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Pinkard on German Idealism

  • Robert Stern (a1)




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This paper was presented at an ‘author meets critics’ session of the American Philosophical Association in March 2004. I am grateful to Fred Beiser for comments on an earlier draft. I would also like to acknowledge the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Board, for funding the research leave during which this paper was written.

1 Pinkard, Terry, Hegel's ‘Phenomenology’: The Sociality of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) and Hegel-A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). An earlier book on Hegel by Pinkard has a rather different approach: see Hegel's Dialectic: The Exploration of Possibility (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988).

2 Pinkard, Terry, German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). All references in the text are to this book.

3 I am here giving Pinkard's own translation (p. 52), which modifies standard ones by using the terminology of ‘instituting’ rather than ‘authoring’ (Pinkard explains his reason for making this adjustment on p. 302, note 49).

4 Cf. Korsgaard, Christine M., The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 98 : ‘Since reasons are derived from principles, the free will must have a principle. But because the will is free, no law or principle can be imposed on it from outside. Kant concluded that the will must be autonomous: that is, it must have its own law or principle. And here again we arrive at the problem. For where is this law to come from? If it is imposed on the law from outside then the will is not free. So the will must make the law for itself. But until the will has a law or principle, there is nothing from which it can derive a reason. So how can it have any reason for making one law rather than another?’

5 Pinkard mentions this worry elsewhere: ‘How, after all, can we actually be bound by laws we make?’ (p. 67).

6 Cf. p. 226: ‘But if the will imposes such a “law” on itself, then it must do so for a reason (or else be lawless); a lawless will, however, cannot be regarded as a free will; hence, the will must impose this law on itself for a reason and that then cannot itself be self-imposed (since it is required to impose any other reasons)’.

7 Cf. Pippin, Robert, ‘Hegel's Practical Philosophy: The Realisation of Freedom’, in Ameriks, Karl (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 180–99, p. 192 : ‘The idea of a subject, prior to there being a binding law, authoring one and then subjecting itself to it is extremely hard to imagine. It always seems that such a subject could not be imagined doing so unless he were already subject to some sort of law, a law that decreed he ought to so subject himself, making the paradox of this “self-subjection” all the clearer. The lines from this original problem – the logic of moral self-relation, let us say – to the projects of Fichte and Hegel are complex and knotty, if also tightly binding and indispensable’.

8 Larmore, Charles, ‘Back to Kant? No Way’, Inquiry, 46 (2003), pp. 260-71, p. 269 .

9 Regan, Donald H., ‘The Value of Rational Nature’, Ethics, 112 (2002), pp. 267-91, p. 278 .

10 Cf. also Pinkard, Terry, ‘Hegel's Phenomenology and Logic. An Overview’, in Ameriks, Karl (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, pp. 166–7: ‘The dialectic of master and vassal is paradigmatic for Hegel's procedure in the Phenomenology, and it sets up the possible resolution of itself, namely, through agents exercising a mutual imposition of norms on each other. That is, instead of the relations of recognition being one-sided, with one agent imposing the fundamental norms on the other by virtue of the other “letting” those norms be imposed upon him, each can reciprocally impose the norms on the other in a spontaneous, self-bootstrapping way’.

11 Regan, , ‘The Value of Rational Nature’, p. 287 .

12 Hegel, G. W. F., The Encyclopaedia Logic: Part I of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, translated by Geraets, T. F., Suchring, W. A. and Harris, H. S. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991), §31 Addition, p. 69 . Cf. Pinkard, Terry, ‘Virtues, Morality and Sitthchkeit: From Maxims to Practices’, European Journal of Philosophy, 7 (1999), pp. 217-38, p. 229 .

13 Cf. Ameriks, Karl, ‘On Two Non-Realist Interpretations of Kant's Ethics’, in his Interpreting Kant's ‘Critiques’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 263282 .

14 Cf. McDowell, John, ‘Responses’, in Smith, Nicholas H. (ed), Reading McDowell: On ‘Mind and World’ (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 276 : ‘Pippin is surely right that the central image in the German idealist tradition is one of legislating for ourselves. But the idea of subjectivity as source needs delicate handling if it is not to put at risk the fact that, as Pippin puts it, “we cannot legislate arbitrarily”. The point of the image is that subjection to norms should not be an infringement on freedom; we are authentically subject only to norms whose authority we acknowledge. Thus the norms that bind us are our own dictates to ourselves, not alien impositions. It makes no sense to picture an act that brings norms into existence out of a normative void. So the insistence on freedom must cohere with the fact that we always find ourselves already subject to norms. Our freedom, which figures in the image as our legislative power, must include a moment of receptivity'.

15 I would not deny that Pinkard's way of taking it is common in the literature. See for example Murdoch, Iris, The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. 80–1: ‘The centre of this type of post-Kantian moral philosophy is the notion of the will as the creator of value. Values which were previously in some sense inscribed in the heavens and guaranteed by God collapse into the human will. There is no transcendent reality. The idea of the good remains indefinable and empty so that human choice may fill it. The sovereign moral concept is freedom, or possibly courage in a sense which identifies it with freedom, will, power’.

16 Ameriks, , ‘On Two Non-Realist Interpretations of Kant's Ethics’, p. 278 .

17 Hegel, G. W. F., Elements of the Philosophy of Right, translated by Nisbet, H. B. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), §30, p. 59 . Cf. also ibid., §4, p. 35: ‘[T]he system of right is the realm of actualised freedom, the world of spirit produced from within itself as a second nature.’

