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philosophical topics

vol. 42, no. 1, spring 2014

The Idea of an Ethical Community:


Kant and Hegel on the Necessity of Human
Evil and the Love to Overcome It

Wolfram Gobsch
University of Leipzig, Germany

ABSTRACT. “Ethical life” is Hegel’s term for the actuality of what Kant
calls an “ethical community.” As members of the same ethical community,
human beings are related to one another as persons in and only in acting
from nothing but respect for the same practical law. Kant and Hegel both
take ethical life to be a necessary, nay, the highest, end of pure reason. I
argue that this is correct. And I identify the idea of ethical life with the
idea of a peculiar form of love. Kant and Hegel disagree—­in a curiously
reciprocal fashion—­about the reach of ethical life and about our capacity
to know it to reside within our power: while Kant identifies ethical life
with the actuality of the ethical community of all possible human (or
rational) beings, Hegel holds that it is necessarily limited to some particu-
lar body politic; and while Hegel thinks that to be a human being is to self-­
knowingly co-­constitute an ethical community, Kant believes that it is to
be unable to know oneself to even be apt for this. With Hegel and against
Kant, I argue that the only way to have the idea of ethical life is to live it.
But with Kant and against a naïve form of Hegelianism, I argue that to be
conscious of oneself as a human being, a practically rational animal, is to
be conscious of oneself as morally evil, i.e. as actively prone to deeming

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one’s own particularity the supreme law. I show that this entails Hegelian
particularism. And I end by noting that this saddles the Hegelian with the
task of demonstrating that ethical particularization belongs to the very
idea of pure reason itself, objectively conceived.

“Ethical life [Sittlichkeit]” is Hegel’s term for the actuality of what Kant calls an
“ethical community [ethisches gemeines Wesen].” As members of the same ethical
community, human beings act from nothing but respect for the same practical law:
they are moved by it internally. As members of the same ethical community—­as
opposed to: the same bare plurality of ethical agents—­they do not merely act from
the same principle, each by herself, but are related to one another as persons. Now,
the idea of ethical life is the idea of a necessary identity of internality and relational-
ity. As members of the same ethical community, that is, human beings are related to
one another as persons in and only in acting from nothing but respect for the same—­
now essentially relational—­law.
Kant and Hegel both believe that ethical life, as defined, is a necessary, nay,
the highest, end of reason, and that it is possible. But they disagree—­in a curi-
ously reciprocal fashion—­about its reach and about our capacity to know it to
reside within our power. While Kant identifies the idea of ethical life with the
ideal of the actuality of the ethical community of all possible human (or rational)
beings, Hegel holds that ethical life is necessarily limited to some particular body
politic. And while Hegel thinks that to be a human being is to self-­knowingly
co-­constitute an ethical community, Kant believes that it is to be unable to know
oneself to even be apt for this. In this essay I will investigate the grounds of what
they agree on, the reasons that speak in favor of each as opposed to the other, and
the prospects of a Hegelianism that accepts Kant’s central premises.
In section 1 I will argue that reason is the power of the unconditioned, and
that ethical life is the highest good of reason thus conceived and therefore possible.
Reflection on this argument will reveal that to act as members of the same ethical
community is to self-­consciously act in such a way as to therein constitute and pre-
serve one another as persons who act in this way: that the idea of ethical life intro-
duces a particularly intimate form of the I-­Thou relationship, a peculiar kind of
love. In section 2 I will describe Kant’s position and confront it with Hegel’s objec-
tion. One cannot have the idea of an ethical community, I will argue, except in the
consciousness of oneself as actually co-­constituting it. In section 3 I will present
what I take to be Kant’s argument for wanting to deny this, and Hegel’s response to
it. Kant understands that human self-­consciousness is, with necessity, conscious-
ness of oneself as morally evil, i.e. as actively prone to deeming one’s own particu-
larity the supreme law. In order to avoid the conclusion that ethical life, the highest
good, consists in the actuality of a community of wrongdoers, Kant distinguishes,
I will show, the necessity of human evil as merely subjective—­as pertaining not to
the content of the concept of a human being, but to our grasp of it alone—­from
the objective necessity of the highest good. This, then, compels him to deny us the

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ability to know ethical life to reside within our power. Hegel accepts Kant’s insight
concerning human evil. Yet knowing Kant’s solution to be impossible, he is, I will
argue, at once committed and entitled to a conception of ethical life as the actual-
ity of an essentially limited, particular community of overcomers of evil. However,
as this particularity is at odds with the very groundedness of ethical life in reason,
the unconditioned universal, Hegel is compelled to demonstrate that such par­
ticularization belongs to the very idea of the unconditioned, objectively speaking.
What would be the import of this investigation, should its arguments be
sound? In explicating the consequences of ethical life’s groundedness in pure
reason, it would reveal as all-­important an understudied form of the I-­Thou rela-
tionship. In reasoning from a Kantian, universalistic conception of reason to a
Hegelian, particularistic conception of ethical life, it would make for a criticism of
readings of Hegel as dismissing universalism from the very start. And in pointing
out that to take this line is to acknowledge that rational life, in its unconditioned
universality, cannot find its consummation in ethical practice, but—­if at all—­in
the practice-­transcending activity of philosophical demonstration, it would begin
to account for the necessity of the unity in difference that is the relationship of
what Hegel calls Objective and Absolute Spirit.

1. The Necessity of the Idea of


an Ethical Community

The idea of an ethical community is the idea of a multiplicity of human beings


who act in accordance with a practical law that relates them to one another as
persons in and only in their being conscious of it as the principle from which
alone they act in this way. I am going to show that the notions of internality and
relationality, i.e. the notion of acting from nothing but one’s consciousness of (or
one’s respect for) a practical law and the notion of being toward one another as
person to person, each bring into focus one of the two essential aspects of the
practical activity characteristic of human beings. According to the classical defi-
nition, a human being is a rational animal, a sensible organism endowed with
reason. For the purposes of this essay, “reason” as it figures in this definition is to
be practical reason: reason as of itself a power to act. In the sense of this essay, then,
human beings are not the merely prudentially rational beings Hume proclaims us
to be, rational animals whose practical activity “arises not from reason, but is only
directed by it.”1 Rather, they are sensible beings like you and me who are—­or at
least take themselves to be—­characteristically capable of acting from reason alone.
In what follows I will show that, while the notion of internal motivation brings
into focus the rational origin of human practical activity (section 1.1), the notion
of relationality highlights our rational conduct’s dependence on sensibility (sec-
tion 1.2). I will argue (in section 1.3) that the unity thought in the idea of ethical

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life is no other than the unity thought in the concept of a human being, and that,
given a plurality of human beings, the one is entailed by the other. It will further
transpire that the rational origin of human activity commits us to a conception of
ethical life as the highest end, not of human reason, but of reason, simply as such.

1.1 The Rationality of a Human Being: Internality

What is reason, and how does it relate to sensibility in a human being? Reason, one
might begin, is a capacity to justify judgments. To judge is to claim to think truly.
And to think truly is to think something that is the case. Now, there is no outside
to the totality of that which is the case, the world; being is unbounded: the form of
being cannot be negated, the law of non-­contradiction does not apply to it. That
means that being, that which is the case, cannot be the object of a limited capacity
of representation; the object of such a capacity could only be being with an index:
being as it appears to particular subjects. So the capacity to judge, the intellect,
must itself be unlimited or entirely general: νους, as Aristotle puts this, “has no
other nature than to be capacity.”2 And because to judge is to claim to think what
is the case, one cannot justify judgments through acts of a limited capacity either:
one cannot reveal one’s judgment’s content as belonging to being by referring it
to an activity incapable of representing being. So reason, as a capacity to justify
judgments, must be unlimited, too. But obviously, there cannot be more than one
unlimited capacity. So reason and the intellect are essentially the same. And this
is to say, first, that reason is the capacity to justify judgments through acts of the
intellect, i.e. through judgments, that it is the capacity to infer, and, second, that it
is the only capacity to justify judgments.3
To justify a judgment, to infer it, is to explain why its content is something that
is the case: part of the world. But the world has no outside. So in order to explain
something’s being the case, one must appeal to what is part of the world, or more
precisely—­as the world is one cohering whole, and a circle no j­ustification—­to
everything else that is the case. Yet every something is another something’s other.
So every something’s being the case is to be explained in a way that looks to every-
thing else and, thereby, back to that something itself. Now, for something to be
explanatorily dependent on another is to be related to it under laws. And for some-
thing to be the case is, basically, for a thing to be determined in some way. So to
justify a judgment is, basically, to explain why the thing that is the subject of its
content is determined the way it is through its activity according to the laws (under
which it falls in virtue of its definition) that relate it to the activities of all other
things (in virtue of their definitions). Laws can only play this role in justification,
if they constitute the form of the world. And because the form of the world cannot
be negated, laws cannot be conceived of as merely induced from what happens to
be the case; they must be conceived as articulating a necessity that is prior to mere
actuality, or as Kant puts it: there is “necessity [. . .] thought in every law, namely
objective necessity from a priori grounds.”4

