In my previous comment I mentioned that there are two levels of allegorical writing in this post. Somehow, that seems to have caused some confusion here. So I guess it might be beneficial for me to briefly lay out how I read the section of "Lordship and Bondage" in The Phenomenology of Spirit.
It looks clearly to me that Hegel was ingeniously using the metaphor of master-slave relationship to depict a picture how the self-consciousness operates in our mind, and from there he further leads the discourse to reveal a big picture of how Spirit operates universally.
There are two levels of prerequisites for understanding this: the level of the mind, and the level of the world.
At the first level, as I mentioned in my previous comment that we need to do some introspective examination of how the mind works as Hegel did in The Phenomenology of Spirit, then we can correctly apprehend his use of the master-slave model for the elaboration of how self-consciousness works, not the opposite, i.e. not how self-consciousness helps to elucidate how master-slave relationship operates as has been so commonly assumed in the academia of philosophy.
At the second level, it is very difficult for readers without any religious background (which might possibly be the majority in nowadays academia), and thus without knowing the concept of "Providence", to relate the personal self-consciousness to the universal work of Spirit. As Hegel later mentioned in some other lecture that he does not "make a demand on" the faith of the audience, but he would "appeal to your belief in it, in this religious aspect".
Now let's come back to the section of "Lordship and Bondage" in The Phenomenology of Spirit, which starts with the following sentences:
[Φ 178. SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or “recognized”. The conception of this its unity in its duplication, of infinitude realizing itself in self-consciousness, has many sides to it and encloses within it elements of varied significance....] (The Phenomenology of Mind, tr. J B Baillie)
It is so obvious that in the above passage Hegel was talking about how self-consciousness works; nevertheless, in order to apprehend this, we need to look a bit how self-consciousness works in our own mind. The only reason that we are aware of the existence of self-consciousness is because we know that we are knowing what we know, which reveals the two sides of the self-consciousness: one side we know, and the other we know we are knowing what we know.
SO the wording of "duplication", "unity", "distinction", "distinguished", and "recognized" are all elegantly proper to depict the above mentioned fashion of the work of self-consciousness.
Now let's look at the next:
[Φ 189. In this experience self-consciousness becomes aware that life is as essential to it as pure self-consciousness....The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman.]
Here Hegel introduces the so-called master-slave relation into his depiction of self-consciousness, which is naturally and unambiguously allegorical.
Now let's come back to the passage which might have caused the most confusion:
[Φ 187. The presentation of itself, however, as pure abstraction of self-consciousness consists in showing itself as a pure negation of its objective form, or in showing that it is fettered to no determinate existence, that it is not bound at all by the particularity everywhere characteristic of existence as such, and is not tied up with life. The process of bringing all this out involves a twofold action — action on the part of the other and action on the part of itself. In so far as it is the other’s action, each aims at the destruction and death of the other. But in this there is implicated also the second kind of action, self-activity; for the former implies that it risks its own life. The relation of both self-consciousnesses is in this way so constituted that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle. They must enter into this struggle, for they must bring their certainty of themselves, the certainty of being for themselves, to the level of objective truth, and make this a fact both in the case of the other and in their own case as well. And it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; only thus is it tried and proved that the essential nature of self-consciousness is not bare existence, is not the merely immediate form in which it at first makes its appearance, is not its mere absorption in the expanse of life. Rather it is thereby guaranteed that there is nothing present but what might be taken as a vanishing moment — that self-consciousness is merely pure self-existence, being-for-self. The individual, who has not staked his life, may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person; but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. In the same way each must aim at the death of the other, as it risks its own life thereby; for that other is to it of no more worth than itself; the other’s reality is presented to the former as an external other, as outside itself; it must cancel that externality. The other is a purely existent consciousness and entangled in manifold ways; it must view its otherness as pure existence for itself or as absolute negation.]
First of all, the beginning sentences
[The presentation of itself, however, as pure abstraction of self-consciousness consists in showing itself as a pure negation of its objective form, or in showing that it is fettered to no determinate existence, that it is not bound at all by the particularity everywhere characteristic of existence as such, and is not tied up with life. The process of bringing all this out involves a twofold action — action on the part of the other and action on the part of itself. In so far as it is the other’s action, each aims at the destruction and death of the other.]
unambiguously depict how self-consciousness operates.
However, the confusion might arise when it comes to the third sentence
[But in this there is implicated also the second kind of action, self-activity; for the former implies that it risks its own life. ],
although it should not.
