of elevating above the universal the self-will of private particularity, taking that as its principle and realising it through its actions, i.e. it has become potentially evil.
Remark: To have a conscience, if conscience is only formal subjectivity, is simply to be on the verge of slipping into evil; in independent self-certainty, with its independence of knowledge and decision, both morality and evil have their common root.
The origin of evil in general is to be found in the mystery of freedom (i.e. in the speculative aspect of freedom), the mystery whereby freedom of necessity arises out of the natural level of the will and is something inward in comparison with that level. It is this natural level of the will which comes into existence as a self-contradiction, as incompatible with itself in this opposition, and so it is just this particularity of the will which later makes itself evil. That is to say, particularity is always duality; here it is the opposition of the natural level and the inwardness of the will. In this opposition, the latter is only a relative and abstract subjectivity which can draw its content only from the determinate content of the natural will, from desire, impulse, inclination, &c. Now it is said of these desires, impulses, &c., that they may be either good or evil. But since the will here makes into a determinant of its content both these impulses in this contingent character which they possess as natural, and also, therefore, the form which it has at this point, the form of particularity itself, it follows that it is set in opposition to the universal as inner objectivity, to the good, which comes on the scene as the opposite extreme to immediate objectivity, the natural pure and simple, as soon as the will is reflected into itself and consciousness is a knowing consciousness. It is in this opposition that this inwardness of the will is evil. Man is therefore evil by a conjunction between his natural or undeveloped character and his reflection into himself; and therefore evil belongs neither to nature as such by itself – unless nature were supposed to be the natural character of the will which rests in its particular content – nor to introverted reflection by itself, i.e. cognition in general, unless this were to maintain itself in that opposition to the universal.
With this facet of evil, its necessity, there is inevitably combined the fact that this same evil is condemned to be that which of necessity ought not to be, i.e. the fact that evil ought to be annulled. It is not that there ought never to be a diremption of any sort in the will – on the contrary, it is just this level of diremption which distinguishes man from the unreasoning animal; the point is that the will should not rest at that level and cling to the particular as if that and not the universal were the essential thing; it should overcome the diremption as a nullity. Further, as to this necessity of evil, it is subjectivity, as infinite self-reflection, which is present in and confronted by this opposition of universal and particular; if it rests in this opposition, i.e. if it is evil, then it is eo ipso independent, regarding itself as isolated, and is itself this Self-Will. Therefore if the individual subject as such does evil, the evil is purely and simply his own responsibility.
Addition: The abstract self-certainty which knows itself as the basis of everything has in it the potentiality either of willing the universality of the concept or alternatively of taking a particular content as a principle and realising that. The second alternative is evil, which therefore always includes the abstraction of self-certainty. It is only man who is good, and he is good only because he can also be evil. Good and evil are inseparable, and their inseparability is rooted in the fact that the concept becomes an object to itself, and as object it eo ipso acquires the character of difference. The evil will wills something opposed to the universality of the will, while the good will acts in accordance with its true concept.
The difficulty of the question as to how the will can be evil as well as good usually arises because we think of the will as related to itself purely positively and because we represent its volition as something determinate confronting it, as the good. But the problem of the origin of evil may be more precisely put in the form: ‘How does the negative come into the positive?’ If we begin by presupposing that in the creation of the world God is the absolutely positive, then, turn where we will, we shall never discover the negative within that positive, since to talk of God’s ‘Permitting’ evil is to ascribe to him a passive relation to evil which is unsatisfactory and meaningless. In the representative thinking of religious mythology there is no comprehension of the origin of evil; i.e. the positive and the negative are not discovered in one another, there is only a representation of their succession and juxtaposition, so that it is from outside that the negative comes to the positive. But this cannot satisfy thought, which demands a reason and a necessity and insists on apprehending the negative as itself rooted in the positive. Now the solution of the problem, the way the concept treats the matter, is already contained in the concept, since the concept, or to speak more concretely, the Idea, has it in its essence to differentiate itself and to posit itself negatively. If we adhere to the purely positive, i.e. if we rest in the unmixed good which is supposed to be good at its source, then we are accepting an empty category of the Understanding which clings to abstractions and one-sided categories of this kind and by the very asking of this question makes it a difficult one. If we begin with the standpoint of the concept, however, we apprehend the positive as activity and as self-distinction. Evil and good alike have their origin in the will and the will in its concept is both good and evil.
