In the following I will attempt to exonerate the contextualist Hegelian account of morality, which he introduces under the title “Sittlichkeit” or “ethical life”, from the charge of mere conventionalism. I will try to show that his concept of ethical life furnishes the author of the Philosophy of Right with a set of historically immanent criteria that allow him to distinguish, within the horizon of a given form of life, between valid norms and merely accepted ones. It will be important to present Hegel’s method in a way that avoids, as far as possible, holding it hostage to his philosophy of spirit, which can hardly serve as an acceptable premise today. Hegel’s doctrine of ethical life will be a viable option for moral philosophy only if it can be translated into an idiom that does not rely on the ontological presupposition of a universally self-realizing spirit. In a first step, I will in this way - post-metaphysically, so to speak - identify the general criteria that Hegel sets out as immanent givens of any ethical form of life (I). In a second step, I am going to examine whether this provides us with clues for discerning a certain directionality of moral development within human history (II).
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