Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2009
“Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only as something acknowledged.”
This sentence commences, and anticipates the key lesson from, what is perhaps the most-read section of any of Hegel's texts: the eight or nine pages titled, “Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage,” which is embedded within chapter 4 of the Phenomenology of Spirit. The chapter itself, which is titled “The Truth of Self-Certainty,” is the only chapter of a section that is labeled “B: Self- Consciousness” and that follows the three-chaptered “A: Consciousness” and precedes “C: Reason.”
The general idea summarily introduced here - that we are the sorts of beings we are with our characteristic “self-consciousness” only on account of the fact that we exist “for” each other or, more specifically, are recognized or acknowledged (anerkannt) by each other, an idea we might refer to as the “acknowledgment condition” for self-consciousness - constitutes one of Hegel's central claims in the Phenomenology. This is a substantial claim indeed, and is at the heart of the thesis of “the sociality of reason”. It is, however, introduced in a seemingly arbitrarily way in the paragraph prior to the “Independence and Dependence” section, and at the conclusion of a discussion examining “desire” as a model for self-consciousness.