Hegel’s Doppelsatz: A Neutral Reading

Robert Stern. Journal of the History of Philosophy. Volume 44, Issue 2. April 2006.

In the preface to the Philosophy of Right, Hegel makes one of his most well-known and frequently discussed remarks:

What is rational is actual;
and what is actual is rational

This conviction is shared by every ingenuous consciousness as well as by philosophy, and the latter takes it as its point of departure in considering both the spiritual and the natural universe. (GPR, 14-15; EPR, 20)

Sometimes known as the Doppelsatz (or “double dictum”), this saying has been seized on by Hegel’s critics as a summation of his conservatism and quietism, whilst his defenders have argued that this is not so, and that read correctly it in fact harbors a critical dimension that allows the Philosophy of Right as a whole to be read in a progressive way.

It is perhaps a sign of the growing respect for Hegel and his thought that the conservative reading of the Doppelsatz has lost virtually all support (at least among Hegel scholars), while the critical or progressive reading holds sway. My aim in this paper is not to return to the conservative reading; but I want to argue that the Doppelsatz should not be given a critical reading either, so that the position I offer is neutral between the two. My claim will be that when Hegel identifies what is actual with what is rational in the Doppelsatz, his intention is not to offer a normative assessment of what is actual (as both the conservative and progressive readings assume, differing only over what exactly is being normatively endorsed) ; rather, it is to suggest that genuine philosophy must be committed to reason in its methods of inquiry, if it is to properly undertake an investigation into the “spiritual universe” as well as the “natural” one. On my view, then, Hegel identifies what is actual and what is rational in the Doppelsatz not in order to say that the actual is right or good (to “legitimate” or “sanctify” the actual, as it is sometimes put), but to remind his readers that philosophy has a basic commitment to reason as the proper way to engage with the world at a fundamental level (the level of what is actual) ; it is this that makes the identity of what is actual with what is rational a “point of departure” for philosophy. The Doppelsatz is thus a defense of philosophical rationalism, rather than a normative claim about was ist wirklich in either a conservative sense (as simply what is) or a progressive sense (as what is when properly realized).

I will begin (in §1) by briefly outlining the way in which the debate concerning the Doppelsatz has been conducted, and will then (in §§2-3) contrast this with the neutral reading I propose; finally (in §4) I will defend that reading against possible objections.


The conservative reading to which contemporary critical or progressive readings of the Doppelsatz are opposed is exemplified by Karl Popper in his Open Society and Its Enemies, where he claims that according to Hegel “what is, is good,” and where he takes the Doppelsatz as a summary of that Hegelian view:

Hegel [maintains] that everything that is reasonable must be real, and everything that is real must be reasonable, and that the development of reality is the same as that of reason. And since there can be no higher standard in existence than the latest development of Reason and of the Idea, everything that is now real or actual exists by necessity, and must be reasonable as well as good. (Particularly good, as we shall see, is the actually existing Prussian state.)

Thus, on Popper’s reading, Hegel’s Doppelsatz is taken to be conservative, in the sense that it claims that whatever exists (such as the Prussian state of Hegel’s time) is rational and therefore good, and to be quietistic, in the sense that it claims that everything that is rational and good already exists: the Doppelsatz therefore rules out the possibility of normative criticism of current social arrangements (and hence is conservative), and the need to do anything to make them better since the good is already realized (and hence is quietistic). Conservative readings of this sort then characteristically link the Doppelsatz to Hegel’s wider philosophical position (so, in Popper’s case, he ties it to Hegel’s supposed historicism, where Hegel is said to hold that “there can be no higher standard in existence than the latest development of Reason and of the Idea”), and to the historical background to the Philosophy of Right (where Hegel is seen as a spokesman for the Prussian restoration).

In response to this conservative reading of the Doppelsatz, defenders of Hegel have argued that it is based on a fundamental misconception of what he is saying. In particular, it is emphasised that in the Doppelsatz, Hegel uses the term ‘actuality’ (Wirklichkeit), and this is seen as having a technical sense for Hegel: to be “actual,” something must not just exist, but must conform to its essential nature. It is argued, therefore, that Hegel is not simply claiming here that “what is, is good,” if that is taken to mean “whatever happens to be, is good.” For, it is only what is actual (in Hegel’s sense) that is good, which will exclude many existing states-states which exist but which do not properly exemplify what an actual state should be. Given this distinction, therefore, it is argued that Hegel’s Doppelsatz is neither conservative nor quietistic. It is not conservative, because Hegel’s notion of “actuality” leaves room for a critical gap between a thing as it is (as it exists) and its essence (as it should be), in those cases where states are not actual, and therefore not rational. And the Doppelsatz is not quietistic, because we may intelligibly act to make an existing state more wirklich, by using Hegel’s essentialist conception of “actuality” to make sense of the idea of working to draw the existence of things closer to their essence, for example through social reform. Progressive readings of this sort will then characteristically go on to question conservative readings of Hegel’s wider philosophical position and the conservative account of Hegel’s political allegiances at the time when the Preface to the Philosophy of Right came to be written.

I think that most would now agree that the proponents of the progressive reading of the Doppelsatz are right to claim that as it stands the conservative reading is misguided, and that it is a mistake to interpret it as saying that “what is, is good.” It is then natural to think, if the conservative reading is false in this way, then this in itself establishes the truth of the progressive reading, so that precisely in drawing on the Existenz/Wirklichkeit distinction here, Hegel’s aim was in fact to signal the critical implications of the Doppelsatz, in the way that the progressive reading suggests. However, I want to argue that if we look closely at the context of the Doppelsatz within the Preface of the Philosophy of Right, this is not so clear. That is, I will argue in the next two sections that while the proponents of the progressive reading are right to claim that the Doppelsatz is not saying that “what is, is good,” they are wrong to suggest that instead it is saying “only what is actual, is good, and much that merely exists is bad.” I will argue, rather, that the Doppelsatz is neutral on such normative questions, so neither the conservative nor the progressive reading is correct.


One assumption concerning the Doppelsatz that both the conservative and the progressive readings of it share is that in using the term vernuntighere, Hegel is (in part at least) expressing a positive normative assessment of it. As Michael Hardimon puts it: “‘Rational,’ as Hegel uses the term, has both an epistemic and a normative aspect; roughly speaking, it means both rationally intelligible and reasonable or good.” This assumption concerning Hegel’s use of the term ‘rational’ in the Doppelsatz is of course what gets the whole dispute between conservative and progressive readings going in the first place: Hegel is assumed to be endorsing something as right or good, so the question is, is he endorsing things as they happen to be (as on the conservative reading), or things as they would be if fully “actual” (as on the progressive reading)?

Now, the question of Hegel’s understanding of the term ‘rational’ is of course a complex one, as it too is a technical term for Hegel, and to explain it fully would involve a detailed account of his whole philosophical position. However, the narrower suggestion I want to make here is that when Hegel comes to use the term ‘rational’ in the Doppelsatz in the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, it may be wrong to assume he is using it normatively; rather, he may be using the term purely methodologically. On this account, that is, in stating that the actual is rational and the rational is actual, Hegel is telling us that what is actual can be investigated by reason and what reason investigates is the actual, rather than that some state of affairs is right or good. In other words, the Doppelsatz is simply part of his argument for having “faith in reason” as the central method of philosophical inquiry, rather than an assessment of the normative status of ‘the actual,’ however that term is understood.

To see that this is so, it is necessary to look in more detail than is usually done at the context of the Doppelsatz in the Preface. I will begin by first exploring the kind of thing Hegel characteristically tries to achieve in the introductory remarks to his works, and then in the next section will use this to help me offer a detailed reading of the Preface itself along the lines I have suggested.

As is well-known, Hegel had a rather contemptuous view of the place of prefaces and introductions in philosophical works, holding that they were too often used by lazy readers to avoid getting to grips with the works themselves, while if a philosophical system could be summed up in a preface, it was surely of little value. He therefore does not use the introductory sections of his writings to attempt any real exposition of the book as a whole, or any defense of its conclusions; instead, he mainly uses them to deal with meta-level issues, concerning the nature of the work as a work of philosophy, and therefore with the question of what philosophy (in Hegel’s view) is.