Again, we need to do a bit introspective meditation to read The Phenomenology of Spirit. Just close your eyes, and try to see what you know at the moment. I am very sure that as soon as you did what I suggested, your attention will be directed to "what you know", not the content of your knowing...that is to say you come back to your master self-consciousness, and lose your slave self-consciousness. The rest of the above passage Φ 187. should be read similarly.
BUT on the other hand, can we learn something about the social relationship of master-slave in the world from the section of "Lordship and Bondage" of The Phenomenology of Spirit?
Yes, we can, and it is actually a valid inference of that section for two reasons: 1) the use of the master-slave model is not a pure fabrication out of imagination, but based on his observation of real life; 2) it comes to the stage between the first level of individual consciousness and the second level the universal work of Spirit as I mentioned earlier: the reality of the social world shares some patterns with the individual mind.
However, if this section is not about self-consciousness but about the relationship of master and slave, then it would be definitely elaborated in a very different way, since the description of the relationship of master and slave in this section is so partial and meagre, while its depiction of self-consciousness is so thorough and rich.
Therefore, the correct way of looking into the issue of master-slave relationship from the said section is to start from the position of individual consciousness to look out at the master-slave relationship, instead of taking the whole text as a discussion on that relationship by using the metaphor if self-consciousness.
Once again, it is extremely important to respect and hold onto the original text even if it is very difficult to read!!!
Although historical background could be helpful for us to read the text, it is the text that we should focus on. Unfortunately, very often we could see commentators habitually resort to borrowing historical background for their reading of classic texts that they feel difficult with. After all, today in our contemporary cultural political environment, not all people write in the exactly same tone, and it has always been the case, including the days when Hegel was writing The Phenomenology of Spirit.
As a matter of fact, it is the same with reading any text, no matter a classic like The Phenomenology of Spirit, or a simple short text, such as my previous comment on this post --- you just have to focus on the text itself to avoid misreading the text.
It looks to me that you just missed the point of my comment completely in your mentioning of my previous comment.
I did not have any intention to diminish the value of the use of any model, and I still could not read from the text of my comment any tone of criticism of his use of the model; hence, I am bit loss about what you tried to address by 'if Hegel is not offering us a “model to describe the world” then his ideas would be considerably less useful to us'......
Although I don't judge whether it is possible for Hegel to use another approach of discourse for the self-consciousness issue besides the master-slave model, I never denied the good role of the use of that model either.
As for the specific context in my previous comment, what I was trying to point out is that we should not treat the example used by Hegel to elaborate the main theme as the main theme itself. But even if you don’t read in the way as I intended to express in the comment, I still don’t see how you figured out that I was trying to deny the usefulness of the mode……Now if we come back to a bigger context of the complete book of The Phenomenology of Spirit, I am sorry to say that I don’t feel that you get the point of what The Phenomenology of Spirit is about either.
We just cannot use the historical background or other works (e.g. Philosophy of Right) to replace the text of The Phenomenology of Spirit when we talk about the meanings of the text of The Phenomenology of Spirit.
Please allow me to say that Honesty is often reflected in the respect of and holding onto the original text even if it might be difficult to read!
Thank you for inviting me to contribute to this stimulating debate, which has clearly generated a lot of interest. The sheer variety of standpoints represented by the participants here demonstrates, I think, the continuing relevance and importance of Hegelian thought in today’s polarised and fragmented world. I suspect, were he alive today, Hegel would not only have found the present political landscape uncomfortably familiar, but would be lamenting our lack of progress.
The chief premise of Ilario’s provocative essay is that, in the end, “the Master-Slave dynamic is nothing more than a failed recognition”, in which both parties go through a rather straightforward reversal of roles that not only levels the playing field between them, but render the entire ‘fight for recognition’ redundant (or ‘self-defeating’ as Adrian describes it in this discussion) because “we have returned to our starting point”. Whilst this is an interesting view, there are a number of reasons why it cannot be sustained. Ilario is effectively saying that nothing is achieved by the dialectic process, that the Slave simply becomes as despotic as his former Master, while the Master renders himself as powerless as his former Slave. Unfortunately, as I will attempt to explain, this fundamentally misinterprets Hegel’s project.
It is worth placing Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ (PS) within its historical context. After all, Hegel recognised himself as “a son of his time” and that “philosophy is its time apprehended in thoughts” (Preface to the ‘Philosophy of Right’). Written in 1807 – the same year that slavery was abolished in England –in the wake of the demise of the Holy Roman Empire, and at the height of Napoleonic rule, Hegel interprets Western civilisation at a moment of unprecedented change. On the one hand, the chaotic fever of revolution continued to in turns inspire and terrify citizens across the West, whilst on the other, a remarkable project of rational codification, harmonisation and centralisation rippled across these very same nascent states. From the enlightened despots of the time emerged documents like the French Code Civil of 1804 and the Austrian Code of 1811, translating natural law principles into rational systems designed to unify the diverse customs and traditions of disparate European peoples.
