System of Ethical Life


1. Sittlichkeit — here not a moral philosophy but an ethical order or ethical social and political life.

2. The terminology derives ultimately from Kant. What is at issue is the “synthesis” of the particular and the universal aspects of experience. Ordinary “finite” consciousness never gets beyond a “relation” between the two, in which either the “particular” or the “universal” pole is dominant: either “concept” is subsumed under “intuition,” or vice versa. But in Hegel’s view, ultimate truth in metaphysics is the identity of universal and particular, or subject and object, in and as the Absolute; while the Idea (i.e., ideal or true form) of political or ethics life is an identity of ruler and ruled, or of individual welfare and the welfare of the whole. This is adumbrated here, but made clear and explicit in the Philosophy of Right (or Law).

In his Introduction Georg Lasson says: “For Hegel ethical life is actuality proper, the totality of life which brings all the moments of life together under itself, and thus what he elsewhere calls subject-objectivity. This actuality grasped according to the moment of objectivity, and so as objective subject-objectivity is a nature, a givenness. On the other hand, grasped according to the moment of subjectivity, and so as subject-objectivity, it is the individuality of self-consciousness which grips actuality in itself. The first, the side of givenness, Hegel calls “intuition,” the second, the side of individuality, he calls “concept.” The totality of ethical actuality is built up by the reciprocal subsumption of one side under the other.” Lasson’s own opinion is that “this dualism of intuition and concept is more like a shackle than an aid to the development of his thought.” We have rendered Hegel’s terminology literally here, but it is possible that his meaning could be made clearer if his terminology were completely abandoned and a paraphrase substitutes for translation. However the literal rendering becomes less unintelligible if the following interpretations of Hegel’s phraseology are kept in mind. “Intuition” is equivalent to “a perceptible particular” as “concept” is to “an abstract universal.” Intuitions separated from concepts are both, in Hegel’s view, abstractions, although for a philosophy based on the understanding (as distinct from reason) they are constituent parts of our experience, related together but not synthesised or united in a concrete whole. For Hegel the truth is that they are so synthesised and they do form a concrete whole, even if that whole is “ideal,” and even if in “reality” they are “realised” separately. For example, in the real world we can distinguish between an individual citizen and the whole people to which he belongs, or between a criminal and the arm of the law. But the truth lying behind this distinction between “intuition” and “concept” is their ideal and real unity. In the ideal ethical order government and governed are one. And although this is “ideal,” it is also the “truth” of what really exists. Hegel was later to put the point more clearly and explicitly by his distinction between “real” and “actual": a bad government may be “real,” but it is not “actual,” just as a man may be “real” but not “actual” because he is not in conformity with what it is to be a man. This reminds us of Platonic “forms,” but Hegel regards these as “merely” ideal; in his view the ideal is not so impotent as not to exist really also. The ideal is not transcendent and far off, but the inner truth and essence of reality. The “Idea” is what is absolutely true; it is the synthesis of intuition and concept, universal and particular, real and ideal, form and matter, in short of all the opposites which, for a preceding philosophy, were merely “related” and never unified.

Such a philosophy of “relation” may begin with, or emphasise, one opposite and “subsume” the other under it. But which to begin with is arbitrary. To begin with one to the exclusion of the other produces results contradicting the original presupposition. Consequently Hegel starts by examining what ethical life is like if it is regarded as based on relations and not on absolute unity or synthesis. This examination must be twofold: first, we presuppose that concept is subsumed under intuition, i.e., that the particular is related to the universal by dominating it, or by being taken as the basis of the whole, from which, no doubt, abstract universals can be derived. Secondly, we perform the reverse procedure, i.e., we presuppose universals as dominant and particulars as merely illustrative of them -the particular “intuition” is “subsumed” under the “concept.”

The result of the examination is unsatisfactory. Both ways of looking at the social and political sphere are possible; one may supplement the other; one may be a lower stage superseded by the other as a higher one; but both imply that universal and particular are only related to one another, and it is as if social life were split into its extremes and so killed. “There is missing, alas!” as Goethe said, “the spiritual bond.” By being split in this way the bond of connection has been snapped, and instead of a living whole we are left with dead abstractions. The true absolute ethical order is a living whole, within which there are differences indeed, but they are differences united, like the parts of a living body, by a common life.

3. I.e., there can be no identity, as distinct from mere equality, of universal and particular unless the universal is particularised and the particular universalised.

4. Haering (Hegel, ii, 348) describes this passage as a “stone of stumbling,” and this is not surprising.

5. Each subsumption has two opposite subsumptive processes as its “moments.” So whether the unity is an inward thought or an outward reality, it will appear on both sides of the equation as concept in relation to particular or particular in relation ‘ o concept at the appropriate stage of the logical development.

