Last Thursday the following message appeared in Facebook:


Image may contain: dog

One of my in-laws’ dogs passed away unexpectedly but peacefully this morning. Jonesy was such a sweet dog. I will miss his adorable face and his gentle hugs. My heartfelt condolences to his loving family: Robert A. Hunter, Leonora Hunter, Robert Hunter, and Shekinah Clare Hunter.
Andy Frederick [the husband of my older daughter, Allison]


Jonesy was one of two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels who became part of our family ten years ago. Shortly after Allison’s Papillon, Chuckles, died, a good friend of ours, Clar Goulding, told us that his daughter, Krista, was going to be moving and wanted to find a good home for her two four-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Jonesy and Mickey. Krista let us take Jonesy and Mickey on a short trip to see what we thought of each other and, when the trip went well, let us have them. We designated Mickey for Robert and Jonesy for Shekinah and they became a much-loved part of our family.

Andy observed that Jonesy had passed away “unexpectedly but peacefully.” He was lying on the living room floor near where Leonora and I were playing a game of computer Scrabble when we noticed that he was unusually still and, on checking, found that he was dead. Leonora phoned Shekinah in St. John’s, where she was attending college and working, and Shekinah decided to come home on Saturday, a day earlier than she’d planned to come for a short visit, so that we could bury him then. We buried him in our back yard near where Chuckles (and my Lhasa Apso, Choco, who’d died a few years before Chuckles) was buried.

We all miss Jonesy, but one of us especially misses him–Mickey. Krista had originally gotten only one of Jonesy and Mickey, but the one that she got missed his brother so much that she went back and got the other. Thus Jonesy and Mickey were together for fourteen years and naturally Mickey now misses Jonesy. However earlier this year I gave Leonora a late Christmas gift, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, Lexie. Lexie came from the same kennel as Jonesy and Mickey, Jeansa Kennels in Freshwater, but was ruby instead of black and tan, female instead of male, and still only a puppy. Very quickly Jonesy and Mickey took to her and she to them. Thus, although Mickey still misses Jonesy, his life continues to be full.

Andy used the words “sweet,” “adorable,” and “gentle” about Jonesy. Also true of him is what is said about Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in this quote from the Wikipedia article on them, “The breed is highly affectionate, playful, extremely patient and eager to please.” Thus the breed is justifiably popular. However despite their popularity, I’d never heard of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels until meeting Jonesy and Mickey. If you’re in a similar position, you can learn something about them in the Wikipedia article,

Thanks, Andy, for your condolences to us on the passing of Jonesy. And thanks again, Krista, for the gift of Jonesy and Mickey.


4. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

“Happiness is the theme of the first book of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The fact that happiness is a subject of universal interest confirms Aristotle’s most fundamental insight about it: all men want to be happy, and everything else they want they seek as means of becoming happy. Among the things that men call good and strive for, happiness stands out as the one good which, if fully possessed, would leave a man satisfied and at rest. No one would call himself completely happy if anything essential to his well-being remained beyond his grasp. Happiness must, therefore, be the sum of all good things.”  (“Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics” in Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, volume 1 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959, page 37)

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who was born in the small colonial town of Stagirus on the Aegean Sea near the Macedonian border in 384 B.C.; attended Plato’s Academy in Athens in 367-347; helped set up and taught in an academy in the newly-built town of Assus on the Asian side of the Aegean Sea in 347-44; moved to Mytilene, capital of the nearby island of Lesbos, where he studied natural history in 344-342; tutored Alexander (the Great) and studied/taught in Macedonia in 342-336; established and taught in a school in Athens called the Lycaeum in 336-23; and died in Chalcis (his mother’s hometown) in 322. Great Books of the Western World devotes two volumes to his writings, most of which represent lectures that he delivered at the Lycaeum.

Adler and Wolff devote the fourth reading in A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education to Book I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. They compare it and the first two books of Plato’s The Republic, discuss what is the greatest good to Aristotle, and pose four questions on the reading. Here I’ll summarize the first two sections of their presentation and comment on two of the questions which they ask.

Nicomachean Ethics and Plato’s The Republic

“It will be instructive to compare the first book of the Nicomachean Ethics with the first two books of Plato’s Republic. Both are works dealing with morals or ethics; both contain the author’s best thought on these matters; and in both cases we read the introductory section.

“In spite of these similarities, there are obvious and sharp differences between these two works. The first to come to mind, perhaps, is the difference in style. Whereas Plato’s writing is always in the form of a dialogue, Aristotle’s never is. Consequently, it usually is a little harder to discern what is Plato’s thought is on a given subject than Aristotle’s. Plato never speaks to us in his own right but through the mouth of Socrates; and he usually chooses to have Socrates not as expounding a view, but as questioning others and extracting their point of view. In Aristotle’s works, on the other hand, whatever their difficulty may be in other respects, it is never unclear that it is Aristotle who is talking and presenting his views.

(Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 39)

Adler and Wolff go on to consider four other differences between Nicomachean Ethics and The Republic:

1. Plato uses the “What is justice?” as his beginning, but Aristotle uses “What is happiness?” Adler and Wolff suggest that the author’s beginning indicates what moral problem he considers most important.

2. Plato uses a political matter, the organization of the state, to explain a moral matter, but Aristotle proceeds from ethics to politics.

3. Because of its dialogue form Plato’s treatment of ethics is not systematic or complete, but Aristotle tries to treat it in a systematic and complete fashion. However, as Adler and Wolff observe, Plato’s omissions are only apparent, his treating the omitted topics in other dialogues

.4. Its division into books and chapters assures that Nichomachean Ethics has a clearer structure than The Republic with its dialogue form.

The Greatest Good

Adler and Wolff begin their discussion of the greatest good by quoting the openings of Chapters 1 and 2 of the reading:

“Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good.” “If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for it own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good.” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, in volume 9 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 339).

