Hegel rejects the noumena/phenomenical dichotomy developed by Kant in his transcendental idealism and replaces it with his idea of absolute idealism. Kant, embedded in a Newtonian paradigm, holds the deterministic nature of the phenomenal, and invites us to think, as Nietzsche said at some point, that "the Chinese of Königsberg invented the noumena to save the moral."

It is intuitive that ethics vanishes under a deterministic worldview - although some theologians do in fact argue this point. While Kant justified the existence of freedom and ethics through the noumena, Hegel does not have the resource of the noumena as it is one of Hegel's criticisms of Kant - because of this, aren't we left with nothing but the phenomenal? Doesn't this imply the rejection of general freedom as we are left with a purely deterministic worldview? Some people have certainly argued that Hegel's philosophy invites us to think of determinism: "Fellow idealists criticized absolute idealism as being deterministic, pantheistic, and unable to account for individual selves" (Lachs, American Philosophy: An Encyclopedia, p.375) - but how can he make sense of ethics and hold determinism at the same time?

This leads to the following questions:

(1) Is hegelianism determistic at some point? Before the end of history? After? Both or none?

(2) If it is, how can Hegel make sense of an ethics under a deterministic worlview?

(3) If it isn't, how does Hegel overcomes the deterministic Newtonian paradigm of the world without the noumena?

  • wasn't notion of noumena a deterministic view? thing-in-itself if it does exist, is permanent, cannot perform. hegalian dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, put in simply math: 1, -1, 0; linguistic: correct, incorrect, dumbstruck... also deterministic, cannot produce. Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 17:36
  • Could you please clarify or edit the sentence, "If there is such than as hegelian ethics it seems that ..."? The syntax seems to be broken; I think something is missing.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 17:40
  • @Mishu米殊 But it is through the notion of noumena that Kant justifies the existence of freedom and thus, of morality.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 21:57
  • 1
    Hegel is none too clear on this, at least from the modern viewpoint (keep in mind that the word "determinism" was not in circulation until mid-19th century). Information Philosopher gathered his quotes on free will, and surprise surprise, he treats necessity/freedom as a limited opposition to be dialectically sublated. But the thrust of his Notion's evolution is necessitarian, so he is probably closer to compatibilism in modern terms.
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 23:35
  • He was definitely a compatabilist and would want to sublate the distinction between freewill and determinism. Note that Buddhism (for example) also disputes Kant's noumenon yet has a (quite similar) ethical scheme. It's a issue that cannot be dealt with briefly.
    – user20253
    Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


Anything like a full answer to your question would lead to complexities impossible to deal with here, not least involving problems of interpretation. A very basic answer can be found in the following extract from Robert B. Pippin.

Pippin refers to :

...the kind of agency both wanted to defend, namely, a free, or self-determining agency. In Kant, this all led to the necessity for two different "realms" of nature and freedom, and ultimately to a "metaphysics of nature" and an independent "metaphysics of morals." Similarly, a crucial distinction in Hegel's Encyclopedia system "freedom," and "The substance of spirit is freedom, i.e., the absence of dependence on an other, the relating of self to self."

In both cases, idealism is supposed to help us understand the possibility of two such distinct classifications, or points of view. In Kant's case, the fact that the spatio-temporal and categorial characteristics of nature are subjective conditions rather than metaphysical predicates means that knowledge of nature is knowledge of a phenomenal or appearing world. The noumenal world, or the world considered apart from the finite conditions we require, is unknown. This restriction of knowledge to appearances means that it is at least possible that we are, as noumenal subjects, free, or capable of initiating an action "spontaneously." Kant goes on to make use of this possibility by arguing that it is practically necessary for us to ascribe such agency to ourselves.

Hegel, too, makes use of a claim that knowledge of nature is limited as a way of arguing that the basic assumption involved in claiming a distinct "science of spirit" (freedom) can be asserted without inconsistency. In his case, however, the stress is on the incompleteness of the "notions" (Begriffe) necessary for an account of nature (or for an account of ourselves as natural beings), rather than on the exclusionary geographical or boundary metaphor made famous in Kant's phenomena/noumena chapter. This suggests that, in his account of the mechanics, physics, and organics of nature, Hegel is trying to show that "Nature is to be regarded as a system of stages, one arising necessarily from the other.. . . " This will mean that, at some stage, we shall need to employ explanatory concepts that require progressively less reference to the strictly material properties of these objects, and more to their functional properties and ultimately to what must be regarded as their own "internal" purposiveness. Of course, similar sorts of claims have been much discussed, and the issues are quite controversial, but for present purposes we need only note that Hegel is a partisan of such antireductive, but anti-dualist, strategies.

