Thymos: the desire for recognition
The division of the soul between desire and reason was familiar to me. What wasn’t familiar is the tripartite division of the soul, between desire, reason and what is called thymos: the desire for recognition.
The implications of thymos are considerable. In fact, Hegel argued it is the desire and so struggle for recognition which is the driving force of history.
We can see this in at least three ways.
The first is to understand thymos as our sense of justice. By believing we have a certain worth then we create the possibility for a sense of injustice if that worth isn’t recognised by others. In situations of injustice we can sometimes become angry or indignant — the latter’s etymology explicitly linking our reaction to its impact on our dignity.
The second is to see that, in a world of comfort and where most material needs are met, it is the thymotic part of the soul that is capable of driving action. If we were truly satisfied — the drives of our desires and our reason are met — then we would have no requirement to struggle. But when we feel our own worth or that of others not being recognised we seek out further struggle.
The final one is to recognise that the political process, our democracy, isn’t just about the process of using evidence, making decisions and balancing the competing interests of groups for the greater good. Democracy is also a platform through which people seek recognition for themselves and their views — it is driven by thymos.
Our conception of thymos isn’t singular. One person’s desire for recognition could be the desire to recognised as superior to other people (known as megalothymia; think Donald Trump). But the force of isothymia — the desire to be recognised as equal to other people (think of every rights-based movement) — is one that appeals.
Let us recognise, then, that people seek not just to satisfy their desires or act with reason to maximise benefits to them; they also act through thymos: the desire to be recognised.
Originally published at arbitraryc.wordpress.com on March 21, 2016.