Date of Award

May 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

William F. Bristow

Committee Members

William F. Bristow, Margaret Atherton, Julius Sensat


Critical Philosophy, Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Philosophy of Love, Romanticism, Self-consciousness


Hegel’s formulation of self-consciousness has decisively influenced modern philosophy’s notion of selfhood. His famous discussion of it appears in Chapter IV of the Phenomenology of Spirit, and emphasizes that self-consciousness is a dynamic process involving social activity. However, philosophers have struggled to understand some of the central claims Hegel makes: that self-consciousness is (a) “desire itself” which (b) is “only satisfied in another self-consciousness”; and that (c) self-consciousness is “the concept of Spirit.” In this paper, I argue that Hegel’s early writings on love help make sense of the motivation behind these claims, and thereby aids in understanding their meaning. Hegel’s writing on love is usually treated as if it were either a failed precursor to his philosophy of Spirit, or that he eventually demoted love to the ethics of the familial sphere. In my view, both approaches offer valuable insights, but fall short: they inadequately account for the philosophical continuity between his early and later work. In contrast, I claim that the philosophical issues Hegel began investigating via love—i.e., modern individuality, the unity of subject and object, and the nature of life—remained among his central concerns in the Phenomenology. I argue that understanding Hegel’s view of love requires focusing on how the idea rests upon a tension between post-Kantian critical philosophy and Romanticism. By framing his writing on love as philosophical in its own right (rather than merely religious), it becomes clear that Hegel’s early writings are continuous with his mature work; and that his work on love reveals the philosophical motivation underlying the claims about desire, satisfaction, and the concept of Spirit in Chapter IV of the Phenomenology.

Included in

Philosophy Commons