Economics and freedom in Hegel's "Philosophy of Right"

Peter Augustine Widulski, Fordham University


For Hegel, in order to understand the meaning, scope, and importance of economic freedom it is necessary to understand the nature of freedom in general as it is manifested in objective spirit. "Objective spirit" refers to the general and essential formations of right which have developed in order to express and embody freedom. Property and modern organizations of cooperative and competitive economic endeavor are examples of such formations. Hegel distinguishes various ways in which freedom has been understood in Western thought, the most common being freedom as unrestricted scope for the arbitrary choice of the individual will. This meaning is inadequate but valuable. It is this meaning of freedom with which we must begin our analysis. By developing its limitations and overcoming them, a self-development of freedom is engendered which works toward a realization of freedom as an accomplishment of a critical process. Freedom is thus both beginning and end of a process of development, and the process is therefore a process of self-determination. Freedom means being free, and end, and not merely a means to something other than freedom. At the end of this development we come to appreciate ethical institutions as formations which provide for the realization of freedom, in a way which transforms our understanding of the individual self and its goal of self-determination. Hegel thus sees freedom as a developmental and critical process which seeks to overcome conceptions of freedom which, though inadequate, contain part of the truth; and he sees modes of economic freedom as playing important roles in this development. This provides us with conceptual resourcefulness and flexibility, and with modes of argumentation, which allow us to criticize competing viewpoints in economic philosophy, and to integrate what is valuable in them into a more adequate understanding of economic freedom.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Economic theory

Recommended Citation

Widulski, Peter Augustine, "Economics and freedom in Hegel's "Philosophy of Right"" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9007168.