The Founding Act of Modern Ethical Life: Hegel's Critique of Kant's Moral and Political Philosophy

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This book argues that an essential part of Hegel's historical-political thinking has escaped the notice of its interpreters. It is well known that Hegel conceives of history as the gradual progress of rational thought and of forms of political life. But he is usually thought to place himself at the end of this process-his philosophical end is to give a rational account of the end of this process, namely, modern ethical life. This overlooks the question of how a new shape of ethical life is founded. Hegel holds that the founding act of a new form of life is the act of an unwitting agent, and it necessarily meets with the violent incomprehension of the society it transforms. The tragedy of Antigone, the French Revolution and its aftermath (the Terror and the Napoleonic Wars), and wars generally are all examples of the tragically violent foundation of a new form of life. Moreover, Hegel does not claim that the foundation of modern ethical life is a fact of the past-it lies in the future.