But what is this chief or greatest good? Adler and Wolff answer this question by quoting the opening of Chapter 4 of the reading:

“Let us resume our inquiry and state, in view of the fact that all knowledge and every pursuit aims at some good … what is the highest of all goods achievable by action. Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness.” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, page 340)

But what is happiness? After quoting and commenting on three more passages from the reading, Adler and Wolff conclude:

“For Aristotle, therefore, the happy man leads a good life, he is not a man who has a good time. Having a good time, though often desirable and not necessarily bad, is a passing thing. It is a feeling of pleasure, and like all feelings or emotions it lacks just that quality of stability and sufficiency that marks happiness. “Happiness, in other words, is a moral quality for Aristotle, involving all virtues and all of a lifetime. Just because it is such a complete and completely satisfying thing, it is also hard to achieve; only the virtuous man can hope to achieve it.” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 44)

Questions on the Reading

What is the role of external goods in happiness?

Adler and Wolff answer:

“Aristotle’s happiness is not an ascetic one. \he does not maintain that a destitute and sick man can be as happy as one who is materially and physically well off. This is especially interesting if we remember that happiness is an activity of the soul involving reason. It is sometimes supposed that thinking and being a philosopher are ‘other-worldly’ occupations and that a person following them will reject all worldly goods. But this is clearly not Aristotle’s view. Evidently, the happy man must have his share of each of the various kinds of goods.” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 45)

Why does happiness involve “a complete life”?

After demonstrating that according to his definition of it happiness involves complete virtue and a complete life, Aristotle asks:

“Must no one at all, then, be called happy while he lives; must we … see the end? Even if we are to lay down this doctrine, is it also the case that a man is happy when he is dead? Or is not this quite absurd, especially for us who say that happiness is an activity?” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, page 345)

My response as an evangelical Christian is that although his or her life may include happiness and unhappiness, the Christian can always experience joy through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and moreover will have a full and joyous life after death.

3. Sophocles’s Oedipus the King and Antigone

“… The deepest trait of our earthly existence may be that the element of tragedy enters into the lives of us all, even the happiest of mortals.

“These two tragedies of Sophocles help us to understand this. Though one is the story of a king and the other the story of a princess, what befalls them could befall any of us. Oedipus and Antigone are each confronted with a choice between alternatives, neither of which can possibly turn out well. Yet they must choose. There is no escaping that. Nor, having chosen, can they escape the consequences of their choice.

“… This is the tragic element which, once we see it writ large in the tragedies of Oedipus and Antigone, we can detect in out own lives and in the lives of those around us.”

Thus Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff introduce their guide to Sophocles’s Oedipus the King and Antigone in the opening volume, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, of Encyclopedia Britannica’s ten-volume The Great Idea Program. They go on to give a biographical note on Sophocles, consider Oedipus the King as a play, quote from what Aristotle says about tragedy, consider Antigone as a tragedy, and discuss several (nine!) questions about the two plays and tragedy in general.

Here I’ll just give a biographical note on Sophocles, identify the choices that Oedipus and Antigone had to make and provide links to the text of the two plays on the Internet so that you can find out how they chose and what happened as a result, and give one of the quotations that Adler and Wolff make from Aristotle and one the questions they pose on tragedy.

The Life of Sophocles

Sophocles was born about 496 B.C. and died in 406 B.C. Thus his life coincided with the rise and fall of Athens, his being born a few years before the victory over the Persians at Marathon (490) and dying just before the end of the disastrous Peloponnesian War with Sparta (404). When only fifteen or sixteen he was chosen to lead the Boys’ Chorus in celebrating the decisive Greek sea victory over the Persians at Salamis. In 442 he served as one of the treasurers responsible for collecting tribute money from the subject states of the Athenian Empire. In 440 he was elected one of ten generals, and he served with Pericles (the greatest leader of the time) in an expedition to bring a wavering ally back into line. He went on embassies, and in 413 (when 83) was one of the ten commissioners chosen to manage the affairs of the city after a terrible defeat in Sicily.

The Sophoclean tragedies are the most decisive facts in Sophocles’s life. He spent his last 65 years writing plays to be performed at the Great Dionysia festivals held annually in Athens. As early as 468, when he was only 28, he defeated the great Aeschylus in the festival playwriting competition. In all he wrote 123 dramas for the festival, competing 32 times (usually each competitor presented four plays at a festival) and winning at least 18 times. Only seven of his plays survive.

Sophocles’s epitaph honours his learning and wisdom and calls him “the favourite of the Graces and the Muses.”

Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King opens with a conversation between Oedipus, king of Thebes, and the priest of Zeus about the suffering which Thebes is experiencing. While they are talking, Creon (the brother of Oedipus’s wife, Iocasta) arrives bringing an answer from Phoebus (Apollo, the Greek god of the sun) to Oedipus’s inquiry about what he can do to deliver Thebes. Here is what Creon tells Oedipus:

“Phoebus our lord bids us plainly to drive out a defiling thing, which (he saith) hath been harboured in this land, and not to harbour it, so that it cannot be healed.… “By banishing a man, or by bloodshed in quittance of bloodshed, since it is that blood which brings the tempest on our city.… “Laius, king, was lord of our land before thou wast pilot of this State.… “He was slain; and the god now bids us plainly to wreak vengeance on his murderers‒whoever they be.” (Sophocles, Oedipus the King, in volume 5 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 100)

Oedipus tells Creon and the priest that he would seek vengeance for the land and the god. He sends a messenger to bring the seer Teiresias to use seer-lore to discover who the slayers of Laius were. Reluctantly Teiresias tells him:

“I say that thou are the slayer of the man whose slayer thou seeks. “[Moreover] I say that thou hast been living in unguessed shame with thy nearest kin, and seest not to what woe thou hast come.” (Sophocles, Oedipus the King, page 102)

Oedipus rejects Teiresias’s claim. However on investigation he discovers not only that he was one of the men who killed Laius, not knowing who he was, but also that Laius and his wife (Iocasta, now Oedipus’s wife) were Oedipus’s real parents. Oedipus’s being married to his mother is what Teiresias was referring to when he told Oedipus, “Thou has been living in unguessed shame with thy nearest kin.”

To find out how this could have happened and what Oedipus did on realizing it, read the play at


Antigone opens with a conversation between the two daughters of Oedipus, Antigone and Ismene, about Creon’s having provided one of their brothers, Eteocles, with a proper burial but decreed that the other brother, Polyneices, should not be buried. Antigone tells Ismene that she plans to bury Polyneices.

