A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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d) Hegelian analysis of irony

The context in which the Hegelian critique unfolds is quite different: it does not take an axiological perspective, but an aesthetic one; it does not attack the subjectivism of values, but Fichtean idealism; it does not designate it as nihilism, but as a kind of "irony". Yet this apparent divergence cannot hide what brings the Hegelian analysis closer to our problem.

Hegel presents Fichtean idealism as a doctrine in which everything is considered to be a creation of the subject, as well as their value: Nothing is treated in and for itself and as valuable in itself, but only as produced by the subjectivity of the ego 1.

If it is the self that creates all things, then it can also destroy them: There [is nothing] that would not first have to be laid down by the ego, and that therefore could not equally well be destroyed by it. Consequently everything genuinely and independently real becomes only a show, not true and genuine on its own account or through itself, but a mere appearance due to the ego in whose power and caprice and at whose free disposal it remains 2.

This has two fundamental consequences.

First of all, things lose what Hegel calls their "gravity", that is to say, mere appearances, they no longer have any real weight: nothing is important anymore, nothing is serious: In that case I am not really in earnest either with this content or, generally, with its expression and actualization. For genuine earnestness enters only by means of a substantial interest, something of intrinsic worth like truth, ethical life, etc.,-by means of a content which counts as such for me as essential 3.
Even if Hegel uses different terms here ("idealism" causes things to lose their "gravity"), it seems to me that the idea behind these terms is identical to ours ("subjectivism" is a "nihilism" that causes things to lose their "value").

On the other hand, the subject, the Ego, acquires infinite power: But in that case the ego can remain lord and master of everything, and in no sphere of morals, law, things human and divine, profane and sacred, is there anything that would not first have to be laid down by the ego, and that therefore could not equally well be destroyed by it 4.

As a result, all the value (or "gravity") that the ego withdraws from the world, it confers on itself: This virtuosity of an ironical artistic life apprehends itself as a divine creative genius for which anything and everything is only an unsubstantial creature, to which the creator, knowing himself to be disengaged and free from everything, is not bound, because he is just as able to destroy it as to create it. In that case, he who has reached this standpoint of divine genius looks down from his high rank on all other men, for they are pronounced dull and limited, inasmuch as law, morals, etc., still count for them as fixed, essential, and obligatory 5.

Idealism then appears as human pride brought to its climax: [It is] the general meaning of the divine irony of genius, as this concentration of the ego into itself, for which all bonds are snapped and which can live only in the bliss of self-enjoyment 6.

In other words, Hegel seems to be defending an idea that we also support: creative subjectivism (or idealism) is nihilism in its first moment (which is why Hegel defines irony as the self-destruction of the noble, great, and excellent 7) and ends in anthropocentrism or egocentrism (depending on whether we consider the creator of values to be the singular I or man in general).

It is this idea, which Hegel applied to an aesthetic problem, that I am trying to defend from an axiological perspective.


1. Lectures on Aesthetics, Introduction, 7, 3
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.