Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Beardsworth, Sara


The problem that this dissertation engages with is how the self achieves moral status or worth. I aim to show that recognition, beginning with Hegel’s dialectical treatment of recognition, is necessary to the modern conception of the value status of the individual, and therefore that the latter must be understood, first, as the value status of the self. That is to say, there is no normative standing of the individual without the self experiencing itself as a being of intrinsic worth. Second, this experience is fully dependent upon others’ acknowledgment of our intrinsic worth. In sum, recognition is constitutive of the value status of the self. To show this requires an exposition of the full significance of the Hegelian conception of recognition that includes a demonstration of the radical meaning of “dependence” in this concept. The basic premise of the dissertation is that there is a problem in how modern subjects have come to interpret their value in accordance with its codification in the reigning legal and political documents of our time, in which the value of the person is stated as a fact, an immediate possession of the self. The supposed validity of this premise is further evidenced in dominant philosophical conceptions of dignity that go back to Kant. The central problem is the commitment to the seemingly factual or given nature of the normative standing of the individual, whatever the vicissitudes in the fate of groups and individuals, which are viewed as secondary phenomena. In arguing against this premise, the dissertation is divided into two broad parts. First, because of the complexity of the ingredients of recognition in a Hegelian viewpoint—where the status of selfhood and the normative standing of the self are entwined, and where both are dependent upon experiences of recognition and misrecognition—the major part of the dissertation is a step-by-step elaboration of what is involved in the constitution of the modern value status of the individual through recognition. Second, this step-by-step elaboration will reveal the ethical meaning of recognition in Hegel. In this, we draw on recent work by J.M. Bernstein in Critical Theory, which emphasizes the ethics in Hegelian thought. The dissertation will then turn to a discussion of a phenomenon today that not only exemplifies the problem of recognition in the modern concept of intrinsic value but also fully reveals the depth and meaning of dependence in the constitution of the self’s value status. This will be a discussion of disability. Our argument is therefore that Hegel’s conception of recognition provides a critical perspective on the apparent assurances and securities of modern subjects by bringing into question and bringing to light: (1) our dependence on others in the “possession” of our individual value status; (2) the normative vulnerability that is central to the possibility of our normative standing; and (3) the need to ground philosophical ethics in experiences of vulnerability. The project will not only argue for these three theses in detailed elaborations of their conceptual components. It will also consider the phenomenon of disability as a contemporary exemplar that reveals their importance.




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