After Antigone and Ismene exit, the chorus of Theban elders and Creon, dressed as a king, enter. From their speeches we learn that Eteocles and Polyneices had killed each other in battle and Creon had become the new ruler. Also Creon explains his edict regarding them

: “Eteoles, who has fallen fighting for our city, in all renown of arms, shall be entombed, and crowned with every rite that follows the noblest dead to their rest. But for his brother, Ployneices‒who came back from exile, and sought to consume utterly with fire the city of his fathers’ gods‒sought to taste of kindred blood, and to lead the remnant into slavery; touching this man, it hath been proclaimed to our people that none shall grace him with sepulchre or lament, but leave him unburied, a corpse for birds and dogs to eat, a ghastly sight of shame.” (Sophocles, Antigone, page 132)

Guards catch Antigone covering Polyneices with dust and bring her to Creon. She admits to him that she had done it despite knowing of the edict, defending herself thus:

“It was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the Justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven.… Die I must‒I knew that well (how should I not?‒even without thy edicts.… So for me to meet this doom is trifling grief; but if I had suffered my mother’s son to lie in death an unburied corpse, that would have grieved me; for this, I am not grieved.” (Sophocles, Antigone, page 135)

Creon affirms that Antigone will die for what she has done and, suspecting that Ismene had shared in plotting the burial, has her brought to him. Although Ismene had actually tried to dissuade Antigone from burying Polyneices, she tells Creon that she had done the deed and would share the punishment. Creon orders that Antigone and Ismene be confined while they await their being put to death.

Conversations follow between Creon and his son (Haemon), Antigone, and Teiresias (the blind prophet). Haemon, to whom Ismene is betrothed, tells Creon that the people of the city sympathize with Antigone and asks him to spare her (and Ismene); Creon refuses, and Haemon departs after telling Creon that he’ll never see Haemon again. Creon confirms to Antigone that she is going to be confined in a rocky vault until she dies. Teiresias tells Creon that the gods are displeased with his not allowing the corpse of Polyneices to be buried and that as a result a child of his will shortly become a corpse.

To find out what Creon does in response to Teiresias’s message and what else happens, read the play at


Adler and Wolff observe that Aristotle in On Poetics draws on Oedipus the King more than on any other play to illustrate his points. They quote this passage:

“We assume that, for the finest form of Tragedy, the Plot must be not simple but complex; and further, that it must imitate actions arousing fear and pity.… It follows, therefore, that there are three forms of Plot to be avoided. (1) A good man must not be seen passing from happiness to misery, or (2) a bad man from misery to happiness.… Nor, on the other hand, should (3) an extremely bad man be seen falling from happiness into misery, [Adler and Wolff also quote Aristotle’s explanation of how none of the three inspires pity or fear.] There remains, then, the intermediate kind of personage, a man not preeminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is brought upon him not by vice and depravity but by some error of judgement, of the number of those in the enjoyment of great reputation and prosperity; e.g., Oedipus … and the men of note of similar families.” (Aristotle, On Poetics, in volume 9 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 687)

Considering that according to Aristotle tragedy should arouse pity and fear in the spectators, Adler and Wolff ask why we enjoy seeing tragedies performed They answer:

“The answer must involve some considerations of the kinds of pleasure. It is clear, for instance, that enjoyment of comedy and enjoyment of tragedy are of different kinds. Perhaps it would not be wrong to say that the enjoyment of tragedy is more intellectual than other pleasures. It is certainly not a simple pleasure like a feeling of bodily well-being.” (Adler and Wolff, An Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 34)

How would you answer the question?

1. Socrates in Plato’s Apology and Crito

“Plato’s report of the trial of Socrates and of his last days in prison vividly dramatizes for us one of the moving moments in the history of the human race. The charges brought against Socrates by the Athenians of his day typify the accusations which, in other countries and at other times, have been leveled against men who have been single-minded in their adherence to ideals that have set them apart from the society in which they lived.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, volume 1, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica: 1959, page 1)

Plato was a Greek philosopher who composed a number of dialogues in which an earlier philosopher, Socrates, discusses philosophical topics with various people. In this post I’ll consider two of those dialogues, the Apology on the trial of Socrates and the Crito on his last days in prison. In previous posts I’ve considered the first five of the ten books in Plato’s The Republic, in which he through Socrates discusses justice and the state..

I’ll base my consideration of the Apology and the Crito on Adler and Wolff’s study of them in The Great Ideas Program, the opening of which I quoted above. Their study is divided into three sections: the first on the relationship between Plato and Socrates and the background to Socrates’ trial and execution, the second on the picture that Socrates gives of himself in his defence, and the third on six specific questions about the Apology and the Crito. However I’ll substitute a sketch of the life of Socrates for their first section and include only the first four of the six questions they asked in their third section.

The Life of Socrates

Socrates was born about 470 B.C., the son of Sophroniscus, possibly a worker in stone, and Phaenarete, a midwife. His family couldn’t have been very poor because they were able to provide him with enough financial resources to serve as a fully-armed hoplite in the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. However his later absorption in philosophy and his mission (see the next paragraph) made him neglect his private affairs and fall to a level of relative poverty. He probably loved philosophy more than his family, Xanthippe (whom he apparently married late in life) and their three sons.

The following description of Socrates’ mission is taken from The Columbia Encyclopedia (sixth edition, Columbia University Press, 2000):

“Socrates became convinced that his calling was to search for wisdom about right conduct by which he might guide the intellectual and moral improvement of the Athenians. Neglecting his own affairs, he spent his time discussing virtue, justice, and piety wherever his fellow citizens congregated.… In his self-appointed task as gadfly to the Athenians, Socrates made many enemies.” (page 2645)

In 399 Socrates was brought `to trial for neglecting the gods whom the city worshipped and for corrupting the young. He treated the charge with contempt and was convicted. The prosecutors asked for a penalty of death, and Socrates suggested a small fine. His claim to be a public benefactor incensed the court, and death was voted for by an increased majority. Because no execution could take place in the absence of the sacred ship sent yearly to Delos, Socrates was in prison for a month, receiving his friends daily, An escape was planned by those friends, but Socrates refused to take advantage of their kind offer on the grounds that such a course would be contrary to his principles.