The natural will is implicitly the contradiction of self-distinction, of being both inwardness and also self-awareness. To maintain then that evil implies the further point that man is evil in so far as his will is natural would be to contradict the usual idea that it is just the natural will which is guiltless and good. But the natural will stands in opposition to the content of freedom, and the child and the uneducated man, whose wills are only natural, are for that very reason liable to be called to account for their actions only in a less degree. Now when we speak of man, we mean not the child but the self-conscious adult, and when we speak of good, we mean the knowledge of it. It is doubtless true that the natural is inherently innocent, neither good nor bad, but when it is drawn into the orbit of the will which is free and knows that it is free, it acquires the character of not being free and is therefore evil. When man wills the natural, it is no longer merely natural, but the negative opposed to the good, i.e. to the concept of the will.
On the other hand, if it is now objected that since evil is rooted in the concept and inevitable, man would be guiltless if he committed it, our reply must be that a man’s decision is his own act, and his own act is freely chosen and his own responsibility. In the religious legend it is said that man is as God when he knows good and evil; and it is true that this likeness to God is present in such knowledge in that the inevitability here is no natural inevitability since on the contrary the decision is really the transcendence of this duality of good and evil. When both good and evil are placed before me, I have a choice between the two; I can decide between them and endow my subjective character with either. Thus the nature of evil is that man may will it but need not.
In every end of a self-conscious subject, there is a positive aspect (see § 135) necessarily present because the end is what is purposed in an actual concrete action. This aspect he knows how to elicit and emphasise, and he may then proceed to regard it as a duty or a fine intention. By so interpreting it, he is enabled to pass off his action as good in the eyes both of himself and others, despite the fact that, owing to his reflective character and his knowledge of the universal aspect of the will, he is aware of the contrast between this aspect and the essentially negative content of his action. To impose in this way on others is hypocrisy; while to impose on oneself is a stage beyond hypocrisy, a stage at which subjectivity claims to be absolute.
Remark: This final, most abstruse, form of evil, whereby evil is perverted into good and good into evil, and consciousness, in being aware of its power to effect this perversion, is also made aware of itself as absolute, is the high-water mark of subjectivity at the level of morality; it is the form into which evil has blossomed in our present epoch, a result due to philosophy, i.e. to a shallowness of thought which has twisted a profound concept into this shape and usurped the name of philosophy, just as it has arrogated to evil the name of good.
In this Remark, I will indicate briefly the chief forms of this subjectivity which have become current.
(a) In hypocrisy the following moments are contained:
[a] knowledge of the true universal, whether knowledge in the form merely of a feeling for right and duty, or of a deeper cognition and apprehension of them;
[b] volition of the particular which conflicts with this universal;
[c] conscious comparison of both moments [a] and [b], so that the conscious subject is aware in willing that his particular volition is evil in character.
These points are descriptive of acting with a bad conscience; hypocrisy proper involves something more.
At one time great importance was attached to the question whether an action was evil only in so far as it was done with a bad conscience, i.e. with explicit knowledge of the three moments just specified. The inference from an affirmative answer is admirably drawn by Pascal: Ils seront tous damnés ces demi-pécheurs, qui ont quelque amour pour la vertu. Mais pour ces franc-pécheurs, pécheurs endurcis, pécheurs sans mélange, pleins et achevés, 1’enfer ne les tient pas; ils ont trompé le diable à force de s’y abandonner.
Footnote: Lettres provinciales, iv. In the same context, Pascal also quotes Christ’s intercession on the Cross for his enemies: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ – a superfluous prayer if the fact that they did not know what they did made their action innocent and so took away the need of forgiveness. Pascal quotes there too Aristotle’s distinction between the man who acts ouk eidoς and the one who acts agnown; in the former type of ignorance, his action is not freely willed (here the ignorance depends on external circumstances, see above, § 117) and his action is not imputable to him. But of the latter Aristotle says: ‘Every wicked man is ignorant of what he ought to do and what he ought to refrain from doing; and it is this kind of failure (amartia) which makes men unjust and in general bad.... An ignorant choice’ between good and evil ‘is the cause not of the action’s being involuntary’ (of being non-imputable) ‘but only of its being wicked’. Aristotle evidently had a deeper insight into the connection between knowing and willing than has become common in a superficial philosophy which teaches that the opposite of knowledge, the heart and enthusiasm, are the true principles of ethical action.