In Hegel’s discussions of the nature of philosophy, he characteristically presents it as a discipline in crisis, held in deserved disrepute in many quarters, given the failure of contemporary philosophers to find a proper way of doing the subject. He then warns against the dangers of this disrespect for philosophy, as tantamount to a disrespect for reason and thought itself, and offers his own philosophical approach as a way of reviving the philosophical tradition, and thus as enabling us to return to a kind of rationalism that is in grave danger of being lost. So, for example, in the Preface to the first edition of the Encyclopedia Logic, Hegel comments on the contemporary “indifference” to and “contempt” for philosophy “as a science [Wissenschaft],” such that philosophy has become shallow and empty, and thereby deserves to have fallen from its cultural preeminence. Nonetheless, he suggests that it is impossible for us to lose respect for “the higher cognition” of philosophy proper, since “the inner drive of rational insight” is what “alone gives man his dignity.” Once philosophy returns to this “higher cognition”-which with his own work he clearly thinks it will-philosophy will then naturally regain its place as the pinnacle of human culture, while at the same time putting that culture on the right path. Then, in the Preface to the second edition, Hegel focuses more on those who see philosophy as a threat to other ways of thinking, particularly religion and morality, where again he is concerned to stress the need these ways of thinking have of philosophy, if they are to retain their rational core and proper justification. Likewise, in the Introduction to the Philosophy of Nature, Hegel considers his philosophical treatment of nature in relation to the empirical sciences, and attempts to show that there is a distinctive place for the former as a particular sort of inquiry, different from but related to the latter. Similar reflections on the nature of philosophy can be found in the introductory sections to several other works, such as the Phenomenology of Spint, and Hegel’s lectures. Thus, in general, Hegel takes the opportunity of his prefaces and introductions not to summarize his position, or to outline his argument for it, but to “declare myself about the external bearing of my philosophical activity on the cultural concerns of our time,” where this means to stake out his view of what philosophy should be, and what role it should serve within that culture.

Now, as we have already seen, Hegel thinks that philosophy can take up its proper cultural place only if it satisfies “the continuing inner drive of rational insight, which alone gives man his dignity.” Hegel believes that true philosophy can be contrasted to other ways of thinking in the way it satisfies that drive, and thus a culture without a philosophy that gives us rational insight in this way is an impoverished culture. He therefore criticizes those who think philosophy cannot give us rational insight; those who think rational insight can be provided by other ways of thinking, such as the empirical sciences, or religion; and those who think we would be better off without aspiring to rational insight at all. Against the first position, he argues that while the inadequate philosophical positions of his contemporaries may indeed fail to provide us with rational insight, the classical tradition in its own terms did, and it is this tradition that he claims he can renew. Against the second position, he argues that other intellectual disciplines are not adequate in themselves to provide the kind of rational insight provided by philosophy. And against the third position, he argues that no acceptable substitute can be found for reason, in enabling human beings to make sense of the world and reach proper conclusions in their inquiries.

Thus, in general, the prefaces and introductions of Hegel’s works serve as a kind of manifesto for the rationalistic programme that the works themselves are designed to fulfil. In these prefaces and introductions, Hegel can frequently be found attempting to diagnose the current lack of respect for philosophy, where that diagnosis is based on methodological issues: philosophers no longer care about conducting their inquiries in a properly “scientific” manner, as they no longer have any faith in the more geometrico of the early modern rationalists, so that instead they turn to less rational methods. Hegel agrees that this mathematical method had its limitations; but by turning away from any sort of “scientific” method completely, contemporary philosophers have reduced the significance of philosophy; their conclusions are seen to be purely subjective, arbitrary, and ungrounded, a matter of empty speculation. Hegel clearly believes, therefore, that by offering a new kind of rational method, he can show how philosophy can be conducted in a manner that will not lead it to becoming marginalized in this way, but which will return it to its proper place at the center of our thought.

Seen in this context, I believe it can be shown that the Preface of the Philosophy of Right sets out to argue along similar lines, and to claim that philosophy must be conceived as a rational enterprise if it is to carry conviction, this time in its speculations about the social world. I will therefore suggest that Hegel’s references to “what is rational” in the Doppelsatz should be seen in this light. If this is correct, then in the Doppelsatz Hegel should not be understood as making any normative claim about “the actual,” but rather as making a claim about the relation between “the actual” and philosophy as a rationalistic discipline. Hence my suggestion is that the Doppelsatz is neutral on the normative issue that divides the conservative and progressive readings.


In this section, I will look in some detail at the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, and argue that it very much conforms to the pattern we have already identified concerning what Hegel sets out to establish in his prefaces and introductions.

At the end of the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, Hegel makes his usual disparaging comments on what its role has been: “But it is time to conclude this foreword; as a foreword, its function was in any case merely to make external and subjective comments on the points of view of the work to which it is prefaced” (GPR, 28; EPR, 23). We are warned, therefore, that the Preface is designed merely to orient the reader in general terms about the approach Hegel is taking, and is not itself part of the “scientific and objective treatment” (GPR, 28; EPR, 23) that will follow. As we have seen, Hegel’s preferred way of orienting the reader in this manner is to offer some reflections on the current state of philosophy, and of how his work stands in relation to it.

As we should now expect, therefore, Hegel starts the Preface by remarking on “the shameful decline into which [philosophy] has fallen in our times” (GPR, 12; EPR, 10). Characteristically, Hegel accepts that part of the blame lies with philosophy itself, for philosophy has abandoned some of its previous methods, “of definition, classification, and inference” (GPR, 12; EPR, 10), and as a result has lost its intellectual rigour, “to make way for the arbitrary pronouncements of the heart, of fantasy, and of contingent intuition” (GPR, 12; EPR, 10). Hegel emphasizes that his “outline” of “natural law and political science” (the subtitle of the Philosophy of Right) will be conducted in a properly thought-out manner, using a more advanced philosophical method: this will show how the subject under discussion can be apprehended in a “logical spirit,” as we find that there is a “logical progression” from one part of the inquiry to the next ( GPR, 13 ; EPR, 10). Hegel is of course advertising here his method of immanent or dialectical critique, which examines the nature and limits of various positions by beginning with the most elementary, and so works up to more sophisticated positions in which the simpler ones are integrated and their problems resolved, until a stable outlook is attained. Hegel thus argues that the proper way to proceed is not to begin with any presuppositions about what right is, but to “observe the proper immanent development of the thing [Sache] itself (GPR, §2, 30; EPR, 26), as conceptions of the right and freedom become more complex and less inadequate through the process of internal critique. This is Hegel’s “philosophical manner of progressing from one topic to another and of conducting a scientific proof (GPR, 12; EPR, 10) which he says he will be following as far as possible in the Philosophy of Right, “which arranges and orders the essential elements” (GPR, 11; EPR, 9) of the social world into an integrated hierarchy, and so reveals their conceptual development and interconnection.

Now, Hegel acknowledges that in the intellectual climate of his time, where “it is imagined that what philosophy puts forward is as ephemeral a product as Penelope’s weaving, which is begun afresh every day” (GPR, 12.; EPR, 10), to make such claims about the “scientific” nature of his inquiry may seem rather unwonted; moreover, to take such methodological issues seriously may be dismissed as inconsequential, where what is taken to matter much more is the novelty of a work’s content. So, while Hegel asks that his “treatise” should be “understood and judged” in terms of whether it is properly “logical” and “scientific” (GPR, 13; EPR, 10), he recognizes that contemporary thinkers may not think this is of much significance, where more weight is placed on whether or not the philosopher has something new to say: “It is true that we may hear it said by those who seem to adopt the most thorough approach that form is a purely external quality, indifferent to the matter [Sache] itself, which is alone of consequence; furthermore, the task of the writer, especially the philosophical writer, may be said to consist in the discovery of truths, the statement of truths, and the dissemination of truths and correct concepts” (GPR, 13; EPR, 10-11). As we shall see, Hegel believes that philosophy which focuses on “content” at the expense of “form” does so at its peril, in so far as “in science, the content is essentially inseparable from the form” (GPR, 13; EPR, 10).

