The Relation between Satisfaction and Desire, and the Role of Mediation in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

In ”B. Self-Consciousness”, Hegel writes, “Self-consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness”. By this he means that self—consciousness can only satisfy its desires in Life (ie. in a physical, limited body in a physical world with other people and things in their limited, physical embodiments) where mutual recognition of others is necessary because with others, one “cannot utilize (them) for its own purpose, if that object does not of its own accord do what the first does to it”.

And though as Stern notes, this can be read with heavy moralistic tones a la Kant‘s Kingdom of Ends, there’s also an inherently self-serving purpose to this moral gesture: a person’s “well-being and identity as a subject is bound up with how (they are) seen by the other self-consciousness”. In clear English, Hegel is pointing out that self-consciousness has desires, but because these desires must be lived out in a world with others to satisfy them, we should treat each other as ends in themselves because we cannot utilize others for our own purpose unless they go along with it and our personal identity and well-being are not separable from how others see us.

And as we’ll see in the master-slave dialectic, the structure of overpowering another through slavery is inherently self-defeating. But let’s not focus on the future. Let’s investigate what Hegel means by satisfaction and how it relates to desire and the role of mediation (Le. the process of combining two positions into a synthesis) therein.

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So, what does Hegel mean by satisfaction here and how does it relate to desire? Well, satisfaction is impossible without desire because satisfaction arises from the attainment of desire; having your desires fulfilled is what makes the experience satisfying In other words, to say “Self—consciousness achieves its satisfaction…” is to say that self-consciousness had a desire it set forth that has been achieved But once you add others, this becomes problematic because self-consciousness turns away from the world and may desire anything, including things that are not immediately available or require the assistance and cooperation of others; however, all of these things must be attained in the world, and as such, desire is both of the world and supersedes it simultaneously.

This is a great place to bring in the concept of mediation. Mediation, for Hegel, is the movement of two positions into a synthesis. In this section of the text, there are many mediations happening. Previous philosophers had focused on the movement between the subject and the object; however, Kant, had noted the distinction between phenomena and noumena both introducing a few intriguing ideas, but leaving space for something new. In this vein, Hegel points out that in our experience, things are for us (phenomena), but they also have a being of their own (noumena). So, in order to understand experience, we have to recognize that perception (phenomena) is mediation between self and the thing»in-itself (noumena). And that because we’re self-conscious beings, consciousness itself also mediation is a between self-consciousness and the world (Le. for Hegel, we’re always between the mind and the body as both unified and as such with the self and the world). Both of these mediating movements are necessary for desires to be satisfied, however.

This is clear when we think back to what was said at the beginning: we cannot utilize others for our own purpose unless they go along with it and our personal identity and well—being are not separable from how others see us. Other things and other people have a nature beyond our reach (noumenal) and as such there’s something always beyond our reach. And when we interact with either, we have to perceive them, which in one sense is the ability to negate and destroy them by constituting them as we wish, but because they will likely resist this (unless they’re your willing slave) there is an opposing moment wherein the other is out of our control. So, in this way, all of our interactions are mediation between our desires and the world, which contains within in objects and people that are beyond our control.

And so, now it’s clear why Hegel writes, “Self-consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness” Without others, we’d be unable to fully express our identity and would lack the well-being that comes from others In the simplest of ways, if there is no other or a we or a they, then there is no real need for a me as an individual, I just am. Likewise, without others, we couldn’t live in cooperative states which truly allow us individuality and well-being because they allow us to not only have greater desires, but to have greater ability to manifest these desires through the relative ease of cooperative effort of others (i.e. it’s a lot easier than it’d be if we didn’t live in societies; however, even now, it’s a lot easier if you‘re an easy person to get along with).

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The Relation between Satisfaction and Desire, and the Role of Mediation in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. (2022, Dec 20). Retrieved from

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