The subjective right of self-consciousness to know whether an action is truly good or evil in character must not be thought of as so colliding with the absolute right of the objectivity of this character that the two rights are represented as separable, indifferent to one another, and related only accidentally. It was such a conception of their relation that lay in particular at the root of the old questions about efficacious grace. On its formal side, evil is most peculiarly the individual’s own, since (a) it is precisely his subjectivity establishing itself purely and simply for itself, and for that reason it is purely and simply the individual’s own responsibility (see § 139 and the Remark thereto); (b) on his objective side man accords with his concept inasmuch as he is mind, in a word a rational entity, and has in his own nature as such the character of self-knowing universality. Therefore it means failing to treat him with the respect due to his concept if his good side is divorced from him, so that the character of his evil action as evil is divorced from him too and is not imputed to him as evil. How determinate is the consciousness of these moments in distinction from one another, or to what extent it has developed or failed to develop in clarity so as to become a recognition of them, and to what degree an evil action has been done with a conscience more or less downright evil – all these questions are the more trivial aspect of the matter, the aspect mainly concerned with the empirical.
(b) Evil and doing evil with a bad conscience, however, is not quite hypocrisy. Into hypocrisy there enters in addition the formal character of falsity, first the falsity of holding up evil as good in the eyes of others, of setting oneself up to all appearance as good, conscientious, pious, and so on – conduct which in these circumstances is only a trick to deceive others. Secondly, however, the had man may find in his good conduct on other occasions, or in his piety, or, in a word, in good reasons, a justification in his own eyes for the evil he does, because he can use these reasons to pervert its apparent character from evil into good. His ability to do this depends on the subjectivity which, as abstract negativity, knows that all determinations are subordinate to itself and issue from its own will.
(c) In this perversion of evil into good we may prima facie include the form of subjectivism known as Probabilism. Its guiding principle is that an action is permissible, and may be done with an easy conscience, provided that the agent can hunt out any single good reason for it, be it only the authority of a single theologian, and even if other theologians are known by the agent to dissent ever so widely from that authority. Even in this idea there is still present the correct apprehension that authority and a reason based on authority gives probability only, although this is supposed to be enough to produce an easy conscience; it is granted in Probabilism that a good reason is inevitably of such a character that there may exist along with it different reasons at least as good. Even here we must recognise a vestige of objectivity in the admission that it is a reason which should be the determining factor. But since the discrimination between good and evil is made to depend on all those good reasons, including theological authorities too, despite the fact that they are so numerous and contradictory, the implication is that it is not this objectivity of the thing, but subjectivity, which has the last word. This means that caprice and self-will are made the arbiters of good and evil, and the result is that ethics as well as religious feeling is undermined. But the fact that it is private subjectivity to which the decision falls is one which Probabilism does not openly avow as its principle; on the contrary, as has already been stated, it gives out that it is some reason or other which is decisive, and Probabilism is to that extent still a form of hypocrisy.
(d) In the stages of subjectivism, the next in ascending order is the view that the goodness of the will consists in its willing the good; this willing of the abstract good is supposed to suffice, in fact to be the sole requisite, to make its action good. As the willing of something determinate, action has a content, but good in the abstract determines nothing, and hence it devolves on particular subjectivity to give this content its character and constituents. just as in Probabilism anyone who is not himself a learned Révérend Père may have the subsumption of a determinate content under the universal predicate ‘good’ effected for him by the sole authority of one such theologian, so here every subject, without any further qualification, is invested with this honour of giving a content to good in the abstract, or in other words subsuming a content under a universal. This content is only one of the many elements in an action as a concrete whole, and the others may perhaps entail its description as ‘criminal’ and ‘bad’. That determinate content which I, as subject, give to the good, however, is the good known to me in the action, i.e. it is my good intention (see § 114). Thus there arises a contradiction between descriptions: according to one the action is good, according to the other it is criminal. Hence also there seems to arise, in connection with a concrete action, the question whether in such circumstances the intention behind it is actually good. It may generally be the case that the good is what is actually intended; but this in fact must always be the case if it is held that good in the abstract is the subject’s determining motive. Where wrong is done through an action which is well intentioned but in other respects criminal and bad, the wrong so done must, of course, also be good, and the important question would seem to be: which of these sides of the action is really the essential one? This objective question, however, is here out of place, or rather it is the subjective consciousness alone whose decision constitutes objectivity at this point. Besides, ‘essential’ and ‘good’ mean the same thing; one is just as much an abstraction as the other. Good is that which is essential in respect of the will; and the essential in this respect should be precisely this, that my action be characterised as good in my eyes. But the subsumption under the good of any content one pleases is the direct and explicit result of the fact that this abstract good is totally devoid of content and so is simply reduced to meaning anything positive, i.e. to something which is valid from some single point of view and which in its immediate character may even be valid as an essential end, as for example to do good to the poor, to take thought for myself, my life, my family, and so forth. Further, just as the good is the abstract, so the bad too must be without content and derive its specification from my subjectivity; and it is in this way also that there arises the moral end of hating and uprooting the bad, the nature of the bad being left unspecified.
