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Hegel's deontological justification for the existence of private property in society

In this article, Paul Keenan (4th year LLB) discusses Hegel's deontological justification for the existence of private property in society and the significance thereof for the determination of individual freedom and will...

A discussion on Hegel’s deontological justification for the existence of private property in society and the significance thereof for the determination of individual freedom and will - Paul Keenan (4th year LLB)

 

1.0.

G.W.F. Hegel, in “Elements of The Philosophy of Right” (Hereinafter referred to as Right) outlines a deontological justification for the existence of private property, stressing its importance for the ethical development of the individual.[1] Moreover, he argues that the state should enforce property rights, with the aim of preventing property from devolving into mere physical possession by the strongest individual, which would be an illegitimate regime.[2] Hegel not only suggests that property ownership should be an integral part of any society but that “property is something which…is important for every individual to have, so that there is a basis for overriding ethical concern if some people are left poor and propertyless.[3] He believes that property is the medium through which the will essentially acquires its existence.[4] Without this, the will of a person and their freedom is nothing, i.e. they do not exist as an externalised, rational idea. The will starts in property, and contract allows the individual to alienate and exchange property into which they had initially translated their will, although Hegel’s discussion on contract lies outwith the ambit of this discussion.

1.1.

The essence of private property is outlined explicitly in Right with the assertion that “Not until he has property does the person exist as reason.”[5] The reason why property is so essential in the determination of individual free will for Hegel is because he postulates that, as individuals, we think of ourselves as having the power to insist upon and have a right to an external sphere to “exercise our arbitrary freedom.”[6] This sphere, into which the individual seeks to translate his freedom begins with his external body and extends to every piece of property that person owns. The will, once externalised, is part of that individual’s property. Hegel, in his belief that private property is a “rational necessity” of human history, “took it upon himself to display the rationality inherent in the actuality of private ownership.”[7] This is the crux of Hegel’s theory on the importance of property for individual freedom and will.

1.2.

It is important to consider just what the will is for Hegel and what the translation of that will into an external sphere means (through the dialectic of self-Consciousness). For Hegel, “the will is free” and it exists only in so far as it is free.[8] Without freedom, there is no will; freedom only exists in the will. Once the will is in an external sphere, however, it is separable from the sphere of its own freedom.[9] Putting one’s will into an object is crucial. To think of “I” objectively, and transfer this inner, subjective consciousness/will into an object, to make it mine, means the object ceases to be in opposition to me. My will is in the object, the will which “I” have externalised from my inward realm. The freedom of my will to put itself into an object, “depriving it of its own [will] which it had in opposition to me[10] (3.2 below) is how individuals transfer their will into the property and gain the right therein. Without the freedom of the will to translate into this antithesis of the individual’s own consciousness, the will is not free. It is in this way that property is so essential for individual free will. First, the will must recognise itself. It recognises itself through recognition by and for another. The completed idea of the will, before freedom, is the idea that it has fully realised itself through the awakening (thesis of the dialectic) of self-consciousness.[11] Individuality is only present once the will has realised itself and the will can only truly recognise itself through the recognition of another (in the dialectic). In terms of property, the will of an individual is faced with the will of the object. There is an opposition here, against which the individual must translate their will. The individual, through their freedom of will, overcomes the will of the object to make it their own.

2.0.

Hegel places a particular emphasis on the will of the person as an abstract concept, more than just on the realisation of self-consciousness. Personality only commences when the individual does not have a mere consciousness, but a consciousness of itself as a completely abstract being. There is the idea of this greater consciousness in an external sphere.[12] Inward, subjective consciousness is not enough for personality and free will. Moreover, man cannot thereby externalise his freedom without this recognition from another consciousness. The individual must translate their consciousness into an abstract, external sphere. Without this initial realisation or awakening, man does “not yet have personality.”[13] To exist as an idea, the consciousness of an individual must, according to Hegel, be recognised by another (See 2.2. below).

