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Heikki Ikäheimo


03 Mar 06: Ariane Ten Hagen und Heikki Ikäheimo sprechen über vorrangige Anerkennung, Personsein, Empathy und Liebe, anhand der aktuellen Veröffentlichung von Axel Honneth über „Verdinglichung“ und Harry Frankfurts, „Gründe der Liebe".

play: Ikäheimo / Ten Hagen



Heikki Ikäheimo graduated from University of Jyväskylä in 1996. The topic of his master thesis was Heidegger's interpretation of the introduction of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. He defended his licenciate thesis on Hegel’s philosophy of subjective spirit in 2000, and his dissertation on subjective spirit and recognition (Anerkennung) in 2003. He is currently working on Hegel and on recognition in theory of personhood and social ontology. In his work on personhood he utilizes Axel Honneth’s analysis of Hegel’s concept of recognition into the attitudes of love, respect and esteem, and argues that these, on the relevant concepts, are the attitudes of relating to others as to persons. The essential features of persons are hence the ones that make entities lovable, respectable and esteemable. He also argues that these attitudes of ‘taking others as persons’ are constitutive of collectives capable of collective intentions and hence of collective action and institutions.







Recognition as inclusion – some proposals for a general phenomenology of social inclusion and exclusion

What is social inclusion? What is it to be socially included? What is it to be socially excluded? Or, what do we mean by the terms ‘social inclusion’ and ‘social exclusion’? Various things, for sure, but in the following I will assume that there is some unity to the phenomena at stake in the various discourses on social inclusion and exclusion. I will sketch a conceptual mode which is meant to provide a differentiated and yet unified overview of a broad field of phenomena that may be at issue in the various experiences and claims – articulated either by theorists or by the subjects themselves – as experiences of social exclusion or as claims for social inclusion. The model that I will sketch, is built on two general ideas or intuitions.

First, social inclusion and exclusion is dependent on attitudes of others – otherwise it would not be social. One can be excluded from social life ‘non-socially’, that is by non-social causes, such as being shipwrecked alone on an uninhabited island. This is exclusion from social life, but it is not social exclusion. It is, as it were, natural exclusion. Or think of someone living in the midst of other people deliberately avoiding contacts with anyone else. It is at least in principle possible – even if perhaps very unlikely – that a person’s being excluded from social life is not due to anyone else’s attitudes but her own. Perhaps a person just hates everyone and therefore excludes herself from social life. In this case the manner of exclusion is not natural, since it is dependent on attitudes, but it is not social either, since it is not dependent on attitudes of others.

Secondly, the attitudes of others central for social inclusion or exclusion are ‘recognitive attitudes’, or attitudes of recognition. The recognitive attitudes towards persons can be divided into three species: love, respect and esteem. We ‘include’ each other socially by loving, respecting and holding each other in esteem. Since love, respect and esteem come in degrees (we do not for instance hold everyone in esteem to the same degree), this opens up a three-dimensional and quantifiable model of social inclusion and exclusion.




Let us start from recognition. What is it? The recent discussions on this topic have, to my mind at least, been rather vague and inexplicit in some key conceptual differentiations. Let me first distinguish three senses of the word ‘recognition’ that are often being run together in the discussions.



First of all, there is ‘recognition’ in the sense of recognizing, identifying or re-identifying something as something, i.e. as a certain singular individual (i.e. numerically), as of some kind (i.e. qualitatively), or as belonging to a certain genus (generically). Let us call this simply identification. Any kind of an entity can be an object of numerical, qualitative and generic identification.

Secondly, there is ‘recognition’ in the sense of recognizing, acknowledging or taking reasons as good, norms or claims as valid, something as ones responsibility, something as a failure to meet a responsibility etc. Let us call this acknowledgement. Only ‘normative entities’ (norms, institutions, claims, rights, responsibilities, guilt etc.) can be acknowledged.

Thirdly, there is a sense of ‘recognition’ in which only persons can be recognized. Let us call this recognition and keep it analytically distinct from identification and acknowledgement.

