. 9
( 12)


in Ethical Life (forthcoming).
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
Hegel™s point is that there is an overall picture of nature at work in
the various natural sciences that is itself untrue, in the sense that it is
indefensible when considered philosophically as a conception of nature
as a whole; but for the practices of science to claim truth for their ¬ndings,
they must see that such a conception of nature as a whole “ which
is different from the picture of nature that emerges when one more
or less simply abstracts it out of the particular views held by various
unrelated sciences “ is required for them to be said to be truthfully
studying nature. Ultimately, Naturphilosophie must be consistent in at least
the broad sense with the ¬ndings of natural science, even if it shows that
another conception of nature must be in play for those ¬ndings overall
to be seen to have the truth they really have.
Of course, the supposition that Naturphilosophie studies the “Idea” of
nature that is required by, although not immediately presupposed by, the
practices of natural science itself requires some more detailed conception
of what the natural sciences are really saying about nature. In Hegel™s
day, that was much more contested than it is now. The closest thing to
a consensus was the widespread acceptance of Newtonian mechanics
as the last word on the topic (a view held by, for example, Kant), but
even that was contested by some, especially the Romantics, who looked
on its “mechanical” picture of the world with disdain. In the cases of
disciplines such as chemistry, biology, and geology, there was even wider
disagreement as to what counted as “the” scienti¬c view.
Hegel himself, like many people of his time (and especially the
Romantics) tended to accept the reigning science of morphology, with
comparative anatomy as its own paradigm, as exemplary of the scien-
ti¬c worldview. In particular, the views of people like Georges Cuvier
(who, coincidentally, was almost the same age as Hegel and studied at
the Karlsschule in Stuttgart at the same time Hegel was attending the
Gymnasium Illustre in Stuttgart), the founder in one sense of paleontology
and a key ¬gure in the development of comparative anatomy, served
as the backdrop to Hegel™s own view of nature. For Cuvier, the animal
world presents a set of ¬xed types of species (which he also thought God
had created all at once); the shape of an animal™s organs are determined
by the “purpose” or “function” the animal has in relation to its envi-
ronment “ or, to put it another way, the animal™s “life” determines its
organs, not the other way around. For that reason, Cuvier ruled out
evolutionary accounts, such as those put forward by his older colleague,
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, as failing to explain anything; to understand an
animal is to understand how its organs function to maintain the whole,
·° Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
and, so Cuvier argued, the organic wholeness of each species is so well
developed that any changes in that whole would make its life impossible;
thus the idea that one species might evolve from another presupposed
the impossible.
Hegel took that idea and expanded it to nature as a whole. He also
rejected what in his own day was one of the most popular, maybe even
dominant views, namely, the traditional theistic“creationist view that
God had created all the different natural forms (perhaps all at once) to
serve his own divine purpose, such that the forms in nature constituted
natural kinds and were not arti¬cial constructs of human classi¬cation.
(The correlate in biology was that all the species of the animal kingdom
were created as they are now, with the divisions present now having
always been there since the beginning; Cuvier held such a view.) Hegel,
however, ruled out such a creationist account because of its reliance
on a faulty conception of teleology: it assumes that the end is external
to the entities in question (since the end is in God™s mind, not in the
things themselves), and, on the creationist model, it is therefore wrong to
say that any of the things of the natural world have any purposes internal
to them any more than the wood that the carpenter fashions into a chair
has “chair” as its internal purpose. Yet, so the arguments from people
like Cuvier suggested, animal organisms at least have purposes that are
internal to them; one can understand the organs of the animal only by
understanding the animal™s function or purpose in nature, and that sense
of internal purposiveness was also defended by Kant in the third Critique.
Yet it was also clear that such internal purposiveness only applied to
animal (and perhaps plant) organisms, not to nature as a whole. Kant
had argued in his ¬rst Critique that the natural world must be understood
in terms of the deterministic, mathematical physics of Newtonian me-
chanics, but then he had notoriously (and, admittedly, a bit obscurely)
argued that, as a regulative Idea, we also must see nature as a whole as if
it had been designed to satisfy human reason™s attempts to understand
it (even if it was a piece of transcendental illusion to infer that therefore
nature really had been designed for such a purpose). The two points of
view were held together by Kant™s dualistic distinction between the world
as it must be experienced and the practical demands of the moral law,
something that Hegel had argued against early in his writing. Schelling
had attempted to reintegrate what Kant had rendered asunder by ar-
guing that the Potenzen at work in mechanics create types of polarities
and oppositions that require a new Potenz of chemical balance, all the
way up to the establishment of spontaneous self-determining subjects;
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
but, as Hegel had argued, that in effect erected a type of pre-Kantian
metaphysics on the basis of a Kantian critique of all metaphysics.
Hegel™s own “dialectical” proposal was to avoid speaking of how
the different levels of nature generate themselves out of each other
by virtue of any kind of metaphysical force (such as those found in
Schelling™s Potenzen). Instead, for Hegel, the proper understanding of
nature consists in grasping how the basic classi¬cations of natural types
are normatively in play in our grasp of nature as a whole and then to
show that the links must be taken in a “logical,” not a metaphysical or
natural sense. That is, Hegel did not think that a proper Naturphilosophie
(with the emphasis on “philosophie” there) would show how “mechanical”
systems evolve into or produce non-mechanical, organic systems by
virtue of some metaphysical force or vitalist principle pushing nature
forward, nor did he think that it would be at all instructive to see all the
natural forms as evolving from others or emanating out of some set of
Platonic Ideas (a key, if vague, notion of the more prevalent Romantic
Naturphilosophie “ although Hegel suggests that an adequate, “logical”
Naturphilosophie would capture whatever it is that seems to be plausible
in such misguided evolutionary or emanation-oriented accountsµ ).
Instead, he tries to show that there are three basic types of natural
kinds corresponding to the three basic types of accounts we must give of
natural things, events, and processes, namely, mechanical, physical, and
organic accounts (roughly corresponding to mathematical accounts of
motion; experimental accounts of things like heat, light, magnetism,
and electricity, which include both physics and chemistry; and organic
accounts of the earth as itself a living organism with living organisms
within it, which include therefore geology and biology).
The different natural kinds therefore correspond, so he thought, to the
basic accounts (mechanical, physical, and organic) that we are required
to give of nature. Hegel thus kept faith with the model of nature that
took comparative anatomy as its paradigm of scienti¬c authority (which
sees all the natural forms as having a function in the natural order, even
if they were not created for this end) and acknowledges the empirical
evidence of transitional forms and all the messiness involved in claiming
that such-and-such were the natural kinds of the world. This had two

 “Nature is to be regarded as a system of stages (Stufen), one proceeding necessarily from the
other and being the resulting truth of the stage from which it results; but not so that one naturally
generates the other but that it is generated in the inner Idea constituting the ground of nature,”
Enzyklop¨ die, § .
µ Ibid., § µ, Zusatz.
· Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
implications for Hegel™s Naturphilosophie. First, just as Cuvier had broken
with the eighteenth-century habit of arranging species in a linear fashion
from simplest to most complex (that is, to man) and had argued instead
for a more rational, non-linear ordering, Hegel also rejected any kind
of linear ordering in Naturphilosophie as lacking in explanatory value: in
his words: “to seek to arrange in serial form the planets, the metals or
chemical substances in general, plants and animals, and then ascertain
the law of the series is a fruitless task, because nature does not arrange its
shapes in such series and segments . . . The concept differentiates things
according to qualitative determinateness, and to that extent advances by
leaps.” Second, nature is a realm of contingency and does not comport
itself to satisfy human desires for clear units of classi¬cation; as Hegel puts
it, nature “everywhere blurs the essential limits of species and genera by
intermediate and defective forms, which continually furnish counter ex-
amples to every ¬xed distinction.”· Acknowledging nature™s contingency
as part of the Idea of nature only underlines that we cannot logically, a
priori, determine in advance all that we will empirically encounter in
nature; nature as a contingent series of events does not proceed entirely
on the lines of what we conceptually require for our own accounts of
it. Nonetheless, the very existence of transitional forms, he insists, de-
pends on our having clearly ¬xed the natural kinds in advance, and “this
type cannot be furnished by experience, for it is experience which also
makes these so-called monstrosities, deformities, intermediate products,
etc. available to us. Instead, the ¬xed type presupposes the independence
and dignity of conceptual determination.”
Indeed, the whole notion of seeing something as a deformity already
brings into play “our” (Geist™s) interests in making such classi¬cations.
From nature™s standpoint, there can be no such thing as a deformity, and
this simply reveals, as Hegel metaphorically likes to put it, the “impotence
of nature” when it comes to getting straight on what counts and what
does not count for us (for Geist). Nonetheless, in giving an a priori, re-
constructive account of nature, we are bringing out into greater clarity
the basic natural kinds to be found within nature, even if nature itself
refuses to be logical and hold itself to those kinds it has produced. Natural
science may give causal explanations of nature; Naturphilosophie expresses
the necessary classi¬cations involved in the Idea of nature.
Ultimately, this kind of classi¬catory emphasis doomed Hegel™s
Naturphilosophie to early obsolescence. His overall view depended on his

