Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 March 2021
This chapter explores the problem of public opinion in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. I argue that for Hegel, the problem of public opinion is closely related to the problem of ideology critique, representing a departure from the Kantian approach to publicity as a path to enlightenment, and the development of a nascent critical theory. First, I provide an overview of Hegel’s understanding of public opinion by taking up its positive and negative aspects. Hegel’s departure from Kantian themes is clearly discerned in his understanding of the formation and function of public opinion, which traces its origins to the estates, leading to a conflict between private interests based on social status and the public good. With Hegel’s understanding in view, I then assess the extent to which this represents the development of a concept of ideology by drawing on Raymond Geuss’ definition. I show that public opinion has certain epistemic, functional, and genetic features that are connected with ideology, and further, that Hegel’s account of social practices helpfully contributes to contemporary debates. Finally, I turn to the Natural Law essay and argue that Hegel’s objections against empiricism and formalism in political theorizing share important affinities with critical theory.
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