Following Axel Honneth’s reconstruction of Hegel’s concept of recognition (Anerkennung, see Honneth 1995), we can usefully divide recognition, or more exactly, the ‘recognitive attitude’ towards persons further into three species: holding in esteem, respecting and loving. Quite often respecting and holding in esteem are not distinguished from each other, and not so rarely love and holding in esteem are run together. But in the senses in which I mean them, they differ from each other in important ways.

Let us start from holding in esteem. The idea expressed by Honneth (Honneth 1995, chapter 5) seems intuitive enough: I value others in the sense of holding them in esteem to the extent that I take them as (potentially or actually) contributing positively to my own good or to the good of those (third) persons whom I care about. Holding in esteem is thus rationally conditional on the contributiveness of the recognizee to the good of those ‘others’ (myself or third persons) that I care about, on her contributive capabilities or achievements.

How does this differ from loving? On a concept that distinguishes loving as an attitude from holding in esteem, love is not conditional on the contributiveness or contributive qualities of the loved one. In Rhetorics (1380b35) Aristotle proposes: “Let loving (philein) be defined as wishing for someone what you believe to be good things – wishing this not for your own sake but for his – and acting insofar as you can bring them about”(translation according to Vlastos 1981). And in the Nicomachean ethics (1166a2) Aristotle says that what people have in mind when they speak of someone who loves, is someone “who wishes and does the good or what is thought to be good to someone for his own sake, or who wishes the other to exist and live for his own sake”.

What Aristotle means here, can also be spelled out as caring about someone, or being concerned of her life and happiness, for her own sake. ‘For her own sake’ means, not for the sake of anything else, such as her possible contributions to the happiness or good of someone else. In love the loved one, or her life, happiness or good, is a final end to the one who loves.

Moreover, on this concept love is not rationally conditional on the reasonability or power of judgement of the object-person, as the third recognitive attitude, respect is.5 I propose that we should see the core sense of respect as a recognitive attitude as the attitude of taking someone as reasonable being capable of raising and judging validity claims, or as having power of judgement. In this sense, we respect persons to the extent that we take them as reasonable, or according to our estimation of the strength of their power of judgement. The extent that I respect someone, is the extent that I take her judgements seriously, take them as potentially or actually good reasons in my own thinking and setting of goals or ends. In other words, whereas holding someone in esteem is taking her as a potential or actual cooperation-partner, respecting someone is taking her as a potential or actual communication-partner or co-judge.

Hence, now we have spelled out three distinct recognitive attitudes towards persons. All of the recognitive attitudes are clearly positive in the sense, that we want to be held in esteem, loved and respected by others, and that we feel somehow deprived when we are not. Obviously, the experienced recognitive attitudes of others towards oneself have an affect on ones attitudes towards oneself. It’s hard to love, respect or hold in esteem oneself without having experienced being loved, respected and held in esteem by relevant others.

What these three positive attitudes towards someone all share is hence that they are all recognitive attitudes, or attitudes of recognition. But saying this alone is only giving a family name to these attitudes. Why should they have a common name? What is it that they share? To put it in the traditional manner: what is their genus?

The clue is, that on the concepts above, only persons can be (rationally) objects of recognitive attitudes. We do value all kinds of objects, but we – that is, if we are rational – hold only persons in esteem in the sense of taking them as cooperation-partners. It is important to note, that holding someone in esteem as a cooperation-partner differs from valuing her as a good instrument.

As to love, there’s nothing strange in loving good wine on some meaning of the word ‘love’, but as already Aristotle pointed out, there is something irrational or absurd in loving wine in the sense of caring for its happiness for its own sake (Eudemian ethics, 1155B29-31). Why? Because nothing is good for the wine in the relevant sense. Wine is not capable of being happy or unhappy, and therefore cannot rationally be taken as a final end. On this concept, we rationally love only persons.

Also, on the concept of respect discussed above, we only (rationally) respect persons, since only persons are reasonable in the sense of being equipped with a power of judgement. Thus, respecting the forces of nature is respect in a very different sense.