First, he argues that in practice these philosophers seldom do manage to offer any new “discoveries,” so that it is rather empty to claim that what matters about their philosophy is its “content,” as what we actually come to learn from them is rarely much different from what we knew already: “the same old brew is reheated again and again and served up to all and sundry” (GPR, 13; EPR, 11). The danger here, Hegel thinks, is that philosophers will be tempted to treat this “reheated brew” as if it really contained “new and unheard-of truths,” and so claim for themselves qua philosophers a special kind of epistemic authority and importance “as if all that the world had hitherto lacked was these zealous disseminators of truths” (GPR, 13; EPR, 11). Second, Hegel argues that in the rush to present us with these fresh discoveries, such philosophers just add to the cacophony of competing views, while leaving us unable to settle on which of these views is really valid, because they lack a proper method: “And if, amidst this jumble of truths, there is something that is neither old nor new but enduring, how can it be extracted from these formlessly fluctuating reflections-how can it be distinguished and verified other than by scientific means?” (GPR, 13; EPR, 11).

Hegel observes, moreover, that if philosophy claims that what is distinctive about it is its content, rather than its method, it will face the difficulty of finding that there may not be anything very new for it to propose that is not already part of our ordinary social and ethical thinking, and hence it will make itself appear redundant: “The truth concerning right, ethics, and the state is at any rate as old as its exposition and promulgation in public law and in public morality and religion” (GPR, 13-14; EPR, 11). Hegel thinks that this redundancy can be avoided only by once again accepting the importance of “form” or method, for then we need no longer present philosophy as if its value lies solely in the novelty of its content regarding truth in moral matters, as it is still possible for philosophy to make a significant contribution, “in as much as the thinking mind [Geist] is not content to possess it [i.e., this truth] in this proximate manner” (GPR, 14; EPR, 11). The difficulty the “thinking mind” faces, Hegel suggests, is that the truths of ordinary morality lack any proper methodological framework: what is needed is that they be given a philosophical treatment, “so that the content which is already rational in itself may also be given a rational form and thereby appear justified to free thinking” (GPR, 14; EPR, 11). How is it that this philosophical treatment will enable the truths of ordinary morality to appear justified to “free thinking”? Because, according to Hegel, “free thinking” demands that thought can derive those truths in a way that shows they are grounded within a self-supporting system, rather than based on any sort of extra-systematic given, for only then can reason be satisfied and “know itself as united in its innermost being with the truth” (GPR, 14; EPR, 11).

Thus, Hegel argues, reason cannot be content with any treatment of these moral truths which attempts to base them on “the external positive authority of the state or of mutual agreement among human beings, or by the authority of inner feeling and the heart and by the testimony of the spirit which immediately concurs with this” (GPR, 14; EPR, 11), because all these modes of grounding are inadequate, as the further question remains of why the state supports this practice rather than that, or why people happen to agree on this rather than that, and so on. Using his method, Hegel suggests, such questions will not arise, as no such ungrounded presuppositions remain, so that in this respect “free thinking” can be satisfied. This, for Hegel, is the distinctive contribution philosophy can make in this area.

Against his critics, therefore, Hegel suggests that the form of a philosophical inquiry is not somehow irrelevant compared to its content, as even if philosophy does not go beyond ordinary morality in terms of its content, it is precisely by presenting its content in a “scientific” manner that philosophy can make its contribution to our ethical thinking, in showing that the content is not arbitrary, but can be given a systematic treatment that reveals its inner necessity; philosophy can therefore deepen our understanding of what makes certain positions valid, and thereby satisfy our need for rational insight, even where it cannot claim to be a special source of moral truths.

Now, it might be felt that my reading of this paragraph plays into the hands of the conservative interpretation of Hegel, and as such leaves his position open to criticism. In particular, it may seem to treat public morality as too static and homogeneous, and to give philosophy too passive a role in relation to that public morality, where philosophy ought not to give the latter any independent authority. However, with regard to the first point, nothing I have said about Hegel’s position requires him to hold that public morality is completely unchanging and uncontested: indeed, Hegel himself frequently emphasized (in the Phenomenology of Spirit and elsewhere) that public morality can alter in different ways, and can be deeply contested. All Hegel is denying, in my view, is that the philosopher qua philosopher should take it as his primary role to guide this process. Thus, his position is that while ethical change and development can occur, this can quite properly be brought about by changes in public morality at large, and not by the special inquiries of the philosopher. The danger in ranking “content” above “form” is that this will not be acknowledged, as the philosopher’s only role is then to tell us how to think on these issues in a potentially disastrous way, based on a claim to authority that is spurious because it has no real methodological grounding, where, without this, “[o]ne bare assurance is worth just as much as another.”

But, it might be felt (and this is the second objection), if the primary role of the philosopher is not to provide new “content” to our moral thinking, has not Hegel abandoned its essentially critical role, and so revealed the inherent conservatism of his position? And, given that Hegel himself does seem to offer proposals for the reforms of at least some institutions in the Philosophy of Right, and so to that extent himself seems to allow himself qua philosopher to offer something by way of new “content,” how can my reading of Hegel be correct? I am not sure these criticisms are as forceful as they seem. For, although Hegel as I read him objects to any purely “content” driven philosophy that lacks any concern for the rationalistic demands of a Wissenschaft, nothing we have seen so far in the Preface (nor, I will argue, in what is to come) suggests that philosophy cannot propose any institutional reforms at all-it just must do so based on a proper method, otherwise it will have the problematic status of merely subjective opinion.

Hegel now goes on to consider arguments designed to show that subjective opinions are all we can hope for in ethical and social matters, so there is nothing wrong with philosophy proceeding in this way. The first is that because opinions on moral matters are deeply divided, there is no “publicly recognized truth” here for us to follow; instead, we are faced by “the infinite variety of opinions,” so that we must abandon the attempt to arrive at anything that is “universally acknowledged and valid,” where “this perplexity may easily be taken for a just and genuine concern with the matter [Sache] itself (GPR, 14; EPR, 11-12.). Hegel responds, however, by arguing that this stress on the variety of moral thought is exaggerated and in bad faith:

But in fact, those who pride themselves on this perplexity are in the position of not being able to see the wood for the trees, and the only perplexity and difficulty that is present is one they themselves have created; indeed, this perplexity and difficulty is rather a proof that they want something other than what is universally acknowledged and valid, something other than the substance of the right and the ethical. (GPR, 14; EPR, 12)

The second objection Hegel considers at this point centers on the idea that freedom consists in thinking for oneself about moral and political matters, where it is claimed that this means that “the only criterion of thought and the only way in which thought can know itself to be free is the extent to which it diverges from what is universally acknowledged and valid and manages to invent something particular for itself (GPR, 15 ; EPR, 12). The result of this approach, Hegel argues, is that “it might seem to be the essential task of a philosophy of the state to invent and propound yet another theory, and specifically a new and particular theory,” in so far as “freedom of thought, and of spirit in general, can be demonstrated only by divergence from, and even hostility towards, what is publicly acknowledged” (GPR, 15; EPR, 12). The position Hegel is considering, then, argues from “the freedom of thought,” to the claim that a work is not genuinely philosophical unless its conclusions differ from all existing practices.

Hegel responds to this objection by arguing that it rests on a misconception regarding the nature of “the freedom of thought.” On the one hand, Hegel happily accepts that the right to think for oneself is “exalted” and “divine” (GPR, 15; EPR, 12; cf. GPR, 2.6-27; EPR, 22), and that in the modern world “in laws of right…the thing [Sache] is not valid because it exists; on the contrary, everyone demands that it should match his own criterion” (GPR, 16 Zusatz; EPR, 13 Addition). On the other hand, however, Hegel holds that this does not entail that thinking for oneself requires that we “imagine that no state or constitution had ever previously existed or were in existence today, but that we had now (and this ‘now’ is of indefinite duration) to start right from the beginning, and that the ethical world had been waiting only for such intellectual constructions, discoveries, and proofs as are now available” (GPR, 15; EPR, 12). Hegel points out that no one would think that this is the right procedure with respect to the natural world, and yet no one thinks that here our “freedom of thought” is compromised. This is because, Hegel suggests, in the case of the natural world we expect to find some convergence on some objective truth, but “[t]he spiritual universe is supposed rather to be at the mercy of contingency and arbitrariness, to be god-forsaken, so that, according to this atheism of the ethical world, truth lies outside it, and at the same time, since reason is nevertheless also supposed to be present in it, truth is nothing but a problem” (GPR, 15-16; EPR, 14). The result, then, is that “freedom of thought” in moral and political issues is seen as a purely subjective matter, so that on this view no common ground on these issues is expected or required: “But, we are told, this very circumstance justifies, indeed obliges, every thinker to take his own initiative, though not in search of the philosopher’s stone, for this search is made superfluous by the philosophizing of our times and everyone, whatever his condition, can be assured that he has this stone in his grasp” (GPR, 16; EPR, 14).

