The purpose or telos of human existence according to Hegel is self-consciousness. When someone is fully self-conscious the things that she thinks she knows are actually true. In other words, when self-conscious or self-aware my perception of the world and, more importantly, of myself corresponds with the truth. When people achieve this state, Hegel, argues they are finally free, no longer fettered by false perceptions or opinions. They are more able clearly see and seek the things that will lead to their fulfillment.
In Hegel’s own words, “Two things must be distinguished in consciousness: first, the fact that I know; and second, what I know. In self-consciousness the two-subject and object-coincide. Spirit knows itself: it is the judging of its own nature, and at the same time it is the activity of coming to itself, of producing itself, making itself actually what it is in itself potentially”(Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History, 20).
Most people will admit to having experienced the truth of Hegel’s point. For instance, this fall, I went to a trampoline park with some friends. In my mind, I was graceful as a gazelle. I floated through the air, executing moves that would make any medal winning gymnast jealous. My subjective perception was that I owned trampoline world; I was its queen, its sovereign. And, happily, I had subjects. For after all, I had gone there with friends, and what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t try to help them perfect their technique? Not only was I sovereign of the trampolines, I was a beneficent sovereign, lending a hand to help others who, of course, were grateful for my benevolence.
The picture, though, helpfully shot by one of my subjects (who would prefer that I stop calling her that), tells a different story. I am the somewhat frantic looking one in the background, ready, it seems to pounce on helpless victim who appears to have entirely rejected my help.
I, who believed I was trampolining queen, winning the admiration of my followers, was actually a hot mess, terrorizing my friends. If you are free, then ideally, you accomplish what you want. In this, it seems I failed. I was a slave to my lack of ability, the laws of gravity, and the insistent autonomy of my companions.
In the foreground of the picture, the picture-taking friend gazes into the camera. Her cool look tells the story. She has appraised the situation and recognized my lack of freedom with respect to what I thought and what was actually true. And like a real friend, as opposed to the tyrant I had become, she found a way to grant me some necessary objectivity by taking a picture (several actually, including videos). Picture-taking friend had achieved a level of self-consciousness and thus freedom that surpassed my own, but, like a true friend, she sought to free me from my delusions.
Hegel says that when you have achieved self-consciousness, you will be free–you will know what is true about yourself and the world and you won’t be constrained by false ideas or aspirations, including chasing trampolining dreams that will never come to fruition. With the freedom found in self-awareness, greater happiness and fulfillment should result. And given the small embarrassment of seeing the picture, I can’t say that I disagree. And while I’m also not as sure that I would have had as much fun, if I had known in advance what the photographic evidence was going to reveal, it is also true that my friends have subsequently refused to go trampolining with me.