Hegel’s Treatment of the Free Will Problem: a Conceptual Oversight and Its Implications for Legal Theory (pages 155-174)

Robert Donoghue

ABSTRACT: G.W.F Hegel offers a thorough, complex, and unique theory of free will in the Philosophy of Right. In what follows, I argue that Hegel’s conceptualization of free will makes the mistake of collapsing the possibility of organic freedom (the ability to act freely of causal determination) into the potential for moral freedom (the capacity to act in accordance with Reason). This article engages in three distinct tasks in making this argument. First, I provide a critical overview of Hegel’s conception of free will – namely, how he envisages the movement from the abstract, incomplete, and undeveloped will, to that of a concrete, complete, and developed one through the unfolding of Reason. Second, I introduce the contemporary debate regarding nomological determinism between libertarians and skeptics, of both the in compatibilist and compatibilist variety. I suggest that, in the context of the modern free will debate, Hegel is best categorized as a compatibilist as he both accepts causal determinism but remains committed to the notion that certain persons can act in concert with their own volition. Third, I argue that Hegel’s compatibilist understanding of free will has important and problematic consequences for legal theory, particularly normative jurisprudence. Compatibilism, generally, and Hegel’s particular version, substantiates the idea of basic moral desert which poses a serious threat to the possibility of moral progress from a retributive justice system to a consequentialist one.

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