6. Potenz. The word means “power” and is drawn from the vocabulary of mathematics, where x is raised to the second, third, or nth power. Schelling describes his Absolute as a series of Potenzen. Hegel uses the same metaphor at this time, but he later discarded it on the ground that it was purely quantitative, not qualitative as well. “Level” rather than “power” seems to convey Hegel’s meaning here less ambiguously.

7. I.e., the dominance of the individual or the particular. Subject differs from object and is driven to overcome this difference. The drive or instinct is natural, and thus “natural” ethical or social life is identical with that life as relation. Subject and object are related, not unified. Difference is not overcome.

8. Need is subjective, satisfied by the destruction of the object, e.g., in eating. Feeling is practical when, as need, it proceeds actively to satisfy itself. At this stage the union of subject and object involves the physical assimilation, and so the destruction, of the object.

9. I.e., it is for the subject that it is edible, so that its character as edible is subjective, not inherent in the object itself.

10. Need implies a difference between itself and what is needed. Enjoyment presupposes this difference. It is not a feeling of self alone, with no consciousness of the object. Thus a difference and a relation between subject and object persists, despite the annihilation of this edible object.

11. (gg) disappears altogether at this stage, and (bb) partially.

12. I.e., the object as worked upon by the subject.

13. Roman numerals are substituted here and below for the Hebrew characters which Hegel used.

14. I.e., one in which the universal is still abstract and present only as ideal.

15. “Intelligences” means “individuals in whom a universal element has emerged.”

16. I.e., the labour is divided up between many individuals.

17. This refers to the “division of labour.” The machine takes the place of the individual craftsman, and what originally was the product of one individual is now so divided up that many individuals are involved. This is a remove from a living whole to a more mechanical one.

18. The labour is given to a machine instead of to an individual craftsman.

19. At the earlier level enjoyment followed on the satisfaction of a need. Machinery makes possible the accumulation of capital, a surplus going beyond the satisfaction of a particular individual’s need.

20. Hegel excludes two sorts of negation from consideration here: (a) the mechanical negative, e.g., when an “act of God” or some natural process like fire destroys property; (b) either the moral negation involved in theft, or the speculative negative, when individuality annihilates the abstract form of the universal and embodies it, e.g., when property is destroyed by fire-fighters to prevent the fire from spreading. This leaves alienation of ownership as the sort of negation in question here.

21. Hegel is here employing the “dynamic series” in Schelling’s philosophy of Nature for purposes of analogy. Since this was the direct parallel in the real series to human action in the ideal series (see the table in the Introductory Essay on p. 00), this is not surprising. The reader should compare also the lectures on the Philosophy of Nature (324, Addition) where Hegel remarks that Schelling called electricity “a fractured magnetism.”

22. Value and price are being regarded as universal and equal for everyone. An equal and fixed price is a necessary presupposition of exchange between individuals. Law is passive er at rest in value and price, but it comes into movement in exchange. In economics Hegel usually followed, first Sir James Steuart, and later Adam Smith. Here his intention is to move from abstract to concrete, from equality or sameness to a synthesis of differences.

23. Two people may make an exchange on the spot. But if the transaction is a complicated one, e.g., involving cargoes of goods, the exchange will take time and the quid pro quo, e.g., payment for the goods, will not be there until the whole transaction is at an end, unless some advance is made by agreement a jump ahead of the due date.

24. Metaphysik der Sitten — Rechtslehre §§ 24-27 (Akad. VI, 277-80 — omitted in Ladd’s abridged translation).

25. Thus, for example, all family relations are summed up in, explained by, and get their meaning from the infant in the cradle. “Contrary to appearances,” as Hegel puts it, the child is the way in which the Concept (of Reason) subsumes the Absolute (of Life). But as he or she grows up, he or she passes through all the relations that are subsumed.

26. This sentence is a crux. The text reads: “Dieses Negative oder die reine Freiheit geht also auf die Aufhebung des Objektiven so, dass es die ideelle, in der Notwendigkeit nur äusserliche oberflächliche Bestimmtheit, das Negative zum Wesen macht, also die Realität in ihrer Bestimmtheit negiert, aber these Negation fixiert.” Our rendering takes “das Negative” as a nominative specifying the referent of “es.” It can be taken as an accusative (a second object which “Dieses Negative ... macht zum Wesen”). In that case the translation should be augmented. Our second sentence should read: “It makes itself into the essence; thus it negates reality etc.” The sense does not appear to be materially affected.

