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Hegels Conception of Self-Consciousness

Promotor: Prof. Paul Cruysberghs

W0EB6A Bachelor Paper (6 sp.) By Sophie Menasse

Leuven, May 2010

Table of Contents Introduction ... 3 Part One: Self-consciousness in Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit .. 3 Consciousness ... 4 Self-consciousness . 5 Desire . 5 Recognition .... 8 Life and Death Struggle . 9 Master and Slave . 10 Part Two: Implications and Relevance ... 14 Work .... 14 Mutual Recognition . 16 Conclusion ... 23 Works Cited .... 25

Introduction The chapter on the master-slave relationship in Hegels analysis of self-consciousness is, to be sure, the most famous and influential part of the Phenomenology of Spirit. It has left its mark on Marxist thought as well as on existentialist, feminist and psychoanalyst thinkers. Leo Rauch discerns Christian, Marxist and existential readings of the Self-consciousness chapter. 1 And Merleau-Ponty was willing to write that all the great philosophical ideas of the past century the philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche, phenomenology, German existentialism, and psychoanalysis had their beginnings in Hegel.2 This paper shall give a close discussion of Hegels conception of self-consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit intended both as a basis for understanding the influence this chapter has had on so many and diverse thinkers during the past century, and also the relevance it can still have today. The first part of the paper will recapitulate the argument of the chapter as it is situated within the framework of the Phenomenology. In the second part, certain key notions and their implications will be analysed more closely. In this second part, these ideas will also be considered insofar as they point beyond the context of the Phenomenology, and their relevance for social and political thinking today will be discussed.

Part One: Self-consciousness in Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit The following pages discuss the notion of self-consciousness in Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit. Before turning to the respective chapters however it is necessary to sketch roughly the broader context. The Phenomenology is the Darstellung des erscheinenden Wissens3. It shows the development of knowledge. The book is divided into three parts4. In the first section (consciousness), the individual is concerned with the objective world and tries to attain knowledge thereof. In the second part (self-consciousness),
1 2

Rauch, Leo & Sherman, David. Hegels Phenomenology of Self-Consciousness. p. 125. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Sense and Non-Sense. p. 63. 3 Hegel, G.W.F. Phnomenologie des Geistes (Werke 3). p. 72 (hereafter referred to as PG). 4 In the table of content, two different schedule lines appear. Hence a certain difficulty to partition the book, with which most comentators struggle. Hegel uses letters as well as numbers to structure his book, yet the relation between those two kinds of division is not clear. The schedule line suggested by the letters, results in three parts with the third one being divided into four subparts. Following the numerical division however, the book consists of eight parts. The first part of the letter-division is thereby three parts of the number-sectioning. Or, to give another example, the part on spirit, can thus either (following the letters) be the second subdevision of the third part, or (following the numbers) the sixth part. The schedule line of the book is thus everything but clear and would give enough material for an extensive research. For reasons of simplicity, I shall here follow the division suggested by the letters. 3

consciousness turns back onto itself and takes itself as its object. In the third part, finally, the object of consciousness is thought (Gedanke). This last and longest section is itself divided into four subparts: Reason, Spirit, Religion and Absolute Knowing. While in the part titled Reason spirit is still subjective, it becomes objective in the part titled Spirit and finally absolute in the parts titled Religion and Absolute Knowledge. Consciousness The quest and failure of consciousness to attain knowledge of the world of objects is described in the first part of the Phenomenology. Sense certainty, the most immediate form of knowing proves unable to attain its goal: It wants to deal with the particular in its particularity as it appears to it here and now, but when it tries to grasp it in that way it finds itself able to deal with only the most universal: the universal here emptied from all particular heres, as purely negative; and likewise the universal now emptied from all particular nows. Both are mere universal containers to be filled with particulars, yet in themselves are none of the particulars. The here is neither this tree nor this house nor any other specific here5. It is the mere empty form which can be filled by any possible particular here. Thus it is the absolute universal. Likewise the now, and likewise as well the perceiving I. Being unable to say what it means and failing to find any truth in its immediate certainty of the particular, consciousness moves on to the next step: In perception consciousness takes the consequences of what it experienced in sense certainty and poses the universal (rather than the particular) as its truth. Yet due to its concept of universality, which is rooted in the sensual and is thus a mere negation of sensual particularity, perception finds itself stuck in a seemingly irresolvable opposition between particularity and universality. The object is conceived as a thing with many characteristics. Insofar as it is a thing, it is one. Yet with regard to its many different characteristics, it is manifoldness. Furthermore, its characteristics can change, and yet there seems to be a stable essence as well which stays the same. On the level of understanding these oppositions are resolved by the introduction of the notions of force, law and the supersensible world. The things of perception are looked at as mere appearances subjected to change, and consciousness turns toward the inner of things as the stable realm of force and law, i.e. the supersensible world. After a long and difficult

Not only is the here an empty universal, even the particulars with which it can be filled, cannot be communicated as particulars. When I say this house, I only say the most universal. I can never say the particular which I am meaning: This! Which? This can refer to everything, everything can be a this. It is a mere empty container. House likewise is only an universal and as far away from the particular house which I actually mean as can be. 4

struggle in which the perceiving individual tries to make sense of the oppositions it encounters, it is forced to recognize that there is no independent inner of things, no inner of things as such. The inner of things is simply the thought or the notion that the individual itself forms of objects. Thus the inner of things exists only insofar as there is an individual perceiving it. The individual has to go behind the Vorhange, welcher das Innere verdecken soll () ebensosehr damit gesehen werde, als dass etwas dahinter sei, das gesehen werden kann.6 Consciousness therefore makes the experience that there is no object as it really is, independent of consciousness. The Kantian distinction of Ding an sich and Ding fr mich is rejected. The Ding an sich is only fr mich. My experience of an object always already presupposes the I that experiences. Consciousness therefore turns away from the objective world, towards itself, and Hegel moves on to discuss the development of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness After its attempt to get knowledge of the outside world, consciousness turns back onto itself. It poses itself as its object. It turns away from the outside world and only considers itself in itself. The result can only be the tautology of I am I from which no further step can be taken. Hegel refutes the Cartesian positing of the immediate individual self-consciousness as the starting point from which a whole system, encompassing the entire world can be derived. One of Hegels great achievements is his strong case for the impossibility of solipsism.7 Not only is the individual stuck in the tautology of I am I from which it can move no further. It also immediately experiences an internal splitting and contradiction: It is subject, but it also is object: It is split, it is two, yet it also is an absolute unity, it is one.8 Desire The unity has to become the essential, and so the splitting has to be negated and the opposition overcome. This is only possible if the difference is placed outside of selfconsciousness and then negated in order to (re-)constitute its unity. Thus self-consciousness poses its object outside of itself again and negates it: it is desire. By negating the object outside of itself and using it for itself, it poses itself as the absolute and only important being and at the same time shows the inessential character of everything else. The thing is for self6 7