Socrates’ Picture of Himself

Observing that “hardly anyone can read the account [of the trial] without feeling that a grave injustice was done,” Adler and Wolff suggest that “we may do well to examine how we ourselves would react to Socrates … if he were brought to trail in our time.” (The quotations are from Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, pages 4-5.)

Both in his defence and, after his being condemned, his response to the requirement that he suggest a penalty for himself, Socrates was uncompromising, asserting that he would never change but would continue his offensive ways.

“Men of Athens, I honour and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet and saying to him after my manner: You, my friend,‒a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens,‒are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honour and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?”

“If I tell you that to do as you say [go into exile and hold my tongue] would be a disobedience to the God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me. Yet I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard to persuade you.” (Plato, Apology, in volume 7 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, pages 206 and 210 respectively)

Adler and Wolff comment:

“We may imagine, without considering the rightness of the doctrines involved, the effect such intransigence would have on a court or investigating committee in a ‘cold war’ situation where a Communist in a Capitalist country not only refused to recant but announced his determination to continue his ‘subversive’ activities; or, of course, the effect of such a position taken by a Capitalist in a Communist country.” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 5)

Questions about the Apology and the Crito

Should an unjust law be obeyed?

Adler and Wolff explain that by an “unjust law” they mean a law that commands some unjust action or prohibits some just action. A contemporary example would be a Christian minister’s being required to marry individuals of the same biological sex. Adler and Wolff ask:

“What is a conscientious citizen to do about laws he really believes to be unjust? Should he disobey them? Or are there reasons for obeying even an unjust law?” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 7)

What can be done when a law is unjustly applied?

Sometimes a just and good law is unjustly applied. Adler and Wolff cite the example of the Dreyfus case in France in which Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason and condemned to life imprisonment (eventually he was exonerated, Adler and Wolff ask:

“How, first of all, can [a citizen] be certain that a law has been justly applied? … When someone has been duly tried and been found guilty by a jury, we assume that justice has been done. But juries and judges are men and men are fallible.” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 7)

“There is a second problem. Suppose that there is … no doubt that the wrong man has been accused, what are we to do? Does the duty of the citizen demand obedience or disobedience?” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 8)

What are a citizen’s duties and responsibilities when a law is unjustly made?

A law may be just in content but imposed as a decree instead of by due legislative process. What should a citizen do?

Was Socrates justified in disobeying an explicit command, because it was unjust?

In the Apology, Socrates disobeyed a command:

“When the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent for me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to put him to death. This was a specimen of the sort of commands which they were always giving with the view of implicating as many as possible in their crimes; and then I showed, not in word only but in deed, that … I cared not a straw for death, and that my great and only care was lest I should do an unrighteous or unholy thing. For the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing wrong; and when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For which I might have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards come to an end.” (Socrates speaking in Plato, Apology, page 207)

Yet in the Crito, he refused to disobey the laws when Crito offered to help him escape from prison (and death). Adler and Wolff ask:

“Can we reconcile [Socrates’] support of the law in the Crito with his asserted intention, in the Apology, to obey God rather than his judges?” (Adler and Wolff, A General Introduction to the Great Books and to a Liberal Education, page 8)

20. Faith Today’s “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”

Shortly after I began my series of articles on classic writings on the development of political theory and government, an article appeared in the March / April, 2017, issue of Faith Today, a publication of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which I thought would make a profitable conclusion to the series. I asked for and received permission to report on it.

The article is called “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?” and was written by Patricia Paddey, a Faith Today senior writer. It consists of interviews with four theologians ‒ Ephraim Radner, John Stackhouse, Stephen Studebaker, and Miroslav Volf. Here is how Patricia Paddey concludes her introduction to the article:

“So how do we co-operate to allow God to direct our political choices and activities? “One of the best resources is theology ‒ the critical study of ideas that have to do with God, and with what God has to do with the world. Faith Today senior writer Patricia Paddey spoke with four theologians and learned sound theology isn’t just important for pastors and professors. It’s important for every Christian’s every concern ‒ including political ones. Following are highlights from those conversations.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, Faith Today, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, March / April 2017, page 31)

Here I present only a small portion of those highlights. I also share from an article appearing in the same pages as “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?” ‒ David Guretzki’s “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives.” Both articles can be read at

Ephraim Radner

Ephraim Radner is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College (University of Toronto). In answer to the question “How can theology inform our political thinking and engagement?” he says that theology helps us understand what God’s purposes are for us as human beings and thus how we should think and act politically. And in answer to the question “How do we decide which goals and values should shape our political decisions?” he identifies two goals that Christians should have: to witness to God revealed in Jesus Christ in the way that we live and to aim at the integrity of the Christian church, not at the larger society. He concludes:

“To me, that is the greatest political challenge of Christians today ‒ an integrated, healthy, unified Christian Church. We don’t have that, so it’s not surprising that we have little purchase in larger society.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 32)

John Stackhouse

John Stackhouse is professor of religious studies at Crandall University. In answer to the question “In Need to Know [Oxford University Press, 2014], you write that Christians are called by out Lord to think Christianly. What does it mean to think Christianly about politics?” he says:

“To think Christianly and to act Christianly in politics is to try to do so in the company of Jesus. We should be walking with Jesus as disciples, listening to His voice, trying very hard to please Him, and to achieve His purposes in the world. It’s also to think the way Jesus has taught us to think, particularly through the Bible, as well as through the wisdom of the Church. That means to prize the Bible as God’s Word written. Then also to take full advantage of the other gifts God has given us ‒ in scholarship, experience, art, and in the traditions we have in our ethnic and family units, as well as in our particular churches ‒ and above all, the Holy Spirit.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, pages 32-33)

In answer to the question “Two people who self-identify as Christians can think Christianly and come up with very different ideas about politics. What are we to make of that?” Stackhouse says that some people are smarter than other people in different zones, politics is complicated and thus Christians wanting the same outcome may differ on how to achieve it, and what the Lord wants us to accomplish may be complex enough that no one posture or policy can accomplish it. And in answer to the question “What are some of the questions we ought to ask ourselves when considering how to cast a vote?” he suggests “What is necessary in the short term?” and “Who is likely to bring [such] a correction?”

