Andy Blunden April 2007

Hegel and the Master-Servant Dialectic
Excerpts from Hegel’s writing in which the Master-Slave relation is explored, with annotations by Andy Blunden.

The “master/slave” dialectic first makes its appearance in Hegel’s first sketch of his system in 1802/3, The System of Ethical Life, in which it features twice. It reaches its most extended exposition in the Phenomenology in 1807, after which it is relegated to what Hegel calls his “psychology,” in the Subjective Spirit, although some of the ideas are dealt with in the Objective Spirit, or Philosophy of Right.

As I see it, the major theme running through Hegel’s works is: “How to find a path to a modernity in which individuality can prosper while supporting the social fabric which makes it possible for individuals to be free. The “master/slave dialectic” makes its appearance in different roles at different stages in Hegel’s works, but in each case, it is this same problem which is at the centre of Hegel’s attention.

From System of Ethical Life (1802/3)

Introduction (opening words)

Knowledge of the Idea of the absolute ethical order depends entirely on the establishment of perfect adequacy between intuition and concept, because the Idea itself is nothing other than the identity of the two.

Hegel’s characteristic approach to the unresolved contradiction in Kant’s philosophy between two different faculties, Reason (or Concept) and Sensation (or Intuition) follows Schelling in defining the unity of the two, but instead of this unity being a mysterious inexplicable “absolute,” Hegel sees the unity of the two faculties as an accomplishment of human history. This approach makes clear that the Idea is the outcome, rather than the cunning, underlying and pre-existing driver, of history. The System of Ethical Life takes the form of an alternating succession of subsumption of the concept under intuition and the subsumption of intuition under the concept.

But if this identity is to be actually known, it must be thought as a made adequacy. But because they are then held apart from one another in an equation as its two sides, they are afflicted with a difference. One side has the form of universality, the other the opposed form of particularity. Therefore, in order that the equation be completely established, what was first put in the form of particularity must be put in the form of universality, while what was given the form of universality must now be given the form of particularity.

The work of history is therefore understanding the world, and creating the universal forms which make human freedom possible. There will always be a dissonance between what we know and believe and how we actually live in and see the world, and it is only when this dissonance is overcome that we have real freedom and a real understanding of the world.

1. Absolute Ethical Life. A. First Level

The first level is natural ethical life as intuition – the complete undifferentiatedness of ethical life, or the subsumption of concept under intuition, or nature proper.

In social history terms, we are talking of living without an “objective spirit,” i.e., concepts objectified in the rational institutions and laws of a wider society; we have just the “habitus” of a kinship group using only a natural division of labour by taking directly from nature. “Undifferentiatedness.” All subjects begin this way, that is the point. Knowing is in the beginning therefore immediate, – “intuition” sensuously acquired through practical activity.

But the ethical is inherently by its own essence a resumption of difference into itself, reconstruction; identity rises out of difference and is essentially negative; its being this presupposes the existence of what it cancels.

Social integration. All individuals or groups are not the same, but are integrated.

Thus this ethical nature is also an unveiling, an emergence of the universal in face of the particular, but in such a way that this emergence is itself wholly something particular – the identical, absolute quantity remains entirely hidden. This intuition, wholly immersed in the singular, is feeling, and we will call this the level of practice.

So we have the embryonic emergence of conceptual thinking here through the organisation of labour, or common activities in general, as yet without laws or institutions as such.

The essence of this level is that feeling (not what is called “ethical feeling”) is something entirely singular and particular, but, as such, is separated, a difference not to be superseded by anything but its negation, the negation of the separation into subject and object; and this supersession is itself a perfect singularity and an identity without difference.

The feeling of separation is need; feeling as separation superseded is enjoyment.

The beginning of subjectivity – the gap opening up between need and its satisfaction following up an organisation of labour; as yet no tools or division of labour, but at least some degree of deferment of consumption.


1. Absolute Ethical Life, B. Second Level, c) (ii) and (iii)

The second level of Absolute Ethical Life develops on the basis of division of labour and the creation of a surplus which is available to meet the needs of others and for exchange.

At this level a living individual confronts a living individual, but their power of life is unequal. Thus one is might or power over the other. One is indifference, while the other is fixed in difference. So the former is related to the latter as cause; indifferent itself, it is the latter’s life and soul or spirit. The greater strength or weakness is nothing but the fact that one of them is caught up in difference, fixed and determined in some way in which the other is not, but is free.

So the start of the whole thing is the one who is indifferent to law, property rights and so on, the one who doesn’t give a damn.

The indifference of the one not free is his inner being, his formal aspect, not something that has become explicit and that annihilates his difference. Yet this indifference must be there for him; it is his concealed inner life and on this account he intuits it as its opposite, namely, as something external, and the identity is a relative one, not an absolute one or a reconciliation of internal and external. This relation in which the indifferent and free has power over the different is the relation of lordship and bondage.

So here is the first appearance of the master/slave dialectic in Hegel’s system. The master is the one who is indifferent to the mores governing everyone else, who is not afraid to leave the land, to take a risk, to violate the law, and so on. Those who are dedicated, as ever, to a way of living, don’t have a chance against the one who doesn’t give a damn.

This relation is immediately and absolutely established along with the inequality of the power of life. At this point there is no question of any right or any necessary equality. Equality is nothing but an abstraction – it is the formal thought of life, of the first level, and this thought is purely ideal and without reality.

“Equality” is meaningless until some kind of measure in society exists, till people have been abstracted from their relations. And yet there necessarily is inequality of power, etc., within the relations of absolute ethical life.

In reality, on the other hand, it is the inequality of life which is established, and therefore the relation of lordship and bondage. For in reality what we have is shape and individuality and appearance, and consequently difference of power and might, or the relative identity where one individual is posited as indifferent and the other as different. Here plurality is the plurality of individuals, for, in the first level, absolute singularity has been posited in the formality of life, posited as the form of the inner life, since life is the form of external identity or absence of difference. And where there is a plurality of individuals, there is a relation between them, and this relation is lordship and bondage. Lordship and bondage is immediately the very concept of the plurality relation. There is no need for transition or conclusion here, as if some further ground or reason were still to be exhibited for it.

Contra Rousseau, Hegel argues that as soon as the individuals are taken in relation to each other, obviously they are not equal, there is nothing to equalize people?

Lordship and bondage are therefore natural, because individuals confront one another in this relation; but the relation of lordship and obedience is also set up whenever individuals as such enter into a moral relation in connection with what is most ethical, and it is a question of the formation of the ethical order as framed by the highest individuality of genius and talent.

But also, moral progress will take place only thanks to that same person who is willing to risk, who is more talented than others, a hero in other words.

Formally this moral relation is the same as the natural one; the difference consists in the fact that in ethical lordship and obedience the power or might is at the same time something absolutely universal, whereas here it is only something particular; in ethical lordship individuality is only something external and the form; here it is the essence of the relation and on this account there is here a relation of bondage, since bondage is obedience to the single individual and the particular.

So the inherent inequality in which relations form as soon as a degree of individuality emerges, has two opposite contents or potentials.

The master is the indifference of the specific characteristics, but purely as a person or as a formally living being. He is also subject or cause [as opposed to object or instrument]. Indifference [or identity] is subsumed under “being the subject” or under the concept; and the bondsman is related to him as to formal indifference or the person.

