Evil as a Modal Mismatch: On Hegel’s Distinction Between What Is and What Ought to Be

Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy 17 (1):599-616 (2021)
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G.W.F. Hegel argues that a philosophy of history should engender comprehension of evil in the world. And yet some commentators have charged his philosophy with transcending mere explication by justifying the existence of these evils. In defense of his words, Hegel famously characterizes evil as a modal mismatch; namely, as the incompatibility between what is given and what ought to be the case. Unfortunately, some readers of Hegel’s grand narrative either continue to struggle with or overlook this fine distinction. Against such readings, I organize my paper into three sections that speak directly to these concerns. In §1, against the concern that Hegel’s view of the “actual world” justifies suffering, it is shown that his philosophy does not endorse the merely extant world, which is a whole world apart from the actual world. In §2, I articulate the premises of Hegel’s Doppelsatz to argue that the famous slogan is not, as some commentators take it, an endorsement of “things as they are.” And in §3, I expose a category error that mistakes an epistemological claim made by Hegel about contingency as a metaphysical assertion in support of evil. Ultimately, I argue that Hegel views evil as neither actual nor necessary nor justified.

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José Luis Fernández
Fairfield University


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