Jean Jacques Rousseau [masked]) described humans as motivated by two drives: the drive to self-preservation and the drive for success as a social being.  In his philosophy he saw the social drive as a major contributor to downfall of humanity, that is, civilization alienates humanity from its natural condition.  A few years later, Hegel [masked]) presented a stage view of human development in which consciousness was followed by self-consciousness, which required recognition from 'the Other' in order to verify one's awareness of oneself as a separate identity. Thus, he also viewed social relations as a necessary ingredient in one's identification.  His addition to the discussion was that mere participation in social relations was insufficient for identity: one had to be recognized as an equal by the other participants in the interactions or one's identity would be incomplete.  Many years later Axel Honneth (1949-present) wrote a book entitled "The Struggle for Recognition" (1995) in which he proposed that recognition is essential to self-realization.  In this proposal he draws upon early Hegel and a late 19th century sociologist, George Mead [masked]), who espoused a pragmatic approach to recognition. 

 Honneth identified three 'spheres of interaction' which correlated to three 'patterns of recognition' which were necessary for an individual to achieve a positive sense of relation-to-self. These 3 spheres were, in order of development, love, rights and solidarity.  The mode of recognition he called 'love' was formed in our primary relationships (family, close friends and lovers) and provided us with a sense of self-confidence.  The mode of recognition termed 'rights' involved our moral and legal relations with others, giving us a sense of moral and legal responsibility and self-respect.  For Honneth this meant that the individual viewed itself as a partner in interactions who possessed certain and equal rights.  Denial of those rights through social and legal means lead to one's experiencing a sense of threat to one's being an active and equal member of the society, viewed as an absence of respect.  The mode of recognition termed 'solidarity' involved recognition of one's traits and abilities.  It is this mode of recognition that provides us with our sense of self-esteem.  The key is that love and rights express universal features of human existence, but that esteem requires a social medium for achievement of individuality.  Thus, in order to achieve a full sense of one's being, one needs self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem.  Denial of any of these recognition modes provides the motivation and justification for social struggles.

Granted that the above is a somewhat encapsulated view of the writers mentioned, all of them identify recognition from others as a key factor in the development of self-identification.  So what exactly is this 'recognition'?  Honneth gave us a rather structured view of 'modes of recognition', but does this construction work?  Are there 3 separate stages in which recognition and thus self-identity are existent factors?  If so, do they build on one another as Honneth suggests?  If not, does the absence of any one lead to an incomplete sense of self-identity?  And there is a basic question of whether or not you feel that the relationship with others is a necessary ingredient in the construction of self-identity.  Do we actually need recognition to develop self-realization?   And, if you think it is, what is your opinion of Rousseau's notion that it is this interaction with others (that is, civilization) which is bringing about the downfall of humanity?  Are we "good" for one another or just fortuitous conveniences? 

For those interested in further reading:

Rousseau -

Hegel -

Social recognition -


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  • A former member
    A former member

    Great topic and dialogue

    November 17, 2013

  • Demba

    Look forward to it

    November 16, 2013

  • Peter

    I agree, great intro! This will be more of a maybe for me but I will do my best to be there after a long absence.

    November 16, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Nice introduction, John! I bestow upon you my highest level of recognition for it. I like Rousseau. My favorite quote of his is "Have the courage to believe in nothing."

    November 14, 2013

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