The Phenomenology occupies a crucial place in the development of Hegel’s thought. It marks his maturation as a philosopher of the highest rank and anticipates within its own unique format every aspect of his later work. Hence, it is important to understand the overarching themes of the book before turning to its examination of ethics.
A major aim of Hegel in the Phenomenology is to renew classical Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy from within the modern philosophical tradition. It was only through examination and critique of everything that had been thought since the Greeks that a worldview modeled on theirs could become a viable framework from within which modern people could think and act. In striving to fulfill that aim, Hegel developed a view of the subject who experiences, knows, and acts, which was in conscious opposition to any and all views of subjectivity that were empirical (for example, John Locke), naturalistic (for example, much of the thought of the Enlightenment), or transcendental (for example, Immanuel Kant). His view was that the acting and experiencing subject is both self-transforming over time (hence, historical) and fundamentally social (in opposition to any and all individualist models).
Thus, in the book’s first major section, “Consciousness,” Hegel demonstrates that consideration of even the apparently most basic forms of knowing, such as sense perception, produces in the knowing subject an awareness of both itself as knowing and of other knowing subjects. Out of these experiences arises self-consciousness. In Hegel’s famous examination of the master-servant relationship in the section “Self-Consciousness,” he graphically describes the social yet divided character of human experience.
In the remainder of the Phenomenology, Hegel depicts the experiences of this divided human self. In doing so, he examines what are for him the key movements in the development of consciousness in Western culture from the Greeks to Hegel’s own time. Stoicism, skepticism, the unhappy consciousness of religion, the development of modern philosophy from Descartes to Kant, the opportunities and perils of freedom in the era of the French...
(The entire section is 909 words.)