Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Work, Recognition and Subjectivization: Some Remarks about the Modernity of Kojève's Interpretation of Hegel

Academic journal article The Journal of Philosophical Economics

Work, Recognition and Subjectivization: Some Remarks about the Modernity of Kojève's Interpretation of Hegel

Article excerpt

Introduction: The philosophical anthropology of Hegel at the heart of the modern experience of work

In his inaugural class at the Collège de France, and in the midst of a period in social science clearly dominated by the structuralist paradigm, Michel Foucault reminds us of Hegel's still considerable place in western thought:

Our entire epoch, whether in logic or epistemology, whether through Marx or Nietzsche, is trying to escape from Hegel... Yet to make a real escape from Hegel presupposes an exact appreciation of what it costs to detach ourselves from him. It presupposes a knowledge of how close Hegel has come to us, perhaps insidiously. It presupposes a knowledge of what is still Hegelian in that which allows us to oppose Hegel, and an ability to gauge how much our resources against him are perhaps still a ruse which he is using against us, and at the end of which he is waiting for us, immobile and elsewhere. (Foucault 1971, pp. 74-75, our translation)

In this article, we would like to illustrate the profundity of this judgment when considering the role of work with respect to the human condition in general, and to the condition of modern human beings in particular. Our initial hypothesis is that the French philosopher Alexandre Kojève best understood this dimension of Hegel's work, making it the cornerstone of his entire interpretation (Kojève 1947). [1]

It is not here a question of proposing a systematic evaluation and an exhaustive examination of Kojève's interpretation of Hegel. Instead, we intend to approach it from a precise angle, the epistemological problem of the status of this interpretation as an interpretation. If it is only an interpretation firmly rooted in the heart of what it is interpreting, seeking to extend it by clarifying it, how exactly does it contribute to the greater or improved comprehension of our experience of work? If it goes beyond what it is interpreting, how and to what degree does it modify this understanding?

We will attempt to resolve this question in the conclusion. But first it is important to specify the manner in which we will explain Kojève's reading of Hegel. [2] In our view, Kojève only envisaged Hegel's philosophy from the perspective of general anthropology, that is-to use phenomenological vocabulary-from the viewpoint of the analysis of basic existential structures fundamental to the human condition. From this perspective, Hegel can easily communicate with the social sciences of work (economics, sociology, social psychology, labour law, etc...), which were flourishing when Kojève was developing his interpretation of Hegel. Yet this point of view neglects the logical, ontological and metaphysical developments also present in Hegel's work and which constitute the core of other major contemporary interpretations of this work.

The anthropological reading of Hegel is essentially a retrospective construction whose principle advocates are Marx, followed by Kojève. In The 1844 Manuscripts, Marx situates the 'greatness of the Phenomenology' in the fashion in which Hegel '[...] grasps the essence of labour, and conceives of objective man, true man because real man, as the result of his own labour' (p. 202). Thus, in the famous figures of master and servant, he locates the codetermination of the generic essence of human work, on one hand, and the historical process of the humanization of nature, on the other. Taking this logic further, Kojève (1947) radicalizes the anthropological interpretation of Hegel by developing a theory of historical man understood essentially as a negating subject, [3] exercising his negativity conjointly through the existential forms of struggle and work. For Kojève reading Hegel, it is

(the) transformation of nature in view of a non-material idea, work in the most fundamental sense of the term, work in which a non-natural world is created, one which is technical, humanised, adapted to the human Desire of a being which has demonstrated and realized its superiority over Nature in risking his life for the non-biological goal of Recognition. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.