Hegel’s Ethical Thought

Wood, Allen. Hegel’s Ethical Thought, Cambridge, 1990


5. Does Hegel have an ethics?

It is sometimes said, by Hegel’s sympathizers as well as his detractors, that Hegel’s system contains no “ethics” at all, that for Hegel moral philosophy is “dissolved in sociology” or “absorbed in political philosophy.” Such remarks are misleading exaggerations, but there is some truth in them if they are understood in the right way.

Hegel’s philosophy is fundamentally a speculative metaphysics whose aim is to overcome, through philosophical insight, the alienation of the modern mind from itself, nature, and society. Because of this, in Hegel’s mature system even “practical philosophy” is treated from a contemplative perspective – as a stage in spirit’s self-knowledge. Thus Hegel treats “the will” not from the perspective of the volitional agent engaging in practical deliberation, but from the perspective of the speculative philosopher contemplating the will and its mode of actualization. Likewise, the avowed aim in the Philosophy of Right is not to tell the state how it ought to be, but rather to provide us with a rational theodicy of modern social life, by exhibiting the actuality of divine reason and the rationality of the social world it has created.

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