PhoS: The Master and Slave [Prt. 2]

Encounter and Struggle:
Consciousness’ Experience of

Self-consciousness first exists as consciousness which excludes all before it as other to itself. For itself, it is the Ithe abstract selfwhich is an immediate unity of itself with itself. Thus, it is purely individual in that it does not have a universal mediated character.—[Refer to the section on consciousness in Life.]

Each self-consciousness sees the other as a mere object like any other, however each is a self-consciousness that opposes the other. They first encounter each other in the way they encounter all other ordinary objects for recognition is not yet occurring. They are independent living beings that do not depend on each other for their own existence as living entities. Both are beings submerged in the being of life, i.e. as consciousness they have not abstracted themselves from the immediacy of their living activity; consciousness does not yet stand detached above its own life and does not yet reflect on it. Such consciousnesses have not taken themselves to be self-consciousness as such, the pure negativity which negates all immediacy of being. They have not yet absolutely abstracted themselves, i.e. these consciousnesses have not yet recognized themselves as a free standing entity. Self-consciousness is such in that it is being-for-itself apart from the immediate submersion in its living activity. It is a mediated consciousness and as such is mediated being; it is pure being-for-itself.

[Comment:] The point about self-consciousness’ absolute abstraction, I think, ties to thought, which Hegel in the preface connects to abstraction itself. In self-consciousness, then, we also find a necessary condition for thought which can contemplate thought itselfpure conceptsor what technically we may call the categories of cognition itself.

Each encounters the other certain of itself, but unsure about the other. They are sure of themselves as the ‘I am I’, but not sure of the absolute exclusion/negation of otherness. They could only be certain of their being-for-self if in their eyes this were exhibited as an independent object, or, that the object turned out to be this pure certainty of itself. The certainty of these consciousnesses is self-consciousness, for only in such a structured relation does consciousness become an object of cognition for itself. In recognition, the other must be for the first what the first is for the other, each in itself achieves this pure abstraction of being-for-itself, that is, both achieve their being-for-self in their mutual recognition, in their own activity and the activity of the other, closing the circle of recognition between themselves and only themselves.

[Comment:] Remember that self-consciousness as consciousness in the prior section on Life was desire, and finds its certainty only in the act of negation of the other; however, this very negation is the annulment of consciousness’ own being as mere desire for an object. No object —> no desire —> no consciousness. Consciousness’ certainty relies on something external to it, and for the certainty to hold the external object must itself hold against the power of consciousness to negate.

Along with this—something brought to my attention by a gracious comment by someone elsewhere—one must note the suspicion with which recognition begins and remains with. If consciousness, and thus self-consciousness, is impenetrable as such without its will’s allowance, the only way to ‘read’ the other as consciousness is to recognize from it tell-tale signs which imply its being there. This is seen in its capacity to mirror the ways we react, not in a mechanical sense, but in a logical and active sense. Machines do not present such logical mirroring, for they do not have genuine thinking and genuine consciousness; thus, we do not recognize them as conscious. This fundamental and irremovable suspicion born from the opaqueness of (self-)consciousness as an object of knowledge is quite curious and has strong ramifications.

The other displays incredulity and curiosity, apprehension and precaution, it answers to my call, it claims and demands to my claim and demand. There is part of me, my consciousness, which I know the other has no access to, my process of cognition and private thoughts, yet if the other too is conscious they too have such privacy from me. Consciousness has become my object, yet despite being like me in kind, I am faced with a fundamental opaqueness which limits my penetrating gaze into the other. I can only read so much into them insofar as they think as I do, have such a character as I have encountered and learned to navigate, have motives of which I can be aware, yet beyond this the other is forever a fundamental mystery towards which I must give something newly social: trust.