PG pp. 135f. This is instructively pointed out by Sartre in Husserl, Hegel, Heidegger (Das Sein und das Nichts). 8 In this split the previous experiences of consciousness with the objective world are preserved: the opposition between unity and manifoldness and between particularity and universality. 5

consciousness a mere nothingness. By, for example, eating up this apple, I show that it is nothing to me, that I can use it for my own interest, that I am its truth and the only important part in my relationship with it. It is important to note that, for Hegel, desire stems from a double motivation: it has a negative and a positive side. Firstly the individual wants to negate everything that is other to it in order to achieve a true unity with itself. Secondly it wants to objectify its own being in the world and posit itself as the true essence of everything other and thus attain true unity with itself. By negating the object and using it for itself, consciousness experiences its unity with itself and becomes self-aware. It now has two objects: first the thing which it desires and negates, and second itself which is the true object, but which exists only in opposition to the first one: Bewutsein hat als Selbstbewutsein nunmehr einen gedoppelten Gegenstand, den einen, den unmittelbaren, den Gegenstand der sinnlichen Gewiheit und des Wahrnehmens, der aber fr es mit dem Charakter de Negativen bezeichnet ist, und den zweiten, nmlich sich selbst, welcher das wahre Wesen und zunchst nur erst im Gegensatze des ersten vorhanden ist.9 Self-consciousness is thus not, as was supposed in the beginning, an immediate experience, but rather it is always and necessarily mediated through another object outside of itself: das Selbstbewutsein ist hiermit seiner selbst nur gewi durch das Aufheben dieses Anderen.10 The sensual object of desire, however, turns out to be not satisfying, not suitable for attaining this end. For while consciousness at first believes to attain independence and selfconsciousness by negating the dependent, un-autonomous thing, it comes rather to experience that the opposite is true. Consciousness wird daher vielmehr die Erfahrung der Selbststndigkeit [des Gegenstandes] machen11. For if the individual can attain selfconsciousness only through the object, it is in fact dependent on it. And at the very moment it negates it and the thing ceases to exist, the individual loses its self-certainty as well. The desire therefore has to be perpetually renewed and directed towards a new object in order to ensure the persistence of self-consciousness. The other possibility would be not to negate the object in the first place. But then the desire would not be satisfied at all and self-certainty never attained. From this paradoxical situation, i.e. that the individual needs to negate the object yet cannot do so without negating itself as well, it follows that the individual actually needs an object of desire which negates itself, and so does not cease to exist after being negated. That is, the object has to be negated in the dialectical sense rather than in the absolute sense (i.e. it has to be a Negation des Bewusstseins rather than an abstrakte

PG p. 139. PG p. 143. 11 PG p. 140.


Negation12): it has to be negated and at the same time preserved. And it has to perform this negation on itself. What could such a self-negating object be? According to Hegel there are three ways of negating13: Firstly an object can be negated by another, that is through desire: I negate this apple, I eat it. Secondly it can have the negation in its particularity as opposed to something else: this apple is not a pear. Thirdly it can have its negation in its universal nature, i.e. in its species (Gattung): insofar as it is universal, its particularity is negated. Only in this third case does the object have its negation in itself, and Hegel calls this third kind of object a selfconsciousness. Self-consciousness is the only thing capable of negating itself. Any other being simply is what it is. Only a self-consciousness reflects on its own being and is thus able to negate it as well. A stone is not aware of its own being, and accordingly does not say I do not want to be a stone anymore or I am a round stone, but I would much rather be a square one. An animal does have self-awareness or a feeling for self, but it does not reflect on itself. It likewise simply is what it is. Neither is it able to commit suicide in the full meaning of the word, nor does it consciously change its way of being. It just fulfils, or tries to fulfil, its immediate desires and to sustain its life. The human being, as a fully developed selfconsciousness, is the only being capable of negating its own being, it is the only being which is able to understand itself not only as an individual but also as belonging to a species and in this sense being universal. It is capable of negating its own particularity in the light of its universal character, i.e. to negate its own particular interests for the universal interests of others. From this it is already visible where the endpoint of the development of selfconsciousness must be: If it is characteristic of self-consciousness that it should be able to see itself as universal and to negate itself (i.e. its own particularity) in this universality, then selfconsciousness necessarily needs mediation through the other for its self-reflection. It needs to recognize itself in the other, it needs to understand the universality which unites the different particular self-consciousnesses. It needs to become spirit, an Ich, das Wir, und Wir, das Ich ist.14 The way in which self-consciousness reaches this end is thus mutual recognition, though this is not yet apparent for self-consciousness.15
12 13

PG p. 150. Cf. PG p. 144. 14 PG p. 145. 15 The concept of mutual recognition plays a crucial role in the self-consciousness part of the Phenomenology, yet it is never extensively discussed. It is almost omnipresent and Hegel emphasises repeatedly that it indeed constitutes the endpoint, where self-consciousness is truly realized. This endpoint however, is not yet reached by the end of the self-consciousness chapter and the concept of mutual recognition is dropped without properly being taken up 7