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Reason, then, is the power to represent laws. Now, rational beings are beings,
too: they exist in the world. So to exist as a rational being is to exist through repre-
senting laws, or as Kant puts it:
Everything in nature acts according to laws. A rational being alone has
the capacity to act from the representation of laws.5

This holds for both human beings and merely prudentially rational animals alike,
should these be possible at all. The laws from the representation of which a being
of the latter sort would act would not be the laws that explain why it acts at all:
although such a being would act from the representation of laws, there would
always be laws that govern the activity that constitutes its existence that would not
themselves be represented in this very activity as the laws from which it acts. In a
merely prudentially rational animal, reason, in representing laws, would only serve
to direct the animal’s practical activity toward the realization of its happiness—­the
most complete satisfaction of its desires throughout the whole of its existence—­,
while the very actuality of this activity itself would not be due to reason, but to
sensible desire. Although such a being would essentially act with reason, reason
itself would remain entirely theoretical for it.
In us human beings, however, pure reason is of itself practical, if all goes well:
ideally, the laws from the representation of which we act are therein known by us
to be the laws that explain why we act at all.6 They are practical laws. Thus defined,
a practical law is a self-­applying law: its application in the activity that constitutes
a human being’s existence does not, if all goes well, have conditions the satifaction
of which could possibly remain to be explained by other laws. So it cannot be
hypothetical, it will be categorical: it will be law in virtue of no other law. As law,
however, it will govern belonging in the totality that has no outside, the world.
So there can only be one such law.7 In its necessary singularity, this law, then, is
lawness itself, reason; or as Kant puts it: “pure reason, practical of itself, is here
immediately lawgiving.”8
In human beings, pure reason, if all goes well, determines itself to be practical
or will, the power the object of which is the good: that which is to be. Therein,
reason gives itself as law to itself. Kant calls the practical law thus given the moral
law.9 As the moral law is given to reason itself, reason is, qua will, autonomous and
in this sense free, or as Hegel puts it: “The abstract concept of the Idea of the will is
in general the free will which wills the free will.”10 So to act in accordance with the
moral law—­to be free in the positive sense of autonomy, and that is: to exist as a
human being—­is, in the first instance, to act in such a way as to therein constitute
and preserve oneself as acting for the sake of the moral law alone; it is to act in such
a way as to make it the case that one’s acting in this way is explained by nothing
other than one’s consciousness of this very law.
So, originally, the very idea of the moral law is the idea of a law accordance
with which just is activity from nothing but one’s consciousness of it. In this sense,
the notion of internal motivation, one of the two sides of the idea of an ethical

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community, does indeed bring into focus an essential aspect of the practical activ-
ity characteristic of us human beings: its origin in pure reason.

1.2 The Animality of a Human Being: Relationality

To act as a human being is to actualize pure reason, if all goes well. But no human
being is pure reason. Human beings are rational animals. So they are animals, sen-
sible organisms, too. Sensibility is a receptive capacity of representation: a capac-
ity to represent objects through being affected by them. Affection happens at a
time and a place. So sensible organisms are spatiotemporal beings. And affection
depends on the existence of its object. So sensibility is a capacity whose actualiza-
tion has conditions the satisfaction of which cannot be the work of this capacity
itself. Therefore, sensibility is limited by whatever else satisfies these conditions.
And so it is a particular capacity, a capacity with a specific form. But if a capacity
of representation is limited and particular, then its object—­the content of its act
in general—­must be limited and particular, too: its object cannot be that which
is, simply as such. It is for this reason that sensibility differs infinitely from reason,
the unconditioned capacity, and that no sensible organism can be pure reason, so
that the definition of a human being unites reason and sensibility as two distinct
determinations.
To exist as an animal is, typically, to be engaged in sensible activity.11 So
although human beings exist, if all goes well, through actualizing pure reason, sen-
sibility will have to play a role in their rational practical activity. A merely pruden-
tially rational animal, should such a thing be possible at all, would be determined
to act by sensible desire. Reason would merely serve to direct it toward happiness.
In a human being, however, reason is, if all goes well, of itself practical. And so the
role of sensible desire cannot be that of the determinant, the motor, of human
practical activity. As the activity of a rational animal, human activity, too, is ori-
ented toward happiness. But the subjective principles of a human being’s practical
activity, principles which, as such, determine the manner in which its orientation
toward happiness becomes practical, are acts of free choice: acts of a capacity to “be
determined to actions by pure will,”12 maxims, as Kant calls them. As conditioned
by the moral law, such maxims presuppose their subject’s acknowledgment of her
own happiness as prima facie good: as to be pursued at all in the activity of pure
reason.13 In this acknowledgment, a human being constitutes herself as a person: as
individualized pure reason, as a particular manifestation of the moral law. Through
her maxims, a person, a human being as a particular manifestation of pure reason,
determines the character of her pursuit of happiness. And so it is in her maxims,
her acts of free choice, a human being rationally displays her sensible nature: the
individuality and finitude that make her an animal.
To exist as a human being is, typically, to engage in the activity of free choice.
In this activity, reason is employed theoretically, and most importantly it is of itself
practical, if all goes well. Reason is the capacity to explain why a thing is deter-
mined the way it is in accordance with the laws that relate it to the activities of

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all other things. But the law of pure practical reason is law in virtue of no other.
So in her activity of free choice, a human being is necessarily out to validate this
law’s supreme reign in the world. That is to say that, should there be a plurality
of laws, she is necessarily out to realize the moral law as the supreme principle of
all the laws. Now, there is, in fact, more than one human being. And every human
being is a person, a particular manifestation of the moral law. On the one hand
this means that the particularity of a human being’s existence cannot be deduced
from the moral law; and on the other it means that, as a manifestation of the law of
pure reason, the reign of the moral law consists in every human being’s existence.
Taken together, this implies that every human being constitutes a particular law in
her own right: a law necessarily to be considered in the activity of validating the
moral law’s supremacy in the world. So on condition of the fact of a multiplicity
of human beings, every human being is, in her activity of free choice, out to be
related to every other human being as a person. And this is to say that, because
there is more than one human being, the activity of free choice is an activity in
which everyone is out to be related to every other human being as bestowed with
an unconditioned worth that is none other than the very supremacy of the moral
law itself. So, in the light of human plurality, the reign of the moral law amounts
to nothing less than the rule of unconditioned, universal human right.
Because there is more than one human being, every human being is, in her
activity of free choice, if all goes well, related to every other human being as a sub-
ject of free choice: as one person toward another.14 But this is to say that the notion
of relationality, the second of the two sides of the idea of an ethical community,
does indeed bring into view an essential aspect of the practical activity character-
istic of human beings: the personhood in which a human being rationally displays
her particularity, her sensible nature: the individuality and finitude that make her
an animal.

