The Owl of Minerva

Volume 48, Issue 1/2, 2016/2017

Kenneth R. Westphal
Pages 1-44

Hegel, Natural Law & Moral Constructivism

This paper argues that Hegel’s Philosophical Outlines of Justice develops an incisive natural law theory by providing a comprehensive moral theory of a modern republic. Hegel’s Outlines adopt and augment a neglected species of moral constructivism which is altogether neutral about moral realism, moral motivation, and whether reasons for action are linked ‘internally’ or ‘externally’ to motives. Hegel shows that, even if basic moral norms and institutions are our artefacts, they are strictly objectively valid because for our very finite form of semi-rational embodied agency they are necessary and because sufficient justifying grounds for these norms and institutions can be addressed to all persons. Hegel’s moral constructivism identifies and justifies the core content of a natural law theory, without invoking metaphysical issues of moral realism, anti-realism, irrealism or ‘truth makers’ (of moral propositions), etc. I begin with Socrates’ question to Euthyphro to distinguish between moral realism and moral irrealism (§2). I then summarise basic points of constructivist method (§3) and how Hume’s theory of justice inaugurates this distinctive species of natural law constructivism (§4). How this approach addresses issues of political legitimacy is highlighted by Rousseau’s juridical innovation (§5). How this approach is better articulated and justified by Kant’s specifically Critical method is briefly considered in connection with his justification of rights to possession (§6), so that we can then recognise Hegel’s natural law constructivism in his Outlines (§7). Hegel’s account of rights to possession corresponds closely to Kant’s (§8), and his account of juridical relations as human interrelations accords with natural law constructivism (§9). This finding is corroborated by some central features of Hegel’s account of Sittlichkeit, including how Hegel adopts, undergirds and augments Rousseau’s and Kant’s Independence Requirement for political legitimacy (§10).