In addition to answering the questions, Stackhouse recommends some online resources representing Christian views. Although I visited and appreciated all of them, I’m sharing here a link to only the one of them that I have in my Internet bookmarks, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada,

Steven Studebaker

Steven Studebaker is associate professor of systematic theology and historical theology at McMaster Divinity School. In answer to the question “Why should Christians explore theology for help engaging in the political realm?” he says that theology helps us understand what it means to live in relationship with God and other people. And in answer to the question “What should be the correct approach for political engagement by Christians today?” he says that they need to think more about preserving democracy than about advancing one of their moral causes and to encourage society to reflect Christian values.

Finally, in answer to the question “If you could offer one single guiding principle for Christian political action, what would it be?” he says:

“Politics is essential for the Christian life. It’s not extraneous. That doesn’t mean that we all need to become political activists and 24-hour news junkies. But we do need to be people who are concerned about homelessness, about the ability of others to thrive, about the environment, about a lot of things to make ours a better world. “We should see politics as one of the dimensions of the life for which God created us.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 34)

Miroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf is professor of systematic theology and founding director at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. In answer to the question “In A Public Faith [Baker, 2013], you observe that members of all religious groups want their convictions and practices to shape public life. Is this an appropriate desire for Christians?” he says that it’s more than appropriate, it’s our responsibility. In answer to the question “You believe that coercive faith is malfunctioning faith. How can we safeguard against coercive faith in our private and public lives?” he advises emphasizing freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and the separation of church and state. In answer to the question “What should be the boundaries for a Christian’s political activism?” he advocates an ad hoc position, being fully involved in some areas and being only partially involved in other areas.

Finally, in answer to the question “Final thought for Canadian Christians on how theology ought to inform our political engagement?” he says:

“I would say to be courageous and not think that Christ is irrelevant to politics. Expressing and giving voice to the radical character of Christ’s vision is what we are called to do. “Act in hope, and hold before others our own better selves, so that somehow we can come together to create and to enjoy a world that is called to be our home.” (Patricia Paddey, “Is Christ Relevant to Politics?”, page 34)

David Guretzki

David Guretzky was a professor and dean of the seminary at Briarcrest College and Seminary when his “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives” appeared in Faith Today. In June he became executive vice-president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The two mistakes are (1) separating reality into sacred and secular with the former under God’s authority and the latter under human authority and (2) identifying “political” with “the government.” The corrective to (1) is to recognize that God is in charge of everything although His authority is not yet fully publicly acknowledged and celebrated in the secular realm and to try to persuade others that God’s ways are best for all, not just for Christians. And the corrective to (2) is to broaden our understanding of “political” to working toward all the ways in which the glory of God can be displayed in society rather than just voting for a particular political party or candidate in an election.

Guretzki concludes his article thus:

“This means that the Church in Canada needs to better learn to do ‘life together’ … in view of the world, as followers and lovers of Jesus Christ.

“For it will not be how well we are able to convince others of biblical views … but how well we exemplify lives lived for the common good, and not just for our own sakes. ”So Jesus does not say, ‘They will know you are my disciples by how you vote,’ but ‘They will know you are disciples by how you love one another’ (John 13:35).”

(David Guretsky,  “Theology and politics: two mistakes, two correctives,” Faith Today, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, March / April 2017, pages 32-33)

15. J. S. Mill’s On Liberty

“The line between matters that are affected with the public interest and the private concerns of individual men is a difficult one to draw. What part of anyone’s life or conduct is nobody’s business, and what part is everyone’s business because it affects the lives of others and the welfare of society as a whole? There may be no satisfactory answer to this question, but some determination of what is private and what is public is necessary to determine the proper scope of government and the sphere of individual liberty. “This is the problem John Stuart Mill undertakes to solve in his essay On Liberty.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, volume 2 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959)

In introducing my last post, on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, I said that although I didn’t share the antipathy that some hold of it I was tempted not to include an article on it in this series of posts at Bob’s Corner on the writings considered in The Development of Political Theory and Government because I found it difficult to read. I have no such problem with On Liberty, finding it easy to read. Additionally, although J. S. Mill’s discussion of where to draw the line between conduct that affects others and conduct that affects the individual’s personal life was published over one and one-half centuries ago, it seems quite contemporary to me.

In their guide to On Liberty Adler and Wolff consider Mill’s view of its importance, the meaning of “liberty,” the importance of individuality, and two other questions about On Liberty. Here I’ll give  the sketch of J. S. Mill’s life that I included in my earlier post on his Representative Government and summarize and comment on what Adler and Wolff say.

The Life of Mill

John Stuart Mill was born in Pentonville, London, on May 20, 1806, the oldest son of James Mill, an outstanding philosopher, political thinker, and practical statesman. He was educated exclusively by his father, a strict disciplinarian. He began to study Greek and arithmetic at the age of three; by the time he was eight he had read the whole of the historian Herodotus, six dialogues of Plato, and considerable history; and before he was twelve had studied Euclid and algebra, the Greek and Latin poets, and some English poetry. At twelve he was introduced to logic, and his thirteenth year (the last under his father’s direct supervision) was devoted to political economy under his father, who was working on his Elements of Political Economy. He furthered his studies with his father’s friends, studying law with Austen and economics with Ricardo.

In 1826, at the age of twenty, Mill suffered what he later called “a crisis in my mental history.” He became greatly depressed, asking himself, “Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you were looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness and happiness to you?” and answering with “an irrepressible self-consciousness” with “No.” This depression lasted several months and affected him for three or four years. He finally emerged from it with a new appreciation for the value of the emotions and a realization that philosophical analysis was only part of life. (The quotations in this paragraph are from Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 181.)

