From Politics of Recognition to Politics of Mutual Enrichment

by Vincent on Tuesday, 10 October 2006 Comments
A Chinese philosopher reflects on how “mutual enrichment” should shape the definition of our identities as well as international politics.

“The politics of recognition”, title of a paper presented by Charles Taylor, was formulated within the context of nationalist movement, minority group, feminism and multiculturalism. In that paper, Taylor has well analyzed the historical development by which Western world has arrived at the modern preoccupation with identity and recognition. There was first the collapse of social hierarchy based upon honor, followed by the switch from honor to dignity, which led to a politics of universalism, emphasizing the equal dignity of rights and entitlement. Then came the second change, the development of the notion of dignity depending on individual identity, defined by Taylor as authenticity. Now the ultimate reference is switched from God or the idea of the Good to the fulfillment and realization of one’s own true self or originality. This gives rise to a politics of difference, in which we are asked to recognize “the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctness form everyone else.”
So it seems, the politics of recognition plays within the contrasting tension of a politics of universalism and a politics of difference. On the one hand, under the name of recognition, we should be treated all as equals, regardless of our particular ethnic, religious, racial or sexual identities. “Treating as equals” should be concretized in the basic needs such as income, health care, education, freedom of conscience, speech, press, association, due process, right to vote, right to hold public office, religious freedom...etc. On the other hand, the differential originality or distinctiveness of each individual or social/cultural group should be respected and satisfied. We should be recognized in our innermost difference, from which are derived all cultural expressions and ways of life. Recognition plays therefore with the dialectics of equality and difference.
For me it’s good, though not enough, that Taylor, following M. Bakhtin’s model of dialogue, has well sensed the importance of the Other by emphasizing the formation of our authenticity in the process of dialogue. Taylor said,
“Thus my discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation, but that I negotiate it through dialogue, partly overt, partly internal, with others. That is why the development of an ideal of inwardly generated identity gives a new importance to recognition. My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relation with others.”
But, as I see it, even if Charles Taylor has seen it clearly that human authenticity is formed through a process of dialogue, still there is no true recognition of the Other as the unfathomable, irreducible to any mode of my own constitution of it. For me, the Other is not limited only to the human but refers also to Nature and the transcendent, understood either as the Divine or as the Ideal. The Other is always an Other, though it might be in dialogical relation with myself. If one looses sense of this irreducible otherness, there will be no authentic dialogue for the formation of one’s self.

