In the addition to section 106, of Hegels Philosophy of right, he writes:

As no-one can successfully assail a mans inner conviction, and no force reach it can reach it, the moral will is inaccessible.

One can contrast this in the famous last scene of Orwells 1984, where Winston Smith is faced with Room 101, where his moral will is broken and as is his inner conviction.

Of course, the first is philosophy, and the second drama; but as drama, as drama does, its uniquely convincing - how does one then square the vivid picture painted by Orwell, and the assertoric statement asseeted by Hegel?

  • Or at least it's section 106 in my copy.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 4:49
  • @virmaior: thanks for the correction, its 106 in my copy too - translation by Dyde; I had noted it down wrong. Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 4:53

2 Answers 2


You're reading the Knox translation. Nisbet (the more recent Cambridge translation) translates as follows

It is impossible to break into the inner conviction of human beings; it is inviolable, and the moral will is therefore inaccessible. The worth of a human is measured by his inward actions, and hence the point of view of morality is that of freedom which has being for it self.

I think a good question here is why Hegel writes this as assertion. To decipher this, we need to look at a few things at once and consider these theories.

First, as an Addition, the remarks are meant as a comment on section 106 to expand on section 106 itself, which claims "subjectivity now constitutes the determinacy of the concept and is distinct from the concept as such..."

The "now" hints that this is a moment in Hegel's dialectical logic. What sort of moment? This is almost immediately after the end of the section abstract right (abstrakte Rechte). There, Hegel is looking at something roughly like our concept of rights but in abstraction from a system of law or society. Motivated by the problem Unrecht, this leads to "civil society" wherein rights are granted a social and legal existence that we will learn is incomplete.

Moving more broadly within Hegel, we can note that Hegel is referencing the "concept." The concept [der Begriff] is a term for that which Geist comprehends in all of its distinctions. Thus, a big part of what is going on in here is that in Moralitaet the concept is taking on subjective form, because as Hegel has stated earlier on freedom, reason, and will are for him identical. At the point of this passage, the case is not fully distinguished, but the bald manner in which the addition asserts it makes it seem like Hegel does it take it to be quintissential to the self to have complete control over will.

Further in the text, this subjectivity is joined to a more robust idea of community and freedom, but I'm not aware of anywhere in which Hegel denies the idea that human selves qua rational beings have control over their inner convictions (a position that sounds thoroughly Kantian and Cartesian to me).


Its tricky to square them. Hegel makes quite a strong declaration of what a man can do, which is in direct contrast with the story Orwell gave. There's a few approaches I could see to use:

The most obvious is found in one of the the final phrases in Orwell's book:

I finally learned to love big brother

from this perspective, Winston chooses to join big brother, and thus his moral will is not broken, but rather he has made the conscious choice to realign himself. I find this one to be the most useful connection between Hegel and Orwell because it doesn't involve breaking anything at all.

Another approach might be to argue that he has ceased to be a man at that point, because his inner conviction has been broken, and by the rules of logic this means we can prove that he is no longer a man. Given the herd-mentality of 1984, this might be a very valid approach. He is no longer a man, he is a sheeple (to use a colloquialism).

Still another might be that he was never fully a man in the first place, caught in the machine from birth and never truly born a man. He was merely permitted to believe he was a man while it suited the machine.

  • Sheeple= Sheep + people? Where is this a colloquialism?! Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 4:56
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    The reasoning "A human's inner conviction can not be broken, therefor Winston is no longer a human" Seems like a no true scotsman fallacy to me.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 8:54
  • @Philipp Perhaps it is. Personally, I strongly dislike the "no true scotsman" fallacy; I find calling it a fallacy does more harm than good. It makes it too easy to ignore challenging evidence in a static way rather than trying to incorporate it in a dynamic way, responding as new evidence comes to light. If I argue down the lines such as "Winston is no longer a human," I'm really digging at a deeper question which was unasked: can a human become a not human during their life? What is life and death anyway? These questions rapidly shape the validity of Hegel's claim.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 15:24

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