This is important because Hegel is writing about the oppressed, not from the perspective of a colonial or bourgeois class, but from the position of those beleaguered Europeans living under occupation. Raad – in this discussion – raises important questions here about imperialism, but such a critique is arguably ethnocentric in itself. There is – sadly – not a nation on earth which doesn’t oppress some group or minority within its borders in some way or other. This is Hegel’s insight, drawing on what Kant calls the “unsocial sociability of man”. It is a universal truth, inherent in our nature. The Master-Slave dichotomy is alive in every one of us. It is this internal conflict, reflected onto others in a Hobbesian struggle, played out across history, that Hegel unravels and which will later form the key premise behind his Philosophy of Right.
Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ is an excellent example of how Hegel’s dialectic can be adopted in practice, and just why the Master-Slave allegory is more about overcoming oppression than it is about ‘willingly’ coming to terms with and accepting one’s oppressed status. The idea that the emancipated Slave simply swaps places with his former Master, so that both parties are effectively back to square one, completely ignores the potentially transcendental nature of the journey itself. The experience of oppression is so fundamentally transformative that one cannot realistically claim that no change has occurred within the formerly oppressed individual. Doing so risks not only insulting the former Slave, but overlooking the value of their lived experience and the dialectic process itself. Put simply, no-one who experiences hardship or suffering comes out the same as they were to begin with. I argue this is true of all life-changing, traumatic events. As Hegel puts it, self-consciousness “will enrich itself... in the course of its experience” (PS §173), “we are in the presence of self-consciousness in a new shape” (PS §197).
Phenomenology is after all the very process by which we develop self-consciousness and knowledge in the course of our lived experience, with each painful moment in our lives being integral to the whole, precisely because it shapes who we are in the present. In my 2018 paper, ‘A Phenomenology of Freedom: finding transcendence in captivity’ (www.academia.edu/39623855/A_Phenomenology_of_Freedom_finding_transcendence_in_captivity), I explore how we can only truly appreciate the nature and meaning of ‘freedom’ when it is taken away from us. As Alexandre Kojève explains in his brilliant ‘Introduction to the reading of Hegel’, “the Slave – through the fear of death – understands himself, understands Man, better than the Master does” (p. 48). Hegel tells us that “the fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom” (PS §195). By his model, oppression is therefore a prerequisite to transcendence (PS §196). “Man achieves his true autonomy, his authentic freedom, only after passing through slavery” argues Kojève (p. 27).
Hegel need not assume, as Raad suggests in this discussion, that the slave is a willing party to his enslavement who merely “surrenders to the Master”. It is after all, a position reached after a ‘life and death struggle’, not some negotiation process. Writing this from my prison cell as I battle with my own struggle for recognition, I know all too well the powerlessness and fragility of the Slave’s position, a product of injustice and inequalities in the balance of power. Yet the changes that can occur within an individual through the process of enslavement are important. The idea of transformation or purification through ordeal is not a new one. It has existed for centuries, embodied in stories and legends like those of Orpheus and Eurydice, Jason and the Golden Fleece, or the trials of Tamino in Die Zauberflöte.
As Freire identifies, “the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity, become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both” (p. 18). A truly dialectic process must result in unity, or synthesis. That means that the enlightened, emancipated slave, becomes not merely the product of both Master and Slave, but a sum greater than its parts with the power to bring about harmony between the two factions. This, as Freire argues, “is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well... Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both”.
Ron rightly suggests in this discussion that Hegel’s dialectic method relies on allegory, but if Hegel is not offering us a “model to describe the world” then his ideas would be considerably less useful to us. Remember, Hegel is all about action. In his Preface to the Philosophy of Right he describes philosophy as “an inquisition into the rational, and therefore the apprehension of the real and present”. He has no interest in merely describing “a castle in the air”. The Phenomenology represents more than just the evolution of a single mind, but the destiny of mankind itself, unfolding through time. The actions of individual consciences which he describes, have a collective force and impact. They combine to create historically significant effects that shape our world. It simply isn’t possible for the journey encompassed in the Phenomenology to occur in the course of one lifetime, within one individual. Rather, Hegel’s Phenomenology sets out the course of humanity, described allegorically through the primordial, pre-social, sense-conscious man or woman.