Recognition Because of its experiences with the object of desire, it is clear now for selfconsciousness that it has to direct its desire towards another self-consciousness, and that it can attain satisfaction only through that other self-consciousness. Only through such an other can it avoid the paradox experience of self-consciousness that needs to, but cannot, negate the object of its desire. Another self-consciousness can solve this problem, for it can perform the negation on itself and so be preserved even in its negation. But what does it mean to direct ones desire towards another individual? Drawing the consequences from the above, I now do not want to negate the other, rather I want the other to negate himself. I want the other to posit me as his essence; I want him to recognise himself in me. I want the other persons recognition. At the same time I do not want to recognize the other, because for myself only my own being contains truth, everything else, everything outside myself means nothing to me. And I want to display this fact by negating everything that does not belong to myself. I want to be purely for-myself. This has been apparent already in the analysis of desire above. Desire arose because the individual needed a way of dealing with its intrinsic split. Its being subject and object, pure self-consciousness and sensual object in the world (i.e. body), being-for-self and being-for-other. This duality, however, has to be overcome in order to conceive of itself as a unity, to become true, undisturbed being-for-self and thus to attain true self-certainty. In order to do so self-consciousness became desire. Now self-consciousness is still faced with the same problem. It has realized that its desire has to aim at another self-consciousness rather than at an object, but it still wants the same thing: to overcome this split and be fully reflected back onto itself. Its action is a doubled one: It is directed towards the other as well as towards itself. It is directed towards again later. The Encyclopedia appears more straight foreward in this respect. In the third and last section of the discussion of self-consciousness, entitled Das allegmeine Selbstbewusstsein, mutual recognition is actually achieved. Self-consciousness is universal (allgemein) insofar als es im freien anderen sich anerkannt wei und dies wei, insofern es das andere anerkennt un es frei wei. (p. 226). In the Zusatz Hegel explicates that this third step in the development of selfconsciousness is constituted by universal self-consciousness, d.h. dasjenige freie Selbstbewusstsein, fr welches das ihm gegenstndliche andere Selbstbewusstsein nicht mehr, wie auf der zweiten Stufe, ein unfreies, sondern ein gleichfalls selbstndiges ist (ibid.). In the Phenomenology this third step is not reached by the end of the self-consciousness chapter, though it is apparent that this is the aim and endpoint of the development. The focus then shifts however, to different matters and the notion of mutual recognition is dropped before its full realisation. I shall simply follow Hegel as far as he goes with developing the concept of mutual recognition in the self-consciousness chapter of the Phenomenology. In the second part of this paper I will come back to this notion and explore it a bit further, transcending the frame of the respective chapter. 8

the other insofar as self-consciousness puts one of the extremes outside of itself: it takes the other as object in order to be able to be its own object, mediated through the other, that is it puts its essence outside itself. Now it wants to negate the other in order to negate the split and to get its essence back; to be truly one and truly self-certain through the mediation. The positive and negative side present in the movement of desire can again be observed here. In immediate desire I wanted to negate the object of desire (negative aspect), and I want to objectify my own being in the world and posit myself as the true essence of the object (positive side). Having turned towards another self-consciousness has the advantage that it is equally the action of the other, as it is mine. That means that I want the other to negate himself (negative), and I want him to objectify my own being and to posit myself as his true essence (positive). That is, I want him to recognize me and to see himself in me. But there is a second element: The action that stems from this desire to (re-)establish the unity of self-consciousness is directed not only towards the other but towards itself as well. For there is a second split, which the individual experiences and wants to overcome. It conceives of itself as pure (self)consciousness, as pure being-for-itself. Yet also it is body, a sensual object in the world, and thus also for-others. Thus not only is the other a nothing for self-consciousness, but also itself insofar as it belongs to the sensual world and is for-others and not merely for-itself. The second activity is thus directed towards itself insofar as it is being-for-others. It wants not only to negate the other in order to come back to itself, it also wants to negate its own being-in-the-world in order to be truly and only for-itself, pure selfconsciousness. Life and Death Struggle What are the results of this double movement? It is evident that the positive side of its action towards others (i.e. the objectification of ones own essence) leads to the quest for recognition. Yet it is equally evident that this recognition cannot immediately be a mutual one since neither of the individuals is willing immediately to give it. For such giving appears to imply a loss of ones essence to the other. Yet every individual strives for pure being-in-andfor-itself. But which consequences follow from this negative aspect of the movement of desire directed towards the other (i.e. the negation of the other)? Insofar as it is directed towards the other, each individual strives for the negation of the other. It does so both actively and passively: it wants to negate the other and at the same time wants the other to perform this negation himself. Insofar as the negative moment is directed towards himself, towards his own being-for-others, the individual strives to negate himself and thus actually to fulfil what 9

the other wants him to do. Each of them therefore wants to kill the other and at the same time is risking his own life. Both of these moments follow not only accidentally but necessarily. It corresponds to the intrinsic logic spelled out above. Each of the individuals is not only willing but actually has to risk his own life as it is valueless for it. And both are also necessarily going for the death of the other, because as we have seen, the other is nothing as well and has to be negated. Thus each is doing to itself what it does to the other, and is doing to the other what it does to itself. This results in a life and death struggle for recognition. It is evident however that if one of them succeeds in killing the other, nothing is won rather is everything lost. For a dead person cannot recognize anyone, and so the victor did not attain what he was fighting for. He is, of course, certain now that he risked his own life and treated it, as well as the other, as valueless, but he did not attain recognition. And this certainty is only a vanishing moment as it was in the case of the satisfaction of desire for an object. No lasting self-certainty can come from that. What is necessary is indeed recognition, which can only come about if both individuals stay alive. One of them therefore has to realize that life is as essential to him as pure consciousness. Unwilling to risk his life, he surrenders. He recognizes the other as his master, and becomes a slave. Master and Slave It may seem that the master has now got what he desired and thus achieved absolute self-consciousness. Yet a closer analysis of the resultant situation will reveal that in fact the opposite is true. The one who will eventually attain self-consciousness is the slave. But before turning to an analysis of the development of the slave, consider the situation of the master. He has an immediate and a mediated relation to both the slave and the world. His relation to the slave is mediated through the world insofar as the master proved in the fight that objective being is nothing to him, while the slave clung to his life. Thus, insofar as the master is master over being while the slave is subjugated to it, the master is indirectly the slaves master. Secondly, the masters relation to the world is mediated by the slave insofar as the former lets the latter work for him in and on the world. What the master consumes is thus prepared by the slave. At first sight it seems as though the master has fully reached his goal. He gained recognition without being forced to recognize someone himself. He is the essence for both, himself and the other. He achieved what he desired. Yet, perhaps he did not know what he wanted. For it is evident that he does not truly have his essence in himself if his self-certainty depends on the others recognition. Much rather does he have his truth in the other. He is not free, as he believes himself to be, but actually depends on the other. 10

