WiZiQ lecture on Hegel’s Social Philosophy part 1-3 (complete) – July 17th 2018

Lecture on the concepts of Freedom and Liberty. We have been reading par. 4-9 of the Introduction to the Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Outline of the Philosophy of Right), published in 1820.
Next lecture is scheduled for Tuesday, July 24th, 7.30 PM CEST, at WiZiQ.com.






Resolute Decisions: the Case for Arbitrariness Resolved – Ph.of.R. Introduction par. 12-15

On the side of the objects of the will, we are still left with a multiplicity of impulses.

The only thing I can say from the standpoint of the free will is that each of these impulses is emphatically mine, and stands beside others. I can say that each of these impulses can attach itself to a multiplicity of objects. I can say that all of these impulses have different ways to be satisfied. If we look at free will in general, we will only find indeterminacy. So how does the free will become real?

Only when the free will is attached to a specific purpose, a specific object, and a specific way to attain satisfaction, can we say that it is real. The act by which the free will becomes real, we call decision. Now in German, we have two different expressions. The first one, “beschliessen” is what happens when we are faced with two possible options, and then we decide to go for one thing and reject the other. To make a decision implies making a choice between at least two options. This is a decision in the sense of choice. The second one, “sich entschliessen”, stresses the fact that it is the will itself, that brings about its objects and purposes out of itself. To express the subjectivity of the free will, we might use the expression “resolution.” If we stressed the objectivity of our purposes, we can use the word decision. (My choices are different from Knox, who uses “resolving” and “decision” for “beschliessen”, and as far as I can tell does not translate the expression “sich entschliessen.”)

In #12 of the introduction Hegel makes this important step: free will, in reality, is a free will that has made a decision and thereby has determined both its purpose and object on the one hand and itself as the source of its purposes on the other hand.

So far we have talked about the free will as a characteristic of an individual. In #13, however, we find the first indication that human liberty is connected to society. “By resolving, the will posits itself as the will of a specific individual and as a will separating itself off against another individual.” By making a “resolute decision” the free will becomes real; the individual will becomes determined. Now this individual can be distinguished from others who will make different decisions. Later on, this “distinction” to others will become highly important.

The concept of resolution and decision still remains abstract. Why? Because there is some level of freedom in the act of making a choice e.g., but the choices, in the sense of the different purposes between which I have to choose, are still something given. (As objects in the natural world and as impulses from my inner being.) My freedom does not produce the cup of tea and a cup of coffee from which I must choose. Even though I change my impulses into a purpose, like transforming my thirst into the purpose of drinking either coffee or tea, neither the object Lord impulse is the product of my free will. Drinking a cup of coffee presupposes my capacity to make resolute decisions. But it does not express and establish my freedom because both the impulses and the purposes are alien to the act of liberty itself. Only when we reached the stage, where freedom can completely recognize itself in its object and purpose, do we have freedom as a truly spiritual capacity. The object of my free will must be something that my free will produce is – if not, the object and the purpose are tainted so to speak by a necessity that is beyond my control. Freedom ultimately must be a perfect self-determination. Again, if not, freedom is determined from the outside and therefore itself a product of forces of necessity.

In #15 this stage of the free will is called “arbitrariness.” It has two sides: it is pure free will because it can abstract from all its contents and be purely reflected into itself; it is impure because it’s totally dependent on in their impulses and external objects. The free will that is real, has to have some purpose by necessity. But the purpose that it actually gets is at the same time a pure possibility. To have a content is necessary, even when the content itself is not necessary. To have a real free will, I have to make a choice between coffee and tea. The choice is necessary. But when I choose coffee over tea, there is no necessity whatsoever. I could have gone for the tea just as easily. (Well, actually not in my case, but you get the point.)

This concept of arbitrariness is the most common view of the free will. It stands between a notion of the will is something that is completely determined by natural impulses on the one hand, and the true concept of the free will that actually wills itself. This is the idea that freedom is all about doing what you want. Anyone who looks at freedom in this way does not take into account what we mean by Right, morality, social morality etc. We might have expressed some immediate awareness of the activity of volition, we certainly have not arrived at a complete understanding of the truth of freedom. Why not? Because there is still an opposition between the subjective element of the will and the objective element. Because we have not yet understood, that freedom in its true and complete sense must have itself as its content and purpose.

