The Philosophy of Right,  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
The Philosophy of Right
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
14:19 h Ideas Lvl 12.11
Elements of the Philosophy of Right is a work by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel published in 1820, though the book's original title page dates it to 1821. Hegel's most mature statement of his legal, moral, social and political philosophy, it is an expansion upon concepts only briefly dealt with in the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Law provides for Hegel the cornerstone of the modern state. As such, he criticized Karl Ludwig von Haller's The Restoration of the Science of the State, in which the latter claimed that law was superficial, because natural law and the "right of the most powerful" was sufficient. The absence of law characterized for Hegel despotism, whether monarchist or ochlocracist .

Philosophy of Right

S. W. Dyde, M.A., D.Sc.

With the name
Professor Watson,
who gave me
my first lessons, not in Hegel only, but in
Philosophy, it gives me pleasure to
connect this translation.

Translator’s Preface

In his preface, Hegel’s editor, Professor Eduard Gans, makes some interesting remarks upon the “Philosophy of Right,” and informs us as to the way in which the matter of the book had been put together. He dates his preface May 29th, 1833, thirteen years, lacking one month, later than Hegel’s date for the completion of his own preface, and eighteen months after the philosopher’s death. Hegel had, it would appear, lived to see the outbreak of unusual opposition to his political conceptions, and so Dr. Gans begins: “The wide-spread misunderstanding, which prevents the recognition of the real value of the present work, and stands in the way of its general acceptance, urges me, now that an enlarged edition of it has been prepared, to touch upon some things, which I would rather have left simply to increasing philosophic insight.” He goes on to give three reasons for placing great value upon this work of Hegel’s.

1. He thinks that the highest praise is due to the author for the way in which he does justice to every side of the subject, even investigating questions which have only a slight bearing upon the matter in hand, and thus erecting a marvellously complete structure. This fact is more striking, thinks Dr. Gans, than the foundation of the work, which had been already in a measure laid by Kant and Rousseau.

2. A second achievement of the “Philosophy of Right” is the abolition of the distinction, so prominent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, between law and politics. Even in our own time, remarks the editor, many think of law as the skeleton, as it were, of the different forms of the state, as an abstract thing devoid of life and movement. Politics, again, they conceive to be more mobile and a function of a living thing. Law is thus said to stand to politics as anatomy to physiology. This divergence, which was unknown to Plato and Aristotle, had its origin in the separatist character of the Middle Ages, and was brought to completion in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Hegel, gathering up the experience of centuries, returns to the form of the ancient state, and counts law and politics as organic phases of one single whole.

3. The “Philosophy of Right” suggests a two-fold place for the principle of natural right. In its scientific treatment this principle precedes the philosophy of right, and it also comes at the close. That part of the “Encyclopædia of the Philosophical Sciences,” which precedes the discussion there given of right, morality, and the ethical system, is designated the subjective mind or spirit, and from that ground natural right proceeds. Skipping over the region occupied by the “Philosophy of Right,” dealing with the objective spirit, natural right reappears in world-history. Dr. Gans means that the right of the world-spirit, transcending, as it does, the individual and the nation, is a return at a higher level to natural right. Nations are, as he says, so many streams discharging themselves into the world-ocean of history.

The three points of Professor Gans may be summarized thus: (1.) Hegel is thorough and systematic; (2.) He has so clear and penetrating a conception of his main idea that he is able to unify sciences, which had seemed to be mutually exclusive; (3.) A right of nature may be viewed as a phase of any stage of an expanding idea, and can be understood only by reference to the exact stage which the exposition has reached. Hence a right of nature, like subjectivity or objectivity, may mean quite different things at different points in the unfolding of the system.

The single word here added is meant to accent what is implied in the third of these remarks. The “Philosophy of Right” is really only one part of a system. In the third part of his “Encyclopædia,” when he reaches the subject of Right, Hegel says (note to § 487) that he may deal briefly with this topic, since he has already gone exhaustively into it in his “Philosophy of Right.” Hence as this work treats of an essential stage in the evolution of spirit, whose whole nature is unfolded scene by scene in the “Encyclopaedia,” it is not accurate to speak of Hegel’s ethical principles as based upon his logic. The more concrete categories of the “Philosophy of Right” are related each to the next in the same way as are the more abstract categories treated of in the logic. But the relation of the ethics to the logic is not that of superstructure to foundation or of application to principle, but of the more concrete to the less concrete stage of evolution. One single life runs through the whole organism of the work. Hence, Dr. Gans is not wrong in stating that this work is an essential part of Hegel’s philosophy, and adding that with the entire system it must stand or fall. Rather, correcting the dramatic tone of the remark, he says in effect that standing and falling are not the only possibilities in the case of a great philosophy. Nor, again, can the different works of a genuine philosopher be separated into those that are gold and those that are alloy. His work as a whole becomes a common possession, and in that way makes ready, as Dr. Gans say, for a higher thought. The unqualified rejection of any part of a philosopher’s work is a challenge to his claim to rank as a great thinker. But the only challenge which he could himself accept as genuine, is the one which is prepared to call in question the basis of his entire system.