Furthermore, it is clear that a one-sided recognition can be of no value. For what can it mean for the master to be recognized by someone he himself does not recognize? Not recognizing the recognizer means not recognizing the recognition; such recognition is as much as no recognition at all. Recognition is only valuable if it stems from an equal, from someone whom I recognize as a human being as well. The slave however, is not recognized and thus his recognition cannot give satisfaction. What he would need is recognition by an equal. Yet this is impossible since the master, by definition, refuses to recognize anyone. For to recognize someone as equal would mean to give up his superiority and independence, which is exactly what the master was not ready to do in the life and death struggle. Thus by definition the master prefers death to slavish recognition of anothers superiority. 16 The master can never (by himself) reach the point of mutual recognition. For that would mean to change the relation of oppression into a relation of equals, which the master is unwilling to do. He does not want to change the situation. He wants to stay master and be recognised as such. Hence he can never be satisfied by recognition, and so never attains his aim. The slave by contrast has every reason to will a change of the situation. He has no interest in staying enslaved, he wants to be free, to be recognised as well. Furthermore, as soon as he gets the other to recognize him, this recognition will be satisfying for it will be mutual. It will come from someone he himself recognizes as well. It is evident from the above that the masters consciousness is necessarily trapped in a dead end. All development, all change and progress of history thus has to stem from the slaves consciousness. But it seems the master can attain satisfaction (if not through the recognition by the other) at least, after all, through the objective world. In letting the slave work for him and prepare the objects of desire, it seems as though the initial problem of desire (the autonomy of the objects) can be resolved. For now that the master has the slave in between him and the world, he lets the slave deal with the autonomy of the objects while he himself takes only their un-autonomous aspect and is thus able fully to enjoy them. Yet this too turns out to be a wrong and hasty conclusion. It is true that the master indeed gets the enjoyment, while the slave is stuck with the autonomy of the objects. But contrary to the first intuition this actually benefits the slave. For the enjoyment, as something disappearing (non-lasting), is of no value for the formation of a lasting sense of self-certainty as has been shown above. The slaves work on the autonomous objects, however, is gehemmte Begierde, aufgehaltenes Verschwinden17, i.e. is lasting. Precisely because he is not able fully to negate the object, it is actually he who overcomes the problem of desire which is, namely, the
16 17

Kojve, Alexandre. Hegel. p. 55. PG p. 153. 11

disappearing character of the object of desire, or its inability to satisfy because it is not lasting and thus has perpetually to be renewed. In the slaves case now, it is no longer disappearing and can therefore give satisfaction. The slave is able to negate the object while at the same time still preserving it (he has to keep it for the master). Through working on it, changing it he negates its nature without destroying it. The object remains there and the slaves negation (change) is thus objectified. The slave can look at it, can realize it, can be proud of it, can be satisfied: he puts his being as the essence which determines the being of the object. What the master was unable to attain, the slave thus attains. But this is not all, the slaves development goes further. For it still seems as though he is dependent on the master, and as though the essence he impressed on the object is not really his but actually the masters. It seems, that is, as though he still has his essence outside himself in the master (being-for-other). Through his experiences, the slave is thrown back onto himself (and thus attains real self-reflection, true being-for-self and thus true selfconsciousness). The cornerstone of this development was already lain in the life and death struggle. In the experience of the fear of death, where it has durchaus in sich selbst erzittert, und alles Fixe hat in ihm gebebt18, the individual was thrown back onto himself. In fearing death, one realizes what is essential for oneself. One becomes aware of what one is, what ones essence is, and one realises the nothingness of everything else. The individual had thus already experienced the essence of self-consciousness, but up to now only implicitly. Through service it becomes explicit. For it is in the work he does in the service of the master that the slave can re-form reality and objectify his essence. In this work the slave also is able to overcome his fear because in it he becomes master over the objective world to which he was formerly subjugated and which he had formerly feared. It is essential for this development that the slaves work is service, labour for another, rather than self-determined work for the satisfaction of ones own desires. If one was producing for oneself, one would not be able to overcome the problems inherent in the dialectics of desire. Only because it is impeded desire, only because one is working for the other and hence is not able to really negate (i.e. destroy) the object, one actually attains satisfaction through the objectification of ones negating (i.e. forming) powers and the insight that the other is depending on oneself rather than the other way round. Furthermore, by putting aside ones own interests and needs in order to fulfil those of the master, one creates the preconditions for the development of all culture. If one would stay at the level of immediate fulfilment of every need, one would never rise above animal life.


PG p. 153. 12

Only action carried out in anothers service is work ( Arbeit) in the proper sense of the word: an essential human and humanizing action. The being that acts to satisfy his own instincts, which as such are always natural, does not rise above nature: it remains a natural being, an animal. But by acting to satisfy an instinct that is not my own, I am acting in relation to an idea, a nonbiological end. And it is this transformation of nature in relation to a nonmaterial idea that is work in the proper sense of the word: work that creates a nonnatural, technical, humanized world 19

Only through deferring immediate desires space for thinking, and for formulating ideas, aims, ideologies etc. is created. Likewise art, as something not immediately useful, is only possible when the satisfaction of immediate desires loses importance. Finally, it is crucial to understand that both moments fear of death, and service are necessary for the slave to attain self-consciousness. If he was only labouring without having experienced fear of death, his action would be merely idle deed and stubbornness (Eigensinn). It would not have the existential character and would therefore lack the power to change the individual. If, on the other hand, a person had experienced fear of death without afterwards entering the service of the one whom he fears, the fear would remain inward and silent, would lack a way of expressing itself, and thus one would not be able to process and overcome it. Again the element of service rather than mere self-determined work is essential because it ensures that the fear takes over the entire conscious reality of the individual through which the whole process gets its necessary existential character. It is thus the slave and not the master who attains real self-consciousness. Nevertheless, he does not immediately dare to free himself from his submission to the master. Rather, first he invents various ideologies or worldviews (stoicism, scepticism and Christianity) intended to justify this very submission. Yet none satisfies, which leads consciousness to move on to reason. Only in full mutual recognition, the end-point of its development, can the individual reach real satisfaction.


