Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hegel, Recognition and Rights: 'Anerkennung' as a Gridline of the Philosophy of Rights

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hegel, Recognition and Rights: 'Anerkennung' as a Gridline of the Philosophy of Rights

Article excerpt

The man accustomed to the ways of society is always outside himself and knows how to live only in the opinions of others. And it is, as it were, from their judgement alone that he draws the sentiment of his own existence.

--Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality.


Although the locus classicus of the concept of recognition is the master/slave episode of the Phenomenology, it would seem readily portable into the Philosophy of Right (PR). However, the fact that the term occurs only six times in the pages of the PR seems to have obscured its structural role, and accordingly scholarly effort is scant on the concept as it might pertain to this work. (3) Yet an argument could be put that, despite its invisibility it governs foreground proceedings as if from behind a curtain, for it cannot be gainsaid that the conceptual foundation of the Rights presupposes the principle of recognition.

The plausibility of this suggestion is immediately apparent when, as early as the third paragraph of Part I, Abstract Right, we encounter the following passage:

   Das Rechtsgebot ist daher: sei eine Person und respektiere die
   anderen als Personen (PR [section] 36). (4)

It is neither difficult nor illegitimate to the context to see in 'respektiere' here a synonym for 'anerkenne'. And this invites us to contemplate a dilemma: for on the one hand one could quite readily trace out a recognitive structure in the PR--

   The role of recognition in its various forms in the constitution of
   knowing and acting subjects ... [is] developed most fully in the
   Philosophy of Right. There in his treatment of the social
   institutions of modern life, the family, civil society and the
   state, Hegel sketches the sorts of epistemic and ethical
   competences that are found within these realms. (5)

On the other hand the suspicion has been voiced that Hegel deliberately suppressed reminders of the presence of Anerkennung in his philosophy of rights:

   Hegel persists with making claims on the figure of Anerkennung
   which was fundamental to the practical philosophy of the JPG [Jena
   Philosophy of Spirit], while systematically pushing it into the
   background in the PR. In later portions of the PR we will encounter
   further intersubjective structures that give evidence of being
   incompletely derived in this manner. (6)

A plausible explanation for this state of affairs is offered by the fact that Hegel had long before writing the PR distanced himself from the liabilities of Fichte's system, which in many respects was his intellectual paternity; and Anerkennung was of course a celebrated Fichtean coinage in the context of his work on Natural Right. (7) However, in Hegel's PR the principle had gained a great deal of philosophical substance; and in particular he took great care to ameliorate the deficiencies of argument in Fichte's presentation (see infra). For reasons best known to himself, however, Hegel chose the way of declining all association and thus covered up the tracks leading back to his erstwhile mentor.


Yet the idea of Anerkennung is intrinsic to the concept of 'rights'. The latter find their logical situation in the philosophy of agency in which they are embedded, e.g. '[the PR] is an agent-oriented or self-actualization theory, based on a conception of the human self to be exemplified or instantiated'. (8) Moreover it makes little difference to this fundamental fact of human relations whether one's orientation is legal or philosophical. A 'right' remains an empty concept unless it is allied with the recognition of a person as the bearer of that right. 'The validity and legitimacy of right are fundamentally a matter of the "We", that is, of objective spirit'. (9) In other words, it is of some importance to be mindful of the master/slave juxtaposition and distinguish the narrow conception of 'rights' that are its outcome there from broad base on which Hegel pursues it in the PR. …

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