When Hegel speaks about the family, he has a very specific form of family life in mind. We call that the petty-bourgeois family. In our time we can no longer consider the family essentially as an economic entity, nor do we identify family with the larger community of blood relatives. The organization of economic life has limited the various functions that the family can fulfill.
This has meant, for example, that in the family the personal relationship of a sexual and affective nature has become the most important. With as an addition a permanent function in the upbringing of children. Our family life is very different from what it was in Hegel’s days. However, this does not mean that we can ignore Hegel’s views as historically irrelevant. After all, Hegel tries to express in the form of the concept what is essential for the realization of freedom. His question is: what is necessary for the (social-) moral construction of common life? The family still has a necessary role to play in the realization of such a community. So we must read the texts about the family from his own perspective, i.e. that of the realization of freedom.
According to Hegel, man is more than just a legal person or a moral subject. Man is involved in social relationships in a substantial way. The spirit of a community is the condition of morality, and without morality, legality and the law cannot stand. The social community is able to give a concrete determination to the good, that is to say, the unity of law and welfare.
The family is the first and immediate form in which the unity of rights and welfare is realized. In the family, man is no longer an abstraction. Only within the community do people really exist. The primary sphere of communal life is the family. Love is the element that guarantees the unity of the universal (community) and the particular (individuals). In the family, I do not exist as a separate, independent individual, but I am part of a living community. That community is held together by trust and love. And such unity is not primarily understood, but felt. Family members faithfully care for each other and are emotionally connected. In the family, life is not about laws and not about a rational structure of living together. Hence, Hegel says that this is the “individual in his natural universality.”
Natural sexual differentiation and forms of spontaneous affectivity are not just a natural given. Even though they are characterized by a natural universality they exist in the form of a spiritual reality. The physical duality of the sexes is transformed into a spiritual unity. Love is reason in the modus of feeling. Family exists as a unity in multiplicity. If we take human sexuality as purely physical, as Kant did, it remains characterized by a mutual outwardness. It would then be appropriate to talk about marriage only in the sense of a binding contract. The mind is unable to think of this spiritual union in marriage and the multiplicity in the physical distinction as a concept in which both are united. However, human (philosophical) reason is capable of this.
Love is a paradox according to Hegel. I give up my own independence and now exist in unity with another/others. That loss is experienced by me as the answer to a desire. It is satisfying that as an individual I can nevertheless give up my independence in order to derive the value and meaning of my existence from my involvement with others.
The concept of morality means the life of a community with a particular order.
According to Hegel’s philosophy of right, the principle of the ordering of communal life is a unity of universality and particularity. Abstract law only shows universality. That is why it goes down in crime, in which the particularity opposes the universal. Morality knows only the principle of the particularity, but it perishes in doing evil. In an attempt to express its individuality, it needs to oppose the good, which is precisely the ground of its existence.
The principle of the common life is the unity of universality and particularity. That is not an ideal to be pursued. In modern society, this unity has always been established. It is a reality. That is why Hegel can speak of the idea of freedom – with the word idea he indicates the unity of concept and reality. The concept has become real, and reality is understood.
The concepts of law and good are now living reality. Good as an abstract requirement (in morality) has now become the real order of communal life.
This objective ordering of communal life cannot be regarded as a pure generality. Social life has reality only through the self-consciousness of individuals. Morality is an arrangement of communal life that transcends the individual. The reality of social life is not defined within an individual perspective. But it is individuals who jointly carry and determine this social order. There is a unity of the objective order (generality) and the subjective will (particularity). If we think about the meaning of our social reality, of the organization and reality of communal life, we will have to look at both the subjective and the objective point of view.
The objective point of view implies that we see morality as a whole of institutions, laws, norms and values that are valid. Individual life is determined by this objective reality. The moral order is absolute to the individual and a duty to the subject. Coincidental opinions and arbitrariness do not rule here. Regardless of subjective and capricious opinion, the good here acquires an objective reality, thus becomes substance in Hegel’s terminology. Individuals are only an outgrowth or a further definition of this substance.
The subjective point of view implies that the social “substance” is also subjective. The subjective consciousness of individuals is the foundation of all moral institutions. The institutions and norms and values that apply in the social order are something in and of the individuals themselves. The universality of the objective social order and the particularity of the individual subjects are in a dialectical relationship. That is to say that each, the objective and the subjective, is in some way the whole relationship between the two. The subject is itself within the objective; the objective is only real within the sphere of the subjective. Although distinct, they are essentially related to each other, they need each other to be what they are. That is the way in which universality and particularity lose their abstract character and their contradiction and become concrete.
When we speak of this moral substance we will have to analyze the different forms in which it becomes concrete. These particular spheres of life are the different ways in which the general and the individual relate to each other. We can speak of spheres of life in which morality becomes concrete: family, society, state. Morality is different when we talk about family life, the economy, or politics.
We saw earlier that the understanding of the will includes the moments of generality, singularity, and singularity. Thus in the family, we find the universal of the will reflected in morality. Universality dominates but now as a subordinate moment of the higher unity of the general and the particular. We shall see in bourgeois society that particularity dominates, but again as a subordinate moment of the unity of universality and particularity. And finally, we find in the state the unity of the general and the particular expressed, in a concrete way, in the element of the singularity. According to Hegel, this is symbolically present in the king, and in concrete terms really in the political process.
To all Hegel students! Greetings from Belgium.
It has now been a few weeks since I made my last video. Again and again, I decided to reserve more time for the lessons on Hegel’s social philosophy. However, making those videos takes so much time that I often don’t get around to it because of my full schedule. How can that be solved?
Only when I start making short videos, in which I only discuss a small part of the text, is it possible to keep up with Hegel on the internet regularly. I don’t find that very satisfying, because I have a lot of fun making those videos too. So I have to make a choice between quality and quantity.
Next week I will see if it is possible to produce acceptable videos with simple screen recorders such as Loom.
Before the end of the year it should still be possible to work through the text on “civil society”.
Let me know what you think about this.
Hopefully see you soon.
I know, we talked about this paragraph before. But I thought it was necessary to visit it again…