Hegel’s Practical Philosophy

Pippin, Robert. Hegel’s Practical Philosophy, Cambridge, 2008.


… What is important, Antigone implicitly asserts, is what one claims for oneself, what sort of recognition one demands; that the issue of the status of Polyneices as a family member as well as citizen is not independently real, a mere biological fact and, somewhat surprisingly, is not even a matter of successful burial. It all hinges on what the family allows to be done or to be done or said unchallenged. Polyneices is still her brother because the relation to him is not a matter of fact, not determined by nature, but is an ethical relationship, or is one so long as it is so maintained. When it fails to be, the gruesome spectacle of an unburied corpse that haunts the play figures what Polyneices and everyone in any way “outside” politics or the polis will become, if Antigone does not refuse to allow it. Antigone thus insists on “taking on” a good deal more than Ismene even thinks possible, or Antigone wants to count an omission as a deed not done by her, reather than a necessity acknowledged, and the possibility of this stance depends on the justifications that, she believes, require her to act, even if success is hopeless.

This passage in the Jena Phenomenology is thus important well beyond the particular interpretation of Greek ethical life being offered. It is one of the clearest examples of the way, for Hegel, human agents can be said to take on deeds and relations that would not exist were they not so constituted, and a continuing indication of the social struggle for recognition that, he thinks, defines the possible success or failure of such attempts. What Hegel goes on to try to show has to do with the limitations of these ways, these justifications or reasons…

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