…on strawson’s freedom & resentment

October 20, 2013 § Leave a comment


above: Contemplation, Perseverance, Imagination, and Free Will. From the morality play Hickscorner. Reproduced in H.W. Mabie, William Shakespeare (1900).

…link to P.F. Strawson’s Fredom & Resentment (PDF)

“When not prompted by vanity, we say little.” ―François de La Rochefoucauld

The British philosopher P.F. Strawson (1919-2006), in his famous 1963 essay “Freedom and Resentment”[1] offers an elaborate account of compatibilism vs. libertarianism. In his unique style of argumentation on compatibilism vs. libertarianism, he obliquely addresses the compatibility of determinism with free will. In order to grapple with these slippery metaphysical questions, Strawson makes use of unique terminology, e.g. reactive attitudes, optimists, and pessimists. The modest goal of this paper will be to investigate, and to critically evaluate Strawson’s “reactive attitudes” as they are related to his reconciliation between the opposed camps of optimists (compatibilists), on one side of the debate, and pessimists (libertarians) on the other.

The first order of business will be to examine Strawson’s differences and similarities between people he names as optimists and pessimists. This provides a ground from which to build his argument from what he calls “reactive attitudes” (76). Essentially, the two sides are similar, in that both are concerned with the daunting issue of determinism. Strawson explicitly and cleverly avoids defining this thorny word. With respect to this issue of determinism, an optimist believes, according to Strawson, that “[…] the facts as we know them […]” do not prove determinism to be false, and “[…] the facts as we know them […]” do not threaten determinism (73). But, just what are these facts as we know them? They are the “concepts” and “practices” Strawson speaks of in the opening lines of the essay (72). The concepts that the optimist speaks of are such things as moral responsibility and moral obligation. The practices have to do with “[…] punishing and blaming, of expressing moral condemnation and approval […]” (72). Opposing the optimist, the pessimist feels these concepts and practices put determinism into question. The pessimist has a problem with these, not because he denies their existence, but because he feels these concepts and practices point to a kind of freedom. Apparently, the pessimist feels that freedom undermines determinism, because if people are able to act freely, they are then able to act otherwise, and this, for the pessimist undermines the optimist’s determinism that is, more or less, compatible with free will. We’ll choose to read Strawson’s brand of freedom as generally synonymous with free will.

Strawson defines the optimist’s freedom as “[…] nothing but the absence of certain conditions the presence of which would make moral condemnations or punishment inappropriate” (75). A few sentences later he calls this a “[…] negative sense […]” of freedom. A negative sense of freedom can be thought of as an absence of restraints, whereas a positive sense of freedom basically suggests that one acts within restraints. Putting this in the context of Strawson’s argument, implies, that the optimist believes that we usually hold people responsible when they are acting without involuntary restraints such as insanity, etc. But, the actual manner in which we normally hold people responsible depends on Strawson’s reactive attitudes. This must be Strawson’s way of addressing what free will is. And, as with determinism, the underlying issue of free will is slyly implicated and worked into his detailed elaborations on reactive attitudes.

It should, by now, already be clear, for Strawson, and for us, that the pessimist is a libertarian, whereby a libertarian is someone who admits free will and denies determinism. For a libertarian, free will and determinism are incompatible. This simultaneously means that he’s an incompatibilist. On the obverse, the optimist is a compatibilist. This then means that, if we haven’t noticed it already, the optimist believes that free will and determinism work together compatibly. In a subtle gesture of non-detachment, Strawson admits that he doesn’t wish to center the argument “[…] between determinists and libertarians […]” (75). Instead, he wishes to speak of “[…] non detached attitudes and reactions […]” (75). This indicates that Strawson wants to talk about how people react to one another, inter-personally, in a normal everyday sense. With this move Strawson seems to be wresting academic philosophy from the possibilities of its aloof detachments. This refreshing gesture demarcates his particular brand of ordinary language philosophy. This appears to be an aside, but it’s central to his overall position. We’ll talk about this non detachment later.

