. 7
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paltry (although he was far more successful at ¬rst than Hegel), and
he bitterly resented others attaining any of the few positions available
°° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
( just as Hegel, and others, bitterly resented Fries™s own acquisition of any
of the few positions that were available).
Fries was quite industrious and, starting around ±°, published vol-
ume after volume laying out his own system of post-Kantian thought. His
own entry into the scene came in ±° with the publication of Reinhold,
Fichte, Schelling, which sharply criticized all three thinkers and established
his own views as being markedly different from all the other versions of
“idealism” being touted around Jena at the time. (In some ways, that
book can be seen as his own riposte to Hegel™s ¬rst book in ±°±, The
Difference Between Fichte™s and Schelling™s Systems of Philosophy.) In the same
year, he published his Philosophical Doctrine of Right and Critique of All Positive
Legislation, in ±°µ his ¬rst presentation of his complete system as
Knowledge, Faith, and Portent, and in ±°· his multi-volume New Critique of
Reason, which he then revised and republished later in ±“±± as the
New or Anthropological Critique of Reason. His position, however, was already
set out in its basic form by ±° with the publication of Reinhold, Fichte,
Schelling, and, in his other writings, he tended to repeat himself quite a
bit.± Fries nonetheless achieved a lasting in¬‚uence by his rewriting of
the Kantian system in terms of his peculiar combination of religious
piety, defense of Newtonian mathematical science, and political views
that were at once republican, liberal, and anti-Semitic. To many, Fries
was the ideal counterweight to those who could not abide the in¬‚uence of
the post-Kantian idealists but who did not want to return to pre-Kantian
Like many in the debate at the time, Fries was concerned to see what
could be salvaged from Kant™s achievement if one were to drop the notion
of the unknowable thing-in-itself; and, taking over Jacobi™s main point,
he was convinced that the “foundation” of the Kantian enterprise had
to rest on some kind of immediate, non-inferentially known “faith” that
itself could only be disclosed in “feeling” and not by reason alone. In
Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, he made those views explicit and used them to
declare the whole post-Kantian idealist movement to be a failure. Fries
accused all three of the post-Kantian system builders of committing
various elementary logical blunders in the way they tried to “improve”
Kant (and in his later writings even going so far as to admit that some
of those blunders were due to Kant himself ).
± See J. F. Fries, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling (Leipzig: August Lebrecht Reinicke, ±°); Philosophische
Rechtslehre und Kritik aller positiven Gesetzgebung mit Beleuchtung der gew¨hnlichen Fehler in der Bearbeitung
des Naturrechts ( Jena: Mauke, ±°; photoreprint Leipzig: Felix Meiner, ±±); Wissen, Glaube, und
Ahnung (translated as Knowledge, Belief and Aesthetic Sense (ed. Frederick Gregory, trans. Kent Richter)
(Cologne: J¨ rgen Dinter, ±).
±°± “±°·: Jacob Friedrich Fries °±
Fries™s own solution is easily confused with Kant™s, since his writ-
ings in his Jena period tended to be more or less just restatements of
Kant™s views purged of much of Kant™s argumentation. However, he
was never a pure Kantian, and he blended into his reception of Kant
a mixture of empirical realism, a “phenomenological” investigation of
consciousness (not in Hegel™s sense of “phenomenology” but something
somewhat closer to that advocated by Edmund Husserl in the twenti-
eth century), and a Jacobi-inspired appeal to immediacy and feeling to
provide foundations for religious faith. Fries was convinced that Kant™s
doctrine of the antinomies was perhaps the crucial error in Kantian doc-
trine, which, in turn, partially accounted for the fatally mistaken path
on which Reinhold, Fichte, and Schelling (and later Hegel) found them-
selves. Kant had simply not shown, so Fries insisted, that the application
of reason to things-in-themselves resulted in irresolvable contradictions.
Fries was thus among the ¬rst to advise dropping the largest part of Kant™s
monumental Critique of Pure Reason, focusing instead on combining the
arguments in the Critique found in the section labeled “transcendental
analytic” with those in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science.
On Fries™s view, Fichte had only made matters worse by appropriating
Kant™s doctrines of the antinomies into a so-called method for showing
how the “I” both posits the “Not-I” and then supposedly resolves the con-
tradiction that it put there. In Fichte™s thought, “an error was introduced
into his argumentation through the confounding of the concept of differ-
ence with that of contradiction . . . each synthesis is supposed to consist in
the dissolving of a contradiction . . . and in that way . . . [it] leads to a naive
play of words,” not a real argument. It is indeed, “laughable,” so Fries
claimed, “how these concepts [used by Fichte] are, through the words
analytic and synthetic, here equated with the Kantian concepts.” For
Fries, Fichte™s so-called Wissenschaftslehre pretended to end the possible
regress of reason-giving by appealing to a principle that was supposed to
be “certain” but which was actually nothing of the sort; it was thus only
a ludicrous attempt to pull the wool over people™s eyes by pretending
to “deduce” everything when in fact nothing was being deduced at
all. To Fries, Schelling™s only contribution was to compound Fichte™s
Nonetheless, so Fries argued, although neither Fichte nor Schelling
was the answer, the problem that Jacobi had uncovered “ that our jus-
ti¬cations have to come to an end somewhere “ was genuine. For Fries,
what was wrong with Jacobi™s solution was that he thought that only his
 