From Recognition to Mutual Enrichment
What I’m trying to say is that, without the dimension of the irreducible Other, the politics of recognition tends to be constrained within the philosophy of subjectivity and the framework of reciprocity. We can say that recognition in Charles Taylor’s sense is the recognition of a modern subjectivity: human beings as subject of cognitive capacity, as moral agent, or an agent worthy and creative of values. Also, there is reciprocity in this kind of recognition: I recognize you as a subject and you recognize me as a subject. This implies, if you like, a bourgeoisie commercial rationality, in which subject is recognized in the sense of pairing subject, a subject capable of responsive return of my act of recognition.
Now, identity and reciprocity, though to be posited as necessary for a minimal politics, does not constitute an optimal politics. For me, an optimal politics should be a politics of mutual enrichment. This is to say that, basing upon the recognition of each and everyone’s identity and upon mutual recognition, there must be realized in surplus a process of mutual enrichment. Every one of us can learn from each other and every social group could learn from other social groups, and be enriched thereby. That’s why difference is an occasion of creativity rather than an excuse for conflict. Without a process of mutual enrichment, we don’t even know what’s the use of dialogue and what is the meaning of authenticity in emphasizing each and everyone’s difference.
Now we can ask: by what strategy could a politics of mutual enrichment be made possible? Two consecutive strategies could be suggested here: First of all, the strategy of language appropriation, which means more concretely learning other ways of expression or language of other cultural traditions. Since, as Wittgenstein has well suggested, different language games correspond to different life-forms, therefore appropriation of another language would give us access to the life-form implied in that specific language. In our childhood, we have appropriated language by the generosity of significant others talking to us and thereby opening to ourselves a world of meaningfulness. When grown up, we learn more by appropriating different kinds of expression and language, no matter scientific, cultural or of everyday life. By appropriating different ways of expression or languages, we could enter into different worlds and thereby enrich the construction of our own world.
Second, the strategy of strangification, originally proposed as an epistemological strategy for interdisciplinary research, was enlarged by myself to serve as a strategy of intercultural exchange. By “strangification” I mean the act of going outside of oneself and going to the other, to the stranger. There are three types of strangification: the first is “linguistic strangification”, by which we translate a proposition of one particular discipline, research program or an expression or a value in one particular culture, into the language of or expressions understandable to other disciplines or cultures, to see whether it works or becomes absurd thereby. If it does work, then it means that this proposition, expression or value is universalizable. If it becomes absurd thereby, then it’s limit is thereby recognized and reflection must be made upon its principle and validity.
The second is “pragmatic strangification”, by which we draw a proposition, a supposed truth or a cultural value from one’s own social and organizational context, to put it into another social and organizational context, in order to enlarge its validity in other social and organizational context.
The third is ontological strangification, which, according to my interpretation, is the act by which we enter into other’s microworld or cultural world through the detour of a direct experience with the Reality Itself, such as a person, a social group or the Nature.
In the politics of mutual enrichment, there is openness to the Other. Our search for meaning begins with our act of going outside of ourselves and go to the other. I understand meaning as the outcome of this act of going to the other, an act of “strangification”. In this act, there is an original generosity of going outside of oneself and go to the other, otherwise there will be no dialogue. Therefore I would not agree with what Marcel Mauss proposed in his Essai sur le don that reciprocity is the principle by which society is made possible. I want to point out here that in every act of reciprocity, there must be already the going outside of oneself to the other, the act of strangification, considered by myself as the first act of generosity, which makes the society possible.

