Friday, January 21, 2011

Human Rights: The Importance of Recognition

Having just returned from abroad, my mind has been caught up on the differences of culture. Although there are many inconsistencies and even similarities between the countries I visited, an underlying theme that seemed to be apparent throughout was the desire to be recognized. “Human rights” encompass a large range of issues with the majority of the attention focusing on the mainstream questions of genocide, sex/ slave trafficking, child brides, torture etc. These issues are of extreme importance in our world today, but I feel smaller issues may be overlooked. Recognition is of great importance in the development of character and is essential to human social interaction where a sense of respect is achieved. Charles Taylor helps to signify the importance of recognition.
First, submitting to the idea of culture is the fundamental step in receiving recognition. Outside of culture, a human being is only capable of defining himself in the simplest form. The French philosopher Rene Descartes sat at his desk and denied the world around him, until the only presumed knowable characteristic of life was himself. Descartes’s renown phrase ‘I think, therefore I am’ offers the simplistic view of living a life absent of worldly knowledge, including the knowledge that comes with physical encounters. To live a life separate from the physicality of the world is an abstract concept and stands apart from reality. Therefore, human interaction and recognition are of great importance within a culture, for men “only develop their characteristically human capacities in society.” Human interaction helps to develop a sense of rationality, acquire the characteristics of a ‘moral agent,’ and cultivate the ideals of a ‘fully responsible, autonomous being.’ Through embracing oneself within a culture, an individual receives the most basic form of recognition and through this can begin to develop humanistic traits.
The term ‘culture’ bears great importance upon the human race and it is essential to evaluate the meaning and effects of the accepted expression. ‘Culture’ helps to perpetuate recognition for individuals within the society. Culture can be defined as “the existence of a viable community of individuals with a shared heritage,” and operates through different levels of recognition. Charles Taylor helps to clarify this in his philosophical work The Politics of Recognition, where he claims there are two levels of recognition, both of which play a critical role in the formation of identity. First, there is the intimate level, which refers to the private sphere of an individual’s life. The recognition received within this sphere comes from family members, friends, loved ones, and significant others. These relationships are perceived as, “the key loci of self-discovery and self-affirmation…[and] are the crucibles of inwardly generated identity.” The public sphere refers to relationships and social encounters outside of an individual’s comfort zone. The intimate sphere of recognition does not raise the same issues as the public sphere due to the intimacy of these relationships ensuing love, compassion, and reassurance of friends and family. The public sphere presents the concern of finding one’s identity within the world. If one is unable to find this sense of recognition from society, the feelings of oppression, inferiority, and a demeaning self-worth can internalize. These personal issues can take form in the mind and integrate themselves into one’s daily thought, decisions, and self-respect. It is critical to be recognized outside of the intimate sphere to fully develop an identity, and an fully developed identity is the only way one can contribute to society.


  1. I agree with you that the way we interact with one another is a vital component of what a human right is. Without other people in the world, there is no need for rights. You bring up Descartes as someone whose project was to deny the external world. Are you fundamentally disagreeing with this type of project? Are you saying that you need others to define the self? If so, do we, as human beings, have any identity independent of others?

  2. I liked what you had to say! I feel as though, however, and I can certainly argue this from experience, while locating and possessing that sense of recognition from the public sphere is certainly important, I would say that it's not necessarily the ONLY way one can contribute to society. And in fact, within the intimate sphere, life is not always full of love, compassion and reassurance.

    While friends may provide that intimacy, in occasional circumstances (or perhaps more often than we may realize), the family unit may not provide that intimacy. And if that intimacy is not achieved from the intimate sphere, then how might this affect the interactions from the public sphere? How might it alter one's perception of the greater society?


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