Self-Consciousness is Desire Itself: On Hegel's Dictum

Review of Metaphysics (forthcoming)

Nicolas Garcia Mills
University of Chicago
In this paper, I offer a novel reconstruction of Hegel’s argument for his mysterious claim that “self-consciousness is desire itself.” In section I, I motivate two interpretive constraints, which I refer to as the practicality constraint and the continuity constraint. According to the former, the kind of desire that Hegel argues is a necessary condition of self-consciousness involves a practical (and so not merely theoretical or contemplative) relation between subject and object. According to the latter, Hegel’s argument takes as its sole starting point a shape of consciousness that has itself as object or, as Hegel puts it, a shape that consists in “a distinguishing of what is not distinct.” I argue that recent influential interpretations openly or tacitly violate either the practicality constraint or the continuity constraint. In section II, I piece together my own, alternative interpretation of Hegel’s argument, which heeds the two constraints in a way that fits Hegel’s text more closely than do other interpretations. I thus hope to shed new light on Hegel’s view that the I or consciousness can have itself as its object only if it also relates to external objects in a desirous, destructive way.
Keywords Hegel  Phenomenology  Self-consciousness  Desire
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