Kojve Alexandre, Desire and Work in the Master and Slave. p. 52. 13

Part Two: Implications and Relevance The key notions in this chapter raise very interesting questions, important both with regard to socio-political issues as well as concerning the history of development of the individual. Which meaning does work have for the individual, what does humane work have to look like, and what are the implications of long-term unemployment for the self-image of the individual? What does mutual recognition mean on a socio-political level in times of multiculturalism and frequent clashes between different cultures, religions and worldviews? What does it imply with regards to tolerance of different cultures and religions? And what can we learn from Hegels depiction of the life and death struggle for recognition about situations where mutual recognition is refused? Would parties indeed, if pressed, employ any means whatsoever in order to attain recognition? Work To discuss the meaning and importance of work is topical enough in times of financial crisis and increasing unemployment. In Hegels analysis of the development of selfconsciousness, work plays a crucial role. On the one hand work appears as the possibility to create something, and thus to objectify ones own being in the world. On the other hand it is also important insofar as work is something which the other can appreciate and for which the individual is recognized.20 Without work, the individual would not be able to attain a feeling of self-worth and would never be able to free himself from his subjugation and enslavement. The influence of work on individuals self-understanding and its role in the creation and maintenance of self-esteem has been clearly shown by many psychological studies over the past century.21 However in Hegel there is another aspect. He stresses the importance of slave labour over against self-determined work. It is only from this serving another that the development towards full self-consciousness is possible. Hegels argument is that self-determined work lacks the necessary existential character and would thus not lead to real self-objectification through the work. Secondly, the whole development of satisfying desire in a sustainable way is possible only because the slave is forced to work for another and his work is therefore a

To put it into the terms of the master-slave dialectic: the master has to recognize the slave because he is forced to realise that he is fully dependent on the slave, on the slaves work, who is pre-paring everything for his use. 21 See for example Jahoda, Marie; Lazarsfeld, Paul & Zeisel, Hans. Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal. Ein soziographischer Versuch ber die Wirkungen langandauernder Arbeitslosigkeit. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975). 14

kind of delayed gratification or impeded desire. And thirdly, it is only in this unequal relationship that the slave is able to overcome nature and create culture and science:
the slave who works for the master represses his instincts in relation to an idea, a concept. And this is exactly what makes his activity a specifically human activity, a work, an Arbeit. By acting, he negates, he transforms the given, nature, his nature; and he does it in relation to an idea, to what does not exist in the biological sense of the word, in relation to the idea of a master that is, to an essentially social, human, historical notion. Now, to be able to transform the natural given in relation to a non-natural idea is to possess a technique. And the idea that engenders a technique is a scientific idea, a scientific concept. Finally to possess scientific concepts is to be endowed with understanding, Verstand, the faculty of abstract notion. Understanding, abstract thought, science, technique, the arts all these, then, have their origin in the forced work of the slave.22

Even in this apparently negative aspect of work (as forced, un-free activity, exploitation) Hegel sees positive aspects which are necessary for the development of humanity23. Slavelabour does not only bilden in the sense of forming reality but indeed also in the sense of educating the worker and leading to the progress in history Hegel believes to be able to observe. This perhaps too positive view of labour is also a key element of Marxs Hegelcritique,24 and indeed can be understood only from the point of view of historical development. In order to create the possibility (or even the necessity) of a progress towards an increasing realisation of freedom, there has to be a starting point of inequality. In his theses for his state doctorate, Hegel writes: Der Naturzustand ist nicht ungerecht, und gerade deshalb muss man aus ihm herausgehen25, one has to leave the fair natural state and enter into an unequal state of lordship and bondage which forms the beginning of civilisation. And the more extreme the inequality in the beginning, the more tautly the bow is drawn the more strain there is and the more powerful the resultant movement towards full realisation of
22 23

Kojve, Desire and Work. p. 57. It is noteworthy once more, that the entire development of consciousness via stoicism, scepticism and Christianity up to reason and finally absolute knowledge is actually the development of the slave-consciousness. The fact that Hegel sees the whole development of contemporary societies and culture as resulting from slave-consciousness, reminds very much of Nietzsche. On his account, likewise, the entire current culture is a development of slavemorality. There is however a huge difference in their respective attitudes towards this fact. Nietzsche views it entirely negative, as something that has to be overcome in order to allow for the evolvement of the bermensch. Hegel, on the other hand, has a very positive and optimistic attitude. He is convinced that history develops, indeed necessarily develops, in the absolute good and right direction towards continuous improvement, reaching its highest point when its final goal, i.e. absolute realisation of freedom, is realised. 24 Hegel steht auf dem Standpunkt der modernen Nationalkonomie. Er erfat die Arbeit als das Wesen, als das sich bewhrende Wesen des Menschen; er sieht nur die positive Seite der Arbeit, nicht ihre negative. (Marx, Karl. Texte zu Methode und Praxis II Pariser Manuskripte. p. 114.) 25 Cf. Lukcs, Georg. Der Junge Hegel. p. 406. 15

