Freedom, Justice, and Recognition: the Normative Grounds of Hegel’s Social Theory and Axel Honneth’s Critical Theory
Dissertation directed by Merold Westphal, Ph.D.
The dissertation aims to reconstruct and defend a differentiated conception of recognition as the normative ground for a communicative theory of justice in order to evaluate its relevance as a contemporary alternative to Rawls’s political liberalism. My main thesis is that a naturalized recognition based theory of justice offers a superior alternative to John Rawls’s liberalism, while at the same time not proposing a normatively problematic form of community in the way that communitarians do. The main reason for this advantage is that recognition theory articulates the idea of necessary capacities for practical agency in terms of acts of recognition or social practices which express agents’ assumptions about and expectations embedded in social practices of Western democracies regarding legitimate types of treatment, and it is the violation of these expectations (i.e., forms of misrecognition) that inform the content of some claims made in a variety of social movements about injustice and harm to practical agency.
The dissertation consists of five chapters. In Chapter One, I address a number of problems surrounding the conceptualization of political liberalism as a procedural Kantian approach to justice which issue from interpretations of Kant's idea of autonomy, and I assess reactions to this rubric from communitarians and from Charles Taylor’s contemporary recognition theory. Chapters Two, Three, and Four are historical in nature and examine the details of Hegel’s mature philosophy of objective spirit and the role of recognition in it. Chapter Two provides an interpretation of Hegel's model of communicative freedom in his Rechtsphilosophie. Chapter Three gives a democratic critique of Hegel's conception of sovereignty and corporate representation and demonstrates the role that recognition plays in his critique of social contract theory, and it argues that his critique does not apply to Rawls’s hypothetical version of contractarianism. Chapter Four outlines the contours of Hegel's theory of recognition as necessary social preconditions for practical agency. I define the types of social critique that are compatible with his theory of ethical life and critique Hegel’s own institutional suppression of the agent’s perspective in his articulation of these communicative relationships from an observer’s perspective.
Chapter Five outlines a naturalized version of these communicative relations of recognition as the basis for a theory of justice which is capable of providing adequate space for social critique of existing social and political institutions. Here I critically examine Axel Honneth’s own naturalized version of recognition as a basis for justice, and I contrast his theory with both Rawls’s liberalism and communitarianism sketched in Chapter One. The main thesis defended in this chapter is that utilizing a naturalized theory of recognition makes categorically possible the disclosure of social discontent, suffering and domination beyond the purview of Rawls’s liberalism. I address some problems confronting the reactualization of such an alternative social theory of recognition as the basis for a critical theory of justice by examining the problems and prospects of one such attempt by Axel Honneth and deontological, procedural Kantian critiques (Nancy Fraser) of his version of critical theory.