Tuesday, March 6, 2012
The Importance of Recognition
I'm in full dissertation mode. It has been hard to post regularly or even think about non-dissertation-related topics.
So, I've decided to write about what I've been thinking about in relation to the dissertation.
In the past few months, I've become really impressed with Hegel's understanding of self-consciousness.
If you're anything like me, you don't like having to depend on other people. I liked wrestling more than football because in wrestling, it was totally up to me whether I won or lost. The wrestler has no teammates to blame for his or her lack of success. I also hated doing group assignments in school because I didn't like having to depend on others for my grade. I value my independence.
But, in reading Hegel, I came to realize that I have to depend on others in order to have a coherent conception of myself. More specifically, I came to realize that I have to depend on the recognition of others in order to have a coherent self-conception. I'll try to explain. [For a more complete story, check out a draft chapter of my advisor's book on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, here].
Let's suppose the opposite, let's suppose that I can have a coherent self-conception which is independent of the recognition of others (let's call this the "independence view"). Assume that I wish to think of myself as good singer. What determines whether I actually am a good singer? On the independence view, I determine whether I'm a good singer.
It only takes a moment of reflection to see why this view is problematic. If only I can determine whether I'm a good singer, then any of my performances which seem good to me are good. On the independence view, I simply can't be wrong about the quality of my singing. But, if I can't be wrong, it makes little sense to say I'm right either. On the independence view, I end up just giving my singing meaningless praise. (Think of the rejected American Idol contestant who declares that she can sing despite what everyone else says).
I want it to be the case that the label "good singer" means something, but on the independence view, I strip the label of its meaning. My self-conception, on this view, is incoherent.
I'll now explain how dependence on the recognition of others can solve this problem. First, I have to say something about what recognition is. To recognize another is to view that other's judgments on some particular matter as largely correct. If I recognize Simon as a good judge of talent, I take it that his judgments on which persons are talented are, for the most part, correct. Likewise, for Simon to recognize me as a good judge of talent is for him to take it that my judgments on which persons are talented are, for the most part, correct.
We are now in a position to see how the recognition of another can allow one to coherently recognize oneself as one thing or another.
Say I recognize Simon as a good judge of talent. Now assume that Simon recognizes me as a good singer. Since I take it that whoever Simon recognizes as a good singer probably is a good singer, I can then recognize myself as a good singer. But, this is only possible because I recognize Simon and he in turn recognizes me. In this way, my self-conception is dependent on Simon's recognition.
Also, on this understanding of what it is to be a good singer, I can be wrong in thinking that I'm a good singer. If the people I recognize as good judges of talent fail to recognize me, then I'm not a good singer. As such, the label "good singer" does not fail to be meaningful.
I find this view very compelling, but I still value independence. I just realize now that my independence cannot be complete independence. Otherwise, I wouldn't even be able to coherently think of myself as "independent," or anything else for that matter.
What do you think?
Posted by Brandon Hogan at 1:18 PM