Theft, cowardice, murder, and so forth, as actions, i.e. as achievements of a subjective will, have the immediate character of being satisfactions of such a will and therefore of being something positive. In order to make the action a good one, it is only a question of recognising this positive aspect of the action as my intention, and this then becomes the essential aspect in virtue of which the action is made good, simply because I recognise it as the good in my intention. Theft in order to do good to the poor, theft or flight from battle for the sake of fulfilling one’s duty to care for one’s life or one’s family (a poor family perhaps into the bargain), murder out of hate or revenge (i.e. in order to satisfy one’s sense of one’s own rights or of right in general, or one’s sense of another’s wickedness, of wrong done by him to oneself or to others or to the world or the nation at large, by extirpating this wicked individual who is wickedness incarnate, and thereby contributing at least one’s quota to the project of uprooting the bad) – all these actions are made well intentioned and therefore good by this method of taking account of the positive aspect of their content. Only the bare minimum of intelligence is required to discover in any action, as those learned theologians can, a positive side and so a good reason for it and a good intention behind it. Hence it has been said that in the strict sense there are no wicked men, since no one wills evil for the sake of evil, i.e. no one wills a pure negative as such. On the contrary, everyone always wills something positive, and therefore, on the view we are considering, something good. In this abstract good the distinction between good and evil has vanished together with all concrete duties; for this reason, simply to will the good and to have a good intention in acting is more like evil than good, because the good willed is only this abstract form of good and therefore to make it concrete devolves on the arbitrary Will of the subject.
To this context there also belongs the notorious maxim: ‘The end justifies the means.’ In itself and prima facie this expression is trivial and pointless. Quite so, one may retort in terms equally general, a just end of course justifies the means, while an unjust end does not. The phrase: so ‘If the end is right, so is the means’ is a tautology, since the means is precisely that which is nothing in itself but is for the sake of something else, and therein, i.e. in the end, has its purpose and worth – provided of course it be truly a means.
But when someone says that the end justifies the means, his purport is not confined to this bare tautology; he understands by the words something more specific, namely that to use as means to a good end something which in itself is simply not a means at all, to violate something in itself sacrosanct, in short to commit a crime as a means to a good end, is permissible and even one’s bounden duty. (i) There floats before the minds of those who say that the end justifies the means a vague consciousness of the dialectic of the aforesaid ‘positive’ element in isolated legal or ethical principles, or of such equally vague general maxims as: ‘Thou shalt not kill’, or ‘Thou shalt take thought for thy welfare and the welfare of thy family’. Executioners and soldiers have not merely the right but the duty to kill men, though there it has been precisely laid down what kind of men and what circumstances make the killing permissible and obligatory. So also my welfare and the welfare of my family must be subordinated to higher ends and so reduced to means to their attainment. (ii) And yet what bears the mark of crime is not a general maxim of that kind, left vague and still subject to a dialectic; on the contrary, its specific character is already objectively fixed. Now what is set up against such a determinate crime, what is supposed to have deprived the crime of its criminal nature, is the justifying end, and this is simply subjective opinion about what is good and better. What happens here is the same as what happens when the will stops at willing good in the abstract, i.e. the absolute and valid determinate character assigned to good and evil, right and wrong, is entirely swept away and the determination of them is ascribed instead to the individual’s feeling, imagination, and caprice.
(e) Subjective opinion is at last expressly given out as the measuring-rod of right and duty and it is supposed that the conviction which holds something to be right is to decide the ethical character of an action. Since the good we will to do is here still without content, the principle of conviction only adds the information that the subsumption of an action under the category of good is purely a personal matter. If this be so, the very pretence of an ethical objectivity has totally disappeared. A doctrine like this is directly connected with the self-styled philosophy, often mentioned already, which denies that the truth is knowable – and the truth of mind qua will, the rationality of mind in its self-actualising process, is the laws of ethics. Asserting, as such philosophising does, that the knowledge of the true is an empty vanity, transcending the territory of science (which is supposed to be mere appearance), it must in the matter of action at once find its principle also in the apparent; thereby ethics is reduced to the special theory of life held by the individual and to his private conviction: The degradation into which philosophy has thus sunk appears doubtless at a first glance to be only an affair of supreme indifference, an occurrence confined to the trivial field of academic futilities; but the view necessarily makes itself a home in ethics, an essential part of philosophy; and it is then that the true meaning of these theories makes its first appearance in and is apprehended by the world of actuality.