The master is a subject, i.e., the master has coverture over the others, legally representing them, the concept or way of life is embodied in an individual, the prince. The others however only know the prince as a particular, since they have not attained to knowledge of the universal.

Because the commander is here qua person, it follows that the absolute, the Idea, the identity of the two is not what is posited in the master in the form of indifference and in the servant in the form of difference; on the contrary, the link between the two is particularity in general, and, in practice, need. The master is in possession of a surplus, of what is physically necessary; the servant lacks it, and indeed in such a way that the surplus and the lack of it are not single [accidental] aspects but the indifference of necessary needs.

The ruling class appropriates the surplus of production; so production of a social surplus is here associated with the beginnings of class divisions. This surplus is not just enjoyment, but the potential for a relation with another subject.

(iii) This relation of bondage or of person to person, of formal life to formal life, where one is under the form of indifference and the other under that of difference, must be undifferentiated or subsumed under the first level, so that the same relation between persons, the dependence of one on the other, remains, but that the identity is an absolute one yet inner, not explicit, and the relation of difference is only the external form. But the identity must necessarily remain an inner one, because at this whole level it is either only a formal one (legal right) hovering over the particular and opposed to it, or an inner one, i.e., one subsumed under individuality as such, under the intuition of particularity, and so appears as nature, not as an identity subjugating a pair of antitheses or as ethical nature in which that antithetic pair has been likewise superseded, but in such a way that particularity and individuality are what has been subsumed.

The hierarchical social structure that emerges out of primitive communal life appears natural to those who live in it.

This indifference of the lordship and bondage relation, an identity in which personality and the abstraction of life are absolutely one and the same, while this relation is only something qua apparent and external, is the [patriarchal] family. In it the totality of nature and all the foregoing are united; the entire foregoing particularity is transformed in the family into the universal. ...

Hegel claims that the family relations are extended to support a form of patriarchal society, which thereby takes on the appearance of being ‘natural’.

(α) On account of the absolute and natural oneness of the husband, the wife, and the child, where there is no antithesis of person to person or of subject to object, the surplus is not the property of one of them, since their indifference is not a formal or a legal one. So too all contracts regarding property or service and the like fall away here because these things are grounded in the presupposition of private personality. Instead the surplus, labour and property are absolutely common to all, inherently and explicitly; and on the death of one of them there is no transfer from him to a stranger; all that happens is that the deceased’s participation in the common property ends.

Relations within the family are not those between independent agents, relating by contracts, and with rights with respect to one another, but one in which property and surplus are shared. The family is a subject, in other words, not a grouping of subjects.

Difference is [i.e., it has here] the superficial aspect of lordship. The husband is master and manager, but not a property owner as against the other members of the family. As manager he has only the appearance of free disposal of the family property. Labour too is divided according to the nature of each member of the family, but its product is common property. Precisely because of this division each member produces a surplus, but not as his own property. The transfer of the surplus is not an exchange, because the whole property is directly, inherently, and explicitly common.

This apparently “lordly” relation that the head of a household has in relation to other members of the household, is a responsibility, a bond, a commitment to life, not an indifference, and consequently is quite different from the relation of lordship and bondage which is premised on the master not caring about the others.

The aristocracy, on the other hand, which arose from the natural inequality out of which agricultural society emerged, are transformed into a military-feudal ruling class which is destined to play the role of the “universal class” in modern society, running the state and defending it against outside threats.

3. Ethical Life. a) First System of Government, System of Needs.

The system of needs, i.e., a market and division of labour serving the market, is the “first system of government” – overall regulation of the life of a people! “Government” is quite distinct from “State” for Hegel.

This necessary inequality divides itself again within the business class into many particular types of business, and it divides these into estates of different wealth and enjoyment. But owing to its quantitative character, which is a matter of degree and is incapable of any definition except in degree, this inequality produces a relation of master and servant. The individual who is tremendously wealthy becomes a might; he cancels the form of thoroughgoing physical dependence, the form of dependence on a universal, not on a particular.

Division of labour in the market leads to endless diversification, increased inequality and abstract labour. This inequality and abstract character of labour leads to the master-servant relation, independent tradespeople lose their independence and become employees. The wealthy transcend being well-off to becoming a power. Dependency is no longer on nature and particular forms of labour, products, skills, etc., but simply on money.

Next, great wealth, which is similarly bound up with the deepest poverty (for in the separation between rich and poor labour on both sides is universal and objective), produces on the one side in ideal universality, on the other side in real universality, mechanically.

i.e., capital and wage labour.

This purely quantitative element, the inorganic aspect of labour, which is parceled out even in its concept, is the unmitigated extreme of barbarism.

!! “the unmitigated extreme of barbarism” !! Hegel’s description of liberal capitalism.

The original character of the business class, namely, its being capable of an organic absolute intuition and respect for something divine, even though posited outside it, disappears, and the bestiality of contempt for all higher things enters.

The business class (i.e., the capitalists and workers) began from ingenuity and willingness to innovate, science, enlightenment, etc., but wind up in the law of the jungle.

The mass of wealth, the pure universal, the absence of wisdom, is the heart of the matter. The absolute bond of the people, namely ethical principle, has vanished, and the people is dissolved.

The profit motive destroys community and all the bonds of ethical life.

The government has to work as hard as possible against this inequality and the destruction of private and public life wrought by it. It can do this directly in an external way by making high gain more difficult, and if it sacrifices one part of this class to mechanical and factory labour and abandons it to barbarism, it must keep the whole people without question in the life possible for it. But this happens most necessarily, or rather immediately, through the inner constitution of the class.

It is the government’s responsibility to mitigate the growth of inequality (progressive taxation?), and protect the poorest victims of the factory system, etc.

The relation of physical dependence is absolute particularisation and dependence on something abstract, an ens rationis. The constitution creates a living dependence and a relation of individuals, a different and an inwardly active connection which is not one of physical dependence.

The dependence of people on money created by capitalism is something quite different from the mutual dependence which is constituted by state and community.

To say that this class is constituted inwardly means that within its restrictedness it is a living universal. What is its universal, its law and its right, is living at the same time in the individuals, realised in them through their will and their own activity.

The universal activity enabled by the market is constituted in the thinking of individuals which becomes also oriented to universal conceptions and their practice in ‘abstract labour’.

This organic existence of this class makes every single individual, so far as there is life in him, one with the others; but the class cannot subsist in absolute unity.

The central contradiction: the market has bound the entire people into a single, multifaceted division of labour, while at the same time fragmenting them into mutually isolated atoms no longer having any bonds of community uniting them.

Thus it makes some of the individuals dependent, but ethical on the score of their trust, respect, etc., and this ethical life cancels mere mass, quantity, and the elemental, and creates a living relation.

The workers have the virtues of trust, respect., etc., despite being reduced to a mere mass of humanity.

The wealthy man is directly compelled to modify his relation of mastery, and even others’ distrust for it, by permitting a more general participation in it. The external inequality is diminished externally, just as the infinite does not give itself up to determinacy but exists as living activity, and thus the urge to amass wealth indefinitely is itself eradicated.

Hegel’s hope that the wealthy themselves will be motivated to distribute wealth and give their workers greater participation in running companies, even though such measures do not arise organically out of the market.

Thus in this early work, Hegel describes two distinct forms of the master-slave dialectic, each arising out of the natural inequality of an unplanned, atomistic condition of society. The role of the “master” – a ruling class – begins with an indifference to the law and the community, but as a result of the power which comes from their “indifference” and freedom from determination, leads them to a position of responsibility. He contrasts this with the dominant position of the father and husband in the family which does not arise from indifference but rather from responsibility for family.