1.3 The Human Being: the Ethical Community as the Highest Good

In a human being, pure reason is of itself practical, if all goes well, but only by
subjecting every maxim, which is not of itself an act of pure reason, to the moral
law.15 Pure reason’s practicality is here conditioned by something other: by the
pursuit of happiness, hence by sensible desire. Kant uses the distinction between
form and matter to characterize the relation between law and maxim: in knowing
the moral law to be the sole determinant of one’s practical activity, one knows it to
constitute the form of one’s choice, without, therein, knowing it to provide for its
matter, too.16 But, now, how could it possibly be correct to say that pure reason, the
unconditioned, can be of itself practical, if its practicality is conditioned by some-
thing other? “The thing is strange enough,” Kant notes.17 Indeed, as he himself
knows perfectly well: prima facie, it is utterly impossible. The thing, free choice,
would be impossible, that is, if the distinction between form and matter had to be
the last word about it—­unless, that is, we may come to recognize pure reason to
be the source of both the form and the matter of the activity of free choice or of

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an activity knowable as free choice’s necessary perfection. Otherwise, the idea of
pure, unconditioned reason as of itself practical—­and with it the very idea of free
choice, hence the very concept of a human being—­would just be plain nonsense.
The idea of pure reason as the origin of both the determining form and the
enabling matter of the activity of pure reason is the idea of the moral law as itself
the origin of happiness. The ensuing idea of the unity of one’s activity from noth-
ing but respect for the moral law and one’s happiness as the result of nothing
but the former is the idea of “the unconditioned totality of the object of pure
reason,”18 the idea of pure reason’s complete end. In Kant’s philosophy, this idea
figures under the title of the highest good: complete happiness through complete
virtue.19 Because the highest good is the complete end of the activity of pure rea-
son, the unconditioned, it is necessarily possible.20
The unity of the highest good is the unity thought in the concept of a human
being. It is the unity of reason, as of itself practical, with sensibility. It is the unity
of pure reason and free choice, of moral law and maxim, through pure reason
alone, unconditioned by anything else. Therefore, the idea of this unity, the idea of
the highest good, is none other than the idea of ethical life, the idea of a reality in
which the internality that is thought in the idea of the moral law as the principle
from consciousness of which alone human beings act, if all goes well, and the rela-
tionality that is thought in the idea of the power of free choice in its dependence
on sensible matter coincide with necessity, and that is: through pure reason. The
idea of the highest good is the idea of ethical life: it is the idea of the actuality of
a community constituted by the practical law as not only the principle from con-
sciousness of which alone its constituents act, if all goes well, but in and only in so
acting from which alone they are related to one another as persons.
To identify the idea of ethical life with the idea of the highest good is to con-
ceive of pure reason as the sole ground of the satisfaction of all the conditions of
its actuality, or as Hegel puts it, referring to freedom and self-­consciousness, the
hallmarks of rational activity:
Ethical life is the concept of freedom which has become the existing
world and the nature of self-­consciousness.21

One of the conditions of the actuality of the idea of ethical life is the very mul-
tiplicity of the human beings who constitute an ethical community. Satisfaction
of this condition, too, must eventually come to be conceived—­not as a brute fact,
but—­as the work of nothing but pure reason. And this is to say, among other
things, that the actuality of an ethical community cannot be explained within the
scope of methodological individualism. Ethical life, that is, cannot be explained as
the result of a contract, for example.22 This reflects back on the content of the idea
of ethical life.
To act from one’s consciousness of nothing but the moral law is to act autono­
mously, it is to give this law to oneself: it is to act in such a way as to therein also
constitute and preserve oneself as a being who is acting from nothing but one’s
consciousness of this law. So for me to be related to you as one person to another

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in my acting from such respect for the moral law is for me to give the law to both
of us and to therein receive it from you who is equally giving it to both of us. So as
members of our ethical community, each of us acts in such a way as to constitute
and preserve herself and therein the other as a person who acts from nothing but
her consciousness of the moral law. In this sense, an act from respect for the moral
law, conceived as the principle of an ethical community, is a joint or general act of
the will. So in ethical life, the willing itself is relational.23 In our ethical community,
that is, my willing is our willing, only from my perspective, oriented toward you;
and your willing is our willing, only from your perspective, oriented toward me.24
And because our willing is our acting from nothing but our consciousness of the
moral law, I am, in my willing, conscious of myself as related to you in this manner,
and you are, in your willing, conscious of yourself as related to me in this manner:
we share the same—­relational—­self-­consciousness. In ethical life, the willing itself
is relational in its very internality, in its very character as self-­consciousness.25
In ethical life, we are conscious of one another as one at heart: as one in the
consciousness of the principle from which we act; we are practically conscious of
one another’s hearts. Through this consciousness we constitute a sense of “we”
in which “validity for every human being (universitas vel omnitudo distributiva),
i.e. communality of insight” and “universal union (omnitudo collectiva)”26 coin-
cide with necessity. This implies that for me to act merely in accordance with the
moral law, conceived as the principle of our ethical community, but not from my
consciousness of it alone, is to break this law and to therein wrong you. But if I
do act from nothing but my consciousness of the moral law, thus conceived, I am
moved by reason and, therein, by you. That is to say that ethical life is the activity of
unconditionally approving of one another’s individuality in such a way as to therein
constitute and preserve one another as engaged in this very activity, and that is: love.
It is the rational love we know as ‫( אהב‬ahābā), ἀγάπη, caritas, and solidarity.27

2. Hegel’s Criticism of Kant

2.1 Kant on the Idea of an Ethical Community

If we take as our starting point the idea of a human being as the idea of a sensible
organism in whom reason is of itself practical and of which there are many, we will
end up having to conclude that the idea of an ethical community is a necessary
end—­indeed, the highest good—­of pure reason.28 Nonetheless, Kant holds that
this idea “differs entirely from all moral laws [. . .], for it is the idea of working
toward a whole of which we cannot know whether as a whole it is also in our
power.”29 What does it mean to say that?
Laws that present themselves to us human beings as unconditionally binding
duties fulfillment of which “we know to reside within our power,”30 are “pure prac-
tical laws of reason for free choice” or “laws of freedom.”31 Such laws are the topic

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of what Kant calls a metaphysics of morals. Although ethical life is a duty we must
conceive of as originating in pure reason, Kant holds, we cannot know whether
its fulfillment lies within our power. Consequently, he cannot make the idea of
an ethical community a topic of his Metaphysics of Morals. This work comprises
two parts: the Doctrine of Right and the Doctrine of Virtue. The latter’s distinc-
tive contribution to the whole lies in the elucidation of the very notion of acting
from nothing but consciousness of the moral law, being moved by it internally;
elucidation of the very notion of personal relation among human beings—­which,
as such, rests on the notion of sensibly dependent choice, as we saw—­is the dis-
tinctive contribution of the former.32 This is not—­yet—­to say that the Metaphysics
of Morals makes it impossible to hold on to the insight that the idea of ethical life
is the truth of internality and relationality and, as such, the highest end of pure
reason; indeed, both notions are essentially used in both parts of this work, and
although each is originally elucidated in one of the two parts, each part contains
an acknowledgment of its dependence on the other.33 But it is to say that for Kant
no law of freedom is internally motivating in being relational, and no law of free-
dom relational in being internally motivating, so that the idea of ethical life, the
truth of internality and relationality, i.e. the truth of the Metaphysics of Morals as
a whole, cannot be found in the Metaphysics of Morals.
Kant, however, does insist, as we saw, that the idea of ethical life constitutes a
duty that announces itself a priori to every human being. So he believes that this
idea necessarily merits discussion in a metaphysical inquiry of the ethical impli-
cations of our freedom we cannot know to reside within its power. He presents this
inquiry in section 3 of the Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. The only
way for us to conceive of an ethical community, he explains there, is in the guise of
the idea of a church, as the idea of an ethical community founded by the infinite
rational being thought to necessarily know the establishment of such a commu-
nity to lie within its power: “an ethical community is conceivable only as a people
under divine commands, i.e. as a people of God, and indeed in accordance with
laws of virtue.”34 The idea of an ethical community, thus conceived, is the idea of
a community that is in full agreement with the unconditioned universality of its
origin: it is the idea of the community of all possible rational beings, all possible
human beings included.
Kant’s doctrine that as human beings we know that we ought to build an ethi-
cal community, yet precisely as human beings we are also incapable of knowing
whether we can, so that the idea of such a community cannot be the topic of a
metaphysics of morals but must be relegated to moral theology, has as one of its
consequences the most characteristic—­and most often criticized—­element of
Kant’s practical philosophy: his doctrine that the moral law can never be more
than an imperative for us human beings, that, for us, practical necessity consists
in practical necessitation. In our practical activity, pure reason is of itself practical,
if all goes well, but only through our pursuit of happiness, so that pure reason,
the moral law, must be conceived of as extending itself to include among its ends

