The Authority of Conceptual Analysis in Hegelian Ethical Life

In Jiří Chotaš & Tereza Matějčková (eds.), An Ethical Modernity?: Hegel’s Concept of Ethical Life Today. Boston: BRILL. pp. 15-35 (2020)
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While the idea of philosophy as conceptual analysis has attracted many adherents and undergone a number of variations, in general it suffers from an authority problem with two dimensions. First, it is unclear why the analysis of a concept should have objective authority: why explicating what we mean should express how things are. Second, conceptual analysis seems to lack intersubjective authority: why philosophical analysis should apply to more than a parochial group of individuals. I argue that Hegel’s conception of social ontology, focused on his concept of “ethical life” (Sittlichkeit), helps to explain how concepts (and their explication) have both objective and intersubjective authority in the social domain. Hegel claims that modern institutions are the product of self-conscious purposes, so that they are conceptually constituted. Concepts do not just represent these objects and so depend on a contingent relation to them. As many contemporary social ontologists agree, this means that our concepts of these institutions are uniquely epistemically “transparent.” They have objective authority. Concepts have intersubjective authority in the modern world as well, according to Hegel. However, I show that this feature of Hegel’s account does not rely on the solution to a philosophical problem. Rather, since the concepts of modern ethical life are “essentially contested,” their content depends on the practical and political agreement of modern subjects. This means that concepts can only have objective authority if some prior intersubjective agreement has been reached. The role of philosophy as conceptual analysis is thus importantly dependent on political developments.



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W. Clark Wolf
St. John's College

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References found in this work

Philosophy Within its Proper Bounds.Edouard Machery - 2017 - Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
IX.—Essentially Contested Concepts.W. B. Gallie - 1956 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 56 (1):167-198.
The Construction of Social Reality.John Searle - 1995 - Philosophy 71 (276):313-315.

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