hegel's refutation of rational egoism, in true infinity ... ?· hegel's refutation of rational...


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    Robert M. Wallace*


    In the history of moral and political philosophy, the apparent ra-tionality of egoism-a lack of interest in the needs and the rights ofother individuals, as such-is a challenge to which major thinkers feelcalled upon to respond. Plato does so at length in the Republic and theSymposium; Aristotle does so in his account of friendship (philia), in hisEthics; Hobbes does so in his response to the so-called "fool," in Chapter15 of Leviathan; and Kant does so in his argument, in the Groundworkof the Metaphysics of Morals and elsewhere, that autonomy can only takethe form of being guided by morality's Categorical Imperative. I amgoing to suggest in this paper that Hegel's response to the challenge ofrational egoism extends throughout his philosophical system, beginningin his treatment of atomism in the Science of Logic's ("Logic") Doctrineof Being, continuing through his treatments of reflection and diversity inthe Doctrine of Essence, and of Objectivity, Life, and Cognition, in theDoctrine of the Concept, and concluding in his famous account ofMaster and Bondsman and mutual recognition, in the Encyclopedia'sPhilosophy of Spirit and the Phenomenology of Spirit.

    The portion of Hegel's treatment of rational egoism that occurswithin the Logic of the Subject (the Doctrine of the Concept)-namely,his account of Objectivity, Life, and Cognition-is extremely rich in itsimplications for this issue, implications that have not been appreciatedin the commentaries with which I am familiar. And when one realizesthat Hegel is, in fact, treating this issue in a systematic way throughoutthe Logic (as well as the Encyclopedia), this puts the Logic-and its cul-minating glory, the Doctrine of the Concept-in a whole new light.Among the numerous ways in which the Logic's importance is still only

    * Robert M. Wallace's Hegel's Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God will be published by

    Cambridge University Press in June, 2005. Wallace translated and wrote introductions to themajor works of Hans Blumenberg (The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Work on Myth, The Genesisof the Copernican World). He has a PhD in philosophy from Cornell and has taught (amongother places) at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and at Colgate University. He can bereached at philosop@execpc.com.


    beginning to become clear to us-others of which are, for example, itsimportance for theology and for the relation between nature and free-dom-this is certainly a significant one.'

    It may seem odd to suggest that Hegel offers an argument againstrational egoism, since he is often described as simply denying that aposition like egoism is even possible. Hegel is said to maintain thathuman individuals are simply creatures of their social environment tosuch an extent that it is just not logically possible for one individual todeclare herself independent and adopt a purely exploitative attitude to-ward the people around her. However, the passages in which Hegeldescribes and diagnoses the origin of evil-for example, as "the supreme,most stubborn error, which takes itself for the highest truth, appearingin more concrete forms as abstract freedom, pure ego and . . . asEvil" 2-make it sufficiently clear that Hegel does not regard egoism asobviously senseless and requiring no detailed refutation. I aim to showthat a great deal of what he writes in the Logic and the Encyclopedia canbe interpreted as just such a detailed refutation.


    Hegel's best known treatment of what seems like a version of ra-tional egoism is in his account of mutual recognition and the Master andthe Bondsman in the Phenomenology of Spirit and the Encyclopedia of thePhilosophical Sciences. Here, he argues that the Master's need for recog-nition of his freedom is not satisfied by the Bondsman's obedience,since the Master is "still far from seeing in the former himself' 3 and theMaster cannot value recognition of his freedom that is awarded by some-one in whom he does not see a capacity for freedom. From this, Hegel

    I I discuss the Logic's relevance to all three of these sets of issues in ROBERT M. WALLACE,HEGEL'S PHILOSOPHY OF REALITY, FREEDOM, AND GOD (2005).

    2 5 G.W.F. HEGEL, Wissenschafi der Logik I, in WERKE 192 (Eva Moldenhauer & Karl

    Marcus Michel eds., 1970) [hereinafter 5 WL]; 21 G.W.F. HEGEL, GESAMMELTE WERKE 160,II. 33-36 (1968) [hereinafter GW] (source on file with author); see also G.W.F. Hegel, HEGEL'SSCIENCE OF LOGIC 172 (A.V. Miller trans., 1967) [hereinafter SL]. I give volume and pagenumbers in GW, but the line numbers that follow the page numbers are from G.W.F. HEGEL,WISSENSCHAFT DER LOGIK (Hans-Jurgen Gawoll ed., Philosophische Bibliothek 1999). Thethird page number in references to the Wissenschaf der Logik is from the Miller translation.Translations of Hegel in this paper are my own, but for the convenience of readers, I give pagenumbers or paragraph numbers in the standard English translations.