In order to analyse the will and freedom of a person in an abstract and external sphere it is imperative to first understand Hegel’s approach to the awakening of consciousness. This will culminate in a consideration of the translation of one’s freedom into an external sphere and an analysis of the significance of property and contract in this freedom. Hegel himself, in Science of Logic[14], labelled Phenomenology of Spirit as “propaedeutic” and, so, this work requires examination and understanding before moving on to an analysis of Right to determine the essentiality of private property in the determination of individual freedom and will.[15] The Hegelian approach to self-consciousness must be analysed through the examination of a concept central to Hegelian Theory, namely the dialectic process (Hegel’s Dialectic of Self-Consciousness). It is important to note that Hegel, according to various scholars, never actually used this form of dialectical thought and that this form of the dialectic was conceived by Johann Fichte.[16] However, Hegel did contribute to the development of “systematic dialectical presentation…”[17] The dialectic process, moreover, can be used as a tool to understanding Hegelian philosophy. The Lordship and Bondage in Phenomenology of Spirit suggests that Hegel did use this form of dialectical thought, at least implicitly. Using the process of the philosophy with which Hegel proceeds in Lordship and Bondage and applying it to the discussion of property is necessary to understand Hegel’s theory relating to property and the determination of individual freedom and will.

2.1.

Prior to Right, Hegel produced what is considered to be one of his most important works, “Phenomenology of Spirit” (Referred to from here as Phenomenology). It is here that the dialectic process is elucidated as a form of philosophical thought in the Lordship and Bondage episode. As mentioned in Right, Hegel proclaims that, without the awakening to self-consciousness, the individual does “not yet have personality.” This is consistent with Phenomenology in which he claims that, “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged.”[18] Here Hegel outlines and emphasises the relational nature of subjective consciousness. The desire for recognition is key. Without recognition from “another” in this external sphere there is no existence of the individual will. It is clear in an ontological context that self-recognition as well as mutual recognition is crucial for the starting point. The first step is inward which precedes the desire for recognition, the second step.  Desire will inevitably become the source of conflict and can subsequently be seen as the antithesis of self-consciousness; an opposition. The dialectic process is the idea that everything moves between the dialectic of oneself and another. There are three steps to this process according to Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus.[19]

2.2.

The dialectic process has been considered to operate “as part of a thorough-going, consistently applied, conception of philosophical rationality, centred on the speculative discourse of the science of logic.”[20] The dialectic can thus be used as a means of understanding Hegelian philosophy and the theories therein. In contrast with Kant’s dialectic the Hegelian dialectic is absolutely positive, “since it restores reason to a determinate and objective knowledge.”[21] What is at the epicentre of the dialectic in Phenomenology and Right thereafter is the spirit within the person coming to realise itself. In simple terms, the spirit realises its own self-consciousness. The spirit can only fully recognise itself, not through self-recognition only, but through the recognition from another. The first step is a proposition namely, the Abstract (Or Thesis), followed by the Negative (or Antithesis-“Self consciousness is faced by another self-consciousness; it has come out of itself”[22]) in the form of the contradiction of the thesis. This process is concluded with the resolution of the contradiction through Concrete (or Synthesis).

3.0.

The first step of the dialectic process and the contradiction thereof (antithesis) can be analysed concurrently. The first initial awakening can be seen as a “transcendental synthesis of apperception” and that is a function of self-consciousness.[23] However, this is only in the sense that it meets the consciousness of something other than itself, an object.[24] The relational nature of the dialectic of oneself and another is elucidated once more through the necessity for recognition. For property it is best to understand the dialectic operating between the individual and the object. In order that an individual can become certain of his own self he must supersede the other independent being with which he is faced.[25]

3.1.

