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

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

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