Due to consciousness’ absolute negativity and impenetrability by an external other without its will’s allowance, there is beyond the uncertainty of an individual’s being-for-self also an uncertainty about what is within the impenetrable consciousness of the other. We are apprehensive both because of our doubts about ourselves in relation to the other, but also in doubt of the other in relation to ourselves, especially when we recognize them as one like ourselves. Because they are like us and we know our own impenetrability, we recognize theirs and are ultimately left to wonder what truly lies behind the appearances we have access to regarding the intention and cognition of others.

Now… what happens when two such entities encounter each other for the first time? How does this appear to them?

ABSTRACTION  FROM  LIFE: Struggle to the death.

The way self-consciousness exhibits itself as the pure abstraction of being-for-itself is by negating its connection to life. It denies that it is shackled to life itself, its own objective mode of being. Life as such is nothing to self-consciousness, let alone the other’s life. It proves life is nothing to it, and affirms its own certainty as being-for-itself, by staking its own life in struggle against the other. It proves its worth to itself, and the other proves its worth to it through this show of the insignificance of life. The struggle happens of necessity. Each must prove the truth of their worth to themselves and each otherto prove their self-certainty.

This truth of existing-for-self must be proven in the other and in one’s selfe.g. I prove my being-for-self to myself by staking my life and destroying or overcoming the other. Self-consciousness is pure being-for-self, not immediate being as living being; it is pure negativity which holds on to nothing but itself. Both risk their lives for the sake of proving their self-certainty and being-for-self to themselves and to the other. They act towards each other in a doubled reflection of action and recognize the other as other against themselves. In the struggle, having wagered life, both aim at the death of the other as the certainty that shall prove the supremacy of being-for-self that they take themselves to be. This otherness is the essence of each; thus, they each have their being outside themselves and must sublate it. The other, if it is to be genuine essence, must be intuited as pure being-for-itself, as absolute negation, i.e. as self-consciousness.

[Comment:] Hegel comments that those who do not stake their life may be recognized as a person, but do not achieved the truth for themselves. This is to say, others may recognize you as any ‘x’, but if you have not truly struggled in the realization of being that ‘x’, you are not that ‘x’ in your own right. You may be recognized as an independent person, but insofar as you do not struggle to assert that truth you have not shown this certainty for yourself. Truth is found in the act of realization; I show my independence by acting in capacity of such independence and making the certainty true in the moment of actuality.

The trial by death, however, “sublates the truth which was supposed to emerge from it and, by doing so, completely sublates the certainty of itself.” That is to say, the wager of life, while first seeming to preserve self-certainty for consciousness, only cancels the intended result, recognition.

“Just as life is the natural location of consciousness, that is, self-sufficiency without absolute negativity, death is the natural negation of this same consciousness, negation without self-sufficiency, which thus persists without the significance of the recognition which was demanded.” (§188)

If both are unrelenting in their unwillingness to recognize while demanding recognition, they will struggle until one is dead. For the one that dies and fails in the struggle, through death the certainty is established that they risked their life, acted on the claim that they were consciousness as pure being-for-self, and refused to recognize the other as one like itself. Self-consciousness fully wagers everything in the attempt to make true the claim that it alone is truth and essence. Life and death are nothing to it for itself nor in the other, but in its refusal to recognize the other it loses itself in giving up its life.

For the one who ‘passes’ the test, i.e. the survivor, they indeed appear to achieve the sublation of their consciousness, but it ends in a double movement of nullification. They achieve the sublation of the alien essence which was posited outside themselves as natural existence (self-sufficient life), i.e. they nullify the other in the relation. “They elevate themselves and, as extreme terms wanting to exist for themselves, are themselves sublated.” That is, in the first moment of sublation they preserve their consciousness in the negation of the other as the moment of certainty which makes true and their claim to self-certainty and being-for-self. However, as has already been made clear in prior posts, such a victory is self-defeating in its actuality and is undone in a second moment. In destroying the other self-consciousness, self-consciousness destroys its own essence and its own self-certainty—it loses itself as an object of cognition. The movement of recognition is terminated; the essential moment of the the unity existing in extremes of opposed determinate beings ceases (the genus is destroyed in the destruction of its differentia, or, the universal is cancelled in the cancelling of its determinate independent existing shapes in relation); the middle term through which self-consciousness exists (the other self-consciousness through which it turns inward to itself) collapses into a dead unity (the empty ‘I am I’) which turns into dead extreme terms (no movement of recognition is happening between or within them) that merely exist without being immanently opposed (they relate externally as indifferent objects, not as self-consciousness which is differentiated in itself as two existent shapes).