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the highest good, i.e. the ethical community of human beings. But if, as Kant has it,
we cannot know whether we can accomplish this end, then we can never know the
moral law to be the principle from consciousness of which alone we do act. In effect,
Kant is adding to our claim that reason is of itself practical in us, if all goes well, the
disappointing disclaimer: and for all we know it will never go well. The only way
Kant can prevent this disclaimer from destroying our knowledge that, if all goes
well, reason is of itself practical in us—­i.e. that we are human beings, subjects of
free choice—­is to restrict the modality of our grasp of the moral law to the modal-
ity of the grasp of an imperative; it is to say that our knowledge of the practical law,
though never knowledge of that from consciousness of which alone we do act, is
knowledge of that from consciousness of which alone we ought to act.35

2.2 Hegel’s Objection

To live the ethical life is to act from nothing but one’s consciousness of the law
of pure reason in such a way as to make it, through this very consciousness, the
principle of one’s relation to the other as one person toward another, i.e. through
a self-­consciousness that is essentially shared. So it is to unconditionally approve
in practice the other’s choices in such a way as to therein know one’s own choices
to be unconditionally approved, too: it is to love, in one’s acting from nothing
but the moral law, one’s neighbor, and to therein know oneself to be loved in this
way; and so it is to act gladly. This mindset, “the moral disposition in its complete
perfection,” Kant calls “holiness.”36 Now, according to him, a human being knows
that holiness in this sense is her duty, but she cannot know herself to be apt for
it. But how is this possible? After all, “ought” implies “can.”37 Kant has an answer:
[T]he command that makes [. . .] [holiness] a rule cannot command
us to have this disposition in dutiful actions but only to strive for it.38

We know holiness to be our duty, not as to be reached, but as to be striven for. But to
strive for an end one cannot knowingly attain is to strive endlessly. So, according to
Kant, our duty to live ethically is our duty to endlessly progress toward a state that
is out of our reach.39
Hegel thinks that Kant’s position is impossible. He believes that in denying us
the capacity to know whether ethical life resides within our power, Kant destroys the
very idea of ethical life itself:
[T]he practical principles of Kant’s philosophy are [. . .] rendering the
point of view of ethical life impossible and in fact expressly infringing
and destroying it.40

Reason is the power of the unconditioned. That is to say, among other things, that
for pure reason itself as well as for everything that is grounded in it alone, ethical
life included, possibility and actuality will coincide with necessity. For otherwise,
something other than pure reason would have to be invoked in order to explain
the actuality of pure reason and of ethical life, which would be incompatible with
reason’s character as the unconditioned as well as with its being the sole ground

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of ethical life. But that is to say that to even grasp the possibility of ethical life, to
have an idea of it, is to grasp its actuality. Now, for pure reason, the moral law,
to be the principle of an ethical community is for its constituents to make it this
principle through nothing but their consciousness of themselves as constituents of
this community. So we have to say that it is through this very consciousness, that
the moral law, pure practical reason, is what it is essentially. We have to say that
it is impossible to conceive of the moral law without conceiving of it as the law
one makes the principle of one’s ethical community through one’s consciousness
of oneself as co-­constituting it. But this implies that it is impossible to have the
idea of an ethical community, hence the idea of holiness, without being conscious
of oneself as actualizing it. It implies that it is impossible to have this idea while
leaving it open whether its realization resides within one’s power: it implies the
impossibility of conceiving of ethical life as to be striven for eternally. It implies
the impossibility of Kant’s position.
We cannot know, Kant holds, whether love, the love that is ethical life, is pos-
sible for us. And yet at any rate we know, he thinks, that love is our end, wherefore
at least we know what love is. But to know what love is, just is to love: the idea of an
ethical community is a form of being that can only be thought in the consciousness
of oneself as actualizing it, as we just saw. Therefore, Kant cannot, in fact, know even
what love is. And because, as we saw in section 1, “[m]orality and [. . .] formal right,”
internality and relationality, the topics of Doctrines of Virtue and of Right, are—­on
Kantian grounds—­“both abstractions whose truth is attained only in ethical life,”41
Kant cannot even know what he claims to know in the Metaphysics of Morals: that
the ethical and juridical duties that are the laws of freedom for us do reside within
our power. This, in a nutshell, is Hegel’s objection to Kant’s moral philosophy.

3. Kant’s Critique of Naïve Hegelianism


and Hegel’s Answer

In section 2.1 I have described Kant’s position: his denial of our capacity to know
ourselves to be qualified for ethical life. And in section 2.2 I have presented Hegel’s
ground for rejecting this position as self-­contradictory. This invites the question:
why does Kant hold this position at all? I will present what I take to be Kant’s argu-
ment in section 3.1. And I will conclude this essay with a sketch of a Hegelianism
that, like Hegel’s own, acknowledges the central premise of Kant’s argument (sec-
tion 3.2).

3.1 The Subjective Necessity of the Evil Principle in Human Nature

Hegel’s criticism of Kant suggests a position whose motto might be rendered


as: Kant minus the pessimism. Naïve Hegelianism, as I would like to call it, denies
Kant’s claim that we are unable to knowingly actualize the idea of ethical life in the

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s­ ensible world, while holding on to the Kantian idea of ethical life as the actuality of
the universal ethical community. According to Naïve Hegelianism we do know
ourselves to be capable of acting from nothing but our consciousness of the law
of pure reason with gladness: we do know ourselves to be capable of actualizing
choices whose sensible matter yields without any hesitation to the law of pure
reason, their form; we do know ourselves as capable of actualizing the ideal of
a human being who acts from nothing but her consciousness of pure reason in
such a way that in this consciousness pure reason is—­to borrow the words of
John McDowell—­“apprehended, not as outweighing or overriding any reasons for
acting in other ways, [. . .] but as silencing them.”42 Kant, I think, has an argument
against Naïve Hegelianism.
In human activity, sensible matter and rational form are at least notionally
distinct—­necessarily, as we saw in section 1.2. And in ethical life, I am conscious
of myself as an active human being. So in ethical life, I am conscious of the matter
of my activity as through its form, yet as distinct from it. Now, Kant draws our
attention to the following question: What does it take to be conscious of oneself as
a being in whose characteristic activity rational form and sensible matter are dis-
tinct in this way? What does it take to be conscious of oneself as a human being, as
a rational animal? Clearly, just by itself, the idea of ethical life, as the idea of a
frictionless unity of form and matter through form alone, contains nothing that
could help us to answer this question: if all that could be said about the sensible
matter of rational activity were that it eagerly follows the law of pure reason that
is its form, we would have no reason whatsoever to even begin to distinguish this
matter from that form. In ethical life, as developed up to now, i.e. as conceived by
Naïve Hegelianism, the matter is “silent.” Therefore, the only reality consciousness
of which could possibly give us reason to distinguish the sensible matter from the
purely rational form of our activity would be the reality of a conflict: of a revolt, so
to speak, on behalf of the sensible matter, against the law of pure reason that is the
form of our rational activity.
Kant brings into focus the experience of such a revolt, as struck down, when
he describes what he calls the feeling of respect: “[t]he consciousness of a free sub-
mission of the will to the law [. . .] as combined with a [. . .] constraint put on all
inclination though only by one’s own reason.”43 The revolt that is experienced as
struck down in the feeling of respect—­Kant calls it “self-­conceit”44—­cannot be an
act of sensibility alone: in virtue of its character as a limited capacity, sensibility is
per form too weak to stage a riot against the moral law, i.e. against pure reason, the
unconditioned. So the revolt that is self-­conceit must be an act of free choice itself:
an act made possible by the law of pure reason. It is an act that is made possible by
this law as much as it is, qua revolt on behalf of a particular human being’s happi-
ness, directed against it: “self-­conceit [. . .] prescribes as laws the subjective condi-
tions of self-­love.”45 And because this revolt goes against the supreme law, which,
as such, demands that it alone be that from which one act, self-­conceit is a free act
that “reverses the moral order of [man’s] incentives in incorporating them into

