Hegel, the Family, the Market, and the State

I’ve been reading a lot recently about Hegel’s political thought, and one aspect in particular provoked me to comment, namely his division of social life into three ‘moments’: the family, the market, and the state.

(‘Moment’ is a quasi-technical term in Hegel drawn from its usage in physics. The moments of something are the constituent elements which compose it but which, unlike mere ‘parts’ cannot be separated from each other except by a simplifying abstraction but rather determine what each other are)

The three sorts of social life could be roughly characterised as ‘particular altruism’ (I care about my family members for their own sake, but this applies only to a contingent few people, not to all people), ‘universal egoism’ (in a market, although I respect the rights of each other person, I use them simply as means to my own satisfaction), and ‘universal altruism’ (in considering a state policy I concern myself with the common good of all other citizens, for its own sake).

Why is this worth remarking on? Isn’t it just an obvious little list? But what Hegel wants to say with this three-fold distinction is that the three are all different and all equally basic – none can be derived from or understood in terms of the others.

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