Does Hegel's social philosophy leave sufficient room for individual agents, or does the Hegelian vision of self-actualising Geist ultimately swallow up individuals in an over-collectivist and all-too-metaphysical system? It depends of course on what is ‘sufficiently’ individualist and what is ‘too’ collectivist or ‘too’ metaphysical. It is common knowledge that Hegel at least tries to avoid one-sided extremes: with concepts like recognition, ethical life and objective spirit, Hegel tried to develop a view, which gives both individuality and sociality their due. To judge how well Hegel succeeds is a matter of detailed analyses. In this paper I focus on one specific topic: intentional action, or more specifically, Hegel's views on the idea of retrospective and intersubjective determination of intention.
The main point is to distinguish four perspectives on human action: 1) The agent's ‘moral’ perspective and the understanding and description under which the agent acted; from this perspective we can thematise the operative intention-in-action and distinguish ‘action’ from ‘deed’. 2) The agent's retrospective awareness and appropriation of the action: was what I did really justified and did it express my true goals? 3) The retrospective takes of others concerning the action, from within relevant social practices and the prevailing Sittlichkeit. 4) The perspective of Reason or Idea as emerging in world history.