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his maxims,” as Kant puts it.46 But this characterization of the revolt that is self-­
conceit is nothing but the definition of a general act of moral evil.47 And because
this revolt, as struck down, is the reality in which a human being apprehends her
form, every human being is, as such, the subject of such an act of moral evil: “It
follows that the human being (even the best) is evil.”48
Although Kant does not take us to be capable of knowing whether the actu-
alization of the highest good, hence holiness, lies within our power, he does, as we
saw, wish to hold on to the necessity of the highest good. Prima facie, however,
admission of the necessity of human evil simply contradicts the very possibility
of holiness, and hence the very possibility of the highest good. Kant attempts to
resolve this contradiction by distinguishing two kinds of necessity: the objective
necessity of the highest good, ethical life and holiness, and the merely subjective
necessity with which every human being is conscious of herself as evil.49
To think of a human being is to think of a being who is conscious of herself
as a human being; this consciousness is made possible by human evil; therefore,
human evil is necessary, but only subjectively so: it is necessary only for our grasp
of the concept of a human being, but not a necessary element of its content, Kant
holds. But this in turn implies that it is impossible for a human being to ever be
conscious of herself as holy, as actually living the ethical life. And it is this, then,
which compels Kant to deny us the capacity to know ethical life to reside within
our power.50

3.2 Hegelianism Beyond Naïveté

Kant or Naïve Hegelianism: if this were the choice we are faced with, we would be
faced with a dilemma. If we follow Kant in claiming our incapacity to know our-
selves to be qualified for ethical life, we destroy the very idea of it and everything
it contains. But if we endorse Naïve Hegelianism in its simple denial of Kantian
pessimism we seem to have to reject Kant’s distinction between the objective
necessity of the possibility of ethical life and the subjective necessity of human
evil, and so we seem to end up having to assert the contradiction that, as human
beings, we are—­with objective necessity—­achieving the highest good, while, as
human beings, we are—­with the same objective necessity—­morally evil. In fact,
however, there is no dilemma. Naïve Hegelianism, as the simple denial of Kantian
pessimism, is as impossible as Kantianism itself. In this last section I will argue
that Hegel’s criticism of Kant implies a theory of ethical life, Hegel’s own, which
shares with Naïve Hegelianism the denial of Kantian pessimism with regard to our
capacity to know ethical life to reside within our power, but contradicts naïveté by
limiting the reach of ethical life to some particular body politic. I will then sketch
the consequences of this theory.
Hegel agrees with Kant that to be conscious of oneself as a human being, as
a rational animal, is to be conscious of oneself as evil.51 And he praises him for
attending to the intimate connection between reason and sin:

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[In the] Religion Within the Boundaries of Pure Reason [. . .] Kant
reminded us of the ideas of reason contained in the positive dogmatics
of religion [allegedly] overcome by the Enlightenment [Aufklärung]
(the Clearing Out [Ausklärung]): [he reminded us of] the rational
(and initially moral) meaning of [. . .] original sin. He is much more
reasonable than the Clearing Out [Ausklärung] which is ashamed to
speak of it.52

But, of course, Hegel continues to insist that we are to be able to knowingly consti-
tute an ethical community. So he is committed to denying Kant’s conception of the
necessity of human evil as merely subjective. And it is this which allows Hegel to
complete the Kantian project of a decidedly modern moral philosophy for which
the acknowledgment of human viciousness is more than the observation of a mere
accident that has nothing to do with what it is to be a human being and which
enables us to thereby—­by taking responsibility for it—­begin to actually overcome
it. Kant writes:
[T]he first really good thing that a human being can do is to extricate
himself from an evil which is to be sought [. . .] in freedom itself.53

In granting the necessity of human evil the same objectivity as the necessity of the
possibility of the highest good, Hegel goes even further: he conceives of the activ-
ity whose end is the highest good, the activity of pure reason, as an activity that
is, objectively speaking, nothing but the activity of overcoming evil. “Evil,” Hegel
writes, “retention of the finite,” “vanity,” is “the ultimate immersion into [spirit’s]
own subjectivity and [its] innermost contradiction and therefore [its] turning-­
point,” which is to say that spirit, rational activity, “is itself nothing but this: the
act of the nullification of nullity, the frustrating of vanity [das Vereiteln des Eitlen]
within itself.”54 To say that rational activity is itself nothing but the frustration of
vanity within itself is not to say, as Kant would have it, that the activity of pure
reason, should it find itself confronted with vanity, as something alien to its objec-
tive nature, would consist in the activity of frustrating it. Rather, it is to say that
rational activity is in itself nothing but the activity of overcoming evil. Therefore,
to acknowledge the objectivity of the necessity of human evil is to attribute to the
human being the capacity to actually know that pure reason is of itself practical in
her activity, which is the activity of overcoming evil.55
To acknowledge the objectivity of the necessity of human evil, however, might
still seem, in the eyes of the Naïve Hegelian, to amount to the assertion of the
contradiction that ethical life is the actuality of a community of evildoers. In fact,
however, it cannot amount to this. The result of Hegel’s criticism of Kant, the
truth of Naïve Hegelianism, was this: to have the idea of ethical life is to actualize
it. Now, to abide with this result in the light of Kant’s insight is to conceive of the
idea of ethical life, the highest good, as necessarily permeated with a particularity
not contained in the very idea of pure reason, a particularity Kant and the Naïve
Hegelian would therefore take—­but now: per impossibile—­as a sign of the evil
nature of its subjects. In the light of Kant’s insight, that is, the result of Hegel’s

191
criticism of Kant implies that the highest possible good of pure reason is necessarily
impure. That is to say that ethical life and holiness, the perfection of pure reason’s
practicality, must be conceived as essentially limited, which, in turn, allows the
Hegelian to claim that evil, though objectively necessary as a starting point, can
actually be overcome in human ethical life. And it is to say that the idea of an ethi­
cal community cannot be the idea of the community of all possible human (or
rational) beings; it will be the idea of the particular community one knowingly
co-­constitutes, a community that is essentially limited: should it be universal, then
only accidentally so.56
In the Religion, Kant characterizes the ideal of a holy human being as the idea
of “the son of God.”57 Now, although he notes many parallels between this ideal
and the hero of the New Testament, he nowhere identifies the two: wisely, for the
latter—­according to Christian doctrine, not just fully God, but also fully man—­
cannot be holy in Kant’s sense. In a situation he knows to be God’s will, i.e. good
in the light of pure reason, a holy man in Kant’s sense, as a being in whom pure
reason has managed to silence sensibility completely, would never cry: “My God,
my God, why have you forsaken me?”58 A fully virtuous human being in Hegel’s
sense, however, might.
The I-­Thou of ethical life is a peculiar kind of love, as we saw. Kant had to
conceive of this love as a way of being toward another in which pure reason has
managed to completely “silence” the particularity and finitude of the lover—­a
form of relationship hardly recognizable as love at all. The I-­Thou of Hegelian
ethical life, however, is well recognizable as what we would ordinarily call love: it is
the unconditioned practical approval on part of a particular, finite human being
of the other in her very particularity and finitude.59
However, the essential particularity of an ethical community, though not con-
ceivable as indicating the viciousness of its constituents, exactly not, does con-
tradict the unconditioned universality of reason, its origin. As the highest good
cannot be improved, its particularity cannot be overcome. And so this contra-
diction in the very form of ethical life cannot be resolved in practice. Therefore,
the Hegelian is committed to reconciling, in philosophical theory, the particular-
ity of ethical life with the unconditioned universality of its origin. She is, that is,
committed to a philosophy capable of demonstrating that self-­particularization
belongs to the very idea of pure reason, objectively conceived. Otherwise, the alter-
native to Kant she is presenting would amount to the in itself merely ideological
allegation that pure reason—­who knows why—­cannot be practical of itself, but
is—­somehow—­“always already” materially determined: a pronouncement, unfor-
tunately, often enough taken to be Hegel’s “argument” against Kant.60 This essay
was meant to make plausible the viability of such a philosophical demonstration
by presenting a systematic argument that takes as its starting point a conception of
reason’s unconditioned universality a Kantian may accept and reaches a Hegelian,
particularist conception of ethical life in the end.

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Acknowledgments

This essay grew out of a paper I presented at a conference on Kant’s Doctrine


of Right in Leipzig 2013. I am grateful to all the discussants there, especially to
Alexandra Newton, Andrea Kern, Ariel Zylberman, Ben Laurence, Berislav Marušić,
James Conant, Jason Bridges, Johannes Haag, Lisa van Alstyne, Martin Stone,
Matthias Haase, Pirmin Stekeler-­Weithofer, Rafeeq Hasan, Sebastian Rödl, and
Thomas Land. I would like to thank Matthias Haase for many illuminating discus-
sions; Sebastian Böhm for his questions, suggestions, and references; and Brigitte
Hillmer, Gunnar Hindrichs, Mario Schärli, Inga Siegfried, Christian Steiner, and
Andrew Werner for their comments on a penultimate draft.

