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Kaloianov - Hegel, Kojeve and Lacan - The Metamorphoses of Dialectics - Part I

Hegel, Kojeve and Lacan - The Metamorphoses of Dialectics - 

Part I: Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and its Kojevian Interpretation as a Point of Reference for the Psychoanalytic Theory of Jacques Lacan

by Radostin Kaloianov


A thesis examining the relationship between Hegel's dialectics and Lacan's psychoanalysis can hardly be introduced to the reader without first addressing at least one question. What is the task of such an undertaking? What does it aim at? The relationship between Hegel's dialectics and Lacan's theory might seem to be something almost unthinkable. What can a philosopher of spirit and a psychoanalyst have in common? The differences between them outnumber and overshadow the identities. However, we are not interested simply in the differences between Hegel and Lacan. Our central theme is the metamorphoses of Hegel's dialectics in Lacan's psychoanalysis. The relevance of such a theme will become clear in the thesis itself, where we will present Lacan's various references to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and will analyze the reversals of the Hegelian dialectical figures.  

In a study like this one, there is always a temptation to favour one of the authors, with whom we will be dealing. It could be natural that Hegel be our favourite in a study examining the metamorphoses of Hegel's dialectics. In spite of this we are not going to treat him, nor Kojève, nor Lacan as an authority in respect to dialectics. 

We are interested in two things: a) to present the numerous references to Hegel's dialectics in Lacan's theory; b) to explain the transformations they undergo in it. The accomplishment of this task requires an interpretation of the idea of the Hegelian Phenomenology and an explication of the Kojèvian reformulation of that idea. In a separate study on Hegel and Lacan we are tracing out Lacan's references to Hegel's dialectics. Our final statements bring out the reasons for the metamorphoses of Hegel's dialectics in Lacan's theory.

In other words, if the numerous references to dialectics in Lacan's writings reduce this term to an empty word or, to use the Nietzschean/Lacanian metaphor, turn it into a "worn coin", our task is to restore the original imprint of this coin and to restitute its original value. This is the only way for us to understand how this worn coin can still be in exchange and what is its possible value in contemporary psychoanalysis. Our task is to uncover the meaning of dialectics in Lacan's psychoanalytical theory.

As far as our method is concerned, we have to say that it is a combination of a diachronical and synchronical presentation of the views of Hegel, Kojève and Lacan.  We have deliberately laid the emphasis on the individual thinkers rather than on the intellectual context to which they belong, just because this thesis is only an initial formulation and not a comprehensive overview of the problem it deals with. 


Though not the only one, the Phenomenology of Spirit is the first and, according to some Hegelians (W.Kaufmann) one of the most important "systematic" works of G.W.F.Hegel. It lays down the main perspectives (methodological and thematic), which led Hegel to a complete and comprehensive system of philosophy.  It also formulates some major problems and even some of the paradoxes in Hegel's thought, and as their initial positing is even much more ingenious and meaningful than their later "solutions”.

We are interested, however, not so much in the specific place, the Phenomenology occupies in the Hegelian system, though we will have to come back to this problem in the course of our argumentation. Our main concern, here, is the significance of the Phenomenology of Spirit for the theory of psychoanalysis (primarily for Lacan's psychoanalytical theory). We will concentrate our research efforts on some basic structures, elements and aspects of the Phenomenology relevant to our present task. 

There are many interpretations of Hegel's Phenomenology, which provide us with numerous insights to its possible correlation with psychoanalysis. We will enlist some of them briefly before we present our own approach to the problem. First of all, we will mention the short article of J. Hyppolite: Anmerkungen zur Vorrede der Phänomenologie des Geistes und zum Thema: das Absolute ist Subjekt (Fulda, 73).  Hyppolite introduces an important methodological distinction between the systematic and the asystematic structure of the Phenomenology. He argues that the Hegelian phenomenological thinking

"das systematisch sein will, gleichzeitig offen ist, offen nicht aus Zufall oder menschlichen Inkonsequenz, sondern seinem Wesen nach" (Fulda, 73, p. 46). 

The spirit does not simply come back to itself as an in-and-for-itself; it does this only by means of its own deviations from itself; it closes up a circle of deviations (self-alienations). This is, in fact, the peculiarity of the movement of the spirit, conceived of phenomenologically. This peculiarity of the phenomenological systematicity reveals its openness and the autonomy of all of its elements. It is probably due to the fact that the formations of the Phenomenology (more than anywhere else in Hegel's works) live their own life1, that they are very easily extrapolated out of the phenomenological context, are forced to have a separate existence and are transformed into theoretical, cultural or even political symbols (like the master-slave relationship). It is not for nothing, that most of the non-Hegelians discuss Hegel's philosophy with a view to the Phenomenology of Spirit, which is not only the entrance but also the exit out of Hegel's philosophy. Thus the systematicity - asystematicity distinction, drawn by Hyppolite, prepares us to anticipate that the point of contact between Hegel and his psychoanalyzing readers is situated in the Phenomenology of Spirit.         

Another methodological reflection (Kenley Royce Dove) casts some light on the pathos of the Phenomenology. Pathologically viewed the movement of the spirit, advancing through sublation and self-alienation, is an incessantly increasing despair. 

 ”Consciousness thus discovers that the process in which it placed its knowledge in doubt, all the while certain that it held a firm criterion for what the object of its knowledge was in itself, turns out to be a movement in which it loses its own truth; the 'path of doubt' (Zweifel) is transformed into 'the way of despair' (Verzweiflung).  Moreover, this despair is immanent in the very movement of consciousness itself” (Steinkraus, 71, p. 409).