Historical progress as the objective progress of the mind gives us a glimpse of the significance of the apparent ambiguity of Hegel’s exposition as psychological, historical or logical.

Commentary on the Master/Slave Dialectic in
The Phenomenology (1807)

The following reading of the master/slave dialectic from the Phenomenology is based on the premise that the preceding narrative leading up to this section concerns self-sufficient forms of life. The idea of a formation of consciousness only makes sense in connection with a form of life in which the Gestalt is actualised. Consequently, this passage is concerned with the unmediated interaction between mutually indifferent, self-sufficient subjects. Hegel uses individuals to represent corporate subjects (Gestalts) as a literary device in the context of a contemporary literature about ‘the first man’, ‘state of nature’ and so on. The claims made, if taken to refer to individual human beings are scarcely plausible, because there is no such thing as a self-sufficient sovereign individual, certainly not for Hegel. On the other hand, the relations demonstrated here are far from being relevant only to an epoch now far in the past as they relate to subjects, and while independent self-contained corporate subjects are certainly limited to times long ago, the relations of subjectivity remain the same.

Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage

178. SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or “recognized.”

A subject can live in self-sufficient isolation perfectly well, but it cannot be said to ‘exist’ until it is self-conscious and it cannot be self-conscious so long as it has never known another subject like itself and been affirmed by another as a fellow-subject. A sovereign subject only exists as such when it is recognised by other subjects.

The conception of this its unity in its duplication, of infinitude realizing itself in self-consciousness, has many sides to it and encloses within it elements of varied significance. Thus its moments must on the one hand be strictly kept apart in detailed distinctiveness, and, on the other, in this distinction must, at the same time, also be taken as not distinguished, or must always be accepted and understood in their opposite sense. This double meaning of what is distinguished lies in the nature of self-consciousness: – of its being infinite, or directly the opposite of the determinateness in which it is fixed.

As sovereign a subject is ‘negative’, restless and resistant to any determination placed upon it; otherwise it would not be sovereign and self-determined. By “infinitude” I understand the universal, i.e., the capacity to produce and use artefacts with universal significance.

The detailed exposition of the notion of this spiritual unity in its duplication will bring before us the process of Recognition.

The point is: how does this mutual recognition come about, beginning with self-enclosed subjects? The reference points for the concept of “recognition” are Fichte’s recognition by means of which another free being summons the subject to exercise its freedom by limiting itself, and the use of the term in international law which dates from the end of the 18th century.

1. Duplicated Self-Consciousness

Contact between independent subjects, not mediated by any other entity. The problem for Hegel is to unravel how these two subjects mediate their first interaction.

179. Self-consciousness has before it another self-consciousness; it has come outside itself. This has a double significance. First it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as an other being;

Confronted with absolutely foreign individuals which in certain respects look like others of itself (i.e., misrecognised), the subject is confounded by finding some of its own outside its established system of relations of kin, labour, authority and so on – an insoluble anomaly which undermines its self-certainty (imagine Moctezuma’s reaction to the arrival of Corts or the welcome given to the First Fleet at Port Jackson); it can regard the others only as non-persons, much as it would regard a herd of dangerous animals.

secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for it does not regard the other as essentially real, but sees its own self in the other.

But secondly, knowing only its own form of life, it can only perceive the other in terms of its own categories, beliefs and way of life; but by regarding the other in this sense as equal, it thereby refuses its otherness and misrecognises the other as deficient versions of itself. Without the mediation of relevant prior experience, what is essential about the other cannot be recognised.

180. It must cancel this its other. To do so is the sublation of that first double meaning, and is therefore a second double meaning. First, it must set itself to sublate the other independent being, in order thereby to become certain of itself as true being, secondly, it thereupon proceeds to sublate its own self, for this other is itself.

This situation mortally threatens the subject’s way of life, and the subject must overcome it: either destroy it or incorporate it. This is not just something ‘psychological’; the strangers do not recognise the ‘property rights’, laws or humanity of the subject and may treat the subject ‘as animals’. Destroying the other or incorporating the other into itself destroys the other’s independence; but such a violation of the independence of the other, and undermines the subject’s own integrity from within. (The Greek polois had elaborate procedures for inducting individual visitors.)

181. This sublation in a double sense of its otherness in a double sense is at the same time a return in a double sense into its self. For, firstly, through sublation, it gets back itself, because it becomes one with itself again through the cancelling of its otherness; but secondly, it likewise gives otherness back again to the other self-consciousness, for it was aware of being in the other, it cancels this its own being in the other and thus lets the other again go free.

If the subsumption of the other succeeds, the subject again finds itself as an isolated and self-contained form of life; otherwise the subjects mutually repel one another and return confirmed in their former way of life.

182. This process of self-consciousness in relation to another self-consciousness has in this manner been represented as the action of one alone. But this action on the part of the one has itself the double significance of being at once its own action and the action of that other as well. For the other is likewise independent, shut up within itself, and there is nothing in it which is not there through itself.

A clear description of a world made up of mutually self-isolated, self-sufficient communities. An individual could never be conceived in this way.

The first does not have the object before it only in the passive form characteristic primarily of the object of desire, but as an object existing independently for itself, over which therefore it has no power to do anything for its own behalf, if that object does not per se do what the first does to it.

The subjects inhabit a world, not of passive dead objects, but of independent living beings.

The process then is absolutely the double process of both self-consciousnesses. Each sees the other do the same as itself; each itself does what it demands on the part of the other, and for that reason does what it does, only so far as the other does the same. Action from one side only would be useless, because what is to happen can only be brought about by means of both.

The mutual repulsion results in an external relation between self-contained, self-sufficient subjects along the lines of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a parody of Kantian ethics.

183. The action has then a double entente not only in the sense that it is an act done to itself as well as to the other, but also in the sense that the act simpliciter is the act of the one as well as of the other regardless of their distinction.

The problem with the Golden Rule is the failure to recognise difference. What makes sense for A is nonsense for B. The two subjects have different needs and expectations, which could be a good thing, but instead there is misrecognition. everything one subject does is something quite different in the eyes of the other, and therefore each does to itself something quite different from what it intended.

184. In this movement we see the process repeated which came before us as the play of forces; in the present case, however, it is found in consciousness.

Play of forces: ‘subjects’ interacting as blind forces, external to one another, like plants or animals.

What in the former had effect only for us [contemplating experience], holds here for the terms themselves. The middle term is self-consciousness which breaks itself up into the extremes; and each extreme is this interchange of its own determinateness, and complete transition into the opposite.

The extremes of self-consciousness at this point: need (desire), and supersession of need, i.e., labour/products of labour, or activity/artefacts. If I understand this correctly this is the crucial point: how can two mutually isolated subject have any contact at all if there is no “third party” mediating the contact? Each has needs and each produces something; contact can happen if each produces something that the other needs. Putting this less “economistically,” they have to have something to say to each other and they have to be interested in what each other says. Subjectivity arises in the gap that opens up between need and its satisfaction. And so does “intersubjectivity.”

While qua consciousness, it no doubt comes outside itself, still, in being outside itself, it is at the same time restrained within itself, it exists for itself, and its self-externalization is for consciousness.

The subject sees itself in its humanised environment, the results of its labour and the source of its satisfaction.

