Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Hegel’s Fact of Reason: Life and Death in the Experience of Freedom [Special Issue]

Topics: History of Analytic Philosophy, Metaphysics
Keywords: Freedom, Hegel, Kant, Life, Reason, Self-consciousness


This paper shows how Hegel transforms Kant’s Fact of Reason argument for freedom, and in particular how Hegel takes over the role of experience and death in Kant’s “Gallows Man” illustration of the Fact. I reconstruct a central thread of the Phenomenology of Spirit in which Hegel develops his view of freedom and practical rationality through a series of life and death experiences undergone by “shapes of consciousness”. While Hegel views his fact of reason as a result of a developmental process rather than as an immediate brute fact, the method of that development is itself deeply informed by Kant’s argument that the moral law must be opposed to attachment to life in order to establish the reality of freedom. By contrast with Kant, Hegel begins with an immediate unity of life and self-consciousness, and only through a painful trial is the subject of the Phenomenology educated to free obedience to reason. Hegel departs fundamentally from Kant both in uniting life and freedom and in simultaneously developing a world of freedom, a socially embodied fact of reason, through which individuals express their freedom in act.


If freedom of will is strictly opposed to determination by natural causes, then there is nothing that would, or could, count as evidence of freedom, for all our evidence comes through the operations of nature.


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