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Department of Cognitive Science

Is 'recognition' in the sense of intrinsic motivational altruism necessary for pre-linguistic communicative pointing?

Heikki Ikaheimo (
Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University, Sydney


The concept of recognition (Anerkennung in German) has been in the center of intensive interest and debate for some time in social and political philosophy, as well as in Hegel-scholarship. The first part of the article clarifies conceptually what recognition in the relevant sense arguably is. The second part explores one possible route for arguing that the 'recognitive attitudes' of respect and love have a necessary role in the coming about of the psychological capacities distinctive of persons. More exactly, it explores the possibility that they are necessary in the kind of intersubjective relationship in which normal human infants engage in the pre-linguistic communicative practice of pointing things to others, as described by Michael Tomasello. If an incapacity to participate in the already Gricean communicative practices of pointing makes it also impossible for the infant to learn symbolic communication, and if without the immediately intrinsically motivating other-regarding attitudes of recognition communicative pointing does not get off the ground (at least among the most intelligent animals currently known to exist), then the capacity for recognition may be a decisive difference between humans and their closest non-human relatives. That is, it may be why only human infants, but no other animals, are capable of embarking on a developmental journey that normally leads to full-fledged psychological personhood. If this is so, then the concept of recognition, today mostly discussed in social and political philosophy and Hegel-studies, could turn out to be a very useful tool in cognitive scientific work interested in specifically human forms of social intentionality, cognition, volition and so forth.

Citation details for this article:

Ikaheimo, H. (2010). Is 'recognition' in the sense of intrinsic motivational altruism necessary for pre-linguistic communicative pointing? In W. Christensen, E. Schier, and J. Sutton (Eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp. 145-153). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

DOI: 10.5096/ASCS200923
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