Hegel’s Ethical Theory
Hegel’s Ethical Theory 6
Accordingto Hegel, the conscious has certain knowledge of itself. It iscertain of its own existence. This form of knowledge is immediate andintuitive to the spirit. The conscious spirit is aware of its moralduty. However, it still needs to be convinced of its duty which needsto be universalized and recognized. Moreover, it’s immediateknowing and willing need to be certified and or validated. Thisvalidation is only possible in the context of a community of otherselves: other moral agents.
Theimplication of the notion above is that, moral duty is not, andcannot be, an individual affair. The concept of duty presupposes acorrelative to which the duty is directed to. Thus, the phrase “dutyto” derives its full meaning. In other words, duty is not possiblein an isolated individual set up. It is this notion that, inevitably,leads us to the concept of language. According to Hegel, language isa universal recognition medium. It is also the immediate context inwhich the spirit realizes its existence.
Languageis recognized by Hegel as a universal medium because it is in it thatthe spirit exists in the form of itself and for others. It is throughlanguage that the spirit is able to express itself as conscious anduniversal. Therefore, for Hegel, language denotes theself-consciousness being there for others. By the phrase that‘language denotes the self-existing universally,` it is meant thatindividual utterances are twofold. It is twofold in that individualutterance is both an object for the individual and also for others towhom it is uttered.
Whenindividuals utter words, they simply abandon their existence asindividual and isolated selves. Moreover, the individual participatesin the universal social existence. He puts himself in the form of theuniversal language. This allows the individual to be recognized byothers. This amounts to shaping the self so that it sees itself inothers. This brings the discussion to a form of dialectic. One sideof the dialectic involves the moral autonomy in its absolute nature.What the individual seeks is an absolute certification of his/herduty.
Inthis context, the self-conscious and willing being seeks an absolutejustification from others via universal language. It needsrecognition from others regarding its moral duty. The other side ofthe dialectic involves the spirit. Out of the utterances that theself-conscious being makes, he surrenders his existence to others.This surrendering of individual existence makes possible theexistence of the spirit. In fact, Hegel argues that the spirit hasmeaning only in the community of other self-conscious beings. It isfor this reason that Hegel defines spirit as an absolute substanceexisting of other different self-existent and self-relatedconsciousness. This existence is characterized by faultless freedom.Moral duty is developed through individual self-existence cooperationwith other self-existent beings. Evil results from a failure of thiscooperation.
Hegeldemonstrates that if conscience has to act, then it has to pick aduty from among conflicting duties. It must act on a pure duty. Onacting, the consciousness notices something outside itself: it findsitself torn between internal moral duty which is not recognized byothers but only to it, but fails to act on it, and a universalreality that is recognized by others. In this sense, theconsciousness notices that its moral duty becomes real only when itis validated by others. The reason for this is that a realitytranslates to that which is shared by others.
Thisnotion further explains the role of language in shaping individualsense of duty. It should be noted that language is the medium thatmakes possible the expression of the consciousness. Duty has to bemade active in a public context. This is conceivable only with theaid of a universal language. Acting from conscientious agent’sposition, the moral agent is sure that he/she is acting from a senseof duty. This is because the moral agent is not distinguished fromabsolute duty and his individual conscious determination. It is theconscience that puts whatever it wills into its own faculties:knowing and willing. Hegel terms this notion of moral consciousnessas moral dumbness. The state can be lost only if the moral agentbecomes universalized. Following the conscience, is tantamount topracticing what Hegel calls self-worship religion. In his terms, itis a lonely religion: a communal religion common to all who followtheir consciences.
Hegelargues that this kind of religion is void since a moral agent whoacts on that basis is ever convinced of his ever being right as longas he acts on his consciousness. This leads to consciousnessvanishing into void self-consciousness. The result of this is theuntruth of moral consciousness. From this notion of emptyself-consciousness, there emerges what Hegel terms as the beautifulsoul. The beautiful soul does not make any commitments to itself. Itends up not actualizing its duty. It distances itself from the actualthus maintaining its powerlessness.
