Recognition of the Other

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The anthropological theory of the gift can be considered a theory of

humansolidarity, aswe have seen. The principle of reciprocity underlying

gift exchange proved to be the fundament of human society. It contains

themoral basis for the development of social ties and solidarity because its

implicit assumption is the recognition of the other person as a potential

ally. The social and cultural system on which archaic societies were based

rested on themutual acceptance of the other as a partner in gift exchange.

Recognition of the other as a human being proves to be an essential

precondition for the coming into being of patterns of exchange.Without

recognition of the person and his or her identity no reciprocal exchange

is possible.

The significance of recognition of the other returns in the accounts of

both contemporary and classical thinkers. For instance, Honneth (1992)

conceives of reciprocity as an issue of recognition. In order to be able to

feel self-respect, people need the respect and regard of others.We recognize

Adam Smith’s and George Herbert Mead’s views on the mirroring

of the imaginary viewpoint of the other in our own minds. Honneth distinguishes

between three forms of intersubjective recognition – through

love, life, and law – resulting in three layers of self-regard. In love people

are experiencing a fundamental sense of being valued as an individual. In

social life humans are valued and respected because of personal characteristics

that are socially valued. In law, finally, people are valued regardless

of their personal characteristics and regardless of the social value of these

characteristics. Similarly Habermas (1989) regards identity as the result

of processes of mutual recognition, and reciprocal recognition as a basic

assumption underlying solidarity. According to him the basic principles

of modern solidarity are not fundamentally different from the mutual

expectations of reciprocity existing in premodern societies.

Also inHannah Arendt’s view (1978) adoption of the plurality of other

people’s viewpoints in our own minds is the only way to transcend our

own, interest-driven self and the limitations of our own judgment. In addition,

Arendt provides uswith some poignant premonitions concerning

the emotions on which solidarity is sometimes built. Compassion and

pitywith the societal underclasses are often important motiveswithin revolutionarymovements.

InOnRevolution (1963) she presents a fascinating

analysis of the role of solidarity and pity during the French Revolution.

The revolutionaries, with Robespierre in their vanguard, were driven by

pity for the mass of the poor and exploited people; they idealized the poor

and praised their suffering as a source of virtue. The revolutionaries’ pity

became a pretext for the exercise of brute power, resulting in the ruthless

annihilation of the opponents of the revolution. The revolutionary solidarity

was based on a lack of recognition of others as human beings and

of the plurality of their viewpoints.

Recognition of the humanity of self and other is tantamount to recognition

of the interdependency of self and other. For the recognition of

humanity implies that other people’s needs and theirmutual dependency

for the fulfillment of these needs are recognized. In Chapter 8 we argued

that the psychological development of the assertive self may be at odds

with the capacity to recognize the other and the awareness of mutual

dependency. The precarious position of civil solidarity can largely be explained

by the fact that its fundamental precondition – recognition of

otherness – seems to be subject to erosion.