The Contradictions of Personality
The problem with conceptualization of the self as absolutely free will is that it is empty, abstract, arbitrary, and negative —it is, by definition, totally stripped of all distinguishing characteristics. It is also, by definition, subjective (in the sense of solipsistic and impoverished) even as it claims to be universal. But real people are not abstract. They have content and concrete existence, experience themselves positively, and interrelate with other people. Since subjectivity is the ability to interrelate with others through legal rights, the empty abstract person cannot be a subject, as liberalism claims.
According to the reasoning of the dialectic, to be potential, abstract concepts must be manifested or actualized in concrete form. This is one of the meanings of Hegel's (wrongly) notorious assertion that "what is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational." If one starts with the person as abstract free will, then, in order for the concept of freedom to have "meaning"—that is, determinate being—it is logically necessary that the abstract person become a specific, concrete individual with positive existence.
For something to be possible it must be actualized—the failure of something eventually to become actualized means, in retrospect, that it had not been, in fact, possible. Something only retroactively becomes potential once it has already been fulfilled. This is why the abstract person as free will is driven to actualize its potential freedom as concrete freedom. But the dialectic works the opposite way as well. The logically later concept cannot exist except for the logical necessity of the continuance of the earlier, and the earlier cannot exist except for the logical necessity of the possibility of the later. The later concept is actuality, but the earlier concept is the possibility which allows it to come into being.
This concept of potentiality may initially seem opposed to our intuitions. We have a strong sense that many things that could happen, in fact, won't. Or, to put it another way, we feel that the fact that things turned out one way does not mean that things could not have been different. Isn't this why we are so moved by Marlon Brando's claim in On the Waterfront that he "could'a been a contender"?
I would argue that a more thoughtful reading of this line of dialogue shows that our intuitions are actually in accordance with the Hegelian view. When Brando asserts that he could have been a contender, he is not really making a claim about his abstract potentiality sometime in the past. Rather, he is making a claim about his actuality in the present. He is asserting a difference between the authentic internal essence of his selfhood and the illusory external accidents of his circumstances. Hidden deep below a shabby facade of failure lies a true noble self—the contender—only temporarily and unfairly obscured. His argument is based on a misuse of the Hegelian dialectic of potentiality and actuality. He says, in effect, "If you agree that I had the potential of being a contender in the past, then you must conclude that I am in actuality a contender today despite all appearances to the contrary because potentiality must always ripen into actuality." He is a frog asserting that he is now a prince because he once was one.
Brando's argument is facetious precisely because he tries to apply the dialectic prospectively. He wants us to believe in predestination. His statement strikes us as tragic, or more accurately, pathetic, because we intuitively understand that the dialectic can only be applied retroactively. He is deceiving himself not only about his present nobility but about his past promise. Only now that the owl of Minerva has flown can we look back and recognize from the fact that he is so obviously not in actuality a contender today that he never really had the possibility of being one. It is now painfully obvious that he never had the guts. He is a frog today, because he was only a polliwog yesterday.
And so the negative concept of abstract personality as free will contains contradiction and must go under. The self-consciousness as free will
When understanding turns this "ought" against trivial external and transitory objects, against social regulations or conditions, which very likely possess a great relative importance for a certain time and special circles, it may often be right. In such a case the intelligent observer may meet much that fails to satisfy the general requirements of right; for who is not acute enough to see a great deal in his own surroundings which is really far from being as it ought to be? But such acuteness is mistaken in the conceit that, when it examines these objects and pronounces what they ought to be, it is dealing with questions of philosophic science. The object of philosophy is the Idea: and the Idea is not so impotent as merely to have a right or an obligation to exist without actually existing. The object of philosophy is an actuality of which those objects, social regulations and conditions, are only the superficial outside.
on the one hand has positive existence, but on the other hand has no positive attributes and is pure negativity. As such, even though the free will is on the one hand an individual, on the other hand it is indistinguishable from all other individuals and, therefore, is not individual. Moreover, to be truly free the person must be beyond desire; yet, as Hegel explained in The Phenomenology of Spirit , self-consciousness as negativity is nothing but desire. Self-consciousness claims to be free, but since it is totally negative, its freedom can only be potential. It is, therefore, driven to actualize its freedom in order retroactively to prove its claim.
In order to resolve these contradictions, the will needs to give itself content by embodying or expressing itself somehow. In order to obtain the subjectivity that will eventually enable the person to develop into a full individual and actualize his freedom, the abstract person needs to objectify himself. As we shall see, although the will must be objectified to obtain positive freedom, immediate, binary object relationships will be inadequate to this task. According to Hegelian philosophy, subjectivity is a triune relationship—intersubjectivity mediated through objectivity. One can achieve subjectivity if and only if one is recognized as a subject
by another person, whom one recognizes as a subject. Human beings are driven by an erotic desire for mutual recognition. Property is "a moment in man's struggle for recognition." Abstract personality cannot be recognized by others because it has no positive individuating characteristics. Only through the possession and enjoyment of objects can the abstract person become individualized and thereby recognizable as a subject. Through the exchange of objects with another person one person can recognize another person as an acting subject deserving of rights. And through recognition by that other person, the first person can recognize herself as a subject capable of bearing rights. Consequently, in Hegel, subjectivity can only be achieved in what Lacan called the "symbolic"—the social order of law and language.
One of the steps in the will's development is property. Property is a means by which the abstract person objectifies itself. The self as abstract will claims to be essential reality, but the existence of external things, that is, objects, and our dependence on external reality contradict this. The self, therefore, needs to appropriate external objects—it must own property. The self becomes particularized and concrete, rather than abstract, through ownership. Potentiality becomes actuality.