The Social Foundations of Democratic Life
by Axel Honneth
(Columbia University Press, 2014)
Theories of justice often fixate on purely normative, abstract principles unrelated to real-world situations. The philosopher and theorist Axel Honneth addresses this disconnect, and constructs a theory of justice derived from the normative claims of Western liberal-democratic societies and anchored in morally legitimate laws and institutionally established practices.
Honneth’s paradigm—which he terms “a democratic ethical life”—draws on the spirit of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and his own theory of recognition, demonstrating how concrete social spheres generate the principles of individual freedom and a standard for what is just. Using social analysis to re-found a more grounded theory of justice, he argues that all crucial actions in Western civilization, whether in personal relationships, market-induced economic activities, or the public forum of politics, share one defining characteristic: they require the realization of a particular aspect of individual freedom. This fundamental truth informs the guiding principles of justice, grounding and enabling a wide-ranging reconsideration of its nature and application.
Part I. Historical Background: The Right to Freedom
1. Negative Freedom and the Social Contract
2. Reflexive Freedom and Its Conception of Justice
3. Social Freedom and the Doctrine of Ethical Life
Transition: The Idea of Democratic Ethical Life
Part II. The Possibility of Freedom
4. Legal Freedom
5. Moral Freedom
Part III. The Reality of Freedom
6. Social Freedom
Axel Honneth is Professor of Philosophy at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt and Professor for the Humanities at Columbia University. He is the author of "The Struggle for Recognition" (Polity Press, 1995), and "The I in We: Studies in the Theory of Recognition" (Polity Press, 2012)
The German edition: "Das Recht der Freiheit. Grundriß einer demokratischen Sittlichkeit" (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2011). See my post on the book here. And my links to reviews here.
"Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy" (2013 no, 1) features essays in English on Axel Honneth's new book and a reply by Honneth. See my post here (with links to pdf-files).
See also a video of Honneth's lecture on "The Normativity of Ethical Life" (September 2013).