The Review of Metaphysics

Volume 72, Issue 3, March 2019

Paul T. Wilford
Pages 497-527

The Theological Dimension of Agency
Forgiveness, Recognition, and Responsibility in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

At the heart of the drama of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is the realization of the concept of self-consciousness. The self-conscious agent strives to know herself through being known by another, and after repeated failures comes eventually to learn what is required for one to know and to be known. Hegel’s famous account of a life and death struggle for recognition between two self-conscious agents marks the beginning of a long development toward the realization of the multifaceted conditions for the possibility of genuine intersubjective recognition and therewith for truly responsible agency. This development is concomitantly the actualization of the concept of spirit, for true agency requires the appearance of absolute spirit in a community of self-conscious individuals. This paper explores why forgiveness is so central to this process. According to Hegel’s argument, we only fully realize our nature as self-conscious beings when we acknowledge our need for forgiveness.