Notes on Hegel: “Lordship and Bondage.”

I wrote these notes for a presentation on Hegel’s “Lordship and Bondage” for a graduate seminar last year. I have decided to post them here, although I admit they’re not very detailed and lack the explanations needed for a more detailed piece.

SCENE ONE: THE CONCEPT OF RECOGNITION

“All the World’s a Stage.” -Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II Scene VII

The man who becomes aware of himself directly in the cogito also perceives all the others, and he does so as the condition of his own existence. He realizes he cannot be anything (in the sense in which we say someone is spiritual, or cruel, or jealous) unless others acknowledge him as such. I cannot discover any truth whatsoever about myself except through the mediation of another. The other is essential to my existence, as well as to the knowledge I have about myself.
– Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism.

§178

Self-Consciousness exists “in and for itself ” insofar as it exists “in and for itself ” for another. It exists only in being acknowledged. Human action requires recognition to exist. Without recognition, I cannot truly “act.” Action is public, political, and moral existence. The second sentence of this passage is a mistranslation. It reads better:

The concept of this unity within its doubling, of infinity realizing itself in self-consciousness, is a many-sided and pluri-significant webbing such that its moments must one the one hand be held strictly apart, and on the other hand must in this differentiation at the same time also be taken and known as not distinct, or in their opposite significance. The double meaning of the distinct [moments] lies in the essence of self-consciousness, [viz.] that it is infinite, or directly opposite of the determinateness in which it is posited. -H.S. Harris’ Translation

Notice the movement of infinity from “Force and the Understanding.” Further, we’ve seen this play throughout the Phenomenology; something is many, yet also unified within its difference. They have this “double meaning” because such duplicity belongs to the essence of consciousness – i.e. consciousness posits itself as “determinate,” but is in fact the opposite, an infinite movement of “self-sundering.”

§179

Self-Consciousness is faced with another Self-Consciousness. It “comes out of itself ” (außer sich) [Notice that this move is similar to that of Force “expressing” (äußern) itself.]
This has a “twofold significance” [“gedoppelte Bedeutung”, think “doubling”]

  1.  It has lost itself, it finds itself in another essence.
  2. It has canceled out [aufgehoben] the other. It doesn’t see the other as an other, that is, not as the essence, but only sees itself.

In order to exist, my actions must be recognized by another. If I lose myself in the recognition given to my actions by another, I am no longer the “essence” of my own actions; the other essentially determines all of my judgments regarding my actions. However, I do not encounter the other in this relationship; I only encounter “myself,” but as something reflected back by the other.

§180

The passage begins by referring to the “first ambiguity” (ersten Dopplesinne), seemingly referring back to the “twofold significance” earlier. I must cancel the otherness [Anderssein] of myself. Canceling this ambiguity leads to the second ambiguity.

  1.  I must cancel out the other independent essence, becoming certain of myself as the essence.
  2.  In doing this, I cancel out myself because the other is myself.

If I cancel out this reflection of myself in others (by, say, not caring what others think about my actions and simply “being myself ”), I cancel the other as essential. However, in canceling the other, I lose the reflection of myself in the other, as well as any permanence my actions could have. I become oblivious of the way my actions appear to other people.

§181

In the previous passage, we have an ambiguous aufheben of the ambiguous otherness. This, in turn, is equally an ambiguous return to myself. This return has two meanings:

  1. By canceling my otherness, I receive myself back; I once again become “equal to myself.” I’ve canceled my “Anderssein.”
  2. I give the other self-consciousness its own “being other” back, since I was “for itself ” in the other, I cancel this, “thus letting
    the other go free.”

This movement happens simultaneously to the move in §180. I cancel my “being other,” getting myself back, yet I also give the other back to themselves; they no longer are my audience and are no longer captivated by my actions – they are free to do what they like. The actor has ignored the audience and thus failed to move them. They are bored, looking at their watches.

§182

The action of the one has a double meaning of being both the action of itself and of the other. The other is equally “independent and self-contained,” and from it everything originates. “There is nothing in it which it is not itself the origin,” i.e. the other also unifies infinite differences, has a manifold and transcendental unity of its apperception, etc. Further, unlike in the case of desire, the object cannot be utilized except by its own accord. (Here, Hegel invokes liberal principles of autonomy and consent).

§183

Accordingly (in a manner similar to the forces), we have a double movement. The other mirrors the first, adding a “double significance.”