The result of the dissemination of the view that subjective conviction, and it alone, decides the ethical character of an action is that the charge of hypocrisy, once so frequent, is now rarely heard; you can only qualify wickedness as hypocrisy on the assumption that certain actions are inherently and actually misdeeds, vices and crimes, and that the defaulter is necessarily aware of them as such, because he is aware of and recognises the principles and outward acts of piety and honesty even in the pretence to which he misapplies them. In other words, it was generally assumed as regards evil that it is a duty to know the good and to be aware of its distinction from evil. In any case, however, it was an absolute injunction which forbade the commission of vicious and criminal actions and which insisted on such actions being imputed to the agent, so far as he was a man and not a beast. But if a good heart, a good intention, a subjective conviction are set forth as the sources from which conduct derives its worth, then there is no longer any hypocrisy or immorality at all; for whatever a man does, he can always justify by the reflection on it of good intentions and motives, and by the influence of that conviction it is good.
Footnote: ‘That he feels completely convinced I have not the least doubt. But how many men are led by such feelings of conviction into the worst of misdeeds! Besides, if everything may be excused on this ground, then that terminates the rational judgement of good and wicked, honourable and shameful, resolutions. Lunacy in that case would have equal rights with reason; or in other words reason would have no rights whatever, its judgement would cease to have any validity. Its voice would be a minus quantity; truth would be the possession of the man with no doubts! I tremble at the results of such toleration, for it would be exclusively to the advantage of unreason. (Jacobi 1802.)
Thus there is no longer anything absolutely vicious or criminal; and instead of the abovementioned frank and free, hardened and unperturbed sinner, we have the man who is conscious of being fully justified by intention and conviction. My good intention in my action and my conviction of its goodness make it good. We speak of judging and estimating an action; but on this principle it is only the intention and conviction of the agent, his faith, by which he ought to be judged. Not, however, his faith in the sense in which Christ requires faith in objective truth, so that on one who has a false faith, i.e. a conviction bad in its content, the judgement to be pronounced must be a condemnation, i.e. one in conformity with this content. On the contrary, faith here means fidelity to conviction, and the question to be asked about action is: ‘Has the agent in his acting kept true to his conviction?’ Fidelity to formal subjective conviction is thus made the sole measuring-rod of duty.
This principle, under which conviction is expressly made something subjective, cannot but thrust upon us the thought of possible error, with the further implied presupposition of an absolute law. But the law is no agent; it is only the actual human being who acts. And, on the aforesaid principle, the only question, in estimating the worth of human actions, is how far he has taken up the law into his conviction. But if on this theory it is not actions which are to be judged, i.e. measured generally, by that law, it is impossible to see what the law is for and what end it is to serve. Such a law is degraded to a mere external letter, in fact to an empty word, if it is only my conviction which makes it a law and invests it with obligatory force.
Such a law may claim its authority from God or the state. It may even have behind it the authority of tens of centuries during which it was the bond which gave men, with all their deeds and destiny, coherence and subsistence. And these are authorities which enshrine the convictions of countless individuals. Now if I set against these the authority of my single conviction – for as my subjective conviction its sole validity is authority – that at first seems a piece of monstrous self-conceit, but in virtue of the principle that subjective conviction is to be the measuring-rod, it is pronounced not to be self-conceit at all.
Even if reason and conscience – which shallow science and bad sophistry can never altogether expel – admit with a noble illogicality that error is possible, still by describing crime, and evil generally, as only an error, we minimise the fault. To err is human – who has not been mistaken on one point or another, whether he had fresh or pickled cabbage for dinner yesterday, and about innumerable other things of more or less importance? But the difference between importance and triviality vanishes if everything turns on the subjectivity of conviction and on persistence in it. The said noble illogicality which admits the possibility of error is inevitable then in the nature of the case, but when it comes round to say that a wrong conviction is only an error, it only falls into a further illogicality, the illogicality of dishonesty. At one moment conviction is made the basis of ethics and of man’s supreme value, and is thus pronounced the supreme and the sacrosanct; at another, all we have to do with is error, and my conviction is something trivial and casual, in fact something strictly external, which may turn out this way or that. Really, my being convinced is something supremely trivial if I cannot know the truth; for then it is a matter of indifference how I think, and all that is left to my thinking is that empty good, the abstraction to which the Understanding reduces the good.
One other point. It follows further, on this principle of justification by conviction, that logic requires me, in dealing with the way others act against my action, to admit that they are quite in the right – so far at any rate as they maintain with faith and conviction that my action is criminal. On such logic, not merely do I gain nothing, I am even deposed from the post of liberty and honour into a situation of slavery and dishonour. Justice, which in the abstract is mine as well as theirs, I feel only as a foreign subjective conviction, and when it is executed on me, I fancy myself to be treated only by an external force.