The fact that we can speak of a pathos of the Phenomenology already overthrows the somewhat trivialized interpretation of this work of Hegel that it presents the dialectical (antinomical and self-recurrent) and purely rational movement of the Notion (Begriff). On the contrary the Phenomenology deals with the dialectical unfolding of the living spirit, which can be described pathologically. Having considered the pathos of the Phenomenology, the pathos of despair, we can no longer think of it as a triumphant and jubilant self-manifestation of the spirit, as a process of fully conscious, expedient and voluntary revelation of the spirit. This revelation is rather accompanied or even fulfilled in the modes of unawareness, forgetfulness, particularity, contingency and forcibility2, and this is where the despair comes from. This pathological aspect of the Phenomenology seems to be extremely provocative and attractive to the theoreticians of psychoanalysis. In other words, if there is to be found some communicability between psychoanalysis and Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, and if it is not (it is certainly not) at the level of its ideas, it may still be found at the level of its pathos (and its sources).

To sum up, the method and the pathos of the Phenomenology of Spirit, examined in the above mentioned studies of Hyppolite and Dove, are two of its many aspects that show its accessibility and provocativeness for psychoanalysis. These two aspects, however, do not inform us about anything more than a hypothetical connection between the Phenomenology of Spirit and psychoanalysis, defined in terms of accessibility and provocativeness. If we want to advance further, we will have to leave behind the partial aspects of the problem and turn our attention to the idea of Hegel's Phenomenology. Before that, however, we will comment on several other studies on the same subject.

In his article Hegel's Phenomenology and Psychoanalysis (Steinkraus, 71), J. Hyppolite attempts to reread the Phenomenology as an Oedipal tragedy. His interpretation is based on the assumption about the common itinerary of the Phenomenology of Spirit and psychoanalysis (they both follow an Oedipal trajectory), and on the assumption about the correlation between certain notions, which designate various processes and stages in the Phenomenology of Spirit or in psychoanalysis. This correlation, according to Hyppolite, can be found between the Hegelian and the psychoanalytical conceptions of truth, between the observing "we"  of the Phenomenology and the function of the psychoanalyst, between the structure of self-consciousness (a self-alienation of consciousness) and the psychoanalytical view on this issue, between the master-slave relationship and the Oedipal normalization, between the Hegelian law of the heart and paranoiac knowledge, and finally between the tasks of both the Phenomenology and psychonalysis: to bring the subject back to himself, to his own truth. P. Ricoeur would probably argue against this last correlation, but it is not the only one, which is disputable. In fact all these correlations are rather indeterminate and abstract, for they do not refer to their own possibility, it is not clear whether these correlations are real or hypothetical, explicit or implicit, it is also not quite clear what kind of commensurability between the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis they endorse. The unclarity of Hyppolite's study, just as the unclarity of J. Butler's study3 treating Lacan's relationship with Hegel and following an analogous method, obtains from the fact that they place the difference and the similarity (no one, here, pleads for identity) between the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis in the factual, they both remain at the level of what the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis posit as their results, they do not penetrate further into the dimension of the respective idea, which structures and specifies the meaning of those results.

Paul Ricoeur's study on the relationship between Hegel's Phenomenology and Freud's psychoanalysis (Ricoeur, 1970, Book III, Chapt. 3), runs to the other extreme. Indeed, it takes into account both the idea and the factual of the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis, but it neglects the particularity of the phenomenological project of Hegel, which Ricoeur merely deduces from the much broader conflict of much more comprehensive ideas. Correspondingly, the ideas of the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis are not presented as what they are, but represent something other than them - the Conflict of Interpretations.

Having viewed some of the studies on the relationship between Hegel's philosophy and psychoanalysis (Freudian or Lacanian) we can definitely say that they have at least one thing in common: they all relate psychoanalysis to the Phenomenology of Spirit, which cannot be explained only by its accessibility and provocativeness for psychoanalysts (like Lacan) and their interpreters4. To put it in other words, the accessibility, the provocativeness and finally the meaningfulness of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit for psychoanalysis in general, and particularly for Lacan's theory come from its idea. It is useless, however, to look for the direct implications of the idea of the Phenomenology for psychoanalysis. It is not surprising, then, that the interpreters of its relationship to psychoanalysis leave aside the idea of the Phenomenology. On our turn, we will have to reconstruct the idea of the Phenomenology of Spirit and will have to point out its possible5 (or maybe even hypothetical) implications for psychoanalysis. After that we will turn our attention to the actual relationship between Lacan's psychoanalytical theory and Hegel's Phenomenology.

What makes us focus on the idea of the Phenomenology, since it is its idea, which is probably the most inaccessible thing for psychoanalysts and which might have had the least influence on them? The idea of the Phenomenology, however, appears to be the foundation of all references to it, on the side of the psychoanalyst, and of all interpretations of its relationship with psychoanalysis, on the side of its interpreters (some of which we have mentioned earlier). In fact, the idea of the Phenomenology, more or less recognized or totally miscognized, can easily raise the interest of a psychoanalyst, for it defines a type of experience and dynamics structured very much like that of his own field of study. But even if the latter is not true, an explication of the idea of the Phenomenology will help us see the insurmountable distance and difference between the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis. 

The idea of the Phenomenology can be realized through the place this work has in the wider Hegelian context (which is an indirect form of access to it), and through its explicitly formulated task and subject.

