Friday, May 25, 2007

Hegel: Marriage is the Most Immense Contradiction

Now that the urgent daily business of the school term is over, I have time for some richer brain food. I have been reading Hegel's The Philosophy of Right, especially the section on the family. Hegel's core concern is that we become free by making our will actual in the world. Yet marital love, he says, is "the most immense contradiction; the understanding cannot resolve it" (§ 158) because we individually choose to give up our individuality. We use our individual free will to sacrifice our individual free will, to become one with another person. Yet this is not a foolish loss, but the path to our true freedom. And the fulfillment of our choice for two to become one is realized in our children. This is a real poser for Hegel, a mystery for his philosophy. He does not shrink from it, but rather makes family life, and the civil society made of families and dissolved families, the foundations of ethical life.

Marriage is a mystery. It is, I think, the most fundamental of all human mysteries.

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