Reality or Appearance of Ethical Life?


Civil society
market society
individual freedom

How to Cite

Honneth , A. . (2022). Reality or Appearance of Ethical Life?. ETHICS IN PROGRESS, 13(1), 10–23.


The article attempts to show that Hegel’s concept of “civil society” is characterized by a deep ambivalence about the value of the new market economy. On the one side, Hegel believed that the economic system represented by “civil society” succeeded like no other in simultaneously giving free reign to the desires of individual subjects and integrating them into a stable structural framework (I). On the other side, Hegel’s reflections are growingly overtaken by doubts as to whether, in light of its self-destructive tendencies, the market system can be as successful in guaranteeing individual freedom as he first envisaged it to be (II). In the course of this essay, it will ultimately become clear that Hegel’s attempt to redefine “civil society” reveals considerably more conceptual indecision and inner conflict than one might have suspected from the great system builder.


Hegel G. W. F. 1970a. Rechts-, Pflichten- und Religionslehre für die Unterklasse. Werke in zwanzig Bänden, Vol. IV (pp. 204–274). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Hegel G. W. F. 1970b. Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. Werke in zwanzig Bänden, Vol. VII. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Heisenberg T. 2018. “Hegel on the Value of the Market Economy,” European Journal of Philosophy 26:1283–1296.

Herzog L. 2013. Inventing the Market. Smith, Hegel, and Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Honneth A. 2021. Recognition. A Chapter in the History of European Ideas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Honneth A. 2022. “‘Labour’, A Brief History of a Modern Concept,” Philosophy. Journal of the Royal Institute for Philosophy 97(2):149–167. DOI:10.1017/S00181912100036X (retrieved on 14 June 2022).

Kant I. 1968 (orig. 1797). Metaphysik der Sitten. Akademie-Textausgabe, Vol. VI. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Marx K. 1978. “On the Jewish Question,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by R. C. Tucker. New York – London: Norton & Company.

Pinkard T. 2017. “Ethical Form in the External State: Bourgeois, Citizens and Capital,” Crisis & Critique 4(1):293–330.

Riedel M. 1962. “Hegels ‘bürgerliche Gesellschaft’ und das Problem ihres geschichtlichen Ursprungs,” Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie 48:539–566.

Smith A. 1976 (orig. 1776). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.