(f) Finally, the supreme form in which this subjectivism is completely comprised and expressed is the phenomenon which has been called by a name borrowed from Plato – ‘Irony’. The name alone, however, is taken from Plato; he used it to describe a way of speaking which Socrates employed in conversation when defending the Idea of truth and justice against the conceit of the Sophists and the uneducated. What he treated ironically, however, was only their type of mind, not the Idea itself. Irony is only a manner of talking against people. Except as directed against persons, the essential movement of thought is dialectic, and Plato was so far from regarding the dialectical in itself, still less irony, as the last word in thought and a substitute for the Idea, that he terminated the flux and reflux of thinking, let alone of a subjective opinion, and submerged it in the substantiality of the Idea.
Footnote: My colleague, the late Professor Solger, adopted the word ‘irony’ which Friedrich von Schlegel brought into use at a comparatively early period of his literary career and enhanced to equivalence with the said principle of subjectivity knowing itself as supreme. But Solger’s finer mind was above such an exaggeration; he had philosophic insight and so seized upon, emphasised, and retained only that part of Schlegel’s view which was dialectic in the strict sense, i.e. dialectic as the pulsating drive of speculative inquiry. His last publication, a solid piece of work, a thorough Kritik über die Vorlesungen des Herrn August Wilhelm von Schlegel über dramatische Kunst und Literatur, I find somewhat obscure, however, and I cannot agree with the argument which he develops. ‘True irony’, he says, ‘arises from the view that so long as man lives in this present world, it is only in this world that he can fulfil his "appointed task" no matter how elevated a sense we give to this expression. Any hope we may have of transcending finite ends is foolish and empty conceit. ‘Even the highest is existent for our conduct only in a shape that is limited and finite.’ Rightly understood, this is Platonic doctrine, and a true remark in rejection of what he has referred to earlier, the empty striving towards the (abstract) infinite. But to say that the highest is existent in a limited and finite shape, like the ethical order (and that order is in essence actual life and action), is very different from saving that the highest thing is a finite end. The outward shape, the form of finitude, in no way deprives the content of ethical life of its substantiality and the infinity inherent within it. Solger continues: ‘And just for this reason the highest is in us as negligible as the lowest and perishes of necessity with us and our nugatory thoughts and feelings. The highest is truly existent in God alone, and as it perishes in us it is transfigured into something divine, a divinity in which we would have had no share but for its immediate presence revealed in the very disappearance of our actuality; now the mood to which this process directly comes home in human affairs is tragic irony.’ The arbitrary name ‘irony’ would be of no importance, but there is an obscurity here when it is said that it is ‘the highest’ which perishes with our nothingness and that it is in the disappearance of our actuality that the divine is first revealed; e.g. again (ibid., p. 91): ‘We see heroes beginning to wonder whether they have erred in the noblest and finest elements of their feelings and sentiments, not only in regard to their successful issue, but also to their source and their worth; indeed, what elevates us is the destruction of the best itself.’ (The just destruction of utter scoundrels and criminals who flaunt their villainy – the hero of a modern tragedy Die Schuld, is one – has an interest for criminal law, but none at all for art proper which is what is in question here.) The tragic destruction of figures whose ethical life is on the highest plane can interest and elevate us and reconcile us to its occurrence only in so far as they come on the scene in opposition to one another together with equally justified but different ethical powers which have come into collision through misfortune, because the result is that then these figures acquire guilt through their opposition to an ethical law. Out of this situation there arises the right and wrong of both parties and therefore the true ethical Idea, which, purified and in triumph over this one-sidedness, is thereby reconciled in us. Accordingly, it is not the highest in us which perishes; we are elevated not by the destruction of the best but by the triumph of the true. This it is which constitutes the true, purely ethical, interest of ancient tragedy (in romantic tragedy the character of the interest undergoes a certain modification). All this I have worked out in detail in my Phenomenology of Mind . But the ethical Idea is actual and pregnant in the world of social institutions without the misfortune of tragic clashes and the destruction of individuals overcome by this misfortune. And this Idea’s (the highest’s) revelation of itself in its actuality as anything but a nullity is what the external embodiment of ethical life, the state, purposes and effects, and what the ethical self-consciousness possesses, intuits, and knows in the state and what the thinking mind comprehends there.