Hegel argues that the danger in the model he is criticizing is that the general public will be suspicious of philosophers who thereby attempt to alter our practices radically, because those people who are broadly happy with the current arrangements will “laugh at such initiatives and assurances and regard them as an empty game, now more amusing, now more serious, now pleasing, now dangerous” (GPR, 16-17; EPR, 14). Hegel says that the “restless activity of vain reflection” adopted by philosophy, “along with the reception and response it encounters” from the general public would not matter very much “were it not that philosophy in general has incurred all kinds of contempt and discredit as a result of such behavior”; and, whereas previously philosophizing involved the difficult intellectual challenge of making us think about things in a rational manner, it now just involves a kind of empty moralizing, in such a way that everyone can claim to be “a philosopher,” as this is something that involves no great difficulty: “No other art or science is treated with this ultimate degree of contempt, namely the assumption that one can master it straightaway” (GPR, 17; EPR, 14-15, translation modified).

Hegel therefore argues that, because of the view of philosophy he is criticizing, it has become subjectivist, as philosophers turn to inward feeling to justify the view of the state they are putting forward: “In any case, this self-styled philosophy has expressly stated that truth cannot be arrived at by cognition [erkannt], but that truth consists in what wells up from each individual’s heart, emotion, and enthusiasm in relation to ethical subjects, particularly in relation to the state, government, and constitution” (GPR, 18; EPR, 15, translation modified). Hegel argues (attacking Fries in particular) that the result has been various unworkable political proposals (which “reduce this refined [gebildeten] structure [of the state] to a mush of ‘heart, friendship, and enthusiasm’” [GPR, 19; EPR, 16]). For Hegel, therefore, this mistaken conception of philosophy has come to betray the rationalistic principles that must underlie all responsible forms of inquiry, and thus the fundamental method of philosophy itself, so that in the end it becomes a form of anti-philosophy, in which “all the trouble involved in rational insight and cognition, guided by the thinking concept” is avoided (GPR, 19; EPR, 16). Hegel argues that this anti-rationalism leads contemporary philosophy to oppose the very idea of laws in ethics and social life at all, insofar as laws are universal and therefore have the form of rationality:

That right and ethics, and the actual world of right and the ethical, are grasped by means of thoughts and give themselves the form of rationality-namely universality and determinacy-by means of thoughts, is what constitutes the law, and it is this which is justifiably regarded as the main enemy by that feeling which reserves the right to do as it pleases, by that conscience which identifies right with subjective conviction. (GPR, 20; EPR, 17)

Given his view that “arbitrary sophistry has usurped the name of philosophy’ (GPR, 20; EPR, 17), Hegel expresses himself in sympathy with those who “grow impatient as soon as they hear talk of a philosophical science of the state” (GPR 20-21; EPR, 17), for as it is currently practiced, such a science could only lead to “superficiality” (Seichtigkeit) (GPR, 20; EPR, 16). He also says he can see why political authorities have become concerned by such philosophizing, insofar as it sets itself up in judgement on all existing values, in a way that can “lead to the destruction of inner ethics and the upright conscience, of love and right among private persons, as well as the destruction of public order and the laws of the state” (GPR, 22; EPR, 18). Moreover, Hegel accepts that it is understandable why other academic disciplines therefore think they have no need to take philosophy seriously, so that “in so many publications in the field of the positive sciences, as well as in works of religious edification and vague literature of other kinds, the reader encounters…contempt for philosophy” (GPR, 22; EPR, 18, translation modified). But, Hegel warns, although “[t]he declamations and presumptuous outbursts against philosophy which are so common in our time” are “in the right, by virtue of that superficiality to which philosophical science has been degraded” (GPR, 23; EPR, 19), the result is that by forsaking philosophy, these other academic disciplines have lost their intellectual direction, so that “all objects, however barren and particular [partikular], and all materials, however arid, are accorded the same status as what constitutes the interest of all thinking people and the bonds of the ethical world” (GPR, 23, EPR, 19).

Faced with this highly regrettable state of affairs, Hegel sees it as a “stroke of good fortune for science” (GPR, 23, EPR, 19) that the “public split” (GPR, 24; EPR, 20) between the philosophers he is criticizing and the political authorities who see them as socially dangerous has brought to a head the question: what is the proper nature of philosophy as a form of inquiry? Hegel clearly has considerable sympathy with those who have come to doubt the value of philosophy as it is currently practiced, because philosophy of this sort seems to have nothing to do with the real world in coming up with empty Utopian proposals for reform. Hegel wants to claim, however, that this is not the fault of philosophy per se, but of philosophy that is anti-rationalistic in its methods. Hegel insists that once this rationalism is restored to its rightful place, then philosophy will no longer be emptily Utopian, and so will no longer be subject to this criticism:

It is this very relation of philosophy to actuality which is the subject of misunderstandings, and I accordingly come back to my earlier observation that, since philosophy is the exploration of the rational, it is for that very reason the comprehension of the present and the actual, not the setting up of a world beyond which exists God knows where-or rather, of which we can very well say that we know where it exists, namely in the errors of a one-sided and empty ratiocination. (GPR, 24; EPR, 10)

Hegel thinks it is as “the comprehension of the present and the actuaT that philosophy will regain its relevance to contemporary political thought, rather than through Utopian speculation about “a world beyond”; and, as we have seen, he believes it has fallen into the latter because it has abandoned reason as its method of inquiry, in favour of “the subjective contingency of opinion and arbitrariness” (GPR, 19; EPR, 16). By returning to “the exploration of the rational” therefore, Hegel hopes to show that philosophy can make a relevant contribution to the political world as it really is, not to what many people would see as merely idle theorizing. In a dense passage (GPR, 14; EPR, 2.0) he claims that even Plato-who may seem in his Republic to have offered a merely “empty idear not unlike that of the philosophers Hegel is criticizing, while clearly being a philosopher whom Hegel would want to classify as a rationalist-was in fact concretely related to the ethical life of his time, so that his rationalism was not a form of utopianism, and so is not a counterexample to Hegel’s position.

It is at this point in the Preface that Hegel introduces his Doppelsatz. We should therefore briefly recall the context in which it occurs. As we have seen, a central feature of that context is Hegel’s concern for philosophy as an intellectual discipline, and the low regard in which it is currently held. His explanation for this crisis is that philosophy no longer takes systematic inquiry to be important, because the rules of such inquiry “have been cast aside, as if they were simply fetters, to make way for the arbitrary pronouncements of the heart, of fantasy, and of contingent intuition” (GPR, 12.; EPR, 10). The result, Hegel thinks, is that philosophers now hold forth on ethical and social issues, but without having earned the right to do so, by thinking about these issues systematically. This is because such philosophers do not think “scientific study” of the ethical world is possible, because they think that here (as against the natural world) “all the trouble involved in rational insight and cognition, guided by the thinking concept, can.. .be avoided” (GPR, 19; EPR, 16).

Thus, when Hegel comes to write, in the Doppelsatz, that

Was vernunftig ist, das ist wirklich;
und was wirklich ist, das ist vernunftig

the context in which it is said I think shows it should be read in a certain way, as claiming that as a rational enterprise, philosophy can and will engage with “the actual” and “the present,” rather than some “beyond.” As we have seen, Hegel’s purpose in making this claim is to answer those critics of philosophy who see it as little more than empty theorizing, while attacking those who think this is what philosophy should be. Against the latter, as we have discussed, he argues that this puts philosophy in a “vain position” (GPR, 2,5; EPR, 20), in the sense both of being futile, and of claiming unwarranted superiority to ordinary moral thinking. Against the former, he argues that there are no grounds to think that the results of a rational inquiry will be empty in this way, insofar as inquiry into both the natural and spiritual universe tells us about structures inherent in the world, and not just ideas in our heads: “Conversely, if the Idea is seen as ‘only an idea,’ a representation [Vorstellung] in the realm of opinion, philosophy affords the opposite insight that nothing is actual except the Idea” (GPR, 25; EPR, 20). Conducted in the right rationalistic manner, therefore, there is nothing Utopian about philosophy, and so nothing idle about it either.

