This article was last modified on February 19, 2010.

Hegel: Property and Personality, 1821

Animals as Property

“I possess the members of my body, my life, only so long as I will to possess them. An animal cannot maim or destroy itself, but a man can.” [43]

“An animal too has impulses, desires, inclinations, but it has no will and must obey its impulse if nothing external deters it. Man, however, the wholly undetermined, stands above his impulses and may make them his own, put them in himself as his own. An impulse is something natural, but to put it into my ego depends on my will which thus cannot fall back on the plea that the impulse has its basis in nature.” [229] Gavin says: An animal has instincts, no rationality. Can we “desire” without thought? Is a bodily need a “desire”? (Not sure where I was going with this.)

“An animal can intuit, but the soul of an animal has for its object not its soul, itself, but something external.” [236]

“Animals are in possession of themselves; their soul is in possession of their body. But they have no right to their life, because they do not will it.” [237]

Unsorted Stuff

“A person must translate his freedom into an external sphere in order to exist as Idea.” [40]

“A person has as his substantive end the right of putting his will into any and every thing and thereby making it his, because it has no such end in itself and derives its destiny and soul from his will. This is the absolute right of appropriation which man has over ‘things’.” [41]

“To have power over a thing ab extra constitutes possession. The particular aspect of the matter, the fact that I make something my own as a result of my natural need, impulse, and caprice, is the particular interest satisfied by possession. But I as free will am an object to myself in what I possess and thereby also for the first time am an actual will, and this is the aspect which constitutes the category of property, the true and right factor in possession. If emphasis is placed on my needs, then the possession of property appears as a means to their satisfaction, but the true position is that, from the standpoint of freedom, property is the first embodiment of freedom and so is in itself a substantive end.” [42]

“private ownership of land… is the more rational… the specific characteristics pertaining to private property may have to be subordinated to a higher sphere of right (e.g. to a society or the state)… exceptions to private property cannot be grounded in chance… only in the rational organism of the state.” [42]

“The general principle that underlies Plato’s ideal state violates the right of personality by forbidding the holding of private property. The idea of a pious or friendly and even a compulsory brotherhood of men holding their goods in common and rejecting the principle of private property may readily present itself to the disposition which mistakes the true nature of the freedom of mind and right and fails to apprehend it in its determinate moments. As for the moral or religious view behind this idea, when Epicurus’ friends proposed to form such an association holding goods in common, he forbade them, precisely on the ground that their proposal betrayed distrust and that those who distrusted each other were not friends.” [42-43]

“as person, I possess my life and my body, like other things, only in so far as my will is in them.” [43]

“If another does violence to my body, he does violence to me. If my body is touched or suffers violence, then, because I feel, I am touched myself actually, here and now. This creates the distinction between personal injury and damage to my external property, for in such property my will is not actually present in this direct fashion.” [44]

“What and how much I possess… is a matter of indifference so far as rights are concerned.” [44]

“The demand sometimes made for an equal division of land, and other available resources too, is an intellectualism all the more empty and superficial in that at the heart of the particular differences there lies not only the external contingency of nature but also the whole compass of mind, endlessly particularized and differentiated, and the rationality of mind developed into an organism. We may not speak of the the injustice of nature in the unequal distribution of possessions and resources, since nature is not free and therefore is neither just nor unjust. That everyone ought to have subsistence enough for his needs is a moral wish and thus vaguely expressed is well enough meant, but like anything that is only well meant it lacks objectivity. On the other hand, subsistence is not the same as possession and belongs to another sphere, i.e. to civil society.” [44]

“The principle that a thing belongs to the person who happens to be the first in time to take it into his possession is immediately self-explanatory and superfluous, because a second person cannot take into his possession what is already the property of another.” [45]

“Since property is the embodiment of personality, my inward idea and will that something is to be mine is not enough to make it my property; to secure this end occupancy is requisite. The embodiment which my willing thereby attains involves its recognizability by others.” [45]

“We take possession of a thing (a) by directly grasping it physically, (b) by forming it, and (c) by merely marking it as ours.” [46]

Growing plants, taming animals counts as forming them: “Under this head there also falls the formation of the organic. What I do to the organic does not remain external to it but is assimilated by it. Examples are the tilling of the soil, the cultivation of plants, the taming and feeding of animals, the preservation of game, as well as contrivance for utilizing raw materials or the forces of nature and processes for making one material produce effects on another, and so forth.” [47]