Perhaps in the “Philosophy of Right” the average philosophical worker comes more quickly to understand something of Hegel than in his other writings. At least Hegel in this book is more likely to collide directly with the reader’s prepossessions, and therefore more speedily stimulates him to form his own view. No genuine philosopher will hesitate to show what form his principles assume in relation to tangible human interests. Hegel exhibits philosophic breadth by dressing up his ideas for the thoroughfare, where the every-day thinker finds it possible to hob and nob with the master. Yet the student must be again cautioned not to fancy that, because he “feels sure” that Hegel’s conception of the family, of the monarch, or of war is defective, he has left his author behind. Such a feeling is at best only a first step, and the student must go on to know how these practical ideas of Hegel are necessitated by his general conception of the process of spirit. And the sure feeling can survive only if it is transformed into a consistent criticism of this fundamental process. The stronghold of Hegel may not be impregnable, but it will not fall on a mere summons to surrender.

The object of the translator is to let Hegel speak at large for himself. What liberties have been taken with the Hegelian vocabulary are illustrated by the index of words to be found at the close of this volume. It has been considered quite within the province of a translator to ameliorate Hegel’s rigid phraseology. Even as it is the English would read more smoothly, had the words “the individual,” “the subject,” etc., been more frequently used instead of “particularity” and “subjectivity,” but the substitution casts a dififerent shade over Hegel’s thought. Apart from the words, the reader of German will miss also Hegel’s brackets and italics.

As Dr. Gans has pointed out, the present work is in form made up of three elements, the paragraphs proper, the notes and the additions. The paragraphs comprised the entire book as it was originally issued. Then Hegel added what he in all his references to them calls Notes, although they are not expressly so designated in the German text. For the sake of simplicity this term has been used throughout the book. After these notes by Hegel are frequently found Additions made by students of Hegel from his oral lectures and comments. It is but bare justice to the editors to say that these additions usually cast a welcome light upon the text. Yet as they are mere additions, not even supervised by Hegel, it is no matter of surprise that the student, in beginning a new paragraph must, in order to get the direct connection, revert to the closing sentences not of the addition or note but of the preceding paragraph. It ought to be some comfort to the earnest reader to have in his hand all that Hegel on this subject thought to be worth saying. Mistakes the translator has no doubt made, and it would be for him fortunate if workers in this department were sufficiently interested in this translation to point them out.

S. W. Dyde.
Queen’s University,
Kingston, Canada,
March 23rd, 1896.

Author’s Preface

The immediate occasion for publishing these outlines is the need of placing in the hands of my hearers a guide to my professional lectures upon the Philosophy of Right. Hitherto I have used as lectures that portion of the “Encyclopædia of the Philosophic Sciences” (Heidelberg, 1817,) which deals with this subject. The present work covers the same ground in a more detailed and systematic way.

But now that these outlines are to be printed and given to the general public, there is an opportunity of explaining points which in lecturing would be commented on orally. Thus the notes are enlarged in order to include cognate or conflicting ideas, further consequences of the theory advocated, and the like. These expanded notes will, it is hoped, throw light upon the more abstract substance of the text, and present a more complete view of some of the ideas current in our own time. Moreover, there is also subjoined, as far as was compatible with the purpose of a compendium, a number of notes, ranging over a still greater latitude. A compendium proper, like a science, has its subject-matter accurately laid out. With the exception, possibly, of one or two slight additions, its chief task is to arrange the essential phases of its material. This material is regarded as fixed and known, just as the form is assumed to be governed by well-ascertained rules. A treatise in philosophy is usually not expected to be constructed on such a pattern, perhaps because people suppose that a philosophical product is a Penelope’s web which must be started anew every day.

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