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Old 03-10-2013, 07:34 PM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Some Half-Remembered Philosophy, Oversimplified

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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
The point is that something has, very suddenly, turned around in my brain, and I can see possibilities where before I only saw problems and limitations. I can see the strength of my partnership with Vix where before I only saw the (actually very small) disagreements, points of divergence, and unavoidable irritations of living with someone who will continue to insist on being not me.
What I wrote a few days ago as an off-hand joke has shaken loose a half-remembered philosophical idea that, I think, has some clarifying power.

A few years ago, for a project I was working on, I went back and read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. This is an important and influential work in European philosophy, dating from the early 19th century.

It's not an easy read, and not a project I took on lightly.

The Phenomenology can be taken as a kind of novel, which relates the story of human consciousness as it develops from simple awareness through self-awareness, through other-awareness, to what Hegel calls Spirit . . . but which might also be called culture, or the moral community, or human solidarity, or something like that.

At a crucial moment, the emerging subject encounters another subject, and the two enter into a kind of life-and-death struggle, each attempting to subdue the other and reduce it to an object. Eventually, one of them wins and establishes mastery over the other, which is reduced to slavery.

(If you've ever heard the phrase, "master-slave dialectic" - in a context other than kink, that is - it refers to this moment in the development of consciousness, according to Hegel.)

The wonderful thing about that moment, though, is that the master consciousness is a dialectical dead-end: it never progresses further. It is the slave consciousness that moves on to a new kind of awareness of itself, recaptures its own subjectivity and its own dignity (through labor, as it happens) . . . without losing the sense that others are subjects, too, and not merely objects.

The tale goes on for quite a while longer, with continuing struggles between self and other - albeit with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the other! - until matters reach a crucial impasse.

(As it happens, Creon and Antigone put in appearance, at one point, as exemplars of a later stage in the conflict.)

What I wanted to focus on here is how Hegel characterizes the recognition, the transformation of consciousness, that ushers in Spirit, which he calls "the I that is a we". As Spirit, I am aware of myself as a member of a human community, what the earlier philosopher, Kant, called the Kingdom of Ends - that is, the community of all moral beings, who are "ends in themselves" and not mere means.

What turns the trick, though, is Forgiveness.

As I read it - and I recognize this is an oversimplification of the idea - while I remain aware that these others around me are not the same as me, I accept that difference . . . which makes it possible to see all that we have in common.

I'm not expressing this very clearly, and should probably go back and find my notes on Hegel before I write any more about it.

Still, I find the idea of recognizing the full humanity, the fully dignity and subjectivity and separateness of others while also, at the same time, recognizing our common humanity and our various shared understandings, a compelling notion.

Now, Hegel is painting a big picture on a big canvas . . . using very tiny brushes. The idea doesn't really translate directly into personal experience with an individual other.

Still, there is some echo of Hegel's notion of Forgiveness in my little off-hand joke about my wife insisting on being not me.

She is not me. She has goals, and freedom, and dignity of her own, which will not be subdued to my ends.

And that's okay.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-10-2013 at 07:54 PM.
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