Do we then first have to know, which entities are persons to be able to love, respect and hold in esteem in the relevant senses? This question introduces the notorious other minds problem of “how do we know?” Following thinkers like Hegel, Stanley Cavell or Wilfrid Sellars, the way we encounter each other as persons in the life world is actually not primarily a matter of knowing but rather one of recognizing. Taking others as having ‘minds’, as being intentional creatures, or in other words taking others as persons is not (or at least not only) identifying them as persons but rather recognizing them as persons.8 If loving, respecting and holding in esteem are species, and, as I am inclined to think, the species of the recognitive attitude, then taking creatures as persons is loving them, holding them in esteem and/or respecting them on the concepts discussed above.9 In other words, my proposal for the genus of the recognitive attitude is simply taking something as a person.


Social inclusion


One important feature of persons of course is, that we speak and think of them in terms of personal pronouns, such as the ‘we’. Wilfrid Sellars has in fact argued that to recognize something or someone as a person is necessarily to think of oneself and her in some sense as belonging to “a community” or a “we” (Sellars1963, 38). I do not think of myself and the natural objects or artifacts of my environment in terms of a ‘we’. But I do think of myself and other persons always in some sense in terms of an actual or potential ‘we’. Even my worst enemies belong from my point of view actually to a ‘we’ in the sense of something like ‘we, the enemies to each other’, and potentially to a ‘we’ that is something more and better.

To put this in terms of social inclusion, to recognize anything or anyone as a person is to include it or her into some kind of a collective ‘we’, a collective or community with oneself. This ‘we’, ‘collective’ or ‘community’ does not mean anything stronger, nor anything weaker, than the realm of those whom the ‘taker’ in questions loves, respects or holds in esteem. Since all of these recognitive attitudes allow for quantitative variation – we love, respect and hold in esteem different people in different degrees – inclusion into a ‘we’ is not an either-or-issue, but necessarily a matter of more or less, and it is so on three, at least to some extent independent dimensions. Furthermore, we hold people in esteem and respect them to different degrees in different issues, and this introduces even more variation in the three dimensions of quantitatively varying inclusion and exclusion. But in what sense then are loving, respecting and holding in esteem ways of including into a ‘we’? Here it is possible only to give some relatively rough, suggestive answers to this question.

Let us start from love. It seems that loving someone is a very clear case of conceiving the person in question and oneself as belonging to a ‘we’. The concerns of those whom I care about for their own sake are to some extent also my concerns. When someone that I love becomes happy, that makes me happy too. And similarly with her unhappiness. To the extent that love is mutual, it makes all the more sense to say that the persons in question think of themselves in some very important sense in terms of a ‘we’.

In the dimension of holding in esteem, I include individuals or groups into a ‘we’ with myself to the extent that I take them as somehow contributing positively to my ends or our shared ends or good. To the extent that the attitude is mutual, it again makes all the more sense to say that the persons in question conceive themselves in terms of a ‘we’, namely as cooperation-partners. Without mutual esteem, there is no genuine cooperation (even if there may be coordinated action).

We obviously hold each other in esteem in different degrees in different issues or dimensions. I may take someone as a great cooperation partner in philosophical projects, but someone else as the better cooperation partner in bar hopping. We form partly different cooperation collectives with partly different people for different aims or projects.

Finally, in the dimension of respect, those whom I respect are the ones with whom I am, at least in principle, open to enter into a discussion or discourse of one or the other kind. In other words, respecting others as reasonable beings, as potentially or actually capable of valid judgements, is to include them with oneself into a ‘we’ of potential or actual communication-partners or co-judges. Mutuality is clearly a central issue here too.

Similarly as with esteem, we respect different persons in different issues to different degrees. That is, I may take different people as capable communication partners in different issues to different degrees. We form partly different communication collectives with partly different people for judging different issues.


Dimensions of exclusion


Obviously, demands or claims for recognition/inclusion, as all claims, are in principle subject to assessment of validity. As all claims for recognition/inclusion are not necessarily explicitly voiced out, and as the exact content of even the explicitly voiced out ones is often quite unclear – for the addressees as well as to the subjects themselves – the task of collectively assessing the validity of the innumerable plurality of claims with which we are faced in private or public arenas is almost inexhaustibly tangled.10 What would be helpful is a differentiated enough phenomenology of the various ways and dimensions in which individuals and groups can be, and can experience themselves as being, socially excluded. This is what the recognition theoretical approach to social inclusion and exclusion promises.


