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master/slave morality


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A stage in the evolution of moral and political consciousness, described in the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) of Hegel, and subsequently influential on many theories of freedom and history. On emerging from the state of nature, there is a ‘moment’ of consciousness in which one party enslaves the other. The slave, involved in production and activity, is conscious of ends in his or her life, whilst the master retreats to a meaningless state of leisure and consumption. Neither can give the other the recognition and acknowledgement that is required if a person is to have value in his or her own eyes. An initial response to this impasse is a retreat to Stoicism, and then to the ‘unhappy consciousness’ of religion. However, the slave at least achieves a selfconsciousness through his or her own activity. The inner freedom thus acquired allows an overthrow of the master, and the dialectical cycle returns until a higher, Kantian, ‘moment’ is achieved when respect for each other as ends emerges from the process.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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