Hegel’s Master-Slave Dialectic: An Interpretation

Man isn’t only conscious of the external world, but he is also conscious of his inner self. In fact if we want to be precise, we must think of man as self-consciousness, since he can be considered that only by becoming conscious of his own being, that means, only by acquiring something more than the other animals. However, at the same time he becomes self-conscious, he conceives his actual condition. Man is not a whole, but only a part of it, a negation of the whole. The elevation to totality will be his only desire from now on. This desire has to be fulfilled and in order to achieve this fulfillment, man has to negate the reason for the existence of this desire, that is to negate his existence as a negation. This negation of the negation can only happen if man becomes the master of the whole. Thus he thrives for the recognition of himself as a master, a recognition that can only come from an other self-consciousness. In a few words, only an other negation can negate his. But the other man will not be subjugated so easily; he seeks recognition too, his is driven by the same desire too. Human relations can be reduced to relations of power.

Now we shall pass to the next stage, that of the subjugation, which however entails a new problem. When the master subjugates the slave, he is indeed recognized, but this recognition comes from a subjugated and unrecognized being. The master is only recognized by an extension of himself, by something that now regards as his property. So the man that was transformed into the lord remained stable in relation to the first problem; he only remained a man. The same is not true for the slave, however, who will surprisingly show himself to be the solution of the riddle. While the master needs the recognition of the slave to be considered human, the slave with his subjugation overcomes his human nature. Thus it is proven that the one who was so far regarded as a slave is a man no more, and that he is not only a slave for the master, but a necessity for him. This abstractness, a part of the master’s consciousness, starts taking the long road to recognition once again, but a different recognition than the previous: a recognition of its own self, which basically equals to the creation of it as a being. The whole history is the process of the liberation of the subjugated consciousness. With the subversion of the master, the consciousness that that had negated its own independent existence negates this negation and therefore, becomes. This is the end of history. The slave has been converted into a self-determined ego.


The Master-Slave Dialectic had a major influence in the Western thought that came after Hegel and inspired many important thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries, like Marx, Nietzsche, and Lacan. 


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