Sunday, February 24, 2013

Interview with Honneth: Recognition and critical theory today

In "Philosophy & Social Criticism " (January 2013) Gonçalo Marcelo interviews Axel Honneth on his work on recognition:

"Recognition and Critical Theory today: An interview"  [Abstract]

"I would find it misleading to say that my theory is an ethics of recognition. That would be too one-sided. The whole idea I have is not a moral intuition, which some people have, that what is wrong today is that people do not recognize each other sufficiently. For me, that would be like an empty moralism, and it would not be something I would defend. In that respect, I see myself coming much more from the Hegelian–Marxist tradition, where you take up already existing accepted norms, so there are no empty norms that appear to you and that you feel should be realized. Instead, we are interested in why certain already accepted and institutionalized norms do not mobilize people, are misunderstood, are very vague, are struggled for in different directions, and so on. I would say that the core of my approach would be more a social theory with a certain moral-practical intention. (.....)

I think that there are three key theoretical situations which led me to the whole idea of the struggle for recognition. One was reading certain historical investigations into the role of respect in social protests in the proletarian movements of the 1800s.

Like the works of E. P. Thompson?

Yes, E. P. Thompson, Barrington Moore. I was reading these works, and I was very impressed by them. I thought, this is great, this is what I always thought, that respect plays a constitutive role. The social actors want to be respected, and that is what it’s all about. The second key was a small book I read by Richard Sennett, the sociologist, on the injuries of class, which is a fantastic book about Italian immigrants in the USA who suffered from not being respected to the same degree as ordinary Protestant Americans were. And then the third key was Hegel. These three influences came together, and led me to the idea of the struggle for recognition. (......)

You have this interesting notion of the pathologies of reason. Could you tell us what they are, and which ones affect us the most in our time and age?

I think that this is a fundamental, constitutive concept for Critical Theory. Its insight is that by means of the structural organization of societies, some of our rational capacities are restricted and others are invited to grow. This is the whole idea behind the notion of instrumental reason. It is a pathology of reason because a certain structure of our society privileges only one dimension of our rationality. I think that it is enormously important for someone in the tradition of the Frankfurt School and Critical Theory to defend that concept, which means to always be interested in how the present structure of our societies privileges and disprivileges certain dimensions of our rationality."

Gonçalo Marcelo is a PhD student in philosophy at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal. See his paper "From Conflict to Conciliation and Back Again: Some Notes in Ricœur's Dialectic" [pdf].

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