Okay, now to bring us to a better understanding toward his reconciliation between the optimists and pessimists, Strawson gradually leads us to three species of reactive attitudes, which must be related to the ways our wills are ordinarily directed toward other people and ourselves (§ V, 84-85). Strawson’s reactive attitudes are: (1) the personal reactive attitudes: which have to do with the goodwill of others toward us. This can also include the expectation of such an attitude. (2) The generalized or vicarious analogues of the personal reactive attitudes: are, for Strawson, closely linked to (1) with the difference that it doesn’t only include other’s attitudes toward us, but toward all people in general and in similarly vicarious ways. (3) The self reactive attitudes: have to do with the demands we make on others, which includes such emotions as: guilt, remorse, responsibility, shame, etc. Strawson also makes the point that the reactive attitudes are “[…] humanly connected […]” (85). We’ll take this to mean that there are allowable overlaps between the three attitudes, they are not mutually exclusive. If there were instances where a person had just one of these attitudes, say, only the personal reactive attitude, Strawson indicates that we’d have a “[…] moral solipsist […]” (85). But, why are these important? These attitudes are important for Strawson to contemplate the broader issue of resentment, and how resentment can be connected to determinism, and to consider how we hold people, morally responsible for their actions. This includes the reverse, how others hold us morally responsible for our actions toward them. The attitudes are also important to show how the optimist finds a justification contra the pessimist. This indicates that the relative attitudes (a.k.a. our intra-personal moral attitudes) must in be place to regulate and deal with the admittedly problematic nature of determinism. Ostensibly, for the optimist, because someone accepts determinism, this doesn’t mean that it will lead to “[…] the total decay […] of these attitudes […]” (87).

It is worth noting that before he detailed the reactive attitudes, Strawson highlighted a distinction between the “personal” and “objective” attitudes (§ IV). The implicit reason Strawson brings in the emphasis on the personal vs. the objective, has to do with the manner in which we hold people responsible for their actions—good or bad. For example, this brand of objectivity might imply that we can’t fault people for their ignorance or immaturity, since it’s not their fault. This is a typical way we find ourselves avoiding the personal responsibility of dealing with people in direct and personal ways. Objectivity apportions people into neat predetermined categories. Objectivity has negative relevance, for Strawson and for us, because this kind of hard objectivity arrogantly fumbles its way into our inter-personal relationships. It could be the case that this objectivity tries to provide a matter of fact, un-nuanced view on determinism. Extending this, Strawson is keen to suggest that this kind of strict objectivity doesn’t necessarily prove that determinism is true, since, as mentioned before, he has no conclusive view on what determinism actually is (82).

None of this is cut-and-dry, since as Strawson suggests, the pessimist could point out that the optimist ends up having to acquire the dreaded objective stance that downplays the significance of the very reactive attitudes he holds as a defense against the pessimist’s iron-clad libertarianism. Social policy, such as punishment, objectifies people plain and simple. Again, this suggests that the optimist has to admit a kind of hard determinism he wanted to partially avoid with his inclusion of the reactive attitudes. This, for the pessimist, implies that the optimist has to let go of some of his humanity and goodwill, in order to advocate for objective punishment etc.

Now, somehow we’re back in the hot water from which we thought we were escaping. To this Strawson thankfully takes heed, “[o]ptimist and pessimist misconstrue the facts in very different styles. But […] there is something in common […]. Both seek […] to overintellectualize the facts” (91). This leaves room for the endless tweaking of both positions. And this simultaneously indicates that both sides might imagine that all we need to do is get all the facts, figures and modifications of our metaphysics straight, and then we’ll finally be able to solve the unwieldy and manifold problems that attend to determinism as it relates to free will. It is not clear that getting it absolutely straightened out will ever be possible.

But, a few things can be made evident, to which Strawson makes an effort toward clarification. First, we shouldn’t lose sight of the intrinsic value morality has for people. Indecently, this point airs on the side of the optimist, since the opitmist allows for determinism, whereas a libertarian, of the kind we’ve been talking about, has to depend on what?—chance? It would be foolish, even for the sake of argument, to obliterate morality in the name of some theory that overlooks the subtlety of our inter-personal humanity. Philosophy should never lose sight, nor misunderstand, the value of a humanitarian outlook. Strawson alludes to this with regard to morality “[i]t is a pity that talk of the moral sentiments has fallen out of favor” (92). This is another of Strawson’s salient points. We tend forget that we’re talking about actual human beings when we’re doing philosophy, analytic or otherwise.

“Finally, perhaps the most important factor of all is the prestige of these theoretical studies themselves” (93). The prestige of a good idea is worth nothing if applied without wisdom. We like it when people act with good will toward us, yet we resent their actions when we detect the glare of calculated malevolence. We openly offer prestige to ideas that help people live better lives. What is actually gained by presenting an idea incomprehensibly? In a tragic-comic way Strawson shows his affiliation when he refers to “[…] the obscure and panicky metaphysics of libertarianism” (93). The obscurity and panic is probably a reference to the strange term ‘contra-causal’. Contra-causality does its work in the libertarian’s position aside from normal causality. But what about Strawson’s early talk of reconciliation? If we topically judge this reconciliation by the last paragraph of his essay, it didn’t happen. However, if we dig deeper, we’ll notice that Strawson does bring both sides together—weighing each against the other. Compatibilists and libertarians are brought together to dialectically challenge one another. In other words, one might not have to argue one’s position so hard if the opposing side wasn’t so tough and thoroughgoing in his stubborn willingness to deny your lengthy arguments. If this is reconciliation, it is a reconciliation, whereby two sides are brought together by Strawson to simply challenge themselves. These arguments are respectable ways for them to prove their mettle. Yet, none of this should get in the way of learning how to respect each other and to act morally with one another. This idea resonates with the positive freedom of our ethical interactions, without ever explicitly saying it P.F. Strawson brought us to this curious point.