Fries, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, p. µ·. Ibid., p. µ.
° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
“mortal somersault,” the salto mortale “ a “leap of faith” “ could possibly
suf¬ce to provide the required stopping point, and thus he arrived at
his supposed stopping point far too quickly. Jacobi quite unwittingly had
only described the structure of subjective knowledge: a series of “mediate”
(inferentially based) cognitions that are all ultimately based on some
“immediate” cognition, which, as Kant saw, had to be “intuitions.” The
real issue, though, was whether our system of knowledge (as we might de-
scribe that structure within consciousness) has any “truth” to it, whether it
corresponds to things-in-themselves, or whether the ultimate “intuitions”
on which knowledge rests are only “appearances” (in the sense of
illusions). So Fries concluded, this description of the structure of empirical
knowledge is equivalent to what Kant must have meant (or at least should
have meant) when he characterized himself as an “empirical realist”
with regard to empirical knowledge. Within the realm of appearance
(Erscheinung), we have genuine knowledge of empirical objects as based
on immediate intuitions. We cannot, however, conclude from that that
the system of this empirical knowledge has any “transcendental truth”
(as Fries puts it), that is, that it matches up to things-in-themselves as they
exist apart from the conditions under which they can be experienced.
The answer to that question, of course, is that they cannot. We can
only know things-in-themselves under the conditions that govern our ex-
perience of them, and those conditions are irrevocably subjective, bound
up with the structure of the human mind. The solution to the dilemma
lies in working out further Kantian distinctions, particularly in Kant™s
striking claim that he (Kant) “found it necessary to deny knowledge, in
order to make room for faith.” Fries ¬nesses that distinction by limiting
knowledge (Wissen, in his sense) to appearances of objects in space and
time and claiming that it is only belief, faith (Glauben) that connects us to
the realm of things-in-themselves, which, as he puts it, must be identi¬ed
with the “eternal,” to distinguish them from the things of the temporal,
¬nite world we necessarily experience. (As standing completely outside
of time, which is only a subjective condition of knowledge, things-in-
themselves are “eternal.”) To “save freedom apart from nature,” Fries
claimed, requires us to conceive of freedom as “an exemption from the
laws of this quantitative context, [to be] a law of existence that is not the
law of nature. This will alone be demonstrated in nature™s being only
the form of appearance, the form of the ¬nite, in a ¬nite in which, how-
ever, the eternal appears whose original being is a free being.”µ (He even
notes that “in the philosophical application of this distinction we could
 µ
Critique of Pure Reason, xxx. Fries, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, p. .
±°± “±°·: Jacob Friedrich Fries °
have spared ourselves much contention if we had started with the dif-
ferentiation between appearance and being-in-itself as it commonly ap-
pears among the people, for example in the catechism, or at least in most
prayer books.” ) For Fries, the “Kantian paradox” is thus not really an
issue on his horizon; for him, the issues about freedom have to do with
the worry about freedom and nature, not about self-legislation.
Relying on Kant™s claim about the practical need to presuppose free-
dom (as opposed to the theoretical impossibility of ever demonstrating
it), Fries concludes that such “belief (faith) in the eternal, and at the same
time in the reality of the highest good, is the primary presupposition of
every ¬nite reason.”· We must believe (or have “faith,” Glauben) in the re-
ality of the “eternal” (of things-in-themselves), even though we cannot be
said to “know” (Wissen) it; “belief ” in things-in-themselves (the eternal)
is thus something like a presupposition of practical reason. However, he
gives that conclusion a twist that Kant would never have given it: there
is no logical contradiction between the unconditional demands of duty
and the conditional, sensible facts of our desires, there is only a “con¬‚ict
of ends,” which is resolved by assuming God and immortality on the
basis of the “purposefulness of nature.” These are “Ideas” in an attenu-
ated Kantian sense, since they are views of the “whole” of being-in-itself
that cannot be given in intuition; instead, they are given to us by our
“concepts,” and they are related to the limited world of nature through
a kind of Ahnung, a vague “supposition,” a “portent” of the way the total-
ity of things-in-themselves are, which is itself not a cognitive operation “
indeed, it is, according to Fries, a “feeling devoid of intuition or concept.”
Fries identi¬es nature more or less with the Kantian description of it
as matter in motion, as something to be explained mathematically. Any
true Naturphilosophie is therefore to be identi¬ed more or less with the
one advocated by Kant (at least in the ¬rst Critique and the Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science “ Fries also himself developed a speculative
philosophy of nature that went far beyond what Kant said, which we
cannot go into here.)±° Fries reserved a particular dislike for Schelling™s
 Fries, Knowledge, Belief and Aesthetic Sense, p. ±. To this end, Fries offers what can only be described
as an unconvincing mixture of Kant™s and Jacobi™s arguments for this conclusion, having to do
with how the “unconditioned” nature of the totality of things-in-themselves is incompatible with
the conditions under which they might be given; the world of things-in-themselves is unlimited,
whereas our own experience is of bounded, limited things in space and time.
·  Ibid., pp. ·“.
Fries, Knowledge, Belief and Aesthetic Sense, p. ±.
 Ibid., p. ±· (italics added by me).
±° The details of Fries™s philosophy of nature are admirably laid out in Bonsiepen, Die Begr¨ ndung . . . ,
pp. “µ. Bonsiepen™s study is also the most thorough and certainly the best overall account
of Fries™s epistemology to date.
° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
in¬‚uential Naturphilosophie (and extended that later to Hegel™s version of it,
always seeing Hegel as an even more degenerate version of Schellingian
thought). Schelling, and those who followed him, wrongly made the
image of the “organism” central to their conception of nature, argu-
ing that merely mechanical processes could never produce “life” (as
a self-producing, self-sustaining, self-directing process); Fries argued on
the contrary that our only possible understanding of nature had to be
mathematical and mechanical, and that re¬‚ection on nature shows that
“all material forces have to be traced back to two fundamental forces,
one a force of attraction and the other of repulsion.”±± The kind of self-
sustaining that occurs in organisms can be (or eventually will be, so Fries
predicted) explained as nothing more than an “equilibrium” between
such fundamental forces. At best, Schelling confused the ways in which
we must subjectively apprehend nature (which may involve attributing
“purposes” to it) with the ways in which we must conceive of nature™s
reality, which has a much more Kantian shape to it.±
Mind, however, is something else. There cannot be a mathematics of
the mind (as there can be a mathematics of the body considered as a part
of nature). The qualitative elements of consciousness defy mathematiza-
tion: “We cannot,” Fries claims, “extend this [mathematical] explanation
to a single quality of sensibility.”± Perceptions of qualitative matters “
for example, the sensation of red “ simply cannot be quantitatively ren-
dered. This “inner world” of consciousness is, for an individual, his “own
closed world,” and it can only be described in terms of its necessary struc-
tures, not “deduced” from anything else, just as our “belief ” or “faith”
(Glauben) in the “eternal” can only be “shown” or “exhibited,” and never
“demonstrated” from premises themselves provably true.± To get at the
necessary structures of our apprehension and conception of the world, we
must therefore look to a descriptive account of consciousness that nonethe-
less lays out, or “exhibits” the necessary structures of consciousness as
they really, essentially are, not as some other presuppositions we might
have about mentality claim they have to be.
Such a descriptive account of consciousness “exhibits” to us that the
world is “given” to us in sensory intuitions; nothing deeper or more cer-
tain than that basic conviction could be found that could undermine that
belief, and all knowledge and natural science simply have to presuppose
±± Fries, Knowledge, Belief and Aesthetic Sense, p. ±°.
± See Wolfgang Bonsiepen™s discussion of Fries™s critique of Schelling™s Naturphilosophie, in his Die
Begr¨ ndung . . . , pp. ·“µ.
± ± Ibid.
Fries, Knowledge, Belief and Aesthetic Sense, p. µ.
±°± “±°·: Jacob Friedrich Fries °µ
that basic “fact.” The Kantian picture of mind is thus redescribed in more
naturalistic terms as a matter of sensory intuitions serving to “excite” the
“self-activity” (Selbstt¨ tigkeit) of reason. Reason itself is only the neces-
sary form under which human minds can be “excited” in general by
the givens of sensibility and by our natural interactions with the world
around us: “What we attribute to mere reason independently of sense
corresponds to the form of its excitability. Knowledge is in general the
excitation or life-expression of reason; the form of this life-expression
is generally determined through the essence of reason itself.”±µ What
counts as the “essence of reason” is itself determined by a “feeling of
truth” (Wahrheitsgef¨ hl), which itself shows us the unprovable necessity of
certain basic rational truths. (Like the Romantics he disliked, Fries also
held that even more basic than that activity of “taking up” the “given”
excitations of sensibility was the “indeterminate feeling” of one™s own
existence, which “accompanies” all the inner intuitions of one™s mental
activities and states.± )
Fries was adamant in denying that he was explaining the workings of
the mind in terms of any kind of “psychologism,” that is, that he was
explaining the normative features of mentality in terms of patterns of
association of thoughts or sensations or causal processes at work within
the mind. (However, it was always unclear just what his own alternative
was, which has tended to make the charge of “psychologism” stick until
today.) He called his method of explaining mentality an “inner physics,”
by which he seemed to be drawing the analogy that just as (on his under-
standing) physics as the study of matter in motion (or “mechanics”) was
a mathematical and therefore a-priori discipline, the descriptive study
of the necessary structures of the mind was itself an a-priori discipline
(qualitative and descriptive but not mathematical). He also called this an
“anthropological” theory, meaning that this was to be the study of the
a-priori structure of the human mind, not of mentality in general. Fries™s
philosophy of mind and knowledge thus were composed out of a mixture
of both a naturalization of Kant™s theory of the spontaneity of reason and
a “phenomenological” account of the necessary structures of conscious-
ness. (Fries is silent on whether he thinks “mentality” denotes a different
kind of substance or “thing” than matter; but his characterizations of
mentality and nature suggest that such is his position.)
±µ Fries, Neue oder anthropologische Kritik der Vernunft, p. , cited by Bonsiepen, Die Begr¨ ndung . . . ,
p. ·“·.
± Fries, Neue oder anthropologische Kritik der Vernunft, pp. ±“±µ, cited by Bonsiepen, Die Begr¨ ndung . . . ,
p. ±.
° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
In sharp opposition to many of the early Romantics, Fries did not
try to ¬nd any reconciliation with nature; instead, he defended the
Newtonian/Kantian conception of nature and in one part of his system
did not show any particular proclivity to re-enchant nature. In a purple-
prose passage, Fries effused: “Man does not know by himself whence he
comes nor whither he goes. He is led along a path by an overpowering
nature that he himself does not understand. He ¬nds himself a stranger
among all the lifeless and animate forms that surround him in the dead
world of nature. But between the night of two eternities there appears
to him in the dawning light a ¬‚eeting glimpse of his ¬nite being, and a
bare feeling is left to him in which he recognizes the union of his ¬nite
being with his eternal being.”±·
On the other hand, he shared with the early Romantics a convic-
tion that the reconciliation of their shared longing for something more
than “all the lifeless and animate forms . . . in the dead world of nature”
could be found not in reason “ for Fries just as much as for the early
Romantics, Kant had forever destroyed that line of thought “ but in
some kind of super- or sub- or a-rational emotional state. Just as Kant
had thought that aesthetic experience discloses the “indeterminate con-
cept of the supersensible substrate of appearances” that is neither nature
nor freedom, Fries thought that a properly heightened emotional state
disclosed something of the same, and he noted, “in belief (faith, Glauben)
we recognize the eternal order of things as that which established the
law of the kingdom of ends . . . Consequently, should we grasp with a
sense of portent (Ahnung) the eternal order of things within the ¬nitude of
nature, there would arise an agreement between nature and the moral
order of things in the correlation of nature to the idea of the kingdom of
The proper appreciation of nature is thus to discard all teleological
claims for it but to appreciate in this kind of necessarily vague emotional
sense of the “portent” of the whole of nature a kind of beauty and
sublimity that engenders a sense of worship and love. This sense of
“religiosity,” as Fries describes it, is only engendered when nature is
appreciated aesthetically as a whole such that “the warmth and life of the
eternal permeates our entire ¬nite essence “ and that is the atmosphere
of devotion” in which we simply acknowledge the mysteries that reason
cannot solve.±
±· ± ±
Fries, Knowledge, Belief and Aesthetic Sense, p. . Ibid., p. . Ibid., p. ±.
±°± “±°·: Jacob Friedrich Fries °·

