University of Sussex
Carter, Timothy Robert.pdf (17.35 MB)

Self-comprehension and personhood: an examination of the normative basis of Hegel’s political philosophy

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posted on 2023-06-09, 01:20 authored by Timothy Robert Carter
This thesis defends a novel interpretation of the normative foundations of Hegel’s mature social and political philosophy. It argues that autonomous agency is grounded in a drive to comprehend ourselves, which gives us an aim to which we are inescapably committed as agents. It argues that this aim ultimately makes it rational to cultivate and act out of a feeling of “ethical love”, which is a positive evaluative attitude towards the goods of other individuals that, in turn, implies a commitment to the social and political institutions Hegel outlines in his theory of Sittlichkeit, or ethical life. Ethical love is the ultimate way in which individuals make themselves comprehensible to themselves; ethical life is the way in which they express that love. It is for this reason that acting autonomously ultimately requires participating in such institutions. I suggest that this interpretation avoids some of the shortcomings of alternative approaches to this matter. Chapter 1 introduces the notion of autonomous agency as underpinned by a drive towards self-comprehension. In chapter 2, I argue that this drive operates both with respect to our individual identities (our “characters”) and developmentally, over time, in that agents characterised by this drive are led ultimately to conceive of themselves as “persons”, in Hegel’s technical sense: as agents who are rationally compelled to recognise others. In chapters 3 and 4, I show that there is a tension between these two aspects of our identities, and that Hegel’s theory of objective mind is effectively the working out of this tension.


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University of Sussex

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