Analyzing the Political Thoughts of Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel

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Director Steve McQueen, in his 2013 film “12 Years a Slave” provides four examples of the philosophical arguments of both Immanuel Kant and G.W.F Hegel. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit argues two forms of consciousness. His categorization on the codependent relationship between lord and bondsman is complementary to Kant’s political thought on the categorical imperative. Kant argues in The Grounding of Metaphysics of Morals, that in the categorical imperative, law of morality, human beings are not subjective ends but rather objective ends within themself.

In Hegel’s account of the self-consciousness here are two forms of consciousness. The first is an independent consciousness, which exists solely for itself and the second consciousness that is dependent on the independent consciousness of another. The first is the lord, and the second is the bondsman. The lord is mediated through another conscious that is an independent object of his desires. The slave is an independent being-for-self able to serve as an end in himself not simply a means. The lord holds the bondsman in bondage making him dependent yet; the lord’s power is merely a façade power struggle. The bondsman takes away his independence but is not all together done with it. He begins working on it. By setting aside desire’s the bondsman gains an independent consciousness. The lord in his relationship has succeeded in achieving his temporary means to acquiring his desires, but since the independence was interposed the bondsman still maintains some aspect of independence that he then continues to develop.

The lord is now unknowingly dependent on the bondsman’s existence and false recognition. Furthermore the new outcome of the relationship is “one-sided and unequal” (Heg...

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The film “12 Years a Slave” has no historical or philosophical ties to Immanuel Kant or G.W.F Hegel. Yet portions of the Phenomenology of Spirit and The Grounding of Metaphysics of Morals are clearly exemplified in the film. Hegel’s perverse relationship between the lord and bondsman is reflected in the relationships between the overseers, lord, and the slaves. Kant’s categorical imperative maxim are violated in the treatment of slaves in the film.

Works Cited

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, Arnold V. Miller, and J. N. Findlay. "Independence And Dependence Of Self-Consciousness: Lordship And Bondage. "Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977. 111-18. Print.

Kant, Immanuel; Ellington, James W. (2011-02-28). Grounding of Metaphysics of Morals, Third Edition (Translated & Annotated). Hackett Publishing. Kindle Edition.
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