Early Hegel on Labor


Randomly ended up reading Harris’s introduction to this wonderful book of early Hegel texts: Hegel: System of Ethical Life and First Philosophy of Spirit

An introduction takes almost half of this volume which is great since a) Harris is great at explaining all things Hegelian, b) the text is too odd to sort of just get into it. Harris summarizes the System of Ethical Life text thusly:

1) “According to Hegel, ethical awareness begins as the self-awareness (the “intuition”) of a single individual in the controlling environment of nature as a whole… Nature rewards or disciplines our efforts, and in this way we come to know what we naturally are and what we need. This is the ‘subsumption’ of our own singular existence or self-awareness under the ‘concept’ which is objectified or realized in the organic totality of nature as a whole.” [20]

2) “…the mastery over nature that is requisite to our existence as free rational agents we can only achieve through membership in a wider community, the Volk. Thus the ‘subsumption’ of our singular ‘intuition’ under the concept of rational humanity requires for its proper fulfillment the contrary subsumption of the concept of humanity under the ethical intuition of the Volk.” [21]

3) “We subsume nature under our own feeling by acting upon it. Thus work or labor will be the crucial moment of this stage. But work is the negation of feeling as the spontaneous awareness of our own living energy. Thus within the overall subsumption of concept under intuition labor is the moment of opposition, the moment when intuition is subsumed under concept.” [23]

4) “Labor occurs when we change what is there in space for our intuition into something else that we envisage in our minds.” [26]

5) “For the moment Hegel is only concerned to clarify his own version of the labor theory of property. ‘Possession’ is the synthesis of two moments, the conceptual moment of taking possession and the real moment of labor.

6) “So when labor is ‘subsumed’ in the object produced, the singularity of the subject gets its ‘rational place as ‘implicit concept. Labor is the active concept, the Begriff für sich; the product is the resting concept, the Begriff an sich; but both of them have this conceptual status as aspects of the practical subject… labor is basically subsumption of intuition (subjective image of what may be, and objective impression of what is) under concept (the thought-guided activity that transforms desired image into real impression and real impression into remembered image).” [27, 28]

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