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In this 1821 classic, Hegel applies his most important concept — the dialectics — to law, rights, morality, the family, economics, and the state. The philosopher defines universal right as the synthesis between the thesis of an individual acting in accordance with the law and the occasional conflict of an antithetical desire to follow private convictions.
34. The completely free will, when it is conceived abstractly, is in a condition of self-involved simplicity. What actuality it has when taken in this abstract way, consists in a negative attitude towards reality, and a bare abstract reference of itself to itself. Such an abstract will is the individual will of a subject. It, as particular, has definite ends, and, as exclusive and individual, has these ends before itself as an externally and directly presented world.
Addition.— The remark that the completely free will, when it is taken abstractly, is in a condition of self-involved simplicity must be understood in this way. The completed idea of the will is found when the conception has realized itself fully, and in such a manner that the embodiment of the conception is nothing but the development of the conception itself. But at the outset the conception is abstract. All its future characters are implied in it, it is true, but as yet no more than implied. They are, in other words, potential, and are not yet developed into an articulate whole. If I say, "I am free," the I, here, is still implicit and has no real object opposed to it. But from the standpoint of morality as contrasted with abstract right there is opposition, because there I am a particular will, while the good, though within me, is the universal. Hence, at that stage, the will contains within itself the contrast between particular and universal, and in that way is made definite. But at the beginning such a distinction does not occur, because in the first abstract unity there is as yet no progress or modification of any kind. That is what is meant by saying that the will has the mark of self-involved simplicity or immediate being. The chief thing to notice at this point is that this very absence of definite features is itself a definite feature. Absence of determinate character exists where there is as yet no distinction between the will and its content. But when this lack of definiteness is set in opposition to the definite, it becomes itself something definite. In other words, abstract identity becomes the distinguishing feature of the will, and the will thereby becomes an individual will or person.
35. This consciously free will has a universal side, which consists in a formal, simple and pure reference to itself as a separate and independent unit. This reference is also a self-conscious one though it has no further content. The subject is thus so far a person. It is implied in personality that I, as a distinct being, am on all sides completely bounded and limited, on the side of inner caprice, impulse and appetite, as well as in my direct and visible outer life. But it is implied likewise that I stand in absolutely pure relation to myself. Hence it is that in this finitude I know myself as infinite, universal and free.
Note.— Personality does not arise till the subject has not merely a general consciousness of himself in some determinate mode of concrete existence, but rather a consciousness of himself as a completely abstract I, in which all concrete limits and values are negated and declared invalid. Hence personality involves the knowledge of oneself as an object, raised, however, by thought into the realm of pure infinitude, a realm, that is, in which it is purely identical with itself. Individuals and peoples have no personality, if they have not reached this pure thought and self-consciousness. In this way, too, the absolute or completed mind or spirit may be distinguished from its mere semblance. The semblance, though self-conscious, is aware of itself only as a merely natural will with its external objects. The other, as an abstract and pure I, has itself as its end and object, and is therefore a person.
Addition. —The abstract will, the will which exists for itself, is a person. The highest aim of man is to be a person, and yet again the mere abstraction "person" is not held in high esteem. Person is essentially different from subject. Subject is only the possibility of personality. Any living thing at all is a subject, while person is a subject which has its subjectivity as an object. As a person I exist for myself. Personality is the free being in pure self-conscious isolation. I as a person am conscious of freedom. I can abstract myself from everything, since nothing is before me except pure personality. Notwithstanding all this I am as a particular person completely limited. I am of a certain age, height, in this space, and so on. Thus a person is at one and the same time so exalted and so lowly a thing. In him is the unity of infinite and finite, of limit and unlimited. The dignity of personality can sustain a contradiction, which neither contains nor could tolerate anything natural.
36. (1) Personality implies, in general, a capacity to possess rights, and constitutes the conception and abstract basis of abstract right. This right, being abstract, must be formal also. Its mandate is: Be a person and respect others as persons.
