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Lucian Ionel, “Self-Consciousness as a Living Kind: On the Fourth Chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology”, Hegel Bulletin, 2020

This paper discusses Hegel’s conception of self-consciousness in the fourth chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit. It argues that Hegel articulates self-consciousness as a living being’s capacity to conceive of itself in light of the life-form it instantiates. I start by critically reassessing the prevalent readings of the Self-Consciousness chapter, each of which focuses on one of three constitutive aspects of self-consciousness: sociality, corporeality or practicality. Second, I reconstruct how the opening of the chapter aims to reveal that the initial rift between the sensory and the conceptual capacities of consciousness is resolved by the unity of consciousness as a life-form. Third, I discuss the specification of this life-form as Geist and argue that, by introducing the notion of Geist, Hegel indicates that the generic capacity of the human being to conceive of itself in light of its life-form always particularizes itself in a conception of human life that determines a historic and social form of life. Fourth, I outline how the master-slave dialectic illustrates the interdependency between sensory and conceptual capacities. Hegel’s tale undermines the assumption of a self-contained capacity for reason by displaying how conceptual capacities, actualized by a living being, rely from the outset on objective constraints. I conclude by contending that the Self-Consciousness chapter paves the way for the central role that the idea of life plays in the Logic in exemplifying the objectivity of the concept.