 Ibid., §, Zusatz. [Hegel™s Philosophy of Nature (trans. A. V. Miller) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±·°).]
·  Ibid.
Enzyklop¨ die, §µ°.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
seeing the natural kinds as ¬xed and determinate, and the so-called
transition forms as not being transitional forms at all but only “deformi-
ties” in nature, representatives of a kind of falling away from the rational
paradigm. The publication in ±µ of Darwin™s Origin of the Species (twenty-
one years after Hegel™s death) effectively marked the end of that line
of thought, just as it ¬nished off the “evolutionist” theories advanced
by Lamarck. Hegel™s own denial of Lamarckian evolution (shared by
Cuvier) in effect predetermined the obsolescence of much of his overall
concept of nature. Hegel insisted that Naturphilosophie had to be consistent
with the ¬ndings of natural science; ironically, Darwin™s own “Aufhebung”
of both Cuvier™s and Lamarck™s views ensured that much of Hegel™s
Naturphilosophie had to be rejected as out of step with what in Hegel™s own
terms counted as a criterion of its success.
Besides its emphasis on the ¬xity of natural kinds, much else in Hegel™s
Naturphilosophie is also quite idiosyncratic. He had, for example, a partic-
ular animus to Newton, partly because he thought that the mechanical
view of the world presented in Newton™s theory was not itself exhaustive
of nature. However, that does not explain his entire dislike of Newton
since, if that had been all that was at stake, he could have just endorsed
Newtonian mechanics, then gone on to argue that the mechanical ac-
count did not exhaust the types of accounts we must give of the whole
world (including both nature and ourselves as agents in that world).
Instead, he defended Goethe™s quirky although interesting theory of
color against Newton™s theory of light, and he took issue with many
details of the mathematics at work in Newton™s theory (not with much
However, abstracting a bit from Hegel™s own quirkiness, there were
other issues at stake in his criticisms of Newton having to do with the
whole thrust of post-Kantian (or, in this case, Kantian per se) thought. In
his ¬rst Critique, Kant claimed to have shown that the truth of Newton™s
theory is dependent on the a priori laws of nature, such as those of attrac-
tion and repulsion (and even conservation of matter and inertia), which
themselves, so Kant had argued, are dependent on the a priori status
of the categories of substance and causality, and thus presuppose Kant™s
own critical, transcendental idealism. Hegel™s dispute with Kant on those
points had to do mostly with his more general argument about the in-
separability of concepts and intuitions, not with Kant™s interpretation of
Newtonianism. Kant had argued that, since logic (that is, thought) could
not adequately express the mathematical in¬nite, in¬nite space had to
be a form of pure intuition, not a concept; to grasp the in¬nity of space,
we must have an intuition of its unboundedness “ we must, that is, be
· Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
able to “see” that we can always extend a line segment a bit more or
cut it up in¬nitely into progressively smaller segments. But, since these
“intuitions” play no normative role until they are synthesized by con-
cepts, the mathematical propositions cannot have any truth until they
are constructed in thought, that is, submitted to iterative procedures.
Hegel argued that the calculus, as formulated by the mathematician,
Joseph-Louis Lagrange, in fact gives us a perfectly conceptual formula-
tion of the mathematical in¬nite in such constructive terms; Lagrange in
effect showed that we need postulate nothing more to the notion of the
quantitative in¬nite other than what is expressed in the formulas of the
integral and differential calculus, and that it is only in these constructions
that we truly grasp the mathematical in¬nite (and therefore truly grasp
time and space).
In Hegel™s view, Kant had put too much weight on the independence
of intuitions from conceptual determination, but had Kant realized the
force of his own arguments in the “Transcendental Deduction,” he would
have realized that, on his own terms, both concepts and intuitions are
only “moments” of the space of reasons, and that the laws of mathe-
matics are therefore as much logical as they are intuitive. It was not that
Hegel though that intuitive components of mathematics should be com-
pletely eliminated from any theory of mathematical notions. He even
says quite explicitly: “Time, like space, is a pure form of sense or intu-
ition, the non-sensuous sensuous.” What is crucial in the construction
of time and space, though, is the way such conceptual and intuitive
“moments” function together. As Hegel puts it: “The further require-
ment is that in intuition, space shall correspond to the thought of pure
self-externality . . . However remotely I place a star, I can go beyond it,
for the universe is nowhere nailed up with boards. This is the complete
externality of space.”±° Thus, in agreement with Kant, Hegel rejected
the Newtonian conception of absolute space, arguing that the in¬nity of
space is ideal, but, in disagreement with Kant, Hegel held that this did
not require us to accept pure intuitions as uninformed by conceptual-
ity, and therefore did not require us to accept Kant™s unfortunate doc-
trine of the transcendental ideality of space and the dualistic distinction
between things-in-themselves and appearances. In effect, Hegel-contra-
Newton was endorsing Kant-(as absorbed and “aufgehoben” in Hegel™s
own system)-contra-Newton. Hegel™s major dispute with Kant in the
debate about Newton had to do with the status of mathematics; Hegel

 ±°
Ibid., §µ, Anmerkung. Ibid., §µ, Zusatz.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
thought it was part of logic, and therefore ultimately guided by non-
mathematical Ideas of reason; Kant did not. Had Hegel left it at that, his
criticisms of the Newtonians might have been taken more seriously; but
Hegel wanted to show that Newton was wrong on many other counts
(such as optics), and he was much less successful at that.
Hegel™s own treatment of light, heat, magnetism, geology, and biology
took in the more Romantic aspects of the day, which also ¬t his overall
scheme for showing how our accounts of nature require ultimately a
move to Geist, to the space of reasons in which scienti¬c practice has its
place. Along the way, he dawdled on many details of those sciences of
his day, patterning himself perhaps after Aristotle in lingering so long on
the odd contingencies of nature.±± All in all, however, he seems to have
placed his bets on almost all the wrong tendencies in the sciences; as a
voracious reader and interpreter of the scienti¬c literature of his time,
Hegel cut an impressive ¬gure, but, as a prognosticator of what would
carry the day and what would fade from the scene, he did not fare so
well. Indeed, it might be argued that his penchant for the ¬‚orid detail
and the more Romantic embellishment “ to take but one example: “Just
as springs are the lungs and secretory glands for the earth™s process of
evaporation, so are volcanoes the earth™s liver, in that they represent the
earth™s spontaneous generation of heat within itself ”± “ only helped to
make his own general, post-Kantian re¬‚ections on the philosophy of
nature seem all the more tied to the scienti¬c Romanticism in which he
both participated and of which he was, curiously, also a harsh critic.

 ®° ¦ G E I S T
The passage from the second part of the “system” (Naturphilosophie) to the
“third” part (Geistesphilosophie, the philosophy of mind) brought Hegel
to his true concern, which is indicated in part by the way in which
his entire rhetoric about nature shifts within those sections. The real
teleology at work in Hegel™s system thus becomes all the more obvious:
±± I have given a cursory overview of Hegel™s Naturphilosophie in Hegel: A Biography, ch. ±. The most
detailed treatment of Hegel™s Naturphilosophie as a whole is to be found in Bonsiepen, Die Begr¨ ndung u
einer Naturphilosophie bei Kant, Schelling, Fries und Hegel. See also Rolf-Peter Horstmann and Michael
J. Petry (eds.), Hegels Philosophie der Natur: Beziehungen zwischen empirischer und spekulativer Naturerkenntnis
(Stuttgart: Ernst Klett, ±); Michael J. Petry (ed.), Hegel and Newtonianism (Dordrecht: Kluwer
Academic Publishers, ±); Michael J. Petry (ed.), Hegel und die Naturwissenschaften (Stuttgart-
Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, ±·). Of great help in all the details is the translation
and commentary of Hegel™s Naturphilosophie by Michael Petry: Hegel™s Philosophy of Nature; edited
and translated with an introduction and explanatory notes (London: Allen & Unwin, ±·°).
± Enzyklop¨ die, §±, Zusatz.
· Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
we, as minded agents, are trying to accomplish something, and scienti¬c
practice must be understood in the context of whatever those aims are
and whatever role it plays in them. Hegel™s word for this aim is, quite
simply: freedom. (He thus stayed true to Schelling™s original youthful
proclamation: “The beginning and end of all philosophy is freedom!”± )
Natural science, by giving us a better understanding of nature, is a step on
the way to accomplishing what we are really after, a better understanding
of ourselves, and therefore a better understanding of ourselves as free
agents. What we understand by re¬‚ecting on the norms that are in play
and which must be brought into play is that the distinction between
“nature” and “spirit” is itself posited by “spirit,” that is, is essentially a
normative and not a metaphysical distinction, a social achievement about
what is appropriate and not appropriate to do with respect to “purely”
natural creatures and the “minded” creatures we are.
Indeed, it is this emphasis on freedom that brings out what was really at
stake in Hegel™s Naturphilosophie and his relation to Kant and post-Kantian
philosophy, since it brings out just how much Hegel was indebted to
Kant and just how fundamental were some of the breaks he made with
Kantianism. In particular, the Naturphilosophie and the Geistesphilosophie
are both linked and motivated by Hegel™s rejection of what he contin-
ued to see as Kant™s various dualisms “ between concept and intuition,
phenomenal nature and transcendental freedom, inclination and duty,
and so forth “ which themselves were undermined, so Hegel argued, by
Kant™s own arguments and which, if taken seriously, pushed Kantianism
in the direction of Hegel™s own theory. To see how this goes, it is nec-
essary to review Hegel™s discontent with Kant™s philosophy of nature
and how it led him to his own post-Kantian conception of our social
On Hegel™s view, Kant™s philosophy of nature was dictated by Kant™s
own, various dualisms; and Kant™s theory of freedom was dictated by
what he saw as the impossibility of directly reconciling freedom with
nature (a theme that had featured prominently in many of the post-
Kantian systems). As Kant saw it, the only way to reconcile freedom
with nature was to posit a special realm of noumenal, transcendental
freedom that somehow escaped the causal laws of the natural world.
Various other post-Kantians, on the other hand, had taken up Kant™s
rather obscure suggestion that (perhaps in aesthetic experience) we ac-
quire an inkling of the “indeterminate concept of the supersensible

