Alexandre Kojève

Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968) was born in Russia and educated in Berlin. Kojeve gave his influential lectures on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes from 1933-1939 in Paris, which were collected and edited by the poet Raymond Quesneau as Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (1947). After the Second World War Kojeve worked in the French ministry of Economic Affairs as one of the chief planners of the Common Market (EU).

Short Biography, quoted from

“French philosopher who introduced a study of Hegel to post-World War Two France. Born in Russia and educated in Berlin, he lectured on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris from 1933-1939. After World War Two, Kojève abandoned philosophy and took up an Economic planning post representing France in the Common Market, until his death in 1968.

In 1947 his lectures were published as Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. He was the first to attempt to combine Marx, Hegel and Heidegger, and consequently he must be regarded as the most important source of the French post-War radicalism associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, et al.

Kojéve’s reading of Hegel focussed on the “master-slave dialectic”, and he re-cast the whole of Hegel’s system around the concept of Recognition exhibited in the Master-Slave dialectic. The dialectic of recognition occupies only one small section in the Phenomenology, but in Hegel’s first systematic work, System of Ethical Life (1802), recognition plays a central role in the development of mediation. So in this sense, Kojève may be said to be true to Hegel.

With the rise of the social movements after World War Two, this theme became the central axis of Continental philosophy. Kojève traces Hegel’s philosophy from Aristotle and Plato, and understands Hegel’s dialectic as a summing up of the development of objective products of human culture, rather than the work of Spirit. Kojève insisted that history had come to an end and that now nothing really new can happen in the world – reality has become rational. Kojève carried this conclusion into practice by abandoning philosophy and devoting the rest of his life to economic planning.”

Text Sample: Hole and Ring.

from: Kojève, Alexandre: Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. New York, 1969. p. 485:

Let us consider a gold ring. There is a hole and this hole is just as essential to the ring as the gold is; without the gold, the hole (which, moreover, would not exist) would not be a ring, but without the hole, the gold (which would none the less exist) would not be a ring either. But if one has found atoms in the gold, it is not at all necessary to look for them in the hole. And nothing indicates that the gold and the hole are in one and the same manner (of course, what is involved is the hole as ‘hole’ and not the air which is ‘in the hole’). The hole is a nothingness that subsists (as the presence of an absence) thanks to the gold which surrounds it. Likewise, Man who is Action could be a nothingness that ‘nihilates’ in being, thanks to the being which it ‘negates’.

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