Self-Determining Animals: Human Nature and Relational Autonomy in Hegel's Philosophy of Nature

In Dagmar Kusa, Paolo Furia & Maria Cristina Clorinda Vendra (eds.), The Challenges of Autonomy and Autonomy as a Challenge. Thinking Autonomy in Challenging Times. Bratislava: Kritika & Kontext. pp. 149-162 (2022)
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The concept of autonomy, once central to the self-understanding of modern philosophy, is under attack from at least two sides: (1) on the one side, there is a reawakened interest in naturalist philosophy, questioning the hybris of human self-understanding as being “above nature” and essentially free and rational; (2) on the other side, there is the feminist critique of autonomy as the wrongful generalization of a certain masculine/western understanding of the subject as independent person. Both aim at the core of what the term “autonomy” normatively stands for: the capacity for rational self-determination. We inherit this concept of autonomy from Kant and encounter a variety of post-Kantian variations of it. In my paper, I will turn to Hegel in order to show that, although conceptualizing autonomy as rational self-determination, in his Philosophy of Nature, he incorporates elements of both naturalism and relational autonomy. Under revision, his concept of spirit provides us with a picture of the human as self-conscious animal or nature grasping itself. His notion of autonomy then turns out to be surprisingly fruitful for current debates, enabling us to understand our animalistic nature and our fundamental interdependency in a way that is not opposed to such concepts as rationality, freedom, and autonomy. As I will try to show, re-reading Hegel thus allows us to reconceptualize autonomy in a way that accords with its critics.



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León Antonio Heim
Universität Potsdam

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