Consciousness finds that it immediately is and is not another consciousness, as also that this other is for itself only when it cancels itself as existing for itself, and has self-existence only in the self-existence of the other.

Each subject is self-sufficient provided only that the other subject leaves it alone, only so long as it has nothing to offer the other. It sees its needs in the other subject, provided only that the other subject gives up its needs.

Each is the mediating term to the other, through which each mediates and unites itself with itself; and each is to itself and to the other an immediate self-existing reality, which, at the same time, exists thus for itself only through this mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another.

In this paragraph we have the program of “intersubjectivity” la George Herbert Mead and so on. Each subject learns what they are by the action toward them of the other, what it is that they produce which is of value. For example, if they produce something the other needs, then the other will endeavour to take it. So, by the other’s need they learn the value of their own labour, and conversely. Note that they splitting of self-consciousness in two is how this mirroring takes place. Each sees their own labour in the other’s needs and their own needs in the other’s labour.

2. The Conflict of Self-Consciousness in Self-opposition

185. This pure conception of recognition, of duplication of self-consciousness within its unity, we must now consider in the way its process appears for self-consciousness. It will, in the first place, present the aspect of the disparity of the two, or the break-up of the middle term into the extremes, which, qua extremes, are opposed to one another, and of which one is merely recognized, while the other only recognizes.

The above state of peace based on indifference is unstable – “self-consciousness” in the form of regard of another. The “middle term” is the subjectivity that arises between the extremes of need and labour. The indifferent recognition by the other in which the subject sees their independence affirmed, in fact misrecognition, is easily withdrawn by one party or the other.

186. Self-consciousness is primarily simple existence for self, self-identity by exclusion of every other from itself.

In the first place, self-consciousness lies in the supersession of need in labour as a self-contained community. But “simple existence for self” is not yet to “exist.”

It takes its essential nature and absolute object to be Ego; and in this immediacy, in this bare fact of its self-existence, it is individual.

Not to be confused with an individual person.

That which for it is other stands as unessential object, as object with the impress and character of negation. But the other is also a self-consciousness; an individual makes its appearance in antithesis to an individual. Appearing thus in their immediacy, they are for each other in the manner of ordinary objects. They are independent individual forms, modes of Consciousness that have not risen above the bare level of life (for the existent object here has been determined as life). They are, moreover, forms of consciousness which have not yet accomplished for one another the process of absolute abstraction, of uprooting all immediate existence, and of being merely the bare, negative fact of self-identical consciousness; or, in other words, have not yet revealed themselves to each other as existing purely for themselves, i.e., as self-consciousness.

All this as above, re isolated subjects, for each other mere things.

Each is indeed certain of its own self, but not of the other, and hence its own certainty of itself is still without truth.

Its self-certainty is merely inward, and not found in the objective world, the world outside.

For its truth would be merely that its own individual existence for itself would be shown to it to be an independent object, or, which is the same thing, that the object would be exhibited as this pure certainty of itself. By the notion of recognition, however, this is not possible, except in the form that as the other is for it, so it is for the other;

Recognition cannot demonstrate the truth of a subject’s existence except by being reciprocal, as in membership of a collective of mutual understanding.

each in its self through its own action and again through the action of the other achieves this pure abstraction of existence for self.

Abstract mutual recognition is insurance against the decent into chaos threatened by the existence of other self-sufficient subjects.

187. The presentation of itself, however, as pure abstraction of self-consciousness consists in showing itself as a pure negation of its objective form, or in showing that it is fettered to no determinate existence, that it is not bound at all by the particularity everywhere characteristic of existence as such, and is not tied up with life.

Being a Subject means to be ‘negative’, to have a free will. A subject strives for freedom from domination by necessity. Internal contradictions (negativity) leads it to transgress the limitations of its finitude.

The process of bringing all this out involves a twofold action – action on the part of the other and action on the part of itself. In so far as it is the other’s action, each aims at the destruction and death of the other.

That isolated, self-sufficient subjects inevitably go to war with each other is a fact proven by history. The abstract mutual recognition described above can really only arise on the basis of failed conquest, as peace. This observation only appears quirky or cynical if the subjects are mistakenly taken to be individuals. The assertion of one subject’s will indifferently to the other’s, threatens the other with death, whether intended or not.

But in this there is implicated also the second kind of action, self-activity; for the former implies that it risks its own life. The relation of both self-consciousnesses is in this way so constituted that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle. They must enter into this struggle, for they must bring their certainty of themselves, the certainty of being for themselves, to the level of objective truth, and make this a fact both in the case of the other and in their own case as well.

Self-certainty is doubly an issue. In the first place the very existence of an alien human community poses the inevitability of war and therefore destruction, but also, the other embodies an alternative interpretation of reality, an alternative way of life, and is an on-going affront to the subject’s self-consciousness. Destruction of the other affirms the subjects in both senses. In just the proportion that the other poses a danger to the subject, their destruction affirms the infinitude of the subject and the subject’s claim to universality.

And it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; only thus is it tried and proved that the essential nature of self-consciousness is not bare existence, is not the merely immediate form in which it at first makes its appearance, is not its mere absorption in the expanse of life. Rather it is thereby guaranteed that there is nothing present but what might be taken as a vanishing moment – that self-consciousness is merely pure self-existence, being-for-self. The individual, who has not staked his life, may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person; but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.

Like the peasant village in the Seven Samurai, the way of life which is able to maintain itself is only barely human, for humanity is marked by freedom and absorption in the reproduction of life is domination by necessity and nature. Again the contrast here between “person” and “individual” emphasises that the “death” being spoken of is the death of the subject, i.e., the systematic point of view. Only in special historical circumstances does “death of a subject” entail death of the individual persons; generally just the loss of their self-conscious independence.

In the same way each must aim at the death of the other, as it risks its own life thereby; for that other is to it of no more worth than itself; the other’s reality is presented to the former as an external other, as outside itself; it must cancel that externality.

Emphasising that the other’s reality is certain kinds of activity and products, which endanger the conditions of existence of a subject.

The other is a purely existent consciousness and entangled in manifold ways; it must view its otherness as pure existence for itself or as absolute negation.

Up to this point the relations between the subjects have been mediated only by the deadly effect of the “reality” of each threatening the existence of the other.

188. This trial by death, however, cancels both the truth which was to result from it, and therewith the certainty of self altogether. For just as life is the natural “position” of consciousness, independence without absolute negativity, so death is the natural “negation” of consciousness, negation without independence, which thus remains without the requisite significance of actual recognition.

By killing the other subject, the subject fails to gain recognition of the truth of their existence, having only secured it for the moment.

Through death, doubtless, there has arisen the certainty that both did stake their life, and held it lightly both in their own case and in the case of the other; but that is not for those who underwent this struggle. They cancel their consciousness which had its place in this alien element of natural existence; in other words, they cancel themselves and are sublated as terms or extremes seeking to have existence on their own account.

The subject has reduced itself to self-subsistence.

But along with this there vanishes from the play of change the essential moment, viz. that of breaking up into extremes with opposite characteristics; and the middle term collapses into a lifeless unity which is broken up into lifeless extremes, merely existent and not opposed. And the two do not mutually give and receive one another back from each other through consciousness; they let one another go quite indifferently, like things. Their act is abstract negation, not the negation characteristic of consciousness, which cancels in such a way that it preserves and maintains what is sublated, and thereby survives its being sublated.

