Hegel on Self-Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit

Hegel on Self-Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit

Hegel on Self-Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit

Hegel on Self-Consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit

Synopsis

In the most influential chapter of his most important philosophical work, the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel makes the central and disarming assertions that "self-consciousness is desire itself" and that it attains its "satisfaction" only in another self-consciousness. Hegel on Self-Consciousness presents a groundbreaking new interpretation of these revolutionary claims, tracing their roots to Kant's philosophy and demonstrating their continued relevance for contemporary thought.


As Robert Pippin shows, Hegel argues that we must understand Kant's account of the self-conscious nature of consciousness as a claim in practical philosophy, and that therefore we need radically different views of human sentience, the conditions of our knowledge of the world, and the social nature of subjectivity and normativity. Pippin explains why this chapter of Hegel's Phenomenology should be seen as the basis of much later continental philosophy and the Marxist, neo-Marxist, and critical-theory traditions. He also contrasts his own interpretation of Hegel's assertions with influential interpretations of the chapter put forward by philosophers John McDowell and Robert Brandom.

Excerpt

One of Hegel's main concerns in the revolutionary book he wrote in the German city of Jena while only in his thirties, his Phenomenology of Spirit, is a familiar modern philosophical concern: the attempt to understand the various competencies involved in distinctly human sentience, sapience, and agency, and, especially and above all in Hegel’s project, the complex inter-relations among all such competencies. So there are in his unprecedented book accounts of sensory receptivity, perception, judgment, generalization, inference, self-consciousness, nomic necessity, justification, as well as of intention, purpose, practical reason, linguistic community, and sociality in general. Hegel’s account is unusual in that it is conducted via a procedure he invented, a “phenomenology,” or what he at first called a “science of the experience of consciousness.” This new procedure, at the very minimum and somewhat crudely summarized, involved imagining possible models of experience (models of its basic structure), primarily experience of objects and of other subjects, restricted to one or some set of competencies, or in some specific relation, and then demonstrating by a series of essentially reductio ad absurdum arguments that such an imagined experience, when imagined from the point of view of the experiencer, really could not be a possible or . . .

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