§184

Now, Hegel more specifically describes this as the same movement as the play of Forces. Accordingly, the same holds true of this movement. The middle term is self-consciousness split into extremes. In this, there is an exchange of determinateness and overflow into the other extreme. Further, self-consciousness “holds itself in” at the same time that it expresses itself. It is for itself and the other is for it. “It both is and is not another consciousness.” It is aware that the other is “only for itself,” in canceling itself, becoming “for itself ” in the “being for self ” of the other. They are for each other the “middle term.” They recognize themselves as “mutually recognizing each other.”

SCENE TWO: THE LIFE AND DEATH STRUGGLE

From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore, if two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only, endeavour to destroy or subdue one another. – Hobbes, Leviathan. I.3

§185

Now, we’ve seen how the process works, yet we’ve taken an “objective, third person” stance. Now, we need to see how this movement appears to self-consciousness. To put this another way: we just learned how the concept of recognition works; let’s try the concept out. What develops when “recognition” is posited as the truth of Self-Consciousness? This begins with the bifurication of the middle terms as their
inequality and opposition. Self-Consciousness understands this process as “recognized” and “recognizing.”

Basically, as soon as we step into the seat of the subject, the subject/object distinction is introduced. We can’t talk about the interaction of two Self-Consciousnesses, but only the “I” have a self-conscious being as its object.

§186

Hegel writes:

Self-Consciousness beings as an individual, a pure relation of self-equality, a self-equality that excludes everything else from itself [think self-sundering]. Both essence and object are “I” [as we saw earlier in “Life” and “desire”], and it is an immediate being-for-self, an individual.

The “other” for it is an unessential, negatively characterized object. Yet it is also another “self consciousness.” As such, “one individual is confronted by another individual” Here, we have a beginnings of the modern liberal tradition, the solitary individual of the state of nature (bound to their own desires), confronted by another desiring individual. When the other first appears, they seem to be an ordinary object, an independent shape, as consciouness “submerged in the being of life.”

As such, they are not conscious of each other as self-conscious beings. They have not yet “exposed” (113) themselves to each other. Hegel says that each is certain of themselves, but not of the other. As such, their “self-certainty” has no truth. Now comes a key line:

“For it would have truth only if its own being-for-self had confronted it as an independent object, or what is the same thing, if the
thing had presented itself as this pure self-certainty.” (113)

Basically, we cannot have Fichte’s principle of I=I unless self-consciousness becomes an object for itself. I can only become an object for myself if I first become an object for someone else. Accordingly, we require recognition to exist, I must be for the other what the other is for me; we must both, through abstraction, become “being for self.”

§187

Yet as the “pure abstraction,” its objective essence is regulated. That is, it no longer exists “objectively” as something encountered in Life and Desire. In discovering itself only as something recognized, existence is no longer attached to an objectively, specific Dasein, individuality, or even life. This negation comes about because it is presented [darstellen] as something existing in recognition. This becomes a “double action.”

  1. Action on the part of the other: seeks the death of the other.
  2.  Action on its own part: stakes its own life.

“Life and death struggle.” They must engage in this struggle to prove raise the certainty of their being-for-themselves to truth. If my life is really mine, it is mine to stake for something.

In this move, consciousness believes life is unessential to it. Only through action can it be free. In risking its life, it proves itself to be an individual. In the same way in which it sees its own life as inessential, it sees the other’s as equally invaluable. The other, too, has being outside itself. Both have to rid themselves of this “self externality.” This otherness, Hegel says, “must be regarded as a pure being-for-self or absolute negation.” This is like the Greeks feuding over honor – the rage of Achilles. In a matter of honor, one “reclaims” ones individuality, snatching ones essence from the other by destroying them.

§188

Yet the confirmation by death doesn’t provide self-certainty. In life, one had the independence without the “absolute negativity” of being reflected in another. As such, life was “the natural setting of consciousness.” Death is the natural negation of
consciousness. As something natural, it can neither provide independence, nor recognition. Hegel writes:

Through death, indeed, the certainty has come into objective being that each staked his life and held it of no account, both
in himself and in the other, but not for them, who underwent this struggle. – H.S. Harris’ translation.

They have objectively proved their independence, but it has no significance for them because they are dead. They do not reciprocally recognize each other or give themselves back; they destroy both extremes and become “a lifeless unity” of “immediate, unopposed extremes;” leaving each other there as things. As such, Hegel calls this an “abstract negation.” They have destroyed their alienation, but also themselves. They require consciousness to negate their otherness in a way that works as an aufheben, but one that they can survive.