—Aurelio Madrid

[1] Peter Strawson, “Freedom and Resentment” in Free Will, ed. Gary Watson, 72-93. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

notes on hegel’s philosophy of right / §§129-141

October 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

hegel 7

Section 3 / The Good and the Conscience


For Hegel, if anything, the good is the ultimate end, as it can be entwined with a conceptual will and a personal will. These are aspects of the realization of the “Idea.” This means that the good is a conceptualization of freedom. The good is actualized freedom.


Conceptually speaking, welfare isn’t any good unless it has components of the good within it. When welfare achieves this, it is universal. And vise versa, right must also contain a conceptualization of welfare for it to have its universal reach. As Hegel puts it: “Fiat iustitia [let justice be done] should not have pereat mundus [even if the world shall perish]”, meaning that justice cannot be done at the expense of the world’s perishing.


Will, for me (a thinking subject) must have the good as its goal, only if I’m able to make this a project for the will. I have to will to be good. Good doesn’t just happen without an effort on my part.


Subjectively the will has a primary rational aspect that it must recognize. This is its formal aspect. It can be “true,” “opinionated,” or “false.” In a moral sense, a person recognizes these things, thus he is able to judge his actions good, bad, or annoying. This, of course, extends to the responsibility a person has over his actions with respect to the laws of the state. Later, it is odd to hear Hegel comparing an arsonist (lighting fire to one inch of wood) to an animal who should be hit on the head because it is prone to fits of rage, i.e. we need to realize the universal reach of our actions—instead of only our own selfish ends.


Here, Hegel is referring to Kant’s deontological conception of morality, whereby the subject acts out of a duty that is linked to obligation, universality, and the “essential character of a subject’s will” (see footnote: Kant).


But, what is this ‘duty’ anyway? Shouldn’t our real goal should be to promote the right and welfare.


An unconditioned “determination of duty” is not sufficient (in Hegel’s critique of Kant’s deontological morality) since it doesn’t necessarily point to what to do next. Where can one go with unconditioned duty alone?


Enter the conscience that is abstracted from the good, as it can also be made certain about the ends of the good. Not in particular, rather, in the most general sense of knowing about the good.


That my conscience disposition contains within it a sense of the good and a sense of duty is a mere formality, i.e. a rational formality.


The subjective is assumed under “right, duty and existence” to which we are somehow obliged to actualize.


Putting all other determinations aside, the will is capable of acting universally or arbitrarily with evil. Ruminate on the origin of evil in the willfulness of man. Just as we are capable of doing good, we are simultaneously capable of doing evil. Evil resides in the speculative comportment of freedom. When the will succumbs to the selfishness of its desires it loses recognition of its universal comportment, it is then said to be evil. The notion—dare we say concept—of evil contains within it a “necessity of evil” that is always working to sublate its own negation. Evil is still arbitrary, as much as it is caught up in “particularity” rather than the ‘bigger picture’ in the form of the universal (see addition: presentation of the conceptual relationship between good and evil as dialectical by implication, biblically etc.).


Self-consciousness knows how to position itself toward the good, for itself and for others. But, it is also capable of hypocrisy, i.e. self-consciousness can put on the veneer of right while doing otherwise. We are at a time when not only are we hypocritical, but we are also capable of being deluded into believing that evil is good.

(a) hypocrisy is:

α) cognition of the universal, right, duty etc.

β) the willing of the selfish ends.

γ) awareness of these two ‘moments’ as “bad conscience” (re: evil). Yet, there are problems with this, acting in awareness of our misdeeds, or acting in ignorance of our misdeeds, and questions as to where to place blame, etc.

(b) evil does not always present itself in a hypocritical mode. Evil also presents itself as being good. A man may also conflate any good he has done as a justification for his evil deeds.

(c) see footnote on “probalism” (re: Pascal). This “probalistic” view of morality suggests that if we can find a single good reason for our evil, then we are beguiled into thinking that the evil is somehow justified.

