So what does it mean to be the master? What about the slave? (And, once again, we have a translation/simplification that doesn’t necessarily do justice to Hegel: the original text reads something more like “mastery and servitude” or “lordship and bondage”.) Well, since we’ve got the triad at our disposal now, let’s start with a thesis (and I’m going to use the excellent study aids from Eric Steinhart, professor of philosophy at William Patterson University, to help lay this out):

Thesis: Consciousness of self as self: Thinking of your self in terms of your self.

Seem simple enough? Okay, fine, let’s break it down a bit more.

You exist. You know you exist.

I exist. I know that I exist.

We see each other face-to-face. Until I know that you are not me, I assume that you are me.

But that’s not going to work because, well, you’re not me and I’m not you. So how do we break that? As Steinhart puts it, “the tension builds.”

We both want to dominate each other. We want to take control. But we can’t both have control. If you dominate me, then you live for you and I live for you. And if I live for you, I won’t do any living for me. And that’s not going to work, because, well, I don’t really want to die.

The lack of stability here forces us to break down into two different roles: the recognized master and the recognizing slave.