“The Real Meaning of Hegel’s Master—Slave Dialectic” by Andrew Cole

Paper from The Birth of Theory. Download link updated on 26. June 2021.


This paper responds to recent misreading’s of Hegel’s famous dialectic of the master and slave found within the most memorable section of Phenomenology of Spirit and finds textual support in Hegel’s work. It can, above all, be shown to be a materialist critique of feudalism so rigorous and perceptive, so illustrative of the dynamics of identity/difference, as to be the signal instance of what makes theory “critical” in the first place.

Following the history of identity/difference, pivoting from assessing the place of this logical, dialectical form in medieval philosophy, to its exemplary operations within the Phenomenology of Spirit, where Hegel places this special dialectic within history, showing in detail how identity/difference, of all logical terms, is an adequate depiction of the struggle for recognition and possession out of which emerges a universal form of self-consciousness at a particular moment in time.

We move, therefore, from philosophy and theory to “history”, yet—in aspiring to be true to dialectical form—looking closely at Hegel’s insights into the connection between history and theory, between criticism and its material surroundings, discerning what exactly gives Hegel his proto-Marxist edge, what makes him theoretical.

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