In the Lordship and Bondage episode in Phenomenology Hegel provides a clear illustration of his dialectical thought. Self-consciousness, to begin with, is absolutely objective and inward. Thereafter it is confronted with the self-consciousness of another individual. This is the conflict, the opposition. The will is faced with the will of another and it is important to understand how this confrontation is settled. For each of these, prior to the synthesis, they have not yet externalised their will. “They have not yet exposed themselves to each other in the form of pure being-for-self, or as self-consciousness.”[26] Whilst these two conscious beings are aware of their own self-consciousness they have not recognised the other and thus their own self-consciousness is still not complete. Again, the relational significance of recognition is illustrated through this idea. This relational aspect of the Hegelian dialectic is similar to the Platonic idea concerning the essence of objectivity in oneself: “If…we call the essence, or what the object is in itself, the concept and, in the opposite way, understand by object the concept as object, i.e., the way the concept is for another, then the test consists in seeing whether the object corresponds to the concept.”[27] Both Plato and Hegel acknowledge the necessity of the will of one individual existing and being recognised for another. The will of both beings are dependent upon each other.

3.2.

In Lordship and Bondage Hegel postulates that the self-consciousness of each individual proceeds in the form of a “life and death” struggle.[28] In the struggle between two individuals they must risk their own existence through life in order to win freedom. The victor brings his being onto a higher level; not just on the level of being for itself, but “there is nothing present in it which could not be regarded as a vanishing moment.”[29] The individual whose life was not risked, still remains conscious, but lacks the truth and certainty of that consciousness. Such an individual cannot be certain of his own individual free will. The negation of this process is key in the understanding of individual free will.

The Lordship here has the consciousness which is independent and absolutely for itself. The bondage is dependent and exists only for another.[30] Through this he overcomes the will of the other and stands to validate his own consciousness.

This process can be applied to the accumulation of private property. The lord is the power over the object or in the Lordship and Bondage episode, the individual is the lordship. When applied to an object of property the individual supersedes the object and soon thereafter the object exists only for the individual. The individual gains ownership in this way. The individual receives power over the object as he plays the role of the lord in the dialectic between the individual and the object. This can be seen as binary. In property it seems that, for Hegel, there are only two terms; the owning will and the owned object.[31] The lordship is the individual and the will of the individual; the bondage is the object of property. This illustrates how and why an individual must translate his will into an object (external sphere) in order that he might obtain the right therein.

4.0.

For Hegel there are three essential elements of property: possession, enjoyment and the subsequent alienation.[32] Possession is considered to be the first element and concerns the “intersubjectively recognisable identification of a characteristic (object) to a specific person (subject).”[33] Before one can enjoy and subsequently alienate property, one must first have absolute possession of that object. The notion of the intersubjectivity in the recognition of an object from the individual (subject) echoes the philosophical rationality of the dialectic process. What it means to own something and have possession thereof means to have an “external power over it so that the will is embodied in it.”[34] The will of the individual is externalised into the external sphere. Through the dialectic the subjective will of the individual supersedes the object. Having applied the dialectic to this scenario it is clear why man needs property to thereby exist. The negation, which comes back for itself, gives reason to the will of the individual through possession.

Possession of the object alone is not enough for the will of an individual. There must be enjoyment thereof. In the goal of recognition for the subject, the individual must be seen as having his will in the object in an external sphere. “By using the object, the will actualises the fact that the object is a means to the person’s end.”[35] It is through usage or, rather, enjoyment of the object by means of the commixtion of the will of the individual and the object, that the individual can realise fully the freedom of his will in the external sphere.

Conklin highlights the significance of property for the determination of individual freedom and will and how property ownership relates back to the consciousness and will of the individual: “Like the person, property is an abstract and indeterminate concept. Both concepts emanate from the subject's consciousness and the capacity of the subject to bring her into concepts so that she only recognizes her as an abstract person who owns property.”[36] The significance of property on a fundamental level here could not be more explicit for Hegel. It is with the capacity to supersede the object in the antithesis of the dialectic that the individual comes to recognise his own self as an abstract being. This ownership and domination of the object gives reason to the will for Hegel. Alienation, in the form of contract follows on directly from property. Contract is the object of the individual’s externalising their respective wills together. Alienability rights are the means through which one can rid oneself of the object one once desired; the will is not complete until it is capable of being abstracted from the object. Though contract and alienability rights lie outwith the ambit of this discussion, they are still of paramount importance for Hegel in the determination of individual freedom and will. Contract is the next logical step for the will after property.

 

5.0.