The other subject has been destroyed but not sublated/overcome. War as such only affirms to the subject its own power, but leaves the subject just where it is should it survive war. When a subject simply dismisses or destroys another subject nothing is gained other than affirmation of its own superiority. Abstract negation, the opposite of immanent critique. Hubris and honour and so on, is not required, what is involved is just the very familiar dogmatic assertion of self-certainty, achieved by destroying the other. What is required is the involvement of the universal in the life of the subject.

3. Lord and Bondsman

189. In this experience self-consciousness becomes aware that life is as essential to it as pure self-consciousness. In immediate self-consciousness the simple ego is absolute object, which, however, is for us or in itself absolute mediation, and has as its essential moment substantial and solid independence.

The subject has not previously known the absolute insecurity that confrontation with another subject induces. The absolute precondition for subjectivity is self-sufficiency, the ability to earn your own living. Here the subject knows itself from its activity in Nature and its own objectification and assimilation of natural material.

The dissolution of that simple unity is the result of the first experience; through this there is posited a pure self-consciousness, and a consciousness which is not purely for itself, but for another, i.e. as an existent consciousness, consciousness in the form and shape of thinghood.

The awareness of the existence of another subject shatters this simple self-enclosure, while bringing the first glimmer of self-consciousness as such; the subject is no longer the centre of the Universe and needs to know how it stands in relation to some other, of whom it knows nothing as yet, still regarding it as an object.

Both moments are essential, since, in the first instance, they are unlike and opposed, and their reflexion into unity has not yet come to light, they stand as two opposed forms or modes of consciousness. The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another.

The later split into two different roles, a different role taken by each subject, presupposes that both these two attitudes begin as different aspects of one and the same subject, the subject which is oriented to life (i.e., working with matter and making a living) and the subject which is oriented towards other subjects, having their needs met via another.

The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman.

190. The master is the consciousness that exists for itself; but no longer merely the general notion of existence for self.

The Master subject remains a subject which knows no universal or overarching power able to mediate its relation to other subjects. In that sense it remains a single, self-sufficient subject. But it is oriented to another which it sees as subordinate to itself.

Rather, it is a consciousness existing on its own account which is mediated with itself through an other consciousness, i.e. through an other whose very nature implies that it is bound up with an independent being or with thinghood in general.

So it knows itself via the activity of another consciousness, but one which it sees as part of nature, rather than being another subject like itself.

The master brings himself into relation to both these moments, to a thing as such, the object of desire, and to the consciousness whose essential character is thinghood. And since the master, is (a) qua notion of self-consciousness, an immediate relation of self-existence, but (b) is now moreover at the same time mediation, or a being-for-self which is for itself only through an other – he [the master] stands in relation (a) immediately to both, (b) mediately to each through the other.

What is involved here is the relation of need to its supersession in labour, of desire to its object, which can either be a direct taking, or can be mediated via the other subject, whose labour the object is. Formerly, subjectivity subsisted in the supersession of need through labour, now these two moments have detached themselves from one another. The immediate relations are as before, the relation to the other’s products as objects of desire for the Master, and the relation to the other’s activity as another existent being. The mediated relations are that the other possesses the object of desire and the other produces the object of desire. The other is therefore seen from a two-fold point of view: as object of desire and as resistant force, as product and labour.

The master relates himself to the bondsman mediately through independent existence, for that is precisely what keeps the bondsman in thrall; it is his chain, from which he could not in the struggle get away, and for that reason he proved himself to be dependent, to have his independence in the shape of thinghood.

Whereas the master has dared to struggle, the bondsman is a mortal human being living from Nature.

The master, however, is the power controlling this state of existence, for he has shown in the struggle that he holds it to be merely something negative. Since he is the power dominating existence, while this existence again is the power controlling the other [the bondsman], the master holds, par consequence, this other in subordination.

The master, having conquered the other, subsumes the other within its own system of activity as a subordinate thing.

In the same way the master relates himself to the thing mediately through the bondsman.

The master relates to (supersedes) his own needs now via the slave. The object of its needs are no longer immediately the object of its labour; the slave is now interposed between needs and the object of need.

The bondsman being a self-consciousness in the broad sense, also takes up a negative attitude to things and cancels them; but the thing is, at the same time, independent for him and, in consequence, he cannot, with all his negating, get so far as to annihilate it outright and be done with it; that is to say, he merely works on it.

Although no longer an independent self-subsistent subject, the conquered subject, the bondsman, remains a conscious being who remembers who they are, transforming nature and taking a “negative” attitude of any living human being. But lacking independence, the enslaved people cannot free itself from necessity, it cannot, like the master, leave the land and abolish its dependence on its own labour. It is an appendage, a mere cog in the machine.

To the master, on the other hand, by means of this mediating process, belongs the immediate relation, in the sense of the pure negation of it, in other words he gets the enjoyment. What mere desire did not attain, he now succeeds in attaining, viz. to have done with the thing, and find satisfaction in enjoyment. Desire alone did not get the length of this, because of the independence of the thing.

The master now gets what they wanted, but not only is the desire for the object satisfied, but the added work of overcoming the independence of the thing as the possession of another subject is enjoyed.

The master, however, who has interposed the bondsman between it and himself, thereby relates himself merely to the dependence of the thing, and enjoys it without qualification and without reserve. The aspect of its independence he leaves to the bondsman, who labours upon it.

The ability of the master to enjoy the object without any restraint or pain is now the task of the subjugated subject.

(a). Lordship

191. In these two moments, the master gets his recognition through an other consciousness, for in them the latter affirms itself as unessential, both by working upon the thing, and, on the other hand, by the fact of being dependent on a determinate existence; in neither case can this other get the mastery over existence, and succeed in absolutely negating it.

Returning to the theme of recognition: the master has received recognition, that is, the other subject has accepted the truth of the master’s needs, and their own needs are by force relegated to being inessential; they work for the master. Even though the conquered subject labours effectively, it actually has no say over what it produces.

We have thus here this moment of recognition, viz. that the other consciousness cancels itself as self-existent, and, ipso facto, itself does what the first does to it.

By recognising the master’s needs, as absolute, the bondsman’s own needs are cancelled, and therefore its own actions are how it is enslaved.

In the same way we have the other moment, that this action on the part of the second is the action proper of the first; for what is done by the bondsman is properly an action on the part of the master. The latter exists only for himself, that is his essential nature; he is the negative power without qualification, a power to which the thing is naught. And he is thus the absolutely essential act in this situation, while the bondsman is not so, he is an unessential activity.

The master does not hold the slave’s hand so to speak; the slave does it itself; the more emphatically is it a conquered being. But the slave’s activity is meaningful only within the system of activity oriented around the needs and way of life of the master. It is all the master’s labour from the point of view of its significance and the responsibility. Hadrian built Hadrian’s Wall.

But for recognition proper there is needed the moment that what the master does to the other he should also do to himself, and what the bondsman does to himself, he should do to the other also.

Both slave and master have violated the Golden Rule; the reciprocity which formerly sustained both subjects within themselves has been cancelled; “class division” has been introduced into a traditional egalitarian way of life.

On that account a form of recognition has arisen that is one-sided and unequal.

This class division has to be incorporated into the “combined subjectivity.” Recall 189 above that the aspects of both master and servant had to contained in the original subjectivity, now both really believe in the class difference.