From the time he was seventeen, Mill supported himself by working for the British East India Company, where his father was an official. Like his father he worked in its examiner’s office and rose (on his father’s death in 1836) to be chief examiner. He spent thirty-five years at it, retiring in 1858 when the company was dissolved and its functions were taken over by the British Government. In addition to his regular employment, he took part in many activities tending to prepare public opinion for legislative reform; for example, he wrote often for newspapers friendly to the “radical” cause. However these activities didn’t present him from pursuing his own intellectual interests, his studies resulting in the publication of System of Logic (1843) and Principles of Political Economy (1848).

Mill attributed the development and productivity of these years to his relationship with Mrs. Harriet Taylor, who was the wife of John Taylor when he met her in 1830. They were married in 1851, two years after the death of her first husband. Mill later wrote that his friendship with her “has been the honour and chief blessing of my existence, as well as the source of a great part of all that I have attempted to do, or hope to do hereafter, for human improvement.” Although in the seven years of their married life he published less than at any other period of his life (because of his increasing absorption in the work of India House), he thought out and discussed with her such important works as On Liberty and Representative Government (published in 1859 and 1861, respectively).

Mill died on May 8, 1873, in his cottage at Avignon which had been built so that he might be close to the grave of his wife, who had died there on November 3, 1858.

Mill’s View of the Importance of On Liberty

Mill thought that On Liberty would be his most lasting work and attributed its high quality to his wife’s help with it. In the Autobiography he says:

“The ‘Liberty’ was more directly and literally our joint production than anything else which bears my name,  for there was not a sentence of it that was not several times gone through by us together, turned over in many ways, and carefully weeded of many faults, either in thought or expression, that we detected in it. It is in consequence of this that, although it never underwent her final revision [because of her death], it far surpasses, as a mere specimen of composition, anything which has proceeded from me, either before or since.…

“The ‘Liberty’ is likely to survive longer than anything else than anything else that I have written… because the conjunction of her mind with mine has rendered it a kind of philosophic text-book of a single truth, which the changes progressively taking place in modern society tend to bring out into ever stronger relied: the importance, to man and society, of a large variety in types of character, and of giving full freedom to human nature to expand itself in innumerable and conflicting directions.” (New York, 1948, pages 176-77; quoted in Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 209-10)

The Meaning of “Liberty”

“Liberty consists in doing what one desires” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty in volume 43 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 313).

As indicated in the following statement, On Liberty assigns both a positive and a negative aspect to liberty:

“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our only good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 273).

Positively, liberty means that a person can think, express himself, and do as he pleases. Chapter 2, “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion,” deals with why people should be free to form and express opinions without reserve, and Chapter 3, “Of Individuality, as one of the Elements of Well-Being,” deals with why people should be free to act on one’s opinions without hindrance from others. (For more on Chapters 2 and 3, see respectively the first question in “Questions about On Liberty” and “The Importance of Individuality” below.)

Negatively, liberty has only one restriction on it‒the exercise of one’s freedom must not interfere with a similar freedom on the part of others. Chapter 4, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual,” deals with the extent to which society is justified in interfering with the individual’s freedom. (For more on Chapter 4, see the second question in “Questions about On Liberty” below.)

(Chapters 2-4 constitute the main body of On Liberty, with Chapters 1, “Introductory,” and 5, “Applications,” introducing and concluding it.)

The Importance of Individuality

Throughout Chapter 3 Mill tells us that most people don’t appreciate the value of individuality. For example, near the beginning of the chapter, he says:

“Individual spontaneity is hardly recognized by the common modes of thinking as having any intrinsic worth, or deserving any regard on its own account. The majority, being satisfied with the ways of mankind as they now are…cannot comprehend why those ways should not be good enough for everyone.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 294)

In the chapter Mill gives an assortment of reasons why individuality should be highly regarded. Adler and Wolff identify three:

(1) Although a person should learn from the experiences of others, their experience might be suitable for their circumstances but not suitable for him. Nor can he rely on customs.

“Customs are made for customary circumstances and customary characters; and his circumstances or his character may be uncustomary” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 294).

(2) Only by choosing and acting for oneself can a person develop fully as a human being.

“A person whose desires and impulses are his own‒are the expression of his own nature, as it has been developed and modified by his own culture‒is said to have a character. One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam-engine has a character.” (J. Mill, On Liberty, page 295)

(3) People’s preference for the uniformity and customariness of routine lives leads to a depressing sameness in tastes, desires, and actions.

“Comparatively speaking, [all people] now read the same things, listen to the same things, go to the same places, have their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have the same rights and liberties, and the same means of asserting them. Great as are the differences of position which remain, they are nothing to those which have  ceased. And the assimilation is still proceeding.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 302)

In light of the many things in society endangering individuality, Mill encourages unusual thought and behaviour.

“Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 299)

Questions about On Liberty

What are Mill’s arguments in favor of liberty of thought and discussion?

In Chapter 2 Mill says that everyone’s opinions, whether right or wrong, ought to be allowed to be expressed, discussed, and disseminated.

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, [men] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 275)

Adler and Wolff’s consideration of the question consists mainly of the posing of several follow-up questions. Although I’ll give only a few of them here, I’ll add my answers to them. I invite you to also share your answers to them, in the Bob’s Corner and/or Facebook discussions of this article. (The questions quoted below are from Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 215-16.)

“In this view [the view expressed in the quotation above], should free discussion of any opinion put forth (in public discussion, in the newspapers, etc.) be permitted? Or are there any opinions the suppression of which Mill would think justified?” Yes to both questions. An example of the latter is:

“An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but they may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 293)

“Does the freedom of opinion which Mill advocates extend to all subjects? Or are any excepted? For instance, are theological matters to be excepted in a country‒like England‒where there is an established church?” Yes, no, and no, respectively. Mill even argues that doctrines being challenged gives life to them. For example, he says:

“There are many reasons, doubtless, why doctrines which are the badge of a sect retain more of their vitality than those common to all recognized sects, and why more pains are taken by teachers to keep their meaning alive; but one reason certainly is, that the peculiar doctrines are more questioned, and have to be oftener defended against open gainsayers. Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 287)

“It is sometimes said that ‘the public business must be public,’ that is, that there must be no closed sessions of legislatures, city councils, etc. Would these bodies sometimes not function more efficiently and more courageously if their deliberations were not subject to public scrutiny? Is the loss in efficiency made up for by a gain in liberty?” Yes to both questions.
As I read Chapter 2, I wondered what Mill would say about the current attempts in my country, Canada, of the BGLT community to censor public objections to homosexualism on the grounds that the objections display intolerance. What do you think?