37. (2) The particularity of the will, that phase of the will, namely, which implies a consciousness of my specific interests, is doubtless an element of the whole consciousness of the will (§34), but it is not contained in mere abstract personality. It is indeed present in the form of appetite, want, impulse and random desire, but is distinct as yet from the personality, which is the essence of freedom.—In treating of formal right therefore, we do not trench upon special interests, such as my advantage or my well-being, nor have we here to do with any special reason or intention of the will.
Addition.— Since the particular phases of the person have not as yet attained the form of freedom, everything relating to these elements is so far a matter of indifference. When anyone bases a claim upon his mere formal right, he may be wholly selfish, and often such a claim comes from a contracted heart and mind. Uncivilized man, in general, holds fast to his rights, while a more generous disposition is alert to see all sides of the question. Abstract right is, moreover, the first mere possibility, and in contrast with the whole context of a given relation is still formal. The possession of a right gives a certain authority, it is true, but it is not, therefore, absolutely necessary that I insist upon a right, which is only one aspect of the whole matter. In a word, possibility is something, which means that it either may or may not exist.
38. In contrast with the deeper significance of a concrete act in all its moral and social bearings, abstract right is only a possibility. Such a right is, therefore, only a permission or indication of legal power. Because of this abstract character of right the only rule which is unconditionally its own is merely the negative principle not to injure personality or anything which of necessity belongs to it. Hence we have here only prohibitions, the positive form of command having in the last resort a prohibition as its basis.
39. (3) A person in his direct and definite individuality is related to a given external nature. To this outer world the personality is opposed as something subjective. But to confine to mere subjectivity the personality, which is meant to be infinite and universal, contradicts and destroys its nature. It bestirs itself to abrogate the limitation by giving itself reality, and proceeds to make the outer visible existence its own.
40. Right is at first the simple and direct concrete existence which freedom gives itself directly. This unmodified existence is
(a) Possession or property. Here freedom is that of the abstract will in general, or of a separate person who relates himself only to himself.
(b) A person by distinguishing himself from himself becomes related to another person, although the two have no fixed existence for each other except as owners. Their implicit identity becomes realized through a transference of property by mutual consent, and with the preservation of their rights. This is contract.
(c) The will in its reference to itself, as in (a), may be at variance not with some other person, (b), but within itself. As a particular will it may differ from and be in opposition to its true and absolute self. This is wrong and crime.
Note. —The division of rights into personal right, real right, and right to actions is, like many other divisions, intended to systematize the mass of unorganized material. But this division utterly confuses rights which presuppose such concrete relations as the family or the state with those which refer to mere abstract personality. An example of this confusion is the classification, made popular by Kant, of rights into Real Rights, Personal Rights, and Personal Rights that are Real in kind. It would take us too far afield to show how contorted and irrational is the classification of rights into personal and real, a classification which lies at the foundation of Roman law. The right to actions concerns the administration of justice, and does not fall under this branch of the subject. Clearly it is only personality which gives us a right to things, and therefore personal right is in essence real right. A thing must be taken in its universal sense as the external opposite of freedom, so that in this sense my body and my life are things. Thus real right is the right of personality as such. In the interpretation of personal right, found in Roman law, a man is not a person till he has reached a certain status (Heineccii "Elem. Jur. Civ.," §lxxv.). In Roman law personality is an attribute of a class and is contrasted with slavery. The so-called personal right of Roman law includes not only a right to slaves, a class to which probably belong the children, not only a right over the class which has been deprived of right (capitis diminutio), but also family relations. With Kant, family relations are wholly personal rights which are real in kind.—The Roman personal right is not the right of a person as such, but of a special person. It will be afterwards shown that the family relation is really based upon the renunciation of personality. It cannot but seem an inverted method to treat of the rights of persons who belong to definite classes before the universal right of personality.—According to Kant personal rights arise out of a contract or agreement that I should give or perform something; this is the jus ad rem of Roman law which has its source in an obligatio. Only a person, it is true, can perform a thing through contract; and further, only a person can acquire the right to such a performance. Yet we cannot, therefore, call such a right personal. Every sort of right is right of a person; but a right, which springs out of contract, is not a right to a person, but only to something external to him, or to be disposed of by him; and this is always a thing.