192. In all this, the unessential consciousness is, for the master, the object which embodies the truth of his certainty of himself.

The conquered subject satisfies the master’s needs by its labour. The master’s self-certainty rests on the activity of a dependent, dominated being.

But it is evident that this object does not correspond to its notion; for, just where the master has effectively achieved lordship, he really finds that something has come about quite different from an independent consciousness. It is not an independent, but rather a dependent consciousness that he has achieved.

By conquest, the master has made himself dependent on a dependent being. – mutual dependence is the truth of this relation.

He is thus not assured of self-existence as his truth; he finds that his truth is rather the unessential consciousness, and the fortuitous unessential action of that consciousness.

Realising that it is not a genuinely independent subject which is validating the conqueror’s way of life and has given recognition to the conqueror, means that the recognition has not ‘really’ been achieved. It’s like the torturer who realises that their victim has only told them what they wanted to hear. This ‘truth’ cannot be relied upon. Like a military occupation force, they can’t trust anyone.

193. The truth of the independent consciousness is accordingly the consciousness of the bondsman.

The master’s accomplishments are the products of the slave’s labour; the slave does what the master only wishes for.

This doubtless appears in the first instance outside itself, and not as the truth of self-consciousness. But just as lordship showed its essential nature to be the reverse of what it wants to be, so, too, bondage will, when completed, pass into the opposite of what it immediately is: being a consciousness repressed within itself, it will enter into itself, and change round into real and true independence.

Although the bondsman was formerly a conquered subject, that’s past history; presently it is the productive activity of the master subject. Consciousness must eventually come into line with activity. The master’s needs mediate between the bondman’s needs and their supersession; the slave’s labour mediates between the master’s needs and their supersession.

(b). Fear

Natural necessity has been replaced by fear of the master subject as the motivator for labour, the master is now the entity which unifies all the slave’s activity.

194. We have seen what bondage is only in relation to lordship. But it is a self-consciousness, and we have now to consider what it is, in this regard, in and for itself.

Now, the labourer’s consciousness.

In the first instance, the master is taken to be the essential reality for the state of bondage; hence, for it, the truth is the independent consciousness existing for itself, although this truth is not taken yet as inherent in bondage itself.

The slave has been incorporated into the master’s system of activity. For the slave, the slave is a Roman himself, albeit a slavish Roman. But is not because of bondage; the slave has to do the activity.

Still, it does in fact contain within itself this truth of pure negativity and self-existence, because it has experienced this reality within it.

The slave can now see the world from the conqueror’s point of view.

For this consciousness was not in peril and fear for this element or that, nor for this or that moment of time, it was afraid for its entire being; it felt the fear of death, the sovereign master. It has been in that experience melted to its inmost soul, has trembled throughout its every fibre, and all that was fixed and steadfast has quaked within it. This complete perturbation of its entire substance, this absolute dissolution of all its stability into fluent continuity, is, however, the simple, ultimate nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure self-referent existence, which consequently is involved in this type of consciousness.

The challenge to the slave’s existence has shaken it’s self-certainty and made it ready to see the world differently. The fear is not external and incidental but absolute.

This moment of pure self-existence is moreover a fact for it; for in the master it finds this as its object.

Labour is for a purpose, a project, an idea, not just subsistence.

Further, this bondsman’s consciousness is not only this total dissolution in a general way; in serving and toiling the bondsman actually carries this out.

The idea is practical, not just theoretical (were this not an ‘anachronism’).

By serving he cancels in every particular aspect his dependence on and attachment to natural existence, and by his work removes this existence away.

“Emancipation through labour.”

195. The feeling of absolute power, however, realized both in general and in the particular form of service, is only dissolution implicitly; and albeit the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom, consciousness is not therein aware of being self-existent.

The slave’s remains a subordinate part of the master’s subjectivity. The master’s needs is the unifying meaning behind all the slave’s activity so constant awareness of this meaning in the form of fear makes possible the knowledge of the master.

Through work and labour, however, this consciousness of the bondsman comes to itself.

Although the driving force, the master is superfluous, as all the labour is that of the slave.

In the moment which corresponds to desire in the case of the master’s consciousness, the aspect of the non-essential relation to the thing seemed to fall to the lot of the servant, since the thing there retained its independence. Desire has reserved to itself the pure negating of the object and thereby unalloyed feeling of self. This satisfaction, however, just for that reason is itself only a state of evanescence, for it lacks objectivity or subsistence.

The master consumes (sublates) the object but only as object of consumption not as product. There is a separation of theory and practice. The master affirms itself only in the final satisfaction of its needs.

Labour, on the other hand, is desire restrained and checked, evanescence delayed and postponed; in other words, labour shapes and fashions the thing.

The first step towards modernity has been taken. Labour does not directly lead to consumption but is rather aimed at making an artefact whose meaning lies in the master’s needs, not the bondsman’s. This is practice, not just life activity, fashioning a thing according to ideal needs and not just for its utility as such. We have a division of labour in embryo in as much as although the bondsman does all the labour, it is all labour for an ideal need. The ideal needs of the master intervenes between the bondsman’s desire to live and the work that he/she does. Labour has been separated from consumption and now only requires to be distributed.

The negative relation to the object passes into the form of the object, into something that is permanent and remains; because it is just for the labourer that the object has independence.

The universal; the slave is producing a culture. The master knows the thing only as the satisfaction of its own needs, as theory, not as an independently existing thing, as practice.

This negative mediating agency, this activity giving shape and form, is at the same time the individual existence, the pure self-existence of that consciousness, which now in the work it does is externalized and passes into the condition of permanence. The consciousness that toils and serves accordingly attains by this means the direct apprehension of that independent being as its self.

The labour of the slave mediates between the master’s needs and their satisfaction. The slave has consciousness of individuality because it is not simply an instance of the master subject, spontaneously, but must have a practical knowledge of what it does.

196. But again, shaping or forming the object has not only the positive significance that the bondsman becomes thereby aware of himself as factually and objectively self-existent; this type of consciousness has also a negative import, in contrast with its moment, the element of fear. For in shaping the thing it only becomes aware of its own proper negativity, existence on its own account, as an object, through the fact that it cancels the actual form confronting it.

Although the slave has gained practical mastery of the object, it has no understanding of control over the whole process.

But this objective negative element is precisely alien, external reality, before which it trembled. Now, however, it destroys this extraneous alien negative, affirms and sets itself up as a negative in the element of permanence, and thereby becomes for itself a self-existent being. In the master, the bondsman feels self-existence to be something external, an objective fact; in fear self-existence is present within himself; in fashioning the thing, self-existence comes to be felt explicitly as his own proper being, and he attains the consciousness that he himself exists in its own right and on its own account (an und fr sich).

But in seeing what it has produced the slave sees itself as an objective existent being, self-sufficient and “for itself.”

By the fact that the form is objectified, it does not become something other than the consciousness moulding the thing through work;

Hegel belittling the mental/material dichotomy.

for just that form is his pure self existence, which therein becomes truly realized. Thus precisely in labour where there seemed to be merely some outsider’s mind and ideas involved, the bondsman becomes aware, through this re-discovery of himself by himself, of having and being a “mind of his own.”