In the remainder of the Preface, Hegel goes on to underline the way in which “[a] s a philosophical composition,” the Philosophy of Right “must distance itself as far as possible from the obligation to construct a state as it ought to be” (GPR, 26; EPR, 21), for if a theory allows itself to become Utopian and so “builds itself a world as it ought to be, then it certainly has an existence, but only within [a person’s] opinion-a pliant medium in which the imagination can construct anything it pleases” (GPR, 26; EPR, 22.). Hegel suggests that because it attempts “to comprehend and portray the state” in rational terms, this will be avoided in what follows. Philosophy therefore brings us back to the real world, rather than taking us beyond it, as critics have supposed on the evidence of those who have philosophized without recognizing the inner call “to comprehend” (zu begreiferi), or to think in properly conceptual terms (GPR, 27; EPR, 22.); on my reading, this is what the Doppelsatz also claims.

It might be wondered what grounds Hegel has for thinking this will be so: what grounds does Hegel have for believing that if it is rationally conducted, philosophy will avoid empty utopianism? This is a large question, and only a brief suggestion can be made here of how to answer it. First, Hegel has epistemic grounds: rational inquiry involves convergence, rather than merely subjective opinion, so others will share its conclusions in a way that makes it realizable. second, Hegel has historical grounds, in the sense that he believes that reason has already shaped the ways in which we have come to live, so that in following reason, philosophy will be going with the grain of social institutions as they have arisen. Thirdly, he has metaphysical grounds, in that he believes that the world is structured in a way that is fundamentally intelligible to reason. And fourthly, as we have seen, Hegel believes that once philosophers see that the best contribution philosophy can make to “free thinking” comes through its systematic method, they will be less inclined to think philosophy is only worth taking seriously if it “manages to invent something particular for itself (GPR, 15, EPR, 12.).

I have argued that Hegel’s aim in the Doppelsatz, then, was to offer a slogan designed to answer those disillusioned by the perceived emptiness of much of the social philosophy of his time, by underlining that Hegel’s return to reason is also meant to be a return to a form of philosophizing that is engaged with “the actual.” Hegel is thus offering us a polemical defense of his rationalistic method, where the defense is that this will enable philosophy to avoid empty utopianism, and thus regain the respect in which it deserves to be held. The Doppelsatz can therefore be seen as an expression of Hegel’s faith in a rationalistic conception of philosophy, rather than a claim about the normative status of “the actual,” however ‘the actual’ is understood. On this account, then, both the conservative and the progressive readings are mistaken; in linking the “rational” and the “actual” in this way, Hegel was not meaning to say anything about whether the “actual” is “right” or “good.”


Having outlined my neutral reading of the Doppelsatz, I now turn to consider certain objections to that reading.

(1) A first objection my reading must face is that I have focused exclusively on Hegel’s use of the Doppelsatz in the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, but Hegel uses the Doppelsatz and variants of it elsewhere, and (it could be claimed) the ways in which it is employed elsewhere show that it is not meant to be neutral, but rather to support the progressive reading. Four such other uses might be mentioned: Hegel’s comment on the Doppelsatz in the Introduction to the Encyclopaedia Logic; the variants he gives of it in the lectures on the Philosophy of Right from 1817/18 and 1819; and the variant offered in conversation with Heinrich Heine. Let me consider each in turn.

Of these four cases, it is the first that has been most discussed by proponents of the progressive reading. For, it is here that Hegel underlines that for him ‘actuality’ is a technical term, and that this should be remembered in reading the Doppelsatz; and as we have seen, proponents of the progressive reading criticize proponents of the conservative readings for neglecting this fact. But, although Hegel does indeed here emphasize that “when I speak of actuality, one should, of course, think about the sense in which I use this expression,” the question still remains from my point of view, whether in distinguishing “the actual” from “the existent,” and identifying the former and not the latter with the rational, Hegel in so doing wants to draw a normative distinction between them, by claiming that the former is “right” or “good” in the way the latter is not. In fact, I will argue, Hegel’s aim in drawing this distinction is still methodological, to suggest that while reason may make the “actual” intelligible and explicable, it may not be able to incorporate everything that is merely “existent” into a rational science; thus, on this account, Hegel’s position remains normatively neutral.

In the Encyclopaedia Logic, Hegel’s reference to the Doppelsatz again occurs in introductory material, and as we have learned to expect, a central concern of that material is with the status of philosophy and what is special about it as a form of inquiry. So, for example, Hegel claims that some think that philosophy is too hard and esoteric, because it seems unintelligible to them, while others think it is too easy, because they treat it as superficial; and, in general, philosophy has a difficult time “placing” itself as distinctive with respect to other ways of thinking. Then, in §6, he turns to consider the content of philosophical knowledge, what it is philosophy inquires into. His answer is “the world, the outer and inner world of consciousness,” immediately going on to say “in other words, the content of philosophy is actuality.” At first, Hegel observes, we come to know about the world through experience; but we then come to recognize that experience does not really get to the bottom of things, but is confined to the level of “appearance, [the] transient and insignificant [bedeutungslos],” which we learn to distinguish from “that which truly and in itself merits the name of actuality,” because (presumably) it is not so “transient and insignificant.” Now, philosophy, Hegel argues, must be in accord with the world as “appearance” and as “actuality,” so that its “universal touchstone” is how well it “fits the phenomena at the level of givenness,” while its “supreme and ultimate purpose” is “to bring about the reconciliation of the reason that is conscious of itself with the reason that is, or actuality, through the cognition of this accord.”

Hegel thus seems to be claiming that philosophy can find reason in the world by taking us further than the “transient and insignificant,” putting us in touch with “actuality,” but not in a way that takes us into any sort of transcendent “beyond,” since this “actuality” must also be part of the world as it first appears in experience. Whereas that world seemed chaotic and structureless, it is now shown to have a rational order, so that reconciliation between us qua rational subjects (“the reason that is conscious of itself”) and the world qua rational entity (“the reason that is”) can be achieved. So far, therefore, the text of this paragraph reads like a fairly straightforward statement of Hegel’s epistemological rationalism, according to which the world may initially present itself to us as a confused array of phenomena, which we then make intelligible using reason, to gain a sense of how the world contains certain necessary structures which give it order. For Hegel, it is this kind of rational insight that gives us as inquirers a particular kind of satisfaction in relation to the world, a sense of reconciliation with it, as it now no longer appears to be a disorderly mass of contingencies, but a well-ordered system.

It is at this point that Hegel makes reference to the Doppelsatz, in his “remark” to the main paragraph we have just considered. The normal function of these “remarks” is not to take the argument further forward, but to broaden out the discussion of the main paragraph somewhat, and in a slightly less compressed way. It is therefore natural, having introduced the idea of “actuality” in the main paragraph, and having offered his rationalistic conception of it in relation to philosophy, that Hegel should mention the Doppehatz. But again, I think, this shows that the Doppelsatz itself should be understood in this rationalistic way.

Hegel observes that the “simple propositions” that make up the Doppelsatz “have seemed shocking to many and they have been attacked.” Hegel does not tell us whom he has in mind here, but it is reasonable to assume that he has in view those who took him to be a political reactionary on the strength of the Doppelsatz. But of course, even if this is the case, it does not follow (as the progressive reading claims) that Hegel is here responding to those critics by emphasising that it offers a normative endorsement not of the status quo, but of something more ideal. For, another way to respond to those who take it to be normatively conservative is just to show it is simply a philosophical platitude, rather than some sort of normative assessment of “the actual.” And this, I would argue, is the strategy Hegel does in fact adopt. For, Hegel expresses himself surprised that people have reacted to the Doppelsatz in a hostile way, and seen it as somehow outrageous, even though they think of themselves as committed to religion or philosophy: “These simple propositions…have been attacked, even by those who are not ready to renounce the possession of philosophy, and certainly not of religion.” This suggests that the critics he has in mind are those who think of themselves as philosophers or religious people, but who think the Doppelsatz is problematic; but for Hegel, this position is incoherent, because he thinks that the Doppelsatz in fact forms the fundamental presupposition for religion and philosophy, and it is remarkable that those who attack it do not see that in fact they themselves must be committed to it.

