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8 - Hegel’s Social Philosophy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

Frederick C. Beiser
Affiliation:
Indiana University
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Summary

Hegel's social philosophy, as articulated in his Philosophy of Right (1821), presents a vision of the rational social order that, despite certain obvious archaisms, is still of relevance to anyone interested in reconciling the best aspects of liberal social thought, including its concern for the rights and dignity of individuals, with the human need for deep and enduring communal attachments. Hegel's fundamental claim is that a single idea, properly understood - the idea of freedom - provides the philosophical resources needed to ground a comprehensive account of the good society: what makes social institutions good, on Hegel's view, is that they play an indispensable role in “realizing” freedom (PR, 4). The aim of this paper is to explain this basic thought by examining how Hegel understands and employs the ideal of freedom in justifying the three institutions he regards as essential to a rational social order: the nuclear family, civil society (the market-governed realm of production and exchange), and the modern constitutional state.

Yet articulating Hegel’s conception of freedom is considerably more complicated than this characterization of his position suggests. This is because there is not just one conception of freedom at work in his social philosophy but three: personal freedom, the freedom of moral subjectivity, and “substantial” freedom (PR, §§149, 257) or, as I will call it, “social” freedom. Each of these conceptions of freedom grounds one of the Philosophy of Right’s three major divisions: (i) personal freedom is the basis of “Abstract Right” (PR, §§34–104); (ii) moral freedom is the topic of “Morality” (PR, §§105–41); and (iii) social freedom is the concern of “Ethical Life” (Sittlichkeit) (PR, §§142–360).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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