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

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

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