How do I get Ubuntu to recognize my nvidia graphics card?

Ok, as you haven't mentioned in your question that you have optimus enabled laptop and as per the interaction with other users it is clear that you are into a mess. A fresh install is required, Let me explain it to you.

optimus isn't supported by nvdia drivers in linux. So if you install nvidia drivers from any repo. You won't be able to boot into GUI. The linux driver page of nvidia has a warning like The driver won't work with few models (few means optimus enabled graphics cards)

So there is some unofficial work to get the power save feature at least (i.e. to turn off the discrete GPU). The first success was by mj-casalogic.(I don't know his name) His first project named as bumblebee then he updated it and renamed it ironhide.

However ironhide wasn't well designed and it has lot of problems. It is now abandoned project.

Bumblebee 3.0 was a fork of original bumblebee project. It has more stability and whole code was re written a C. Now a daemon runs from the startup. Disable the discrete GPU automatically and use it only when required. But this is not compatible with ironhide or earlier bumblebee. You have to do a lot of things to get this working. Its easier to reinstall ubuntu.

After clean installation of ubuntu, do the following

Instruction for installing Bumblebee to turn off discrete GPU and enable only when required

  1. Type the following in terminal:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bumblebee/stable
    sudo apt-get update
  2. To install Bumblebee using the proprietary nvidia driver:

    For 12.04 - 13.04

    sudo apt-get install bumblebee bumblebee-nvidia virtualgl linux-headers-generic

    And for 13.10:

    sudo apt-get install bumblebee bumblebee-nvidia primus linux-headers-generic
  3. Reboot.

If you just want to disable nvidia card, no need to learn followings

Usage Instruction :

To run a program with nvidia card, use optirun command prefixed in terminal. Like to run glxspheres with nvidia card type

optirun glxspheres

To run firefox type : optirun firefox &

To get the graphics card model, install mesa-utils Install mesa-utils.Remember the graphics card model won't be nvidia one. It will be intel, because in nvidia optimus the nvidia card isn't exposed directly. Nvidia card is wired via the intel one

Linked Questions:

How well will Nvidia Optimus cards be supported in 12.04?

Is a NVIDIA GeForce with Optimus Technology supported by Ubuntu?

Can't use nvidia card/driver on optimus notebook

You want to use the Bumblebee packaged drivers for your system. You should be able to solve your problem by following the same procedure as here: Switchable laptop graphics issues on Ubuntu 12.04?

PS. Don't use ironhide or x-swat for an Optimus graphics card. People are spreading outdated information.