Theses Doctoral

Hegel on Social Critique. Life, Action and the Good in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

Heisenberg, Lars Thimo Immanuel

This dissertation defends a Hegelian model of our relationship to social roles. This model functions both as a new interpretation of Hegel’s own view, and as a contribution to the contemporary debate about role obligations. On this model, it is constitutive of our agency, and therefore obligatory, to carry out our social roles. Yet, ‘carrying out’ our roles also necessarily involves that we persistently develop our roles, and the social order of which they are part, towards realizing the human good. In that process, we are required to lead society through a process of social evolution, whose basic structure mirrors the development of natural life at a higher, self-conscious level.
From the standpoint of Hegel scholarship, the main upshot of my interpretation is that Hegel’s vision of social participation does not only leave room for social critique, as commentators have recently argued, but rather centrally requires such critique. In fact, I argue that Hegel has – what I will call – a Neo-Aristotelian model of social critique (centered around the idea of ‘living unity’) that is an essential component of his account of how we should relate to social roles, but that has been hitherto overlooked.
From the standpoint of the contemporary debate on role obligations, the main upshot of my interpretation is that Hegel offers an account that neither limits the normativity of social roles to those roles we have actually accepted, nor to the roles that are reflectively acceptable. Instead, Hegel develops an account on which even reflectively unacceptable roles give us obligations – namely obligations to evolve them, through a process of social experimentation, into something better. It is this view – and the central function that it attributes to social evolution as part of our role obligations – that make Hegel an interesting, but often overlooked, contributor to the debate about role obligations today.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Neuhouser, Frederick
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 26, 2019