Brief Notes on Meliorism and Hegelian Thought in an Oxford Module Dr Jonathan Kenigson, FRSA
The University of Oxford 10.0 CATS module entitled “Hegel’s Political Philosophy” is an examination of Hegelian notions of Family, State, and the ethical obligations of citizens. The module is structured quite abstractly, with a marked emphasis upon moral philosophy as opposed to political theory. Students interested in pursuing the module who also desire a more comprehensive setting for understanding Hegel’s work might be encouraged to review some additional resources arising from the classical tradition in which Hegel is immersed. In the first instance, one is encouraged to study the roots of Meliorism in terms of the perfectibility of individuals and societies subject to social contracts. Rousseau’s Origins of Inequality and Book 3 of Social Contract provide excellent introductions to contractarian thinking from within a characteristically Meliorist framework. Mill’s Representative Government, Liberty, and Utilitarianism furnish concrete applications of Utilitarian thinking relevant to the Hegelian Zeitgeist. Philosophy of Right Part 3 and Introduction to the Philosophy of History furnish the clearest expositions of Hegel’s assessment of human perfectibility.
These should be read before any engagement with the Materialist tradition, lest readers conflate Hegel’s dialecticism through the lens of Capital or the Manifesto. Marx’s reading of Hegel is quite distinct from Husserl or Heidegger’s reading of the same. An explicitly economic foundation for Hegel’s dialecticism can be regarded as a reaction against the broader themes of acquisitive materialism represented in Smith’s Wealth of Nations (especially Books 1, 3, and 4). Smith should be taken as reacting in turn against Aristotle’s dialecticism represented in the Athenian Constitution and the Politics (especially Books 2 and 7). Readers interested in the intersection of British Empiricism with dialecticism and political progress should consult Section 1 of Hume’s Human Understanding, Part 2 of Hobbes’ Leviathan, and especially Chapter 13 of Locke’s Treatise on Government. The module could be read at graduate level with these resources included. Primary textual analysis of Greek and Latin manuscripts should not be necessary for this study (extremely faithful and lucid translations of the Aristotelian corpus are widely available). If one is to read any work of Marx/Engels to elucidate the Idealism present in the Hegelian corpus, they should devote themselves entirely to the study of German Ideology rather than Capital. The latter is appropriate only for broader and deeper discourse in economic theory and should be attempted alongside additional modules from the Blavatnik School.
The module description and resources can be accessed via the link below. My assessment of the module’s value to interested readers is unequivocally positive.