(d) Hegel seems to warn that we must be careful how we justify our intentions, as well as the motives behind those intentions, because good intentions may actually harbor evil intentions. Just because I aim to do good, doesn’t mean I’m justified in doing evil to bring about that good.

(e) simply because I “subjectively” deem my opinion to be justified, does not make it justified in any universal sense.

(f) irony sometimes posits itself as good while doing evil. If you decide to do evil ‘ironically’ while pretending that it’s in the name of the good, it doesn’t obviate the harm that’s done in the name of irony, bad jokes, mock evil, tragic-comic portrayals, and so on…, (see Hegel’s note () on Professor Solger’s account of irony as it relates to tragedy, Socrates etc. and also see addition, notes and footnotes, especially on Schlegel’s theory of irony, etc.).

Transition from Morality to Ethical Life


The good and the conscience know the good, in a subjective sense—yet it is only when these are cast toward the universal, can they aspire to an ethical life. Morality, in and of itself, is insufficient as an end, it must, if it is to recognize itself leading an ethical life. The addition to this section helpfully notes: “[t]he sphere of right and that of morality cannot exist independently; they must have the ethical as their support and foundation.”

Aurelio Madrid

notes on hegel’s philosophy of right / §§105-128

September 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

philosophy of right v

Part Two / Morality


As we have noticed, for Hegel the will is not only infinite, it is actual and it also a potential for a person as a subject.


That the will of a person can be thought of conceptually and subjectively, and that this same person is a being, the subjectivity of the will is a conceptual entity for a human being. This idea is then able to become formulated and determined into existence as freedom that manifests into a morality that grasps the universality of will.


Not only can the person recognize that his will exists as a determination, he also conceptualizes what to do with it. He, via a conception of a universal will, can subjectively determine to himself a concept of morality that extends to the objective world around him.


Hegel has already covered the abstract qualities of the will, from its “being in itself” as it is in relation toward its “being for itself”, i.e. the actualizations of the potentialities of the will—these are its “formal” aspects in its “infinite self-determination.” This is not exactly the same as conceptuality of the will, whereas someone would still have to recognize a relationship that extends to other people. Dialectically, the will is opposed to this in its conscious finitude and must sublate this negative into a morality toward others (see addition: notice the differentiation between the moral and the ethical. Also be sure to note the differences between Kant’s morality, with respect to his deontological categorical imperative, and Hegel’s limitations on morality in these sections).


Primarily, we recognize that the will has with it an opposition between its subjectivity and its objectivity and these must be sublated conceptually (re: self-determining will).

“In the self-determining will, determinacy is”:

α) selfish, only for itself.

β) wanting to overcome the selfishness.

γ) perhaps this critical opposition will help the selfish will out of his selfishness.


(A) A kind of freedom solidifies determinations. The will could take this as a chance to act morally.


(B) The content of the will, its manifest contingencies, make for the specific determinations of a person. This is universal. These are aspects of the will:

α) the person knows he is willing.

β) the person knows he has to act, since he is willing, yet, his conceptual subjective scheme is not always in conformity with the rest of the world (you can say that again).


(C) I identify with the will of others, and at the same time, I recognize my will working in tandem with theirs—hence, we (hopefully) act with a positive recognition toward others.

“Objectivity contains three moments”, or rather, it’s dialectically triadic:

α) objectivity.


β) concept..


A man is moral in action.

An action is:

α) my externality.

β) working conceptually with the outer world.

γ) working in tandem with others.


Three aspects of the right are made manifest in the will:

(A) I put forth a will for what is right.

(B) The action manifests in its specific contingency:

α) in its intention.

β) in its conceptualization.

(c) The conceptualization of the action is such that, for Hegel, it is made to be universal and objective, whether it is evil or conscientious.

Section 1 / Purpose and Responsibility


A person’s will is made manifest in its contingency, in its finitude, and is defined by his action in the objective world as a “deed” that he is subsequently responsible for.


I am not entirely responsible if something of mine (unattached for my person) accidentally hurts you, but ultimately—in the bigger picture—I am.


The will finds that it wants to act, yet it is still merely finite, while at the same time, it must be able to take responsibility for its actions, and its deeds.


Insofar as we must take responsibility for our actions, we must also recognize that our action have a wide range of consequences. Sometimes these consequences extend beyond the original purpose enough to lose the original intent and from which our responsibility fades.

Section 2 / Intention and Welfare


An action can manifest into an infinite number of configurations. Dialectically, the individual is a sublation of the universal, and these actions have a wide ranging scope. This is where the individual’s intention becomes universalized (see diagram below: the A, B, and C points are the original contingent actions and then notice unique emanations stem from each action). These actions can have the insidious effect of malcontent, e.g. arson or murder etc.