SCENE THREE: LORD AND BONDSERVANT

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” – Hegel.

“Holding death for true (death is always just one’s own) shows a different kind of certainty, and is more primordial than any certainty related to beings encountered in the world or to formal objects, for it is certain of being-in-the-world. As such, it claims not only one definite kind of behavior of Dasein, but claims Dasein in the complete authenticity of its existence.” -Heidegger, Being and Time.

§189

In the previous moments, consciousness thought that its “pure self-consciousness” was essential and Life inessential. Now, we have discovered that both are equally essential.
The previous moments, from the beginning of the chapter, appear again. On the one hand, consciousness is an immediate, infinite self-sundering. This, one should remember, is the play between the one and the many. Self-consciousness, on the other
hand, it is a determinate “one.” To be a determinate one, I must have myself as an object. This requires recognition. When Life and Self-Consciousness are both taken as essential, the two extremes split into two different consciousnesses.

  • Lord – pure self-consciousness, the independent consciousness, essentially exists “for-itself.”
  • Bondservant – merely immediate consciousness, in the form of “thinghood” [Dingheit], essentially exists ‘for another,’ ‘living’ as such.

§190

The Lord is no longer merely the “concept” of existing “for itself.” Rather, she really does exist for herself. The Lord exists ‘for herself,’ mediated through a consciousness that is bound to an independent, thingly existence. Basically, life and freedom are
split between Lord and Bondservant.

The Lord relates herself to:

  1. the thing as such (object of desire)
  2. the bondservant; the consciousness for whom thinghood is essential.

The Lord is:

  1.  an immediate relation of being-for-self (qua concept of self-consciousness)
  2. mediation – being-for-self only through the other.

So, I think this means that the relationship is conceptually immediate, but de facto mediated. The Lord relates mediately to the Bondservant through a ‘thing’ that is independent [das Selständig Sein]. Like the bourgeoisie hold the proletariat through private property, the Lord holds the Bondservant through the independent thing. Or in Manorialism, the peasant holds their land, but the Lord of the manor owns both land and peasant. In every case, the Lord does not dominate the bondservant by the sword,
but through their power over an object. “The Lord is the power over this thing because he proved in the struggle that it was merely something negative.” In risking her life, the Lord showed that it was somehow “above” this independently existing thing – i.e. above the toil required for desire, what Arendt calls the “animal laborans” and Aristotle calls the “appetitive.” Further, in holding the independently existing thing as such, the Lord holds power over the Bondservant, controlling her means of Life. The Lord relates mediately to the thing; her point of access is through proxy (i.e. the bondservant or proletariat’s labor).

The bondsperson, in terms of Self-Consciousness, relates itself negatively to the thing. Yet this negation of the thing’s independence isn’t an annihilation; the thing is independent as it relates to the bondservant; i.e. as the thing it must negate, yet cannot totally negate, because it must punch the clock again the next day. The bondservant cannot escape the need to reproduce herself every day through labor (“he only works on it,” as Hegel says).

The Lord, on the other hand, transforms its immediate relation to the thing (desire, perhaps?) through the mediation of the Bondservant into the “sheer negation” or “enjoyment” of the thing. Here, in this Lord-Bondservant relationship, self-consciousness achieved what Desire failed to achieve because of the thing’s independence. Now, the Lord “takes to himself only the dependent aspect of the thing and has the pure enjoyment of it,” leaving the independence to the work of his slave.

§191

The Lord receives her recognition through another consciousness. In both moments [a) working on thing & b) dependence on a “bestimmen Dasein”], the bondservant is something inessential. The Bondservant can neither be “lord over the thing” nor “achieve absolute negation over it” [because it is bound to life]. This, Hegel says, goes through the various moments of recognition.

  • Moment A – The other sets aside its own being-for-self and does what the first does to it.
  • Moment B – the action of the second is the first one’s own action; the bondservant’s actions are really the actions of the Lord.

These moments mirror the play of Forces. “Each is for the other the middle term” (cf. §184) It is “indivisibly the action of one as well as the other (§183). Yet this isn’t “recognition proper” because it is one-sided. We need the bondservant to do to the Lord what the Lord does to her, yet we only have the Lord existing as a self-consciousness reflected in the inessential bondservant. The actions of Lord are reflected in both – just like the performance was observed by the audience, but the audience didn’t itself perform.

