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Literary Criticism General

Duty and Hypocrisy in Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind

An essay in the real and ideal

by (author) Jonathan Robinson

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Dec 1977
General, Social, Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Free Will & Determinism
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    Publish Date
    Dec 1977
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Duty and Hypocrisy in Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Mind’ combines a general discussion of Hegelian themes with the first loose commentary, explication, and testing of Hegel’s discussion of morality in the Phenomenology of Mind. In this work Hegel analyses a life ordered around the idea of duty and concludes that it must inevitably end in hypocrisy. The reasons for Hegel’s conclusions are complex, and his discussion is conducted in a way which is relatively unfamiliar to English-speaking readers. His analysis of the moral consciousness is neither an inquiry into the various sorts of ethical concepts and the logical relations between them nor merely a description of how different people behave. Nor, again is it hortatory or prescriptive. Unlike Aristotle he does not instruct ‘in order to become good.’ Rather, he adopted a kind of middle ground between analysis and description and seeks to show how the faulty logic of duty brings terrible consequences to a person actually trying to build his life around such notions as ‘principle,’ ‘the categorical imperative,’ or ‘being true to one’s conscience.’


Professor Robinson’s paragraph-by-paragraph reading of an extremely important part of Phenomenology is not only a significant contribution to the understanding of Hegel’s moral philosophy but also a stimulating analysis of a topic that is relevant to much contemporary philosophical discussion.

About the author

JONATHAN ROBINSON is a member of the Department of Philosophy at McGill University.

Jonathan Robinson's profile page