    3 G.W.F. HEGEL, HEGEL'S PHILOSOPHY OF MIND 436 (William Wallace & Arnold V.Miller trans., 1971) [hereinafter EG] (emphasis added); see also G.W.F. HEGEL, PHENOMENOL-

    OGY OF SPIIT 192 (A.V. Miller trans., 1977).

    [Vol. 3:155


    concludes that both Master and Bondsman must "know themselves af-firmatively in the other self' and consequently participate in the mutual-ity of family, fatherland, state, and so forth.4 But why does the Masterneed his freedom to be recognized by anyone else, in the first place?And why is this need-the "drive . . . to be present [da zu sein] for theother as a free self"5-- strong enough to override self-centered intereststhat might otherwise tempt him to trample on family, fatherland, andso forth?

    To explain why the Master has this need for recognition, I amgoing to go back, first of all, all the way to the Quality chapter of theLogic, in which I think the pattern that is at work here is ultimatelyrooted. This will then lead me to the Logic's account of Objectivity,Life, and the Idea, in which Hegel first spells out conclusions that arevery similar to those he is drawing here in the Philosophy of Spirit.6


    The concept that Hegel introduces in Quality, which pervades hislater work to such an extent that he calls it the "fundamental concept ofphilosophy," 7 is true infinity. To understand true infinity we must un-derstand its relation to what Hegel calls reality and to what he callsnegation. Reality refers to the aspect of a determinate quality that isimmediate or in the form of being.8 Negation, on the other hand, is therespect in which the determinate quality is mediated: the interrelationbetween this quality and other qualities of the same type. For example,the quality, red, is a color; it can be determined-that is, specified-only through its relation to other colors that it is not. Red is the color

    4 EG, supra note 3, 436 Remark.5 EG, supra note 3, 430.6 The only book I am aware of that suggests that Hegel's account of recognition, in the

    Phenomenology of Spirit and the Philosophy of Spirit, is an elaboration of ideas that first emerges(within the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences) in his Logic is PAUL REDDING, HEGEL'SHERMENEUTICS 156-65 (1996). It will be clear from what follows that I have found this to bean extremely fruitful hypothesis. Robert Williams gives a useful discussion of Hegel's views onwhole/part relationships, Mechanism, and Chemism in the Science of Logic, but introduces themonly in connection with the topic of "The State as a Social Organism" (in contrast to socialcontract theories of the state). ROBERT R. WiLLiAMs, HEGEL'S ETHICS OF RECOGNITION 300-12 (1997). As for Hegel's account of recognition in the Encyclopedia and elsewhere, Williamsdoes not appear to view the Logic as necessary for making sense of it. Id.

    7 GEORG W.F. HEGEL, HEGEL'S LOGIC 95 (William Wallace trans., 1975) [hereinafterEL].

    8 5 WL, supra note 2, at 118; 21 GW, supra note 2, at 98, 1. 29; SL, supra note 2, at 111.



    that is not-blue, not-green, and so forth. This is the sense in which, asHegel puts it, "omnis determinatio est negatio" (all determination de-pends upon negation).9 But this notion of negation is by no means theend of the discussion of quality because we have not yet done justice toquality's immediacy, which Hegel called its reality. Hegel's first attemptto do justice to quality's immediacy is the something that he describes asthe negation of the first negation,1" or negativity for short. Negativitymakes something (as Hegel puts it later) "self-related in opposition to itsrelation to other."11 Hegel actually identifies this self-related somethingas "the beginning of the subject," which will later emerge as being-for-self,the Concept, and so forth. 12 However, there are problems with thissomething. Its being-in-itself--its self-relatedness in opposition to its re-lation to others-should, Hegel says, be "in it" or "posited."13 It, too,should be a quality, a concrete feature of the object. If it is a quality, itmust (once again) be a being-for-other, an interrelationship with otherqualities; but in that case the something is no longer opposed to allrelation to other.14 To avoid this problem, Hegel reformulates thesomething as finitude. The limit that makes somethings finite is meantto keep the being of each finite something separate from the being ofothers; 15 but this limit becomes yet another other for the something,16 sothat the something is still determined by a being-for-other-a nega-tion-and thus, is still not an immediate reality.

    To solve this problem, Hegel int