Irrationality and egoism in Hegel’s account of right

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (6):1132-1152 (2018)
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Many interpreters argue that irrational acts of exchange can count as rational and civic-minded for Hegel—even though, admittedly, the persons who are exchanging their property are usually unaware of this fact. While I do not want to deny that property exchange can count as rational in terms of ‘mutual recognition’ as interpreters claim, this proposition raises an important question: What about the irrationality and arbitrariness that individuals as property owners and persons consciously enjoy? Are they mere vestiges of nature in Hegel’s system, or do they constitute a simple yet valid form of freedom that is not only a part of Hegel’s rational system of right, but its necessary starting point? I will argue the latter: The arbitrary, purely egoist self-definition of property owners is the simplest possible type of freedom for Hegel, which he dissects in order to show how the very arbitrary self-definition implicitly relies on an identity between persons, and hence foreshadows the more social forms of freedom Hegel will discuss later in his book. I make this argument by highlighting Hegel’s references to his discussion of atoms and freedom in his Logic of Being.

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Charlotte Baumann
University of Sussex