1. 1 The idea of the Phenomenology of Spirit according to its place in the Hegelian system.

Hegel's most comprehensive and complex work Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences [Enzyklopädie der Philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1830)] in its final version offers a clear indication on where is the place of the Phenomenology in the wider Hegelian context. The phenomenology of spirit is one of the philosophical sciences examined in the Encyclopaedia6. No doubt, being an element of such a vast, encyclopedic (both educative and reminiscent) system of the philosophical sciences, the phenomenology of spirit has a particular place, task and idea. It belongs to the philosophy of spirit, and is the second of the philosophical sciences on the subjective spirit (the other two are anthropology and psychology).  The briefest formulation of what Hegel regards here as a subjective spirit is that it is the spirit "in the form of its being related to itself" (Petry, 1978, p.65, #385). In other words the spirit, lost in Nature, tries to rediscover itself and strives after "the ideal nature of the totality of the Idea" (Petry, 1978, p.65, #385). The ideal totality of the spirit is its particular totality and is therefore not complete and true. This simply means that the spirit has returned to itself in its ideal aspect, but still miscognizes itself in its reality (objectivity) and its synthetic truth. The subjective spirit tries to identify itself as an ideal totality (ideelle Totalität). The phenomenology of spirit is the second, mediating stage of this identificatory process. It follows the immediate anthropological self-cognition of the subjective spirit as natural spirit (Naturgeist) or actual soul (wirkliche Seele). The specific subject matter of the Phenomenology is the subjective spirit, which is :"For itself or mediated, still as identical reflection into itself and into an other" (Petry, 1978, p. 79, #387).

We can be easily misled by some of the formulations used so far. The first formulation concerns the meaning of the subjective spirit7. There is no absolute and qualitative difference between this particular form of the spirit and its totality. The subjective spirit is an inward conceiving of the spirit. It deals with the spirit as inner-world (Inwelt), which is not radically different from the external world, but, in the Hegelian system at least, is the potentially objective world. The second formulation concerns the conjunction "or" in our last quotation. The "for itself" of the spirit in the Phenomenology is tantamount to "mediated", which leads us to the conclusion that this particular philosophical science regards the self-identification, the self-becoming of the subjective spirit in its mediated form, in its otherness. The Phenomenology of Spirit deals with the self-recognition of the spirit in its ideal or subjective otherness, which is simultaneously a negation (for it disguises it) and a restoration (for it brings it closer to its self-recognition) of the spirit.

This conclusion fits perfectly with what Hegel defines as the second, dialectical, negating and mediating moment of every logical-real (Logisch-Reelle). Such a negative-rational (negativ-vernünftige - EPW, #79) moment presupposes mediation, differentiation and otherness in the modes of self-identification and self-becoming of the spirit. The Phenomenology of Spirit is the representative of this negative-rational moment at the level of the philosophy of subjective spirit. The Phenomenology of Spirit traces out the succession of inner-world formations of what the spirit is not or seems not to be, and of what it finally occurs to be. 

1. 2 The idea of the Phenomenology of Spirit with view to its specific task.

The preface of the Phenomenology outlines distinctly its method, its subject matter and its task. The Phenomenology is not identical to what Hegel defines as Science or Philosophy. The latter is characterized as follows: 

Its element and content is not the abstract or non-actual, but the actual, that whichposits itself and is alive within itself - existence within its own Notion.It is the process which begets and traverses its own moments, and this whole movement constitutes what is positive [in it] and its truth (Hegel, 1977, p. 27).

The Phenomenology, on its turn, appears to be a propaedeutics to this form of self-cognition of the spirit. It is, therefore, supposed to be a mediated self-reflection of the spirit, its self-cognition in an other. Hegel grounds the propaedeutic task of the Phenomenology in a twofold way.

a) He grounds it ontologically (constitutively), when saying that the spirit "wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself" (Hegel, 1977, p. 19). The mediated self-reflection of the spirit is as essential for the process of its identification and self-becoming, as is its immediate self-cognition through the Notion. In fact the mediated manifestation of the spirit (which is the subject matter of the Phenomenology), corresponds to the above mentioned "negativ-vernunftige" (negative-rational) moment in every logical-real. Moreover, this mediated self-cognition (and self-revelation) of the spirit is not absolutely distinguished from its immediacy:

"this mediation, on account of its simple nature, is just immediacy in the process of becoming, and is the immediate itself" (Hegel, 1977, p. 11).

The Phenomenology reveals an immediacy (trans-individual, spiritual): "whose mediation is not outside of it but which is this mediation itself" (Hegel, 1977, p. 19).  The task of the Phenomenology of Spirit is to trace out in their internal necessity and interdependence, the mediating forms of self-revelation and self-becoming of the spirit.

b) Hegel also grounds this inevitable, but relative duality between the spirit and its other (the forms of its otherness) phenomenologically (constructively), that is from the point of view of the other of spirit. He regards the Phenomenology of Spirit as a propaedeutics to the Science of Philosophy, which is supposed to raise the individual to a self-cognition of itself as spirit. It is supposed to pass through all the subsequent stages of otherness of the spirit, which are at the same time stages of approximation to the spirit as such. The Science of Philosophy, which presupposes the spirit as self-identical, is "das Verkehrte" in regards to the individual, whose determination presupposes only the natural consciousness (or soul). Consequently, "the individual has the right to demand that Science should at least provide him with the ladder to this standpoint, should show him this standpoint within himself" (Hegel, 1977, p.14-15). The Phenomenology of Spirit is preoccupied with the task to educate the individual, to lift him up to the level of the spirit, to show him his own involvement in the mediated selfbecoming of the spirit:

 ”(...) the task of leading the individual from his uneducated standpoint to knowledge had to be seen in its universal sense, just as it was the universal individual, self-conscious Spirit, whose formative education has to be studied” (Hegel, 1977, p. 16).