27. The context implies that the hostility is directed against culture and all its aspects and products generally. Hegel’s specific references show that the “inorganic element” here is the vital forces of human nature that have not been organised by reason. He habitually uses the contrast between organic and inorganic in a contextually relative way, just as Aristotle does with the contrast between form and matter.

28. Hegel seems to want to distinguish three cases: (a) natural slavery, where the pressure of natural necessity leads a man to accept bondage on condition that his “necessary desires” are satisfied from the surplus of the family to which he is; bonded. (b) Subjection of a Surrendered enemy, where trust is founded on the fact that each side knows how far the other is prepared to go if injury arises — so the whole relation of lordship and bondage can be materially realised. (c) Retribution for injury where the lex talionis is accepted by the offender. His acceptance of it makes the material realisation of the whole relation unjust — but also imprudent, for if he is willing to pay the penalty without a death struggle, we can expect him to offend again.

29. What the victim suffers is far greater than what the murderer suffered through the initial injury.

30. Legal right requires that an offender should be punished (this is the “necessary subsuming”). But ordeal by battle takes no account of who committed the offence-this difference (the relation of the parties as injuring and injured) disappears.

31. I.e., one tribal family as subjected to the other when its champions are defeated; the warriors may be killed, but the family does not perish.

32. I.e., ethical individuality remains physically “comprehended” in nature, and so conceptual comprehension can only be in the context of physical nature.

33. Desselben seems to be a misprint for derselben.

34. There is no second. But this First Section, though headed The Constitution of the State, is divided into two parts corresponding to what is described above as (i) rest and (ii) movement; and the second subsection is headed Government. (The problem of whether “Government” is the “Second Section” or whether the proper complement of this section remained unwritten is discussed in the Introductory Essay, pp. 61-63).

35. This paragraph is a summary of Hegel’s critical reactions to the “reflective philosophy and religion of subjectivity” — which were stated in detail in Faith and Knowledge. See further the Introductory Essay, 00-00, and Faith and Knowledge, pp. 183-87.

36. In Greek mythology a hundred-handed giant.

37. Courage is a virtue in war, where the other virtues are shown up as vices.

38. A reminiscence of Plato’s Republic, where it is only the Guardians who are wise.

39. The reference seems to be to the possibility of serfdom. Where the peasantry is reduced to legal serfdom, it is “parcelled out” to particular “lords.” Thus it would cease to have the character of a true class and, being under compulsion, would cease to trust the nobility who lead it in war and speak for it in politics.

40. If a living thing is to be preserved, it is necessary continually to negate or destroy what threatens it. Even its food has to be “negated” in order to be absorbed. A glance at Hegel’s later Philosophy of Nature will show that he always continued to think of the most primitive aspects of growth and self-maintenance as a continual breaking down of determinate forms previously built up. The living body literally consumes its own substance in order to maintain its organic unity. There is thus a struggle for existence among the “organs”; and each must have its own self-asserting, self-defending form. This is the analogy which Hegel here applies to his theory of social structure.

41. Fichte, Science of Right, Part II, Book II, § 2 (Kroeger, pp. 259-78; compare also Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, § 273 (Knox, p. 177).

42. Rechtslehre, § 45. (Akad., VI, 313; Ladd, pp. 77-78).

43. Eine wenig erkennbare, unsichtbare, unberechenbare Macht. Is there here an echo of Adam Smith? (See further the remarks in the Introductory Essay, pp. 74 and 95 note 87).

44. Earlier [p. 489] Hegel said that the universal must be able to master “this unconscious and blind fate and become a government.” So “trust in the universal” could mean confidence in the stability of an existing economic system which has not yet “become a government” (i.e., an economic plan or policy actively developed and pursued by government). But when once trust is shaken, distrust is exhibited toward the government which has allowed some economic crisis to destroy the livelihood of a significant number of the people. It is the task of government to maintain the reliability of the “universal system of needs.” This system, whether “governed"’ or not, seems to be the “universal” here.

45. There may be something wrong with the text here, because Hegel appears to be contradicting the “law of supply and demand” on which he is plainly relying. It is when there are too many goods, services, or producers in the market to meet the existing demand that the supplier’s “value” falls. Of course the purchaser’s “value” (his purchasing power) falls in a situation of scarcity. What Hegel seems to have meant is “only so many ... as can live off it, and if there are too few of them for those to whom this surplus is a need, their value will rise. But if there are too many of them, their value will fall.”

46. In a marginal note Hegel refers to the “Athenian law for defrayment of festival expenses by the richest men of the quarter” — i.e., the law affecting “liturgies.”

47. A and B are “Absolute Government” and “Universal Government,” the latter having been divided into a, b, c. (This heading was added by Lasson.)

48. Lasson misread Brey tornbergriff here.

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