My dissertation aims to provide a systematic interpretation of one section of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, ‘Self-Consciousness.’ I argue that by taking what I call the transformative view of Hegel’s methodology, the practical and seemingly disparate topics in ‘Self-Consciousness’ can be understood as a continuous line of thought leading to an innovative understanding of knowing as a self-aware practice. The central motivation for my interpretation is that while Hegel explicitly claims that the Phenomenology is a work of epistemology--“an investigation and testing of the reality of cognition,”--‘Self-Consciousness’ appears to, on the face of it, depart from this ambition. The section quickly plunges into a number of surprising claims--that self-consciousness is “desire überhaupt,” that its “object has become life”-- which are followed by a discussion of recognition exemplified in a relation between master and slave, giving rise to the notion of conceptual thought. My dissertation reconciles these seemingly conflicting aspects of the text. Chapter 1 focuses on what exactly Hegel means by an “investigation” of cognition and there I present my transformative reading of Hegel’s phenomenological method. I argue that Hegel sees his project as a distinctively developmental epistemological progression in which the conception of knowledge at each stage transforms in light of an instructive failure. Chapter 2 applies the insights of the transformative view to the initial transition of ‘Self-Consciousness,’ dubbed the “practical turn” of the Phenomenology for its quick advance into a number of practical topics. I argue that these practical topics emerge from a continuation of epistemological concerns and do not constitute a change in topic. Hegel thinks we must understand knowledge in terms of an active, self-referring structure of unity between subject and object that he calls “infinity” and is exemplified in the dynamic of desire and life. Chapter 3 concerns the transition towards recognition and again applies the insights of the transformative view. I argue that recognition allows for consciousness to be its own object in the sense of giving manifestation to subjectivity in social relations. In addition, such social relations build upon and transform the conception of a unity of subject and object in the form of a living being. In chapter 4 I consider the social relation between master and servant and the turn to stoicism. I argue that this social relation gives rise to a self-aware mode of being that is centered around a sense of absolute authority exhibited in the role of the master, which Hegel calls “conceptual thought.” Viewing these transitions as exhibiting developmental transformations in our conception of knowledge, the result is that we come to see a notion of conceptual thought that is informed by all of the previous steps in this progression. We arrive at the idea that knowing is a self-aware practice, a socially and practically embedded form of life centered around universal ideals.




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