Generosity and the Other in Modernity
Although subjectivity is the principle on which modernity is based, we can discern right from the beginning of modernity some significant discourses of generosity and openness to the other. I say this because Descartes, seen often as the founder of Western Modern philosophy, sustained already a discourse of generosity. Although Descartes is now the target of post-modern critique, that by his Cogito, ergo sum, he has founded modern principle of subjectivity. I myself would not blame Descartes of instituting the principle of subjectivity, rather I prefer to re-read in Descartes a very significant virtue of generosity and an openness to the other.
For example, in his Discours de la Methode, Descartes has proposes for himself a “provisional ethics”, such as to obey the laws and customs of the country, which means a respect of the other in their historicity and their customs, a principle that he has learnt from the Jesuit. Since this principle concerns ethics, though provisional in comparison with science, it is an ethics open to the other rather than limited within one’s narcissistic thinking ego. It is a discourse of openness to cultural differences and recognition of the other when it concerns other country’s laws and customs.
It is true that the Cartesian Cogito, ergo sum has well founded the principle of subjectivity in the realm of metaphysics and epistemology, we should not forget that, in the matters of ethics, Descartes proposed the virtue of generosity and recognition of the other. Especially in his Les Passions de l’âme, Descartes indulges himself in talking about generosity. He said,
“Those who are generous in this way are naturally impelled to do great things and at the same time to undertake nothing of which they do not fell themselves capable.. And because they do not hold anything more important than to do good to other men and to disdain their individual interest, they are for this reason always perfectly courteous , affable and obliging towards everyone. Along with that, they are entirely master of their passions, particularly of desires, of jealousy and envy, because there is nothing the the acquisition of which does not depend on them, which they think of sufficient worth to merit being much sought after:”
By definition, generosity is contrary to selfishness. Descartes has used quite a few pages to discuss generosity, sustaining the virtue of doing good to others despite one’s own interest. This is an altruistic act without expecting a reciprocal return. For Descartes, one will not lose one’s own freedom and liberality in the act of generosity. On the contrary, if without true freedom and independence, no body can become really generous. He said,
“Thus I think that true generosity which causes a man to esteem himself as highly as he legitimately can, consists alone partly in the fact that he knows there is nothing that truly pertains to him but his free disposition of his will, and there is no reason why he should be praised or blamed unless it is because he uses it well or ill; and in the fact that he is sensible in himself of a firm and consistent resolution to use it well, that is to say, never to fail of his own will to undertake and execute all the things which he judges to be best-which to follow perfectly after virtue.”
In other words, when in the act of generosity, one should be conscious of one’s freedom, that is, one could be generous only when one is free and responsible. The subjectivity is free, yet the best way to use one’s own freedom, is to be generous to the other, and it is through being generous that one has one’s own true dignity. In other words, one’s true freedom consists in the use of one’s own good will to be generous to others despise one’s interest. We can say that generosity is the most important virtue in Cartesian ethics.
This openness to Other continues itself in Western modern philosophy, although the generosity without consideration of one’s own interest as in the case of Descartes, is now replaced by reciprocity. For example, in Fichte, the recognition of the other is posited as necessary to the affirmation of oneself as a free cause. In the third proposition of the Principle of Natural Law, Fichte said, “The finite rational being cannot ascribe to itself a free causality in the world of the senses without ascribing freedom also to others, and therefore without assuming other finite rational being besides itself.” In this text, the Other is more than a condition of my freedom. The Other makes the subject available to itself in an original way by summoning (aufforden) the subject to freedom. Fichte says, “The influence was conceived as a summon(Aufforderung) of the subject to free action.” The relation of free beings to each other is a relation of reciprocity through intelligence and freedom. In this relation, if there is no reciprocal recognition of each other, no one can recognize another. No one can treat the other as a free being if both do not respect each other in a reciprocal way.
The reciprocal sense of Recognition (Anerkennung) could be found also in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel’s analysis of master and slave shows a non-reciprocal stage of recognition. The master needs another subject of desire to recognize him as master, but he himself will not recognize the slave as a subject. The Hegelian Anerkennung consists in the relation that a subject is recognized by another subject, to whom he himself recognizes as well. Here implied the dimension of reciprocity in the recognition of each one’s subjectivity. Although the dynamism of going outside of oneself and go to the other could be found in Hegel’s act of alienation, this dynamism is absorbed in the reciprocity of a larger inter-subjectivity. That is to say, the dimension of the Other is lost when it comes to the spirit integrating subjectivity in intersubjectivity, where “Ego that is “we”, a plurality of egos, and “we” that is a single Ego.”