± Schelling, Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie, p. ·; “Of the I,” p. .
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
substrate of appearances,” of that which is “neither nature nor freedom
and yet is linked with the basis of freedom, the supersensible” and had
sought (under the inspiration of Spinozism) to ¬nd or intuit some kind
of monist “substance” (or something like that) that would serve as such a
Hegel attempted a third way out of the post-Kantian dilemma by gen-
eralizing the “Kantian paradox” into a thesis about normative authority
in general. Hegel™s own obscure and quasi-paradoxical way of speaking,
as we have seen, stemmed in part from his attempt to formulate the
right language in which to express the “Kantian paradox” in a way that
brought out its features and did not underplay what, in fact, seemed to
be paradoxical about it. One of the catch phrases he adopted to mark out
his own distinctive post-Kantian position was not to speak of nature and
mind (Geist) as two worlds or two realms that had to be divided into the
empirical and the transcendental. Instead, Geist (or, put in the more ab-
stract terms of the Logic, the Idea) is subject only to those reasons of which
it can regard itself as the author; thus “ to combine the terminology of
the Logic with that of the Phenomenology, with its dynamic of recognition
and the working through of dialectics of mastery and servitude “ spirit,
Geist, must be taken as the “other of itself.” Even stating succinctly what
is involved in such a conception brings out the bewildering complexity
Hegel was trying to formulate: each agent within a way of life (of Geist)
must see himself as being held by the others of that way of life to certain
“laws” (of which those others are to be regarded as the authors), and
each must also regard himself as the author of those same laws to which
he “subjects” the others; and each must regard himself as the author
of those laws to which he subjects himself. Put even more succinctly: in
situations of mutual recognition, each of us would be, as it were, both
master and servant to the other.
In that light, he opened the beginning paragraph on the section on
Geist in his Encyclopedia with the following: “For us, spirit has nature as its
presupposition, and it is thereby its truth and its absolute antecedent.”±µ The
opposition between nature and spirit, that is, was normative, a matter of
the truth (in Hegel™s sense), of the norms that must be brought into play in
order to reconcile what would otherwise be untenable oppositions “ it
is thus a normative issue, not a matter of metaphysics in the sense that
it is de¬nitively not a matter of whether nature is extended matter and
spirit is non-extended mental substance. Or, as we have already put it,

± ±µ
Critique of Judgment, §§µ·, µ. Enzyklop¨ die, §±.
· Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
the distinction between nature and spirit is itself a “spiritual,” that is,
normative distinction “posited” by spirit itself.±
Hegel™s goal, therefore, was to produce a conception of “mindedness”
that was non-naturalistic (it was not to be adequately characterized in
the terms appropriate to naturalistic explanation) and also avoided com-
mitting itself to any kind of dualism (of, for example, mind and matter),
while at the same time avoiding the more typical post-Kantian urge to
search for some unitary substance of which both mind and matter were
supposed to be mere appearances.
The key conception allowing Hegel to carry off that particular way of
taking the post-Kantian turn had to do therefore with his conception of
spirit, Geist, “mindedness” as normative, as essentially assuming certain
responsibilities in a social space “ of undertaking commitments, attribut-
ing entitlements, and negotiating, as it were, the entire set of normative
responses to all those related activities “ and of then arguing that it was the
impossibility of a naturalistic account of normativity that distinguished
Geist from nature, not Geist™s being any kind of metaphysical substance.
Hegel himself realized how dif¬cult it was even to articulate such a
position. It is simply much easier, especially given our own traditions of
thought and given the ease with which we assume a kind of “sideways on,”
“re¬‚ective” standpoint on things to hold (as Descartes and legions after
him did) that the perceived tension, if not contradiction, between mind
and nature must be resolved by reducing everything to nature (to matter)
or, conversely, by reducing everything to mental stuff. The former route,
Hegel notes, is “naturalism,” according to which “matter is what is true,
spirit is its product . . . spirit as something super¬cial, temporary.”±· The
other standpoint, which holds, as Hegel puts it, that “spirit is what is
independent, true, that nature is only an appearance of spirit, not in and
for itself, not truly real,” is a view which Hegel derogatorily describes as
“spiritualism,” noting it would be “utter foolishness to deny its [nature™s]
reality.”± The notion that nature is constructed by Geist in the sense of
± As Hegel puts it in his lectures on aesthetics: “We have therefore to conceive nature as itself
bearing the absolute Idea within itself, but nature is the Idea in the form of having been posited
by absolute spirit as the opposite of spirit. In this sense we call nature a creation. But its truth
therefore is that which is itself positing (das Setzende), spirit as ideality and negativity,” G. W. F.
Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art (trans. T. M. Knox) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±·µ), p. ;
HeW, ©©©, p. ±.
±· G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie des Geistes. Berlin ±·/±. Nachgeschrieben von
Johann Eduard Erdmann und Ferdinand Walter (eds. Franz Hespe and Burkhard Tuschling) (Hamburg:
Felix Meiner, ±), p. ±·.
± Ibid., p. ±·. In calling it “spiritualism,” Hegel uses the term, Spiritualismus, and not any term
having “Geist ” as its component.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
being constructed by individual agents or groups of them (by “us in our
free choice”) amounts de facto to no more than “faith in miracles,” and,
so he notes (trying to make his own alternative as clear as he could), if
we had to choose between a naturalistic account and an account that
denied the reality of nature, then “in order to avoid those miracles, this
wildness, the dissolution of the peaceful course of natural law, we would
rather be left with materialism or inconsistent dualism.”±
The distinction between “mindedness” and nature is itself something
“posited,” that is, normative, not a metaphysical fact about ourselves that
we discover; it is something more like a historical achievement, a way
we have come to regard ourselves, rather than a “feature” of ourselves
that was always there. As Hegel struggles to express this in so many
different ways, Geist is said to “give itself actuality,” to be “meaning
itself and thereby also that which is interpreting itself,”° to be “its own
product, its own end, its own beginning.”± Such a view is inherent in
the “Kantian paradox,” and Hegel even admits that it sounds like a
“riddle,” even a “contradiction” to say that Geist “is its determination
to make itself into that which it is in itself.” However, this normative
conception of “mindedness” is, he argues, the “truth” to which we have
been historically pushed by virtue of the failure of other conceptions
(or so goes the argument of the Phenomenology), and it is the “truth” to
which we have been logically pushed when confronting the failure of
a substantialist, monist metaphysics to explain why its explanations are
normatively binding on us (or so goes the argument of the Logic).
Such a normative conception of “mindedness” had, of course, al-
ready been worked out in one direction in Hegel™s own Phenomenology.
As “minded,” normative creatures we are, to use Charles Taylor™s term,
self-interpreting animals, not minds with bodies. The nature of “mind-
edness” had to do with how we took ourselves to be, with the kinds of
norms and reasons that we took to be authoritative for ourselves “ that
is, what was determinate for us was what ultimately mattered to us, was
normative for us “ ultimately, what norms would satisfy our deepest in-
terests and turn out to be those to which we could bind ourselves without
± Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie des Geistes. Berlin ±·/±, p. ±.
° Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, p. ·; HeW, ©, p. ± ( . . . das sich selbst Bedeutende und damit
auch sich selber Deutende. Dies ist das Geistige, welches uberhaupt sich selbst zum Gegenstande
seiner macht).
± G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction: Reason in History (trans. H. B.
Nisbet) (Cambridge University Press, ±·µ), p. ; Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte:
Band I: Die Vernunft in der Geschichte (ed. Johannes Hoffmeister) (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, ±),
p. µµ.
 Hegel, Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie des Geistes. Berlin ±·/±, p. ·.
° Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
their ultimately turning out to be only expressions of individual power
or interest instead of reasons that were truly universal, that could sus-
tain themselves in the practice of giving and asking for reasons. The
upshot is that, in light of such considerations, “we moderns” must think
of ourselves as fundamentally historical, self-interpreting beings, whose
destiny is entirely in their own hands (even if not in their own control).
Our “destiny,” our “determinateness” “ Hegel likes to play on the dual
senses of the German term, Bestimmung “ is therefore to be free, to be
collectively self-determining, which, in turn, means for us that we must
recognize that we always begin somewhere in time with laws that have
already been imposed on us by our traditions, our past, and our own
determinate way of life, and that we have no real alternative but to take
responsibility for those laws, all the while realizing that they are fragile
and in need of redemption through reason, and that, when they cannot
be rationally redeemed, they must give way. Only this mixture of ac-
knowledgement of our own situatedness and contingency together with
the recognition of the necessity to redeem our norms through reason al-
lows us to live with the “Kantian paradox,” so Hegel thought, and only a
“speculative philosophy” that “grasps the unity of that which is differen-
tiated” (such as, paradigmatically, the way in which the “subjective” and
the “objective™™ both make their appearance together as moments of the
space of reasons, the Idea) is capable of making that complex thought
intelligible to us.

