Sartre and Hegel on Thymos, History and Freedom

By Ang, Jennifer | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, July 2014 | Go to article overview

Sartre and Hegel on Thymos, History and Freedom


Ang, Jennifer, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


THYMOS AND 'HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE'

Jean Hyppolite explained that self-consciousness was a form of desire for Hegel, a desire towards the unity of the 'I' with itself that can only be found in another desire, or when the 'I' finds another self-consciousness. This is because self-certainty cannot be found in its negation of the natural world, requiring instead the affirmation by other consciousnesses. As consciousness seeks out other consciousnesses to affirm its self-certainty, self-consciousness comes to exist as the dialectic, or, "the mutual recognition of self-consciousnesses". (1) In other words, self-consciousness realises that recognition is for-itself, but also exists for other self-consciousnesses. As such, while it struggles to be recognised by others, it also struggles against being circumscribed by others. In this dialectical relationship, Hegel argued that, "the individual who has not risked his life can of course be recognised as a person," but it is only in the fight for life and death that he is recognised as an independent self-consciousness, or as expressed by Hyppolite, a fight, "to prove to others as well as to oneself that one is an autonomous self-consciousness" (GSH 169).

In similar terms, Alexandre Kojeve understood Hegel's first man as sharing certain basic natural desires with animals, but also desiring the non-material recognition by other men as a man. As a result, the initial encounter between first men will lead to a "violent struggle to the death for pure prestige", or until either one submits to a life of slavery in a 'highly unequal relationship of lordship and bondage', as put across by Fukuyama. (2) Men, as such, are thus distinguished by their attitude toward violent death because their desire to be recognised overcomes the animal desire for self-preservation, and they thereby attain metaphysical freedom to create a new self. And we find that human history is defined by this struggle to the death to satisfy the desire for pure prestige in the form of wars for recognition.

From this aspect of Hegel's thymos, most commentators argue that Sartre arrived at the conclusion that 'Hell is other people'.3 However, we can only find Sartre rejecting Hegel's ontology of human reality and also his account of hostile concrete human relations in Being and Nothingness. First, in addressing the issue of solipsism, Sartre believed that Hegel had misconceived the structure of being-for-others as an ontological relation. (4) He argued that because Hegel saw the relation of object-ness as the fundamental relation between others and ourselves, he was unable to affirm the existence of others as subjects since they, in their object-ness, do not question us in our being (BN 337-340). In other words, the existence of an Other-as-subject was purely conjectural for Hegel if he was to consider being-for-others as an ontological relation, since all that we can reveal is an Other-as-object. This also suggests that there is an ontological separation between the other as object that we can grasp and the other as subject that escapes us.

Sartre further explained in the Look phenomenon that we can never know ourselves in the other because we experience our encounter with the other as 'being -seen-by-an-other' from the outside that we are responsible for, and yet, not being it. We are "incapable of apprehending for [ourselves] the self which [we] [are] for the Other" because as soon as we attempt to make ourselves object, we "would already be [ourselves] at the heart of that object which [we] [are]"--"the subject who is looking at it" (BN 326). In short, our object-ness escapes us because it is imposed from the outside. This reveals the 'ontological separation' between subjects--that we cannot know ourselves in the Other if the Other is first an object for us, and neither can we apprehend the Other in its true being, that is, in his subjectivity through being an object for us (BN 328). …

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