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One of the most difficult and brilliant of the philosophers of the early 19th C, Hegel laid the basis for a historicist reading of the emergence of the rational state that shifted the view of freedom as preserved though the accidental play of interests celebrated in different ways by Montesquieu, the Federalist Papers and Burke to a wholly new philosophical level. In Hegel's hands history is the vehicle through which the idea of freedom unfolds, emerging in the rational constitutionalist state. German idealism has never been more systematically expounded.

G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (The best modern edition is edited by Allen Wood and H. Nisbet but the library does not have an electronic copy of this - and the Oxford University Press ed. Knox, is perfectly adequate). The older Knox edition is available through Oxford Scholarship (through our library).

We will use three sessions for the Philosophy of Right.

  1. The first, the lecture, on the penultimate Monday of term two will cover the background, aspects of the other works, and the structure of the argument.

 The first class will focus on the Preface, Introduction, Abstract Right and Morality

We need pairsor trios working together on:

1. Preface and the Introduction.

2. Abstract Right – Property,

3. Abstract right Contract

4. Abstract Right Wrong;


Of course you should read everything, but….more realistically

Read the Preface, Sections 34-40 (which introduces abstract right) and then one of the following sections – either Property (sections 41-71); Contract (72-81); or Wrong (82-104); or read the whole of Morality 105-141.


  1. The second class – on the Monday of week 2 will examine Ethical Life in five sections:

1. The Family 158-181;

2. Civil Society a. 182-229;

3. 230-256;

4. the State a. 257-320;

5. 321-360.

My suggestion will be that people pair or trio up – and take a section and work through it together. We need five groups for each class.

The primary text is available in two main editions – the Cambridge Blue Back series Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed Allen Wood, and the Oxford World’s Classics (which is the old Thomas Malcolm Knox translation – and which is on line as an Oxford Scholarly Editions online through the Library). Wood is slightly easier to read but doesn’t seem to be on-line.

H P Kainz book on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Marx’s Critique (available online) is very helpful as a guide (just ignore the Marx stuff) and Dudley Knowles’s Routledge philosophy guidebook to Hegel and the Philosophy of Right (on line through Library) is a very good introduction. But try and struggle with the text itself.



Questions to consider

What is Hegel's conception of freedom? How does reason relate to freedom?

How does Hegel conceive of selfhood/personhood?

What are abstract rights?

What is Hegel's theory of history? What is its significance in his theory?

How universal is Hegel's own position - taking into account his characterisation of Africa (for which see Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (HN780.Z9 P66413) also available electronically, look at Chap 5 'Out of this world' - esp 173-189.

In the second week's seminars we will look at Hegel's conception of Ethical Life - and consider his account of the relationship between the family, civil society and the state.

Suggested further reading

Kainz, Hegel's Philosophy of Right, with Marx's commentary (1974) - at B2923.Z7

Dudley Knowles, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hegel and the Philosophy of Right (2002) - ebook

Sensat, The logic of estrangement: reason in an unreasonable form (2016) esp ch 3.1-3.5 (ebook)

Franco, Hegel's Philosophy of Freedom (1999), ch 5 and 6 - at JC233.H46.F73

Houlgate, A introduction to Hegel: freedom, truth, and history - at B 2948.H6

James (ed.), Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right: a critical guide (2017) - ebook