The self-consciousness of pure practical reason: Hegel's dialogue with Kant in the “essay on natural law” (1802/03)

Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 68 (3):525 - 544 (2006)

This paper wants to investigate Hegel's Natural Law essay in order to reexamine the 'emptiness charge' which Hegel brings out against Kant's concept of the Moral Law. Rather than simply evaluating priorities the purpose is to reconstruct the critical dialogue of Hegel with Kant on the basis of their reciprocal arguments. It will be argued that Hegel's criticism of Kant can be considered as an inadequate attempt to radically develop Kantian moral thinking by presupposing a standpoint of radical moral scepticism. In the Natural Law essay, Hegel's justification of this radical scepticism is ultimately grounded on the possibility of the immediate self-consciousness of spirit (i.e. reason) which can only be established as fully elaborated indifference, identified as the ethical substance or the people (Volk). In contrast to Hegel, Kant (in the second Critique) does not presuppose the standpoint of radical scepticism but establishes the immediate self-consciousness of pure practical reason as noumenal existence. Since Hegel's concept of the ethical substance eventually exceeds the constitutive moments of the immediate self-consciousness of spirit, Kant is able to reject Hegel's justification of the standpoint of radical scepticism and thereby his criticism of Kant's Moral Law. It can be concluded therefore that Hegel in the Natural Law essay did not succeed in radically developing Kant, though he has shown the direction of this development
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