Notes

1. Hume (T) II.iii.3.


2. Aristotle (DA) III.4, 429a21f.
3. On the first point, see Kant (KrV) B386/A330 and Hegel (Enz.I) §181 p. 256: “The syllogism is
what is rational, and it is everything that is rational.” On the second point, see Kant (1786) 8:140:
“[T]he final touchstone of truth is always reason,” and Hegel (Enz.I) §181 p. 257: “[T]he syllo-
gism is the essential ground of everything true.”
4. Kant (KpV) 5:26 p. 160. For a brief account of rational activity along similar lines, compare Hegel
(Enz.I) §§19–25.
5. Kant (GMS) 4:412 p. 66. The idea of nature in this quote is the idea of “existence of things under
laws” (Kant [KpV] 5:43 p. 174). In this general sense, “nature” is synonymous with “world” as
used above.
6. Note that to assert that, ideally, pure reason is of itself practical in us—­or anywhere—­is to rule
out, at the very least, the possibility of any positive ground for the actuality of merely prudentially
rational animals, beings in whom reason is only theoretically employed. Although we may take
the distinction between two concepts of a rational animal, human and Humean, as our starting
point, the content of the former, once we recognize it to have actuality (in our own existence),
compels us to conclude the impossibility of this distinction’s well-­groundedness. Kant agrees
when he says that every being in whom reason is of itself practical must as such be convinced that
all rational animals are, if all goes well, governed by the moral law (Kant [KrV] A829/B857fn).
However, for Kant, as will become clear in sections 2.1 and 3.1, this conviction can only be merely
subjectively necessary: it cannot amount to knowledge. Sections 2.2 and 3.2 will reveal why we
should disagree, and what such disagreement requires.
7. In the light of a given multiplicity of hypothetical laws, that is to say that the practical law is only
possible as the supreme law under which all hypothetical laws are—­to be—­subordinated. See
section 3.1.
8. Kant (KpV) 5:31 p. 164 (my emphasis).
9. For the purposes of this section, the word “moral” merely serves to pick out the law of pure prac-
tical reason. Its ethical content will begin to reveal itself in section 1.2.
10. Hegel (GPhR) §27 p. 57.
11. Animals are organisms. And to exist as an organism is, minimally, to metabolize, and, typically,
to procreate. Animals are sensible organisms: their metabolizing and procreating is typically
informed by their desiring what they perceive with pleasure (and their avoiding what they per-
ceive with pain). It is in this sense that animals exist through their sensible activity: a sense that
does not exclude the possibility of sleep, unconsciousness, et cetera.

193
12. Kant (MS) 6:213 p. 42.
13. On the role of this acknowledgment, the wish for happiness, in Kant, see Engstrom (2009) pp. 81ff.
14. As of yet nothing has been said about how human beings relate to one another as persons. As
soon as the practical necessity of the idea of an ethical community comes into view (in section
1.3), it will become clear that the fact that there is more than one human being cannot remain
the brute fact as which it is introduced here. And this, as will transpire in section 2.2, makes it
impossible to conceive of our capacity to know other human beings as a capacity for theoretical
knowledge; to the contrary: it makes it necessary, as will become clear in section 3.2, to identify
the capacity to know other human beings—­inside one’s own ethical community and outside of
it—­with ethical life itself.
15. Kant (MS) 6:214 p. 42.
16. “[A]s pure reason applied to the capacity for choice irrespective of its objects, it does not have
within it the matter of the law; so, as a capacity for principles [. . .], there is nothing it can make
the supreme law and determining ground of choice except the form, the fitness of maxims of
choice to be universal law” (Kant [MS] 6:213f p. 42 [my emphases]). Note that in applying “form”
to a practical law, a determinant of action, Kant is following Aristotle in conceiving of form
as actuality and of matter as potentiality or determinability (Aristotle [M] VII.3 1045b16–19).
About this element of Aristotelianism in Kant, see Engstrom (2006).
17. Kant (KpV) 5:31 p. 164.
18. Kant (KpV) 5:108 p. 227.
19. Because pure, unconditioned reason is of itself practical in human beings, if all goes well, it is
to be conceived as capable of providing for happiness, the condition of its practicality in human
beings, too. This insight is Kant’s own, indeed: “[T]he law that only inspires respect in [human
beings], though it does not recognize [. . .] [happiness] as its own need, nonetheless extends itself
on its behalf to include the moral final end of reason among its determining grounds. That is,
the proposition, ‘Make the highest possible good in this world your own final end,’ is a synthetic
proposition a priori which is introduced by the moral law itself, and yet through it practical reason
reaches beyond the law” (Kant [R] 6:8n p. 60 [my emphases]); compare: “[V]irtue [. . .] is [. . .]
the supreme good [. . .]. But it is not yet, on that account, the whole and complete good as the
object of the faculty of desire of rational finite beings; for this, happiness is also required, and
that not merely in the partial eyes of a person who makes himself an end but even in the judgment
of an impartial reason” (Kant [KpV] 5:119 p. 228f [my emphases]). With this insight, Kant in fact
endorses a version of the ontological proof of God’s existence, as Hegel notes (Hegel [GuW]
p. 351). For Kant, however, it can only be proof in a qualified sense; section 3.1 will explain why.
20. Kant: “If [. . .] the highest good is impossible in accordance with practical rules, then the moral
law, which commands us to promote it, must be fantastic and directed to empty imaginary ends
and must therefore in itself be false” (Kant [KpV] 5:114 p. 231).
21. Hegel (GPhR) §142 p. 189.
22. Methodological individualism is the project of explaining everything social “on the basis of indi-
vidual actions” (Weber [1922] p. 9). The personal relationship forged by a contract is based on
the individuals’ prior interests, not on pure reason. Kant registers this consequence when he notes
that the duty to build an ethical community is a “duty sui generis, not of human beings toward
human beings but of humankind toward itself ” (Kant [R] 6:97 p. 132). This implies that the
idea of an ethical community does not—­or does only partially—­coincide with Rousseau’s idea
of a general will. For while the Rousseauian general will (volonté générale) is not the sum of the
individuals’ private wills (volonté de tous), it is, Rousseau explains, to be conceived as the result of
individuals’ choices “who did not commune with each other in any way” (Rousseau [1762] II.3,
p. 371). Hegel is critical of this aspect of Rousseau’s idea (see e.g. Hegel [GPhR] §258 Addition
p. 276f), in fact, in line with Kant (see Engstrom [2009] p. 130n1).
23. The fact that the idea of an ethical community is the highest good of pure reason suggests that
the peculiarly relational form of generality that belongs to ethical life also constitutes the supreme
logical form of generality. Hegel—­who explicitly connects this form of generality, the “univer-
sality of the Concept” as he calls it, with the idea of a general will in (Enz.I) §163 Addition 2
p. 241—­presents an argument to this effect beginning in the Judgment section of his Logic (e.g.
Hegel [Enz.I] §§166ff).