FIRST SECTION Property
41. A person must give to his freedom an external sphere, in order that he may reach the completeness implied in the idea. Since a person is as yet the first abstract phase of the completely existent, infinite will, the external sphere of freedom is not only distinguishable from him but directly different and separable.
Addition.— The reasonableness of property consists not in its satisfying our needs, but in its superseding and replacing the subjective phase of personality. It is in possession first of all that the person becomes rational. The first realization of my freedom in an external object is an imperfect one, it is true, but it is the only realization possible so long as the abstract personality has this firsthand relation to its object.
42. That which is defined as different from the free spirit is both in its own nature and also for this spirit the external. It is an object, something not free, impersonal and without rights.
Note.—"Thing," like "objective," has two opposite meanings. When we say "That is the thing or fact," "It depends on the thing itself, not on the person," we mean by "thing" that which is real and substantive. But it is also contrasted with person, which here includes more than a particular subject, and then it means the opposite of the real and substantive, and is something merely external.—What is external for the free spirit, which is different from mere consciousness, is absolutely external. Hence nature is to be conceived as that which is external in its very self.
Addition.— Since a thing has no subjectivity it is external not merely to a subject, but to itself. Space and time are external. I, as sensible, am external, spatial, and temporal. My faculty of sense-perception is external to itself. An animal may perceive, but the soul of the animal has as its object not itself, but something external.
43. The person in his direct conception and as a separate individual has an existence which is purely natural. This existence is something partly inalienable, partly akin in its nature to the external world.—As the individual is considered in his first abstract simplicity, reference is here made only to those features of personality with which he is directly endowed, not to those which he might proceed to acquire by voluntary effort.
Note.— Mental endowments, science, art, such matters of religion as sermons, masses, prayers, blessings of consecrated utensils, inventions also, are objects of exchange, recognized things to be bought and sold. It is possible to ask, also, if an artist or scholar is in legal possession of his art, science, or capacity to preach or read mass; and the question is put on the presumption that these objects are things. Yet one hesitates to call such gifts, knowledge, powers, mere things, because although they may be bargained for as a thing, they have an inner spiritual side. Hence the understanding becomes confused as to how they are to be regarded at law. Before the understanding always arises an exclusive disjunction, which in this case is that something must be either a thing or not a thing. It is like the disjunctive judgment that a thing must be either finite or infinite. But, though knowledge, talents, etc., are the possession of the free mind, and therefore internal to it, they may be relinquished and given an external existence. (See below.) They would then fall under the category of things. They are not direct objects at the first, but the spirit lowers its inner side to the level of the directly external.
According to the unjust and immoral finding of the Roman law, children were things for their father, and he was in legal possession of them. At the same time he was related to them ethically by the tie of love, although the value of this relation was much weakened by the legal usage. In this legal relation there occurs a completely wrong union of thing and not-thing.
The essential feature of abstract right is that its object is the person as such, with only those elements added which, belonging to the external and visible embodiment of his freedom, are directly different from him and separable. Other phases it can include only after the conscious operation of the subjective will. Mental endowments, the sciences, etc., come up for treatment only from the standpoint of legal possession. The possession of the body and the mind, which is acquired by education, study and habit, is an inward property of the spirit, and does not fall to be considered here. The process by which a mental possession passes into the external world and comes under the category of a legal property, will be taken up later, under relinquishment.
44. A person has the right to direct his will upon any object, as his real and positive end. The object thus becomes his. As it has no end in itself, it receives its meaning and soul from his will. Mankind has the absolute right to appropriate all that is a thing.
Note.—There is a philosophy which ascribes to the impersonal, to separate things, as they are directly apprehended, an independent and absolutely complete reality. There is also a philosophy which affirms that the mind cannot know what the truth or the thing in itself is. These philosophies are directly contradicted by the attitude of the free will to these things. Although the so-called external things seem to have an independent reality in consciousness as perceiving and imagining, the free will is the idealization or truth of such reality.
Excerpted from Philosophy of Right by G. W. F. Hegel. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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