(ca. 820 words) A colleague in the Hegel Study Group on Facebook asked me in what way contemporary Continental and Anglophone commentators on Hegel fail to appreciate full freedom, as Hegel expounds it. I reply: The real and full freedom that Hegel outlines includes the sciences (which are aspects of Subjective Spirit), ethics, politics, and history (aspects of Objective Spirit), and the arts, religion, and philosophy (Absolute Spirit). (Full freedom also includes nature, insofar as nature has the selfhood that eventually gives rise to Spirit. But I won’t discuss nature in this brief essay. And I’ll skip over various complications of Spirit, as well.) A full account of Hegel's conception of freedom needs to explain why it has all of these parts and how they relate to each other.
The sciences, ethics, politics, and history embody freedom insofar as they all seek to rise above our initial opinions and urges (which are likely to originate outside us, in one way or another), to a knowledge and action that reflect our thought and thus are more "our own." To be free is to lead a life that is largely your "own," in the sense that what you think and do is determined by you, rather than by external forces that implant certain opinions and urges in you. You can lead this kind of life insofar as you think about what to believe and what to do, rather than just reacting to stimuli. This is Hegel's starting point, but he goes well beyond it in what he calls "Objective Spirit" and "Absolute Spirit."
(1) The sciences are “subjective” Spirit in that they are knowledge that individuals possess. This knowledge reflects thought, and thus it's free in the way that I described.
(2) Ethics, politics, and history are “objective” Spirit in that rather than being in us, they are things that we confront as institutions or processes in the world around us. But they contribute to our freedom insofar as they are grounded in reasons and not just in unprocessed opinions or urges; so that in dealing with them we aren’t dealing with brute contingency, but with something that embodies a degree of rational self-government. And this enables us to be more self-governing, in our dealings with them, than we would otherwise be.
(3) But insofar as this brute contrast between “subjective” and “objective” Spirit persists, it still leaves a residue of unfreedom. Neither side can be fully self-determining, because it’s always confronted by the other side, standing over against it and limiting it. Absolute Spirit surpasses this contrast, by uniting interiority with external reality.
(3a) The arts, which are the first phase of Absolute Spirit, are a mode of freedom insofar as they too seek to rise above our initial opinions and urges, through the “inner” logic or nisus that makes the object a work of art. They have this “inner” character like us (subjectivity), but they exist separately from us (objectivity). However, they are still unfree insofar as they are multiple, not integrated with one another but standing separately (and separately from us) and thus limiting each other and preventing each other (and us) from being fully self-determined. This leads us to the second phase of Absolute Spirit: religion.
(3b) Religion is like an all-inclusive art-work, with no external boundaries to make it unfree. Without religion, Absolute Spirit is incomplete, and freedom is incomplete. That's why you see such a strong “religious” streak in the non-Christian broadly "Romantic" poets, such as Blake, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, R. M. Rilke, and Walt Whitman, and in non-Christian, broadly "Romantic" thinkers like A. N. Whitehead, Michael Polanyi, and Iris Murdoch, as well as in Christian thinkers like Hegel. What is the “religion” that these poets and thinkers all share? Often described as pantheistic or (even more confusingly) “panentheistic,” it actually involves a genuine transcendence (true infinity: the self-surpassing of the finite), as opposed to the failed transcendence that we see in a “supreme being.” (A “supreme being” fails to be transcendent or supreme because it is bounded by the other beings over which it is supposed to be supreme, and thus it’s finite, so it doesn’t transcend the world that’s composed of finite beings. This is Hegel's critique of the “bad infinity.”) The true transcendence that we see in Hegel and in the non-Christian Romantic poets and thinkers and which is the self-surpassing or self-transcending of the finite is modeled on the transcendence that we see in the arts (Murdoch is great on this), but it seeks to be more comprehensive than any art work or collection of art works can be. It treats the whole of life as art, so to speak. This self-transcendence, Plato and Hegel and the broadly Romantic tradition suggest, is what religion was always really about, though wrapped in “images” (Vorstellungen) such as that of a “supreme being” which are, of course, highly misleading.
(3c) Finally, “philosophy,” the third and final phase of Absolute Spirit, is what unifies this entire transcending effort—the sciences, ethics, politics, history, the arts, religion, and itself—by explaining how all of its parts contribute to freedom, so that none of the parts merely stand alongside the others and thus limit them and render them unfree. In this way, philosophy enables us to be fully free in all of these mutually supportive activities. Various commentators on Hegel, both Continental and Anglophone, have illuminated various parts of this story of Spirit, taken separately. But I’m not aware of a commentator who has grasped the story as a whole.
I give a more detailed account of Hegel's articulation of freedom and Spirit in a 2016 talk, "How Plato and Hegel Integrate the Sciences, the Arts, Religion, and Philosophy": https://robertmwallace.blogspot.com/2018/04/inspirationhow-plato-and-hegel.html