…marcuse’s hegel


Marcuse’s Hegel
In Herbert Marcuse’s book Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, Marcuse wants to dispel the notion that the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel as “hostile to the tendencies that have led into Fascist theory and practice.” I will focus only on the first introductory sub-chapter in this synopsis, where Marcuse sets up the philosophical & historical context of Hegel’s thought.
In the first sub-chapter of the introduction, “The Socio-Historical Setting,” Marcuse places Hegel within the context of German idealism. This is typically thought of as a type of German philosophy progressing chronologically from the inspiration of Kant (1724-1804), to Fichte (1762-1814), to Schelling (1775-1854), & culminating with Hegel (1770-1831), roughly, the last quarter of the 18th century through to the early quarter of the 19th century. Hegel’s brand of German idealism is known as Absolute idealism because it seeks to bring all of being into one absolute, specifically an absolute spirit (the totality of all being as it progresses throughout history).
As Marcuse describes it Hegel’s philosophy was largely influenced by the French Revolution & the leading Enlightenment ideal that rational thought leads people to freedom (apart from the authority of the church & apart from the authority of a monarchy). The French Revolution idealistically completes the job by the Reformation to allow people to become masters of their own lives. Hegel wanted us to realize the power of our own rational will & authority.
In France, capitalism became a necessary force & expression brought about by the rationalistic ideals of the French Revolution, while Germany’s development was a bit slower to fully embrace the radical new ways of thinking taking shape in France, Europe, & even in the ideological founding of the United States. Even if this fresh idea freedom was in the air, most German intellectuals were embracing this as an idea, an ideal—not necessarily as a material & practical exercise of freedom. Let me put it this way, it’s one thing to embrace an idea & it’s another thing to take that idea & put it into practice.
Reason is center & paramount in Hegel’s philosophy & for Hegel history is the progression of reason, as much as the state is also an embodiment of reason. If most of Hegel’s philosophy is concerned with the progression of reason, it must be understood that reason is threaded through Hegel’s ideas on freedom, substance becoming substance & what we would call idea (begriff in German, often translated by Hegel scholars as “notion”). For Hegel reason working through these concepts is what governs consciousness, reality, the state, the course of human history, &c. The progression of reason is not static is active. People no longer needed to accept things as they are—since reason needs to be taken as sovereign. Our reality is only real by way of reason. Anything outside of that which falls outside of reason needs to be harnessed, transformed, & worked through with reason to be made conscious & to be real. As Marcuse summarizes of Hegel, “[rational] thought ought to govern reality.” Whatever cannot be worked through with reasoned consciousness is rendered unreal & unreasonable. In Kant & Hegel’s context, reason must be firmly established as universal & objective. Objectivity keeps us from relativity, thus a good defense of objectivity in the name of critiquing the relativistic perils of empirical skepticism. The authority of reason needs to be consciously brought about in this world by way of conscious action. Reason does not appear of its own accord.
The concept of “substance becoming subject” is central to the way consciousness brings about reason from the chaotic morass of reality for Hegel. Substance in this case, represents a contradictory force for the consciousness. It is only when we make inert substance into something that is real does it become rational consciousness. Raw substance becomes the subject of rational thought. By way of conceptualizing the ways in which we work (in thought & with our hands) through ideas, physical substances & forces, wood, metal, velocity, horse-power, &c. When we make these things rational, they become the way we think about substance in a rational way.
When we think about something that is contradictory, negative, antagonistic, &c. for Hegel this is the driving element in the dialectic. The dialectic is rational & it is logical, but it is Hegel’s logic. Herein we have the so-called dialectical triad of thesis, antithesis, & synthesis. When we recognize that substance becoming substance is dialectical. Substance is not consciousness so it is contradictory to consciousness because it is not consciousness. Consciousness must recognize this in order to make substance known & understood as something reasonable. Reason has to be brought about by the resolution of the contradiction. The negative becomes a necessary way in which reason is considered. The confrontation with negative bring us to a place where it draws the synthesis up to where it would not otherwise be without it. Consciousness, for Hegel, is dialectical, reason is dialectal, freedom is dialectical & history is dialectical. All of these things need & rely the negative to be what they are.

–aurelio madrid

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

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

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

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

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