Modifications of movement : life in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit
Franklund, Erick Roger
May 7, 2019
Within the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel uses the term ‘life’ [Leben] ambiguously throughout the text. Initially, in the Preface, Hegel’s conception of life seems to be uniquely human. Life, for Hegel, is dialectical movement, and the concept of life is intricately tied with Hegel’s understanding of science [Wissenschaft]. In other words, to truly "live,” a being must have more than an embodied organic existence; beating hearts and the like are not sufficient for life in this sense of the term. When Hegel presents the term ‘life’ in this context, he is referring to an Aristotelian conception of human flourishing, a life that is noble and distinct from that of mere animals. However, there is another, more common-sense notion of the term presented within the section "Self-consciousness,” in which the famous dialectic on lordship and bondage is told. As Hegel presents self-consciousness at this moment, he is adamant that self-consciousness wishes to escape from life, meaning that it hopes to abandon the cycle of birth and death and exist entirely essentially in the world, unburdened by the natural decay that accompanies embodied existence. The two contradictory conceptions of life, organic existence, and human flourishing, are presented in the Phenomenology. Self-consciousness’ attempt to abandon one form of life, the physical body, is likewise an attempt to embrace the other, a rational form of life in which it can achieve absolute knowledge. In the thesis, I argue that a truly human life is both embodied and rational, and that self-consciousness’ attempt to completely do away with the body is too big of a leap into rational life. Through the dialectical progression of the text, self-consciousness will find that absolute knowledge is accessed only when it finds a harmonious balance between the physical and the rational, for it cannot live the latter unless it embraces the former.
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