194
24. Popper believes that a Hegelian ethical community is a “closed society” in which the “group is
everything and the individual nothing” (Popper [1945] p. 246). That is to say that Popper does
not grasp the idea of an ethical community, which is the idea of a community in which, ideally,
the individual just is the community—­conceived relationally as one of the perspectives that con-
stitute it. On the truth of Popper’s reading, however, see section 3.2.
25. The I-­Thou relationship within an ethical community constitutes a standpoint more deeply rela-
tional than the “second-­person standpoint” Stephen Darwall has made a topic of current debate:
“the perspective you and I take up when we make and acknowledge claims on one another’s con-
duct and will” (Darwall [2006] p. 3). The concept of a Darwallian I-­thou-­relation neither contains
the idea of the power of its relata to constitute and preserve one another in their acts of willing,
nor does it contain the idea of interpersonal self-­consciousness. In the latter respect, the notion of
personal community Michael Thompson extracts from Fichte in “What Is It to Wrong Someone”
resembles the I-­Thou of ethical life: “[T]he concept of individuality [i.e. personality] is a recip-
rocal concept, i.e. a concept that can be thought only in relation to another thought, and one
that (with respect to its form) is conditioned by another—­indeed by an identical—­thought. This
concept can exist in a rational being only if it is posited as completed by another rational being.
[. . .] [I]t is a shared concept within which two consciousnesses are unified into one” (Thompson
[2004] p. 371). Thompson, however, does not conceive of this form of interpersonal unity (or
identity) in consciousness as autonomous: as practical with regard to its own actuality. And by
further deeming possible a “mildly naturalistic” (p. 382) explanation of this actuality, he posi-
tively excludes the possibility of autonomy. So the I-­Thou of ethical life cannot be Thompson’s
topic, either.
26. Kant (R) 6:157f p. 179f.
27. This characterization of the I-­Thou of ethical life has been reached by reflection on aspects of its
purely rational, hence unconditioned necessity, which suggests the impossibility of introducing
this idea in a way that abstracts from its ground in pure reason or from the conception of reason
as the unconditioned shared by Kant and Hegel. This, in turn, suggests a family of answers to the
question why contemporary reflection on the second person has, for the most part (see n. 25),
not (yet) reached the idea of ethical life. Furthermore, if “love” is the right word for the I-­Thou
of ethical life, as I contend, this will have consequences for our conception of love in general. The
sole ground of the love that is the I-­Thou of ethical life is reason simply as such; and because
reason is the power of the unconditioned, this love is necessarily unconditional, as we saw. If this
is correct, then Troy Jollimore’s account of the rationality of love must be misguided. “Loving
someone,” Jollimore writes, “is, in large part, a kind of positive, appreciative response to her in
virtue of her attractive, desirable, or otherwise valuable properties. [. . .] Love is thus a matter of
reason, insofar as it is a response to something external that attempts to be adequate to the nature
of its object” (Jollimore [2011] 25f). (Even apart from considerations pertaining to ethical life,
Jollimore’s account is clearly at odds with the fact that loving “for a reason” in his sense is typically
judged by us to constitute a selfish, and hence lower form of loving: lower in the light of the very
idea of love itself.)
28. Kant: “[This] idea [. . .] has an entirely well-­grounded, objective reality in human reason” (Kant
[R] 6:95 p. 130).
29. Kant (R) 6:98 p. 133.
30. Ibid.
31. Kant (MS) 6:214 p. 43.
32. “That lawgiving which makes an action a duty and also makes this duty the incentive is ethi­
cal. But that lawgiving which does not include the incentive of duty in the law and so admits
an incentive other than the Idea of duty itself is juridical. It is clear that in the latter case this
incentive that is something other than the Idea of duty must be drawn from sensibly dependent
determining grounds of choice” (Kant [MS] 6:218f p. 46).
33. Kant distinguishes the topics of the two parts of the Metaphysics of Morals by distinguishing two
types of rational incentive for action: juridical and moral. The strictly juridical incentive, Kant
explains, is fear of rightful coercion: fear of a “hindrance to [. . .] [one’s potential] hindrance of
[another’s] freedom” (Kant [MS] §D 6:231). Now, it would clearly erode the rule of the principle
of right if I were to act in accordance with your right against me, but not because I fear being

195
rightfully coerced to act in this way, but because I fear coercion simply as such. To fear the right
kind of coercion belongs to what Kant calls the duty of rightful honor: “Be a man of right (hon-
este vive) [. . .]: ‘do not make yourself a mere means for others, but be an end for them, too’”
(Kant [MS] 6:234). And this is clearly an ethical duty, a duty that commands us to adopt certain
maxims (compare Ripstein [2009] 18)—­hence an expression of the Doctrine of Right’s depen-
dence on the Doctrine of Virtue. The converse dependence is revealed by reflection on the pure
duties of virtue. Take the duty of beneficence, i.e. the duty to make another’s happiness one’s
end (Kant [MS] 6:385), for example. It can be one’s duty to make another’s happiness one’s end
only in those respects in which the other has chosen freely to pursue it. For otherwise this duty
would amount to a duty to patronize. But to know the free choices of the other is to be related to
the other as one person to another, the form of which relationship is elucidated in the Doctrine
of Right.
34. Kant (R) 6:99 p. 134. Kant takes great pains to ensure that this invocation of God will not be
misunderstood as the announcement of some sort of practical relief, i.e. as a way of diminishing
the fact that building an ethical community is our duty. For the Kant of the Religion, “God,” we
might say, is just another name for the flipside of our incapacity to know whether fulfillment of
this duty resides within our power.
35. Kant: “The moral law is [. . .] for the will of every finite rational being a law of duty, of moral
necessitation and of the determination of his actions through respect for this law and reverence
for his duty” (Kant [KpV] 5:82 p. 206). Kant’s notion of respect, as it figures in this passage, is tied
to the idea of necessitation. In this regard, Kant’s notion of respect is more determinate than the
notion of respect I have been employing in this essay.
36. Kant (KpV) 5:83 p. 207.
37. “[D]uty commands nothing but what we can do” (Kant [R] 6:47 p. 92).
38. Kant (KpV) 5:83 p. 207.
39. “Th[e] law of all laws [. . .] presents the moral disposition in its complete perfection, in such a way
that as an ideal of holiness it is not attainable by any creature but is yet the archetype which we
should strive to approach and resemble in an uninterrupted but endless progress” (Kant [KpV]
5:83 p. 207). The essential endlessness of this ethical progress makes it necessary for Kant to pos-
tulate the soul’s immortality (Kant [KpV] 5:122 p. 238).
40. Hegel (GPhR) §33 p. 63.
41. Hegel (GPhR) §33 Addition (Hotho) p. 63f.
42. McDowell (1998) p. 55f. To borrow this phrase from McDowell is not to say that McDowell is
a Naïve Hegelian himself. He does not appear to be one, for he does not appear to conceive of
perfectly virtuous action as the activity of pure reason.
43. Kant (KpV) 5:80 p. 204 (my emphasis). To assign to the act of respect for the moral law the func-
tion of human self-­consciousness makes possible the following justification of Kant’s conception
of respect as a feeling that is “produced solely by reason” (Kant [KpV] 5:76 p. 201): if respect is
to constitute human self-­consciousness, it must not only relate, but also employ, both reason and
sensibility.
44. “[I]nasmuch as [the moral law] strikes down self-­conceit [. . .] it is an object of the greatest
respect” (Kant [KpV] 5:73 p. 199).
45. Kant (KpV) 5:74 p. 200.
46. “He indeed incorporates the moral law into those maxims, together with the law of self-­love;
[. . .] however, [. . .] he makes the incentives of self-­love and their inclinations the condition of
compliance with the moral law” (Kant [R] 6:36 p. 83).
47. In what follows I shall be using the simple “evil” as a direct translation of the German “böse,”
which picks out the moral sense of the Latin “malum” (as opposed to “übel,” which captures the
‘consequentialist’ aspect of its meaning). Compare Kant (KpV) 5:59 p. 188.
48. Kant (R) 6:36 p. 83. Should my argument to the conclusion that the feeling of respect, as the
consciousness of oneself as evil, is the only way for a human being to be conscious of herself as
a human being, be sound, it would enable us to explain why Kant is justified in claiming that all
human beings are evil. The universality of his claim would be quite unwarranted if evil were not
rooted in an activity—­here: self-­consciousness—­that is to be taken to characterize human beings