What is that presupposition to which these critics must be committed? In religious terms, it is that there is “divine governance of the world,” and in philosophical terms it is “what is there is partly appearance and partly actuality.” In other words, Hegel thinks that what is distinctive of any philosophical or religious way of thinking is a move he outlined in the main paragraph, which does not just accept that the world is nothing but contingency and appearance, but sees in it some sort of deeper explanation and grounding; so, Hegel thinks, to anyone with a religious or philosophical outlook, his “simple propositions” should seem unproblematic, since all they are claiming is that we can come to find that “actuality” is in accord with reason, in the sense of being open to systematic inquiry, in a way that “appearance” is not. Hegel therefore suggests that as long as the religious person thinks that behind the world there is a divine order, or the philosopher accepts that there is more to the world than transient phenomena, he or she should find nothing outrageous in the “simple propositions” of the Doppelsatz. But this is not because these propositions are in fact meant progressively rather than conservatively, but because they summarize a basic metaphysical assumption common to all religious and philosophical thought (as Hegel conceives them).

Hegel then goes on to suggest that this religious or philosophical way of drawing a distinction between “appearance” and “actuality,” treating the latter only as “rational” is in fact also a part of ordinary thinking. For, although “[i]n common life” people may not seem to draw this distinction, because they “call every brain wave, error, evil, and suchlike ‘actuality’ as well as every existence, however wilted [verkummerte] and transient it may be,” after a little thought “even for our ordinary feeling, a contingent existence does not deserve to be called something actual in the emphatic sense of the word; what contingendy exists has no greater value than that which something-possible has; it is an existence itself which (although it is) can just as well not be.” Now, Hegel does here mention one normative category, that of evil, in relation to what is not actual. But I believe the overwhelming force of the full statement is not to mark a normative distinction between, on the one hand, “things that ‘live up to their own underlying norm or end,’” and thus that are as they ought to be (the actual), and, on the other hand, those that do not, and hence are not as they ought to be (the existent). Rather, it is to make a more purely metaphysical distinction, between the contingency and transitoriness of the merely existent on the one hand, and the more necessary and permanent qua actual on the other (where Hegel seems just to mention evil here as one example of what is contingent and transitory in this way, in the sense that it could have not existed). So, in saying that “what is rational, is actual, and what is actual, is rational,” Hegel does not seem to be claiming rationality of what is “as it ought to be” as against what merely exists, but of what is in some sense fundamental as against what is merely apparent; he therefore seems to be making an epistemological rather than a normative point, that rational comprehension is to be found in the actual, rather than in appearances, where these are too contingent and transitory to be incorporated fully within a rational system of inquiry.

In the next sentence, Hegel stresses that understanding the proper meaning of the Doppelsatz requires grasping the notion of “actuality” he has developed elsewhere, in the Science of Logic.

But when I speak of actuality, one should, of course, think about the sense in which I use this expression, given the fact that I dealt with actuality too in a quite elaborate Logic, and I distinguish it quite clearly and directly, not just from what is contingent, even though it has existence too, but also, more precisely, from being there [Dasein], from existence, and from other determinations.

As we have seen, proponents of the progressive reading have followed Hegel’s lead, which has taken them to remarks of this sort: “Actuality is the unity of essence and Existence.” They have then put this sort of remark together with comments by Hegel that suggest that something is good only if it properly realizes its nature, and have concluded from this that Hegel’s aim here was to circumscribe the normative force of the Doppelsatz, in making clear that he only meant to endorse “the actual,” not the merely existent.

Now, two things should perhaps give us pause straightaway. The first is that in reminding us here that he has discussed “actuality” as a category in the Logic, Hegel contrasts it not just with “existence,” but with all the other “determinations” discussed in the Logic up to that point. It thus seems too narrow to suggest that the contrast he wants to draw is based merely on how these two categories correspond to the category of essence. The second worry is that when Hegel does want to draw a contrast between something that properly realizes its nature and something that does not, he normally characterizes the former as “true” rather than “actual,” as in the following passage:

In the philosophical sense…”truth,” expressed abstractly and in general, means the agreement of a content with itself… [This] (philosophical) meaning of “truth” is also partly found in ordinary linguistic usage already. We speak, for instance, of a “true” friend, and by that we understand one whose way of acting conforms with the concept of friendship; and in the same way we speak also of a “true” work of art. To say of something that it is “untrue” is as much as to say that it is bad, that it involves an inner inadequacy. A bad State, in this sense, is an “untrue” State; and what is bad and untrue consists always in a contradiction between an ob-ject’s determination or concept and its existence.”

Thus, if Hegel is saying what the progressive reading thinks he is in the Doppelsatz, he should perhaps more properly have said “what is rational, is true; and what is true, is rational.”

More significantly, perhaps, when one looks at the way proponents of progressive readings of the Doppelsatz have taken Hegel’s account of “actuality” in the Logic, it seems that they have misunderstood what he means by saying that “Actuality is the unity of essence and Existence.” As we have seen, they take Hegel to be saying that something is actual when it is an existent thing which properly realizes its essence, and so is a “unity of essence and Existence” in this sense. But, when Hegel says in the Logic that a category is the unity of two preceding categories, he simply means that we have reached a category that combines elements of each. So, for example, he says that “measure” is “the unity of quality and quantity,” by which he means that it involves aspects of both qualitative and quantitative determination, whereby quantity effects quality (for example, losing a certain number of hairs makes someone bald who was previously hirsute). Likewise, I would argue, when Hegel says that “Actuality is the unity of essence and Existence,” he means that it is the kind of category which involves aspects of “essence” and “existence.” What might Hegel mean by this? The category of existence, Hegel has argued, characterizes things which have their grounding in other things, and so need to be explained through the determination of what is outside them. With the category of essence, by contrast, entities are seen as determined by a nature that belongs to them, but which is hidden and mysterious. So, to say that the category of actuality is the unity of these preceding categories is to say that something is actual insofar as we have an explanation for it (as with what exists), but where what does the explaining is the nature of the entity itself (as when we think in terms of essences), not some external thing which determines it, although here the determination is transparent rather than hidden (as with existence but not essence). Thus, something is “actual” for Hegel if it is a self-maintaining system which can be understood in its own terms, without being seen as grounded in something else:

Real actuality as such is in the first instance the thing of many properties, the existent world; but it is not the Existence that resolves itself into Appearance, but, as actuality, it is at the same time the in-itself and reflection-into-self; it preserves itself in the manifoldness of mere Existence; its externality is an inner relationship to itself alone. What is actual can act; something manifests its actuality through that which it produces. Its relationship to another something is the manifestation of itself; neither a transition-the relation between something and an other in the sphere of beingnor an appearing-where the thing is only in relation to others and, though a selfsubsistent, has its reflection-into-self, its determinate essentiality, in another self-subsistent.

It seems, then, that Hegel characterizes “actuality” as “the unity of essence and Existence” because he thinks it involves elements of both categories, not because “the actual” is an existent thing that is as it ought to be, which is what the normative reading of the Doppelsatz assumes.

As evidence that the normative reading of Hegel’s view of “actuality” goes awry, consider the following passage from the Philosophy of Right,

The state is actual, and its actuality consists in the fact that the interest of the whole realizes itself through the particular ends. Actuality is always the unity of universality and particularity, the resolution of universality into particularity; the latter then appears to be self-sufficient, although it is sustained and supported only by the whole. If this unity is not present, nothing can be actual, even if it may be assumed to have existence [Existenz]. A bad state is one that merely exists; a sick body also exists, but it has no true reality. A hand which has been cut off still looks like a hand and exists, but it has no actuality. True actuality is necessity: what is actual is necessary in itself. Necessity consists [besteht] in the division of the whole into the distinctions within the concept, and in the fact that this divided whole exhibits a fixed and enduring determinacy which is not dead and unchanging but continues to produce itself in its dissolution. (GPR, §270 Zusatz, 428-29; EPR, 302.)

Hegel is here telling us why as an institution, the state deserves to be called “actual,” where the answer is that it is a self-maintaining and complex system, a coincidence of parts with the whole that enables it to persist through change; and a state is no longer actual but merely exists when it loses this capacity to “produce itself in its dissolution,” through the breakdown of the whole into merely externally related parts (as when a body becomes sick and can no longer maintain itself, or a hand is removed from an arm). Thus, when Hegel says in the Encyclopedia Logic §6 that it is only the actual that is rational, and not what is merely existent, he would appear to be differentiating certain kinds of entities (such as states and bodies) from others (such as tables and pens), rather than differentiating “things that are as they ought to be” from “things that are not.”