As Guy rightly mentions in this discussion, Sartre’s argument misses the point, but I disagree with Guy’s interpretation that “Hegel is not interested in any clever argument about whether a struggle for recognition could be overcome”. As Kojève explains, only “the Slave knows what it is to be free… the experience of the Fight and its result predispose the Slave to transcendence, to progress, to History” (p. 22). “Only the Slave can transcend the given World… Only the Slave can transform the World that forms him and fixes him in slavery” (p. 29) and so “he is led to transform the given social conditions of his existence, that is, to realise a historical progress… This progress has meaning for him which it does not and cannot have for the Master” (p. 50). “In dialectical thought, world and action are intimately interdependent” remarks Freire (p. 27). “There would be no human action if humankind were not a ‘project’, if he or she were not able to transcend himself or herself, if one were not able to perceive reality and understand it in order to transform it”.
We can say then that Ilario’s thesis only holds for the Master, enslaved at the end of the process to materialism. There is an interesting question I think about whether the ‘reflection into unity’ holds true for subsequent generations. Do the descendants of the Master and Slave inherit their forefathers’ hard-won insights, and if so, by what means? If humanity gradually develops its capacity for reason over time, with each generation progressing “from one stage of insight to the next” as Kant puts it in his ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’, we must assume surely, that the ‘fight for recognition’ is translated into different forms for each generation. In this way, mankind makes its steady march towards the “final cause of the World”, the ‘End of History’ when freedom is fully actualised on earth. Even so, without reliving the same ‘life and death’ struggle staked by the Master and Slave, Kojève argues that modern man transcends himself “by projecting himself on the idea of private Property, of Capital, which enslaves him… it is from himself, therefore, that he must free himself” (pp. 65 – 69).
The same cannot be said however, for the Slave, represented today by the struggle of oppressed people across the world. They play a key role in the liberation not only of themselves, but of mankind. This is a role that requires real action, activism, and political engagement. “As the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors’ power to dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of oppression” (Freire, p. 30). The unfolding of freedom in the world, Hegel’s ‘End of History’, requires the eradication of oppression in all its forms.
Ideas shared by Mark from his prison cell and transcribed here exclusively for academia.edu by the freeMarkAlexander.org campaign
Thanks for the invitation. It’s a very interesting writing, and the following is some of my thoughts: 1) The article starts with several interesting sentences: [The master/slave dialectic is one of the most analysed and celebrated passages of Hegel’s Phenomelogy of Spirit.][ In it, Hegel proposes two budding forms of self-consciousness, the master and the slave, which can be understood to mean different things depending on the level on analysis applied.][ As we shall see, they are most commonly taken to allegorically represent two constitutive moments of self-consciousness, the dependent and the independent, as each battles for supremacy over the other, risking its life in the process.] Although the second sentence seems to indicate that the author would allow different interpretations of the master/slave model in Chapter IV of the book based on the needs for analysis, in the third sentence, however, the author does point out that Hegel was actually using the model “to allegorically represent two constitutive moments of self-consciousness”. However, very soon, in the following few sentences, the author seems to have forgotten what Hegel was actually doing but starts to present the master/slave dialectic in a social interpersonal perspective, in line with what is indicated in the second sentence, and then follows it through to the end. 2) Here we see two levels of allegorical writing: a) Hegel allegorically uses the master/slave model for his elaboration of the dialectic of consciousness; b) The author allegorically uses Hegel’s model of consciousness back to human master/slave relationship. Then the question arises: is the analysis of social relationship the main intention of Hegel in Chapter IV of the book? Or is the reverse allegorical use of the master/slave model actually the true intention of Hegel? Or does Hegel use the dialectic of consciousness solely for his analysis of social relationship in an allegorical way, instead of studying the nature of consciousness itself? Based on what have been talked about the Chapter IV of the book, or what have been talked about the whole book of The Phenomenology of Spirit, I guess many would answer positively to the above questions, which seems to have been the view shared by many in the academia, and unfortunately it is wrong. The reason why I would give a negative answer to the questions is quite simple: as the name of the book “The Phenomenology of Spirit” tells, it is NOT a book of “The Phenomenology of Things”, and therefore, Hegel was not using the dialectic of consciousness as a model to describe the world, but occasionally used life examples to help him to understand and elaborate the dialectic of consciousness. 3) Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit needs to be read with some introspective meditation. It is hard to imagine that one can understand the book without doing some introspective meditation since that is obvious what Hegel was doing. Only if we read the book with introspective examination of how consciousness works or struggles its way to get the truth of everything, we can better understand what Hegel was talking about. 4) Would this understanding of the book make it lesser in philosophy comparing to making it a buoyant enlightenment or edification for social practices? My answer is no. To contrary, it would make that book even more important philosophically since it can help many to think more profoundly as Hegel did. But lesser or more important, either way, we have to respect what the truth really is.