The Body of Spirit

Hegel's Theory of the Flesh and its Normative Implications

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This paper attempts to show that an expansive normative vision can be drawn from Hegel’s texts, one whose scope significantly exceeds the anthropocentric model presented in the “objective spirit” parts of his system. This expansion of normativity is linked to an expansive vision of relationality underpinning Hegel’s model of “concrete freedom”. In order to put into sharper relief the links between expansive relationality and normativity, the late thinking of Maurice Merleau-Ponty is mobilised as a heuristic contrasting point. In the subjective spirit sections of the Encyclopedia are found insights that anticipate key features of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “flesh”. Locating these insights allows us to detect the underlying thread this paper seeks to mine. Hegel’s own “theory of flesh” culminates in the notion of “constitutive attachments”, the idea that the content of subjectivity is made up of all the bonds linking the human subject to her surrounding worlds and objects. Since freedom for Hegel is “being with”, and since normative demands arise from the different ways in which freedom is concretely realised, it would seem that Hegel’s relational conception of subjectivity should lead to an equally expansive conception of normativity. Against the objection that Hegel denied any normative status to non-human beings, the paper points to passages in his work, notably his account of aesthetic judgement and natural beauty, which appear to suggest the opposite.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHegel bulletin
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

Keywords

  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 1770-1831
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Ecology
  • Freedom

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