196
as such. In this respect, my argument makes for a more adequate reading of Kant’s moral philos-
ophy than the one presented by Stephen Engstrom in The Form of Practical Knowledge: Engstrom
presents, in section 4 of chapter 4, a disjunctivist or privation theory of deviant rational activity,
to which he later, in section 4 of chapter 5, adds that the observation that for all human beings,
rational necessity consists in the necessitation that is experienced in the feeling of respect; but he
nowhere justifies the universality of this pronouncement. Furthermore, my argument makes for
a strikingly simple answer to the question which experience Kant has in mind when he says that
we must judge man to be evil “according to the cognition we have of the human being through
experience” (Kant [R] 6:33 p. 80): the feeling of respect. No other experience gives insight into a
human being’s heart. And only the feeling of respect, due to its subjective necessity, allows us to
judge that all human beings are necessarily evil.
49. “‘He is evil by nature’ simply means that being evil applies to him considered in his species; not
that this quality may be inferred from the concept of his species ([i.e.] from the concept of a
human being in general, for then the quality would be necessary), but rather that, according to the
cognition we have of the human being through experience, he cannot be judged otherwise, in other
words, we may presuppose evil as subjectively necessary in every human being, even the best”
(Kant [R] 6:33 p. 80 [my emphases]). Terminologically, Kant registers the distinction between
the objective necessity of human goodness and the subjective necessity of human wickedness as
the distinction between a pre-­disposition (Anlage) and a propensity (Hang): human beings are
pre-­disposed to be good, but only prone to be bad (compare Kant [R] 6:29f pp. 76f).
50. Kant does not himself present this argument in the second Critique, but it is, in fact, just beneath
the surface of the text. His official answer to the question about the reality consciousness of
which could move us to apply the distinction of reason and sensibility to ourselves consists in
the Antinomy of Practical Reason: the idea of ethical life is the idea of the moral law as the origin
of the theoretically cognizable world; but our theoretical employment of reason, as described
in the first Critique, contains a conception of causality that is incompatible with the causality of
freedom; therefore we cannot know the highest good to reside within our power (Kant [KpV]
5:113–19), and we have to introduce as insurmountable the difference between the law of pure
reason and our happiness, the maximal satisfaction of our ends in the theoretically cognizable
world. But in fact, the supremacy of the categorical law of practical reason vis-­à-­vis the hypo-
thetical causal laws the first Critique explains to be the laws of a theoretically cognizable nature
(Kant [KpV] 5:113) suggests an even more appropriate reaction to one’s consciousness of this
prima facie incompatibility: the renunciation of the principles of theoretical reason insofar as
they are incompatible with freedom. After all, the only ‘proof ’ of the theoretical “faculty of a pure
rational cognition a priori” Kant, in fact, envisages an opponent of this strategy to be able to pro-
duce is a “[proof] through examples from the sciences” (Kant [KpV] 5:91 p. 213), as provided in
section V of the first Critique’s Introduction, the kind of ‘proof ’ in principle rebuttable through
alternative interpretations of the examples or, should this turn out to be impossible, through
an Error Theory of theoretical reason’s incompatibility with freedom (i.e., an Error Theory of
Determinism). Now, the argument I present in the main text is exactly what Kant would need
in order to refute a proponent of this strategy: a first-­Critique-­free demonstration that practical
necessity must consist, for us, in the necessitation—­the act of striking down with pure reason
one’s active propensity to be evil—­we are conscious of in the feeling of respect.
51. “I, freedom in itself—­the most varied, the most contradictory,—­desires which, having been
planted in me by nature, aim at my interests and pleasure while their satisfaction, however, leads
to my demise—­and reason which demands to sacrifice and abandon them that are, nonetheless,
the conditions of my self-­consciousness” (Draft of the inaugural address as philosophy professor at
Berlin University, in Hegel [Enz.III] p. 408 [my translation]).
52. Hegel (VGPh.III) p. 364f (my translation and my emphasis).
53. Kant (R) 6:58n* p. 101f. To say that human beings are necessarily evil is not to say of any particu­
lar act of moral evil that it is necessary. It is to say that every good deed is, as such, connected to
a movement away from wickedness.
54. Hegel Enz III §386 (my translation).
55. One of the consequences of Hegel’s strategy is that it allows him to actually exclude the possi-
bility of merely prudentially rational animals. For to know that reason is of itself practical in the
activity of overcoming human evil is to know pure reason as the ground of the actuality of the

197
highest good, ethical life. And that is to know that pure reason cannot be restricted to its theoreti­
cal use as it would be in merely prudentially rational animals, beings who are incapable of evil.
But Hegel’s strategy presents him with the further challenge of revealing as known in nothing but
ethical life itself the very multiplicity of human beings constituting an ethical community, one of
the conditions of ethical life. Hegel, I believe, tries to meet this challenge in the passages on self-­
consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit and in the Philosophy of Spirit, which may be read
as presenting an argument to the effect that the experience of the conflict that gives us conscious-
ness of the distinction between rational form and sensible matter in our activity as human beings,
the experience which for Kant is the monadic feeling of respect, must be conceived as inherently
relational: as the experience of a “struggle of recognition” (Hegel [Enz.III] §432). (Kant comes
close to such an argument in a passage meant to motivate the idea of an ethical community at the
beginning of the third part of the Religion: “Envy, addiction to power, avarice, and the malignant
inclinations associated with these, assail his nature, which on its own is undemanding, as soon as
he is among human beings. [. . .] [I]t suffices that they are there, that they surround him, and that
they are human beings, and they will mutually corrupt each other’s moral disposition and make
one another evil” (Kant [R] 6:93f p. 129).
56. Hegel conceives of the particularity of ethical life as the particularity of a nation: “Ethical life is
the divine Spirit as inhabiting self-­consciousness in its actual presence as a people and its indi-
viduals” (Hegel [Enz.III] p. 355 [my translation]). My argument does not justify this aspect of
Hegel’s thought (and perhaps it cannot be justified at all). But it does explain why Hegel is justi-
fied in conceiving of ethical life as essentially containing forms of human sociality that are very
obviously infused with particularity and contingency—­for him: the family and civil society (the
market)—­, forms of sociality one cannot grow into without being trained and disciplined
(Hegel [GPhR] §174 p. 211). (This, I believe, amounts to the truth of Popper’s Hegel’s under-
standing of the ethical community as “over and against” the individual.) And it also makes intel-
ligible why Hegel is so eager to demonstrate that the ethical life he himself co-­constitutes cannot
(at his time) be conceived as ethically improvable (most notably, in the Preface of GPhR). For,
first, there are, obviously, particularities that cannot be regarded as constituting the highest
good; and, second, to conceive of one’s own ethical life as ethically improvable would amount to
conceiving of it as falling short of the highest good, which would amount to not conceiving of it
as ethical life, which would amount to not even having the idea of it. My argument also saddles
the Hegelian with the task of accounting for the unity of the actually multiple forms of ethical
life. For, without such an account, a Hegelian particularist conception of ethical life will seem to
have the unacceptable ethical consequence of limiting the reach of the demand of every moral
principle on one’s conduct to the human beings who happen to co-­constitute one’s own ethical
community, which would destroy the very idea of ethical life as the idea of the highest good of
pure, universal reason.
57. Kant (R) 6:61 p. 104. Kant’s rationale might be summarized thusly: we cannot know holiness
to reside within our power; therefore we must conceive of the actuality of holiness as through a
power of pure reason necessarily incomprehensible to us; and this just is to identify the idea of a
holy human being with the idea of God’s son.
58. Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46.
59. It is important to note that the love that constitutes Hegelian ethical life is not, as Harry Frankfurt
claims for love in general, “the originating source of terminal value” (Frankfurt [2004] p. 38).
Every human being has original, unconditional value for me—­human right is absolutely univer-
sal, as we saw in section 1.2—­regardless of whether she belongs to my own ethical community or
not. To say that ethical life, in its essential particularity, is the truth of internality and relation-
ality, of morality and human right, is to say, among other things, that ethical life is a necessary
condition as well as the highest form of each. But it is not to deny the universality of morality
and human right. Exactly not. Because the love that constitutes ethical life must be conceived as
originating in pure reason, the universality of reason is present in ethical life itself. To say that
ethical life is the highest end of pure reason is to say that that which makes it appropriate for me
to love you in this way is not the fact that we are members of the same ethical community, but the
fact that you are a human being, a particular manifestation of reason, period. Niko Kolodny holds
that love in general “is [. . .] rendered normatively appropriate by the presence of a relationship”
(Kolodny [2003] 146). This cannot be right, if it is correct to characterize the I-­Thou of ethical

198
life as love. Kieran Setiya’s conception of love comes closest to my conception of the I-­Thou of
ethical life: “Another’s humanity is sufficient reason to love them: no one is unworthy of love”
(Setiya [2014] 258). The I-­Thou of ethical life amounts to the unconditional approval of anoth-
er’s particularity; and so does love in general according to Setiya: “what is justified by another’s
humanity is not just love, but love of a kind that involves partiality in action” (p. 270). Setiya
concludes that when I am acting from my love for you in a way that involves partiality, I am not
moved by my belief about our relationship (p. 268). This strikes me as correct. Setiya reaches his
conception of love through a reflection on what we ordinarily call “love” and some basic moral
intuitions. I have reached my own account of the I-­Thou of ethical life as a consequence of its
groundedness in pure reason; so it has the added advantage of containing an explanation of
its own necessity.
60. Horstmann (1999) goes so far as to claim that Hegel’s conception of philosophy makes it impos-
sible for him to even leave room for an argument designed to convince the Kantian.

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