freedom shall be. This is an idea that was taken over by Marx in his analysis of social transformation: the poorer the working class, the more certain that it will come to revolution. And the worse the situation of the working class, the stronger will be its uprising. As actual history has shown, however, this development is perhaps not so necessary as Marx thought.26 Which conclusions can be drawn from Hegels analysis of work in the master-slave relation? The positive effects of work on the individual for his self-understanding and selfesteem are undisputed. It could, however, be more present in public discourse and shed a new light on discussions about (conditions of) work27, and also on other contemporary ideas such as basic income, etc. The positive effects Hegel sees in the negative aspects of work (in his emphasis on the importance of slave-labour) are more questionable. But of course even this positive attitude should not be taken as a legitimatisation of exploitation. For Hegel it was simply a conceptual step, a conceptually preliminary stage, meant to be overcome by a progressive realisation of freedom. Yet such legitimisation is possible only retrospectively, once its logic and role within historical development can be seen. This, of course, cannot be taken as a legitimatisation of slavery in the present, for nowadays it would mean a regress towards less freedom. And even the retrospective legitimisation as a necessary first step can of course be doubted, as the apparent historical inapplicability of Marxist theories would suggest. Mutual Recognition Mutual recognition as necessary condition for attaining true self-consciousness is a key concept in the self-consciousness chapter and in the Phenomenology as a whole. One commentator, Siep28, calls mutual recognition the telos of the Phenomenology: real mutual recognition is reached only in the very end of the development of consciousness. Furthermore, recognition also is a very topical notion in contemporary social and political thought. Very often, therefore, authors look back at Hegels conception of it. Another commentator for example, Cobben, links Hegels understanding of recognition with human rights and

The insight that the grade of suppression and the likelihood of a successful revolt are not interconnected in such a simple way, has also led to the rethinking of this position on postand neo-Marxist thought. What comes to mind especially is Gramscis analysis of the situation of socialism in western-European countries and especially in Italy, as opposed to Russia, and especially his pointing towards the importance of hegemony in order to understand contemporary societies. 27 Knowledge of the importance of work for the creation of self-esteem and knowledge also of the facets of work that are important for that (i.e. self-realisation, objectification and recognition) could induce new deep-going discussions about ideal conditions of work and characteristics of truly humane and humanizing work. 28 Cf. Siep, Ludwig. Der Weg der Phnomenologie des Geistes. p. 98. 16

democracy.29 Makowski brings up a comparison with the emphasis on tolerance in the UNESCO Declaration of Principles on Tolerance.30 And Charles Taylor sees in democracy and individualism the social developments which made the importance of the question for recognition grow.31 What features of this concept make it so important and topical? And how might it be applied to contemporary social and political questions? What conclusions can we draw what can we learn from Hegel in this respect? Before linking the notion of recognition with contemporary political questions, I shall first look again at Hegels concept thereof. For Hegel mutual recognition is a necessary condition for achieving true selfconsciousness. Only recognition, as we have seen above, can overcome the problems inherent in an individuals engagement with the world. And in order to be really effective, recognition has to be mutual. Yet this is something that individuals are not immediately aware of, they have to discover it. It is interesting that there appear two distinct reasons for the individual to commit to such a relation of mutual recognition, i.e. to agree to recognize the other as well. 32 Firstly there is an egoistic reason resulting from the masters starting to comprehend the situation: he realizes that a slaves recognition is worthless and that at the same time he is dependent on it and hence not free (as he thought he was). Both master and slave become aware of the fact that they are only really free when they recognize the other as free as well. Der dem Knecht gegenberstehende Herr war noch nicht wahrhaft frei, denn er schaute im anderen noch nicht durchaus sich selber an. Erst durch das freiwerden des Knechtes wird folglich auch der Herr vollkommen frei.33 Both will to be free themselves and hence will the other to be free as well in order to attain their goal. This means that they are willing exactly the same: freedom for both of them. Their wills are identified and, from their particular and egoistic aim, a universal goal results. A political reading of this immediately suggests itself. Close to social contract theories, this argument could be formulated in the following way: in order to ensure my possession of certain rights, I also have to acknowledge that others have equal rights; I have to accept certain duties as well. In order to ensure my own freedom, I have equally to recognize

Cobben, Paul. Anerkennung als moralische Freiheit Grundmotive in der Phnomenologie des Geistes. pp. 44ff. 30 Makowski, Piotr. Hegel on Recognition. Moral Implications of the Lordship and Bondage Dialectic. p.119. 31 Taylor, Charles. The Politics of Recognition. pp. 26ff. 32 Cf. Michalakis, Andreas. Hegel and Honneth: Recognition and the Justification of the Moral Point of View. pp. 270f. 33 Hegel, G.W.F. Enzyklopdie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1830): Dritter Teil: Die Philosophie des Geistes: Mit den mndlichen Zustzen (Werke 10). p. 226f. 17

the freedom of others. But Hegels conception of recognition goes much further than a Hobbesian social contract theory. The interesting and valuable feature of Hegels model of recognition is that it is not restricted to an egoistic will of fulfilling my own interest and understanding that it is necessary therefore to recognize others as well. Rather, Hegel creates a space for a nonegoistic reason to commit to a relation of mutual recognition as well. This attitude is based on the thought of species (Gattung). I see you not only as another particular individual with your own particular needs and interests, I also see in you the universal aspect of the human. I understand both you and me as belonging to the same species. I see myself in you. From this results a universal, moral claim to mutual recognition, which is independent of personal and egoistic interests and attitudes in a way reminiscent of Kants second formulation of the categorical imperative: i.e., that one should always treat humans as ends in themselves and never merely as means. Hegels position differs from Kants, however, in at least two respects: in that it is still founded in the immediate experience of individual consciousness, and in the fact that this mutual recognition is finally constitutive of self-consciousness. 34 Can we understand from this why Hegels concept of recognition, or recognition in general, gained such an importance in contemporary social and political thought? I have already touched upon Taylors analysis of this question, yet it deserves further comment. Taylor35 argues that there were two developments in society which gave rise to a new view on recognition. The first is related to the disappearance of social hierarchies and replacement of the notion of honour (which is connected to social inequalities, for if everyone would be honoured equally then honour would be meaningless) by the concept of dignity (which is expressive of an attitude of equality, for dignity is something that belongs to everyone on a most basic level). Democracy thus is an expression of this quest for abstract universal equality and hence an instance of mutual equal recognition. The second change leading to a new emphasis on the concept of recognition is related to individual personality. Whereas over long periods identity was defined by society, i.e. by the social function one was fulfilling, we are now living in a time in which everyone makes his own identity, which is expressed in the ideal of authenticity. Therefore, however, we are more than ever dependent on recognition from others. This is so exactly because our identity is no longer defined by society and hence no longer automatically (a priori) recognized. Rather the attainment of recognition now can fail. This is the reason why the question of

