The Virtue of Freedom: The Development and Meaning of Hegel's Idea of the Good Life

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (2001)

Joshua D. Goldstein
University of Calgary
This dissertation traces the development, and reveals the meaning, of Hegel's mature answer to the question 'what is the nature of the good life?' Its thesis is that Hegel's mature idea of the good life consists of a relationship between the citizen and the modern political community such that, properly actualized, ordinary life becomes not only fully adequate to the good but also completes, in a new form, the goals of human excellence articulated in the Aristotelian virtue of phronesis . However, this thesis rests on a supporting one: that the meaning of his mature idea of the good life can most fruitfully be uncovered through the failure of Hegel's earliest attempt to answer the question of the good life in terms of the very Aristotelian phronesis he would later abandon. ;The first Part of this dissertation shows that Hegel's three earliest substantial writings, the Tubingen essay , Berne fragments , and the Life of Jesus , contain his first answer to the question of the good life. Here I argue that: underneath the religious and Kantian language of his answer is an Aristotelian conception of human excellence defined by the exercise of phronesis; this answer proves unsustainable for Hegel because he comes to see that it cannot hold together the demand for participation in a community of excellence and the demand for self-actualization; and Hegel begins to equate the logic of Aristotelian phronesis with the logic of the radically autonomous will, leading him to abandon all human-centered ideas of the good life for one grounded in spirit. ;The second Part of this dissertation uncovers the meaning of Hegel's mature, spirit-centered answer in light of the failure of his youthful approach. Here I argue that Hegel's mature idea has three characteristics: the life of the good is only a property of the living system of relations between the citizen and the political community; ordinary life activity of citizens can nonetheless be adequate to the good because it fully participates in it: this condition is "selfhood"; and Hegel's account is designed to indicate the inadequacy of the modern community in its present form to the demands of freedom: Hegel's implicit solution to this inadequacy opens up new possibilities for an integrated human life as well as a new phronesis that completes the goals of the Aristotelian conception of the good life.
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