A person’s intentions, seen as universal, are objective and can be said to be rightful products of a thinking person’s will.


For Hegel, a person has willed an action into being and this is universal. The person can take pleasure in the products of his actions—but, is he acting morally in his self-satisfaction?


Yes, your self-satisfaction with a deed can be a means to an end, and for this reason we find nothing beyond your selfish intention.


To what end do your actions serve?

α) to see them through, to promote your contingent will.

β) they can also serve to define finitude of self-gratification (re: vice, opinion, anger, hunger etc.).


Simply because you are self-satisfied in the appeasement of your desires, does not make you any more worthwhile.


The subjective will looks after its welfare and it knows that it has to respect the welfare of others, but if this all there is, with no actualized implementation, then it is mere hypocrisy.


Your corrupt self-righteousness can be invalidated, no matter how much you think it must be otherwise.


There may be occasions whereby we would have to commit a wrong to save a life, re: if it is for done for a right of necessity. Therefore, for such a ‘crime,’ we cannot be made to pay more than we have, as with beneficium competentiae (see footnote: “beneficence of need”).


For Hegel, all of the above serves to designate the finitude of the will in a narrow moralistic sense, i.e. the self-righteous flattery of moral rectitude doesn’t extend beyond it’s selfish desires and modes of well-being—it’s good, it’s alright, but it’s limited.

Aurelio Madrid

notes on hegel’s philosophy of right / §§82-104.

September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

notes on the philosophy of right iv

Section 3 / Wrong


In a contract, what is right is already assumed. For Hegel, this becomes wrong when the two rights are brought together and one is “particular” (or peculiar) in a way that differs from the other. The opposing right, in its particularity, is a “semblance” (counterfeit) of right, it is only resolved when it negates itself to become right and not universal.


Even if wrong is merely a semblance of right, it desires to be self-sufficient. The wrong may appear to be right, or it is a clear nullity of the right, i.e. it’s just wrong, in the sense of the latter, it is a crime.

A. Unintentional Wrong


Possessions and contracts are drawn up by particular individuals, with any particularities that become inevitable under such agreements. These can be made legal in the universal recognition of the agreement. But, these can be interpreted in differing ways. Hence, we have the growth of varied disagreements resulting from the festering misunderstandings.


With civil law we make claims (or disputes) onto things that have to do with individuals and/or their property, we find that disputes of this kind are brought about by basic questions having to do with what is properly mine, or yours, along with any subsequent negations.


When we have only our particular interests in mind, right is made into a mere “semblance” (counterfeit) of itself, perhaps represented as an obligation. Yet, when confronted with universal right, as it is in-itself, two people can (hopefully) be made to recognize something beyond their mutual disagreement/s.

B. Deception


Deception is brought about by an individual’s “reduction” of the right to a semblance, which must be a counterfeit of right. Deception occurs, if we are fooled into thinking that the deception is right.


Although a contract, concerning property etc., can be legitimate, another’s respect for the universal will may not be in line with the actual terms of the agreements in the contract.


The universal aspect of right must be held, above and beyond, that which is arbitrary. Anything that does not recognize this is deceptive.

C. Coercion and Crime


To own something means you can bribe someone with it (as an unfortunate manifestation of your monomaniacal suffering).


Although certain people can be dominated by others due to their obsequiousness, my free will can resist being physically beaten. My free will might fall weak to banal external enforcements—only if I let in.


Force and coercion work in tandem to destroy the willing, the willful.


Coercion can be sublated (Aufheben) by coercion. Also, we must unfortunately, allow for forms of coercion that are obliquely horrible (re: pedagogical).


We will be sure to recognize that abstract right has it within its power to coerce the wrongfulness placed on it.


To infringe on another person’s rights, by coercion, is a crime. Hegel mentions the curious “negatively infinite judgment” [I’m continuing to research Hegel’s use of the judgment in his Logic] provisionally, the infinite judgment seems to be a judgment that is made between the individual and the “notion” (concept) and an infinite judgment must be when we are trying to subsume the ‘big picture’ in our way of judging the conceptual nature of things. So, a negative infinite judgment must go against a positive judgment, therefore, it is a crime. Crime, not only negates my will, it also tries to obviate my universal “capacity for rights.”


Surely, there must be a variance of quality and quantity by which we can assess a crime’s malfeasance. This must be determined in relation to the specific damage visited upon another person. Crimes manifest in a multitude of guises and must be considered with due measure.