¬ ®¤ °¬©©¬ µ§: «® ¤¦©®¤
Fries™s moral and political philosophy was comprised of the same mixture
of Kantianism, sentimentalism, and Romanticism. As in much of his
other work, in his early writings on ethics, he mostly restated Kantian
doctrines in Kantian language with few of Kant™s own arguments for
that position. (Thus there are invocations of the “dignity” of each agent,
of the categorical imperative, of the necessity of republics, and of all the
other apparatus of the Kantian philosophy.) However, Fries breaks from
Kant in at least three ways, all of which are typical of the reaction to
Kant a few years after ±°°, after the explosive in¬‚uence of the early
Romantics had been absorbed. First, he equates virtue with possession
of a “beautiful soul”: virtue, he says, “is rather inner beauty itself . . . In
the ideals of art the beauty of the soul intertwines the interest of natural
beauty with artistic beauty, and so gives artistic beauty religiosity. To be
beautiful is the highest demand that we make of the appearance of a
person™s life “ not that one ought to make some beautiful thing or be
an artist, but that one ought to display a character within oneself that
is in accord with inner beauty.”° Second, he equates autonomy not so
much with self-legislation, with both instituting and subjecting oneself to
norms, but with expressing an “inner necessity” about oneself. For Fries,
the source of the law is what counts; if it comes from “outside” oneself,
then one is not autonomous; if the source comes from “within” oneself,
then the law counts as self-imposed.
Third and most decisively, unlike almost all of the post-Kantians, Fries
actually rejected the primacy of freedom in Kant™s moral and political
thought in favor of the primacy of equality. As he puts it, “in the doctrine
of right (law, Rechtslehre), assessing what is to be permitted to each agent
can easily lead one to the thought, as it did Kant, to make personal
freedom instead of equality into the primordial human right . . . Freedom
simply is no right but rather a property that must be presupposed in
order for somebody to be able ¬rst to be made into a subject of right.
Personal political freedom is on the other hand a mere consequence of
equality.”± Fries was among the ¬rst of many of Kant™s commentators
to have noted that freedom seems to play a triple role for Kant: it is at
once a metaphysical principle of transcendental freedom, the capacity
of agents to initiate a causal series without that act being the result of
° Ibid., p. ±±.
± Fries, Philosophische Rechtslehre und Kritik aller positiven Gesetzgebung, p.  (italics added by me).
° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
any antecedent causal series; it is also a moral principle, a demand to
respect the autonomy of others; and it is a political principle, the right
to pursue one™s own ends and happiness by one™s own lights. However,
Fries accepted the metaphysical status of Kantian freedom (as a separate
form of causality) but rejected its status as a normative principle. For Fries,
the “equal dignity” of each is the basis for claiming a right to political
freedom, and political freedom, to whatever extent it is to be actualized,
is only necessary in terms of what else is necessary to maintain respect
for human equality. Political freedom is not the basic principle of social
life itself. (The debate about whether “equality” and not “freedom” is
the real basis of a “Kantian” theory of justice remains a live option in
our own contemporary discussions. )
For Fries, the basic command of “right” is thus: “You should arrange
all your social relations in the most rational way, [and] each should re-
gard the other as his equal.” The highest “formula of subsumption”
(Fries™s language) of “right” is: “People ought to recognize (anerkennen)
each other as rational [agents] in their interaction with each other” “ it
is not Kant™s principle of acting publicly so that one™s free choices can
peacefully coexist with the free choices of everyone according to univer-
sal law.µ In fact, precisely because Kant made freedom and not equality
into the basic principle of political life, so, Fries argues, he also mis-
takenly divorced the bindingness of contracts (as legally binding agree-
ments between free individuals) from that of promises. Kant thought
that, while we have an ethical obligation to keep our promises, with re-
gard to contracts we can only speak of legal (that is, publicly enforceable)
obligations, since there is no way that one can know whether one is
keeping one™s word out of duty or out of fear of punishment; Fries argues
for the more rigoristic view that “contract” just is “promise,” and that
lying therefore ought to be a legal infraction, not merely a reprehensible
 As Kant puts it: “No-one can compel me to be happy in accordance with his conception of the
welfare of others, for each may seek his happiness in whatever way he sees ¬t, so long as he does
not infringe upon the freedom of others to pursue a similar end which can be reconciled with
the freedom of everyone else within a workable general law,” Kant, “On the Common Saying:
˜This May Be True in Theory, but It Does Not Apply in Practice,™ ” in Kant™s Political Writings,
p. ·.
 The most well-known exponent of putting equality ¬rst for a Kantian-inspired view is Ronald
Dworkin. For a representative statement of his view, see Ronald Dworkin, A Matter of Principle
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, ±µ); Dworkin himself combines the emphasis on
Kantian freedom with keeping his emphasis on equality intact in his aptly titled book, Freedom™s
Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
 Fries, Philosophische Rechtslehre und Kritik aller positiven Gesetzgebung, p. xvii.
µ Ibid., p. . See Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, pp. µ“µ·.
±°± “±°·: Jacob Friedrich Fries °
ethical lapse (a view not unknown to contemporary theorists inspired by
Fries™s own elevation of equality instead of freedom to the highest
principle did not, interestingly enough, lead him to consider any kind of
redistributive scheme vis-` -vis property, but instead led him to endorse
a classically liberal scheme for the distribution of property: “Each ought
to enjoy the fruits of his labor.”· The only proper measure of the worth
of labor is the market: “This [the worth of labor] is to be completely
left to free commerce, in which the state, less through command and
prohibition, e.g., determination of a maximum, than through encour-
agement of, e.g., selling from department stores, rewards” the worth of
labor. Like most others at the time, though, he tempered this with an
injunction to balance the results of such market activities with the state™s
providing an “equality of consumption and satisfaction of needs” while
producing “the greatest possible freedom for each to live in the manner
that he wishes to live and consume.” (Fries left unexplained just how
that balance was to be struck or even why it was to be struck, except to
note, without further argument, that “nobody can be bound to respect
the property of another if, in the universal distribution of property, an
entitlement to some part of it does not also pass to him, if he is to be
left in helpless want in the face of abundance on the part of others.”° )
The resulting differences in wealth that result from such free markets
themselves were to be explained, according to Fries, simply in terms of
the choices of those who prefer “work” to those who prefer “peace and
quiet.” In that way, the “greatest possible freedom is to be uni¬ed with
the greatest possible equality in life,” namely, through “private business
and private property.”±
The result of such a philosophical doctrine of right, so Fries argues,
is to have provided an a-priori general principle for practical reasoning
concerning all possible legislation. (It provides the major premise for all
syllogistic reasoning on the part of legislators deliberating about enacting
particular laws.) Indeed, so Fries goes on to argue, the whole philosoph-
ical doctrine of right ought to have the form of a large syllogism: the
major premise states the principles of legislation, the minor premise the
principles of politics, the conclusion states the “critique of all positive
 Fries, Philosophische Rechtslehre und Kritik aller positiven Gesetzgebung, pp. “·. For a modern re-
statement of the view that the obligations of contractual commitment are based on the moral
commitments of promising, see Charles Fried, Contract as Promise: A Theory of Contractual Obligation
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, ±±).
· Fries, Philosophische Rechtslehre und Kritik aller positiven Gesetzgebung, p. ±.
  Ibid., p. ±. ° Ibid., p. ±µ. ± Ibid., p. ±.
Ibid., p. ±·.
±° Part II The revolution continued: post-Kantians
legislation.” Such a conception explicitly rules out any view of the state
as based on a “social contract,” since, for any such contract to have an
obligatory force, it must presuppose the obligatory quality of law itself,
and that obligation cannot be the result of a contract. As Fries also
claims, his view is completely compatible with understanding all actual
power in the political state as stemming from the “people.”
Fries™s own political views became increasingly colored with his in-
clinations toward sentimentalist German nationalism blended with no
small dose of anti-Semitism. In ±±·, when the student “fraternities” (the
Burschenschaften) held a famous meeting at the Wartburg castle in celebra-
tion of the victory over Napoleon and in honor of the three-hundredth
anniversary of the Reformation “ the whole affair being very nationalist
and republican in spirit, in which “un-German” books were burned,
Jews were denounced as not really being German (some Catholics were
also denounced) “ Fries addressed the excited throng. In ±±, Fries him-
self had published an anti-Jewish pamphlet in which he argued that Jews
could never be part of a truly German state, that “Jewishness” was itself
a morally corrupt and corrupting force in German life, and that such
“Jewishness” should be eliminated from German national life. In ±±,
partly because of his stated anti-Semitism but mostly because of his
nationalist and republican views, Fries was caught up in the wave of re-
pression that looked for subversives (“demagogues” as they were called
at the time), and he was removed from his professorship in philosophy
at Jena and only allowed to teach physics and mathematics. He later re-
gained the right to lecture on philosophy but with many conditions and
restrictions attached. He remained bitter about the whole affair, always
claiming that he had nothing against “Jews,” only about “Jewishness,”
something he thought any self-respecting Jew would discard. Many of
his detractors, such as Hegel, were never convinced by that distinction.
However, in the ensuing years, Fries™s philosophical position became
one of the major options in determining what lay in Kant™s legacy.
Fries was the anti-idealist, anti-Romantic post-Kantian par excellence, who
nonetheless incorporated some of the streams of thought in the Roman-
tic and idealist lines of thought into his own views. His views were, in
fact, far closer to the sympathies of the emerging natural scientists in
Germany, and his view of a more “natural“scienti¬c” mode of philos-
ophizing (in his case, mixed with a kind of sentimentalized religion or
even worship of nature) was much closer to the shape of what came
 
Ibid., p. ±. See ibid., pp. ·“°.
±°± “±°·: Jacob Friedrich Fries ±±
to dominate the odd mixture of materialism and nature-worship that
characterized post-Hegelian philosophy in Germany. Indeed, it is not
an exaggeration to see Fries™s philosophy as laying out a version of the
post-Kantian agenda that continues to hold sway over our imaginations
even today. With Fichte™s star gradually setting, Schelling™s Naturphilosophie
becoming ever more popular, and Fries™s version of post-Kantianism itself
on the rise, it seemed by ±°· that the debate over the legacy of idealism
was fairly well set on its path. That debate, however, received a new
jolt with the arrival on the scene of what Fries himself detested most:
 A good account of that odd mixture of materialism, sentimental religiosity, and nature worship
is found in J. N. Barrow, The Crisis of Reason: European Thought ±“±± (New Haven: Yale
University Press, °°°).
° ©©©