“It is only through the development of his own body and mind, essentially through his self-consciousness’s apprehension of itself as free, that he takes possession of himself and becomes his own property and no one else’s.” [47]

“The fact that property is realized and actualized only in use floats before the minds of those who look upon property as derelict and a res nullius if it is not being put to any use, and who excuse its unlawful occupancy on the ground that it has not been used by its owner. But the owner’s will, in accordance with which a thing is his, is the primary substantive basis of property; use is a further modification of property, secondary to that universal basis, and is only its manifestation and particular mode.” [49]

“The reason I can alienate my property is that it is mine only in so far as I put my will into it. Hence I may abandon (derelinquere) as a res nullius anything that I have or yield it to the will of another and so into his possession, provided always that the thing in question is a thing external by nature.” [52]

“Single products of any particular physical and mental skill and of my power to act I can alienate to someone else and I can give him the use of my abilities for a restricted period, because, on the strength of this restriction, my abilities acquire an external relation to the totality and universality of my being. By alienating the whole of my time, as crystallized in my work, and everything I produced, I would be making into another’s property the substance of my being, my universal activity and actuality, my personality.” [54]

“The substance of an author’s or an inventor’s right cannot in the first instance be found in the supposition that when he disposes of a single copy of his work, he arbitrarily makes it a condition that the power to produce facsimiles as things, a power which thereupon passes into another’s possession, should not become the property of the other but should remain his own. The first question is whether such a separation between ownership of the thing and the power to produce facsimiles which is given with the thing is compatible with the concept of property, or whether it does not cancel the complete and free ownership … on which there originally depends the option of the original producer of intellectual work to reserve to himself the power to reproduce, or to part with this power as a thing of value, or to attach no value to it at all and surrender it together with the single exemplar of his work. I reply that this power to reproduce hasa special character, viz. it is that in virtue of which the thing is not merely a possession but a capital asset … the fact that it is such an asset depends on the particular external kind of way in which the thing is used, a way distinct and separable from the use to which the thing is directly destined (the asset here is not, as has been said, an accessio naturalis like fetura). Since then this distinction falls into the sphere of that whose nature entails its divisibility, into the sphere of external use, the retention of part of a thing’s (external) use and the alienation of another part is not the retention of a proprietorship without utile. [55]

“It is not merely property which a family possesses; as a universal and enduring person, it requires possessions specifically determined as permanent and secure, i.e. it requires capital.” [116]

“In the sagas of the founding of state, or at least of a social and orderly life, the introduction of permanent property is linked with the introduction of marriage. The nature of this capital, however, and the proper means of its consolidation will appear in the section on civil society.” [116]

“The essence of inheritance is the transfer to private ownership of property which is in principle common.” [119]

“It has been suggested that the basis of inheritance lies in the fact that, by a man’s death, his property becomes wealth without an owner, and as such falls to the first person to take possession of it, because of course it is the relatives who are normally nearest a man’s death-bed and so they are generally the first to take possession. Hence it is supposed that this customary occurrence is made a rule by positive legislation in the interests of orderliness. This ingenious idea disregards the nature of family relationship.” [119] (Hegel sees a family as a kind of “person”, so inheritance is a way to maintain personality.)

“The family … conducts itself as in principle a self-subsistent concrete person…” [122]

“The real beginning and original foundation of states has been rightly ascribed to the introduction of agriculture along with marriage, because the principle of agriculture brings with it the formation of the land and consequentially exclusively private property… the nomadic life of savages, who seek their livelihood from place to place, it brings back to the tranquility of private rights and the assured satisfaction of their needs. Along with these changes, sexual love is restricted to marriage, and this bond in turn grows into an enduring league, inherently universal, while needs expand into care for a family, and personal possessions into family goods.” [131] (compare Smith)

“In civil society, property rests on contract and on the formalities which make ownership capable of proof and valid in law.” [139] (Will is no longer enough when the State intervenes.)