Having (or ‘being’!) a “Mind of his own” is a popular expression of the day which Hegel mocked, e.g., in his letters to Niethammer. The master/slave relation shows how delusional is the idea of “mind of one’s own”; we are all bearers of the ‘World Spirit’

(c). The Formative Process of Self-Enfranchisement

For this reflection of self into self the two moments, fear and service in general, as also that of formative activity, are necessary: and at the same time both must exist in a universal manner. Without the discipline of service and obedience, fear remains formal and does not spread over the whole known reality of existence.

The focus of the fear (or whatever motivates the bondsman) but spread across the whole of the bondsman’s activity. Unless all the bondsman’s activities are objectively unified in this way, they become just so many disparate, arbitrary tasks. The unity of the whole makes it possible for the ideal or universal character of the work to be apprehended.

Without the formative activity shaping the thing, fear remains inward and mute, and consciousness does not become objective for itself.

Here the product is the objectivity not just of conception, but the emotion, fear.

Should consciousness shape and form the thing without the initial state of absolute fear, then it has a merely vain and futile “mind of its own”; for its form of negativity is not negativity per se, and hence its formative activity cannot furnish the consciousness of itself as essentially real.

“Negativity” because it is not just change or movement but negation by a subject, in this case the master-subject, with his ideal needs.

If it has endured not absolute fear, but merely some slight anxiety, the negative reality has remained external to it, its substance has not been through and through infected thereby. Since the entire content of its natural consciousness has not tottered and shaken, it is still inherently a determinate mode of being; having a “mind of its own” (der eigene Sinn) is simply stubbornness (Eigensinn), a type of freedom which does not get beyond the attitude of bondage. As little as the pure form can become its essential nature, so little is that form, considered as extending over particulars, a universal formative activity, an absolute notion; it is rather a piece of cleverness which has mastery within a certain range, but not over the universal power nor over the entire objective reality.

Basically, the bondsman will have to feel its life is on the line, that is, once and for all abandon its former identity and take as its own, the whole system of activity, or despite all the achievements of its labour, it will remain a subordinate part of the master subject – carrying out practical activity along the lines of the master’s theory.

Thus the bondsman cannot be an independent producer exchanging its product with others with the system of activity, but nevertheless, by deferring its consumption and producing for an ideal consumption, it has created the embryo of a division of labour and the development of a system of needs and their satisfaction, i.e., civil society. An embryo division of labour, because although the labour has not been divided, it is directed by the ideal of the needs of the society, in this case, the needs of the master subject.

As the bondsman, and other bondsmen to follow, assert their own needs, this situation can pass over into a system of needs and their satisfaction, one of the key elements of the modern bourgeois society that Hegel describes in the Philosophy of Right. Another key element is of course the state. In the bondsman’s labouring for the master-subject’s needs, and in taking on as its own the subjectivity of the master, and in the master’s coverture of the bondsman, its detachment from labour in favour of rule, self-evidently this relation also prepares the way for a modern state, based not on kinship but on class relations. Politics has been separated from kinship with the system of needs filling the gap in between.

If this description of the master/slave dialectic in terms of needs and labour seems too economistic and lacking the drama of recognition, honour, hubris and so forth, think of how a person reacts if you cut off their air supply or if a dangerous animal enters their space. See how a person reacts to a stranger entering their house. You will see no lack of drama and feeling, but there is no need to call on higher feelings like honour or ascribe hubris to the status of a basic instinct.

In terms of the master/slave dialectic as a model for “intersubjectivity” (a word Hegel never used), what is worthy of noting is the length Hegel has to go to rationally comprehend the idea of an unmediated interaction between subjects.

Firstly, the idea that such an interaction could be modelled as the interaction between two individuals is both artful and absurd. Two individuals may be strangers to one another in certain respects, but in other respects (perhaps they speak the same language, perhaps they understand body image and gesture) any interaction they have is massively mediated. But on the other hand, presentation of the interaction as that between individuals, metaphorically representing mutually alien subjects, enables certain literary devices, and avoids complementary misunderstandings if two communities were instead used as metaphor.

Secondly, in order to make a mediation without presuming a shared culture or introducing a third party, Hegel splits the subjects in two. This split I interpret as needs and labour, in line with the basic distinctions of the System of Ethical Life. Somewhat anachronistically, it can be rendered as theory and practice; anachronistically because the dialectic of theory and practice comes a little later in Hegel’s Subjective Spirit, as the completion of the transition to modern society.

It is precisely this insistence on exploring the mediation of relationships which makes Hegel’s approach so creative.

From The Philosophy of Spirit, Part III of the Encyclopaedia (1817)

The master-slave dialectic does not appear in the Objective Spirit, or Philosophy of Right, which begins with right-in-embryo, property. It is found in the middle section of the Subjective Spirit, called Consciousness (the transition from natural ethical life to spirit in which consciousness is filled with universal content arising from the formation of rational institutions), and in the middle section of Consciousness called Self-Consciousness, in the transition from consciousness as such to Reason.

B. Consciousness (a) Consciousness as Such ...

352. (2) It is a self-consciousness for a self-consciousness, at first immediately, as an other for an other. I immediately perceive myself in the other as “I,” and yet also an immediately existing object, another “I” absolutely independent of me. This contradiction, that I am only I as the negativity of immediate existence, yields the process of recognition.

This represents self-consciousness in a people in which there is no division of labour or market, but respect for each other’s ‘property’. la Fichte, people have learnt to limit their freedom so as to recognition the property (abstract rights) of others.

353. The process is a struggle. For I can not know of myself in the other as myself insofar as the other is an immediate other existence for me.

The others’ view of me is not immediately given, though it is contained therein.

I consequently concentrate on the suspension of this immediacy. But this immediacy is at the same time the existence of self-consciousness, in which as in its sign and instrument self-consciousness has its own feeling of self and its being for others, and has the general means of entering into relation with them.

In becoming conscious of myself through the reaction of others, it remains the case that these others have a consciousness and needs of their own.

In the same way I can not be recognised as immediate, except insofar as the “I” suspends the immediacy in myself and thereby brings my freedom into existence.

Emphasising again that recognition is a mediated process, possible by the splitting of each party into two: I and Me, or needs and labour?

354. The struggle for recognition is thus a matter of life and death: either self-consciousness imperils the life of the other and brings itself into danger – but only into danger, for each is no less determined to preserve its life as the essential moment. Thus the death of one, which from one perspective solves the contradiction – though by the abstract, therefore crude negation of immediacy – is yet, from the essential perspective or the existence of recognition, the greater contradiction.

The subject which is not recognised will become a ‘door mat’, a non-person; their land terra nullius. But the path to reason and modernity lies not in a homogenous system of needs and labour organised in unreflective traditions ways, but rather presupposes the recognition of the independence of others as subjects in their own right.

355. Since life is as essential as freedom is, the struggle ends in the first place – for in this sphere the immediate individuality of the two self-consciousnesses is presupposed – as in inequality: whereas one of the fighters prefers life and retains its abstract or individual self-consciousness, but surrenders its claim for recognition, the other holds fast to this universality, and is recognised by the former as his superior. Thus arises the relation of master and servant.

Inequality, particularly in respect to willingness to take risks and innovate, leads to the master and servant relation, which can be interpreted here in employer and employee or literally as master and servant; what would today be called class difference. “Recognition” seems to carry the same meaning as in international law, recognition as an independent rather than dependent power.

Zusatz: The struggle for recognition and the subjugation under a master are the phenomena in which the social life of people emerges. Force, which is the basis of this phenomenon, is thus not a basis of law, but only the necessary and legitimate moment in the transition from the state of self-consciousness mired in appetite and selfish isolation into the suspension of immediate self-hood. This other, however, overcomes the desire and individuality of sunken self-consciousness and transforms it into the condition of general self-consciousness.

