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Secondary Self-Consciousness

Secondary self-consciousness is marked by the realisation that the existence of the I is inevitably dependent on the existence of independent objects, since the I after all is nothing other than what Hegel calls ‘desire’ - it is essentially appetitive in nature:

In this state of satisfaction, however, it has experience of the independence of its object. Desire and the certainty of its self obtained in the gratification of desire, are conditioned by the object; for the certainty exists through cancelling this other; in order that this cancelling may be effected, there must be this other. Self-consciousness is thus unable by its negative relation to the object to abolish it; because of that relation it rather produces it again, as well as the desire. The object desired is, in fact, something other than self-consciousness, the essence of desire; and through this experience this truth has become realized.11

The I’s realisation that the I is dependent on something external or other raises for secondary self-consciousness the disconcerting possibility that in fact it is the I that might be inessential - might be, that is, an ‘other’ (an object), at least from the point of view of the independent object. In order to negate the Other, the Other must be there, and it must be something Other in order that it can be negated in the first place. In this secondary moment of self-consciousness, therefore, self-consciousness perceives a clash between its conception of the I as essential (which is the central conception of primary self-consciousness, and the starting point) and its conception of the I as entirely ‘other’ - in other words, the encounter with the Other causes a clash between the conception of the self as pure subject and the conception of the self as pure object. The ever-present fear is that the I might be the object, might in fact itselfbe entirely other. This phenomenon is displayed by the slave in the master/slave dialectic:

[T]he master gets his recognition through another consciousness, for in them the latter affirms itself as unessential, both by working upon the thing, and, on the other hand, by the fact of being dependent on a determinate existence; in neither case can this other get the mastery over existence, and succeed in absolutely negating it. We have thus here this moment of recognition, viz. that the other consciousness cancels itself as self-existent, and, ipso facto, itself does what the first does to it.12

It is Sartre’s description in Being and Nothingness that illuminates particularly well the fear that is associated with this secondary form of self-consciousness. Thanks to his analysis, we can well imagine how this possibility might present itself to the human subject. It is extremely difficult, however, to imagine how one could actually consider oneself as an object alone, a dependent consciousness. We return again to the general proposition, put forward in various forms by Kant, Hegel and their later critics, that it is impossible for that which is being examined to have the same character as that which is doing the examining. This alone would surely rule out a conception of oneself as pure object, pure dependent consciousness - the self cannot be an object for itself (see the next section).

At this stage, it is interesting to note that the description of this secondary stage of self-consciousness is to be found in the actual master/slave chapter rather than the discussion of consciousness which precedes it (paragraphs 16677). What are we to make of this? In the paragraphs immediately before the master/slave dialectic, this secondary self-consciousness makes only a fleeting appearance as an intermediate but in some way unstable stage between the self as the only I or subject and the self as ambiguous. In the dialectic itself, there is a description of how the slave enters this position and how it overcomes it. The slave is physically dependent on the master, and therefore is unessential as a dependent consciousness. The slave recognises the master as the only independent consciousness, and therefore a one-way recognition emerges. In the next paragraph Hegel points out that this recognition is worthless; in fact, as the master is dependent on the slave for his self-certainty, it is the master who has failed to achieve self-consciousness. The situation is precisely the reverse of what one might initially imagine:

In all this, the unessential consciousness is, for the master, the object which embodies the truth ofhis certainty ofhimself. But it is evident that this object does not correspond to its notion; for, just where the master has effectively achieved lordship, he really finds that something has come about quite different from an independent consciousness. It is not an independent, but rather a dependent consciousness that he has achieved.13

It remains mysterious as to what precisely it is that has caused this dependence of consciousness on the slave on the part of the master. Kojeve’s theory focuses on the lack of work and interaction with the environment of the slave, other theories such as that of Bauer formulate precise laws about the inability of the master to act other than as a direct consequence of one’s natural desires. Certainly, it does not seem to be something within the slave - it is not a direct consequence of the logical or psychological impossibility of the self viewing itself as an object - but within the master (we may leave aside for the moment what it is within the master that leads to this situation). Perhaps the slave can only be in this situation (of seeing himself as an object) if he is physically or otherwise forced into it, lending weight to Sartre’s claim that the ontological facts of the matter can be changed by the action of one of the parties. Alternatively, we could see this section of the master/slave dialectic in combination with my analysis of the three stages of self-consciousness as one of the clearest indications we have that the master/slave dialectic is a thought-experiment or allegory intended to illustrate these stages of self-consciousness.

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