The Phenomenology of Spirit cannot perform its educative and intermediary function if it does not start from the point of view of natural consciousness, and at the same time if it does not regard all the subsequent levels of its progress as various, regressively revived forms of otherness of the spirit. Otherwise it would be impossible to demonstrate the involvement of the natural consciousness in the process of becoming of the spirit. The educative task of the Phenomenology requires that it be an overview of the mediated self-becoming of the spirit in its otherness.

These two clarifications of the specificity of the idea of the Phenomenology of Spirit accord completely with our conclusion in subsection (1. 1). Further evidence in favour of our standpoint appears to be one of the final theses of Hegel's Phenomenology. 

 ”Whereas in the phenomenology of Spirit each moment is the difference of knowledge and Truth, and is the movement in which that difference is canceled, Science on the other hand does not contain this difference and the canceling of it. On the contrary, since the moment has the form of the Notion, it unites the objective form of the Truth and of the knowing Self in an immediate unity” (Hegel, 1977, p. 491).

The Phenomenology of Spirit, according to Hegel, culminates in an overcoming of the opposition (this opposition is the dynamic principle of the Phenomenology ) between form and Notion (Gestalt and Begriff), certitude and truth (Gewissheit and Wahrheit), between mediation and immediacy, between the otherness of spirit and the spirit itself. The meaning of this opposition, still unresolved in the Phenomenology of Spirit, is that it designates the contradiction between the presence of the spirit in its concurrent forms and the representation of the spirit as a succession of its forms of otherness. It is precisely the transition of the spirit into a phenomenal otherness which makes it possible to comprehend the latter as an absolute otherness, as a historical temporality, as a dialectical sliding of forms of life and points of view, which, thus, seem to lose their relative, representative value and which manifest the splitting of the spirit as an absolute and irrevocable one. The specificity of the phenomenological splitting of the spirit is that it is a seemingly insurmountable one, being a transition into an otherness of the spirit. In other parts of the Hegelian system (the Logic) the spirit alienates itself into elements equal to it (the opposed notions), and the function of synthesis has an equal weight as that of splitting (or alienation). In the Phenomenology, however, the function of splitting seemingly has a priority over that of synthesis, because on the plane of the otherness of the spirit, no synthesis has any chance to be entirely successful, while the function of splitting is further fueled by the aspect of otherness, (which is, as we have said earlier, the dynamic principle of the Phenomenology).

The opposition between the form and the notion of the spirit, which structures the whole Phenomenology, is correlated in the wider Hegelian context, with the dyads of time and eternity, of the positive and the negative, of being and becoming, of the circular and the linear, of the presence (existence) and the representation (essence) of the spirit. The Phenomenology of Spirit, however, does not end up in a sublation of any of these dyads. It simply sublates the moment of otherness in the phenomenological representation of the spirit. The sublation of the phenomenological otherness8 of the spirit, the equation of its form (Gestalt) to its notion (Begriff), reveals the dialectical structure of the spirit in its pure (triadic) form.

All these considerations lead us to the conclusion that the idea of the Phenomenology of Spirit can be formulated as follows: the Phenomenology of Spirit presents the self-recurrent movement of the spirit mediated by its otherness, by its particular otherness, based on natural consciousness. It regards the split subjective spirit in the modes of its otherness. Both the splitting of the spirit, which presupposes a set of particular functional concepts, and the specific medium of the self-becoming of the spirit - its otherness, may be a source of correlation between the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis.

These two aspects of the idea of the Phenomenology of Spirit, in fact, are the guidelines of most of the interpretations of its relationship to psychoanalysis. It is either the splitting of the spirit, presented by such functional concepts like sublation (Aufhebung), alienation, projection, objectification, which are related to psychoanalytical functional concepts such like negation, repression, foreclosure, introjection, projection, or it is the otherness of spirit in its most primitive formations at the level of consciousness, which evokes or can evoke the interest of the psychoanalysts and their interpreters (Hyppolite, Ricoeur, Butler, etc.). In other words, the splitting, the estrangement of the spirit in the Phenomenology, charges the formations of its otherness with a dynamics, which appears to be significant for psychoanalysis, especially in its application to the most primitive formations of otherness outlined in the beginning chapters of the Phenomenology. We had to specify the idea of the Phenomenology to arrive at this conclusion. We had to indicate the functional aspect of the splitting of the spirit, which presupposes a whole set of functions, the peculiarity of which comes from the medium they animate - the subjective otherness of the spirit.

To recapitulate, all possible interpretations of the relationship between Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit and psychoanalysis spin around the two axes outlined so far: the functional (the splitting of the spirit) and the topical (the primitive formations of subjective otherness of the spirit).

