According to Hegel, can the master misrecognize himself as the slave?

According to what I'm reading, in Hegel the master recognizes himself, via the slave, and so dies, and without seeing the universal, unlike the slave.

Supposing that's a viable sketch, would misrecognising one's servitude mean one's mortal self having an illusion of universality?

2 Answers 2


I think on a basic reading of the text, the master cannot misrecognize himself as the slave.

It's important to realize a few things about the passage.

  1. Recognition is reflected recognition -- meaning the master achieves his master status by being a master to the slave and getting responded to in this way. Conversely, the slave is slave insofar as he experiences himself as debased by the master.

  2. This is not the end of Hegel's political philosophy. To read Hegel as suggesting we're are in a master-slave struggle is to completely misread the point of the passage for him.

  3. Instead, in a certain way, both master and slave are misrecognizing themselves. Moreover, their struggle is also a mistake insofar as each category is incomplete.

  4. It's dubious to believe Hegel sees this as happening in a moment in history (if we understand by "moment in history" something like July 2nd, 538 BCE). Instead, it's an element in the story of Spirit as it moves towards self-recognition (where self here is an extended social self rather than sort of recognition that happens in mutual recognition).

The slave is better suited to move to the next level because the slave is accessing the universal whereas the master is accessing the particular. But the ultimate unity is a particular that is universal and a universal that is particular. This, for Hegel, turns out to be the state -- with civil society and the family serving as intermediate vessels (this is the main topic of the Philosophy of Right).


Master might misrecognize himself as a slave by not understanding the universality of the self and mistaking for the mortality

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