Hegel on legal and moral responsibility

Mark Alznauer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


When Hegel first addresses moral responsibility in the Philosophy of Right, he presupposes that agents are only responsible for what they intended to do, but appears to offer little, if any, justification for this assumption. In this essay, I claim that the first part of the Philosophy of Right, "Abstract Right", contains an implicit argument that legal or external responsibility (blame for what we have done) is conceptually dependent on moral responsibility proper (blame for what we have intended). This overlooked argument satisfies the first half of a thesis Hegel applies to action in the Encyclopaedia Logic, namely, that the outer must be inner, and thus provides a necessary complement for his more explicit treatment of the second half of that thesis, that the inner must be outer. The claim that agents are only responsible for what they intended to do might appear, at first, to risk conflating legal and moral responsibility and to lack the necessary means to deal with the phenomenon of moral luck, but I argue that if it is properly situated within the whole of Hegel's philosophy of action it can be saved from both of these consequences and so take its place as an essential component of Hegel's full theory of moral responsibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-389
Number of pages25
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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