For Hegel, Geist, our mindedness, is to be understood neither reductively,
dualistically, nor even emergently (as if it just emerged out of our natural
powers as some kind of actualization of a latent metaphysical potentiality,
a position that resembles Schelling™s view). “Mindedness” is to be under-
stood normatively and therefore as a kind of practical achievement of
some sort, not as a metaphysical property that we have and that others
(for example, animals) fail to have. That is, it is something that involves
our being the kind of animals we are in our learning by virtue of our
socialization to be both responsive to reasons and to hold ourselves and
others to such reasons. Indeed, Hegel is willing to ascribe a large variety
of subjectivity and mentality to animals. Animals, he says, have “souls”
(perhaps “psyches” would be a more up-to-date rendering of his term,
“Seele”), indeed, they even have subjectivity of a sort, but “mindedness is
thought in general, and the person distinguishes himself from the animal
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
by thought” “ a position which is all the more remarkable since the more
traditional distinction between people and animals had to do with the
possession of souls. All organisms display a certain level of self-direction
in that they can be described as seeking their own good in the terms in
which they register it. (Mechanical and chemical systems, on the other
hand, have no good to seek, even if they can display a high level of spon-
taneous organization.) Humans, too, seek their own good as organisms,
but the nature of their good changes as they become the self-interpreting
animals that can be described as being not merely organisms but also
agents. Thus, as Hegel tries to argue in that portion of his system called
the philosophy of “subjective spirit,” the child becomes “minded” only
by learning a language, that is, only by being initiated into the space of
reasons and learning thereby to participate in the practice of giving and
asking for reasons (demanding the “universal,” as Hegel usually calls it).
This presupposes a certain set of natural powers and even natural desires
to emulate the adults around him, a kind of training and socialization,
but it does not make reference to any kind of metaphysical capacity.
This view of “mindedness” as a kind of social achievement thus leads
Hegel to rethink what had been one of the key concerns of post-Kantian
philosophy up until then, namely, the problem Kant himself had set in
all of his Critiques, that of the relation between nature and freedom. So
many post-Kantians had been inspired by Kant™s own suggestion in the
third Critique that the solution lay in articulating a grasp of that which
was (in Kant™s words) “neither nature nor freedom and yet is linked
with the basis of freedom, the supersensible” as the basis for the kind of
transcendental freedom Kant had concluded was necessary if any sense
of freedom was to be maintained. Although Hegel was to maintain the
sharp distinction between nature and freedom, he redescribed it as a
normative, and not a metaphysical, distinction, and therefore he was led
to describe freedom as a normative and not a metaphysical issue. The
distinction between nature and freedom was the distinction between
what was responsive to reasons and what was not, and the key to that was
a normative distinction about what it meant to hold any entity responsible
to a set of reasons. (Thus, he held the common-sense view that the
passage from childhood to adulthood was a gradual affair, not anything
involving some magical moment when the capacity to act according to
the unconditionally free will kicked in.)
 For the remark on animals and souls, see ibid., p. °; G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of
Right (ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet) (Cambridge University Press, ±±), § Zusatz.
 See Enzyklop¨ die, §·, Zusatz.
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
Or, to put it another way, in shifting the post-Kantian program away
from seeking the “indeterminate substrate” of both nature and freedom,
he also shifted it away from seeing the threat to freedom as lying in na-
ture™s causality (thus prompting the search for a causal power of freedom
that was independent of natural causality) and toward a kind of self-
relation as mediated by others. To be free, that is, should be seen as the
ability not to pull some kind of metaphysical lever that somehow escapes
natural causality, but to assume a certain stance toward oneself, toward
others, and toward the world. The key element in becoming an agent
is to be able to respond appropriately to reasons, to the “universal,” by
responding to them not in a mechanical way, but in a normative way
that consists in great measure in making and drawing inferences, both
theoretical and practical “ that is, to assume a stance that understands
itself as a stance.
Being an agent, that is, is more like having a normative status, not a
matter of having a metaphysical power. (It is more, that is, like being the
citizen of a legitimate state than it is like being in the possession of a natu-
ral or metaphysical power.) The key notion in this status is something like
that of responsibility, of having one™s actions be imputable to oneself. For
Kant, as for many people after Augustine, to have the status of responsi-
bility for one™s actions meant that one could always have done otherwise,
and, in the face of the disenchanted post-Newtonian concept of nature,
that seemed to require some kind of special metaphysical power that was
somehow exempt from the constraints of natural causality. Hegel™s own
proposal, though, after having rejected Kant™s own various dualisms as
incompatible with Kant™s own thought, was to argue for a “compati-
bilist” conception of freedom.µ Indeed, Hegel™s own thoughts are in the
direction of mating a compatibilist, Aristotelian conception of freedom
with his own post-Kantian, normative approach to things “ he even says
that “the books of Aristotle on the soul, along with his treatises on its
special aspects and states, are for this reason still by far the most ad-
mirable, perhaps even the sole work of speculative value on this topic.
The essential goal of a philosophy of mind can only be to reintroduce
µ The pioneering work on Hegel™s compatibilist conception of freedom is Pippin, “Naturalness
and Mindedness: Hegel™s Compatibilism”; see also Pippin™s more recent treatment of those same
issues in Pippin, “The Actualization of Freedom.” Many of the same themes are handled by
Pippin in a different context in Robert Pippin, Henry James and Modern Moral Life (Cambridge
University Press, °°°). The pathbreaking book in arguing for Hegel™s general compatibilistic
strategy in regard to the philosophy of mind is Michael Wolff, Das K¨rper-Seele Problem: Kommentar
zu Hegel, Enzyklop¨ die (±°), § (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, ±).
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
the concept into the knowledge of mind and so reinterpret the meaning
of those Aristotelian books.”
To be free is thus involved with having a status ascribed to oneself as
responsible, and that ascription is inherently social, not something that
the individual can do as a single agent. The resolution of the “Kantian
paradox” in the Phenomenology forms the model and basis for Hegel™s
conception of freedom: to be free is to stand in the relation of being
both “master” and “slave” to another agent (who also stands in that
same relation to oneself ), for each to be both author of the law and
subject to the law. Hegel generally characterizes this status as a mode
of “being in one™s own sphere” (of being bei sich selbst, as he likes to
put it ).· One is self-determining when one is capable of taking a stance
toward one™s actions, thoughts, and so forth as issuing from oneself,
being “one™s own,” such that one is not dependent on an “other.” What
counts, however, as an “other” is itself a normative, and therefore a
developmental, matter. One might think that submitting oneself to the
“law of the heart” (to take a well-known example from the Phenomenology)
would make one free; but that “law” turns out to be something much
less than a law and to be instead something not redeemable by reasons
(since it is so idiosyncratic) and therefore not to be issuing from oneself.
The agent who determines his acts in accord with the norm, “law of the
heart,” turns out, that is, to be acting not on something coming from
himself; instead, he is being pushed around by something outside of “his
own sphere.”
Freedom, in this sense, involves being able to have responsibility for
something legitimately attributed to oneself, which depends on whether
it is rational “ or, to put it in slightly non-Hegelian language, whether it is
fair “ to hold one to those responsibilities; and that question is more like
asking whether one has mastered the skills and developed oneself to the
point that one has achieved a certain normative status (such as being a
professional of some sort) than it is like asking whether one has a certain
metaphysical power (such as transcendental freedom). Since whether
something is rational is itself also a normative matter (and therefore also
historical and social in its shape), such attributions of responsibility have
an inescapably developmental component to them, which allows for var-
ious sets of excusing and exempting conditions (as when one exempts
 Enzyklop¨ die, §·.
· For a good discussion of Hegel™s various uses of “bei sich” with regard to his theory of freedom,
see Allen Wood, Hegel™s Ethical Thought (Cambridge University Press, ±°), pp. µ“.
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
children from certain attributions of responsibility because of beliefs
about their developmental status, just as one might exempt them from
demands to become engineers by age eight). Hegel makes the point very
clear in his lectures on the philosophy of art and philosophy of history that
he considers such attributions to have a deeply historical component to
them, always drawing a strong contrast between the way in which, for ex-
ample, Greek characters (especially in literary works) accept attributions
of responsibility and the ways that we moderns make such attributions.
(Oedipus famously accepts full responsibility for doing things that in a
modern understanding he could neither have intended nor known about
and would therefore have had, at best, only attenuated responsibility
for. ) Consequently, Hegel says things like, “actual freedom is not there-
fore something immediately existent in mindedness, but is something
to be produced by mind™s own activity. It is thus as the producer of its
freedom that we have to consider mindedness in philosophy.” An agent
(a “subject”) is fundamentally an organism standing in a social space; to
be an agent is to be a locus of a set of responsibilities (epistemic, moral,
social, aesthetic, even religious).
For Hegel, the practical and philosophical issue having to do with
freedom is therefore that of determining when it is rational and fair to
hold myself to, to be held by others to, and to hold others to certain
responsibilities in particular and to other norms in general, and that
cannot be determined outside of a historical and social consideration
of what kinds of collective attempts at establishing the norms for such
attributions have proved to be successful or to be partial failures. What
norms are actually in play in attributing responsibility (and therefore
freedom) depend on the history of what has been taken to be in play. The
crucial consideration, therefore, Hegel concluded, is what it takes to
actualize, or realize, this kind of freedom “ what kinds of developments
are necessary in order to make it fair to say that we are free or not free
in what kinds of circumstances.
This is, of course, the “Kantian paradox” formulated in another way:
we must ask under what kinds of developmental and social conditions
 Hegel™s point can also be illustrated by the distinction in modern American tort law between
liability based on negligence and strict liability “ the latter involves the manufacture of defective
products or involvement in abnormally dangerous activities in which responsibility (liability)
is attributed independently of one™s intentions, the care one took, whether one could have
reasonably foreseen the consequences, and so forth, the idea being (rightly or wrongly) that it is
fair to hold corporations to such liability in those speci¬c kinds of situations.
 Enzyklop¨ die, §, Zusatz.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
we can be said to be the authors of the law to which we are subject.° As
part of a developmental story, we begin with a conception of ourselves as
unfree, as provoked by something “other” than ourselves. The “natural”
status of humans as infants “provokes” them, instills a “striving” in them
to overcome or integrate this status of “unfreedom,” of not really being
“one of us” “ as he says, “the main thing is the awakening feeling in
[children] that as yet they are not what they ought to be, and the active
desire to become like the adults in whose surroundings they are living.”±
Thus, in one of Hegel™s many reformulations of the “Kantian paradox,”
he says: “The person ought to bring himself forth, but he can make
himself into nothing other, can have no other purpose than what he, in
himself, originally is. That which he is in himself is what we call predis-
position. The nature of spirit is to produce what it is. So it is its destiny
to make itself into that which it is in itself.”
Realizing one™s freedom is thus bound up with the social conditions
under which one exercises freedom; if freedom consists in a kind of
social, self-conscious responsiveness to norms (that is, in responding to
them not mechanically but in terms of how one self-consciously takes
them, which, in turn, consists not in the mental grasping of a content
but in the appropriate “carrying on” in a norm-governed fashion), then
for them to count as coming from “me” “ to be my own reasons, re¬‚ective
of “me” “ the institutions and practices under which I am both formed
and form myself must themselves be seen to be such that I can identify
with them and understand the demands they impose not as external to
me but as internal to the very development that makes me who I am, all
of which is, of course, another way of stating that I cannot understand
who I am outside of my own past and my involvement with others. (Hegel
is not a narcissist who thinks that only if something “matters to me” in
some narrow sense can it have any motivational pull on me.) That is, the
institutions and practices must themselves be rational in that the norms
that are constitutive of them are themselves redeemable; they must be
lived so that they are not merely the expressions of interest and power
(not merely the norms an independent “master” authors) but norms that
° Hegel makes this notion of “law” quite explicit in a number of places but particularly in his
lectures on the philosophy of “subjective spirit”; for example: “It is said that we assert freedom
as the fundamental essence of mindedness, freedom from and in what is natural, which however
must be grasped not as arbitrary choice but as lawful freedom,” G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen uber¨
die Philosophie des Geistes. Berlin ±·/±, p. ±.
± Enzyklop¨ die, §, Zusatz.
 G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen uber die Philosophie des Geistes. Berlin ±·/±, pp. “·.
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
each of us can see ourselves as subject to precisely because we can regard
ourselves as authors of them. That involves taking a stance toward our
own desires, and, as Aristotle already noted, our lives as a whole. We
must have some grasp of which desires are “our own,” and which are
coming at us because of some unintelligible natural capacity or some
manipulation by others.