“They only indifferently leave each other free-standing, like things. Their deed is abstract negation, not the negation of consciousness, which sublates in such a way that it preserves and maintains what has been sublated and which thereby survives its having become sublated.”(§188)

[Note:] Abstract negation, as opposed to determinate or concrete negation, does not preserve the object of negation, but simply annihilates it. It abstracts, disconnects or rips away from, the term which annihilates the other from the relation to the other.

Why Self-Consciousness Needs Two

Why Are Two Consciousnesses Necessary For Self-Consciousness?

Hegel’s claim that self-consciousness requires two (self-)consciousnesses is something I don’t think anyone should find convincing at the face of it, for I myself do not find it convincing without elaboration. Part of the issue that I think highly confuses the understanding of the section is that Hegel brings up the “I am I” of the not-yet-self-conscious consciousness. Bringing this in ends up being confusing, for in the common understanding the “I am I” is considered a basic form of self-consciousness. But what does the ‘I am I’ say that makes us think this?

In §176 Hegel gives the following recap of self-consciousness:

A) The pure I without distinctions is its first immediate object.

B) This immediacy, however, is absolutely mediated, for it exist only in the act of sublating the independent object (life) before it, thus the I exists only as desire. The satisfaction of desire is the very reflection of self-consciousness into itself, that is, it is the certainty which has become the truth.”

C) The truth of the certainty gained in the sublation of the other (life), is only a reinforcement of the truth that consciousness is a doubled reflection as self-consciousness. “There is an object for consciousness which in itself posits its otherness, that is, which posits the distinction as a nullity and is therein a self-sufficient object.”


Am I not self-conscious when I reflect on myself and claim “I am I”? It seems utterly ludicrous to say one is not self-conscious in such a situation, so what gives? Well, what does ‘I am I’ say in its mere claim? This claim by consciousness is merely the law of tautological self-identity which merely separates the I from all else as other to it—it is not yet a self-reflecting claim or awareness. The ‘I’ here is also not yet a universal kind differentiated between one particular instance and another, it is a pure immediate contentless individuality. This is to say, this claim is purely one without difference in that ‘I am I’ does not imply ‘I am not you’ or someone else.

When we make this claim it is very different to the claim of Hegel’s self-consciousness on its own. In our claim we implicitly carry universal notions of self and other. As language bearers and  developed cultural beings we have language, culture, and a divided consciousness. We carry an internal other within us from which we reflect: our conscience and our internalized imagination of how others view us. A consciousness with no such power of language, conceptual thought, cultural history, nor social existence has no concept of self for all it has is its own experienced pure empty individuality. ‘I am I’ as opposed to… what? You? There is no ‘you’ at such a point, for such a consciousness has no recognition of anything that is like itself. There is no community of ‘I’s, only the existence of I alone. All that I means and is at such a point is the power of negation of all before it. The I is nothing but pure desire, the consciousness which is at home with itself as desiring life and its endless task to negate all by consumption and nullification.

This I acts towards a world that faces it as other, but in the consumption of desire it attempts to prove to itself that nothing is truly other, that is is truth and essence alone, for there is nothing that withstands its negation. To it otherness is but an appearance whose truth is the I. The issue with “I am I” is not just its poverty as a claim, for it is a meaningless tautology, but also an ontological one. The ontology of self-consciousness is not simply a tautological declaration of self-relation, nor is the experience of self-consciousness simply such a declaration. To be capable of self-consciousness is not the capacity to simply recognize myself as an individuality, but to recognize consciousness in general, that is, to recognize other consciousnesses and their likeness and difference to mine. What does ‘I am I’ mean when I have no concept of other ‘I’s against which I differentiate? Nothing.