However, if Hegel thinks that “Actuality is the unity of essence and Existence” in the sense I have suggested, what is the connection between this and reason, as laid down in the Doppelsatz? As we have seen, proponents of the progressive reading argue that something is actual if it properly realizes its essence; if it properly realizes its essence it is good; and if it is good it is rational (in this normative sense). But I have argued that this is based on a mistaken view of Hegel’s conception of “actuality”; and yet, it might be felt, my preferred view leaves the link with “reason” obscure.

To see that this is not so, consider another passage from the Philosophy of Right that comes shortly after the one we have just discussed:

The constitution [of a state] is rational in so far as the state differentiates and determines its activity within itself in accordance with the nature of the concept. It does so in such a way that each of the powers in question is in itself the totality, since each contains the other moments and has them active within it, and since all of them, as expressions of the differentiation [Unterschied] of the concept, remain wholly within its ideality and constitute nothing but a single individual whole.

In recent times, we have heard an endless amount of empty talk both about the constitution and about reason itself. The most vapid of this has come from those in Germany who have persuaded themselves that they have a better understanding than anyone else-especially governments-of what a constitution is, and who believe that all their superficialities are irrefutably justified because they are allegedly based on religion and piety. It is no wonder that such talk has made reasonable men {Manner] sick of the words ‘reason,’ ‘enlightenment,’ ‘right,’ etc., and likewise of the words ‘constitution’ and ‘freedom,’ and that one is almost ashamed to enter into further discussion of political constitutions. But it may at least be hoped that such excesses will lead to a more widespread conviction that philosophical cognition of such subjects cannot come from ratiocination or from [the consideration of] ends, grounds, and utilities-let alone from emotionality, love, and enthusiasm-but only from the concept; and it is also to be hoped that those who believe that the divine is incomprehensible and that cognition of the truth is a futile [nichtiges] enterprise will take no further part in the discussion. At any rate, neither the undigested chatter nor the edifying sentiments which their emotions and enthusiasm generate can claim to merit the attention of philosophy. (GPR, §272., 432-33; EPR, 305-6)

Here, clearly, Hegel is returning to some of the themes and targets of the Preface, arguing again that reason is required in order to determine the nature of the constitution of a state, and not “emotionality, love, and enthusiasm,” where because the latter have taken over in philosophy “reasonable men” have despaired of the subject (see GPR, 17-19; EPR, 15-16). But now Hegel can be seen as providing grounds for holding that because the state is something “actual,” this antirationalism is such a mistake: for, insofar as it is actual, the state is a unified system of elements, which can be properly understood only in terms of “the concept” (der Begriff) which reason alone is capable of grasping. The state, then, is suitable for rational investigation, insofar as it is actual; and it is actual insofar as it is open to rational investigation, in precisely the way the Doppelsatz claims. Thus, I would argue, Hegel’s aim in this section of the Encyclopedia is not to circumscribe his normative endorsement of things to what is “actual” rather than merely “existent,” but to circumscribe the range of rational philosophical inquiry (of “science”) to what has the self-determining unity of the “actual,” as opposed to what has the structure of merely “determinate being,” “existence” and the other determinations discussed earlier in the Logic.

Finally, then, on my account it is no surprise that in the final paragraph of §6, Hegel makes clear that the targets of the Doppelsatz are those who have a certain view of philosophical inquiry, who either criticise it as no more than empty theorizing, or who argue that this is what it should be: for, as we saw on my account of the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, this is Hegel’s main target there too: “The notion that ideas and ideals are nothing but chimeras, and that philosophy is a system of pure phantasms, sets itself at once against the actuality of what is rational; but, conversely, the notion that ideas and ideals are something far too excellent to have actuality, or equally something far too impotent to achieve actuality, is opposed to it as well.” Hegel accepts that one may quite properly feel that we may never be philosophically satisfied with how things are at a certain level, the level of “trivial, external, and perishable objects, institutions, etc.”; but philosophy does not deal with things at this level, but with “an actuality of which these objects, institutions and structures are only the superficial outer rind”-and at that level, Hegel claims, “science deals only with the Idea-which is not so impotent that it merely ought to be.” As in the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, therefore, Hegel’s principal aim is to identify what is rational and what is actual in order to show that “the content of philosophy is actuality” as its object of investigation, not to claim anything about the normative status of “the actual” as what is “right” or “good.”

Having looked at some length at how the reference to the Doppelsatz in §6 of the Encyclopaedia Logic can be fitted into my account of its meaning in the Preface of the Philosophy of Right, let me now look rather more briefly at the other three cases, where Hegel offers variants of it. From my point of view, the difficulty with these variants is that Hegel may seem to be bringing out the latent critical potential of the Doppelsatz by using “rational” in a normative sense, and so they may seem to show that the progressive reading is correct.

The first of these variants is from the Heidelberg lectures of 1817/18, where Hegel says that “What is rational must happen.” Defenders of the progressive reading of the Doppelsatz have argued that this shows that he wanted to use the Doppelsatz, not in order to say that the existing political order is for the best, but that this political order must inevitably evolve into one that is ideal, so that this remark should be seen in line with Hegel’s providential philosophy of history. However, I would argue that this again takes Hegel’s remark out of context. When Hegel comments that “What is rational must happen,” he is not talking about any preferred constitutional arrangement, which he is claiming will come to pass, and so is not making a providential point about history; rather, he is talking about constitutions in general, where his focus is on the question: “Who is to make the constitution-the people or someone else?” Hegel, however, thinks that this is “a wholly abstract, empty question,” because the constitution is nothing other than the reflection of the national spirit of the people, and so cannot be “made” by anyone, for it already belongs to them: “The constitution is the foundation, the basis on which everything transpires. It must therefore be viewed as an eternal foundation, not as an artifact.” It is with reference to this national spirit and its relation to the constitution that Hegel makes his remark about the rational: ‘The national spirit [Volksgeist] is the substance. What is rational must happen, since on the whole the constitution is its development.” Taken in context, this would appear to mean that Hegel is claiming that the constitution is rational in the sense that it does not arise arbitrarily, since its relation to the national spirit means it must be realized, and so can be explained as more than just the contingent product of any individual (such as a legislator), or individuals (as on the social contract model). Once again, therefore, nothing here seems to imply that we should interpret the Doppelsatz in either a progressive or a conservative manner.

Now, against this interpretation, it could be pointed out that at the end of this paragraph, the text reads: “But the rational must always find a way, for it possesses truth, and we must cease to fear that bad constitutions can be made.” It could then be argued that when Hegel says “What is rational must happen,” he must be talking about some preferred constitutional arrangement; otherwise, how can he say that once we see that “the rational must always find away,” then “we must cease to fear that bad constitutions can be made”? However, this again misunderstands the context of Hegel’s remark concerning our fear of bad constitutions. For, his claim is that we should lose this fear, not because the good or rational constitution must come about and so surpass any bad ones, but because we have seen that constitutions are the expression of the national spirit, and as such “[e]ach nation accordingly has the constitution appropriate and proper to it,” and so a good constitution in this sense. When Hegel claims that “What is rational must happen,” therefore, he does not seem to be talking about “the right” or “the good,” and so is not using ‘rational’ here in a normative sense.

The second of these variants on the Doppelsatz is from the Berlin lectures of 1819, where Hegel says that “What is actual becomes rational, and the rational becomes actual.” This variant has in fact caused difficulties for those who propose a progressive reading of the Doppelsatz; for, if Hegel means by ‘the actual’ whatever properly realizes its essence, then it is not clear he can speak of it as becoming rational, since if it is “actual” in this sense it presumably already is rational, and it is odd to speak of it as becoming so. In the face of this difficulty, Hardimon suggests that here Hegel “is using the word ‘actual’ to mean ‘existent,’ and hence violating his self-imposed linguistic strictures, but he is not identifying the existent with the actual.” As a solution, however, this seems rather awkward; and I would suggest that my neutral reading offers a better way of taking this variant.

