Contemporary sociology uses the notions of recognition and identity to highlight the limitations of a utilitarian conception of action. The first part of the article discusses the contributions on the theme by A. Pizzorno, A. Honneth and C. Taylor. In general, the literature regards Hegel as responsible for the turning point in the history of social thought that introduced the notion of recognition. However, impetus was given to this turning point by the seventeenth and eighteenth century debate which centred in critical way on Hobbes' theories and whose protagonists were members of the British moral sentiments school. The second part of the article sets out the theories of those protagonists (in particular F. Hutcheson, D. Hume and A. Smith). The conclusions show that the debate was a chapter in the history of social thought of importance for sociology, and that it furnishes useful insights still today.