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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Philosophy, History, and Tyranny: Reexamining the Debate Between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve


The End of Philosophy

Together with the foregoing historical development within the social, political, and legal reality of modernity, Kojeve describes the concurrent development of philosophic discourse, which issues in wisdom (i.e., absolute knowledge or the concept). As we saw earlier, the eventual overcoming of slavery consisted of certain necessary moments or stages in history, that is, the advent of the citizen is won and can be won only by the work of the Slave. So, too, in the case of wisdom: the advent of the wise man is and must be the result of the work of philosophers laboring in time. To see this, it is necessary to grasp Kojeve’s understanding of Hegelian wisdom (or absolute knowledge)—what it is, how it comes to be, and who possesses it. In other words, we must uncover the preconditions of absolute knowing and wisdom and see how these are related to the progress and developments of History.[1]

To understand absolute wisdom one must first articulate what it is. Like all wisdom, Hegelian absolute wisdom entails a grasp of the truth. For Hegel (and thus for Kojeve), the truth has a particular form or structure determined by its content (CTD 62). The structure of the truth is circular and sequential (which implies that any system that articulates the truth will share this shape). The truth of any thing is not simply what the thing is at present, but also what it was in the past and what it will be in the future; it includes its full development, decline, and disintegration. For example, the truth of the oak tree is neither the acorn, nor the tree in its prime, nor the rotting stump that remains, but rather the totality of all these moments. Likewise in the case of human beings; the truth of human being includes all moments from conception to death (and perhaps even funeral, interment, mourning, and so on).[2] To know what a human being is requires a full account of each stage and how each is related to and dependent on the others. Selecting any particular stage of the development of a thing as the definitive stage would reify a particular aspect of it and thus distort one’s understanding of it. The full account of a thing is the notion of the thing; or as Kojeve put it, “[t]he ‘real’ Thing, minus its hic et nunc, is precisely what we call the notion [la notion] of that Thing” (CTD 124). The comprehensive and coherent totality of all notions is “the concept [le concept]” (CTD 58 and 60; cf. ILH336 [100-101]). Just as “in reality Things are an integrated and integral part of the one and unique World,” their notions too are integrated in and integral to the one and unique concept (CTD 116). Thus we see that absolute wisdom is the adequate discursive development of all notions and their interrelations, and that truth is necessarily connected to discourse. Most obviously, the discursive articulation of the concept is not immediate, but effected in time (CTD 101). The history of philosophy (or discourse) must be understood to be the progressive unfolding of this articulation. By implication, moreover, there is an age when the fruit of philosophy’s labor is ripe (CTD 44, 50, 61, 69, and 79).[3]

Just as any adequate understanding of discursive truth must account for discourse, so, too, an adequate understanding of absolute knowledge must account for the knower. According to Kojeve, Hegel (and Plato) maintains a threefold definition of the wise man: (1) he is capable of answering all questions concerning his actions in a comprehensible and satisfactory way such that the totality of answers is coherent; (2) he is perfectly satisfied by what he is; and (3) he is the morally perfect man (ILH 271-273 [75-78]).[4] Kojeve’s contention is that each of these three definitions is in fact identical to the others; they all say the same thing, but in different terms; each captures or represents a different facet of the same phenomenon— that of the wise man’s wisdom. It is crucial that we understand the definitions and how they fit together to obtain a full account of the phenomenon. This is necessary, moreover, if one is to decide between the respective positions of Hegel (Kojeve) and Plato (Strauss), who share this definition of the wise man, but who disagree on whether or not the ideal is realizable. That is, the two disagree as to whether the philosopher or (alternatively) the wise man is the actual ideal human type.

  • [1] It is customary to observe that Kojeve places an unwarranted emphasis on the lordship and bondage section and thereby distorts Hegel’s thought (cf. PatrickRiley, “Introduction to the Reading of Alexandre Kojeve,” Political Theory 9 [no.1, February 1981]: 5-48). Because we are interested more in Kojeve as a representative of modernity, in particular as the representative of modern politicalrationalism, however, we will not assess the truth of this contention.
  • [2] Cf. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and EdwardRobinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 281-285.
  • [3] Cf. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 1977), ^2 (2); cf. ^12 (7).
  • [4] In “Tyranny and Wisdom,” Kojeve provides a twofold definition of the philosopher as both possessing a greater degree of self-consciousness than any nonphilosopher and dedicating his life to the quest for wisdom (OT 147).
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