Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology arrow Hegel, Love and Forgiveness: Positive Recognition in German Idealism


Recognition and Reconciliation

It is a central claim of this work that theology is a great neglected element in current work on recognition and social ontology. In the account of Hegel’s work and the general German Idealist, and post-Idealist, contexts, I propose a particular way in which recognition has to be understood together with forgiveness and metanoia in a way that fundamentally involves the theological. I provide a more detailed discussion of forgiveness in the current philosophy of religion in Chapter Five.28 In this introductory section, I wish to make some general remarks on, and give some initial definitions of, reconciliation and metanoia in the place of this study, before going on to outline the general argument about their importance for positive recognition.

Reconciliation has a number of related, but distinct meanings in the theological and philosophical, as well as everyday, sense. In the most obvious everyday sense, it simply means ‘coming together again’ - a re-joining, like the re-thinking of recognition. The emphasis on the side of reconciliation is therefore on movement and action, and not the thinking - although, as I shall argue, recognition itself is strongly based on action and interaction. In more than one sense in which the word is used, reconciliation means adopting a new position with regard to something, and in this sense there is a clear connection to recognition, which requires the same. In an everyday sense, we talk about being ‘reconciled’ to some state of affairs or reality, broadly in the sense of making one’s peace with it. Instead of trying to resist or change the reality, the reconciled person accepts it and tries to integrate it with his own goals and way of life as much as possible (or tries to organise her life around it). There is a direct connection between this and the concept of ambiguity which I discuss at length in Chapter Four.29 In recognising the Other as a subject rather than just an object, and thereby recognising oneself as subject and object simultaneously, the human subject or self learns that it is not the only subject filling the world and arranging it according to its will. In this sense, the self becomes reconciled to the Other, re-arranges itself around the Other. This reconciliation involves a recognition. The Other in this respect should not, however, be seen as a restriction on the self and its freedom, for the self can be free only in the other.30 The reconciliation involved in recognition in this sense is not something negative, a recognition of external boundaries, but a growth and development. (This is part of the idea of ‘positive’ recognition rather than a negative concept of being restrained by the Other.)

Reconciliation also has other senses in which it is understood. One theological understanding of reconciliation is as between man and God - reconciliation, on this view, is the coming together of man with God after the estrangement caused by sin. This could be sin in an original sense, and the reconciliation of God and man being the result of man’s salvation. This is as a result of atonement. As Vincent Brummer points out, atonement literally means at-one-ment.31 It is thus defined in terms of reconciliation - atonement is the precondition for reconciliation. Atonement theory is a major area of theological study and thus far beyond the scope of this work.32 One major theory within this area is moral influence theory as originally advanced by Abelard, which sees the decisive moment for man’s atonement as the Incarnation, and Jesus Christ serving as a moral leader, bringing positive moral change to humanity. This is also Kant’s view, and it clearly appeals to a particular kind of broadly liberal German Idealism.33 There is a clear connection between this and John Milbank’s argument I discuss in Chapter Five, which says that forgiveness is only possible through God and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.34 Forgiveness, so such an argument runs, can only truly be granted via the Incarnation and sacrifice; secular accounts of forgiveness are lacking in that they do not require a confrontation of the offence and subsequent moral progress, but simply ignoring or forgetting wrongs that have been done (this is ‘negative’ forgiveness in Milbank’s terms). True forgiveness, and true atonement, and therefore true reconciliation, requires a kind of mediation, whether it is moral mediation as in the moral influence theory, or the ontological mediation of the Incarnation, as in some theological accounts of forgiveness.

In terms of a Hegelian account of forgiveness and reconciliation, how can we understand a general statement about mankind in general in relation to statements about individuals and how they might be forgiven and reconciled? This is of the same form as the general discussion about the status of the master-slave dialectic, which I discuss at some length in Chapter One.35 Is the transforma- tory process that involves the encounter with the Other to be understood on an individual or supra-individual level? For there to be a meaningful account of positive recognition and intersubjectivity, and indeed forgiveness as relevant to these concepts and in the way we generally understand it, there must be a way for the process to work on an individual level. In Chapters One and Three, I provide an account of how a monistic ontology in general, and something like Hegel’s account in particular, can nevertheless preserve a meaningful intersubjectivity. However, even if one accepts that this is true in principle, there is still a further question of how narratives of recognition and forgiveness that function on the macro-level can be translated down to the micro-level (and, of course, narratives that function on the macro-level do not necessarily presume a monistic ontology, although they do work at the level of the supra-individual).

The theological dimension ofHegelian recognition has received little critical attention, but one scholar who has concerned himself with it in the context of contemporary social ontology is Paul Redding, who states the following:

Relying on an analogy between the human mind and the Trinity traceable to the church fathers, Hegel could take the triune structure of the Christian God as a symbolically articulated model for the recognitive constitution of the finite mind (subjective spirit). As the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be cashed out in any substance-based too does Hegel’s conception of the recognitively constituted finite mind resist being understood as any type of substance - spiritual or material. The free individual subject, as Hegel puts it, confounding any substantialist conception of the self, is ‘at home with itself’ (bei sich) only when ‘in another’ (im Anderen)?6

Hegel can use Christianity, and specifically the concept of the Trinity, as a sort of extended metaphor and metaphysical analogy explaining how the human subject is essentially social. But why, asks Redding, does Hegel need to commit himself to the entire metaphysical baggage of Christianity where others (presumably Kant) have cast off such shackles ?37 Redding’s answer seems to be that Hegel embraces contradictions and antinomies rather than wanting to resolve them immediately - his dialectical method involves a breaking and re-making.38 However, it is one thing to wish to resolve contradictions only at the most fundamental level rather than pursuing Enlightenment rationality from the outset, and quite another to want to adopt metaphysical baggage inimical to one’s own philosophical scheme. As I hope to demonstrate at various points in this work, the relationship between recognition and theology goes much deeper than that.

Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics