Mutual Recognition and Well-Being: What Is It for Relational Selves to Thrive?

In Onni Hirvonen & Heikki J. Koskinen (eds.), Theory and Practice of Recognition. New York, London: pp. ch 3. (forthcoming)
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This paper argues that relations of mutual recognition (love, respect, esteem, trust) contribute directly and non-reductively to our flourishing as relational selves. Love is important for the quality of human life. Not only do everyday experiences and analyses of pop culture and world literature attest to this; scientific research does as well. How exactly does love contribute to well-being? This chapter discusses the suggestion that it not only matters for the experiential quality of life, or for successful agency, but that it actualizes our nature as “relational selves” (Chen, Boucher & Kraus 2011). I defend a hybrid or pluralist theory, which sees humans not only as subjects of experiences, or agents, or valuers, but also as relational selves. Expanding from love to other interpersonal relations, thriving relations of mutual recognition (love, respect, esteem, trust), contribute directly and non-reductively to our flourishing as relational selves. The paper will start by putting forward the proposal (Section 2), and then discussing it in relation to important alternatives. The focus is on alternatives which hold that love, and other forms of mutual recognition, are important for well-being, but only indirectly. One kind of challenge against the constitutive role of relations to others for well-being comes from the traditional theories that accommodate relations in some indirect ways (Section 3). A second kind of challenge admits that perhaps love is central to well-being in a direct way, but do we have reason to believe that other forms of mutual recognition are as well? (Section 4) Yet another kind of challenge is that love matters for the quality of lives in some other way than contributing to its prudential value: love is good, but is it good for us? (Section 5) A fourth kind of challenge concerns what we are, and the nature of “essentialism” involved in the approach stressing relational selfhood: cannot, say, motherhood contribute to one’s good life even if motherhood is contingent and not essential? (Section 6). In debates on recognition the idea that mutual recognition is also relevant for well-being has been put forward, for example in Axel Honneth’s (1992, ch.9 ) ”formal” theory of good life. Whatever else constitutes good life, relations of recognition form its backbone (cf. Ikäheimo 2014). Surprisingly little however is written about mutual recognition and well-being in detail, or recognition in comparison to traditional theories of well-being. This chapter aims to fill some of that void, and at the same time defend the view that well-being is one of the normative notions with which mutual recognition has a constitutive relationship.



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Arto Laitinen
Tampere University

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