Aku Visala

 visala-a Aku Visala, Senior researcher
Philosophical and Cognitive Perspectives on Recognition and Persons

Most philosophical literature on the concept of recognition deals with various normative aspects of the act of recognition. To supplement this line of research, I will look at some distinctively human cognitive capacities that make complex mental acts of recognition possible. Adopting an attitude of recognition entails, first and foremost, that each party recognizes the other as a person and adopts a set of normative attitudes, such as love and respect, towards the other. Cognitively speaking such attitudes require complex mental processing that combines emotional and social cognition. I suggest that without capacities like shared intentionality, second-person attention and theory of mind acts of recognition would not be possible at all. Such capacities make the kind of “hyper-sociality” that only humans are capable of possible. In the last decade or so, these mechanisms have been studied extensively in biological anthropology, cognitive science and neuroscience. Experimental data and theorizing suggest that if we see acts of recognitions as outcomes of these mechanisms, recognition is much more than a consciously adopted reflective attitude. Instead, it is deeply biological (and even neural) and has to do with our most basic, physiological responses towards other humans.

Furthermore, the ways in which these mechanisms function might explain why recognition is often very difficult or even impossible, especially in an “abstract” sense. To put it bluntly, human cognition evolved to form and maintain small groups and to cooperate with a limited amount of individuals. Our globalized and multicultural world pushes our capacities way beyond their limits by requiring us to represent and recognize numerous, wildly different individuals, groups and identities. Because of the strong cognitive constraints on the capacities that make recognition possible, we should not expect deep levels of recognition to come about easily. In many cases, we might have to settle for a more general and less cognitively demanding attitude: tolerance.