Hegel accepted the notion of a free, self-conscious individual (the contribution of Locke) and the notion of the rational and universal (the contribution of Kant). But, in Hegel's view, the self-conscious individual and the universal had to be developed, had to evolve. Self-consciousness and self-direction under the regime of the universal was just the starting point. For Hegel, life was not being, existence; life was becoming. Hegel clearly rejected an ontological ethic, an ethic based upon being. Rather, one might say that Hegel advanced an ethic of becoming, a rheological* ethic. "The human being, in his immediate existence [Existenz] in himself, is a natural entity, external to his concept," Hegel says in his Elements on the Philosophy of Right. In other words, man's existence is untrue, he must aim at something else, his "concept" which is distinct from his existence. He continues:
[I]t is only through the development [Ausbildung] of his own body and spirit, essentially by means of his self-conscious comprehending itself as free, that he takes possession of himself and becomes his own property as distinct from others. Or to put it the other way around, this taking possession of oneself consists also in translating into actuality what one is in terms of one's concept.Cortest, 59 (quoting Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right). This is autonomy in its fullness. Man "becomes his own property as distinct from others," only if he becomes self-consciously aware of himself as free. That would suppose that man is not distinct from other men unless he becomes self-consciously aware of his freedom, and this would appear to be consistent with Hegel's pantheistic tendencies. What this means is that one translates himself by a process of development into an actual realization of one's concept. What is the "concept" to which this self-consciously free man strives for? This concept of the human being is that the human being is spirit:
[It is] something free in itself, and is one-sided inasmuch as it regards the human being as by nature free, or (and this amounts to the same thing) takes the concept as such as its immediacy, not the Idea, as the truth. . . . The free spirit consists precisely in not have its being as mere concept or in itself, but in overcoming [aufheben] this formal phase of its being and hence also its immediate natural existence, and in giving itself an existence which is purely its own and free.Cortest, 60 (quoting Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right). Thus, one is to reject the notion that one has his being as a mere concept or in himself (ontology); rather, this free spirit is exactly in not having its being as mere concept or not having its being in itself. One has to overcome, lift oneself out of being and out of one's immediate natural existence. One thereby translates himself then into a unbounded existence which is purely of its own manufacture and is completely free of any links to nature or being. We are free when we join in the grand dance of becoming, when we leave, through the recognition of our own radical freedom of spirit, the notion that we are being. We are not free in being. We are free only in becoming.
In Hegel's view, we are not born free as human beings. We become free only through our own rationality. The human person has no ontological dignity that necessarily and absolutely requires that all men be born free. Our natural existence is of lesser importance for Hegel, for whom the rational is preeminent. No human being is born free in this system, he or she acquires freedom through rational self-consciousness.Cortest, 60. But in all this becoming, where is it exactly we are going? Here, Hegel, who has cast off the supposed shackles of natural being and existence, and led us to the freedom and the spirit of becoming, leads us back into an ominous, dehumanizing prison: the State. It is as if Hegel were an SS guard, persuading the Jew that to be free he had to leave his hearth and home in old Warsaw, be shipped in the cold of winter to Auschwitz in a Reichsbahn Güterwagen, assuring him that, now that he has been released from hearth and home, the freedom he experienced in the cold box car will translate itself into the ultimate freedom of the concentration camp. It is no coincidence that some, whether fairly or unfairly we will leave others to figure out, have traced the horrors of World War I (L. T. Hobhouse in his The Metaphysical Theory of the State) and World War II and the Nazi totalitarianism and atrocities (Karl Popper in his The Open Society and Its Enemies) at least in part the foot of Hegel.
Whatever the final verdict on the contribution of Hegel's philosophy to one of the bloodiest and most brutal half-centuries in the history of man, one at least on to pay attention to the following words of Hegel. They lend probable cause for Hegel's indictment by Hobhouse and Popper:
The state is the actuality of concrete freedom. But concrete freedom requires that personal individuality [Einzelheit] and its particular interests should reach their full development and gain recognition of their right for itself (within the system of the family and of civil society), and also that they should, on the one hand, pass over of their own accord into the interest of the universal, and on the other, knowingly and willingly acknowledge this universal interest even as their own substantial spirit, and actively pursue it as their ultimate end.Cortest, 60-61 (quoting Hegel's Philosophy of Right). Hegel also says that "[t]he state is the divine will as present spirit, unfolding as the actual shape and organization of a world." Cortest, 61. Concrete freedom is found in the State? The State is the "divine will as present spirit"? Did we read Hegel right? Cortest certainly thinks so:
Human dignity, for Hegel, must be acquired through a process of self-awareness in the state. The notion of the dignity of the human person as such, independent of the state, is a doctrine not defended by Hegel. If the "ultimate end" of human beings is only fully realized in the state, no individual human being can ever achieve this end outside of the state. The state is, therefore, the context within which human beings acquire dignity.
Cortest, 61. This is a long way down from the dignity St. Thomas Aquinas's ontological and eudaemonistic ethic gives us. As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord and his Church, and not Hegel and his State.
To close these postings on the unholy trinity of moralists, the liberal John Locke, the imperativist Immanuel Kant, and the statist/spiritualist G.W.F. Hegel, all of whom have contributed to the modern system and have disfigured the face of natural law which is upon ontological suppositions, we will allow Cortest to summarize for us:
Cortest, 64. What and who was going to draw us out of the vortex of confusion?
Although Kant's doctrine may have differed from Hegel's in many fundamental ways, his emphasis on the universality of reason and moral autonomy prepared the way for Hegel's rational spirit. Locke, who most probably would have rejected much of what Hegel would later write, also prepared the way for Hegel with his emphasis on individual freedom. All three of these thinkers broke with the older tradition of ontological morality, that by Hegel's day had few intellectual defenders. Indeed, not since the time of the great Aristotelians of the seventeenth century had the old system found a strong enough advocate to defend it against the philosophical voices that now dominated European intellectual life.
Enter Stage Right: Count Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, more commonly known as Pope Leo XIII.
*This is probably a neologism, at least in matters of morality. The word "rheos" comes from the statement attributed to Heraclitus, though not found in his extant writings, which encapsulates that reality is not being, but is becoming: Τα Πάντα ῥεῖ (ta panta rhei), meaning "everything flows."
The actual words attributed to Heraclitus are found in his cryptic utterances:
ποταμοῖσι τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν ἐμϐαίνουσιν, ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρεῖ.
Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers.
Ποταμοῖς τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐμβαίνομέν τε καὶ οὐκ ἐμβαίνομεν, εἶμέν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶμεν.
We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.
Plato in his dialogue Cratylus [402a] gave his interpretation of the Heraclitean notion of the ever-flowingness, ever-changingness of life, the never-staying-the-sameness of life:
πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει.Instead of "to flow," rheos, Plato uses chōrei, from the word, χωρέω (chōreō), change, give way, or withdraw.
Everything changes and nothing remains still.
Though as far as I know the words rheology or rheological are not used in moral philosophy, the word rheology is used in physics to describe the study of the flow of matter.