Are there any restrictions on freedom of action?

Actions should not be allowed which harm or threaten to harm other people.

“Acts, of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the most important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 293).

In Chapter 4 Mill sums up his view of the relation of society and the individual thus:

“As soon as any part of a person’s conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person’s conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like.” (J. S. Mill, On Liberty, page 303)

14. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

“Of all the contributions to political theory which are included in this Reading Plan, that of Hegel is least likely to elicit a sympathetic response in a democratic audience. On the contrary, its main tenets are such as to produce an emotional antipathy verging even on an unwillingness to give his views a fair hearing. Yet they deserve our closest attention in spite of the distaste they may arouse in us, precisely because they represent so clearly and powerfully the antithesis of our most fundamental convictions.” (Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, volume 2 in The Great Ideas Program, page 195)

Thus Adler and Wolff introduce their consideration of the Introduction and Subsection III (The State) of the Third Part of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. The antipathy that they refer to results from Hegel’s being viewed as promoting totalitarianism when he affirms that man is made for the state, rather than that the state is made for man as believers in democracy hold. However, in view of his also emphasizing the principles of right and justice, respecting law as the voice of reason, and insisting on constitutional government, I didn’t share the antipathy that some hold of Philosophy of Right when I read the selections from it.

However for a different reason I was tempted not to include an article on Philosophy of Right in this series of posts at Bob’s Corner on the writings considered in The Development of Political Theory and Government. The reason is:

“Hegel constructed a philosophic system. He does not treat the various fields as independent realities, but binds everything together with a few central ideas. It is difficult to understand any part of Hegel’s system without understanding the whole.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 197) 

Although Adler and Wolff go on to say that Philosophy of Right can be more easily read separately than some of Hegel’s other works, I still found it difficult. (I was also turned off by Hegel’s dogmatic presentation of his views and cavalier dismissal of other views.)

Yet because of Hegel’s importance in the history of political theory, I didn’t want to omit him in the series of posts. I discussed my problem with my daughter Allison (see Allison’s Book Bag). She suggested that I base my article on what Adler and Wolff say about the selection rather than on the selection itself. I liked her suggestion and decided to follow it except for including also a sketch of Hegel’s life. Thus this post contains a sketch of Hegel’s life and a summary of Adler and Wolff’s discussion of the Introduction and Subsection III (The State) of the Third Part of Philosophy of Right. The latter considers the content and method of Hegel\s philosophy, his conception of the state and freedom, and three questions about the reading.

The Life of Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born at Stuttgart, Germany, August 27, 1770, the oldest child of a revenue officer. His achievement at the local grammar school and gymnasium was unremarkable. In 1788 he entered the University of Tűbingen as a student of theology. He showed little aptitude for theology, his sermons being a failure and his finding more congenial reading in the classics. After leaving the university in 1793, he earned his livelihood as a family tutor, first at Berne (1793-96) and then at Frankfurt (1797-1800). From his years as a tutor came numerous manuscripts, in various stages of completion and of varying importance but all indicative of a great deal of study.

In 1799 Hegel’s father died and a small inheritance offered him a brief period of independence. He wrote to a friend, Schelling, asking him to suggest a suitable town for a brief period of studious withdrawal. Schelling’s answer must have been enthusiastic because Hegel joined him at Jena almost immediately. Here he became a Privadocent at the university. In the winter of 1801-02 his lectures on logic and metaphysics were attended by eleven students. Succeeding series in later years were attended by about thirty students and were devoted to a “system of speculative philosophy,” the history of philosophy, pure mathematics, and other topics. His academic career was brought abruptly to a close by the Napoleonic campaign culminating in the battle of Jena in late 1806. However despite the war his first great work, The Phenomenology of Spirit, appeared in 1807.

At loose ends Hegel edited a newspaper at Bamberg for a time (1807-08) but, finding journalism distasteful, he accepted a position a position as headmaster of the Gymnasium at Nuremberg, where he remained until 1816. In 1811 he married; the marriage was entirely happy and his wife bore him two sons. Two volumes of his Science of Logic were published in 1812 and a third in 1816. Offered professorships at Erlangen, Heidelberg, and Berlin, he accepted the invitation to Heidelberg. However after the publication of his Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in 1817, the offer of Berlin was renewed and he accepted it.

The thirteen years of Hegel’s professorship at the University of Berlin (1818-31) brought him to the summit of his career and made him the recognized leader of philosophic thought in Germany. Philosophy of Right, the last of the large works published in his lifetime, appeared in 1821. His lectures on aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of history, and the history of philosophy were constantly revised and improved and finally published after his death. In 1830 he became rector of the university and was decorated by Frederick William III of Prussia. He died of cholera on the 14th of November, 1831.

Content and Method of Hegel’s Philosophy

To make the reading of the Introduction and Subsection III (The State) of the Third Part of Philosophy of Right easier, Adler and Wolff consider two things that are central to Hegel’s philosophy, the first having to do with its content and the second with its method.

(1) Hegel is often called an “idealist” in philosophy because what for him is most real are ideas or concepts or thoughts. The most important aspect of the world is its ideal or rational character. The sensible or phenomenal aspect of the world (what we see, hear, feel, etc.) is intelligible only insofar as we recognize it as partaking of rationality. The state and its institutions, which we read about in Philosophy of Right, are of interest to Hegel only insofar as they reflect the rational spirit which is reality. For Hegel, the real is the ideal.

(2) Hegel calls his method “dialectical.” The dialectical approach, in Hegel’s sense, involves viewing everything, including ideas, as developing and changing. Most important is the development that occurs when an idea and its opposite clash. Out of such a meeting of a “thesis” and its “antithesis” there emerges a “synthesis,” a stage of development in which the earlier opposites are both contained but in such a way that they are reconciled. In Philosophy of Right the state is a synthesis of two opposite poles, subjective and objective freedom; for the distinction between them, see the next section.