The problem with mistaking the claim of ‘I am I’ as a proof of self-consciousness lies in that for us it carries too many assumptions from our already deeply socially embedded self-awareness and the resulting internally self-reflective consciousness. To be genuinely self-conscious is to see my consciousness from the point of another consciousness while in the standpoint of my own consciousness. When we say we are very self-conscious about ourselves in any manner, Hegel means something deeply similar by his concept of self-consciousness. We mean by this that we are aware of how others are aware of us, and that we are aware of their actual or possible capacity  of being aware of our being aware of them.

Recall that consciousness is a cognition directed towards an outer other as object. Its awareness is always pointed outward and never is reflected back inwards. A self-consciousness can exist as a mere consciousness insofar as it does not have another self-consciousness to cause the cognitive awareness to reflect back inwards. Alone, two self-consciousnesses are mere consciousness, but when they encounter each other they have the capacity to recognize each other as self-consciousnesses. Like a light beam projected outwards from an infinitely deep and dark abyssal mirror, consciousness’s awareness reaches outward and grasps the other in its gaze. When two encounter, however, each is primed to detect and recognize the gaze, the emitted light beam, of the other impinging on it. Immediately consciousness recognizes consciousness at one and the same time as 1) consciousness as its object of awareness 2) itself as the object of the other’s awareness 3) as being recognized as consciousness by the other.

The formula of self-consciousness is thus this: I am aware of you being aware of me being aware of you. Through you, I have been forced into becoming aware of myself as consciousness which is the object of consciousness, i.e. self-awareness has been achieved for both through a mediation of each other. In other words, self-consciousness is a reflective cognition between two genuine others in which the other is recognized as other yet as of the same kind. Self-consciousness is this closed circuit of recognition between two.

PhoS: The Master and Slave [Prt. 1]

Following from the development of life and self-consciousness, we now are at Hegel’s most well known and famous philosophical passage, the Master/Slave dialectic of self-consciousness. Like prior sections, this is going to be a long one. There is much here that deals with some very dense phenomeno-logical developments.

One thing to comment here is that there is a vast misinterpretation of this section by most readers. Many take the account given in this section to be Hegel’s positive account of how we become self-conscious, however, this is not the case. The logic of self-consciousness,  found in the Philosophy of Spirit, is something different than the account of the master/slave. This is by and large an account of how the coming to be of recognition and self-consciousness appears to a self-consciousnesses.

The Conclusion of Life and
The Appearance of Spirit

At the end of the prior section Hegel tells us that the concept of Spirit in its most basic form is properly at hand in the concept of self-consciousness as the divided existence of mind in unitary form. Self-consciousness is an “I that is a we, and a we that is an I”. Not only that, but we have also stumbled on the first formulation of the substance as subject: The object of self-consciousness is another subject to whom itself it is an object. 

From here on the forms of consciousness are all expositions and unfoldings of Spirit’s inner development of its self-knowledge as knowledge of self-consciousnesses in relation to themselves and the world. These shall all be subject forms that are embedded in inter-subjective relations and norms. They are all cultural, social, and historical insofar as they build upon a legacy of thought and activity carried and transmitted by communities of individuals. Insofar as this holds, even the ‘objective’ knowledge claims of so-called reason in the objective mode of world observation—such as in empirical science—shall be shown to be grounded in Spirit’s conception of itself.


The Logic of Recognition

Self-consciousness only exists in being recognized. It exists in and for itself only for an other. As a realization of the concept of Infinity, i.e. as an empirically determinate form of it, self-consciousness must be taken in its opposed meanings of a self-differentiated unity in which the differences are real and independent, yet dependent and the same. By this it is meant that if self-consciousness is posited as the united universal, it must be thought as the divided plurality of self-consciousnesses, and if posited as plurality of self-consciousnesses, it must be thought as the immanently necessary universal unity of this plurality.