The culminating form of this subjectivity which conceives itself as the final court of appeal – our topic here – can be nothing except what was implicitly present already in its preceding forms, namely subjectivity knowing itself as the arbiter and judge of truth, right, and duty. It consists then in this, that it knows the objective ethical principles, but fails in self-forgetfulness and self-renunciation to immerse itself in their seriousness and to base action upon them. Although related to them, it holds itself aloof from them and knows itself as that which wills and decides thus, although it may equally well will and decide otherwise. You actually accept a law, it says, and respect it as absolute. So do I, but I go further than you, because I am beyond this law and can make it to suit myself. It is not the thing that is excellent, but I who am so; as the master of law and thing alike, I simply play with them as with my caprice; my consciously ironical attitude lets the highest perish and I merely hug myself at the thought. This type of subjectivism not merely substitutes a void for the whole content of ethics, right, duties, and laws – and so is evil, in fact evil through and through and universally – but in addition its form is a subjective void, i.e. it knows itself as this contentless void and in this knowledge knows itself as absolute.
In my Phenomenology of Mind, I have shown how this absolute self-complacency fails to rest in a solitary worship of itself but builds up a sort of community whose bond and substance is, e.g., the ‘mutual Asseveration of conscientiousness and good intentions, the enjoyment of this mutual purity’, but is above all ‘the refreshment derived from the glory of this self-knowledge and self-expression, from the glory of fostering and cherishing this experience’. I have shown also how what has been called a ‘beautiful soul’ – that still nobler type of subjectivism which empties the objective of all content and so fades away until it loses all actuality – is a variation of subjectivism like other forms of the same phenomenon akin to the series of them here considered. What is said here may be compared with the entire section (C), ‘Conscience’, in the Phenomenology, especially the part dealing with the transition to a higher stage – a stage, however, there different in characters
Addition: Representative thinking may go further and pervert the evil will into a show of goodness. Although it cannot alter the nature of evil, it can invest it with a show of goodness. Since every action has a positive aspect, and since the category of good as opposed to evil is likewise reduced to positivity, I may claim that my action in its bearing on my intention is good. Thus evil has good linked with it not only in my consciousness but also if we look at my action on its positive side. When self-consciousness gives out, to others only, that its action is good, this form of subjectivism is hypocrisy. But if it goes so far as to claim that the deed is good in its own eyes also, then we have a still higher peak of the subjectivism which knows itself as absolute. For this type of mind absolute good and absolute evil have both vanished, and the subject is therefore at liberty to pass himself off at discretion as anything he likes. This is the position of the absolute sophistry which usurps the office of lawgiver and rests the distinction between good and evil on its own caprice. The chief hypocrites are the pious ones (the Tartuffes) who are punctilious in every ritual observance and may even be religious to all appearance, while yet they do just as they please. There is little mention of hypocrites nowadays, partly because the accusation of hypocrisy seems to be too harsh; partly, however, because hypocrisy in its naive form has more or less disappeared. This downright falsehood, this veneer of goodness, has now become too transparent not to be seen through, and the divorce between doing good with one hand and evil with the other no longer occurs, since advancing culture has weakened the opposition between these categories.
Instead, hypocrisy has now assumed the subtler form of Probabilism, which involves the agent’s attempt to represent a transgression as something good from the point of view of his private conscience. This doctrine can only arise when the moral and the good are determined by authority, with the result that there are as many reasons as there are authorities for supposing that evil is good. Casuist theologians, Jesuits especially, have worked up these cases of conscience and multiplied them ad infinitum.
These cases have now been elaborated to such a high degree of subtlety that numerous clashes have arisen between them, and the opposition between good and evil has become so weak that in single instances they appear to turn into one another. The only desideratum now is probability, i.e. something approximately good, something which may be supported by any single reason or authority. Thus the special characteristic of this attitude is that its content is purely abstract; it sets up the concrete content as something inessential or rather abandons it to bare opinion. On this principle, anyone may have committed a crime and yet have willed the good. For example, if a bad character is murdered, the positive side of the action may be given out to be the withstanding of evil and the will to diminish it.
Now the next step beyond Probabilism is that it is no longer a question of someone else’s statement or authority; it is a question only of the subject himself, i.e. of his own convictions conviction which alone is able to make a thing good. The defect here is that everything is supposed to fall within the orbit of conviction alone and that the absolutely right, for which this conviction should be only the form, no longer exists. It is certainly not a matter of indifference whether I do something by habit and custom or because I am actuated throughout by the truth which underlies these. But objective truth is still different from my conviction, because conviction lacks the distinction between good and evil. Conviction always remains conviction, and the bad could only be that of which I am not convinced.
