The Transition to Self-consciousness in The Phenomenology of Spirit

Review of Metaphysics 76 (2):267-303 (2022)
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Abstract:This article provides a novel interpretation of the so-called transition to self-consciousness in The Phenomenology of Spirit, where Hegel argues that the failure of the protagonist consciousness to formulate an understanding of the world in terms of forces and laws necessitates the shift to an investigation of its own self-conscious subjectivity. The author argues that we can make sense of the transition by attending to Hegel's account of the metaphysical structure of forces and laws, on the one hand, and the structure of self-consciousness, on the other. Following this approach, she argues that the transition represents the realization by the protagonist consciousness that the object of phenomenological inquiry must be metaphysically self-determining (or "infinite," in Hegel's terminology). The standpoint of self-consciousness accordingly emerges because the protagonist consciousness takes itself qua subject to exhibit the requisite self-determining structure. In addition to making sense of the transition to self-consciousness, this line of argumentation illuminates Hegel's subsequent focus on the activity of "desire."

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Caroline Bowman
New York University

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