§192

In this recognition, the Bondservant is the object that gives the Lord certainty. “Yet it is clear that the object does not correspond to its concept.” Yet the concept required that the Lord be reflected into an independent consciousness, not a dependent consciousness.
The King needs a Jester, a fool free to mock him, a mirror he can look in, reflecting his actions back. His subjects cannot show this to him; they live in fear. Accordingly, he can never be sure of this reflection.

§193

“Accordingly, the truth of independent consciousness is in the servile consciousness of the bondsman.” While this truth at first appears outside the bondservant, this will be inverted (Verkehrte). Servitude shows itself to be the opposite of what it really
is. In servitude, the Bondservant becomes “forced back into itself.” It becomes transformed [Umkehren] into an “inwardly” independent consciousness, a “truly independent consciousness.”

Note – this mirrors the inverted world. The Lord is externally free, but inwardly in chains. The bondservant, too, is externally in chains, yet inwardly free.

§194

Now, we must examine this from the perspective of the Bondservant. This perspective looks at this “in and for itself.” At first, the bondservant takes the Lord as her essential reality. She has this as her truth and this truth is an independent consciousness that is “for itself.” Yet this truth is “implicit within her,” although she doesn’t realize this. She has the truth of “pure negativity” and “being for self ” within herself, something she has experienced in her own nature. She has been seized by the fear of death, trembled in the
fiber of her being, and everything solid and stable has been shaken to its foundations. Yet this, Hegel writes, is a moment of “pure being-for-self.” He writes:

This pure universal movement, the absolute melting away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of selfconsciousness: absolute negativity, pure being for self, which consequently is implicit n this consciousness.” (117).

Here, being for self is explicity in the Lord who exists de facto independent. Yet this is also inwardly true of the Bondservant, who comes before her own existence in her fear of death. Further, the Bondservant rids herself of all natural attachment in work as
well, seemingly through a process akin to alienation in Marx. The work means nothing to her, she’s divorced from it. It always continues and never ends.

§195

Although this fear is “the beginning of wisdom,” it doesn’t lead to the worker’s awareness of its “in-itself.” In work, the bondservant becomes conscious of herself. It seemed that the bondservant had an unessential relationship to the independent thing, but desire still retains its merely fleeting satisfaction. It, in fact, lacks objectivity and permanence – the Lord simplyconsumes and consumes. Work, on the other hand, “holds desire in check” because it “forms and shapes the thing.” The negative relation to the object (simply retreiving it for consumption) becomes its form, something permanent. This “negative
middle term” (i.e. the thing that allowed Lord and Bondservant to relate to each other) becomes a “formative activity,” and this activity “gives shape” to consciousness, allowing it to be-for-itself and acquire permanence. Accordingly, the worker becomes ‘self-consciousness’ because she identifies herself with the quality of her products or what she does.
Through “formative activity” (Formieren), the servant acquires a positive being-for-self.

§196

Yet the “formative activity” also has a negative significance of fear. This negativity – her fear, which is her being-for-self –becomes an object only by overcoming (aufheben) the extant Form. – it has to reshape things? But this objective negativity is the “alien being,” the source of its trembling. She destroys this “alien negative;” posits herself
as such (such a negative?) in the Element of permanence. As such, she becomes “for-herself,” someone existing on her own account.
The Lord’s being-for-self is the Bondperson’s “other.” In fear, this being-for-self is present in the bondservant herself (i.e. the being-for-self of the Lord is only extant through her control over the bondservant). In “fashioning the thing,” the bondservant realizes she exists in her own right.

In making the Form, its shape doesn’t become something “external;” rather her pure being-for-self is this shape. In its externality, it is seen as truth. Precisely in the work, where she seemingly had an alienated existence, the bondservant discovers herself to have a mind of her own.

Both moments: “fear and service as such” are necessary and are part of “a universal mode.” The discipline of service and obedience externalizes fear to the real world of existing things. It needs the “formative activity” or “fear remains inward and
mute.” Hegel writes:

“If consciousness fashions the thing without that initial absolute fear, it is only an empty self-centered attitude …”

Without angst, we cannot really attach ourselves to what we do. Only when it becomes, as it were, “being-towards-death”, can our work give us “essential being.” An aristocrat hunting for sport cannot find himself in this – nothing is essential about it, it
merely aims to pass the time.

“If it has not experienced absolute fear but only some lesser dread, the negative being has remained for it something external, its substance has not been infected by it through and through.”

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