Hegel’s Conception of the State and Freedom

The main political question in ancient and medieval political writings was “To what end should the power of the state be used?” Since the seventeenth century that question has been replaced by Rousseau’s “Man is born free; yet everywhere he is in chains. What is the reason for this and what makes it legitimate?” Hegel presents a mixture of these traditions, being much concerned about the problem of freedom (like his contemporaries and immediate predecessors) and yet viewing nothing as right which doesn’t serve the state (like the ancients). Because he doesn’t conceive of the state and freedom the same as most other political writers do, Adler and Wolff next consider somewhat closely his use of those key terms.

Observing that Hegel identifies the state with both freedom, “The state is the actuality of concrete freedom” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right in volume 46 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, page 82), and rationality, “the state is absolutely rational” (op. cit., page 80), Adler and Wolff suggest that for him freedom and rationality are closely related and perhaps even identical. They confirm this with the following quotation from Philosophy of Right:

“Rationality, taken generally and in the abstract, consists in the throughgoing unity of the universal and the single. Rationality, concrete in the state, consists (a) so far as its content is concerned, in the unity of objective freedom (i.e. freedom of the universal or substantial will) and subjective freedom (i.e. freedom of everyone in his knowing and in his volition of particular ends); and consequently, (b) so far as its form is concerned, in self-determining action on laws and principles which are principles and universal.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 80)

Subjective freedom is the freedom of the individual person to be himself, to act and do as he and he alone pleases. Objective freedom is the freedom which the will achieves when it wills not what it pleases but what is right for it. The object of the will when it wills thus wills rightly is necessarily universal. A man so determined in his choices and actions will not be free in the sense of subjective freedom: he will no longer be able to arbitrarily choose this way ot that way. But he will be free in the objective sense: he will be free from all those attractions that the will ought not to follow because they are not truly good for man. Hegel asserts:

“The idea which people most commonly have of freedom is that it is arbitrariness‒the mean, chosen by abstract reflection, between the will wholly determined by natural impulses, and the will free absolutely. If we hear it said that the definition of freedom is ability to do what we please, such an idea can be taken to reveal an utter immaturity of thought, for it contains not even an inkling of the absolutely free will, of right, ethical life, and so forth,” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 16; the quotation is an example of what I was referring to when I said above in introducing this article, “I was also turned off by Hegel’s dogmatic presentation of his views and cavalier dismissal of other views.”)

Returning to a statement which they had quoted earlier, “the state is the actuality of concrete freedom,” Adler and Wolff now consider how the state can be an embodiment of freedom. The freedom that Hegel has in mind is the true or objective freedom, his continuing thus after the statement just quoted:

“But concrete freedom consists in this, that personal individuality and its particular interests not only achieve their complete development…but, for one thing, they also pass over of their own accord into the interest of the universal, and, for another thing, they know and will the universal; they even recognize it as their own substantive mind; they take it as their end and aim and are active in its pursuit. The result is that the universal does not prevail or achieve completion except along with particular interests and through the co-operation of particular knowing and willing; and individuals likewise do not live as private persons for their own ends alone, but in the very act of willing these they will the universal in the light of the universal, and their activity is consciously aimed at none but the universal end.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, pages 82-83)

Adler and Wolff conclude their consideration of Hegel’s conception of the state and freedom thus:

“In Hegel’s view of the state, then, there is no opposition between the individual’s rights and freedoms on the one side, and the state’s rights and demands on the other. There is no need, therefore, for any provisions to safeguard the individual against the encroachments of the state. Such things as Bills of Right are absurd. The state, not the individual, is supreme. Hegel expresses his idea of the state’s grandeur very plainly: ‘The march of God on earth, that is what the state is’ (p. 141),”  (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 202)

Three Questions about Philosophy of Right

What is the relation of religion to the state?

In modern times the separation of church and state is a cardinal principle of life in Western countries. This is based on the view that state and religion are concerned with two different spheres of the individual’s life, the former with such things as individuals’ relations to one another, their property, and their security and the latter with matters that concern an individual’s relation with God.

However for Hegel the individual can have no rights apart from what the state gives him. Religion is an expression of a person’s individuality and belongs to his subjectivity. Subjectivity has its place in the state, but its ultimate destiny is always to be transformed and raised up into objectivity. Hegel describes the relation of religion and the state thus:

“If religion be religion of a genuine kind, it does not run counter to the state in a negative or polemical way…It rather recognizes the state and upholds it…The state discharges a duty by affording every protection to the church by affording every assistance and protection to the church in the furtherance of its religious ends.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 86)

What are the three powers of the state?

The usual numeration of the three powers of the state are the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Hegel gives them as the executive, the legislature, and the crown. Here is how he defines them:

“(a) the power to determine and establish the universal‒the Legislature; “(b) the power to subsume single cases and the spheres of particularity under the universal‒the Executive; “(c) the power of subjectivity, as the will with the power of ultimate decision‒the Crown. In the crown, the different powers are bound into an individual unity which is thus at once the apex and  basis of the whole, i.e. of constitutional monarchy.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 90)

Further on he notes that executive power also includes the judiciary.

What are the divisions of the Philosophy of Right?

The divisions of Philosophy of Right arise from the dialectical method by which the subject of right is treated. The dialectical method take an idea and considers it in its development. Thus Hegel writes:

“In correspondence with the stages in the development of the Idea of the absolutely free will, the will is A. Immediate…‒the sphere of Abstract or Formal Right; B. Reflected from its external embodiment into itself‒it is then characterized as subjective individuality in opposition to the universal…‒the sphere of Morality; C. The unity and truth of both of these abstract moments…‒Ethical Life.” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 20)

On the same principle Ethical Life is divided into three parts: the family, civil society, and the state. And the section of the book dealing with the state is divided into three parts: the state in itself, the state in relation to other states, and the state as it is a phase of world history. On the latter Hegel says:

“The State [is] freedom, freedom universal and objective even in the free self-subsistence of the particular will. This actual and organic mind (α) of a single nation (β) reveals and actualizes itself through the interrelation of the particular national minds until (γ) in the process of world-history it reveals and actualizes itself as the universal world-mind whose right is supreme.” ((Hegel, Philosophy of Right, page 20)