The Philosophy of Mutual Recognition by Richard Gunn

Title of talk:

Mutual Recognition

Richard Gunn
Richard Gunn

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • The version of my talk which Alex has circulated on the website for pre-circulation purposes requires comment in a specific way. Intentionally, my written version emphasises textual material. That is, it presents in a quite detailed fashion the significance of ‘recognition’ as a theme in the writings of G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx. When I talk to Ragged on Thursday 31 May 2018, I do not attempt to dwell on textual details alone. Such an attempt would run the risk of being dry as dust. The written version dwells on textual detail as background to get this part of my remarks out of the way. My main aim when I am talking is to give my audience a sense of why ‘mutual recognition’ is an important term for me. With luck, the textual focus in my written version frees me up to emphasise more personal and substantive points.
  • I would be delighted if everyone found ‘mutual recognition’ a useful term in thinking about their world. I am less concerned whether everyone after May 31st was in a position to pass an examination in Hegel’s and Marx’s work.
  • Is the term ‘mutual recognition’ a political term. This is, I think, probably the case. I myself lectured on political theory at Edinburgh University for close on thirty years. ‘Mutual recognition’ is a term in political philosophy. But it is not a party slogan. Different political parties stand closer or more remote from a mutually recognitive perspective. But the chief field of application of ‘mutual recognition’ is, I propose, the everyday world.
  • I am anxious about how a reader of my pre-presentation paper may respond. Perhaps his or her response may be one of impatience. “I have read to the end of what Richard Gunn has written but, truth to tell, I am no clearer about what mutual recognition is! I gather from what has been said that mutual recognition is interaction – and interaction or discussion of a to-and-fro kind. Does mutual recognition occur in each and every friendly pub? Why introduce a complicated term for something that is, for most of it, already well known?”
  • I am tempted to respond that not all pubs are so friendly. And not all locations in life are like pubs. Here, let me focus on a specific question. Mutual recognition is a form of recognition. So much is clear. But what is recognized – if mutual recognition, which is linked to freedom, is in play?
  • My answer is: what is recognized is the freedom or self-determination of the recognized person. When we recognize or acknowledge someone else’s self-determination, we trust that he or she is in good faith. We trust that he or she is answerable for what he or she says. We trust that he or she means what he or she declares. When we do this, we shine a light on this other – a light which throws his or her self-determination into relief. In a society where mutual recognition is general, each carries (so to say) a torch which makes the freedom of each and every other vivid.The situation is exactly as Marx, in a passage that I have quoted, writes: ‘we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all’ (Communist Manifesto Part II, closing lines). The vital assumption here is that recognition is reciprocal – and mutual. No bosses and workers. No fixed social definitions. No career politicians. No leaders and led.
  •  Is this vision political? Is anarchism a political or anti-political idea? I leaqve this question open. Other people can say what they think.



A few paragraphs on your subject:

My writings subsequent to my retirement in 2011 seek to persuade grassroot left wing radicals (amongst whom I consider myself a member) to adopt mutual recognition as radicalism’s aim. The books and texts on which my post-retirement writings are based are G.W.F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and Karl Marx’s various works – fragments of which are widely available on the internet.

A few paragraphs about you:

In my professional life, I lectured on political theory at the University of Edinburgh from the mid 1970s until 2911, when I retired. I am currently an independent writer and researcher. Various of my articles – including unes by my friend and co-author Adrian Wilding – can be found at A sequence of articles by Adrian and myself, on which my ‘Mutual Recognition’ presentation is based, have been published online by the Heathwood Institute and Press (www.heathwoodpress. com).

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

A sequence of internet sites that I consider to be radical and grassroots turn up on the internet and Facebook on a day to day basis. No one website – with the exception of the now sadly defunct Heathwood website (www.heathwood. com) and, of course, my personal website – speaks for my views. When it existed between 1987 and 1997, the small journal Common Sense (see www. Common Sense journal) explored views that I endorse.

What are your weblinks?

Website –
Twitter – @GunnWilding
Facebook – Richard Gunn (There are various Richard Gunns on Facebook. I’m the one who is listed as ‘unknown’.)
Public Email – See contact address on my website.

This event took place at Cabaret Voltaire (36-38 Blair St, Edinburgh, EH1 1QR) on 31st May 2018