Here I will only sketch, by means of examples, outlines of the main dimensions of social exclusion as they can be conceived in terms of the three dimensions of lack or refusal of recognition corresponding to the three species of the recognitive attitude. All of these dimensions cover a wide range of phenomena by themselves and allow for further differentiations.


Let us start from social exclusion in the dimension of dis-esteem. Examples of this, thought in European terms, range from the situation of pensioners, physically handicapped people and housewives to the situation of illegal immigrant workers. A serious problem for pensioners and physically handicapped people is the incapability or unwillingness of their society to attribute value to the capabilities that they have. Or in other words, the incapability or unwillingness of their fellow citizens to seriously include them into the ‘we’ of contributing members of the society, regardless of whether they in fact would have something to contribute.


The problem of housewives, or housework more generally, is, as has been often noted by feminists (see also Honneth 2002), that housework is often not seriously regarded as work, or in other words as free contribution to the society, but is rather seen as part of the natural order. Thus, it may be that mothers taking care of their children at home are not, as mothers, seriously regarded as contributing persons worthy of esteem and gratitude for their work, but rather something closer to dams following their basically animal nurturing instinct.


The numerous problems of illegal immigrant workers include the fact, that they are vulnerable to ruthless exploitation, of being treated in ways which are sometimes not very far from slavery. Even if they would work hard and thus genuinely contribute to the good or wealth of their employers and perhaps the wider society, they are not treated as contributing persons worthy of esteem and gratitude, but rather as useful means or tools.


What is common to all of these cases, is that these people are excluded by others from the ‘we’ of contributing members of the society or cooperation partners and are thus not fully taken as persons in one of the dimensions of personhood – that of esteem-worthiness.

What about social exclusion in the dimension of dis- or lack of respect? Although as Honneth has convincingly shown (in Honneth 1995), western modernization involves the differentiation of the spheres of esteem and respect, contributiveness and thus esteem is however in many ways connected to respect. A drastic example of this is the proposal, in Finland voiced recently by a high executive of the national ‘Delegation for industry’ (Elinkeinoelämän valtuuskunta, or EVA), to cancel suffrage from pensioners. The idea is clearly, that those who have nothing to contribute to economical activity, but have much to gain from the activity of others, should not be included into the sphere of those whose judgements on political and economical decisions count or are to be taken seriously. In other words, they cannot or ought not be respected as communication partners, co-judges or co-authorities in ruling the democratic state.


The situation of illegal immigrant workers is obviously desperate because of the fact that in being illegal they are excluded from the communicative procedures through which the norms of the society in which they presently live are negotiated and authorized. Thus, by definition, they have little or no political power over the terms in which they are treated.

What is common to the situation of illegal immigrant workers and that of the pensioners in the brave visions of the luminaries of present day capitalism, is the fact that both groups are excluded by others from the ‘we’ of communication partners or co-judges in matters that directly concern them. They are thus not fully taken as persons in one of the dimensions of personhood – that of respect-worthiness.


On the dimension of lovelessness, social exclusion comes in many guises, some of which are more private, others of which are more public (this is of course true also of disesteem and disrespect). We have a tendency to think of love as restricted to close personal relationships, but there is no conceptual necessity to do so and doing so may in fact be harmful for our capacity to understand social life. Examples of the more private end of the spectrum include coldness, indifference or sadism in personal relationships, all of which are ways of excluding others from the realm of genuine concern.14 Examples of the more public end of the spectrum include indifference to the desperate situation of homeless people in the streets of any metropolis. To the extent that something could be done to improve the situation of these people, their situation may be a sign of the fact that those better of around them simply do not care enough about what happens to these people, or in other words that they have little or no love for them.


If you are homeless, your suffering will most probably be multiplied by x if you realize, that were you to die on this pavement now, no one would shed tears, since the people around you simply do not care a thing about you, or simply have no love for you. You are being excluded by others from the ‘we’ whose life, well-being or happiness genuinely concerns or moves them. Hence you are not being taken as a person in one of the dimensions of personhood – that of being someone whose life and happiness has intrinsic value.