We have been dealing so far with the possible relationship between the Phenomenology and psychoanalysis. We have to be aware of the fact that, since psychoanalysis (Freud's as well as Lacan's) does not operate with such a concept like spirit (Geist) and since it regards the spiritual as a sublimation of primitive drives, as something inactive and lifeless, the idea of the Phenomenology of Spirit is almost inaccessible to psychoanalysts. On the other hand, the less correctly psychoanalysis can conceive of the idea of the Phenomenology, the greater the chance for the Phenomenology to become significant for psychoanalysis. For, only a miscognition of the idea of the Phenomenology can result in an absolutist and universalistic apprehension of its functional and topical aspects, which, as we have already shown it, are only moments in the unfolding of the spirit. An example of such a misrepresentation of the idea of the Phenomenology is its Kojèvian interpretation, which grounds the actual relationship between Hegel and Lacan, and functions as a transmission, as a mediation in it. The Kojèvian conception of the Hegelian dialectic and method in the Phenomenology finally appears to be the source of those metamorphoses of dialectics that are easily to be found in Lacan's writings.


Alexandre Kojève's commentary on the Phenomenology of Spirit offers a very influential interpretation, which has an impact not only on Lacan's psychoanalysis, but also on various trends of contemporary philosophy: existentialism, marxism,etc.9  His interpretation has been usually qualified as an anthropological one. No doubt, it is an anthropological reading of the Phenomenology. The anthropological approach, however is only an effect; its cause is Kojève's dualistic conception of the Phenomenology and his negativistic conception of Hegel's dialectic. These two conceptions are interdependent. We shall reconstruct Kojève's arguments, which underlie these two conceptions, on the basis of lectures VI, VII, VIII and IX from his course in the academic year 1934/35. These lectures are entitled: The Dialectic of the Real and the Phenomenological Method of Hegel (Kojève, 1980, Chapt. VII).  These lectures reveal the fundament of Kojève's interpretative standpoint.

Kojève's argument has two complementary aspects: a methodological and an ontological one. As we shall see at the end, both of these aspects have the same effects, as far as their influence on Lacan is concerned. 

The methodological aspect of Kojève's interpretation endorses the assumption that Hegel's method in the Phenomenology of Spirit is purely descriptive and contemplative.

"The Hegelian method, therefore, is not at all 'dialectical': it is purely contemplative and descriptive, or better, phenomenological in Husserl's sense of the term." (Kojève, 1980, p. 171).

The purely descriptive method of the Phenomenology simply registers the turnovers, the dialectical reversals of what Kojève defines as a real dialectic (dialectic of the reality) of the subject matter of the Phenomenology, which is man as historical, free and finite human being. The assumption of a real dialectic and the designation of man as the subject matter of Hegel's work is based on the ontological aspect of Kojève's argument, which will be discussed later. For the time being, let us continue with the Kojèvian thesis that the contemplative method of the Phenomenology merely reflects the real dialectic of man's historical development. The method therefore appears to be dialectical in so far as the reality it reflects is dialectical.

 "In Hegel there is a real Dialectic, but the philosophical method is that of pure and simple description, which is dialectical only in the sense that it describes a dialectic of reality" (Kojève, 1980, p. 186).

The advantage and the innovation of such a method, according to Kojève, consists in the fact that it does not interfere with the reality it describes. Such a method, therefore, is a truthful one, for its results correspond completely to reality. The dialectic of reality is also a dialectic of the phenomenological method of Hegel. Thus, Kojève concludes that since the Phenomenology of Spirit is an embodiment of the phenomenological method, and since the dialectic of this method rests entirely on the dialectic of reality, then the principles of the dialectic of reality are also principles of the dialectics of the Phenomenology. This already implies that there are universal dialectical principles (which determine both the dialectic of history and the dialectic of its philosophical description), and that these principles are identical with the sources of the real dialectic.10

The sources of the real dialectic are struggle and labor.

 "If one wants to speak of a 'dialectical method' used by History, one must make clear that one is talking about methods of war and work." (Kojève, 1980, p. 185).

Consequently, struggle (war) and labor (work) become the representatives of the dialectic of Hegel's Phenomenology, which is supposed to mirror the dialectic of history through contemplative methods. Thus, we can see how the methodological explication of Hegel's Phenomenology suggests that struggle and labor are the principles of its dialectics, and that a dialectical development takes place only when either struggle (for recognition) or labor are at work.

This methodological analysis and its conclusions (especially the reduction of reality to human reality, and the equation between dialectics and such forms of human negativity as struggle [Kampf] and labor [Arbeit]) rests on Kojève's ontological interpretation of the Phenomenology. In note 15. to the same series of lectures Kojève discusses Hegel's main mistake11, which he assumes to be Hegel's conception of his philosophy as a monistic ontology. Kojève, on his turn, insists that Hegel's philosophy is a dualistic ontology. Moreover he regards the construction of such an ontology as the main task of the XXth-century philosophy and highly appraises its Heideggerian revival in Sein und Zeit. Hegel's philosophy is a dualistic ontology, according to Kojève, because it has two incommensurable objects - nature and history. Nature and history are two different realms of reality which are subjected to two different principles: the former to the principle of identity, the latter to the principle of negativity. Respectively, neither nature nor its philosophical reflection can be dialectical (while history and its philosophical reflection are dialectical), because there is no negativity, no source for change, creation and development at work in it. It can be easily seen that this dualistic reading of Hegel's philosophy is interrelated with a negativistic conception of Hegel's dialectic.

"But one can say that the Hegelian Dialectic is entirely summed up by a single fundamental category, which is that of dialectical Overcoming (Aufheben)" (Kojève, 1980, p. 208).

"Indeed, by definition Dialectic and hence Totality exist only where there is Negativity" (Kojève, 1980, p. 246).