For a closer discussion of the moral implications of Hegels concept of recognition relating it to Kants categorical imperative, see Cobben, Anerkennung als moralische Freiheit. 35 Cf. Taylor, The Politics of Recognition and The Need for Recognition. (esp. pp. 46f.) 18

recognition is nowadays of such prime importance. The recognition we are striving for in these new circumstances is, however, fundamentally different than it was formerly. Now we are looking not for universal recognition of everyones abstract equality, but rather for a recognition of my very personal, particular individuality, i.e. exactly my being different than the others. In contemporary societies therefore two opposite quests for recognition may be identified: the seeking for recognition of universal equality on the one hand, and the striving for recognition of individual particularity and difference on the other. Taylor identifies them with a politics of equality and a politics of difference.36 Interestingly these converse needs for recognition are present already in Hegel. In the two motivations for recognizing the other, discussed above (i.e. the egoistic search for individual freedom, and the non-egoistic, moral demand based on the understanding of species) the emphasis lies on the universal equality. Yet the emphasis on an individuals particularity is strongly present as well. Thus the will of the persons to negate the other and even their own body: they want to be purely for-themselves, purely individual. Therefore they want to negate their body as something that is universal about them, that makes them species as well as pure singular individual.37 Furthermore it wants to negate the other in order to stress its particularity: I am different than you. This second kind of recognition recognition of particularity, of difference is even more apparent in Hegels earlier writings of the Jena period, most of all in his System der Sittlichkeit.38 Here Hegel talks about crime (the precursor of what is to become the life and death struggle in the Phenomenology). The reason why someone commits a crime is, he argues, that the person sees that his relation to law is always one-sided, either universalising or particularising him and thus never grasping him truly. Law universalises me insofar as law is always universal, applying to all humans which fall under its scope. In this sense it sees me as merely a member of the species, whereas I experience myself as a particular individual. Yet law also particularises me. That is so because insofar as a law (or punishment) applies to me, it never refers to my whole person, it always concerns only one very particular aspect of myself and prescribes one particular conduct. As such however, it can never do justice to me as a whole person, and so I conceive of myself as something more universal than that as which the law treats me. Out of this twofold relation to the law arises fear. The individual is afraid that these
36 37

Taylor, The Politics of Recognition, pp. 37f. This is why Hegel talks about the self-negation of self-consciousness as a negation of particularity in universality, i.e. in species. (cf. PG p. 144) 38 Hegel, G.W.F. System der Sittlichkeit. pp. 41f. 19

two sides of himself, his particularity and his universality, will fall apart. It is this fear that leads a person to crime, in the hope that his negation of the law will (re-)unite those two aspects of himself. Of course this is bound to fail. The individual realises that by negating the law (and thus the others) it much rather negates himself, it understands that what is needed is mutual recognition which cannot be attained by committing crimes. But it is not necessary to go into more detail here. Crucial only is the fact that both sides of being recognised in ones universality as an equal human being, as well as in ones particularity as a different individual are explicitly worked out by Hegel.39 This demand to recognize a person in his entirety, i.e. in his particularity as well as in his universality without abstraction, is also central in Hegels short text Wer denkt abstrakt? Here Hegel accuses people, in dem Mrder nichts als dies Abstrakte, da er ein Mrder ist, zu sehen und durch diese einfache Qualitt alles brige menschliche Wesen an ihm [zu] vertilgen.40 The fact that Hegel pays attention to the recognition of particularity as well, might be one of the great advantages of his theory over against Fichtes. In Fichte recognition is a purely formal and hence universal matter whereas Hegel also points towards the more concrete, personal, and emotional aspects.41 With this background we can now turn to contemporary issues again. Taylor points out correctly that there seems to be a conflict between those two sides, i.e. between the politics of equality and the politics of difference. This becomes apparent when thinking of recognizing minority groups. Different attitudes are displayed here. On the one hand there are those who fight for equal treatment of everyone on the grounds that all are equal. On the other there are people who fight precisely for different treatment sensitive to the differences between distinct social groups. This was visible in early feminism when some movements fought for equal treatment of men and women, while others, who saw essential differences between the sexes, fought for different treatment. Likewise, in questions of minority groups, which are always under threat of being absorbed into the predominant culture, the same counter-movements can be observed.42 The politics of equality stresses the universal equality of all persons; the politics of

For a more detailed analysis cf. Kloc-Konkolowicz, Jakub. Kampf um Anerkennung als Triebkraft der Gesellschaftlichen Entwicklung: Hegels Realphilosophie. 40 Hegel, G.W.F. Jenaer Schriften (1801-1807). p. 578. 41 Cf Siep, Ludwig. Anerkennung in der Phnomenologie des Geistes und in der heutigen praktischen Philosophie. And Wildt, Andreas. Der Kampf um Anerkennung in Autonomie und Anerkennung Hegels Moralittskritik im Lichte seiner Fichte-Rezeption. 42 Think for example of the French speaking Canadians, who are having their own (different) laws in order to ensure their persistence. 20

difference teaches us to see diversity as something valuable, enriching and positive as well. By reconsidering his analysis of crime, we can learn from Hegel that neither approach is satisfactory on its own. Both emphases, on universality and on particularity, are one-sided and over-simplifying. What the individual (and, on a larger scale, the social group) needs is the unification of both; it needs to be recognised as being particular as well as universal. A reconciliation of both attitudes is necessary. In a somewhat different sense this opposition between equality and difference is also observable in the nowadays very present debates about Islam and integration of Islamic persons in Western societies. Discussions about whether or not Islamic women should be allowed to wear headscarves or even burqas in public, whether Muslims should be allowed to built mosques with or without minarets, etc., are omnipresent. These questions have everything to do with the recognition of difference. Of course it does not have to be restricted to debates relating to Islam, it is equally true for any other minority group in a country, yet debates about Islam today seem especially emotional and ubiquitous. The question of recognition (or rather the failure to grant recognition) lies at the heart of contemporary policy making related to immigration and xenophobia. Hence also the particular importance of recognition in times of globalisation and multiculturalism. Alongside these questions about recognizing social groups, an analysis of the recognition of individuals can reveal important aspects of contemporary social life and persons self-understanding. As Hegel points out, being recognized by the other is a necessary condition for attaining self-consciousness and self-esteem. What then, are the consequences when such recognition fails? Taylor writes, that
our identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being. 43