The revolution completed? Hegel
Introduction: post-revolutionary Germany

By ±°°, the scene in Germany had quite dramatically shifted. Kant was
publishing his ¬rst Critique in ±·± against the background of a widely felt
sense (among the educated youth) that things simply had to change and
were about to change in favor of some more satisfying way of life; there
was also a sense that things were going to be as they had always been.
As Kant was ¬nishing up his work in the ±·°s, the younger generation
born between ±·µ and ±··µ was now coming of age, and the cohort of
that group that belonged to the reading public had either already left or
was preparing to leave the university in pursuit of careers and positions
that for all practical purposes did not exist. In that context, the lust for
reading, and particularly for the new, was intense. Part of the appeal to
these sorts of people (and to a huge number of the literate generation
of ±·µ“±··µ) of the kinds of books that fueled the “reading clubs” (and
led to the so-called “reading addiction”) was that they enabled them to
imagine alternative lives for themselves: for many, they had broken, at
least in imagination, with what they now perceived to be the hidebound
ways of their elders or their superiors, and even the “lower orders” (such
as domestic servants) were now sometimes daydreaming about, or (from
the standpoint of the reigning powers, even worse) actively thinking about
courses of life that were not in harmony with the way life had been. In
the wake of the Kantian revolutions, philosophy in that climate began to
play a leading, speaking part in the collective and individual imaginative
life. As the hold of the older ways simply lost its grip on the younger
generation, they began to see themselves called to something different,
to lead their own lives, not their parents™ or grandparents™ lives, and,
to a good many in that generation, Kant™s own assertion of the intrinsic
connection between autonomy and morality captured that sense exactly:
to assume responsibility for one™s own life, not to be pushed around
by forces external to oneself (either natural or social), meant assuming
an uncompromising moral stance in a world of moral equals, of acting
according to one™s own law and not simply the rules one had been taught.
Armed with such Kantian notions in their repertoire, young people
began to see their elders as perhaps cowardly, too afraid to break with
the old ways and to “think for themselves,” too caught up in a dying
social order, too “old” and not enough caught up in “life.”
The tumult in France continued, but, by ±°°, a new presence had
entered the scene: Napoleon Bonaparte had already staged a brilliant
rise to prominence as a military of¬cer and tactician, and then, having
risen to become a political force on his own, brie¬‚y ruled as part of a
triumvirate until he managed to conspire with others to stage a coup
d™´ tat and on November “±°, ±· (±“± Brumaire on the revolution-
ary French calendar) had himself made the First Consul of France. He
moved quickly on all fronts and in a short time abolished the dreaded
“Directory,” the ruling body of the Revolution for most of its existence.
As the French counsel of state put matters: “We have ¬nished the novel of
the Revolution: now we must begin its history.”± Napoleon immediately
set about to making that history and involved himself, fatefully for both
sides, in the future shape of the German lands.
The never ¬nished, simmering con¬‚ict between the German princes,
wedded to their power and to the inviolability of their rule, and the aims
of revolutionary France once again, perhaps inevitably, surfaced and
Napoleonic France was thus drawn into Germany, both by the force of
the events themselves and by Napoleon™s own rather immoderate ambi-
tion for rule in Europe. The result was a series of full-scale Napoleonic
wars “ in effect, a Napoleonic invasion of Germany “ that completely al-
tered the landscape of Germany. For the greater part of the Napoleonic
conquest of Germany, the armies of France under Napoleon seemed
unstoppable. When Prussia foolishly decided to engage Napoleon again
in ±°, Napoleon took the Prussians on outside the town of Jena, and,
within about half an hour, the vaunted Prussian army was in full an-
archic retreat. Shortly before the battle, the Holy Roman Empire, the
organization under which most of Germany had lived for almost nine
hundred years, had dissolved; Napoleon™s rout of Prussia put the nails in
its cof¬n and lowered it into its grave. Napoleon, who had already begun
to reorganize Germany in a way more advantageous to French inter-
ests (and advantageous to the hopes of many modernizers in Germany),
now set about creating a full reorganization of German lands. The petty
principalities of “hometown” Germany vanished as they were swallowed
± Cited in Fran¸ ois Furet, Revolutionary France: ±··°“±° (trans. Antonia Nevill) (Oxford: Blackwell,
±), p. °.
± Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
up by newly created kingdoms loyal to Napoleon or by newly created
kingdoms and principalities gobbling up their neighbors to consolidate
themselves against Napoleonic intervention. Many princes (particularly
those of Bavaria and W¨ rttemberg) found that alliance with Napoleon
led to greatly increased holdings and power, even the elevation to status
of king. For a while it even seemed that Prussia itself, decisively defeated
by Napoleon, would either vanish as an independent state or shrink into
total insigni¬cance. Germany, so it seemed, would simply have to learn
to live with France in general and with Napoleon in particular, since
opposing either of them was apparently suicidal.
Much of the post-Kantian debate in philosophy thus began to re¬‚ect
the kind of anxieties that Germans of all levels felt about the future of their
land. Some saw Napoleon as the necessary iron ¬st required to break
the stranglehold of the old German princes and “hometown” mores, the
necessary prelude to a modernization of German life; others saw him
simply as a foreign tyrant; still others saw him as the expression of all
that was harsh and ugly in modern life, a herald of a less beautiful world
to come and a threat to the authority of Christendom itself. Whatever
small amount of homogeneity there had been in German life up until
that point crumbled in the context of the Napoleonic restructuring of
German life. In that hothouse atmosphere, the debate over Kant™s legacy
itself heated up, and, in that context, it was impossible for philosophy to
be seen as only an academic enterprise.
° 

Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit:
post-Kantianism in a new vein

§¬™ µ®
Of all the post-Kantian idealists, Hegel probably has the greatest name
recognition and both the best and the worst reputation. Yet, until he
was thirty-¬ve years old, he was an unknown, failed author and only
dubiously successful academic.± After ±°·, though, with the publication
of his Phenomenology of Spirit, he became one of the great ¬gures of the post-
Kantian movement (even though it took him nine more years before
he received university employment), and, at the height of his fame, he
managed to do for himself what Kant had done several generations
earlier by managing to convince a large part of the intellectual world
that the history of philosophy had been a gradual development toward
his own view and that the disparate tendencies of thought at work in its
history had ¬nally been satisfactorily resolved in his own system.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born in ±··° in Stuttgart and died
in ±± in Berlin. Entering the Protestant Seminary in T¨ bingen in ±·,
he had befriended and roomed with Friedrich H¨ lderlin, and later they
shared a room and friendship with Friedrich Schelling (who was younger
than them). After graduating from the Seminary, he took a long and
awkward path to philosophy; he became a “house-tutor” for two different
families and experienced a failed independent career as an author before
becoming an unpaid lecturer in philosophy at Jena and a co-editor with
Schelling of the Schellingian Critical Journal of Philosophy, which, when
it ceased publication, turned Hegel simply into an unpaid lecturer at
Jena. After that position also collapsed, he became ¬rst a newspaper
editor and then a high-school teacher in Nuremberg (where he married
a member of the Nuremberg patriciate), and ¬nally in ±±, at the age
of , he acquired his ¬rst salaried academic position in Heidelberg. In
±± he accepted a position as professor at the Berlin university, where
± See Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography.

± Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
he quickly rose to fame as the European phenomenon known simply as
Like so many of his generation, Hegel became caught up in the post-
Kantian movement relatively early in life. In one of his letters to Schelling,
written shortly after his graduation from the Seminary in ±·, he re-
marked that “from the Kantian philosophy and its highest completion
I expect a revolution in Germany. It will proceed from principles that
are present and that only need to be elaborated generally and applied
to all hitherto existing knowledge.” From his time at the Seminary until
the end of his life, Hegel occupied himself with the issues surrounding
what it might mean to come to terms with the demands of the modern
world. While in T¨ bingen, he was inspired by the French Revolution
(as were H¨ lderlin and Schelling), and he remained a lifelong advocate
of its importance for modern European, even global, life. Like many
of his generation, he, too, saw Kant as the philosophical counterpart,
even the voice, of the revolutionary events going on around him and
thought that “completing” Kant was part and parcel of the activity of
institutionalizing the gains of the Revolution.
Hegel served as a house-tutor in Frankfurt between ±·· and ±°±, a
position his old friend, H¨ lderlin, had found for him, and while there he
came under the in¬‚uence of H¨ lderlin™s own revolutionary attempts at
developing post-Kantian thought. For Hegel, H¨ lderlin had shown how
Fichte™s development of post-Kantian thought failed to understand the
way in which there had to be a deeper unity between subject and object,
how the distinction between the subjective and the objective could not
itself be a subjective or an objective distinction, and that our awareness
of the distinction itself presupposes some background awareness of their
deeper unity. Underlying the rupture between our experience of the
world and the world itself, however, was a deeper sense of a notion of
truth “ of “being,” as H¨ lderlin called it “ that was always presupposed
in all our otherwise fallible encounters with each other and the world.
Hegel took those views with him when he left Frankfurt for Jena in ±°±. A
small inheritance from his father (after his father™s death in ±·), and the
awareness that he was now thirty years old and still without a career led
Hegel to move to Jena and to attempt to become a university philosopher.
Although technically Hegel ¬rst published a book in ±·· “ an anony-
mously published translation of and commentary on a French language