The negativistic conception of dialectics leads Kojève to an anthropological reading of the Phenomenology. Since dialectics is possible only where there is negation or any other form of negativity, and since there is only one entity in the world able to negate (sublate) itself and the surrounding givens, it is man who is the dialectical principle in the realm of the dialectical being (history). As a description of the real dialectic of history, the Phenomenology of Spirit traces out the various manifestations of the sole principle of the historical dialectic, that is of man. Man, according to Kojève, is "...a nothingness that 'nihilates' in being, thanks to the being which it negates" (Kojève, 1980, p. 215).12  Man is the source and the topos of all possible forms of negativity shaping history and sustaining its dialectical structure. According to Kojève's interpretation, the various forms of human negativity are the universal principles of the Hegelian dialectic (not only in the Phenomenology but also in the entire Hegelian system, for it is the Phenomenology of Spirit which presents the dialectics proper - the dialectics of history). What forms of human negativity does Kojève promote to general principles of the Hegelian dialectic? The concrete forms (Gestalten) of human negativity are:

a) The desire for recognition: "According to Hegel, Man is nothing but Desire for recognition..." (Kojève, 1980, p. 192), which transcends and, therefore, negates the given for the sake of the nothingness of a recognition by another singular self-consciousness.

b) Another form of human negativity, a negativity which is the differentia specifica of the human being, is the struggle for recognition :

 "...the first 'appearance' of Negativity is described in the Phenomenology (Chapter IV) as a Fight to the death for Recognition, or more exactly, as the Risk of life (Wagens des Lebens) which this Fight implies" (Kojève, 1980, p. 225).

 The stakes of this struggle are life or freedom. This struggle is a negation: either of life or of freedom. It institutes the master-slave relationship, in which the master negates the immediacy and singularity of life for the sake of the universality of freedom.

c)The third form of negativity, mentioned by Kojève, is labor/work (Arbeit), which is "a real negation of the given" (Kojève, 1980, p. 189), and which is also a selfnegation of the slave or servant (Knecht) who performs it. By means of labor the slave overcomes his own singularity which makes him obey to the master out of fear for his life.

d) Speech, according to Kojève, is the fourth form of human negativity. Speech negates the given reality into an ideal word or concept. "Now, to introduce Work into the Real is to introduce Negativity and hence Consciousness and Discourse that reveals the Real" (Kojève, 1980, p. 212).

e) The last and comprehensive appearance of human negativity (of the nothingness of man) is death (Tod):

 "...human death is a 'dialectical'(or 'total') 'overcoming', which annuls while preserving and sublimating" (Kojève, 1980, p. 246).

Death (and suicide) are a radical negativity which comprises all other forms of human negativity and which is, just as they are, an act of freedom: "Therefore Death and Freedom are but two ("phenomenological") aspects of one and the same thing..." (Kojève, 1980, p. 247).

 All those forms of human negativity are the moving forces of human history and are the principles of the real dialectic the Phenomenology contemplates. To recapitulate the Kojèvian argument reconstructed so far: i) there is only a real dialectic; ii) the specific principle of dialectics is negativity; iii) the only entity in reality able to negate itself and the reality is man; iv) there can be a real dialectic only in historical (human) reality; v) the forms of human negativity in history are: desire, struggle, labor, speech and death; vi) they are the only principles of Hegel's dialectics in general.

Given all this, it should be no surprise for us that Jacques Lacan consistently defines as dialectical those aspects of the subject's experience and of psychoanalytical practice, which may be related to at least one of these forms of negativity. He does not only detect a master-slave dialectic in the symbolic coming-into-being of the subject, a struggle for recognition in the Imaginary, a dialectic of desire, a dialectical splitting of the subject of speech, a dialectical function of death in the Oedipus complex, but also presents these moments and their derivatives as structured in accordance to the principles of the Hegelian dialectic. What has been a problem for Kojève has become a self-evident truth for Lacan, which he exploits without posing further questions. Jacques Lacan, the student of Alexandre Kojève, qualifies as dialectical precisely those forms of human negativity which Kojève has defined as the essence of Hegel's dialectics.13

2.1. Kojève’s ”Real Dialectic”

We are going to revise the methodological distinction between the real dialectic and the contemplative method of the Phenomenology. The contemplative knowledge (historical and mathematical) is critically analyzed in the Preface of the Phenomenology, precisely for being too contemplative, that is, far away from the essence of its objects. Hegel regards and justifies the method of the Science of Philosophy, and respectively of the Phenomenology, in opposition to such a contemplativity.

"This nature of scientific method, which consists partly in not being separate from the content, and partly in spontaneously determining the rhythm of its movement (...)" (Hegel, 1977, p. 35).

Hegel thinks that the only way for a philosophy to avoid interfering with its subject matter, is not to contemplate it (as Kojève assumes), but to be this same subject matter. 

"Philosophy, on the other hand, has to do (...) with (...) the actual, that which posits itself and is alive within itself - existence within its own Notion" (Hegel, 1977, p. 27).

 The Phenomenology of Spirit presents the self-becoming of the spirit, its gradual and mediated recurrence to itself. There is not anything radically different here involved than the spirit in its truth and its certitude. The spirit appears to itself as something other than itself, but we should not take the appearance for a reality. The spirit does not only contemplate itself in its appearances, but takes part in them; it reproduces phenomenologically its own participation in them. Moreover, the Phenomenology is built upon the basic unity of being and knowledge. It reflects the existence (Dasein) of the spirit, which is simply its knowledge (its memory, its representation of itself).  The immediate existence, the Phenomenology departs from, is not an external reality,  which the philosopher contemplates, but is an existence in the modes of representation, memory, thought. If there is no reality and no real dialectic involved in the Phenomenology of Spirit, then the five principles of this "real dialectic" mentioned above drop out and can not be regarded as principles of the Phenomenology or of the Hegelian dialectic in general.   

