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Sittlichkeit is the concept of "ethical life" or "ethical order"[1] furthered by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the Elements of the Philosophy of Right (PR).


Sittlichkeit is the third sphere of right (Recht)[2] that Hegel establishes, and is marked by family life, civil society, and the State. It attempts to bridge individual subjective feelings and the concept of general rights.

To properly comprehend the third sphere, that is Sittlichkeit, one must first review its counterparts which are the two former spheres. The first of the two, the sphere of right, constitutes what Isaiah Berlin would call negative freedom, which is to say, freedom ascertained through the denial of outside impetus. The eventual problem, or limitation, of this kind of freedom is made evident when one considers volition without duty—without any real impetus, pulse, drive. The second sphere constitutes Kantian morality, and is therefore called the sphere of morality (Moralität).[3] Given that the purpose of Hegel's philosophy is to provide a critique of his modern-day Spirit (Geist, "Mind'), he criticizes the deployment of Kantian morality in society for being insufficient. He explains this deficiency through pathologies of loneliness, depression and agony—which he considers to be the empirical grounding behind his writing. To properly understand the movement from these two first spheres to the last, one must also understand the solipsist approach the aforementioned two spheres present, treating the phenomena as if it were atomic. This particularity is what pushes Hegel to assess that he is synthesizing these two spheres and surpassing them in his third sphere of ethical life.[4]


  1. ^ PR §145
  2. ^ PR §155
  3. ^ PR §151A
  4. ^ George Klosko, History of Political Theory: An Introduction: Volume II: Modern (2nd ed.), Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 465: "we should note that Hegel's realization of the distance between his own and the traditional liberal conception of freedom, which he calls "abstract freedom," is clear in his embrace of positive freedom [in PR §149A]".


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