It is widely acknowledged that Hegel's ethical thought moves in a naturalistic direction away from the pure practical reason of Kant's moral philosophy. But the exact character of that naturalistic turn has proven elusive, in part because Hegel so insistently foregrounds the theme of freedom. He often opposes self-determination through freedom to being determined merely by nature, and while Hegel's incorporation of the natural into his theory of freedom has been emphasised by many recent commentators, there remains a fundamental lack of consensus about how nature and freedom intersect in Hegel's ethics. My goal is to shed light on this issue by examining Hegel's distinction between Subjective Spirit and Objective Spirit. This distinction between two domains of inquiry and two perspectives on human action is fundamental for understanding his views about the natural and the normative in ethics. My central claim is that by advocating a division of labor between these domains, and by showing how they are integrated, Hegel is able to capture the best elements of naturalistic inquiry into human psychology and to preserve the distinctive character of the ethical domain.
This paper aims to open an avenue for future research into Hegel's naturalism and to demonstrate Hegel's relevance for contemporary debates. In focusing on the difference between Subjective Spirit and Objective Spirit, I am already taking on a large topic for a single essay, and there are many related issues in Hegel that will necessarily go untouched. Some of these are worth mentioning up front. First, one would expect a paper about Hegel's naturalism to explore Hegel's view on nature in general, namely, the content of the Philosophy of Nature which forms the middle part of the Encyclopaedia. Without an account of how Hegel conceives of nature, it seems that we have to assume a conception of nature foreign to his system, and using that to measure his views would seem to violate a number of hermeneutical strictures. While I admit that this is a problem, it is simply beyond the scope of this paper, and I hope that using an intuitive account of the natural, and Hegel's claims about human nature, is enough at least to get this project going. The project itself can then provide a further spur to examining Hegel's views on non-human nature.