18 Ibid., §7, p. 41.

19 Cf. ibid., §27, p. 57: ‘The abstract concept of the Idea of the will is in general the free will which wills the free will’. Cf. also Hegel, G. W. F., Hegel's Philosophy of Mind: Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, translated by Wallace, William and Miller, A. V. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), §469 Addition, p. 229 : ‘But it belongs to the Idea of freedom that the will should make its Notion, which is freedom itself, its content or aim’.

20 Cf. Hegel, G. W. F., Lectures on the History of Philosophy, translated by Haldane, E. S. and Simson, Frances H., 3 vols (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 18921896), III, p. 459 .

21 Cf. Hegel, , Philosophy of Right, §258, p. 277 , and Lectures on the History of Philosophy, pp. 401-2. For a helpful discussion of the relation between Rousseau and Hegel on these issues, see Neuhouser, Frederick, Foundations of Hegel's Social Theory: Actualizing Freedom (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000).

22 For a discussion of some of the oddities of this section, see Stern, Robert, Hegel and the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 7583 .

23 Cf. Hegel, , Philosophy of Mind, §432 Addition, pp. 172–3.

24 Cf. Sandel, Michael, ‘The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self’, Political Theory, 12 (1984), pp. 8196 ; and Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

25 Pippin, Robert B., Modernism as a Philosophical Problem (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 72–3.

26 Murdoch, , The Sovereignty of Good, p. 47 .

27 Cf. Parten, Alan, Hegel's Idea of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 2734 .

28 Cf. p. 290: ‘Thus the attempt to find a “master rule” for morality, such as Kant's “categorical imperative”, is bound to fail, even if “morality”, very generally as Kant conceived it, is nonetheless itself necessary. If we are to have any concrete first principles for moral reasoning, therefore, we must grasp them not as specifications of some “master rule” but as elements of a social practice, ways in which we pre-reflectively learn to orient and move ourselves around in the social world’.

29 Cf. Pippin, , Modernism as a Philosophical Problem, p. 77 , where he writes of the Hegelian ‘legitimation strategy’ as attempting to provide a ‘good account…of the concrete or sufficient, historical rationality of contemporary “ethical institutions” like the family, bureaucracies, geo-politics, mass culture, academic philosophy, etc.’. He comments, ‘[o]n such a theory, the question of the justifiability or legitimacy of some dominant practice or method could only be answered in terms of, let us say, its historical sufficiency, by means of our ability to understand the determinate emergence of such a “paradigm”, and its resolution of earlier difficulties’.

30 I can thus agree with Pinkard when he writes ( Hegel: ‘A Biography [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000], p. 473) that ‘[t]he core idea of the [Philosophy of Right] is that what counts as “right” in general is what is necessary for the realisation of freedom”, so ‘[i]n that respect, Hegel … adhered to his Kantian inspiration’, and also when Pinkard writes that ‘at the same time, in a crucial and decisive way, [Hegel moved] away from Kant’, for example, in ‘Hegel's rejection of Kant's claim that to be free, we had to be capable of exercising a kind of non-narural causality on ourselves’. The fact that Hegel disagreed with Kant over the nature of freedom does not (as Pinkard recognises) prevent the structure of Hegel's argument being Kantian and thus reflecting what I have claimed Kant meant by 'self-legislation’, of deriving the ‘right’ from what ‘is necessary for the realisation of freedom’.

31 See previous note.

32 Hegel, G. W. F., Science of Logic, translated by Miller, A. V. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969), p. 843 .

33 Ibid., p. 592.

34 Cf. Hegel, G. W. F., The Encyclopaedia Logic: Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, translated by Geraets, T. F., Suchting, W. A. and Harris, H. S. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991), §161, p. 237 : ‘The progression of the Concept is no longer either passing-over (Übergehen) or shining into another, but development; for the [moments] that are distinguished are immediately posited at the same time as identical with one another and with the whole, and [each] determinacy is as a free being of the whole Concept’.

35 Cf. Hegel, G. W. F., Science of Logic, translated by Miller, A. V. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969), p. 603 : ‘The universal is therefore free power; it is itself and takes its other within its embrace, but without doing violence to it; on the contrary, the universal is, in its other, in peaceful communion with itself. We have called it free power, but it could also be called free love and boundless blessedness, for it bears itself towards its other as towards its own self; in it, it has returned to itself’.

36 Ibid., p. 575.

37 Cf. Peirce, C. S., ‘Trichotomic’, in The Essential Peirce, ed. Houser, Nathan and Kloesel, Christian, 2 vols (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), I, p. 281 : ‘Genuine thirdness is when of the three terms A, B, C, each is related to each of the others, but by a relation which only subsists by virtue of the third term, and each has a character which belongs to it only so long as the others really influence it. It would not be enough to say that the connections between the terms is dynamical, for forces only subsist between pairs of objects; we had better use the word “vital” to express the mode of connection, for wherever there is life, generation, growth, development, there and there alone is such genuine thirdness’.

38 Hegel, , Hegel's Philosophy of Mind, §481, p. 239 (translation modified): ‘the will is the immediate individuality posited through itself, but which is nonetheless also unified with the universal determination, i.e. with freedom itself. The will has this universal determination as its object and aim, only in so far as it thinks itself, knows this its concept, and is will as free intelligence’.

39 Hegel, , Science of Logic, p. 155 .


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