Paper on Axel Honneth:
by Barbara Carnevali (Paris)
(Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, December 2022)
This article retraces and discusses the philosophical itinerary of Axel Honneth, from the groundbreaking book "Struggle for Recognition" up to the recent essays "Freedom’s Right" and "The Idea of Socialism". In the first section, I examine Honneth’s programmatic concept of social pathology in relation to Ernst Cassirer’s idea of the secularisation of theodicy (i. e. the attribution of responsibility for human suffering to society) and to the enlightenment legacy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the second section, after assessing Honneth’s position in the tradition of critical theory, I analyse his philosophical views. I identify two different theoretical frameworks in Honneth’s work: on the one hand, the theory of the struggle for recognition; on the other hand, the recent theory of social freedom. While the first is grounded in a formal and allegedly universal anthropology, the second draws on the Hegelian doctrine of the ethical life and develops a historicist and internalist model of reconstructive social criticism. Finally, in the third section, I critically address the “divinisation of the social” entailed in Honneth’s project of social pathologies’ critique, and argue that Honneth’s trust in the normative power of intersubjectivity might be excessive.