Seth, Wes and Dylan newly introduce an episode from ten years ago on G.F.W. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, Ch. 4A "Self-Consciousness," which features Mark, Seth, Wes, and guest Tom McDonald.
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We've removed the "review" section of the old episode (the first half), because it's duplicative of our recent three-episode run on this book. The old discussion thus picks up in the book right where ep. 277 leaves off.
You can of course just listen to the new intro and jump right to the full version of the old episode instead, and follow that up immediately by listening to ep. 36, which this new introduction also discusses.
So what happens in ch. 4? Hegel has established that an understanding of the world as objective is only possible because the being-for-self of objects (what Kant thought of as "things-in-themselves" is the same as their being-for-another, or specifically at this point their being-for-us.
So we're led by this reasoning to want to take ourselves as objects in order to better understand how this all works. As with the other stages, the initial move is an apparently immediate grasp of self, as Descartes' Meditations described. But of course this immediacy turns out to be an illusion, and by the end we'll see (and explore in ep. 36) how this apparently primary introspection actually only reveals something very superficial: only "I=I." What we really are concretely is something established through reflection over time, and this process of reflection begins only when we get an idea of who we are from other people.
The perception of the world is enough to get the idea of a self that exists over time to have these different experiences, but that doesn't really differentiate me from you from other people. It could be anyone having those experiences, as far as the structure of experience itself goes. How does the unity of self-consciousness with itself become something actually essential to self-consciousness (Hegel asks)? His answer is that self-consciousness is "desire in general." So you might have thought desire was an emotion or something else that we merely do, but for Hegel it's a structural property of experience.
This is like for Sartre, consciousness is Nothingness; Beauvoir describes it as ambiguity. In both cases, the point is that there's a vacuum that things tend to rush into, i.e. there's dynamic propensity to movement built right into the existence of consciousness. For consciousness to take itself as an object is not a state of self-reflection but an action, a movement: a desire for a more substantial self. When we try to reflect on ourselves, we see only the Humean singular point of consciousness in our experience of the moment. But that's not really the self; rather the self is that movement of reflection (this point comes right from Schelling). So the attempt at self-consciousness is frustrated; we can't actually see the part that's doing the seeing (i.e. what we think abstractly must be the self). We need some sort of resource outside of this insular, Cartesian experience of self-reflection: something like a mirror, but not so lifeless. As Hegel says, "the object of immediate desire is a living thing." We need another person to help us see ourselves, to feel actually real and meaningful.
What's tricky here is that as we'll see see in the next section, having an identified desire also requires full self-consciousness, which requires other people. So it's not that before other people come along, we desire that they do so. This is not a psychological explanation but an ontological one: one about our being. Abstractly, if a being were to have merely a Cartesian sense of self-consciousness (and no one actually does this; Descartes' situation of contemplation is a purposeful abstraction of yourself from the outside world, pretending that it might even be possible that the outside world doesn't exist; remember that Hegel found this type of skepticism to be self-contradicting and so not worth taking seriously even for a minute), then there would be a lack that would need to be filled. So calling this "desire," when no human being has been in this situation and has had such a desire is pretty weird.
I mentioned an intervening step during: the movement from understanding physics in the previous chapter to understanding biology. We already had in understanding physics an idea of dynamism, e.g. the pull of gravity or magnetism, but with the advent of self-consciousness, the recognition that it's the self that holds together the entire experienced world, we get the idea of "life," which imputes to some of the objects we experience an independence that goes beyond the mere directionality of a physical process to a full-blown, flexibly enacted teleology. At the end of the discussion here I give my radical take on this, which is that Hegel is not merely bringing a traditional conception of biology into his explanation, but that this notion of "life" refers to anything that has the requisite complexity and apparently internal self-determination. Life in this sense would be a species of Spirit, which can refer to any complex system including a society. So Hegel is introducing this new, self-reflected structure in a way that will facilitate the political stories that take up much of the rest of this book.