The idea is, that people adopt the image of themselves, which others display to them. In 1968 Jane Elliott came up with a very informative experiment illuminating exactly this feature of the human psyche. As a reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, she decided to do an exercise with a class of high-school students in order to help them understand what racism means. She started discriminating among them on the basis of their eye-colour, treating some as inferior and others as superior. The children adopted this picture of themselves very quickly and their conduct as well as their intellectual achievements

Taylor, The Politics of Recognition, p. 25, see also p. 26 and pp. 64f. 21

changed dramatically according to this new self-understanding.44 But this notion appears already in Hegel, as when he writes dass das andere Bewusstsein [the slave] sich als Frsichsein aufhebt und hiermit selbst das tut, was das erste [the master] gegen es tut.45 With this background, recognition of individuals in their individuality and as fullyfledged persons appears in a new light. For it becomes clear how much a persons self-esteem and self-conception depends on its being recognized by others. And this again is a question very much present in contemporary societies, where discrimination unfortunately remains a commonplace. This analysis of recognition also reveals the vicious circle in which many misrecognized individuals find themselves. If, for example hostile attitudes towards foreigners are displayed and slogans equating foreigners with criminals are overtly propagated, then maybe we should not be surprised if criminality amongst immigrants indeed increases. But it is also of capital importance on a less extreme level, regarding every single person. For everyone is dependent on the others recognition for the attainment of his own self-understanding and self-esteem. This is especially so in a time of increasing individualisation and emphasis on fabricating ones own particular identity. Another interesting aspect in the discussion of recognition is that, in Hegel, the struggle for recognition is an absolute, a life and death struggle. This can shed some light on another major phenomenon in contemporary social and political life: terrorism. Terrorism could be explained as a struggle indeed as life and death struggle for recognition, a cry of certain political groups to be perceived and acknowledged as equal (on the dance floor of world politics) and as different (in the particularity of their worldview and selfunderstanding). To them such violent action may appear as the only means of fighting for this recognition still available to them. It is the most immediate and most existential quest for acknowledgement. Following a Hegelian analysis, it has to come to this life and death struggle. In the light of denied recognition, the terrorist group wants to negate the other (the western world) in order to demonstrate its own importance and to force the other to recognize it. Furthermore, when self-esteem and self-understanding are at stake, life itself becomes valueless. Life can therefore easily be sacrificed for the attainment of this higher good. A struggle for life and death is only the logical consequence. This is how far the analogy goes for, because the fight has not yet ended (and it is questionable whether there will ever be a clear victory of the one side over the other), it is

For a description and discussion of Elliotts blue eyed/brown eyed exercise see i.a. Infinito, Justen. 'Jane Elliot Meets Foucault: The Formation of Ethical Identities in the Classroom', And Schlicher, Jrgen. Die Braunugig-Blauugig bung Ein Trainingskonzept zur Thematisierung von Diskriminierung anhand der Augenfarbe. 45 PG p. 151f. (my emphasis). 22

impossible to think of the two parties of master and slave in a way strictly analogous to Hegels analysis. It might be worthwhile to play through the possibilities nevertheless. The terrorists are willing to go all the way; they are willing to risk, or rather renounce, their lives. And it is exactly this that is so frightening for the western world. We want to live. We are willing to fight, but life is dear to us. In that sense it seems as though the western world is becoming the slave and the terrorists the master. And indeed it seems as though we are the unfree ones: all the anti-terror politics is simply a reaction, it does not happen by free choice. Yet at the same time to drive the Hegelian dialectics further one could argue, that we are attaining self-consciousness (i.e. a group feeling, feeling of unity, belonging together, solidarity, or unanimity that could never be attained otherwise) through this very opposition.46 What becomes apparent through this is a relation of mutual dependence underlying the supposed independence of both parties. Terrorist groups depend on their being recognized in order to establish their own self-esteem and identity. And likewise the western world depends on this outside other, this enemy, for its sense of unity and belonging together and thus for its ability to remain a functioning political entity. Conclusion To be sure Hegel has pointed towards some very interesting phenomena in his discussion of self-consciousness. The thematisation of work was not only very influential on subsequent thinkers but could enrich discussions still today. Questions on work-conditions, the right of individuals to work, or the influence work has on a persons self-image are topical enough in times of financial crisis and increasing unemployment. Hegels emphasis on work as self-realisation and precondition for personal as well as societal development may shed an interesting light on contemporary discussions. In the analysis of recognition particularly with linking recognition to the realisation of a persons self-understanding Hegel has pointed to a very important aspect of the human psyche. Furthermore recognition should be neither a mere calculative action for egoistic purposes, nor a purely altruistic deed. Hegel connects the selfish interest with a real moral demand in the incitement for recognizing. Furthermore, the counter-movements, apparent in contemporary politics and identified by Taylor as the politics of equality and of difference, are present already in Hegel as well. He indeed has an eye for the opposition of particularity and universality present in every individual and experienced in ones relations to the other and to

Cf. Schmitts analysis of the political as a friend-enemy relation developed in Der Begriff des Politischen. The other, outside, is always necessary in order to constitute a group identity and a sense of belonging together and forming a unity. 23

the law. Hegel argues that we need to unify these two ambitions, toward universality and particularity, and this is perhaps his most central lesson for us: we should not think too onesidedly. If we want to recognize someone in his entirety, as a full person, being universal and particular, we have to see ourselves in him: We are equally particular and universal. This means that the other, the stranger, has to become familiar without thereby loosing his distinctness in an undifferentiated sameness. It is apparent that we can learn a lot from Hegels analysis of self-consciousness on a (world-)political level as well as on a social and also on a psychological plane; concerning inter-personal relationships on a great scale as well as on the intimate level. One need not take all his conclusions for granted undisputedly in order to acknowledge that he does address important issues in a way still relevant today, and that an examination of his writings can continue to stipulate our thinking and practice.


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