2.2. Kojève's negativistic reading of Dialectics

We have to examine critically also Kojève's negativistic approach, for this grounds his dualistic standpoint. Kojève associates dialectics with human negativity. The real dialectic is set into motion by human negativity, for which the sources and appearances are desire, struggle, labor, speech and death. Kojève's negativistic interpretation has two vulnerable aspects: 

i) Hegel does not think of negativity as a specific feature of dialectics. Contrary to Kojève, he does not overestimate negativity but regards it as one of the necessary moments in the being and becoming of the spirit. Negativity will lose its dialectical meaning if it is not a mediation to a new positing. Kojève overemphasizes negativity partly because he relates it exclusively to history and freedom, and does not regard it as one of the moments of the life of the spirit (which has many manifestations other than history).

ii) Unlike Kojève, Hegel does not identify negativity entirely with man. Man and spirit are not identical, and negativity is not a privilege of man. While Kojève assumes that the negativity inherent to man's real existence is the universal dialectics of history, Hegel would think of it as one of the manifold manifestations of the negativity of spirit. In fact Kojève promotes certain externalized forms of negativity (operative in history) into universal principles of dialectics, and that is where the metamorphosis we are dealing with comes from.

If we, however, try to retain the authentic Hegelian focus on the life of the spirit, then it would be difficult to justify most of the basic Kojèvian premises: to equate dialectics with negativity, negativity with man, dialectics with history. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate nature and history with view to their dialectical and non-dialectical nature, to distinguish between real and ideal dialectic, to endorse desire, struggle, labor, speech and death as the principles of dialectics in general. Having traced the Kojèvian metamorphosis of Hegel's dialectic we shall now turn to its resonance in Lacan's psychoanalysis.

 Dr. Radostin Kaloianov - Vienna, Austria  


 1Each moment of the Phenomenology "is itself a complete individual shape, and one is only viewed in absolute perspective when its determinateness is regarded as a concrete whole" (Hegel, 77, p. 17).

 2The coerciveness of the progress of the spirit can be argued against with a view to such traits of this progress like self-negation, self-estrangement, etc. The coerciveness, however, does not suspend the autonomy of the spirit, but rather illuminates its full extent; for it is the spirit that coerces itself in its particular formations; it is the spirit in its alienated forms that is confronted with the impossibility to be itself, and that is forced to find a way out (a forceful one, since there is no other option to transcend a particular limit) back to itself. The violence we are speaking about does not come from outside, it is an immanent aspect of the movement of the spirit.

 3Lacan:The Opacity of Desire, in (Butler, 87, p. 186-204).

  4We have to be aware of the fact that the interpreters of psychoanalysis have made a greater contribution to the establishment of a relationship between Hegel and psychoanalysis, than the psychoanalysts themselves.

  5We define as possible, not to speak of hypothetical, all those implications of the Phenomenology, which are not of an explicit interest for psychoanalysts, or are not regarded deliberately by them.

 6What Hegel defines here as a science is not what is usually implied by this term. According to Hegel a real science can only be philosophy and its subdivisions: "Science dare only organize itself by the life of the Notion itself" (Hegel, 1977, p. 31). Even this brief requirement tells us a lot about the Hegelian conception of the Science (die Wissenschaft), its method and task. The Science does not have its object outside itself, and does not study it by means of methods external to it. The Science, which Hegel refers to is not simply a science equal in status to all the other sciences, but is rather the criterion of what a science should be. The scientific nature of all the regular sciences depends on their place and contribution to the development of the Science; each of the regular sciences (natural or human) is a particular level in the development of the Science.

7Hans Georg Gadamer gives us a clear explication of Hegel's conception of spirit: "Sein Begriff des Geistes, der die subejktiven Formen des Selbstbewußtseins übersteigt, geht also auf die Logos-Nous-Metaphysik der platonisch-aristotelischen Tradition zurück, die noch vor aller Problematik des Selbstbewußtseins liegt" (Gadamer, 1987, p. 67-68). We can enlarge Gadamer's definition by saying that the Hegelian concept of the spirit relates to the Greek Logos-metaphysics only in so far as it transcends it. The Hegelian Spirit is rather a synthesis of the ancient Greek Logos-Nous-metaphysics and the Christian idea of the Holy Spirit. In his lectures on the subjective spirit from the summer term of 1825, Hegel defines the spirit as that: "which stands between the natural and the everlasting worlds, relating and linking them together as extremes" (Petry, 1978, p. 91). The spirit which articulates itself in the forms (die Gestalten) of subjectivity, is a subjective spirit.

 8The phenomenological otherness of the spirit is not as radical a form of otherness as Nature. Since the Phenomenology of Spirit deals with the subjective spirit, it shows the otherness of the spirit which has come back to itself, which already recognizes or miscognizes itself but yet refers to itself. Natural consciousness itself, which is the initial point of the Phenomenology of Spirit, lies at the border between the radical otherness of Nature and the self-referential type of otherness viewed by the Phenomenology. The specificity of the otherness of the spirit in the Phenomenology is that it is a meaningful one; it is entirely placed in the realm of meaning. The phenomenological unfolding of the structures of the subjective spirit departs from the opinion (Meinung) of the sentient soul, which already means something, other than what the reality is. The phenomenological otherness is, therefore, constituted in the realm of meaning; it is not an existing, but a meant otherness (which, of course, also exists not immediately as Nature but mediated through consciousness, self-consciousness and reason). What the spirit means itself to be in its various forms of otherness, is always something other than what it really is.