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In setting up a post-Kantian notion of freedom in that way, Hegel hoped
to preserve the core of Kant™s moral philosophy without ascribing to
what Kant thought was essential to it, namely, a metaphysical doctrine of
transcendental freedom and (what was for Hegel) a disturbing separation
of duty and ordinary life. Hegel™s ±° Philosophy of Right was his attempt
to rethink the Kantian program in moral and political philosophy in
terms of his post-Kantian, social and developmental approach to the
same problems. The book was criticized both during and after Hegel™s
lifetime as an “apology” for Prussian absolutism, even as a kind of odd
metaphysical justi¬cation of the most reactionary kind of politics, and it
was insinuated that Hegel changed some of his youthful, more republican
ideals in order to please the Prussian authorities. However, the idea
that the book represents Hegel™s slavishly bending his knee to Prussian
authority is undermined by the fact that the entire scheme for the book
was fairly well settled long before Hegel arrived in Prussia in ±± (in fact,
the fundamental outlines of the system were given as lectures in Jena in
±° and as Gymnasium courses in Nuremberg between ±° and ±±,
and the virtually completed system was given as lectures in Heidelberg
in ±±·“±±).
Although the idea that Hegel™s book is a statement of the most re-
actionary elements of Prussian politics has long since been rejected,
the idea that it is nonetheless a self-conscious statement of Prussian
“conservatism” has nonetheless held its own. Indeed, the book™s struc-
ture suggests a kind of conservative reading, since it at ¬rst looks like a
kind of analysis of the dominant moral and political thought of the day
(resembling in that respect the way in which the Logic is a kind of analysis
of the concepts of “mind and world”), and no mere analysis of dominant
modes of moral thought is going to challenge those modes “ at best, it can
only show how to make them more coherent (or, at worst, point out their
 For an account of the non-reactionary character of Hegel™s political thought, see Pinkard, Hegel:
A Biography; Wood, Hegel™s Ethical Thought.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
deep incoherence). The analogy with the Logic, however, is misleading:
the Philosophy of Right culminates in a philosophy of world history, an at-
tempt to show that what is really normatively in play in all its “analyses” is
a deeply historicized understanding of the status of European modernity.
In fact, the book is an attempt on Hegel™s part to articulate the ratio-
nal form of the kind of reformed, modern European state that people
like Baron von Stein, and then, later, Prince von Hardenberg, had tried
to establish in Prussia after Prussia™s near collapse under the weight of
the Napoleonic wars and subsequent reorganization of Germany. The
book is, therefore, more of an account of what is normatively in play
in the modern European world dedicated to the realization of freedom,
and an account of what would be necessary to realize freedom in that
world, of how Geist might “give itself actuality.”
Consequently, the book™s aim is, as Hegel says, to show how “the
system of right is the realm of actualized freedom, the world of mind
produced from within itself as a second nature.”µ As organisms, agents
seek their own good as they register it; but agents are organisms who
self-consciously take their good to be such and such, and such “takings”
are always subject to revision. Indeed, agents, as normative creatures,
are never simply this or that; they are always self-interpreting, and the
conditions of their self-interpretation are always social and thus always
escape the control of individuals. For such agents, learning to take their
lives in a certain way and direct them is an achievement, not an exercise
of any natural power (except in the trivial sense of requiring certain types
of brains and nervous systems to do that). More concretely put: for agents
to be free, they must be able to practically reason about their activities,
and that requires that they have some conception of some “good” that
they are seeking to actualize. All genuine practical reasoning, Hegel
wished to argue, has as its major premise some statement about what is
ultimately good and best, and, when an individual acts rationally, he acts