A Case of Mutual Enrichment in Ancient China
Now I would like to take a case in Chinese political philosophy to exemplify my vision of recognition as recognition of the other and of mutual enrichment. In this way I return to my own cultural heritage to see in it elements which might enrich other traditions. This is the case we find in the Grand Categories (Hongfan) in the Book of Ancient History (or the Classics of Documents). Here we find a narrative in which King Wen, in 1121BC, the thirteen year of King Wen’s reign after his conquer of Shang, went to the inquire of Shang’s Viscount of Ji about the principle of achieving good relation among people. The Viscount of Ji, though refused to serve the Zhou by reason of his fidelity to the Shang, nevertheless told King Wen the wisdom of the Grand Categories, as legacy from the Emperor Yu.
The Hongfan, seen as a revelation of God to Yu, gives us somehow a structural vision of the universe in nine categories constituting thereby the earliest Chinese concepts of Nature (including the first category of the five agents, the fourth category of five arrangements of time, which concern division of time and calendar, the eighth category of confirmation from seasonable weather), of self-cultivation(the second category of five activities, which concern moral and intellectual conducts), politics and governance(the third category of eight governmental offices, which concern branches of administration, the fourth category of five arrangements of time, the fifth category of the Grand(Royal) Ultimate, the sixth category of three virtues, which govern responding to different people and times), of divination(the seventh category of the examination of doubts) and of happiness and misfortune of life(the ninth category of five happiness and six misfortune). The most important, Central to all these nine categories, is the fifth, which concerns the category of the Royal(Grand)Ultimate, which reads,
“Fifth, of Royal Ultimate, the highest, having established his highest standard of excellence, accumulates the five happiness and diffuses them to bestow to the people. Then the people will keep with you the ultimate standard.
Without deflection, without unevenness,
Pursue royal righteousness;
Without any selfish likings,
Pursue the royal way.
Without any selfish likings,
Pursue the royal path.
Without partiality, without deflection,
The royal path is level and ease.
Without perversity, without one-sidedness,
The royal path is right and straight.
Seeing this perfect excellence,
Turn to this perfect excellence”
The narrative side of this document shows us the recognition of an other by King Wen and the Generosity of Viscount of Ji. King Wen, acting now not as a Master, but as inquirer of wisdom from the political philosophy of an other, the Viscount Ji, not as a slave under his domination, but now as an inspiring other. As to the generosity of Viscount Ji, it is a generosity of contributing to his other the wisdom of his own legacy, the best of his own tradition. Also we notice that, in the philosophical side of this document, although the whole wisdom is constituted of a structural framework, it is seen as a legacy from God’s revelation to Yu as consequence of his own virtue. Therefore the best of his legacy is resulted from an effort to achieve virtue. In this document, political philosophy is not a human centered concern. It is rather situated in the context of nature and related to human self-cultivation. We can say that this is a political philosophy of universalizability, of impartiality, which defines the ancient concept of the Middle Path, a path which is without one-sidedness.

From Reciprocity to Universalizability
Since the politics of mutual enrichment depends very much on the virtue of generosity, I would analyze a bit more the concept of generosity in both Confucianism and Taoism, the two most cherished traditions of Chinese philosophy.
First, let me feature Confucius’ idea of generosity. In the Analects, virtue, as excellence of human abilities, never limited to individual excellence, refers also to the harmonization of relations. Confucius puts his emphasis on reciprocal generosity. When asked about a life of ren by Zizhang, Confucius answered that,
"One who can practice five things whenever he may be is a man of humanity.....Earnestness, liberality, truthfulness, diligence and generosity. If one is earnest, one will not be treated with disrespect. If one is liberal, one will win the heart of the people. If one is trustful, one will be trusted. If one is diligent, one will be successful. And if one is generous, one will be able to enjoy the service of others.”
In this text, both liberality (or consideration for others) and generosity touch upon the reciprocal generosity, which have as consequence either winning the heart of the people or enjoying the service of others. Confucius puts emphasis on generosity that could be reciprocal on the level of consequence. But virtue according to Confucius does not stay on the level of reciprocity. A dynamism transcending reciprocity and going towards univerversalizability bases itself upon ren. Generosity comes from the universalizability of ren, which by essence is the transcendental capacity of each and everyone to respond and communicate with others.
For Confucius, the process of harmonization of relationship is a process of enlargement from reciprocity to universalizability. Reciprocity is essential for human relationship according to Confucianism. Once Zhaiwuo proposed two arguments against the maintenance of a funeral rites, the one was based upon the necessity of maintaining social order, the other was based upon the circle of natural process. Confucius answered him by the argument of human reciprocity, that, in the earliest time of our childhood, we were taken care of by our parents, and this was the reason why we observe those rites in response to the love of our parents for us. The form of these ritual practices could change according to the demand of times, but the essence of reciprocity in human relationship remains.
Good human relationship comes to its fulfillment when enlarged from reciprocity to universalizability. That’s why Confucius, when asked by Zilu concerning how a paradigmatic individual behaves, answered first by the cultivation of oneself for one’s dignity, then cultivation of oneself for the happiness of other’s, and finally cultivation oneself for the happiness of all the people. From reciprocity to universalizability, this means that we should transcend the limit of special relationship to universalizable relationship, even to the point of seeing people within four seas as brothers. Which means humankind could treat other fellowmen, with no regard of his family, profession, company, race and nation, but just with Jen, a universalizing love, only because he is a member of the humankind. I would interpret the virtue of shu as the excellence of capacity to go out of one’s self and go to the other through language appropriation and the act of strangification. First ren and then shu, this is the way by which Confucianism enlarges harmonization of human relations, the full unfolding of which is the process of formation of virtuous life, not merely a life of observing categorized obligations.

