May 13, 2009
In this review of Robert B. Pippin's Hegel's Practical Philosophy: Rational Agency as Ethical Life Timothy Brownlee says that Pippin's claim is that, for Hegel, certain institutional and social conditions must be in place in order for an agent's will -- not only her acts -- to count as free. On Pippin's reading, Hegel holds a "relational state" theory of freedom, with two essential components, one psychological or subjective, and one social or objective. On the subjective side Brownless says that:
in order for an agent to be free, she must be able reflectively and deliberatively to identify as her own both (a) the purposes that her actions are to accomplish, and (b) the inclinations and incentives that motivate those actions. Pippin stresses that this subjective self-relation appeals to an experiential criterion to distinguish free from unfree acts. Because Hegel understands the will to be a form of thinking and not primarily a causal power, in order for the act to count as free, the agent must be able to experience and understand her own relation to the purposes her act promotes, as well as the act's motivating inclinations, in a non-alienated way. On Pippin's interpretation, this "is a matter primarily of comprehension or experiential understanding, and not at all the experience of a power successfully executed."
However, Pippin argues that the real uniqueness of Hegel's conception of freedom falls on the objective side. Brownless says:
On Pippin's reading, an agent can establish the relevant kind of subjective self-relation only if she already stands within institutional, norm-governed relations of reciprocal recognition to others. This objective element of free actions stems from the fact that Hegel understands justification to be a fundamentally social practice -- "the giving of and asking for reasons" by participants in a set of shared institutions. Since it is the character of the agent's justifying reasons for her deeds that distinguish free actions from unfree ones, such justifying reasons will be simply those that are accepted by like-minded others.