Giventhat consciousness has to actualize its duty, this kind of emptyconsciousness is hypocritical in nature. It is with the help of“universal moral consciousness present in others that the emptyconsciousness is removed off its hypocritical mask. In this regard,the individual conscience is condemned by the language of universalmorality. This leads to an incompatibility between the universalmoral language and the individual conscientiousness. As observed, theuniversal language moralists tag private conscientiousness ashypocritical. However, Hegel argues this is an arbitrary move. Heargues that universal moralists make the private moralconscientiousness. This is because universal moralists are notwilling to enter into action by sticking to their notion ofuniversality of thought. This according to Hegel is an exhibition ofhypocrisy. This hypocrisy is evident in that the act of condemningprivate conscientiousness is itself abusive to others. Thesejudgments according to Hegel are a duty to do hazardous deeds toothers.
Thesejudgments are forms of action which is concerned with denigratingconscientious acts. They consider them as self-motivated ambitions ormoral vanity. Such acts have to be judged, as well. They arehypocritical in that they seek to judge an active individual.According to Hegel, the clash between the private and universalmoralists remains steady. However, a beautiful soul has no place inhis view of morality. It is, for him, a soulless being. Theconscientious being has to follow the path of the universal moralistwhich calls for reconciliation and forgivingness between the twoantagonizing beings. This leads to an absolute spirit.
Hegelseems right in some aspects. For instance, it is to agree that dutyis virtually impossible in isolation of beings. Without the conceptof otherness, the concept of duty is without meaning. It is for thismotive that the language of morality is necessary. This allowscommunication between moral agents that enable the exercise of one’sduty. Hegel is articulate on this notion. Its plausibility is beyonddoubts. Secondly, his notion seems to universalize morality. It isevident that, to a great extent, there is a universal language ofmorality. For example, the act of murdering innocent humans iscondemned as immoral universally in human societies. Moreover,respect for the elderly members of the society is a universal humanvalue. However, some human values are not universal. For instance, insome societies, female genital mutilation is an acceptable practicewhile, in others, it is highly condemned. This puts to question thenotion of universal moral language.
Insome aspects, therefore, Hegel is not right. Moral language is aresult of conscious moral beings: and here we agree with Hegel.However, it should be note that, individual conscience is a productof social interactions. This implies that children at birth areinnocent of conscience. This does not infer that children have noself-consciousness. It only implies that the consciousness they havedoes not guide them as regards their duty. A sense of duty isacquired as conscience is shaped by the community. This shaping ofconscience takes place in the context of a universal moral languagein a narrow sense. We talk of narrow sense in view that it may not beuniversal across all human societies but in a relative sense. That isuniversal in a certain nationality or race but absent in others.
Theimplication is that conscience is not a contrary of universal morallanguage. It is in line with the moral language that gave rise to it.It should be expected that moral agents sharing a common morallanguage also share in conscience. This contravenes Hegel. If it ispossible that the two notions depend on each other such thatconscience is not possible without a moral language, then it followsthat the two notions are not in conflict as Hegel argues. Theconclusion would be that a conscientious moral agent is a universallanguage moralist but at a lower level. The current writer,therefore, views Hegel’s notion as misguided. There is no dichotomyas presented by Hegel. The role of the universal language in thisview boils down to that of shaping the conscience.
Giventhis view, it is possible to view evil acts as dependent on moralorientation. For instance, a child brought up in a Nazi society thewhole of his life would attach little value to human life: especiallyif the bearer of that life turns out to be the child’s enemy. In astate of nature as characterized by Thomas Hobbes, man is brutal. Heis at war with other men to gather as much liberty as he can. He haslittle or no value to other human life as long as he achieves hisselfish gains.
Thisis the kind of moral orientation present in the state of nature. Itis for reasons of wanting their liberties protected that men in thestate of nature seek to cultivate a different moral orientation. Thisenables them to have their liberty compatible with other people’sliberties. They seek to invent a different language of morality thatwill shape their consciences afresh. They engage in a social contractthat leads to a government that safeguards their rights andliberties. This implies that a sense of duty that was nonexistent intheir consciousness is now cultivated. They recognize their duty topreserve not only their liberties but also those of their fellowhuman beings.