Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Beardsworth, Sara


This thesis provides an examination of the theory of recognition presented in the Phenomenology of Spirit. My objective is to demonstrate that Hegel's theory of recognition seeks to address the problem of united life as it emerges in modernity. For Hegel, the modern subject is characterized by negativity. In the context of his discussion of united life, this means that the modern subject separates itself from the community and fractures united life by acting in excess of shared social norms. Hegel's theory of recognition can be read as an attempt to conceive united life in terms that accommodate and affirm the ethical significance of the modern subject. Chapter 1 examines Hegel's initial attempt to think through the problem of united life as it appears in "The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate." This attempt is inadequate because, although it is designed to confront the limitations of Kantian morality, it hinges on a metaphysic of love that is intelligible only in terms of the family-based traditional community. It therefore fails to accommodate certain features of modern life, centrally the individuation of the modern subject. Chapter 2 turns to Hegel's attempt to overcome this failure in the theory of recognition that appears in his Phenomenology of Spirit. I demonstrate that Hegel's famous dialectic of lordship and bondage presents the essential problem of misrecognition in his theory of recognition, yet it is not itself the key to this theory, as it has sometimes been taken to be. Chapter 3 shows how the dialectic of evil and forgiveness fulfils Hegel's thought on recognition and misrecognition. I first detail the dialectic's emergence in relation to Kant's moral philosophy. I then explore its two central features: the experience of misrecognition in the relationship between the two forms of consciousness that enact the dialectic; and the non-symmetrical nature of mutual recognition that ensues from the experience of misrecognition. I show, thereby, that Hegel's theory of recognition is an attempt to conceive united life in terms that accommodate and rest on the negativity of the modern subject.




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