Hegel begins his discussion on self-consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit with the form of desire (Begierde). After overcoming the stage of naïve realism (see previous summary) Hegel holds that the self is still concerned with external objects but it is characteristic of desire that the self subordinates the object to itself (satisfaction) and to appropriate it or even consume it. However, this attitude of desire breaks down when it comes to other selves. The presence of the other is for Hegel essential in coming to self-consciousness. Developed self-consciousness can arise only when the self recognizes selfhood in others and in itself (hence, truly social or we-consciousness – of identity-in-difference). But in the dialectical evolution of this phase of consciousness developed self-consciousness is not attained immediately. Rather, Hegel’s study of the successive stages of consciousness up to the level of self-consciousness is one of the more interesting parts of The Phenomenology of Spirit.
The existence of another self is a condition of self-consciousness – yet the first spontaneous reaction when we are confronted by another is to assert our own existence in the face of the other. The self desires to annihilate the other (just as it does objects) as a means to triumphing of the self over the other (the self uses the other to satisfy itself). If such a move would be the literal destruction of the other, it would also defeat the self’s own purposes. For self-consciousness requires the recognition of the selfhood of the other (the other must recognize me if I am to be self-conscious), and thus there occurs what Hegel calls a Master-Slave Dialectic at this level of coming to self-consciousness.