 G. W. F. Hegel, Briefe von und an Hegel, vol. ©, no. ±±; Hegel: The Letters (trans. Clark Butler and
Christiane Seiler) (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, ±), p. µ.
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
radical critique of the German-speaking Bernese patriciate (done while
serving as a house-tutor for one of the leading families of the same patri-
ciate) “ his ¬rst philosophical book (and certainly the ¬rst that carried his
name on it as the author) was his ±°± essay, The Difference between Fichte™s
and Schelling™s Systems of Philosophy. In it, he offered an argument that
Schelling™s philosophy (which until that point had been generally taken
by the German philosophical public as only a variant of Fichte™s thought)
actually constituted an advance on Fichte™s philosophy. Schelling had ar-
gued that Fichte™s key claim “ that the difference between the subjective
and the objective points of view had to be itself a subjective distinc-
tion, something that the “I” posits “ was itself ¬‚awed, since the line
between the “I” and the “Not-I” was not itself absolute; one can draw
it one way or another, idealistically or dogmatically, depending on what
one™s character inclined one to do. Instead, there had to be an overar-
ching point of view that was presupposed by both points of view, which
Schelling called the “absolute” and which, as encompassing both the sub-
jective and objective points of view, was itself only apprehendable by an
“intellectual intuition.” In his Difference book, Hegel endorsed that line of
thought, giving it some added heft by arguing that, in doing so, Schelling
had implicitly brought to light what was really the upshot of Kant™s three
Critiques, namely, that the sharp distinction that Kant seemed to be mak-
ing between concept and intuition was itself only an abstraction from
a more basic, unitary experience of ourselves as already being in the
On Hegel™s recounting in the Difference book, Fichte, having in ef-
fect dropped Kant™s requirement of intuition altogether, was then forced
into understanding the “Not-I” as only a “posit” that the “I” had to con-
struct for itself, and by virtue of that move was driven to the one-sided
conclusion that the difference between the subjective and the objective
had to be itself a subjectively established difference. Hegel hinted that
Schelling™s conception of the “absolute” already indicated that Fichte™s
views concerning both the sharp differentiation between concept and
intuition and the subsequent downplaying of the role of intuitions were
themselves unnecessary, and, on the ¬rst page of the essay, Hegel noted
that “[i]n the principle of the deduction of the categories Kant™s philos-
ophy is authentic idealism” “ that is, that the part of the Critique where
Kant wishes to show that there can be no awareness of unsynthesized
intuitions was implicitly the part where Kant himself showed that the
distinction between concepts and intuitions is itself relative to an over-
all background understanding of what normative role various elements of
° Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
our cognitive practices must and do play. Classifying something as a
“concept” or an “intuition,” that is, is already putting it into the place
it plays in the practice of giving and asking for reasons, in what Hegel
(following Schelling™s usage) took to calling the “Idea,” which Hegel
eventually more or less identi¬ed as the “space of reasons” (although this
was not his term).
Moreover, in the Difference book, Hegel also signaled to the philosoph-
ical public that he did not take this to be merely an academic issue. That
such oppositions (such as those between nature and freedom, subject and
object, concepts and intuitions) have come on the agenda of philosophers
in ±°° only indicates, he argued, that something deeper was at stake:
“When the might of union vanishes from the life of people, and the
oppositions lose their living connection and reciprocity and gain inde-
pendence, the need of philosophy arises.”µ Philosophy, that is, is called to
make good when crucial matters in the lives of agents in a particular his-
torical social con¬guration are broken; and philosophy is to make good
on these things by looking at what is required of us in such broken times
to “heal” ourselves again. Philosophy, that is, is a response to human
needs, and its success has to do with whether it satis¬es those needs.
Although Hegel™s ¬rst published (philosophical) book appeared in
±°±, he had already been at work for quite some time on unsuccess-
ful drafts of various other philosophical works. The guiding question
behind almost all of them was one that had been nagging at him since
he was a student at the Protestant Seminary in T¨ bingen: what would
a modern religion look like, and was it possible to have a modern religion
that would satisfy our needs in the way that classical religions seemed to
have satis¬ed the needs of the ancients? The need that modern religions
were called upon to satisfy was, of course, the need to be free in a Kantian
or post-Kantian sense, and the question that Hegel was implicitly asking
was: what would it take to be able to lead one™s own life, to have a life of
one™s own, to be, in the language that Kant had introduced, autonomous,
self-legislating? For the young Hegel, it was more than clear that the
 G. W. F. Hegel, Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Philosophie, in G. W. F. Hegel,
Werke in zwanzig B¨ nden (eds. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel) (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, ±·±), hereafter abbreviated as HeW and volume number, ©©, p. ; The Difference Between
Fichte™s and Schelling™s Systems of Philosophy (trans. H. S. Harris and Walter Cerf ) (Albany: State
University of New York Press, ±··), p. ·.
 The term, the “space of reasons” was introduced by Wilfrid Sellars to make a very similar
Kantian“Hegelian point. For the canonical use of it, see Wilfrid Sellars, “Empiricism and the
Philosophy of Mind,” in Wilfrid Sellars, Science, Perception and Reality (London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, ±), pp. ±·“± (see p. ± in particular).
µ Hegel, The Difference between Fichte™s and Schelling™s Systems of Philosophy, p. ±; HeW, ©©, p. .
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
established Protestant Church of W¨ rttemberg (his homeland) was not
in any way capable of satisfying that need, and the Catholic Church was
simply out of the question for Hegel the W¨ rttemberg Protestant. But if
not those churches, then what? Another form of Christianity? Another
religion? No religion at all?
Those issues among others formed the core topics of Hegel™s work in
Jena, and his stay there turned out to be particularly eventful and particu-
larly traumatic. He was unable to land a salaried position; the Napoleonic
wars in Germany led to a rapid in¬‚ation in prices that diminished almost
daily the worth of what was left of his inheritance; and, after the scandal
of ±° involving Schelling and his new wife, Caroline, Schelling traded
his position in Jena for a better one in W¨ rzburg, abandoning Hegel to
his fate in the declining university at Jena. Hegel worked on one attempt
after another at developing his “system” of philosophy, ¬nishing some,
cutting off some others in the process, but eventually putting all of them
in the drawer as simply not good enough. As he was ¬nally running out
of money and all hope for any future employment as an academic, he set
to work on his greatest piece, the epochal Phenomenology of Spirit, ¬nished
in ±° and published around Easter, ±°·. He completed work on it
as Napoleon led his troops into the decisive battle of Jena, where the
French routed the Prussian army and threatened the town of Jena itself.
(While writing the Phenomenology, Hegel also managed to engender an
illegitimate son from his landlady, and, despite the success of the book,
Hegel was nonetheless unsuccessful at landing a university position for
himself for several more years.)


One of Hegel™s students in Berlin, Karl Michelet, claimed that Hegel
took to describing his ±°· Phenomenology of Spirit as his own “voyage of
discovery.” The clich´ in this case was ¬tting, since working on that
book brought him to the views that he more or less carried with him for
the rest of his life. Even so, the book™s place in the whole Hegelian system
has always been controversial. Although Hegel originally described the
Phenomenology as the “Introduction” to his forthcoming “system,” there
was confusion about exactly what Hegel intended by that. (His printer
 G¨ nther Nicolin (ed.), Hegel in Berichten seiner Zeitgenossen (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, ±·°), no. ±°·,
p. ·. Famously, the very translation of the term, Geist, in Hegel is contested; the ¬rst translator,
J. B. Baillie, translated Hegel™s book as Phenomenology of Mind, whereas A. V. Miller later translated
it as Phenomenology of Spirit.
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
became so confused with Hegel™s periodic changes of mind that he ac-
tually ended up printing different titles to the book in the ¬rst run.) He
never lectured on the Jena Phenomenology while in Berlin, although he did
lecture on some sections of it that he had reworked into his Encyclopedia
of the Philosophical Sciences, and near the end of his life he even disavowed
it as the proper “introduction” to his system of philosophy at all, claim-
ing that his later Encyclopedia now formed the proper introduction. (The
Encyclopedia was ¬rst published in ±±· and went through published revi-
sions and expansions in ±· and ±°.) However, he continued to give
copies of the Phenomenology to friends and notable visitors, and in ±±
he signed a contract to publish a revised edition of it. (He died before
he could do much work on it, and although the revisions were clearly
intended only to be minor, we will, of course, never know what Hegel
might have done once he began work on it.)
Early readers also had trouble ¬guring out just what the book was
about. Even a quick glance at its contents seemed to indicate that Hegel
intended the book to be about philosophy and European history, but it
was also about religion (and was possibly even a book of theology), it had
many tantalizingly titled chapters whose historical references were not
immediately apparent, and it ended with a short chapter portentously
titled, “Absolute Knowing.” Not surprisingly, interpreters have always
had trouble making sense of the book; it has been held, variously, to be
a “coming of age” novel (a Bildungsroman), a new version of the divine
comedy, a tragedy, a tragi-comedy, a work in epistemology, a philosophy
of history, a treatise in Christian theology, and an announcement of the
death of God.
Hegel intended the book to satisfy the needs of contemporary (Euro-
pean) humanity: it was to provide an education, a Bildung, a formation
for its readership so that they could come to grasp who they had become
(namely, a people individually and collectively “called” to be free), why
they had become those people, and why that had been necessary. In that re-
spect, the Phenomenology was a completely post-Kantian work: it intended
to show its readership why “leading one™s own life,” self-determination,
had become necessary for “us moderns” and what such “self-legislation”
actually meant.

