Essay on Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic

Essay on Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic

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As presented in the Phenomenology of Spirit, the aim of Life is to free itself from confinement "in-itself" and to become "for-itself." Not only does Hegel place this unfolding of Life at the very beginning of the dialectical development of self-consciousness, but he characterizes self-consciousness itself as a form of Life and points to the advancement of self-consciousness in the Master/Slave dialectic as the development of Life becoming "for-itself." This paper seeks to delineate this often overlooked thread of dialectical insight as it unfolds in the Master/Slave dialectic. Hegel articulates a vision of the place of human self-consciousness in the process of Life as a whole and throws light on the role of death as an essential ingredient in the epic drama of life's struggle and Spirit's birth.

As presented in the Phenomenology of Spirit, the aim of Life is to free itself from confinement "in-itself" and thus to become "for-itself." Not only does Hegel place this unfolding of Life at the very beginning of the dialectical development of self-consciousness; Hegel characterizes self-consciousness itself as a form of Life and even refers us to the development of self-consciousness in the Master/Slave dialectic as an essential moment in the fulfillment of this aim of Life to become 'for-itself.' The following paper delineates this overlooked thread of the dialectic. The central thesis is that each step along the path of self-consciousness' attempt at making the truth of its unity with itself explicit, is simultaneously a step in the realization of the aim of Life: to become 'for-itself.' In the review of the Master/Slave dialectic, it reveals itself that the necessary condition for the fulfillment of Life's aim lies in work. Yet...

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... The slave has its negativity and being-for-self within it; it makes death become powerful in the depths of its being, checking its instinctual desires, and giving an objective 'mirror' of its true self in the objective shape of the thing produced, only in and through its work. Ultimately, work itself has proven to be the appropriation of death, and thereby a transformation of it into the objective recognition of self-consciousness as being all reality. Indeed, the natural finitude of man constitutes the dialectical possibility of man's freedom from slavish nature in and through his work, and the latter is likewise the means by which Life as self-conscious redeems itself from its own slavish 'in-itself'. On a broader scale, work, which takes place in the consciousness of death, is truly the work of Spirit freeing itself up from its frozen state in nature.

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