The Ontological and Cosmological Dimensions of Generosity
In the eyes of Taoism, the reciprocal generosity of Confucianism is too much constrained in human affairs without taking into consideration Man’s enrootedness in Nature. For Taoism, Human existence stands on the support of Nature. To be universalizable means, negatively, not to be limited to the tiny species of humankind, and, positively, to refer to the whole universe, to Nature, including other members of the biosphere, animals, plants and the like, and other members of the natural world. The concept of the Other includes Nature.
In Taoism, generosity gains its ontological and cosmological dimension. The Dao itself shows its original generosity in manifesting itself into myriads of things, and its no-action(wu wei), understood as taking universal action rather than particular action in nourishing and bringing up myriad of things. The Dao is impartial in that it never favors one particular stone, plant or animal,…etc., rather that all it does is for all things in the universe. Laozi said, “(The Space) Between Heaven and Earth, are like a bellows! While vacuous, it is never exhausted. When active, it produces even more.” This text testifies the generosity of the Dao in creating exhaustibly all things out from itself.
For Laozi, the Dao manifests itself first as the nothingness, understood as inexhaustible possibilities, which is the first phase of its generous act of going to the others. Then, among all possibilities, some are realized, and to be realized is to take the form of body. At this moment, it was engendered a realm of being. This is the second phase of generosity of the Dao. Then, through a process of differentiation and complexification, myriad of things emerge as given birth by the Dao, which remains in all things after they are created and becomes their De(virtue). This is the inner creativity of each and everything, the inner capacity and natural ability of each being. It is not virtue in moral sense, as in the case of Confucianism, but virtue in cosmological sense. De is the spontaneous creativity and generosity of all things to be able to go to the other and to return finally to the Dao. Ultimately speaking, the Dao is the inexhaustible reservoir of all creativity and generosity, whereas the De is the creativity of everything in Nature, by which all beings, not only humans, are creative and have equal right to creativity. Laozi said,
“Therefore the Dao produces them and virtue fosters them. They rear them and develop them. They give them security and give them peace. They nurture them and protect them. The Dao produces them, but does not take possession of them. It acts, but does not rely on its ability. Il leads them but does not master them. This is called profound and secret virtue.”
Basing upon these ontological and cosmological levels, generosity shows itself also on the level of political philosophy. For Laozi, the highest virtue incarnates and is concretely manifested in the person of a sage, who employs himself generously for the world. “The sage does not accumulate for himself. The more he uses for others, the more he has himself. The more he gives to others, the more he possesses of his own.” “The sage has no fixed (personal) ideas. He regards the people’s ideas as his own.” “Therefore, the sage is always good in saving men and consequently no man is rejected. He is always good in saving things and consequently nothing is rejected.” The sage, a paradigmatic individual both in self-cultivation and in political philosophy, is therefore not only an ethical and moral figure as in the case of Confucian sage, but rather as the incarnation of the Dao and its generosity.


In the development from a politics of recognition to a politics of mutual enrichment, we are not denying the principles of identity and reciprocity. On the contrary, we have posited them as minimalist requirements, yet to be promoted by the openness to the Other and the principle of generosity, as was exemplified by King Wen and the Viscount Ji, who gave us the best part of the Chinese legacy right from its beginning. The politics of mutual enrichment, with its principle of openness to the Other and the principle of generosity, should be practiced not only by those in power to those who are governed, by the majority to the minority, by the central to the peripheral, but also by all kinds of differences, such as gender, ethnic groups, language, social class, age, education, profession, religion, nation, cultural tradition, civilization, region, planet…etc., which are occasions for mutual enrichment and creativity rather than excuse for conflict and war.

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