It was thus not surprising that the book began with a devastating, even
if very ironical, critique of Jacobi™s position against Kantianism (and all
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
forms of post-Kantianism), namely, that we were in possession of a kind
of “sense-certainty” about individual objects in the world that could not
be undermined by anything else and which showed that there was an
element of “certainty” about our experience of the world (and thus also
of God) that philosophy was powerless to undermine. Hegel called this
a thesis about “consciousness.” If we begin with our consciousness of
singular objects present to our senses (“sense-certainty,” an awareness
of “things” that is supposedly prior to fully ¬‚edged judgments), and
hold that what makes those awarenesses true are in fact the singular
objects themselves, then we take those objects to be the “truth-makers”
of our judgments about them; however, in taking these objects to be
the “truth-makers” of our awareness of them, we ¬nd that our grasp
on them dissolves (or, alternatively: that in their role as “truth-makers”
they themselves dissolve). The impetus for such dissolution lies in the
way our taking them to play the role of “truth-makers” in that way
turns out to involve ineliminable tensions or contradictions in our very
“takings” themselves, and the result, so Hegel argued, is that, in the
process of working out those tensions, we discover that it could not be the
singular objects of sense-certainty that had been playing the normative
role of “making” those judgments of sense-certainty true, but the objects
of more developed, more mediated perceptual experience had to have
been playing that role. (The objects of “sense-certainty” turned out,
that is, not to be playing the normative role that the proponents of
“sense-certainty” had originally taken them to be playing; something else,
namely, perceptual objects as complexes of individual things instantiating
general properties, turned out to be playing that role.) Or, to put it
more dialectically, the tensions and contradictions involved in taking
singular objects to be making our judgments about them true require us
to acknowledge that something else must be playing that role (and that,
implicitly, we are already relying on that “something else” in making such
judgments in the ¬rst place).
The dialectic inherent in Jacobi™s “sense-certainty” thus turns on our
being required to see the “truth-maker” of even simple judgments about
the existence of singular things of experience as consisting of more com-
plex unities of individual-things-possessing-general-properties of which
we are “perceptually,” and not simply “directly” aware. That is, we can
legitimate judgments about singular objects only by referring them to
our awareness of them as singular objects possessing general properties,
which, in turn, requires us to legitimate them in terms of our take on the
world in which they appear as such perceptual objects. (That is, a focus
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
on how we can legitimate perceptual judgments requires a recognition
of a certain type of holism at work in our practices of legitimation.· ) That
world is itself structured by laws and forces that themselves cannot be ob-
jects of direct perceptual awareness but must instead be apprehended “
so we seem to be required to say “ more intellectually by the faculty
of “understanding.” The dialectic of “consciousness” comes to an end
when, so Hegel argues, we ¬nd that this world which we apprehend by
“the understanding” itself in turn generates a set of contradictory, anti-
nomial results that it cannot on its own terms accept “ even the notion
of the world itself fails to be that which plays the normative role (without
anything else accompanying it) of making our judgments about items in
it true. What that requires us to see, so Hegel argues, is that the concep-
tion that there is any object or set of objects (even conceived as the world
itself ) that on its own, independently of our own activities, makes our
judgments about those things true “ as it were, something on which we
could rely to keep us on the right track independently of any of our own
ways of taking it, of our “keeping ourselves” on the right track “ is itself
so deeply ridden with tensions and contradictions in its own terms that
it is untenable. The whole outlook of seeking the “objects” of some kind
of direct awareness that would make that awareness true independently
of our “taking” it to be such-and-such is so riddled with tensions that it
requires us to acknowledge that part of that awareness has to do with the
ways we “take” those objects. We must acknowledge, as Kant put it, that
it must be possible for an “I think” to accompany all our consciousness of
things. The dialectic of “consciousness” therefore requires us to focus on
how we hold ourselves to norms, and how we cannot rely on something
independently of our own activities to keep us on the straight and narrow
path to truth.

The opening chapters of the Phenomenology provided Hegel with a way of
stating some Kantian points without, so he thought, having to commit
himself to (what he regarded as) either the unfortunate and untenable
Kantian dualism between concepts and intuitions or to the Kantian
mechanism of the “imposition” of concepts on sensibility to which Kant
had been driven by virtue of accepting that dualism (that is, to seeing
· On this theme of holism in “sense-certainty” and “perception,” see Robert Brandom, “Holism
and Idealism in Hegel™s Phenomenology,” in Robert Brandom, Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical
Essays in the Metaphysics of Intentionality, forthcoming.
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
intuition as providing neutral content on which an organizational, con-
ceptual scheme was then imposed).
In showing that the normative demands made by “consciousness”
(that is, the norms governing judgments about objects of which we are
aware), we are driven to comprehend that our mode of taking them to be
such-and-such plays just as important a role in the cognitive enterprise as
do the objects themselves or our so-called direct awareness of them. That
itself therefore raises the question: what are the conditions under which
our “takings” of them might be successful? In particular, how might we
distinguish what only seems to be “the way we must take them” from
the “way they really are?”
In the next section of the Phenomenology, titled “Self-Consciousness,”
Hegel carried out his most radical reformulation of Kantian philoso-
phy, drawing deeply on Fichte™s, H¨ lderlin™s, and Schelling™s in¬‚uences,
while giving them a thoroughly new twist. Kant had said that, in mak-
ing judgments, we follow the “rule” spontaneously prescribed for us by
the concepts produced by our own intellects (the “understanding”), and
had argued that the necessary, pure “rules” or “concepts of the under-
standing” were generated by the requirements of ascribing experiences to
(in Kant™s own terms) a “universal self-consciousness” “ that is, what were
the requirements for any agent™s “I think” to be able to accompany all his
representations. Hegel™s way of putting that Kantian question had to do
with what in general could ever possess the authority to determine what
counted as the rules of such a shared, “universal self-consciousness.”
The outcome of the dialectic of “consciousness” had shown that it
depended on how we were taking things, and that, in turn, raised the
issue of what we might be seeking to accomplish in taking things one
way as opposed to another. Thus, the issue turned on what purposes
might be normatively in play (or what basic needs might have to be
satis¬ed) in taking things one way as opposed to another.
At ¬rst, it might look as if “life” itself set those purposes, and the neces-
sary rules for judgment would be those called for by the needs of organic
sustenance and reproduction. However, practical desires are themselves
like sensations in cognition; they acquire a normative signi¬cance only
to the extent that we confer such a signi¬cance on them (or, in Kant™s
language, only as we incorporate them into our maxims). That means
that agents are never simply satisfying desires; they are satisfying a project
that they have (at least implicitly) set for themselves in terms of which
desires have a signi¬cance that may not correspond to their intensity.
The agent, that is, has a “negative” relation to those desires, and thus
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
the agent never simply “is” what he naturally is but “is what he is” only
in terms of this potentially negative self-relation to himself “ his (perhaps
implicit) project for his life, not “life” itself, determining the norms by
which he ranks his desires.
If not the purposes of life, what else then secures the normative bind-
ingness of any of those projects or basic maxims? It cannot be simply
“reason” itself, since that would beg the question of what purposes the
use of reason best serves (or whether those purposes are to take prece-
dence over any others in any non-question-begging way, or what even
counts as a reason to whom).
In putting the question in that way, Hegel raised the issue that Kant
had himself brought out so prominently in his own practical philosophy,
which we have called the “Kantian paradox.” Kant had argued that we
must practically take ourselves to be self-determining, that what we as
agents were “ultimately about” was freedom in this radical sense (or, to
put it in slightly non-Kantian terms, there would be no point to our lives
if they did not somehow embody this kind of freedom). But if the will
imposes such a “law” on itself, then it must do so for a reason (or else be
lawless); a lawless will, however, cannot be regarded as a free will; hence,
the will must impose this law on itself for a reason that then cannot itself
be self-imposed (since it is required to impose any other reasons). The
“paradox” is that we seem to be both required not to have an antecedent
reason for the legislation of any basic maxim and to have such a reason.
Kant™s own way out was simply to invoke the “fact of reason,” which
from the standpoint of the post-Kantians amounted more to stating the
“paradox” than actually dealing with it.
Like many others, Hegel, too, was unsatis¬ed with that result. How-
ever, unlike Schelling, Hegel did not think that any kind of metaphysics
of Naturphilosophie would satisfactorily resolve the issue, since such a
Naturphilosophie either ultimately rested on some form of “intellectual
intuition” (which, as Hegel was later to remark in his lectures on the
history of philosophy, basically would have the same value as consult-
ing an oracle); or, in light of Kant™s destruction of pre-critical meta-
physics, it simply begged all the questions it was trying to answer. Instead,
something basic about our conception of the nature of agency itself
had to be invoked. It is probably not going too far to say that Hegel
viewed the “Kantian paradox” as the basic problem that all post-Kantian
 On this notion of the agent™s “negative self-relation,” see the clear and insightful discussion
by Robert Pippin, “Naturalness and Mindedness: Hegel™s Compatibilism,” Journal of European
Philosophy, ·() (August ±), ±“±.
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
philosophies had to solve; and the solution had to be to face up to the
paradox and to see how we might make it less lethal to our conception
of agency while still holding onto it, all in terms of integrating it into
some overall conception of agency that showed how the paradox was
in fact livable and conceivable. (Following Schiller™s precedent, Hegel
used the German term, “aufheben,” with its triple meanings of “cancel,”
“preserve,” and “raise” to express this goal.)
What the “Kantian paradox” seemed to call for was for an agent to
split himself in two “ in effect, for “me” to issue a law to myself that
“I” could then use as a reason to apply the law to myself (what Hegel in
his post-Phenomenology writings liked to call becoming the “other of itself,”
“das Andere seiner selbst,” a phrase he claimed to take from Plato). Splitting
the agent in two “ seeing each as the “negative” of the other, in Hegel™s
terms “ does nothing to solve the problem, since such a view cannot
adjudicate which of the two sides of the same agent is to have priority over
the other; it cannot, that is, show how splitting myself in two somehow
“binds” one of my parts because of legislation enacted by the other, nor
can it even show how it would be possible for me correctly to grasp the
rule to which I am supposedly subjecting myself.±°
Hegel™s resolution of the Kantian paradox was to see it in social terms.
Since the agent cannot secure any bindingness for the principle simply
on his own, he requires the recognition of another agent of it as binding on
both of them. Each demands recognition from the other that the “law”
he enacts is authoritative (that is, right). In Hegel™s terms, the other agent
must become the “negative” of the ¬rst agent, and vice versa; Hegel
in fact speaks of this rather colorfully as a “doubling” (Verdopplung) of
self-consciousness.±± Or, to put it another way, the ¬rst agent demands
that the other agent recognize his entitlement to the commitment he
has undertaken and vice versa. This set of demands leads to a struggle
for recognition, since at the beginning of the struggle, each agent is in
effect lawless, simply imposing a set of demands for reasons that, from
the standpoint of the other agent, must seem to be without warrant.
Each agent just chooses his own maxims (perhaps as those that satisfy his
 The phrase occurs in several places. See G. W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic (trans. A. V. Miller)
(Oxford University Press, ±), p. ; Wissenschaft der Logik (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, ±·±),
vol. ©©, p. . In the Enzyklop¨ die, see particularly §, Zusatz. It also occurs in the Enzyklop¨ die,
a a
§±, Zusatz; §, Zusatz; §, Zusatz; §, Zusatz.
±° The argument is strikingly similar to Wittgenstein™s arguments about rule-following and private
languages. See Terry Pinkard, “Analytics, Continentals, and Modern Skepticism,” The Monist,
() (April ±), ±“±·.
±± G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, para. ±µ; Ph¨ nomenologie des Geistes, p. ±.
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
desires, perhaps not) and demands of the other agent that he confer an
entitlement on him. This struggle, however, has no natural stopping point
unless at least one of the agents is willing to show that he cares so much
about this project, about instituting the law and “getting it right,” that he
is prepared to stake his life itself on the outcome; when the other agent is
not prepared to do so and capitulates, the struggle reaches what seems to
be a resolution (but is actually a failure): one becomes the master (Herr),
the other becomes the “slave,” the vassal (Knecht).± One becomes, that
is, the author of the law, the other becomes the agent subject to the law.
As author, the master seems to be a law unto himself; however, his law
is binding on the vassal only to the extent that the vassal recognizes the
master as authoritative (as the rightful author). What reason, however,
does the master have for thinking that the vassal has the authority to
confer that authority on him, since the only authority the vassal possesses
is conferred on the vassal by the master himself as author of the law? The
master remains caught in the “Kantian paradox” without any real way
out; for his edicts to have the kind of normative authority he claims (even
desperately desires) them to have, he must be able to make his will “stick,”
to be able to enforce his will on the vassal; he attempts to “prove” that
his will is binding by having the vassal slavishly work for him, but that
only makes him more dependent on the vassal. Even more curiously, it
makes the master come to seem almost childishly dependent on the vassal
for his maintenance, and to have his entitlements as master dependent
on someone who has the normative authority to issue that entitlement
only by virtue of the master™s conferring the authority on him to issue
it. However, the master can confer that entitlement only by authoring a
law, but, at this stage of recognition, his will remains lawless since he can
claim entitlement to the status of lawgiver only in terms of his being a
“natural” individual driven by desire.
The vassal, on the other hand, by internalizing the master™s sense of law
as what is right, as the objective point of view itself, also thereby through
his work for the master ceases to remain a lawless agent. Through his
work, the vassal learns what it means to subject oneself to the law, and,
as having been shaken to his foundations in the struggle for recognition
(by the fear of death), the vassal has existentially learned that he could rely
on nothing but his own self-imposed subjection to the law. The vassal,

