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    A Malebranchean theory of recognition?

    Wyer, Gabriella Olivia Shield (2023) A Malebranchean theory of recognition? PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This thesis examines the place of Nicholas Malebranche in the history of theories of recognition. According to Axel Honneth’s and Charles Taylor’s seminal works in recognition theory, the place of recognition in the formation of the self was first thematised by G.W.F. Hegel. In earlier periods, they claim, the significance of the need for recognition was concealed by the fact that its satisfaction never posed a problem. Recently, Honneth has conceded that there are some pre-Hegelian theorists of recognition. I argue, however, that his view remains unduly limited. The history of recognition is more extensive and diverse than he and Taylor allow. Focusing on one excluded figure, I argue that Malebranche’s account of the intersubjectivity of postlapsarian identity makes a significant contribution to the history of the concept of recognition. Whilst the most influential contemporary recognition theorists assume that recognition is a beneficial phenomenon with positive effects, Malebranche prompts us to question this view. As he sees the matter, our dependence on the approval of others is the fruit of self-love, and has distinctly negative consequences. Consumed by our need to see ourselves as worthy of esteem, we postlapsarians simulate the possession of valued qualities in order to elicit esteem from others. Then, by sympathising with the passions of those around us and the opinions that underlie them, we come to understand ourselves intersubjectively, through the eyes of others. In short, Malebranche proposes, our deep-seated need for the recognition of others becomes a barrier to self-knowledge. Taken in tandem, Malebranchean subjectivity and contemporary recognition theory prove to be mutually illuminating. Considering Malebranche’s treatment of subjectivity from the perspective of contemporary recognition theory effects a gestalt shift, bringing to the fore certain hitherto unappreciated aspects of a philosophy so often read as strikingly individualist. Conversely, a reexamination of contemporary recognition theory through a Malebranchean lens highlights some of its limitations, revealing its positive understanding of recognition as contestable and unduly narrow. Contrary to the historical narrative of mainstream contemporary recognition theory, recognition is revealed as a central theme in early modern philosophy.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2023 14:25
    Last Modified: 10 Oct 2023 15:31


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