Ritva Palmén

palmen-r Ritva Palmén, Post-doctoral researcher
Elements of Recognition in Medieval and Renaissance Intellectual History

Self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem, these three modes of relating to oneself are essential for the possibility of identity formation. They can be acquired and maintained intersubjectively, through recognition by others who one also recognizes (Honneth 1992). These all practical relations to self contain beliefs about oneself, emotional states and experiences of having certain status. Only self-confidence which is supported by love is a universal precondition for self-realization in any community. However, both respect and esteem have gone through a significant historical transformation. My study builds on this claim, but also critically re-evaluates and adjusts it. By exploring textual material ranging from twelfth-century spiritual rehearsals to medieval university theology and renaissance texts, I will ask how practical relations to self and identity formation have been explained in varying cultural and historical conditions.

First, I will systematically analyze a selection of medieval and renaissance texts by taking the issues of identity constitution and practical relation to self as my starting points. My study hypothesizes that researchers have been thus far either neglected or understudied the role of emotions in their studies of medieval and renaissance theories of self and identity. I will argue that several medieval and renaissance authors emphasized inner built reciprocity of certain emotions and regulation of emotions as a means for developing good relation to the self. I will substantiate my thesis by studying medieval and renaissance philosophical psychology of love and shame. The analyses of these both intimate, yet strongly reciprocal emotions reveal the dynamic interplay between private and public spheres, inner built reciprocity of emotions and the problematics of identity constitution. As an outcome of my research, it is possible to advance a more comprehensive view of the development of the idea of individual personhood or ‘self’ and its formation through constructive self-assessment in medieval and renaissance sources.

Second, I will pursue a terminological analysis of recognition relations and their conceptualizations in medieval sources. By detecting the terminology related with the later developments of recognition theory, I will focus on medieval religious texts dealing with the notion of gift-exchange. As I maintain, several of these medieval sources treat themes like intrapersonal struggle and submission in terms, which encompasses initial forms of later vocabulary of recognition. In paradigmatic case, a person recognizes a giver through the gift and the exchange of favors and benefits constitutes recognition. However, within medieval religious texts, same setting is used as an explanation of the relationship between the soul and God. I will aim to show that this theological turn yielded new important dimensions to discussions on recognition and advancement of recognition theory.

In addition to these new approaches, I will continue to elaborate and develop my previous research on religion and recognition. I find it fruitful to analyze the argumentation strategies between representatives of different religions in fictive and semifictive historical dialogues. I also aim to study further the ways other religions and their representatives were portrayed and recognized by Western intellectuals during the Middle Ages. Although the methodologies and topics of my research are varied, the overall themes still converge. The chosen approaches allow me to examine the dynamic interaction between self and other, the interface between the public and private spheres as well as the fundamental relationship between man and God.