When a crime is committed, there is an attempt to nullify a person’s rights. So, in turn, there is the open possibility to then nullify the negation (re: to right the wrong). Punishment seeks to sublate the wrongdoing.


Your evil “infringement” is only external, therefore, you should be held responsible for any or all property damage incurred by your spurious malfeasance.


Another person, can willfully injure my person, in so doing, this person is positively wrong, i.e. an injurious crime cannot coincide positively with the existence of other’s rights, freedoms, wills, etc. The only positive place for the injurious crime remains with what criminal does against me (see footnote: Feuerbach’s father).


A criminal sets up a kind of law unto his crime—punishable offences are often rationalized into existence.


Crimes are to be punished according to the quality and quantity of the crime committed. Your injustice deserves a proper punishment (review lengthy section again, re: the absurdity of an eye-for-an-eye, etc.).


Revenge doesn’t always exact an equivalent justice and it can be sustained throughout generations. Revenge might lose its original complaint over the years.


To resolve a wrongdoing, the “subjective will” must aspire/appeal to the “universal will” to lay claim to justice, rather than to simply declare revenge.

Transition from Right to Morality


We must acquire within ourselves the universal ability to recognize when we have been wronged, hereby making an advancement in the determination/s of our will. This must be a self-actualization that is transferable within our relationship with others. Freedom develops from the will in the abstract to be made self-determinate. Our will is made actual in our possessions. When we hold these possessions in common with others, we do so under contract. For something to be wrong the contingency of an individual’s will poses as a semblance of right (and so, banality continues in its counterfeit mode, ad infinitum…). It is at this point where we can (with Hegel’s assistance) progress to questions of morality.

Aurelio Madrid

notes on hegel’s philosophy of right / §§44-81

September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

notes on the philosophy of right iii

Section 1/ Property (continued)


For Hegel, a person has the right to own things and to take them up as his own (appropriation). Hegel references the Kantian “thing-in-itself.” Things are made evident by a determination of free will to take possession of them. Thus, the absolute will binds with the finitude of things to become an extension of the infinite (see footnote: Kant’s thing-in-itself).


We take power in the ownership of property and thereby property becomes an extension of our freedom, not as a means, but simply as part of it.


Private property is an extension of will and this is not arbitrary, nor is to be subsumed into state (communal) property which would be a denial of personal freedom, since the objects we own are the physical aspects of our will and cannot be taken away arbitrarily.


I own my body because I will it. For Hegel, animals don’t share this willing ownership of their corporeality.


The body and spirit are incommensurate until the spirit becomes self-consciousness, that is, until my spirit is made actual by my body—the body becomes the vehicle of spirit. The spirit cannot be made to be entirely separate from the body. Because of this, physical injury to my body is injury to my spirit, will, freedom etc.


I can own things, and that I own particular things, does not mean that everyone needs to own the same things, or the same amount of things. The things I own are brought about by the effort I have made to acquire them (see footnote: Fichte’s “civil property”).


A person owns things as a feature of his own free will. If another person wishes to take possession of such things, they have to confront my free will, not simply because I owned it first.


The fact that I can own something as an extension of my own free will, doesn’t mean much until this ownership potential stands in relation to other people. Rightful ownership implies a communal relationship to things.


When we take possession of a thing, we also take possession of its very materiality (see footnote: Fichte).


The will is related to its possession in three ways:

(α) Positive: I possess the thing.

(β) Negative: I do not possess the thing.

(γ) Infinite judgment: I possess the thing that I do not want, alternately, I want to possess the thing I cannot have (re: alienation).

A. Taking Possession


To possess something comes before ownership of something. Ownership is a designation of my determination to formalize the possession of the thing.


(α) When we take possession of something (physical seizure) I’ll have to understand that I can do this, not only with my hands, but by other means. Some things (land, rivers etc.) are extended beyond my mere grasping of them, therefore, I can be said to possess these things too.


(β) When I make something from what I possess, this form becomes (exists as) something other than me. It has a ‘life’ of its own.


My body is my own, but it does not become my own till I become self-conscious enough to make it an actuality. It is not enough to be human. One has to become a person (re: a slave has to actualize his personhood first, before he can take the necessary steps to become emancipated).


(γ) A sign (signifier) can be placed on my possession to designate it as mine, yet this is not ownership outright, it is merely a sign of that possession.

B. Use of the Thing


Under my capacity to own a thing is a primary relationship with that thing, in that, I can use this thing. With that possibility, it should not follow that if I do not use (or need) the thing, it will no longer be mine. This also means that if I choose to destroy and/or modify the thing, I can do so as I see fit.