As with the first variant, the immediate context of this second variant is a reference to the constitution of the state, which Hegel says is “the arrangement of [the] inner spirit” of an age, and so “certainly happens and is necessary,” because against this inner spirit “there is no power in heaven or earth.” As we have seen, Hegel holds that something can be determined by reason if it is necessary or must obtain. He therefore says that “the right of spirit” of which the constitution is the arrangement is not a product of “reflection and imagination, which one can bring forth at will out of abstract thinking or out of the goodness of one’s heart”; rather, it is something rational insofar as “what is rational becomes actual, and what is actual becomes rational,” whereas the products of “reflection and imagination” do not relate to actuality in this way, but may or may not obtain. So, once again, Hegel is not talking about some particular ideal (rational) constitution that must be realized, but about what gives “the right of spirit” the status of being rational (as something that “certainly happens and is necessary”), in contrast to the products of “reflection and imagination.”

The third variant on the Doppelsatz which has been discussed is one Hegel reportedly offered in conversation to the poet and philosopher Heinrich Heine, in an incident which Heine recounts as follows:

At times I saw him [Hegel] looking around anxiously as if in fear he might be understood. He was very fond of me, for he was sure I would never betray him. At that time, I actually thought that he was very obsequious. Once when I complained about the phrase: “All that is, is rational,” he smiled strangely and remarked, “It could also be formulated as all that is rational must be.” Then he looked about him hastily; but he was quickly reassured, for only Heinrich Beer had heard his words.

In this exchange, it could be argued, Hegel is clearly using the term ‘rational’ in a normative sense (and so by implication is doing so in the Doppelsatz}, for he seems to be saying to Heine that he believes not that the world as it is is right or good, but the world as it will be. Thus, the exchange with Heine would seem to lend support to the progressive reading of the Doppelsatz, that here Hegel is not endorsing the existing political order by calling it rational, but one that is yet to come. This is Hegel’s response to Heine’s challenge of “obsequiousness,” while the reformist outlook it implies explains his fear of being “understood.”

Now, clearly, Hegel in this exchange is addressing a worry about his apparent conservatism and quietism. The question is, however, whether this is a worry raised by the Doppelsatz as a normative endorsement of what is (as on the standard reading), or the Doppelsatzas a statement of Hegel’s anti-utopian rationalism (as on my reading). The latter seems to me as plausible as the former, where the worry would be this. I have argued that the aim of the Doppelsatz is to make a methodological point: that in so far as it is rational, philosophy is not an inquiry into what merely ought to be as some unrealisable ideal, but that it reaches conclusions which engage with the real world. It is therefore a statement of Hegel’s anti-utopianism, rather than a normative claim about “the actual.” On my account, therefore, the concern Hegel is addressing in his reply to Heine is the worry that this antiutopianism means that philosophy can theorize about the state only in line with how things are, with the result that the philosopher’s position becomes “obsequious.” In response to this worry, Hegel tries to suggest to Heine that his antiutopianism is also consistent with a rather more radical position: for the results of his inquiry can avoid being merely ideal if they engage not just with how the world is but also with how it will be, as a matter of necessity. So, once again, I would argue that we can interpret Hegel’s use of the term ‘rational’ here in a neutral sense, while explaining the exchange with Heine.

(2) I now turn to a second objection to my reading of the Doppelsatz, which is that I have failed to recognize its full normative weight, because I have failed to set it in the context of his “social theodicy” or “project of reconciliation,” but instead have set it in the context of his defense of philosophical rationalism. The aim of Hegel’s social theodicy, it is argued, is “to reconcile people to the social world” by “showing that the social world is ultimately good.” Once this context is recognized, it could be argued, it becomes obvious that when Hegel uses the term ‘rational’ in the Doppelsatz, he is doing so in a normative sense, because he is hereby expressing his conviction that the social world qua actual is good in this way. So, once “the large themes of theodicy and of the actuality of the rational” are put together, it may seem indisputable that the Doppelsatz should be understood normatively, as asserting the fundamental goodness of the actual. Moreover, it could be argued that Hegel himself clearly makes this link between his social theodicy and the Doppelsatz in subsequent parts of the Preface, for example when he talks about “the reconciliation with actuality” which comes once one is able to “recognize the rose in the cross of the present” (GPR, 26; EPR, 22.), where this suggests that by finding that the rational is actual and the actual is rational, one will come to see goodness where before the world appeared to contain only what was wrong.

Now, clearly, my account of the Doppelsatz must give some explanation of this talk of “reconciliation” in the later part of the Preface, and how this links with the Doppelsatz. However, I think this can be done without reading the Doppelsatz itself in normative terms. For, as we have seen, on my more methodological reading, Hegel’s claim is that philosophy as a rational inquiry will avoid “the setting up of a world beyond,” so that in this sense it will prevent us yearning after some unrealizable ideal, and so will overcome our social alienation in this sense. Hegel holds that by relying on reason, rather than “his opinion-a pliant medium in which the imagination can construct anything he pleases” (GPR, 2.6; EPR, 22), the theorist will arrive at an account of the social world that relates to the here and now. So, it is by receiving the “inner call to comprehend”-to think rationally, in accordance with the concept-that philosophy brings about “reconciliation with actuality”; this avoids the empty utopianism which comes to those who fail to philosophize properly, where “reason is arraigned, belittled, and condemned” (GPR, 22; EPR, 18). Hence, Hegel confidently claims that when properly conducted, when free of “the fetter of some abstraction or other which has not been liberated into [the form of] the concept [zum Begriffe] (GPR, 26; EPR, 22), philosophy becomes properly this-worldly, and so can take as its motto “Here is the rose, dance here” (GPR, 26; EPR, 22). It is in the sense of being “this-worldly” that Hegel speaks of philosophy as a rational exercise reconciling us to the present and leading us to “delight” in it-not in the sense of accepting whatever political institutions we happen to have got.

To explain Hegel’s talk of reconciliation in the later part of the Preface, therefore, it is not necessary to take the Doppelsatz itself as a statement of his social theodicy, in a way that would make it clearly normative: my methodological reading can also explain this talk of reconciliation. Moreover, I would argue that my methodological reading better fits elements that are awkward for the social theodicy reading to explain. To take a general example: On the social theodicy account, the aim is to show people through philosophy that the world is fundamentally good, where it is said that this is what the Doppehatz is claiming through its identification of the rational and the actual. But Hegel himself says in the Preface that most people “who live within the actuality of the state” recognize that they “are able to satisfy their knowledge and volition within it” (GPR, 16; EPR, 14), so this makes it hard to see how philosophy can help bring about reconciliation to people in general, where for Hegel they would appear to be reconciled already. It would seem, then, that it is the misguided philosophical theorisl (not to mention those who follow him) who suffers from alienation, where the cure is to adopt reason as his method (as on my methodological account), rather than to see what is “actual” as “good” rather than “bad” (as on the social theodicy account), for it is with respect to the former rather than the latter that he makes his mistake qua philosopher. Secondly, to take a more specific example: Hegel says of the Doppelsatz thai, ‘This conviction is shared by every ingenuous consciousness as well as by philosophy” (GPR, Z5; EPR, 20). Now, here Hegel seems to be commenting on philosophy as such; but it seems curious to say that philosophy as such has a commitment to social theodicy, but much more natural to think that philosophy has a commitment to reason and rational methods, and that these methods must be used if we are to uncover the truth about the world at its most fundamental level.”“ Here again, then, what Hegel says seems to fit my methodological reading better than the social theodicy account does, and thus lends support to my neutral interpretation of the Doppelsatz.


For generations of commentators, the Doppelsatz has acted as a focus for contrasting interpretations of Hegel’s position on ethical and social issues. As such, it has been treated as a one-sentence summary of Hegel’s political philosophy, which is the way both the conservative and progressive readings take it. In contrast to both these accounts, my reading treats the Doppelsatz as more of a prefatory remark than as a summary of the political outlook propounded in the Philosophy of Right as a whole. That is, on my view it is simply designed to tell the reader that Hegel’s approach in that work will involve a certain sort of rationalism with respect to its inquiry, where Hegel’s main aim in the Preface is to defend the importance of being committed to such rationalism as a method in philosophy in general, and in political theory in particular. On my account, then, the Doppelsatz should no longer be seen as a summary of the political conclusions of the Philosophy of Right, but rather as a comment on the rationalistic spirit in which it is written, where its investigations are based on “the development of thought and the concept,” and not on “immediate perception and contingent imagination” (GPR, 18-19; EPR, 15), which can take us only to a superficial level, and not to a proper grasp of what is “actual.” Hegel was perhaps correct to be puzzled by the furor surrounding his “simple sentences,” once (as I recommend) they come to be understood in this light.