 See Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography for more detail on this.
µ Elements of the Philosophy of Right, §. This view of Hegel™s philosophy as an “actualization of
freedom” and neither as a reactionary political tract nor as a “communitarian” account of how
our actual practices go, nor as a kind of neo-Platonist account of the metaphysics of Geist as
gradually realizing itself in history, has been articulated in a number of places. Besides my own
attempts at this in Hegel™s Phenomenology and Hegel: A Biography, there have been Wood, Hegel™s Ethical
Thought; Neuhouser™s important work, Foundations of Hegel™s Social Theory; and Pippin™s crucially
important work, Idealism as Modernism. A more traditionally metaphysical reading of Hegel, that
argues for a more orthodox Christian interpretation of his work, but which nonetheless also
stresses the theme of what it would mean to “actualize” freedom in a set of institutions, is offered
by Stephen Houlgate, Freedom, Truth and History: An Introduction to Hegel™s Philosophy (London:
Routledge, ±±).
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
on the basis of some (again, perhaps sometimes implicit) deliberation
about what is necessary for him to achieve what is good and best for
himself. Thus, what at ¬rst seems like perhaps only a way in which human
organisms go about satisfying natural needs (for food, companionship,
reproduction, and the like) comes to be understood as integrated into
a cultural and social setting which gives them a meaning that as natural
events they could not have, but which, institutionalized as custom, habit,
moral disposition, and legal regime, form a way in which we seek that
good quasi-naturally, without there being the need to “re¬‚ect” on what
we are doing all the time, while at the same time creating a space for such
potentially alienating re¬‚ection to occur without thereby undermining
the whole.
For “us moderns,” that good must be that of “freedom,” but, stated so
abstractly, it would offer little guidance for deliberation on what would
be required to achieve such “freedom.” To that end, Hegel argued, in the
modern world, the realization of freedom must be articulated into three
more determinate spheres, which he characterized as “abstract right,”
“morality,” and “ethical life” (“Sittlichkeit”). Each of them embodies a way
in which institutions and practices underwrite and sustain the ways in
which our freedom is actualized in that each of them provides individuals
with more concrete, speci¬c ¬rst premises about “the good” (freedom)
on the basis of which they may then rationally deliberate what they are
required to do; and each of them gives a meaning to human action
that is “second-nature,” not derived from any conception of the role of
humans in the natural order or cosmos. Each of these “spheres of right”
forms Hegel™s complex attempt to resolve the “Kantian paradox.”
“Abstract right” is that sphere in which individuals are committed to
the mutual recognition of certain basic rights having to do with property,
exchange of property, and contracts. In a ¬nite world of limited means,
embodied agents require disposition over certain material elements for
them to be able to carry out any of their commitments at all. To the extent
that each of them is ultimately committed to realizing his own freedom,
he is practically required to extend such commitments to others, since
it is the recognition of the equal claims of others “ an equality won by
centuries of hard struggle and not a product of natural right “ that
leads to the commitment to mutual and abstract rights to property; it is
“abstract” in that the ¬rst premise of reasoning for these very modern
agents is taken to concern itself with their getting what they contingently
happen to want, within the context of a set of mutually recognized rights,
without specifying any more determinate norms for what they ought to
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
want (not even the norms that would arise from what is necessary to lead
a uni¬ed life over time).
Since human life and individual intelligence are ¬nite, there will always
be wrongs committed in the context of such a social “whole” based
on such “abstract” rights. Some wrongs arise from mistake, some from
ambiguity in the rights themselves, but some agents will simply refuse
to see (or be incapable of seeing) themselves as “one among many” and
will therefore ignore others™ rights in the pursuit of getting what they
want. To the extent that they are able to do that with impunity, the
entire structure of “right” is thereby threatened. To that end, some type
of “punishment” is required, some in¬‚iction on the offending party of an
equivalent harm to that which he visited on others; the function of such
punishment is to express the normative force of his actions if they were
to be applied to himself (that is, to express the notion that in principle
he should be deprived of the equivalent of that which he thought he had
a right to deprive others). If, however, the wrongdoer is to be punished
only for the sake of “restoring” right, then that itself requires that at least
some people be capable of speaking with the voice of “right” itself “
speaking with the voice of reasons redeemable by all agents who are
subjects of “abstract right” “ and that the offending party not simply be
used to satisfy somebody else™s desire (even for revenge).
The ability to put one™s own interests and inclinations aside and to
speak, and act, from the standpoint of “right” itself is itself not, however,
a matter of “abstract right,” but one of “moral disposition,” a feature
of character. “Morality,” the second sphere of the realization of right-
as-freedom, thus concerns itself with the general and unconditional
obligations that people have by virtue of their overall commitment to
freedom. Those are, quite roughly, Kantian in form: people have an
obligation to do the right thing (that is, to perform actions that are in ac-
cordance with reasons that could be shared by all) and to do it for the right
motivations (to do it because it is right, not because it satis¬es some other
impulse, desire, or social convention). Hegel famously argued, though,
that, on its own, this is a relatively empty good; it functions as the ¬rst
premise of a piece of practical reasoning, but it leaves us in the dark
as to what exactly is required by the conception of “reasons that could
be shared by all.” Moreover, the sheer contingency of determining con-
cretely what can actually count as an “unconditional moral obligation”
is made manifest in those conditions of extreme distress, as when (to cite
the same tired example that Hegel uses) a desperate, starving person
steals a loaf of bread to survive or to feed his family. In admitting that
° Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
this “right of distress” trumps property rights, we also thereby admit that
what counts as an “unconditional moral obligation” can itself be over-
ridden by more mundane concerns having to do with individual welfare.
For us to make sense of that, however, we must commit ourselves further,
as Kant saw, to a notion of a “highest good,” to bringing about in this
world a union of personal satisfaction and happiness, such that these
contingencies of right and welfare do not throw our schemes of moral
obligation into question (a position Hegel had already articulated in the
Phenomenology, that the moral ideal cannot mean that we spend every waking
moment in daily life obsessed with the thought of duty for duty™s sake,
but that instead we are supposed to strive to bring about a world in which
we do the right thing without constantly re¬‚ecting on whether it is “our
duty”). However, the “highest good” as the union of morality (or virtue)
and personal satisfaction is not the kind of thing that can itself be ex-
pressed in any set of moral rules, since there can be no rules for how the
“universal” (obligation) is applied to or combined with the “particular”
(individual satisfaction). Thus, the attempt to ¬nd a “master rule” for
morality, such as Kant™s “categorical imperative,” is bound to fail, even
if “morality,” very generally as Kant conceived it, is nonetheless itself
If we are to have any concrete ¬rst principles for moral reasoning,
therefore, we must grasp them not as speci¬cations of some “master rule”
but as elements of a social practice, ways in which we pre-re¬‚ectively learn
to orient and move ourselves around in the social world. Hegel called
this sphere, “ethical life,” Sittlichkeit. “Moral” individuals exercising their
“abstract rights” require a location in these kinds of social practices; these
“ethical” practices embody within themselves determinate conceptions
of what is “ultimately best,” namely, as the way in which individuals
exercise their rights, manage their moral obligations, and come to be
“at home” in the social world by virtue of acquiring a kind of “ethical
virtuosity” in being brought up and socialized in these practices. Sittlichkeit
thus provides us with determinate principles and a kind of practice-
oriented ethical “know-how.” Or, as expressed in Hegel™s more dialectical
terms, for the very modern, Kantian practice of morality to work at all,
other “ethical” and not merely “moral” norms had to be in play.
There are three such institutionalizations of Sittlichkeit in the modern
world, each serving to give individuals a concrete speci¬cation of this
ultimate good (the union of virtue and satisfaction) upon which they can
then rationally deliberate. These are the modern family, civil society,
and the constitutionalist state. Together they form a social “whole” in
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
terms of which individuals orient themselves and which reconciles them
to modern social life, and gives them good grounds for believing that
modern life really is, although imperfect and ¬nite, nonetheless for the
In Hegel™s view, in the modern, rather bourgeois family, founded on
the mutual free choice of the husband and wife, agents discover a good “
romantic love (that just this other person is the right one for me), and the
ideal of family life as a refuge from civil society “ that also speci¬es certain
obligations (such as: raising children to be free, independent adults; and
mutual respect in the marriage). The individuals in the family need to
feel these obligations not as imposed on them from outside of themselves
(such as by “mere” social convention), but to embody norms that serve
to sustain a full, mutual recognition without which freedom could not be
possible. Modern families give modern individuals a nonetheless common
project. (That Hegel™s version of the modern bourgeois family is patriar-
chal in a contemporary sense “ although it is certainly not patriarchal in
the earlier senses, since Hegel does not believe that wives and children
are property of the husband “ has long been a subject of criticism. )
Modern bourgeois families, though, as emotional and educational
refuges from the vicissitudes of life (and not as themselves economically
productive units as they had been in pre-modern Europe) cannot them-
selves function without other institutions and institutionally embodied
principles being normatively in play around them that both support such
families and, in one sense, even shelter them. This constitutes modern
“civil society” with its very modern market institutions, in which individ-
uals have a social space in which the pursuit of their own, private interests
(as in “abstract right”) is allowed full play as something legitimate on its
own. However, what makes such civil society “ethical,” sittlich “ what
makes it a common enterprise “ is, ¬rst of all, the way in which the struc-
tures of the market compel individuals to take account of the particular
needs and wants of others, so that the pursuit of private interests requires
a mediated form of mutuality in order for it to be successful.
To further underwrite that claim, Hegel argued for the continued legal
recognition of the estates and the corporate structures of the ancien r´gime
as further mediating bodies to establish the structures of mutual and equal
recognition in the new market societies, but he gave these pre-modern
and early modern structures a very up-to-date twist by interpreting them

 See the various essays collected in Patricia Jagentowicz Mills, Feminist Interpretations of G. W. F.
Hegel (University Park: Pennsylvania State Press, ±).
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
in purely “ethical,” and not in “natural” terms. Which estates were to be
recognized was to be determined not in terms of any “natural” division
in society, but in terms of the kinds of goods and style of reasoning that
modern individuals assumed for themselves. As Hegel saw it, the estates
fall into three classes in modern life: the peasant estate, because of its
ties to the land, ¬nds that what is good and best for itself has to do with
tradition and trust in nature; the business estate ¬nds that what is good
and best for itself is the rational, “re¬‚ective” calculation of what is most
ef¬cient in producing goods; and the “universal” estate of civil servants
has as its good the overall ¬‚ourishing and well functioning of civil society
as a whole.
The business estate, however, by virtue of its good involving the pursuit
of private interest through the employment of instrumental reason has
special problems, and therefore within the business estate itself there
should be various “corporate” orders gathered around common interests
that are to police their members, who might otherwise tend to fall back
into a blind pursuit of self-interest and thus undermine the “ethical”
bonds that hold civil society together. However, since the “corporations”
cannot be expected to do that fully successfully, civil society also requires
a whole set of regulatory and legal bodies to oversee its infrastructure and
day-to-day life so that civil society maintains the necessary equilibrium
within itself for it to function properly. Hegel was also acutely aware of
the problem that extreme poverty and extreme wealth poses for modern
civil society, since, at both ends of the spectrum, individuals lose their
sense of obligation to the “whole” “ one because they have no stake in
it, the other because they tend to think that they can buy themselves out
of its obligations.
Civil society on its own, though, no matter how prosperous it may be
and how much its structures tend to check the excesses of other struc-
tures, cannot establish the point of view of the “whole” that is necessary
if the various legal, regulatory, and corporate structures are to have the
“ethical” authority they must have. The political point of view, which
is concerned explicitly not with private interest but with realizing the
collective goal of freedom intrinsic to modern life, is embodied in the
“state.” For this goal to be actualized, the “state” must be articulated
into a set of appropriately modern governmental institutions, whose legit-
imating principle is again that of freedom, not ef¬ciency or preference
Hegel defends a form of constitutional monarchy for the modern state,
although he restricts the monarch™s duties to nothing more than dotting
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
the i™s on legislation presented to him by his ministers. The function of
the modern monarch is to express the ungrounded (or, rather, the self-
grounding) nature of the modern state, the idea that its legitimacy rests on
nothing else than the collective goal of establishing the conditions under
which a “people” can be free. The monarch is as contingent as the state
of which he is the monarch; his blank assertion, “I will this,” serves as the
expression of that element of ungrounded sovereignty that distinguishes
modern states. No further appeal to God™s will nor to natural law serves
to legitimate it; only the “moral law” and the “ethical laws” as freely and
collectively established can count and put restrictions on its activities.
Likewise, constitutional protection of basic rights must be insured
if people are genuinely to identify with the collective aim of such a po-
litical society “ if each is to see that collective aim as “his own” aim.
Representative government is likewise a necessity, although Hegel re-
jected democracy and voting by geographical district as appropriate to
it: in a democracy, a majoritarian parliament may simply ignore the mi-
nority™s interests; and selecting representatives on the basis of geography
means selecting people without any regard to whether they represent the
basic and important interests of the “whole” society. Thus, to the extent
that people actually identify with their estates and corporations, a system
of representation based on the estates and corporations will more likely
ensure that all legitimate voices are heard at the “state” level. Hegel also
opted for a bicameral legislature, with something like a house of “lords”
and a house of “commons” as a way of ensuring that society™s basic inter-
ests be heard and that society™s stability be maintained. (The similarities
and differences with the English system of government, which Hegel
both admired in part and scorned in part, were not accidental.)
Since the modern state appeals to neither God nor natural law for its
legitimacy, it must appeal to some sense of what a “people” collectively
establish as rational. This demand, of course, drives political philosophy
into a philosophy of history, since the kind of critique that reason performs
on itself (which, as Kant had said, was reason™s highest goal) can, if
Hegel™s other arguments are correct, only be performed historically. But,
as Hegel argued, his own philosophy has demonstrated that from the
vague intuitions in the early Eastern states that “one” (the emperor,
the pharaoh) is free, world history progressed to Greco-Roman political
conceptions that “some” (aristocratic males) are free, and, ¬nally, history
has culminated in the modern world™s recognition of the principle that
“all” are free. This, Hegel argued, is the meaning of world history, and
Europe has been its penultimate staging ground. The European form
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
of life, with its inherent sense of “negativity,” self-doubt, and skeptical
questioning, has, by virtue of the kind of way of life that it is, propelled
itself progressively to abandon those institutions and practices whose
only partial redeemability through reason had made itself manifest, until
in the modern period the European way of life, its Geist, has come to
recognize, at least implicitly, that freedom has always been its collective
goal, and that such freedom can only be realized in an institutional setup
much like the one outlined in the Philosophy of Right.
The Philosophy of Right thus fused the kind of historicism for which
Hegel had argued in the Phenomenology with his post-Kantian insistence
that a rational political and moral philosophy could be salvaged in the
face of the collapse of the overreaching claims of traditional rationalism
and the rather resigned, limited claims of empiricism. It rested on the
Hegelian notion that we could grasp the meaning of these institutions, on
why they mattered to us, in a way that did not rest on their being just
contingently the way that “Europeans” did things, or on norms that we
have just contingently come to hold. Instead, that way of life rested on
norms that were necessary, required by what was necessary to actualize
freedom, which itself was necessary because of the internal striving of
our own mindedness to come to terms with what it was really about and
what ultimately mattered to it.