In summation, for Hegel property ownership and the alienation of property work concurrently in the fulfilment of individual freedom and will, and are essential for such fulfilment. Without the ability of the individual to transfer their will into and subsequently acquire ownership over the object of property the will of the individual would not be complete. Moreover without the ability of the individual to alienate the property they once transferred their will into the will would not be fully realised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Jeremy Waldron, The Right to Private Property (Clarendon Press, Oxford) 1988, Page 2

[2] Jeanne Lorraine Schroeder, The vestal and the fasces: Hegel, Lacan, Property, and the Feminine, (University of California Press) (Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford) © 1998 The Regents of the University of California, Page 18

[3] ibid, page 343

[4] Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party (February 1848), Gareth Stedman Jones (Edited by) (Penguin Classics Published 27th June 2002) Page 74 (Notes)

[5] G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (First published 1820) (Cambridge University Press 1991) Edited by Allen W. Wood Professor of Philosophy, Cornell University, Translated by H.B. Nisbet, Professor of Modern Languages, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College), §41, Page 73: Section 1 Property

[6] ibid, Editor’s preface, page 14 (Allen W. Wood)

[7] Jeremy Waldron, The Right to Private Property (Clarendon Press, Oxford) 1988, Page 345

[8]G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (First published 1820) (Cambridge University Press 1991) Edited by Allen W. Wood Professor of Philosophy, Cornell University, Translated by H.B. Nisbet, Professor of Modern Languages, University of Cambridge and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College), §4, Page 35: Introduction

[9] ibid, §41, Page 73: Property

[10] ibid, §4, page 35

[11] ibid §34, page 67: Abstract Right

[12] ibid §35, page 68

[13] ibid

[14] G.W.F. Hegel, The Science of Logic (Originally published 1820)

[15] Bohnet Clayton . Logic and the Limits of Philosophy in Kant and Hegel (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. ISBN 978-1-137-52174-3 hbk) (Cambridge University Press) Page 189

[16] Y.G. Fichte, Foundations of Natural Right (Cambridge Press 2000) First Published 1797

[17] Fred Moseley and Tony Smith, Marx’s Capital and Hegel’s Logic: A re-examination (Historical Materialism Book Series ISSN1570-1522 ; volume 64)(2014) Page 243

[18] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Originally published 1807) (translated by A.V. Miller, with analysis of the text and foreword by J.N. Findlay.) (Clarendon Press 1977) Page 111

[19] H.M. Chälybaus, Historical development of speculative philosophy, from Kant to Hegel (from the German of Dr. Heinrich] Moritz Chalybäus ; by the Reverend Alfred Edersheim) (1854)

[20] Michael Rosen, Hegel’s Dialectic and its Criticisms (Cambridge University Press 1982) Preface ix

[21] Bohnet Clayton . Logic and the Limits of Philosophy in Kant and Hegel (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. ISBN 978-1-137-52174-3 hbk) (Cambridge University Press) Page 190

[22] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Originally published 1807) (translated by A.V. Miller, with analysis of the text and foreword by J.N. Findlay) (Clarendon Press 1977) Page 111

[23] Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hegel's dialectic : five hermeneutical studies / Hans-Georg Gadamer ; translated [from the German] and with an introduction by P. Christopher Smith (Yale University Press 1976) Page 54

[24] ibid

[25] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Originally published 1807) (translated by A.V. Miller, with analysis of the text and foreword by J.N. Findlay) (Clarendon Press 1977) Page 111

[26] ibid, page 113

[27] Quintin Lauer, A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Fordham University Press 1993, 2nd ed.) Page 39

[28] ibid page 114

[29] ibid

[30] ibid page 115

[31] Jeanne Lorraine Schroeder, The vestal and the fasces: Hegel, Lacan, Property, and the Feminine, (University of California Press) (Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford) © 1998 The Regents of the University of California), Page 45

[32] ibid page 37

[33] ibid page 38

[34] ibid

[35] ibid page 43

[36] William E. Conklin, A Review of Hegel’s Laws: The Legitimacy of a Modern Legal Order, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008) Page 120

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