Now while this obliteration of good and evil implies a very lofty attitude, there is involved in this attitude the admission that it is subject to error, and to that extent it is brought down from its pedestal into mere fortuitousness and seems undeserving of respect. Now this form of subjectivism is irony, the consciousness that this principle of conviction is not worth much and that, lofty criterion though it be, it is only caprice that governs it. This attitude is really a product of Fichte’s philosophy, which proclaims that the Ego is absolute, i.e. is absolute certainty, the ‘universal self-hood’ which advances through a course of further development to objectivity. Of Fichte himself it cannot property be said that he made subjective caprice a guiding principle in ethics, but, later on, this principle of the mere particular, in the sense of ‘particular self-hood’, was deified by Friedrich von Schlegel with reference to the good and the beautiful. As a result, he made objective goodness only an image of my conviction, receiving support from my efforts alone, and dependent for its appearance and disappearance on me as its lord and master. If I relate myself to something objective, it vanishes at the same moment before my eyes, and so I hover over a pit of nothingness, summoning shapes from the depths and annihilating them. This supreme type of subjectivism can emerge only in a period of advanced culture when faith has lost its seriousness, and its essence is simply ‘all is vanity’.
For the good as the substantial universal of freedom, but as something still abstract, there are therefore required determinate characteristics of some sort and the principle for determining them, though a principle identical with the good itself. For conscience similarly, as the purely abstract principle of determination, it is required that its decisions shall be universal and objective. If good and conscience are each kept abstract and thereby elevated to independent totalities, then both become the indeterminate which ought to be determined. But the integration of these two relative totalities into an absolute identity has already been implicitly achieved in that this very subjectivity of pure self-certainty, aware in its vacuity of its gradual evaporation, is identical with the abstract universality of the good. The identity of the good with the subjective will, an identity which therefore is concrete and the truth of them both, is Ethical Life.
Remark: The details of such a transition of the concept are made intelligible in logic. Here, however, it need only be said that it is the nature of the restricted and the finite (i.e. here the abstract good which only ought to be [but is not], and the equally abstract subjectivity which only ought to be good [but is not]) to have its opposite implicit within it, the good its actuality, and subjectivity (the moment in which ethical life is actual) the good; but since they are one-sided they are not yet posited in accordance with their implicit nature. They become so posited in their negation. That is to say, in their one-sidedness, when each is bent on declining to have in it what is in it implicitly – when the good is without subjectivity and a determinate character, and the determining principle, subjectivity, is without what is implicit within it – and when both build themselves into independent totalities, they are annulled and thereby reduced to moments, to moments of the concept which becomes manifest as their unity and, having acquired reality precisely through this positing of its moments, is now present as Idea – as the concept which has matured its determinations to reality and at the same time is present in their identity as their implicit essence.
The embodiment of freedom which was [a] first of all immediate as right, is [b] characterised in the reflection of self-consciousness as good. [c] The third stage, originating here, in its transition from [b] to ethical life, as the truth of good and subjectivity, is therefore the truth both of subjectivity and right. Ethical life is a subjective disposition, but one imbued with what is inherently right. The fact that this Idea is the truth of the concept of freedom is something which, in philosophy, must be proved, not presupposed, not adopted from feeling or elsewhere. This demonstration is contained only in the fact that right and the moral self-consciousness both display in themselves their regression to this Idea as their outcome. Those who hope to be able to dispense with proof and demonstration in philosophy show thereby that they are still far from knowing the first thing about what philosophy is. On other topics argue they may, but in philosophy they have no right to join in the argument if they wish to argue without the concept.
Addition: Each of the two principles hitherto discussed, namely good in the abstract and conscience, is defective in lacking its opposite. Good in the abstract evaporates into something completely powerless, into which I may introduce any and every content, while the subjectivity of mind becomes just as worthless because it lacks any objective significance. Thus a longing may arise for an objective order in which man gladly degrades himself to servitude and total subjection, if only to escape the torment of vacuity and negation. Many Protestants have recently gone over to the Roman Catholic Church, and they have done so because they found their inner life worthless and grasped at something fixed, at a support, an authority, even if it was not exactly the stability of thought which they caught.
The unity of the subjective with the objective and absolute good is ethical life, and in it we find the reconciliation which accords with the concept. Morality is the form of the will in general on its subjective side. Ethical life is more than the subjective form and the self-determination of the will; in addition it has as its content the concept of the will, namely freedom. The right and the moral cannot exist independently; they must have the ethical as their support and foundation, for the right lacks the moment of subjectivity, while morality in turn possesses that moment alone, and consequently both the right and the moral lack actuality by themselves. Only the infinite, the Idea, is actual. Right exists only as a branch of a whole or like the ivy which twines itself round a tree firmly rooted on its own account.
Ethical Life (next section)
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