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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Brooks on Hegel on Property

Thom Brooks (University of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) - Newcastle Law School) has posted Hegel on Property on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

Hegel's views on property are one of the most misunderstood aspects of his thought. We can best correct these misunderstandings only by interpreting his comments on property in full light of their place in the Philosophy of Right and the place of the Philosophy of Right within Hegel's larger philosophical system.

Hegel's Philosophy of Right is divided into three parts, each related to one another dialectically. These parts are 'abstract right [abstrakte Recht]' (PR, Subsection 34-104), 'morality [Moralität]' (PR, Subsection 105-41), and 'ethical life [Sittlichkeit]' (PR, Subsection 142-360). Most commentators have restricted their analyses of Hegel's theory of property primarily to the section abstract right in his Philosophy of Right. Others have mistaken Hegel's views on property in abstract right as a theory of private law.

Few substantively appreciate that Hegel offers an extended view of property built around very different concerns in his later discussion of 'civil society [die burgerliche Gesellschaft]' contained in the final part of the Philosophy of Right, 'ethical life'. Perhaps more importantly, it has gone relatively unnoticed how Hegel's discussion of the free will in 'Subjective Spirit' found in his larger philosophical system (ES, Subsection 440-82) relate to his discussion of the free will in 'Objective Spirit' immediately following (ES, Subsection 483-552). This is important for an interpretation of the Philosophy of Right given that this text is an elaboration of 'Objective Spirit'.

An initial test of a systematic reading of the Philosophy of Right is whether it can contribute to our understanding of the Philosophy of Right by demonstrating the explanatory force of the wider philosophical system. In this brief study, my aims are relatively modest. I will begin by explaining how the section 'Subjective Spirit' is related to the Philosophy of Right. Central to this explanation is the development of the free will from one to the other. This view helps us make best sense of the primary problem of the Philosophy of Right, namely, how the free will can will freely, not arbitrarily. The following section explains why Hegel's views on property ownership in abstract right are primarily illustrative of the initial development of the free will, rather than a complete theory of property as many have maintained. If my position is correct, then we cannot present a picture of Hegel's theory of property that exclusively considers abstract right nor can we understand abstract right as a realm of private law. This position is best arrived at after grasping the relation of the abstract right within the Philosophy of Right and Hegel's larger philosophical system.

This short essay is definitely worth a read for folks interested in the philosophy of property or in neo-Hegelian theories of property like Radin's personhood theory.

Ben Barros

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