Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Hegel and Homosexuality

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Hegel and Homosexuality

Article excerpt

In the Odes of Sappho the language of love is indeed heightened to lyrical enthusiasm, yet it is the insidious and devouring flame of the blood which is expressed rather than the deep feeling of the subjective heart and mind.

-Lectures on Aesthetics1

Hegel seems to have had next to nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality. He would not, of course, have used this term to refer to same-sex sexual behaviors or dispositions, much less to mark a sexual identity, because the term had not yet been coined (nor had the notion of "sexual identity" yet been invented). But Hegel could not have been simply at a loss for words, because other of his contemporaries and predecessors, Kant, for example, address the topic of "unnatural" sex. In his early notebooks Hegel remarks that "the Greek love of boys is still little understood," though he adds that its basis is "a noble disdain for women."2 And in The Philosophy of History he makes mention of the "amatory bonds" between soldiers of the Theban Sacred Legion.3 So he is not ignorant of same-sex desire, yet his system does not address it. Hegel does, however, consider an array of topics that, taken together, can help us to see how he would likely have construed homosexuality, had he made a place for it in his thought. Specific elements of his philosophical system point toward a position on the topic, and the aim of this essay is to reconstruct that position, not in order to pretend to capture what Hegel did think, but in order to capture what it seems likely he would have thought had he thought and written it. I will begin with a brief overview of Kant's views, and then consider three deeply related aspects of Hegel's thought: (1) his moralistic condemnation of Friedrich Schlegel's Lucinde, placed in the context of Hegel's own views on love and friendship; (2) his account of marriage in the Philosophy of Right; and (3) his theory of sex differentiation in the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Nature. Having proposed an Hegelian position on homosexual desire, I will conclude by addressing the question: does it matter that Hegel had nothing to say about homosexuality?

Kantian Precedent

First I provide a schematic picture of Kant's views on "unnatural" sex, marriage, and male friendship, because despite notable disagreements between the two figures (especially regarding Kant's contractual conception of marriage), Kant's perspective will help frame the relevant issues when we approach Hegel. Kant makes no mistake that a variety of sexual desires and behaviors are contrary to the purposes of nature. The unnatural use of the sex organs "takes place either with a person of the same sex or with an animal of a nonhuman species;" through such misuses of his sex, including masturbation, as well, "man surrenders his personality . . . since he uses himself merely as a means to satisfy an animal impulse."4

Just as love of life is destined by nature to preserve the person, so sexual love is destined by it to preserve the species; in other words, each of these is a natural end, by which is understood that connection of a cause with an effect in which, although no understanding is ascribed to the cause, it is still thought by analogy with an intelligent cause, and so as if it produced human beings on purpose.5

Even though the Critique of Judgment casts "natural purposes" as reflective heuristic devices that we should not mistake as determinate configurations of nature, that text also argues for seeing the supreme moral purpose of nature as providing the locale for our pursuit of our moral perfectibility. To the extent that that goal requires the perpetuation of the species, Kant helps himself to the notion that sexual reproduction is naturally purposive because morally purposive. Of course, even if one were to imagine that sex has reproduction as its natural end, even such a problematically ideological view could not on its own justify the view that sex has but one purpose, nor could it prevent us from ascribing to sexual activity other, highly valued functions, whether construed as natural purposes or as cultural achievements. …

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