Justification of Human Action The Perspectives of Hegel and Mill

Hegels argument for human action is based on how it achieves a universal relevance. In Introduction to Germany Idealists, he explains on How it is that we know reality by arguing that It takes the whole of reality and its inner connections (Solomon 66).  The maxim of this argument is that there is a collective system by which human beings conceptualize truth (what he calls a dialectic approach), and that the sum total of what is conceived thus is reconciled into a universal whole of understanding known as the Absolute Truth. Different people have different perspectives, which could be right in their own respects. However, we should aim for a common understanding that transcends all historical and cultural contexts. He reflects on Lockes observation that All knowledge comes from experience (Solomon 67) and David Humes comments forty years later that since knowledge is gained through experience, then we dont know anything until we experience it. The connection of these observations helps to highlight Hegels position that all individuals should be considered in the equation of deciding what is right or wrong (the absolute truth). He emphasizes on the collective participation and inclusion of all people in the pursuit of truth and universal ideals.

In accounting for individual actions, Hegel argues that every person is part of a larger cosmic whole (society) and that their actions or what they believe could not be separated from their socio-cultural environment. Consequently, human perception takes several perspectives, but leads to one grand understanding of the world. Besides the philosophers, he says that even common people have their own conceptions which contribute to the collective understanding of the world, captured in the slogan of his students All is one (Solomon 66). If people have different conception of the world, then life has different natures to each individual, and therefore no specific and correct way of understanding truth or right. Therefore, what others think or do could be true or right, and should be given credence as part of the universal conception of the absolute truth. People conceptualize about right or wrong based on history, circumstances, experiences or beliefs. It seems then, that Hegel would justify a terrorist who wages a jihad on the basis of his religious convictions.

Society often imposes on us values and norms which determine our understanding of truth and behaviors. By conforming to these values and norms, we shape our perspectives into models that might not necessarily reflect what others think. Hegel points out how his thinking differed from that of Immanuel Kant, not because either was wrong, but because the difference of their spatial-temporal contexts shaped their respective reasoning. Similarly, growing up in a Muslim community, it is difficulty for an assertive girl-child to project this quality in adulthood. Society expects her to be humble and submissive, albeit against her nature and self concept. In that culture, that is the ideal truth. The liberal West, however, feminist movements create room for such traits in women, on the basis of the right to liberty. It is also an ideal truth. But then, the Muslim and Western truths must reconcile for an absolute truth, for none on its own is universally accepted.

Another argument that Hegel makes is that of change, in which he observes that different times will lead to varied interpretations of realities. What was justified in the first century might not be permitted today. For instance, it was considered right for the medieval church to kill heretics, but modern conventions could not allow it. Hegel makes a similar comparison between the Grecian understanding of life as portrayed in the Greek Tragedy, and in the 18th century during the French Revolution. What society owed an individual within the Greek context was different from the French era of the enlightenment, in which individual fulfillment and happiness superseded the needs and whims of the ruling class. In conclusion then, Hegel argued that individual actions would be justified in relation to the context within which they were committed, and how they fulfilled established principles.

On Liberty, Stuart Mill argues for what is good for the larger community. He differs from Hegel in that while he (Hegel) tried to justify human action on account of beliefs and universal principles, Mill focused on the consequences of those actions. His central maxim is embedded in the utilitarian reasoning, which favors the idea of goodness for all, or the greatest number of people.  For instance, it would be right if a bus driver overran a child crossing the road, if avoiding him would have endangered the lives of several passengers. In addition, Mill posited that individuals have the freedom to seek that which satisfies them, to the extent in which it does not cause harm to others. Otherwise, the authority of society should intervene to protect those who would be affected by an individuals actions. In this sense then, a jihad on others is not permissible however justifiable in the Muslim understanding of the value of holy wars this should be juxtaposed with the Roman churchs Crusades in the Middle East from around the 11th century. When the pursuit of the interests is overstretched as to hurts others, then even societys authority should be limited (Mill 134). For instance, we know that the war against terrorism portends the greatest good to all mankind. But how many innocent Afghan children must die as collateral damage in the process If hauling a few missiles in a crowded place would eliminate Taliban fugitives, is that justification enough to sacrifice innocent lives Mill thinks otherwise. But Hegel would say that the absolute truth of the West, defeating terrorism to protect innocent lives makes it right. It is a contradiction (killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan to protect innocent Americans) but Hegel points out that contradiction is part of logic (Solomon 67).

Nonetheless, Hegel and Mill seem to agree on a number of issues concerning human actions. Mill argued that nobody has the right of correcting another person on what is good or right for that person (Mill 138). Likewise, Hegel observed that no single way of reasoning is any better than the next persons, and therefore each one way of thinking should be considered. This agrees with Mill in that both recognizes the element of diversity in society, hence each individual is likely to think differently and desire different things. Mill says that With respect to his own feelings and circumstances, the most ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by anyone else (Mill 137). Hegel argues for the recognition of what others think or believe in their respective circumstances, while Mill emphasizes the need to respect what they deem the best interests in their circumstances. Mill notes that if a persons actions are harmful to him in a permanent way, (like committing suicide) then societys authority should intervene even if in so doing that persons freedom and happiness is violated (Mill 138). Hegel agrees on this account in that the protection of life is a universal and absolute truth. For instance, addiction to drugs is prohibited by society regardless of the pleasure it affords the addict. It would never be justified that the individual has the right and freedom to drink or smoke his way to the grave. They all seem to concur on the Natural Law that determine whats universally and right or wrong. For instance, it is naturally and universally accepted that killing is wrong. It points to the innate endowment of human beings with instinct knowledge that differentiates wrong from right. They both embrace the positive elements of utilitarianism, while at the same time judging actions within the wider scheme of things. As Emmanuel Kant once said, We have to rely on ourselves we become our own author.our own authority, and we have to use and appeal to our capacity to reason and think (Kant 139).


Post a Comment