If I can take possession of a thing that multiplies (re: livestock etc.) I also take possession of the thing’s capacity to grow. Thereby, I also own its products.


I also own the manifestations and growth of my possessions, to whatever end they become or decline.


If I do not completely own something, I must take into consideration that it belongs to someone else when I make use of it.


The thing’s usefulness determines its use-value. When I own something, I can, not only, use it, but I can also place a value on it.


Insofar as I own and possess things of value, the signs and usefulness have to be “prescribed”, in other words, I have to “prescribe” this thing as my property. So if I lose track of my possession, I also lose track of my capacity to own it (?).

C. The Alienation of Property


I can, if it is in my will (or lack thereof) let things go and I can relinquish my ability to hold onto things.


We have “inalienable” rights to our own personality, religion, ethics, happiness, sorrow, suffering, etc. Which means that spirit is something “cuis natura non potest concipi nisi existens” (whose nature cannot be conceived other than as existing) Spinoza, Ethics 1,1 as quoted by Hegel.


I can offer my services for hire or for payment, then, presumably, for Hegel, I can become a slave to someone else.


In this section it is unclear if Hegel is addressing copyright issues, or, if he is simply suggesting that one can make use of someone else’s intellectual products.


Here Hegel does address intellectual property rights and how an author has universal rights of ownership over his intellectual products.


Here, Hegel forbids suicide. I cannot dispose of my own life. I must die of some other means, or by another’s hand (see footnote: Kant, Fichte, Roman suicide, etc.).

Transition from Property to Contract


No one can own me, unless I give them the right to own me. The power I afford you is the equivalent to a lack self-consciousness I have over myself. I have self-consciousness over myself. Therefore, you cannot have power over me.

Section 2 / Contract


I can, as is the manner of my will, make real the ability to contract my property to another person. When I do this, I negate my will’s responsibility for the property (after the contract is signed, of course!).


If I choose to externalize my will in an agreement with another person (re: in a contractual agreement), our wills are unified under this agreement, until my possession/property/object is made rightfully theirs.


Our mutual wills, in a contractual agreement, are bound and unified together under an agreement if I’m willing to rid myself of a possession/property/object.


(α) Arbitrary will: two persons, in a mutually willing agreement, deciding to join in a contract.

(β) Common will: two person’s wills are joined in a contract.

(γ) Individual external thing: the product/s that are exchanged by means of a contract.

(see footnote: Kant’s “[…] reciprocal enjoyment of one another’s sexual attributes.”).


The contract has to be an agreement between two persons of mutual consent, whereby one is accepting a possession (or possessions) and the other is willing to be “alienated” from that possession.


When two persons join in a contractual agreement, they are obliged to have the same or equivalent things of value to be exchanged as an agreement of the contract. This suggests that one cannot offer something that becomes devalued before the object is exchanged. The contract is an exchange of things of equal value, or at least, of agreed upon value.


The contract has to be something of a representation of the terms of agreement between the consenting persons joined in the contract. In other words, draw up a contract—get it in writing.


A “stipulation” of the contract has to be stated its terms according to each person’s will in full detail, so as to avoid confusions, lawsuits etc. (see footnote: Fichte).


The contract has to be designed and structured according to the agreement/exchange in question:

A. Contract of gift.

B. Contract of exchange.

C. Wages contract

D. (name your contract, etc…).


The conditions of the contract have to be such that the mutual wills are in fact mutual and both are in agreement to meet the terms of the contract, to the fullest extent of each particular will. In this respect the wills of consenting persons, as mentioned earlier, are unified under the agreement/s. If these terms are not met, we move into what Hegel considers to be wrong.

Aurelio Madrid

notes on hegel’s philosophy of right / §§34-43

September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

notes on the philosophy of right ii

Part 1 / Abstract Right


For Hegel the abstract conceptualization of the will is immediate in its determinacy as it develops. Whereas, in a moral sense, the will has to act in opposition to its abstract potential, it is universal toward its own determinacy as that of a person (in society, as an individual). Think of a progression from universality → particularity → individuality.


The potentiality of the will is its universal character in the person. When I (a person) recognize this determinacy in its content (re: how the drives are manifested), this is how my finitude is revealed. In my finitude (within my limitations) I am connected to the universal, this is a universal aspect of who I am. A person has the ability to make what he becomes. This is his universal finitude, and this aspires to the infinite.


Our contingent personality has the right as its innate potential. Since we can recognize that the will’s formal contents expose our finitude as our limitations, we can recognize and respect this in others (idea possibly via Fichte).


The elements of the will are present it its content (its manifestations), yet this is not the whole of our personality. Our rights and freedom are only parts of the whole of who we are.


