One of Hegel’s most important contributions to philosophy was his philosophy of recognition. To put it very simply, Hegel thought that humans seek to be recognized as an end, not as mere means or instruments to another’s end. Kant would call this a recognition of another’s dignity and membership in the Kingdom of Ends. It is staking a claim on our right to be treated as more than instruments. Of course, we must treat people as instruments. We use the cashier at the checkout counter to purchase our groceries. But this relationship is based on consent, and as such we are treating each other as ends, even though this isn’t immediately obvious or part of any formal agreement.
The recognition for Hegel is more thorough than Kant. Kant, at least Hegel claimed, failed to reconcile the universal with the particular. To put it crudely, Hegel synthesized the dignity of the subject with the object. Our dignity as a subjective person is only abstract apart from the embodiment of personality into objects. Hence, Hegel claimed that “property is the embodiment of personality.” Recognizing the dignity of another, then, does not occur by shedding ‘appearances’ and getting down to the subjective ‘I’ — the bare first-person or the subjective ‘pole’ of another. This is to reduce the other to a mere abstraction, which is arguably exactly what Kant’s moral philosophy does.
Our modern age is obsessed with recognition of the Kantian sort. Christians, including both Protestant and Roman Catholics, use the “imago dei” as a synonym for Kantian-like dignity. Non-believers constantly call others to recognize the dignity of this or that person, regardless of his or her behavior. The public realm has become a place for this ‘I’ to externalize or particularize in all sorts of strange and deviant behaviors and manners. All value is placed in the ‘I’ and the value of the particulars flow from this. In other words, recognition of another is not on the basis of their behavior. Rather, because we must recognize that abstract ‘I’ as having supreme value, we must in turn recognize, even celebrate their behavior.
To my mind, this a retreat from meaning, because meaning produces insecurity. The demand to live up to something produces anxiety, and to prevent this anxiety, so people think, we must undermine the demand. Hence, we place all meaning in the abstract ‘I’ and derive from it the meaning of our external actions.
Yet what has become apparent is that this retreat from the ‘they’ or the popular standards of behavior, dress, manners, etc. is indeed a flight — it is always ‘from’ something. It defines itself against, and it will perpetually. Hence, the call to ‘be-yourself’ is a call not to be like the crowd. And yet the attempt not to be like the ‘crowd’ or Heidegger’s das man (sometimes translated as the ‘they’) is an attempt to achieve recognition from the very crowd you’re fleeing from. You yearn for their rejection. You seek recognition through rejection. You are just as tied with the ‘they’ or the crowd as before, yet now you crave negativity. It’s pathological. That’s what deviancy usually is.
Now, I say all that to say this: we ought to seek a positive recognition from others through appearances–through the particulars. We ought to seek recognition not by our ‘I’, but by our ‘I am.’ So our dress style, home and yard, our manners, etc. all these should be done and be the basis of our recognition before men. It is through their judgment that we are recognized, and we should crave a positive judgment. One ought to recognize us as worthy of being treated as ends through our manifestations of dignity, not in the abstract dignity of the ‘I’.
Now to labor. Since we seek recognition through the particulars and since the self of the producer can be embodied, in a phenomenological sense, in the product of their labor (see my posts here and here), then we have an interest in seeking recognition of our selves by the judgment of our products. Of course, this is risky, since we are subjecting our-selves to judgment. But it is necessary for a fully realized life. Marx himself said that labor results in the worker losing “realization.” My contention is that the affirmation of one’s labor as an end in itself — that it is/was worth doing for its own sake — comes through the positive judgment of others (usually the consumer). This judgment satisfies the producer and therefore restores the loss of realization.
The absurdity of our age is in our thinking that recognition must be apart from judgment and apart from appearances. And yet we are starved by a lack of completion in life. We are risk-adverse, insecure, and cannot tolerate the judgment of others. We continue to define ourselves as someone against others rather than for others. We are walking negations — pure inauthenticity.
Authentic living is understanding ourselves as in a nexus of subjects and objects — a lifeworld. As Husserl stated, “all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through this ‘living together'” (Crisis, 1936). To be, is to be part of, in, and enmeshed in a world: Heidegger’s being-in-the-world. It is through being with others, interacting, sharing with them, laboring with then, sharing concerns, etc. that we support and contribute to a way of life. We shape a heritage. It is not through being walking negations.
We should seek to be for others, which means seeking their recognition through our activity and appearance. We can and must be authentic, but authenticity is being constructive with our world, not deconstructive and fleeing from it.