Recognition is a movement, that is, it is an activity and not simply a state of mere being—it is a process. Empirically, consciousness does not simply just recognize another consciousness, there is a process to the coming about of this recognition. Consciousness must be forced to recognize the other as one like itself and become self-conscious, and only a self-consciousness like itself may inflict upon it the experience of an independent other which denies the negation imposed by another.

As the concept of it shows, the essence or source of self-consciousness is outside it in another self-consciousness. This, however, is at first not seen as another, but as itself. As self-consciousness faces another self-consciousness as its essence, it must sublate the otherness to be certain it is the essence, but in doing so it thus only sublates itself, for the other was its essence.

The sublation is double-edged in multiple senses.

1) Self-consciousness is outside itself; the other is itself

2) The sublation of another is only a sublation of itself

3) The sublation of its other gets the essence of self-consciousness back into itself, yet this return is a letting go, for it requires that the other indeed be recognized as the essence of self-consciousness, a free self-consciousness itself. This is to say, since the other is the essence in which self-consciousness exists for itself, self-consciousness thus sublates itself into the other, and thus the other is free as well. One cannot be self-conscious without recognizing the other as a self-consciousness and giving it its due as well.

The prior exposition is from one standpoint of one self-consciousness, but the other is self-consciousness as well, thus it also carries on this activity of recognition. Thus, the activity of one is the activity of the other for they are both independent self-sufficient beings that carry out the same activity in relating to the other for themselves. The other is also itself in-itself, thus it does not exist merely as an object that is initially and foremost for the desire of the first. The first self-consciousness cannot penetrate into the other self-consciousness and make it do anything unless the other does in-itself what another does to it.

[Comment:] This is to say this much: In my consciousness nothing can enter that I do not allow to be there for myself. No amount of physical coercion nor enticement can make any consciousness recognize anything or anyone within itself. You may make me say things and do things out of forced capitulation in the face of negative consequences, but never can you make me believe, respect, or recognize anything I refuse to. In my consciousness I have a being which seems immune to the penetration of any kind of other by any means external to my will, thus I have the power to deny all power over me—even my life itself.

In seeing the other do as one does, and recognizing the other to be as one is, one does what one demands of the other, i.e. by demanding recognition one has already recognized the other as the kind like one’s self. We only recognize insofar as we are recognized. I demand you to submit to me, and you do the same. I wager my life as proof of my absolute independence, and you do the same. I struggle, and you do likewise. Recognition as a movement is only possible with two self-consciousnesses, it would be pointless, useless, and meaningless for one consciousness to do such alone. To demand an entity incapable of recognition to recognize us is an empty act. The activity of recognition is double-edged in the sense that it is as much directed towards the other as it is to oneself. To demand recognition from you presupposes recognizing you.

—The analogy to the play of forces—

Hegel comments that this recalls the disintegration of Genuine Force into Force and Expression as the play of forces; each was nothing but the transition into its opposite and the endless circular movement shifting to the other. Expression was the becoming of Force, and Force the becoming of Expression. Self-consciousness finds its essence only in another consciousness, in its circular movement in the activity of recognition which shifts from self to other and back to self.

Self-consciousness as consciousness is outside itself for it faces another consciousness as its object. As self-consciousness however, its being is this very external relation which allows for self-reflection, hence the externality is internal to it, in it, and for it—as such it is outside of itself in-and-for-itself. The other immediately is and is not another consciousness, for it exists only in the relation of two self-consciousnesses. Each side of the difference requires the other to exist-for-itself as an independent entity which nonetheless is only being-for-itself insofar as the other is in relation to it. Self-consciousness thus finds itself self-mediated in its two existent extremes.

Each is the middle term to the other, through which each mediates itself with itself and integrates itself with itself. Each is, in its own eyes and in that of the other, an essence immediately existing for itself which at the same time exists for itself in that way only by way of this mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing each other.” (§184)