One way of showing this is to see that the will as arbitrariness, must be understood as a self-contradiction. There is a widespread popular discussion around this contradiction between the two elements of the free will. Determinism stresses the fact that free will is only made concrete by the inner object and purpose and the external object that is given. I am not actually choosing between coffee and tea, I’m just letting my predetermined predilection for coffee become apparent. What seems to be a free choice is actually a product of my inner desires. Determinism is right, in so far the free will does indeed find its object is something that is external to it. Then there is “decisionism” that takes the act of free choice as the basis for all reality, in so far that freedom is always spontaneous even though it has to express itself in reality by choosing objects, means, and purposes. This approach simply declares free will to be the origin of free acts, without reference to impulses and instincts. It is right, as we have already seen because the free will can abstract from the impulses it brings to bear in a decision and can withdraw from any particular volition into its abstract and universal “self”.

So there we have the popular contradiction between two ways of looking at the free will. If I stress the arbitrariness and causality of the object, freedom disappears. Everything is predetermined by my instincts and impulses and what is externally given in my environment. When people talk about environmental conditions, psychological necessities, genetic causality, evolutionary mechanisms etc. find it quite easy to contradict the notion of the abstract and formal free will. If I stress the arbitrariness of freedom itself, it becomes purely abstract. Only in the act of decision-making, e.g. in my choices as a consumer in a shopping mall, my freedom seems to be real. But can freedom then be defined as “freedom of choice”?

As Hegel explains, I might experience the possibility of making a choice as the reality of my free will, but

“the choice resides in the indeterminacy of the ego and in the indeterminacy of the content. The will, therefore, is not free, because of this content… Because the content does not truly correspond with itself, there is no content in which the will truly is for itself the object.”

In a way it is quite simple: in the arbitrary will we find this element to be necessary,

“that the content is not determined by the nature of my will to be mine, but merely by accident; therefore I am just as well depending on the content, and that is a contradiction that resides in the arbitrary will. Ordinary people will believe to be free when they are allowed to act arbitrarily, but the idea of arbitrariness implies precisely that it is not free.”

Whenever I want what is truly reasonable, my free will is not the act of an individual that expresses its own particularity against others. Willing to do what is reasonable implies deciding for a specific action according to a moral guideline that is universal. When I choose to help someone, it is not about my individual impulses, nor is it necessitated by the purpose of my action. What I do in aiding someone is to transform a universal and reasonable guideline that goes beyond my individual preferences, into reality. Certainly, it requires the act of free will to do this. But we cannot say that the moral guideline is something that is given, neither by my impulses nor by the given object.

(To be continued.)

Hegel’s Philosophy of Right #7

#7. (γ) The will is the unity of both these moments. It is particularity reflected into itself and so brought back to universality, i.e. it is individuality. It is the self-determination of the ego, which means that at one and the same time the ego posits itself as its own negative, i.e. as restricted and determinate, and yet remains by itself, i.e. in its self-identity and universality. It determines itself and yet at the same time binds itself together with itself. The ego determines itself in so far as it is the relating of negativity to itself. As this self-relation, it is indifferent to this determinacy; it knows it as something which is its own, something which is only idea, a mere possibility by which it is not constrained and m which it is confined only because it has put itself in it.-This is the freedom of the will and it constitutes the concept or substantiality of the will, its weight, so to speak, just as weight constitutes the substantiality of a body.

Hegel’s Philosophy of Right #6

#6. (β) At the same time, the ego is also the transition from undifferentiated indeterminacy to the differentiation, determination, and positing of a determinacy as a content and object. Now further, this content may either be given by nature or engendered by the concept of mind. Through this positing of itself as something determinate, the ego steps in principle into determinate existence. This is the absolute moment, the finitude or particularization of the ego.

Hegel’s Philosophy of Right #5

5. The will contains (α) the element of pure indeterminacy or that pure reflection of the ego into itself which involves the dissipation of every restriction and every content either immediately presented by nature, by needs, desires, and impulses, or given and determined by any means whatever. This is the unrestricted infinity of absolute abstraction or universality, the pure thought of oneself.