“Since property and personality have legal recognition and validity in civil society, wrongdoing now becomes an infringement, not merely of what is subjectively infinite, but of the universal thing which is existent with inherent stability and strength. Hence a new attitude arises: the action is seen as a danger to society and thereby the magnitude of the wrongdoing is increased.” [140] (a crime isn’t just against a person, but a society)

“Through the administration of justice, offences against property or personality are annulled.” [146]

“The rationale of property is to be found not in the satisfaction of needs but in the supersesion of the pure subjectivity of personality. In his property a person exists for the first time as reason. Even if my freedom is here realized first of all in an external thing, and so falsely realized, nevertheless abstract personality in its immediacy can have no other embodiment save one characterized by immediacy.” [235-236]

“All things may become man’s property, because man is free will and consequently is absolute, while what stands over against him lacks this quality. Thus everyone has the right to make his will the thing or to make the thing his will, or in other words to destroy the thing and transform it into his own; for the thing, as externality, has no end in itself; it is not infinite self-relation but something external to itself. A living thing too (an animal) is external to itself in this way and is so far itself a thing. Only the will of the infinite, absolute in contrast with everything other than itself, while that other is on its side only relative. Thus ‘to appropriate’ means at bottom only to manifest the pre-eminence of my will over the thing and to prove that it is not absolute, is not an end in itself. This is made manifest when I endow the thing with some purpose not directly its own. When the living thing becomes my property, I give to it a soul other than the one it had before, I give to it my soul. The free will, therefore is the idealism which does not take things as they are to be absolute, while realism pronounces them to be absolute, even if they only exist in the form of finitude. Even an animal has gone beyond this realist philosophy since it devours things and so proves that they are not absolutely self-subsistent.” [236]

“In property my will is the will of a person; but a person is a unit and so property becomes the personality of this unitary will. Since property is the means whereby I give my will an embodiment, property must also have the character of being ‘this’ or ‘mine’. This is the important doctrine of the necessity of private property. While the state may cancel private ownership in exceptional cases, it is nevertheless only the state that can do this; but frequently, especially in our day, private property has been re-introduced by the state. For example, many states have dissolved the monasteries, and rightly, for in the last resort no community has so good a right to property as a person has.” [236]

“The equality which might be set up, e.g. in connection with the distribution of goods, would all the same soon be destroyed again, because wealth depends on diligence. But if a project cannot be executed, it ought not to be executed. Of course men are equal, but only qua persons, that is, with respect only to the source from which possession springs; the inference from this is that everyone must have property. Hence, if you wish to talk of equality, it is this equality which you must have in view. But this equality is something apart from the fixing of particular amounts, from the question of how much I own. From this point of view it is false to maintain that justice requires everyone’s property to be equal, since it requires only that everyone shall own property. The truth is that particularity is just the sphere where there is room for inequality and where equality would be wrong. True enough, men often lust after the goods of others, but that is just doing wrong, since right is that which remains indifferent to particularity.” [237]

“The points made so far have been mainly concerned with the proposition that personality must be embodied in property. Now the fact that the first person to take possession of a thing should also be its owner is an inference from what has been said. The first is the rightful owner, however, not because he is the first but because he is a free will, for it is only by another’s succeeding him that he becomes the first.” [237] (a spin on Grotius)

“But may a man take his own life? Suicide may at a first glance be regarded as an act of courage, but only the false courage of tailors and servant girls. Or again looked upon as a misfortune, since it is inward distraction n it may be which leads to it. But the fundamental question is: Have I a right to take my life? The answer will be that I, as this individual, am not master of my life, because life, as the comprehensive sum of, my activity, is nothing external to personality, which itself is this immediate personality. Thus when a person is said to have a right over his life, the words are a contradiction, because they mean that a person has a right over himself. But he has no such right, since he does not stand over himself and he cannot pass judgement on himself. When Hercules destroyed himself by fire and when Brutus fell on his sword, this was the conduct of a hero against his personality. But as for an unqualified right to suicide, we must simply say that there is no such thing, even for heroes.” [241-242]

“Contract implies two consenting parties and two things. That is to say, in a contract my purpose is both to acquire property and to surrender it. Contract is real when the action of both parties is complete, i.e. when both surrender and both acquire property, and when both remain property owners even in the act of surrender. Contract is formal where only one of the parties acquires property or surrenders it.” [242-243] (What is a contract? Acquisition and surrender of property.)


Hegel, Georg. Philosophy of Right. Oxford University Press, 1967. (translated by T. M. Knox)

Also try another article under Philosophical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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