In being socially completely excluded from the realms of those who are considered to have something to contribute, whose views or judgements are to be listened and taken seriously, or whose life or well-being has intrinsic value and thus genuinely moves others, one is excluded from the ‘we’ of persons. As we know from history, being excluded from personhood leaves one in principle vulnerable to the extreme terror of being considered by others as a hygienic problem, subject to hygienic measures, disinfection or extermination. To be totally excluded socially is a truly frightening thing.


Awareness of this fact may be one of the reasons why talking about mis-recognition and exclusion in even far less dramatic circumstances easily arouses strong emotions and leads to heated debates. Despite of this, or if you want, because of this, we need to be able to analyse clearly what exactly this or that experience or feeling of social exclusion and demand or claim for social inclusion is about. As the examples above should show, simply demanding something like “full social inclusion for everyone” is political escapism, since it has very little touch with the plurality of situations, ways and dimensions in which individuals or groups can be, or can experience themselves, as socially excluded . It also shies away from the fact, that not all forms and degrees of social exclusion can be unjust simply by definition.


That is, although the criteria of what counts as contributive work are subject to power struggles and political controversy, we will always need some criteria. It would be hypocrite to pretend that all activities are as valuable contributions to the life of a given society, and that therefore excluding anything from what gives reason to gratitude and esteem is necessarily unjust.

Similarly, although there are no other authorities on what is reasonable than us fallible persons, we will always need to have some views about whose word counts on what. It would be hypocrite to pretend that anyone’s judgements on anything are as good, valid or relevant, and that therefore excluding anyone in any issue from the circle of those whose judgements are to be respected is necessarily unjust.

Finally, love may be the hardest thing to judge. Receiving no or not enough love from others is certainly a very concrete and serious way of being socially isolated or excluded and probably should be taken much more seriously as a political issue than is usually done. The difficulty of judgement in this dimension starts from the fact that it is rather unclear whether or in what sense lovelessness, in particular cases, can be a question of justice or injustice.


contact: Heikki Ikäheimo









Cavell, Stanley (1976): ‘Knowing and Acknowledging’. In Must We Mean What We Say: A Book of Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Frankfurt, Harry (2004): Reasons of Love, Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Glover, Jonathan (1999): Humanity. Yale University Press.


Honneth, Axel (1995): The Struggle for Recognition; The Moral and Political Grammar of Social Conflicts. Cambridge: Polity Press. (Originally: 1992. Kampf um Anerkennung; Zur moralischen Grammatik sozialer Konflikte. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.)


Honneth, Axel (2002): ‘The Role of Sociology in the Theory of Recognition’. Interview by Anders Petersen & Rasmus Willig . European Journal of Social Theory 5(2): 265–277.


Ikäheimo, Heikki (2002a): ‘On the Genus and Species of Recognition.’ Inquiry, Vol. 45, No. 4, 447-462.


Ikäheimo, Heikki (2002b): ‘Taylor on Something Called ‘Recognition’’. In Arto Laitinen, Nicholas H. Smith (eds.). Perspectives on the Philosophy of Charles Taylor. Acta Philosophica Fennica; 71. Helsinki: Societas Philosophica Fennica.


Ikäheimo, Heikki (2003): ‘Analysing Social Inclusion in Terms of Recognitive Attitudes’. In Michael Fine, Paul Henman, Nicholas Smith (eds.): Social Inclusion Today – Proceedings of the 1st Annual Conference of the CRSI. Center for Research on Social Inclusion, Macquarie University.


Ikäheimo, Heikki; Laitinen, Arto (forthcoming): ‘Analyzing Recognition: Identification, Acknowledgement and Recognitive Attitudes Towards Persons’.


Laitinen, Arto (2002): ‘Interpersonal Recognition – a Response to Value or a Precondition of Personhood? Inquiry, Vol. 45., No. 4, 463-78.


Sellars, Wilfrid (1963): ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man’. In Science, Perception and Reality. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd.


Vlastos, Gregory (1981): ‘The Individual as an Object of Love in Plato’. In Platonic Studies. Princeton: Princeton University Press.