Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 12, No 1 (2016)

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A Note on Some Contemporary Readings of Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic

Elisa Magrì


Hegel's use of the master-servant relationship in the Phenomenology of Spirit sets the stage for the problem of recognition. Since Alexandre Kojève presented his lectures on Hegel, a long philosophical tradition has been isolating the fourth chapter of Phenomenology of Spirit as a freestanding essay on anthropology or social philosophy. However, I contend the account of recognition provided in this chapter does not ground Hegel's theory of ethical life. In this paper, I shall defend an allegorical reading of the master-servant dialectic that privileges Hegel's response to Kant. In doing so, I will take issue with McDowell's and Pippin's epistemological readings of this chapter. Both authors have argued that Hegel's strategy entails criticism of Kant's theory of apperception. While McDowell and Pippin have different views about the function of desire and the process constituting self-consciousness, I will object that both McDowell and Pippin fail to acknowledge the relevance of motivation and affectivity for self-consciousness.

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