W. Ezekiel Goggin “Selfhood and Sacrifice in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit”

W. Ezekiel Goggin “Selfhood and Sacrifice in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit


Where traditional philosophical approaches to selfhood might treat the issue as an exclusive disjunction between the self as real/ideal, singular/multiple, enduring/transient, etc., Hegel charges that the self-identity of the subject can only be articulated as the concrete unity of such oppositions. In other words both “self” and “not-self” are moments of the concept in the process of adjudicating claims about what selves are through an immanently critical movement. However, as Hegel argues, immanent critique cannot fully clarify the concept of selfhood until it comprehends the way in which the norms of selfhood are shaped in concrete social contexts. Hegel describes these practices as exhibiting a renunciative or sacrificial character.  In this essay I reconstruct Hegel’s argument vis-à-vis affirmative and skeptical positions on selfhood. I argue that Hegelian speculation suggests we understand selfhood as a task. However, as I shall show with some criticisms of his view, Hegel has a fairly circumscribed notion of what kind of task the self should be –namely, one which aims at the plenitude and consolidation of self-consciousness.  If the insights of Hegel’s approach are to be retained, it is necessary to search within the Hegelian corpus for concepts which allow a broader array of possible configurations of selfhood.

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