Hegel and the social conditions of agency

Mark Alznauer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In this essay, I identify the conditions Hegel places on responsible agency by taking an indirect and surprisingly untraveled route, one that approaches Hegel's theory of responsibility (Schuld) through his theory of innocence (Unschuld). I show that, on Hegel's account, a responsible agent must satisfy three conditions, the most controversial of which is that she must be a recognized member of a state. I then show that Hegel's argument that state recognition plays a role in the constitution of agents should be understood as a radicalization of Kant's account of the exeundum e statu naturali. What Kant argues with regard to property rights-that they lack determinacy and validity in the state of nature-Hegel argues is true of all our rights and duties. By broadening Kant's account in this way, Hegel generates a conception of the state of nature as a state of innocence: a condition in which there is nothing to be responsible for and, hence, no way of being a responsible agent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-176
Number of pages18
JournalHistory of Philosophy Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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