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 I—the abstract self—which 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 itself—pure concepts—or 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 other—to prove their self-certainty.
This truth of existing-for-self must be proven in the other and in one’s self—e.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.