Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Critical review of Honneth's "Freedom's Right"

A review by Rutger Claassen of Axel Honneth's "Freedom's Right. The Social Foundations of Democratic Life" (Columbia University Press, 2014):

"Social Freedom and the Demands of Justice" [pdf]
[Published in Constellations vol. 21 no. 1 (March 2014). Also available here.]

"In his most recent voluminous work Das Recht der Freiheit (2011) Axel Honneth brings his version of the recognition paradigm to full fruition. Criticizing Kantian theories of justice, he develops a Hegelian alternative which has at its core a different conception of freedom. In this paper, I will scrutinize Honneths latest work to see whether he offers a promising alternative to mainstream liberal theories of justice. I will focus on two key differences with Kantian theories of justice. Substantively, Honneth criticizes the Kantian concept of ‘reflexive freedom’ and proposes instead as the core of his own theory the concept of ‘social freedom’. Methodologically, he proposes a method of ‘normative reconstruction’, and explicitly develops this in contrast to Kantian constructivism. I investigate the robustness of these shifts by seeing how they are actually used in Honneth’s reconstruction of the market sphere. I conclude that his method of normative reconstruction does not provide the kind of guidance Honneth thinks it does. His conception of social freedom fares slightly better but can either be reduced to the mainstream’s idea of reflexive freedom, or else faces some serious challenges.

Rutger Claassen is Associate Professor of Ethics & Political Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, Utrecht University. More papers by Rutger Claassen here.

See also seven critical essays on Axel Honneth's book here (Krisis, Journal of Contemporary Philosophy, 2013) and Honneth's reply.

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