It is often assumed that Hegel's philosophy contains no practical dimension, no doctrine of how human beings should live, but is concerned exclusively with showing that human existence, as the product of reason, is already fully rational. As a consequence, even though Hegel's social and political thought (which is set out mainly in his Philosophy of Right) has been the subject of extensive and detailed study over the years, few commentators have ever tried to develop a Hegelian ethical theory to place alongside those of Aristotle, Kant and Mill. In his book, Hegel's Ethical Thought, Allen Wood has set himself the task of remedying this situation and, in my view, has succeeded in producing one of the most thoughtful, informative and provocative accounts of Hegel's Philosophy of Right to date.
Wood's achievement is extraordinary. He offers a coherent and sophisticated account of virtually all the major elements of Hegelian “objective spirit”, including freedom, happiness, recognition, right, property, punishment, morality, conscience, civil society, poverty, the state and history; and in the process he engages Hegel in a fascinating and highly instructive dialogue with a whole host of thinkers, including Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Fichte, J F Fries and J S Mill, in a way that exceedingly few commentators have succeeded in doing (or have even tried to do). As a result, I believe that Wood has shown conclusively that Hegel is an ethical theorist who is every bit as sophisticated as Aristotle, Kant and Mill, and whose contribution to ethical theory can no longer continue to be disparaged or ignored (as is largely the case) by contemporary students of the subject.