 9More on this issue: Roudinesco, 1990, p. 134 – 142

  10In fact Kojève performs here a twofold reduction. First, he reduces the dialectic of the Phenomenology to a dialectic of reality. Second, he reduces the dialectic of reality to an actually historical dialectic.

 11The fact that Kojève speaks of a mistake of Hegel already indicates the distance, the incompatibility between his interpretation and the idea of Hegel's philosophy.

 12The German translation of the same expression sounds very Heideggerian: "ein in Sein 'nichtendes' Nichts" (Kojève, 1975, p. 315).

 13"Kojève's teaching exercised an 'influence' on Lacan in the literal sense of the word. Every time he confronted a text of Hegel, he reintroduced the spark of a Kojèvian reading. Thus did he activate the fruitful phase of Kojèvian thought under the category of 'Hegelianism'. He would never contribute anything on the subject of Hegel that was not drawn from Kojève, as though that teaching had penetrated him to the point of being indistinguishable from his own later reading of Hegel's text." (Roudinesco, 1990, p. 140).


Butler J., 1987, Subjects of Desire. Hegelian reflections in Twentieth-Century France, Columbia U.P.,      New York

Fulda H., 1973, Materialen zu Hegels Phänomenologie des Geistes, Hrsg. Hans Fr. Fulda & Dietrich Henrich, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfuhrt am Mein

Gadamer H. G., 1987, Gesammelte Werke, Bd. III, Neuere Philosophie, Mohr, Tübingen

Hegel G. W. F., 1977, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford

Kojève Al., 1980, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, trans. James Nichols, Cornell UP, London

Kojève Al., 1975, Hegel. Eine Vergegenwärtigung seines Denkens. Kommentar zur Phänomenologie des Geistes, Hrsg. Iring Fetscher, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfuhrt am Mein

Petry M.. J., 1978, Hegel's Philosophy of Subjective Spirit, I & III, D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dodrecht, Holland (includes a translation of the third part of the Encyclopaedia, and fragments from Hegel's lecture courses)

Ricoeur P., 1970, Freud and Philosophy, trans. Denis Savage, Yale UP, New Haven/London

Roudinesco E., 1990, Jacques Lacan & Co. A History of Psychoanalysis in France 1925-1985, Chicago UP, Chicago  

Steinkraus W., 1971, New Studies in Hegel's Philosophy, edit. Warren Steinkraus, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc., N.Y.

Radostin Kaloianov, Ph.D.

Muenzwardeingasse 7/15
A - 1060 Vienna, Austria
tel.: + 43 1 58 13 480

Secondary Education: 
1981 - 1986 High Scholl Diploma, English Language School, Burgas, Bulgaria

University Education: 
Oct. 1988 - June 1992 
Study of Philosophy, University of Sofia. 
Main Areas of Study:
· Ancient Philosophy (Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristoteles);
· Modern Philosophy (Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Leibnitz); 
· German Idealism (Kant, Schelling), the Hegelian Philosophy of History; 
· Nietzsche (Critical Philosophy of History); 
· 20th Century Philosophy: Phenomenology (late Husserl), Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (Cassirer), Heideggers early period (Sein und Zeit), Hermeneutics (Gadamer, P. Ricoeur); Neo-Kantianism (H. Heimsoeth)

Sept. 1992 - December 1993 (4 trimester) 
Study of Social Philosophy and Psychoanalysis at the University of Amsterdam (TEMPUS scholarship). 
Main Areas of Study: 
· History of Psychoanalysis: From Freud to J. Lacan;
· French Post-Modernism (M. Foucault, J. Derrida),
· Contemporary American Political Philosophy (J. Rawls, Dworkin, Nozick, Charles Taylor)

December 1993
MA in Philosophy cum laude, University of Amsterdam. Title of the MA-Thesis: Hegel. Kojeve and Lacan - the Metamorphoses of Dialectics. (written in English). 

March 1994 
Masters Degree in Philosophy, University of Sofia.

Oct. 1995 - Dec. 2000 
PhD study at the University of Vienna. 
Dissertation-Thesis: Principles and Tendencies in the Modern Theory of Conflict. The philosophical conception of conflict and conflict-resolution in the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (written in German).Thesis-Advisors: Prof. Dr. Ludwig Nagl and Prof. Dr. Michael Benedikt

December 2000 
Promotion at the University of Vienna. Acquired academic grade: Doktor der Philosophie (mit Auszeichnung) 

Other areas of postgraduate research History of moral and political Ideas 
· Origins and Early Developments of Modern Rationalism and Empiricism; 
· Moral Philosophy: Transcendentalist versus pragmatist foundations of social normativity; 
· Social Philosophy: Modern Philosophical Theories of Natural Right and the Contractualist Founding of Modern State
· Social Philosophy: Philosophical Theories of Social Contingency and Social Conflict 
· Modern Philosophy of Contingency and Social Conflict

Scholarships and Awards 
Sept. 1992 - Dec. 1993 
EU TEMPUS scholarship

October 1995 - June 1996 
Scholarship of the Austrian Ministry of Science, Research and Culture