For Hegel, the concept of right in its abstract sense is only a possibility of what cannot be done. Presumably, this means that what can be done is limited by what cannot be done.


A person’s relation to the world is in opposition to his subjective willing. Personality sublates exteriority to become an individual existence.


The immediacy of right is freedom:

A. …abstract will owns this right (we have the right to possess things).

B. …a person has the ability to recognize this in others, as he recognizes himself (contractual arrangements).

C. …a person also sees himself as different (hence, this is where we disagree with others, we see them as wrong and then we chose to commit violent, petty and/or white-collar crimes upon them).

Section 1 / Property


To externalize his freedom, a person has to extend himself in opposition to the infinite will (as a wish to become it). Because of this, he must simultaneously recognize that the world does not automatically correspond to this (reality check!).


There is a vivid difference between the personal freedom of our spirit and the external world that thwarts this (re: we are all up against the thing-ness of the world in its immediacy and in its harsh externality).


The conceptual immediacy of the person naturally (and eventually) has to commune with the external world. His products, science, art, religion, etc. are examples of this mediation with the externality of things. As he is able to control these things, these objects become salient expressions of Spirit.

Aurelio Madrid

notes on hegel’s philosophy of right / preface & §§ 31-31, 1-3

September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

notes on the philosopy of right


For Hegel the methodology of philosophical science is in its conceptualization. It is immanently progressive, which means that it is dynamic. This dynamic progression of philosophy happens by means of (Hegel’s) logic (which is not the logic we normally think of. Instead, Hegel’s logic is metaphysical and ontological). Philosophical progress is not entirely circumstantial, nor is it entirely universal (?). The concept of it dialectically dissolves and provides the particular. Hegel’s dialectic is not about getting to the ‘opposite’ sides of things, rather, it is a “higher dialectic”, it apprehends its content developmentally and it is immanently progressive as it arrives at its ‘positive’(affirmative) end. It is the soul of things. Its object is rational and this is its freedom.


The shapes of dialectical and dynamic determinations are conceptual and they are part of the larger “Idea” of things. This is speculative philosophy (i.e. it is seeking to holistically reconcile differences). Hence, the way things are and what they are becoming are brought together into a comprehensive “Idea” (re: the Absolute) in its ever-changing totality.


A. The will is immediate, abstract and external.

B. The will has a universal subjective component that moves in opposition to its external and universal parts. Good internal (?) Existent world external (?) reconciled into the “Idea”.

And the ethical is…

(a) Natural spirit, where one is most familiar (?)—the family.

(b) Division and appearance, where one is unfamiliar and has to make his own (?)—civil society.

(c) As freedom is in its complete actuality (?)—the state.


Hegel’s philosophy is a “speculative mode of cognition” (i.e. a dialectical reconciliation that always aims for the Absolute—as in ‘the big picture’) and its aim is to save itself from its own decline. The aim is not to dictate truth or to moralize. Philosophy seeks to know matters as they are. Philosophy must see its actual nature as rational. Freedom of thought is not about simply opposing the rules of the state. The ethical world is a self-actualized realization (re: a trans-formal conceptualization). Some people think philosophy is easy, and such people, as Jacob Friedrich Fries, thought that philosophy was all about the heart, friendship and enthusiasm—instead, it is more like (Hegel’s) rationalism. This is not a feel-good or superficial philosophy via Fries (and others). It is not clear if Hegel agrees with Plato’s conception of ethics, but Plato might agree with Hegel’s slogan that “What is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational.” Therefore, philosophy’s goal is an explanation of the rational. Philosophy need not get caught up in every detail, since it knows that the infinite is immanent in the transient. Philosophy should not get caught up in prescriptions and instructions. Philosophy is not just about empty words, but how things actually are. (re: “Hic Rhodus, hic saltus” [don’t just talk about it] jump here, as [you jumped] in Rhodes). Philosophy is about the reconciliation toward the rational in actuality. Philosophy is the road toward God. “The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk.” This famous quote means that Hegel’s philosophy can only see things clearly when the dust of history has settled. Philosophy is practiced after the facts have made themselves evident.



Philosophy concerns itself with the concept of right (freedom) and this right is the “Idea” and is a concept in actuality.


The right is an aspect of philosophy having to do with the “Idea” as reason, as its development, and as it is immanently developed. It is not a mere definition, but it is a concept developed from its content (re: Concept → Idea → Absolute).


Right is realized in…

1. Form: rational order.

2. Content: parts.

a. In the character of people and in its natural necessity.

b. In its external application.

c. In its decisiveness.

Aurelio Madrid


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