The traditional picture of the idealism necessary for Hegel to justify such a picture of spirit as a teleological development of nature is as problematic as the traditional dualist Kantian idealism. If Kant's noumenal-phenomenal split implies, as it seems to, a timeless noumenal agency and a psychological determinism in heteronomous action, Hegel's developmentalism appears based on some grand metaphysical claim about the underlying ideal or spiritual nature of reality, first "expressing itself' externally in nature, and then "returning" from such "external" manifestations to the internal, and finally full self-consciousness expressions of "Absolute Spirit." Nature and finite spirit are supposedly compatible because both represent successively incomplete stages or modes of a developing, finally fully self-conscious entity, "World" or "Cosmic Spirit." (Robert B. Pippin, 'Idealism and Agency in Kant and Hegel', The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 88, No. 10, Eighty-Eighth Annual Meeting American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division (Oct., 1991), pp. 532-541 : 533-4.)

Basic difference

Kant's appeal to the noumenal as the ground of freedom of human action is replaced in Hegel by the idea of reality as essentially spiritual and (to cut a long story short) finally expressing itself in the course of its development as fully self-determining and free : a freedom embodied in human action.

  • As always great work. Should have assumed you'd be putting in answer after you edited the question.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 18, 2018 at 8:33

Hegel rejects the noumena/phenomenical dichotomy developed by Kant in his transcendental idealism and replaces it with his idea of absolute idealism.

This is absolutely right, but the important point here is that Hegel in so doing is not rejecting the things Kant put into the noumenal; he's rejecting the idea that there needs to be such an absolute distinction. This is because he also rejects the Newtownian description of the world.

My language choice above is very intentional. For Hegel, Newtonian physics provides a description of the world, one that he thinks is quite wrong as far as descriptions go. There are several places where he thinks its wrong, some of which are on solid Kantian grounds.

First, for both Kant and Hegel, "world" is for mind rather than an out-there. For Kant, access to the out-there the thing-in-itself is severely proscribed or outright eliminated. And this is where noumenal freedom happens for Kant. For Hegel, spirit can know things as they actually are -- in part because what we discover is that what we know is what we think.

Second, Hegel doesn't buy into Newtonian physics because he thinks physics is not the best way to look at the world. Here, the section in question is a part called "The Object" which describes objects in three ways: (1) physical, (2) chemical, and (3) social. The point being that each higher layer better describes things as we know them. This doesn't deny the lower ways.

Third, Hegel seems to have something personal against Newton (there was a recent question on this).

(1) Is hegelianism determistic at some point? Before the end of history? After? Both or none?

In modern language, Hegel's ethics would be considered compatibalist. Hegel thinks that the features of reason are determined but the rational use of will by spirit is free. This is basically the topic of Philosophy of Right. There's quite a few secondary sources on it like Aadrian Peperzaak's Modern Freedom, a volume by Thom Brookes, a volume by Dudley Knowles.

(2) If it is, how can Hegel make sense of an ethics under a deterministic worldview?

Hegel, like Kant, believes that moral action is action that accords with reason (For Kant, Groundwork, Critique of Practical Reason, Metaphysics of Morals, Religion). The difference is that Hegel's reason is in situ. He defends this account in several places (arguably) including around section 540 or so Phenomeology and as the central topic of Natural Law and again in Philosophy of Right.

But see above, the determinism he believes in accepts that physics can explain lots of things, accepts that reason decides right and wrong, accepts that we (as spirit) engage in reason over time and refine our understanding of right and wrong.

The process of refinement for Hegel happens in time.

(3) If it isn't, how does Hegel overcomes the deterministic Newtonian paradigm of the world without the noumena?

By rejecting the Newtonian description as a complete description of the world. Going back to "The Object" section mentioned above, Hegel argues that understanding the world as just physics is a bad understanding of the world and abstract in that it fails to understand the reality of chemical and social objects or the chemical and social aspects of the objects mind encounters.

  • 1
    Thanks. +1 - you add points I don't include. Best : GT
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jul 18, 2018 at 9:10

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