· © ®   µ®: ¬µ °©©
Hegel™s rather arcane architectonic to his “system” culminates in a sec-
tion with the formidable title, “Absolute Spirit” (which follows the sec-
tion titled, “Objective Spirit,” in which the Philosophy of Right moves).
The practices of absolute spirit expressed, Hegel thought, our collective
efforts to determine what counted as our “highest needs” or our “highest
interests.” Or, to put it another way, absolute spirit consisted in the set
of practices through which we re¬‚ected on what it means to be human.
Human beings (agents, subjects) are self-interpreting animals; they are
never simply what they “are,” like other animals, but are as they take
themselves to be, which, so Hegel thought he had shown, is develop-
mental in both the social and historical senses. In political and other
social matters (in “objective spirit”), humans de¬ne themselves in terms
of the institutions needed to collectively sustain themselves, and, more
importantly, to realize the freedom that had come to matter ultimately “
“in¬nitely,” as Hegel liked to put it “ to them.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
The three modes by which such self-interpreting animals think about
what it means to be that type of creature are (in Hegel™s mature thought)
the separate practices of art, religion, and philosophy. They occur in that
order because Hegel thinks that each of these represents, both histori-
cally and intrinsically, ways in which we have tried to understand what
mattered to us and what, as self-interpreting animals, we were ultimately
about (or even ways in which we ¬nally came to understand ourselves
as self-interpreting animals and not as natural beings of a ¬xed sort or
as metaphysical agents of another sort); historically, art has gradually
yielded to religion its claims to be the supreme interpreter of humanity,
and, more recently, religion in turn has given way to philosophy in that
regard. (In the ±°· Phenomenology and in the ±±· Encyclopedia, he still
folded art into religion.) The move to philosophy comes about because
both art and religion historically came to realize that within their own
spheres, operating with the resources that had come to be considered
essential to both those practices, what is normatively at play in what they
were each trying to achieve could not be achieved by themselves alone.
That is, both art, and then later, religion, came to realize (however
inchoately) that they could not achieve what it was that they had always
been trying to achieve, and that only philosophy could achieve those
ends. In particular, art came to realize, sometime after the high point of
classical Greek art, that it could not overcome the problem of represent-
ing divinity purely by artistic means, and that the aim of grasping divinity
was not itself therefore a purely aesthetic matter. This was presented, so
Hegel argued, in the starkest possible historical form: the collapse of the
rule of the gods of antiquity left a void that art was incapable of ful¬lling,
and the triumph of a claim to revealed religion in the form of a real
person ( Jesus) supplanted the domain of art. From that point on, art
was subordinate to religion as the purveyor of the truth about ourselves.
Likewise, the problems with Christianity (the highest and last of the
world religions) “ particularly with the kinds of dualisms which were
intrinsic to it “ ¬nally forced the realization on the educated and cultured
people of Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
that religion had, in fact, supplanted itself with theology, that the need
to understand God, which had become clear by Augustinian times, had
pushed us to realize that what was normatively in play in religion was
actually theology, and, then, ultimately, to the realization that what was
normatively in play in theology was actually philosophy, whose practice
is to appeal to reason alone and admit no other authority outside of
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
what we as rational agents can determine for ourselves. Philosophy, in
turn, has (in Hegel™s hands) realized that its own re¬‚ections and appeals
to reason necessarily have a deeply social and historical side to them.
Hegel™s own re¬‚ections on art brought out more clearly than many of
his other writings the notion of the way in which the needs of Geist (that is,
human needs) either are satis¬ed or fail to be satis¬ed by political, artis-
tic, religious, or philosophical practices.· The need for art is part of the
need for humans to de¬ne what it is for them to be human, to “produce”
themselves, give themselves “actuality”; at various points, Hegel speaks
of it as the need for some form of “representation,” “exhibition,” or
“expression” of, variously, the divine, the true, the genuine, and the
“highest interests of mankind.” Or, as he puts it, “the universal and ab-
solute need from which art (on its formal side) springs has its origin in the
fact that man is a thinking consciousness, i.e., that he makes from himself
what he is and what in general is for himself,” and “it only ful¬lls its highest
task . . . when it is simply one kind and manner of bringing to conscious-
ness and expressing the divine, the deepest interests of mankind, and the
most comprehensive truths of spirit.”
Having said that, Hegel somewhat curiously asserts that art attempts
to do this by creating works of beauty, which he only partially de¬nes
in saying that beauty is the “sensuous showing-forth of the Idea,” that
is, an apprehension in empirical form of our grasp of the normative
“whole” in play in our lives and thoughts. In presenting us with works
of beauty, art gives a way of imagining what matters most to us and of
thereby experiencing it as if it were “our own.” As the “showing-forth” of
the Idea, art is part of the way in which we make claims on each other,
and, as beautiful, an artwork makes a claim on us “ it is, as Hegel puts
it, “essentially a question, an address to the responsive breast, a call to
the mind and spirit.”°
Art therefore matters to us because it attempts to display to us what
genuinely matters to us; and, as self-interpreting animals, that is our
“highest interest,” namely, in getting it right about which of our self-
interpretations, of the ways we have taken ourselves to be, is true. The
· It has to be noted, of course, that Hegel™s only published “writings” on the subject of aesthetics
are the short paragraphs found in the Encyclopedia; his famous Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art are a
compilation of his own lecture notes and student lecture notes assembled after his death into
one cohesive text by one of his former students, H. G. Hotho, and ¬rst published in his collected
works in ±µ.
 Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, p. ±, p. ·; HeW, ©©©, pp. µ°“µ±, pp. °“±.
 Hegel, Aesthetics, p. ±±°; HeW, ©©©, p. ±µ° (the phrase is “sinnliche Scheinen der Idee”).
° Hegel, Aesthetics, p. ·±; HeW, ©©©, p. ±°.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
goal of art is therefore to represent the “ideal,” that is, the representa-
tion of what matters most to us in the form of beauty. The “ideal,” on
Hegel™s understanding, is thus an embodied norm. On Hegel™s under-
standing, since Kant™s and, following him, Hegel™s own post-Kantian
philosophy had demonstrated that what matters most to us is our own
self-determination, our freedom, the goal of art is show us freedom in
the form of beautiful works. (Hegel thinks that natural beauty is of no
real signi¬cance since it cannot display our freedom to us; nature per
se is meaningless, even though an aesthetic portrayal of it can give it a
meaning for us, which then becomes one of many contested meanings
and thus, ultimately, a subject for theology or, ¬nally, philosophy.)
Hegel™s main point is that art cannot achieve that goal. It is simply not
possible to give a purely aesthetic “ that is, beautiful “ representation
of the meaning of freedom that is satisfying to us in the modern world.
Curiously, it was once possible, namely, with the Greeks. The Greek way
of life rested on the “Kantian paradox” without being able to formulate
it; it understood that we are authors of the law, but it also insisted that
we had to keep faith with the law, and Sophocles™ Antigone brought out
how impossible that was. In particular, though, the Greek hero of the
epics (the Iliad and Odyssey), by keeping faith with the Greek spirit while
at the same time being a law unto himself (being both the author and
the subject of the law) expressed the only possible aesthetic presentation
of such self-determination, while the necessary failure of Greek life and
its being supplanted by the prosaic Roman world only brought out the
historical insuf¬ciency of that Greek, aesthetic mode of thinking about
freedom. The insuf¬ciencies of Greek life, moreover, could not be cured
or resolved through aesthetic means; they required another mode of
presenting what had come to matter to “Europeans,” as the anguish of
the loss of the ancient gods made itself felt, namely, Christian religion
as the “representation” of what was genuine in our lives, our “in¬nite”
If Greek art represents the classical epoch, Christian, religious art rep-
resents what Hegel calls a bit oddly the “Romantic” epoch, in which the
focus comes to bear on aesthetic presentations of individuals and their in-
ner lives. That focus, however, quickly takes art out of the purely religious
realm and into the more secular realm, since as focusing on our own sub-
jective grasp of things and seeing importance only in that grasp, it focuses
our attention on our more prosaic, individualized world. Ultimately, it
leads to a fully modern art, which, as Hegel phrases it, “makes Humanus
its new holy of holies: i.e., the depths and heights of the human heart as
 Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
such, the universally human in its joys and sorrows, its strivings, deeds,
and fates. Herewith the artist acquires his subject-matter in himself and
is the actual self-determining human spirit and considering, meditating,
and expressing the in¬nity of its feelings and situations.”± That move
crucially turns away from the religious, Christian notion of art as at-
tempting to express the inexpressible or to portray the deeper, invisible
divinity of things; art instead attempts to express what “in¬nitely” mat-
ters to us, our own freedom. The achievement which art has brought
about is to help give “us moderns” an understanding of what we are
Because of that, Hegel concluded relatively late in his career that “art,
considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the
past.” Although that has often been interpreted (even in Hegel™s own
time) as a statement asserting the “end of art,” it hardly claims anything
so drastic, even though its basic claim is indeed radical. It is saying, in
effect, that art cannot give us the most satisfactory understanding of what
matters most to us, and that the status of art in our collective lives has
thereby changed. Almost paradoxically, art has brought us to the point
of self-understanding where we realize that we must step outside of art in
order to ful¬ll that need which art ¬rst awakens in us. The attractiveness
of beauty “calls” us to seek what it promises, namely, freedom (not happi-
ness), and “we moderns” have found “ once again in part paradoxically,
because of the very success of modern painting and literature “ that we
cannot realize what art promises if we continue to seek that goal in the
realm of beauty itself. The world of freedom “ institutionalized in the
prosaic, that is, non-aesthetically satisfying world of constitutional law,
markets, bourgeois families and the like “ is outside the realm of beauty,
and only that social and political realm coupled with philosophical
re¬‚ection on it can satisfy our “highest interests.”
Indeed, art™s own de¬ciency in this regard, so he argues, has been
recognized by artists themselves as they have bumped up against the
inherent limitations of trying to give a purely aesthetic presentation of
what it means to be “minded.” Seventeenth-century Dutch still lifes
(Hegel™s favorite example of great modern painting) display our modern
way of life, with its rituals of domesticity, its life-loving peasantry, its small
glimpses of life in sunlit rooms, while at the same time also displaying
the virtuosity of the artist at work in them, showing us the hand that can
create such splendid works (and thus reminding us of their status as art).

