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The dialectic of conscience within Hegel's philosophy of right

By Sarah Jennings


This thesis provides a detailed analysis of the dialectic of conscience within Hegel’s\ud Philosophy of Right. It aims to show that Hegel provides a fundamental role for\ud conscience within the state and, thus, that Hegel preserves the right to subjective\ud freedom within ethical life. In doing so, it aims to unite divided opinion on the role of\ud conscience within Hegel’s political philosophy and to further disarm the charge that\ud Hegel’s state advocates repressive or authoritarian political structures.\ud In order to pursue this argument, this thesis first examines the emergence of conscience\ud within the morality section of the text. It presents the moral conscience as the fruition of\ud subjective freedom; as possessing the right to produce its own convictions and\ud determine for itself what is good. However, it then continues to highlight the necessarily\ud formal nature of the moral conscience and claims that, because of this formality, the\ud content of conscience is always contingent. As such, the moral conscience is always in\ud danger of willing evil; and it is precisely this danger that necessitates the move into\ud ethics. The moral conscience is sublated by the true, ethical conscience.\ud This thesis presents its own reading of the Aufhebung from the moral conscience to the\ud true conscience of ethical life, which it believes properly reflects the dialectical\ud progression of freedom within the text. It argues that, during the process of Aufhebung,\ud the essential moments of moral conscience are retained and only the negative aspects\ud are lost. In particular, it claims that conscience’s right to produce its own convictions\ud (and, thus, the right to subjective freedom) is preserved within ethical life, but that the\ud contingency of conscience is not. As such, true conscience (unlike the moral\ud conscience) wills the good both in and for itself. This does not mean that true\ud conscience cannot make mistakes. But it does entail that true conscience cannot put its\ud own convictions beyond criticism. For this reason, this thesis also maintains that the\ud formal conscience of morality, in its non-aufgehoben form, has no place within the\ud ethical realm.\ud This thesis locates true conscience’s function in the disparity between the actual and the\ud existing state. It argues that, in recognising the rational principles inherent in society\ud and by transforming the existing world to conform more faithfully to these principles,\ud true conscience plays an essential role in keeping the state in line with its own, rational\ud essence. However, it also maintains that this type of immanent critique extends only to\ud reform, and not to not radical, social criticism. The thesis concludes by describing true\ud conscience’s role in the legislative power

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