± The Knecht, the vassal, has to directly confront his anxiety about his existence and the fear of
death, and he “is therein inwardly broken up, it has throughout trembled within itself, and
everything ¬xed has been shaken loose,” Phenomenology of Spirit, para. ±, p. ±±·; Ph¨ nomenologie
des Geistes, p. ±.
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
curiously enough, therefore learns through his own self-subjection to the
law what it would mean to be a lawgiver, and he comes to see that the
edicts of the master are only the injunctions of a contingently formed
individual, not the voice of reason itself. As gradually coming to see that
his own recognition of the master is as crucial to the normative authority
of the master™s edicts as those edicts are themselves, he also begins subtly
to undermine the normative status of the relationship in which both have
found themselves, even if he, as vassal, remains powerless to extricate
himself from it. In doing so, though, he also thereby comes to see his fate
as resting on interest and power, not on right, and, when that happens,
the normatively “binding” quality of the relationship has dissolved, even
if the relations of power have not.
Although neither the master nor the vassal can discern it, in effect the
same thing has happened to them in the dialectic of self-consciousness
that happened in consciousness: what had seemed to play the decisive
normative role in underwriting judgments turned out not to be what the
proponents of that point of view had taken it to be, but to be something
else entirely. Neither the master™s nor the vassal™s will alone was normative
for the judgments of either agent; normative authority turned out to rest
in the will of both, in being a social matter of each serving as master and
vassal, or, in Kantian terms, of simultaneously, ¬rst, each subjecting the
other to the law he himself authors; second, of each being himself subject
to the law authored by the other; and, third, of each subjecting himself
to the law of which he is also the author. The “truth” of the matter, as
Hegel points out, is an “I that is a We, and a We that is an I,” that is,
Geist, a matter of sociality, not of individual awareness, desire, nor even
of mere coordination of competing perspectives.

¦  ®¤ ©µ¤  ®
After the dialectic of self-consciousness, Hegel brings up the ancient
philosophies of stoicism and skepticism, posing them as responses to the
problems encountered in the relationship of mastery and servitude.±
± This claim raises some crucial interpretive issues that cannot be fully addressed here. For my views
on it, see Pinkard, Hegel™s Phenomenology; and Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography. Deciphering the struc-
ture of the Phenomenology has always been an issue. The ¬rst part of the book (“Consciousness”)
seems to be arguing at the same abstract level as Kant in his ¬rst Critique. In the second part
(“Self-consciousness”), Hegel clearly departs from any explicitly Kantian model but still retains a
rather detached, abstract line of thought. After that section, though, Hegel jumps into some rather
obviously historical sections, and much of the book afterwards has either explicitly historical or
at least arguably historical aspects to it. How to take it has divided Hegel scholars ever since.
Some, like myself, see the ¬rst part as the propaedeutic to the historical section; others see
° Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
Hegel seems to be suggesting the general problem of coming to grips
with the “Kantian paradox” only has a historical solution, namely, that
the move from a lawless will to a certain kind of autonomy is to be taken as
a historical, social achievement, not as the realization of a metaphysical
power that was all along operative in us (as Hegel apparently thought
Kant™s doctrine of transcendental freedom amounted to). The dawn of
truly philosophical history thus begins with the period when the claims
of reason were ¬rst addressed philosophically themselves, when, that is,
ways of life ¬rst began to re¬‚ectively come to grips with the issue of what
it meant to be a free agent as a rational agent.
Hegel™s thesis in the Phenomenology is that the claims of reason as making
a universal demand on us are themselves historical achievements and
could not thus emerge on the scene in their full form until they had gone
through a long and somewhat painful process of historical development,
with various candidates for such claims (and counter-claims) proving
themselves to be unsatisfactory in the course of that development “ their
authority “dissolving” in the same way that the authority of the putative
“truth-makers” of consciousness had dissolved.
The political and moral collapse of the slave-owning societies of an-
tiquity left the people of the ancient world in the position of having to
af¬rm their being laws unto themselves without having to rely on slaves
to af¬rm it for them, since it had become clear that the slaves could not
play that role. Both stoicism and skepticism (both as philosophies and
as ways of life) arose out of what seemed to be required by that fail-
ure: one could only really be a law unto oneself if, ¬rst, one engaged in
practices of distancing oneself from “life” and only taking as true what
one could vouch for in one™s own free thought (as “stoicism”), or, second
(carrying that line of thought further), by taking a fully negative stance to
all those putative claims to truth (as skepticism) and thereby preserving
even more fully one™s sense of being a law to oneself. Stoicism attempts
it as a historicist work all the way through, including the chapters on “consciousness” and
“self-consciousness” “ the best defense of that line of thought is Forster, Hegel™s Idea of a
Phenomenology of Spirit. Some see it as a work of epistemology, pure and simple “ see Tom
Rockmore, Cognition: An Introduction to Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit (Berkeley: University of
California Press, ±·); in its most extreme form (represented by Klaus Hartmann), the historical
parts of the book are seen as only illustrations of the more systematic, logical arguments at work
“ see Klaus Hartmann, “Hegel: A Non-Metaphysical View,” in Alasdair MacIntyre (ed.), Hegel:
A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City: Doubleday, ±·); and Johannes Heinrichs, Die Logik der
“Ph¨ nomenologie des Geistes” (Bonn: Bouvier, ±·); Robert Stern, Hegel™s Phenomenology (London:
Routledge, °°±); and Richard Dien Win¬eld, Overcoming Foundations: Studies in Systematic
Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, ±). Others see it as mix of the historical
and the systematic “ see Ludwig Siep, Der Weg der Ph¨ nomenologie des Geistes (Frankfurt am Main:
Suhrkamp, °°°).
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
to make oneself a self-legislating “master” by creating a practice of re-
maining free in thought even if not in body, whereas skepticism is the
attempt to secure the freedom of thought by turning it on itself through
a practice of doubting all claims.
Neither stoicism nor skepticism, however, was capable of sustaining
itself “ skepticism (as the truth of stoicism, as that to which one is driven
when one attempts to cash out the Stoic attempts at a free life) ends up
dissolving itself, since it ultimately has to submit its own freedom to doubt
to the same kind of skeptical questioning to which it submits everything
else, and, in doing so, exposes itself to itself as being only the result of the
contingent thoughts of a particular individual.
That despair over ever getting it right suffused the philosophies of
the ancient world as the old gods and ways of life began dying out.
Hegel calls the stance that followed on that despair the “unhappy
consciousness,” the sense that a grasp of what really is in normative play
in making our judgments about our projects of life true is beyond us,
and that we are all “vassals” therefore to an unknowable master. The
failure of the practices of the ancient world made European humanity
ready for an account of those norms as coming to them (as contingent,
“changeable” individuals) from outside themselves via a revelation from
an “unchangeable” source of truth. The long-ruling medieval period of
European history, interpreted by Hegel as a reign of universal servitude
expressing itself as devotion to something “higher,” turned out to have as
its “truth” (as what it turned out to have required itself to formulate,
given what it was trying to accomplish) a view of a completely “objec-
tive” (God™s eye) point of view, which gradually came to be identi¬ed
with reason itself as the moderns came to believe that they could, in fact,
comprehend the ways of God.
Galileo™s and Bacon™s new science reassured the early modern
Europeans of the power of thought to grasp that truth, and the norms
of “universal self-consciousness” gradually came to be identi¬ed with
those imposed by the requirements not of revelation but purely of rea-
son itself. The application of reason to human affairs, though, proved
initially less successful, since putting traditional norms under the mi-
croscope of rational criticism served to dissolve not only them, but also
their early modern successors in their train. In the long chapter of the
Phenomenology titled “Reason,” Hegel gave a sweeping (and idiosyncratic)
account of the early modern European attempt to fashion a science of
society, to translate the demand that one should be a law unto oneself
into a workable way of life. As a way of life, the attempt to become a
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
law unto oneself thus took increasingly individualistic forms; but as nei-
ther the Faustian pursuit of knowledge in the service of satisfaction of
desire, nor as the appeal to the “laws of the heart” (as laws to which
individuals appealed to justify their stance to social projects), nor as a
neo-stoic conception of virtue that identi¬ed true self-interest with the
greatest altruism, could such attempts at being a law unto oneself sustain
themselves. In cashing out its commitments, each found itself involved
in even more skepticism about itself. When translated into practice, the
actualization of those commitments “ as reasons agents give each other “
required those agents to commit themselves to something much different
than what they had originally been taking themselves to be doing.
The failures of post-medieval life to sustain itself by appeal to rea-
son only made it seem all the more necessary to secure some kind of
anchor for our practices of reasoning that was itself “¬xed,” was not sub-
ject to the kinds of defeating contingencies to which the preceding con-
ceptions had made themselves. In that context, the eighteenth-century
Rousseauian (and Herderian) conception of there being a ¬xed,
“authentic” self seemed to be what was demanded. The “authentic,”
¬xed self was supposed to lie behind our various plans, projects, and de-
sires, and, although it could be “expressed” well or badly, it did not itself
change. However, when put to the test, the ¬xed, “authentic” self itself
turned out to be open to as many different interpretations as the overt
actions and works that were supposed to be the contingent, “changeable”
part of the action that merely expressed that “¬xed,” authentic self. It, too,
unraveled under the pressure of practice and re¬‚ection upon its claims to
authority. In other words, trying to hold onto the “authentic” self as the
¬xed point in our otherwise contingent dealings with each other turned
out not to be possible, and it only served to show that there simply was
nothing ¬xed in the self that could play such a normative role. The truth
of the matter behind the giving and asking for reasons, therefore, was an
ongoing series of social negotiations against a background of taken-for-
granted meanings, with everything in the negotiations being up for grabs.
The dissolution of the notion of there being a “¬xed,” authentic self
behind the appearances of our actions was only resolved, so at least it
at ¬rst seemed, by Kant™s conception of the agent as giving the law to
himself in the form of maxims. That is, in the ongoing, contingent set of
social negotiations that seemed to be the “truth” of the modern world,
the only real truth to be found lay in agents not looking to their identities
to ¬x their maxims, but instead looking to see which of those maxims
could be mutually (and ultimately, universally) legislated.
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
Kant™s own idea, though, seemed to founder on what we have called
the “Kantian paradox”: it both required there to be reasons preceding
an individual™s choice of reasons in order for the choice to be reasonable;
and it seemed to require that those preceding reasons be themselves cho-
sen. The Kantian solution, required by the failures of what had come
before it, thus threatened to dissolve on its own part precisely because
its appeal to “reason alone” seemed to rule itself out because of the
“paradox.” The key issue concerning which norms we elect and which
we are simply called upon to “keep faith with” thus seemed to be at risk
in the Kantian (and therefore the modern) solution itself. Retreating to a
mere formalistic interpretation of Kantian morality did not salvage the
Kantian enterprise, since the principle of non-contradiction rules noth-
ing substantive out; nor did interpreting Kant™s categorical imperative
as being only a procedural “test” of maxims taken from elsewhere not
beg the questions of the rationality of the origins of those maxims. In that
context, the modern crisis of reason and Jacobi™s charges of impending
“nihilism” seemed all the more crucial to consider.
The way out of the Kantian paradox, so Hegel thought, required
us to comprehend how we must at each point be both “master” and
“slave” in relation to each other, and how some form of self-legislation
could be compatible with such a conception. Answering that question in
turn required a history of “social space,” that is, an account of how the
history of the demands we have put on each other required us to develop
a determinate type of modern “social space,” such that the modern,
Kantian interpretation of the claims of reason on us would come to be
seen not as merely contingent, and perhaps self-defeating, features of
European history, but as something itself actually required by the history
of that “social space,” or Geist.

