Further remarks on Phenomenology of Spirit

The individual who has not risked his life may well be recognized as a person, but he has not attained to the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness. Similarly, just as each stakes his own life, so each must seek the other’s death, for it values the other no rpore than itself; its essential being is present to it in the form of an ‘other’, it is outside of itself and must rid itself of its self-externality.


For some time, anthropologists have known that animals do not in fact exhibit the behavior GWF Hegel here ascribes to them precisely because they do not differentiate themselves from the “other” in the manner he does here (see, e.g., N Bird-David Feb 1992). In the immediate-return systems that prevailed for most of human history

the metaphor of sharing is a clue both to their views of their environment and to their action within it. Recent theory — from diverse perspectives — indeed shows that cognition (concepts, especially metaphorical ones, and percepts) is interrelated with action (Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Gibson 1979, 1982; Ingold 1989) and this is, of course, in harmony with our own most commonplace experience. For example, our use of the metaphor “a dog is a friend” indicates that through close interaction with the dog we have come to perceive and approach it as a friend. Even when we represent the dog as an animal, in the course of what Marx called the life activity we engage with the dog as our friend and express this in various ways in our conduct and discourse.

N Bird-David, op. cit.

Rather than establishing myself by risking death or killing the other, the immediate-returns system sees in the other one whose life supports mine only so long as I share my life. But this begs the further question: in what kind of society might GWF Hegel’s master-slave relationship enjoy validity?

In §187, Hegel was still only focused on self-consciousness: consciousness of the “other” who is my “self.” I must, in other words, be ready to commit suicide — kill my “self” — in order to establish my “self.” But this my mastery of my self over my self is predicated upon and prefigures a life-and-death struggle for autonomy. The world is not to “share,” but to master, for it is only in this mastery that it reveals its independence, its autonomy.

Sharing gives way to domination and submission (see S Buck-Morss, Hegel and Haiti).

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