Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts



First Advisor

Beardsworth, Sara


The subject of this thesis is an attempt to identify the modern moral individual in G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. This topic will be brought out through a detailed analysis of Hegel's reconstruction of Immanuel Kant's moral system and his "sublation" of it in the self of "conscience." In demonstrating that Kant's moral system was grounded in the irreconcilable conflict between morality and nature, Hegel set forth "conscience" as a concrete moral self--a self that is the unity of actuality and pure knowledge. This reconstruction situates morality in the individual self-relation and leads into the dialectic of tragic action. Put briefly, Hegel's "conscience" is a transgressive structure of recognition established in a social context. Throughout the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel's method of demonstrating action shows its unforeseeable consequences since the action, with its motivation, and the deed, i.e. what has been done, are not identical. In Hegel's dialectic the moral self develops out of Enlightenment's critique of the existing social order, the Terror of the French Revolution, and a reconstruction of Kantian morality into an ethical thought of the dialectic of evil and its forgiveness. The dialectic unfolds as a division of "conscience" into a judging consciousness and an acting consciousness. It is at this point of division that the modern moral individual appears most distinctly for Hegel. Above all, it appears where the acting consciousness "confesses" to being particular, not universal, and judging consciousness fails to respond in kind--in a delay between confession and "forgiveness." This is where I take the modern ethical individual to be situated by Hegel. The questions that I wish to take up after articulating this dialectic in detail are as follows. What is being revealed about the moral self in modernity? What implications does it have for the possibility of a Hegelian ethics as distinct from Kantian morality?




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