 ©©¬ §®© ¦ ¤® ¬©¦
That led Hegel to follow his long chapter on “Reason” with an even
longer chapter on the history of spirit (mindedness, “Geist”) itself, which
began with an account not of modern Kantian associations of rational
individuals, but instead of the ancient Greek paradigm of a spontaneous
“ethical harmony.” The chapter on “Spirit” followed that on “Reason”
not only because ancient Greece is where philosophical re¬‚ection on
what it means to be a free, rational agent began, but because the Greek
“harmony” of ethical life (in the idealized form so popular among the
Hellenophiles of Hegel™s day) offered a kind of baseline paradigm of how
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
the contingent give-and-take of social space might also be the realiza-
tion of freedom (the guiding star of post-Kantian philosophy). On that
view, the Greeks simply kept faith with their received values, knowing
that, in doing so, their actions would spontaneously harmonize, with the
resulting way of life therefore forming a beautiful whole. The “Kantian
paradox” did not at ¬rst appear among the Greeks because of their as-
sumption of the inherent rationality “ even the divine origin “ of the laws
to which they were keeping faith. The Greeks thus seemed to incorpo-
rate into their way of life a sense of being free that depended not on their
fully being laws unto themselves, but on their simply keeping faith with
the already existent divine laws while setting laws for their own political
In that light, Hegel took Greek tragedy “ in particular, Sophocles™s
Antigone “ to be especially revelatory of what it might mean for a way of
life to be based not on fully “giving the law to oneself ” but on “keeping
faith” with basic ethical laws. In Antigone, when Creon forbids proper
burial rites to Antigone™s brother (Polyneices) because he rules him a
traitor to the polis (a disputed claim in the play), Antigone de¬es him,
citing her duty as a family member and sister to render unto her brother
what was his due. Thus, in the play the “divine law” of the household
(represented by Antigone) comes into direct con¬‚ict with the “human
law” of the polis (represented by Creon), with neither Creon nor Antigone
taking themselves to have made those laws, but with both of them holding
fast to the unconditional demands each experiences to keep faith with
them.± It is, of course, an entirely different thing to keep faith with
the “laws” when the “laws” con¬‚ict with each other. Antigone is the
true heroine of the play because she alone truly understands the con¬‚ict
(unlike Creon, who for the greater part of the play seems to see no
con¬‚ict at all, just insubordination on Antigone™s part), and she thus
understands that, although she must keep faith with the unconditional
demand to give her brother the proper burial rites, she is also guilty of
violating the unconditional demands of the civil law; and, even at the
end of the play, she knows she is guilty while at the same time holding
fast to her view that she did the right thing.±µ
± See the subtle discussion of Hegel™s views on tragedy in Allen Speight, Hegel, Literature, and
the Problem of Agency (Cambridge University Press, °°±); and Stephen Bungay, Beauty and Truth
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±).
±µ In speaking of “keeping faith” with the laws, I am modifying somewhat the way I spoke of the
“immediate” identity of Greek agents and their “social roles” in Pinkard, Hegel™s Phenomenology.
The language of “social roles,” as I have since found, obscures rather than reveals the crucial
Hegel™s Phenomenology of Spirit
The problem for Antigone is that she must choose between two con-
¬‚icting, “unconditional” laws, even though she herself (at least at ¬rst)
cannot see any “choice” in her actions at all, since she simply must do
what is demanded of her as a sister. For the Greek spectator, however,
who can understand that she in fact suffers from con¬‚icting demands,
Antigone still appears as an almost unintelligible ¬gure: she is a woman
(and the diminished role of women in Greek society is only too obvious),
and she also seems to be making her own choice to be determinative of
which law is to be obeyed, and thus in effect to be putting herself in
the contested role of the ultimate “tester” of valid law. The chorus tells
her that she has erred, saying, “Your self-suf¬ciency has brought you
down” (or, alternatively, and more literally, “your self-recognized anger
destroyed you”); Antigone™s anger is that of someone who recognizes only
herself as an authority on the issue at hand.± Antigone thus displays in
herself how the normative demands of individuality acting according to
personal conscience are, as it were, struggling to emerge out of a situa-
tion where there is no conception of conscience on which to base those
actions; Antigone™s plight is that of somebody experiencing an imme-
diate identi¬cation with her social role (as sister, as keeping faith with
the divine law), while at the same time coming to experience that kind
of immediate identi¬cation as both impossible (and thus having already
had that identi¬cation wither within her own experience of herself) and
inescapable, as something simply required of her. We moderns can see her
conscience at work; she can only experience the con¬‚ict and guilt.
The self-destruction of the ethical harmony of the ancient Greeks,
and both the necessity for and the impossibility of the emergence of
individuality within that way of life, prepared the ground for the Roman
Empire to understand its own fragmented, “prosaic” way of life as the
successor to the Greeks. Roman legality, capable of holding a multi-
ethnic, religiously pluralist Empire together by law (and, where needed,
by the deployment of crushing military force) seemed to be the realization
of what had really been going on in Greek life “ or, to put it another
way: from the Roman point of view, what was really normatively in play


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