Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

William F Bristow

Committee Members

Nataliya Palatnik, Julius Sensat


Hegel, Self-consciousness


Hegel develops an account of self-consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit in which a self-consciousness fights another in a life-and-death struggle. There are many readings of the motivations for self-consciousness’s risking of its own life and aiming at the life of the other in the struggle. I argue that Robert Stern’s account of these motivations is problematic because he attributes more rational self-awareness to self-consciousness than it possesses at this stage in the dialectic. John McDowell’s reading presents advantages over Stern’s, but still leaves us with the problem of how to understand that self-consciousness “in the other sees its own self,” as Hegel writes. I argue that Stern’s and McDowell’s accounts—and others like them—miss an important component behind the motivation for the struggle. This missing component is that self-consciousness takes the other to be itself. I also argue that this missing component helps us to understand other parts of the dialectic in the “Self-Consciousness” chapter, including the “dialectic of desire” and the instability of the lord-bondsman relation.

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