The emergence of a feudal hierarchy makes possible the emergence of social consciousness as such, as opposed to the absorption in immediate particularity of tribal life.

356. This relation is in the first place and according to its identity a shared feature of the need, the desire, and the concern for satisfaction. In place of the crude destruction of the immediate object there follows the acquisition, preservation, and formation of it, as of the intermediary by which the two extremes of dependence and independence are welded together.

First of all, instead of the immediate sublation of need by labour, the emergence of social consciousness takes the form of deferred consumption, the market and a division of labour: the emergence of a system of needs and their satisfaction, “the first form of government.” The independence of the master is the dependence of the servant.

357. According to the distinction between the two, the master has in the servant and its servitude the intuition of the objectivity of his individual being for itself in its suspension, but only insofar as it belongs to an other. – The servant, however, in the service of the master, works off his individual or self-will, suspends his inner immediacy, and through this externalisation learns fear of the master and beginning of wisdom, – the transition to general self-consciousness.

The labour of the servant is now mediating between the master’s needs and their satisfaction, so the truth of master’s self-consciousness depends on an other. On the other hand, the servant does not pursue his own ends, defers his own consumption and by working for the master, makes the first step to a rational form of life. The master stands for the general interest.

358. (3) General self-consciousness is the positive knowledge of self in another self: each self as a free individuality has absolute independence, though in virtue of the negation of its immediacy without distinguishing itself from that other. Each is thus general self-consciousness and objective; each has real generality in such a way as it recognises itself in the free other, and knows this insofar as it recognises the other and knows it to be free.

“Stoicism,” “unhappy consciousness” and so on, are all skipped over here. The worker sees himself in the material culture that he/she has laboured to produce and in the form of life which her labour supports. All enjoy free individuality but not as isolated atoms, but rather through their collaborative activity. The experience of working for the general interest embodied in the needs of the master, allows people to attain a modern consciousness.

Zusatz This general reappearance of self-consciousness, the concept, which knows itself in its objectivity as a subjectivity identical with itself and therefore general, is the substance of all true spiritual life, of the family, the fatherland, the state, and of all virtues, – love, friendship, bravery, honour, fame.

Re-appearance because the limited self-consciousness of natural ethical life, which was destroyed in its subordination to a master and then a modern division of labour re-appears in the consciousness that the whole community is one’s own self-expression. Thus the identity of the outward virtues (love of country etc.) and the inner virtues (honour, fame, etc.)

359. This unity of consciousness and self-consciousness has in the first place individuals existing in contrast to each other as beings for themselves. But their difference in this identity is entirely indeterminate diversity, or rather it is a difference which is none. Hence its truth is the unmediated generality subsisting in and for itself and the objectivity of self-consciousness, – reason.

In a society composed of individuals who know themselves as independent free beings but also know the whole community as themselves, the diversity of modern society is just so many expressions of the one idea. “Unmediated generality” is the grasping of the universal within each individual psyche, subsisting in institutions which are themselves embodiments of rational social relations.

From the Subjective Spirit in the
Encyclopaedia of 1831.

There are only subtle changes from the Encylopaedia of 1817.

ii. Self-consciousness Recognitive

430. Here there is a self-consciousness for a self-consciousness, at first immediately, as one of two things for another. In that other as ego I behold myself, and yet also an immediately existing object, another ego absolutely independent of me and opposed to me. (The suppression of the singleness of self-consciousness was only a first step in the suppression, and it merely led to the characterization of it as particular.) This contradiction gives either self-consciousness the impulse to show itself as a free self, and to exist as such for the other: – the process of recognition.

When two subjects (nations, communities) meet each other for the first time, without any overarching system of law or culture, they recognise each other as objects like themselves (i.e., superficially), but outside of their own system of custom and cooperation. This contradiction sets in motion a process, called recognition.

431. The process is a battle. I cannot be aware of me as myself in another individual, so long as I see in that other an other and an immediate existence: and I am consequently bent upon the suppression of this immediacy of his. But in like measure I cannot be recognized as immediate, except so far as I overcome the mere immediacy on my own part, and thus give existence to my freedom. But this immediacy is at the same time the corporeity of self-consciousness, in which as in its sign and tool the latter has its own sense of self, and its being for others, and the means for entering into relation with them.

Immediacy is the lack of mediation, i.e., acting in relation to the other as if there were no relevant law or rights, such as when the colonial powers meet an indigenous people, but also the natural cooperation of pre-modern communities. The immediacy of self-consciousness is the use of a material culture and it is material culture, including both language and forces of production, which provides the possibility for mediation.

432. The fight of recognition is a life and death struggle: either self-consciousness imperils the other’s life, and incurs a like peril for its own – but only peril, for either is no less bent on maintaining his life, as the existence of his freedom. Thus the death of one, though by the abstract, therefore rude, negation of immediacy, it, from one point of view, solves the contradiction, is yet, from the essential point of view (i.e. the outward and visible recognition), a new contradiction (for that recognition is at the same time undone by the other’s death) and a greater than the other.

The contending subjects struggle for survival, but so long as the conflict leads only to the eradication of one subject by another, no progress is made.

433. But because life is as requisite as liberty to the solution, the fight ends in the first instance as a one-sided negation with inequality. While the one combatant prefers life, retains his single self-consciousness, but surrenders his claim for recognition, the other holds fast to his self-assertion and is recognized by the former as his superior. Thus arises the status of master and slave.

Thus there is progress only through the ‘colonisation’ of one subject by another, leading to a modern, heterogeneous society.

Zusatz: In the battle for recognition and the subjugation under a master, we see, on their phenomenal side, the emergence of man’s social life and the commencement of political union. Force, which is the basis of this phenomenon, is not on that account a basis of right, but only the necessary and legitimate factor in the passage from the state of self-consciousness sunk in appetite and selfish isolation into the state of universal self-consciousness. Force, then, is the external or phenomenal commencement of states, not their underlying and essential principle.

Primitive accumulation or revolutionary war. John Rawls should take note, the foundation of a liberal state does not come about by liberal means.

434. This status, in the first place, implies common wants and common concern for their satisfaction – for the means of mastery, the slave, must likewise be kept in life.

Shades of Adam Smith. Modern society emerges as a system of needs and their satisfaction, a cooperative division of labour.

In place of the rude destruction of the immediate object there ensues acquisition, preservation, and formation of it, as the instrumentality in which the two extremes of independence and non-independence are welded together.

The origins of the system of labour in domination and forced dependence fades away as all are drawn into a common system of production, conducted according to universal principles.

The form of universality thus arising in satisfying the want, creates a permanent means and a provision which takes care for and secures the future.

From particular domination arises a modern culture with a ‘life of its own’.

435. But secondly, when we look to the distinction of the two, the master beholds in the slave and his servitude the supremacy of his single self-hood resulting from the suppression of immediate self-hood, a suppression, however, which falls on another. This other, the slave, however, in the service of the master, works off his individualist self-will, overcomes the inner immediacy of appetite, and in this divestment of self and in ‘the fear of his lord’ makes ‘the beginning of wisdom’ – the passage to universal self-consciousness.

Serving the master becomes serving the general interest, working according to a social division of labour raises the workers to a theoretical consciousness.