± 
Hegel, Aesthetics, p. °·; HeW, ©, pp. ·“. Hegel, Aesthetics, p. ±±; HeW, ©©©, p. µ.
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
Dutch painting, in capturing the moments of modern inwardness, of the
bourgeois life surrounding us, “love for what is tri¬‚ing and momentary,”
gives, so Hegel notes “the greatest truth of which art is capable.” Hegel™s
hedge is signi¬cant: the greatest truth of which art is capable is not art in
its highest vocation, which is to present the whole truth aesthetically; the
greatest truth in art may not be presented by the most beautiful art. Dutch
art presents the truth about modern freedom in as aesthetic a mode as it
can be presented; it simply cannot present it in its fully satisfactory form.
Unlike most of his eighteenth-century predecessors, including most
importantly Kant, Hegel does not focus on aesthetic pleasure, nor on
the constituents of good taste, nor even much on the nature of beauty (and
certainly not on the criteria for judging whether something is beautiful).
Instead, he focuses on the meaning of artworks and the role of art in the
formation of mankind™s consciousness of itself and what matters most
to it. The hero of re¬‚ection on art is neither the connoisseur of ¬ne
gradations in aesthetic quality, nor the aesthete caught up in the luxuriant
experience of the beautiful, but instead the philosopher, the “critic,” who
re¬‚ects on what the meaning of art is, and who thereby contributes more
to art™s vocation as formative of a kind of comprehension about what
ultimately matters to us. Hegel™s point is not that art is “over,” nor that
there will be no further need of art, nor even that art has reached its
highest stage of perfection such that future art will never be as good as
modern art (despite the fact that all these theses have historically been
associated with or attributed to Hegel™s philosophy). His point is that art
cannot matter to us as it once did. To be sure, art, Hegel argues, has at
times seemed to point beyond itself, to hint at something mysterious and
beyond our conceptual powers (one thinks of Kant™s notion of art, or,
later on, van Gogh™s and Gauguin™s attempts to create a “new” art of
the sacred), and “we may well hope that art will always rise higher and
come to perfection, but the form of art has ceased to be highest need of
the spirit.”
Hegel™s writings on art thus break with one of the leading threads of
post-Kantian philosophy that comes from Kant™s own re¬‚ections in the
third Critique. For Hegel, the idea that art intimates, hints at, or discloses
a deeper, unconceptualizable, non-thinkable “unity” of ourselves and
nature is not an idea that we can any longer seriously entertain. Art
may delight us, even move us in ways that are not possible outside of
itself, but it cannot present us with anything “mysterious,” beyond the

 
Hegel, Aesthetics, p. ; HeW, , p. ±. Hegel, Aesthetics, p. ±°; HeW, ©©©, p. ±.
°° Part III The revolution completed? Hegel
conceptual, that it alone can portray. In some ways, Hegel™s own phi-
losophy of art is more in the spirit of the ¬rst Critique, especially in his
insistence throughout the lectures that nature is “spirit-less” and there-
fore devoid of meaning on its own, than it is in the mode of the third
Critique. Hegel™s philosophy of art focuses on human spontaneity and dis-
enchanted nature and thereby on the way in which a kind of normative
(not metaphysical) independence from nature has been won as a hard his-
torical achievement; it rejects the conception of the unconceptualizable
supersensible substrate of both nature and freedom.
It is not surprising that Hegel™s philosophy of religion followed the
same path as his philosophy of art, and that it turned out to be one of the
most hotly disputed elements of his legacy. In fact, to this day, it probably
remains the most disputed part of his thought; even in contemporary
literature, there are diametrically opposed interpretations of Hegel that
have him saying completely incompatible things about religion in general
and about Christianity in particular. This is complicated by the fact that,
at least in his mature period, Hegel always characterized himself as a
Christian philosopher and characterized his own thought as the “truth”
of Christianity. (There is nary a text in which Hegel might be seen to
be describing himself as “post-Christian.”) Nonetheless, Hegel™s own
version of Christianity, and his clear view that philosophy is the “truth”
of religion, are at least at odds with much of the way in which Christianity
has traditionally taken itself (and continues to take itself ).
Religion, like art, seeks to display what matters most to us, our sta-
tus as minded creatures, as self-interpreting beings. Like art, religion
in its historical development comes to the point where it grasps that
what it is trying to achieve is not something that it can actually accom-
plish, that what is really normatively in play in its practices is something
that is itself not so much religious as theological and is therefore ulti-
mately philosophical. Religion is, as Hegel describes it, the relation of
“subjective consciousness” to God, which, philosophically expressed, is
only “spirit™s” consciousness of what it itself is ultimately about. Religion,
that is, is the expression of the divine, which for Hegel is another name
for “what matters most to us,” not a portrayal of the divine. In religion,
what matters as religion is not some portrayal of God (either philosophi-
cally or aesthetically) but the experience of being at one with God, of being
“elevated,” as Hegel says over and over again, to the status of the di-
vine. The rites, symbols, and representations of religious ceremony are
all aimed at producing and embodying this expression.
The development of religious expression, however, has only served
to drive religion away from “natural” religion in which the divine is
Nature and spirit: Hegel™s system
identi¬ed with some force in nature or with some set of natural be-
ings as embodying the divine, and whose role in human life is therefore
mysterious, even destructive; in natural religion, the divine™s relation to
ourselves and the natural world is conceived quasi-causally, and it tends
to concern itself with “magic,” with manipulating the mysterious, invisi-
ble forces of the divine world so as to produce more favorable outcomes.
Understanding what is normatively in play in religious observance, it-
self a long, arduous historical process, leads humanity away from such
“magical” religions in the direction of a religion that makes the divine
comprehensible to humans. In his lectures on the topic, Hegel ¬lled in
and elaborated on the developmental story told in the Phenomenology, to
make his points about how the historical development of religion moves
toward a greater grasp of what is normatively in play in the various de-
veloping attempts to express the divine and to “elevate” ourselves to it.
Religion thus develops through various stages, beginning with a reli-
gious expression of the divine as something deeply mysterious, ineffable
and beyond experience, and leading to stages in which it becomes more
clear to us that what is divinely at work in the development of the human
world is not indeed so alien to human concerns.µ Greek art in particular
played a crucial role in the formation of our mindedness as capable of
comprehending the divine at work in the world, and the logic of that
post-Greek (and late in his life, Hegel claimed, also post-Jewish) devel-
opment leads it to the point where what is divinely at work in the history
of the human world reveals itself to us completely; this, so Hegel argues,
happens only and ¬nally in Christianity, which, in turn, is completed only
in modern Protestantism. In particular, religion (as the manifestation
of the divine) pushes itself to the realization that “spirit is only spirit insofar
as it is for spirit, and in the absolute religion it is absolute spirit, which

µ Hegel alludes to his Logic to explain the kind of developmental story at work in religion. In
particular, he argues (in a compressed paragraph of the Encyclopedia, §µµ) that what is at stake is
our mindedness in what at ¬rst amounts to the “sideways on” view characteristic of the norms
treated in that section of the Logic called, “Essence.” Art gives us the Anschauung, the intuition or
“viewing” of what matters absolutely to us; religion, on the other hand, gives us a Vorstellung, a
representation (or, in this case, more literally, a lower-case “idea”) of what matters to us, and,
as is the case with all models of “sideways on,” “¬nite” representational thought, we picture an
appearance and something standing behind the appearance that is not and cannot be exhausted
by it. (Kant™s notion of the unknowable thing-in-itself is the ¬nal development of that notion,
and Spinoza™s monistic conception of the substance of the world taking different modes is the
logical end of that line of development.) Religion™s progression from Vorstellung to the point where


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