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Axel Honneth

Christopher Zurn

ISBN: 978-0-745-68680-6 April 2015 Polity 240 Pages


With his insightful and wide-ranging theory of recognition, Axel Honneth has decisively reshaped the Frankfurt School tradition of critical social theory. Combining insights from philosophy, sociology, psychology, history, political economy, and cultural critique, Honneth’s work proposes nothing less than an account of the moral infrastructure of human sociality and its relation to the perils and promise of contemporary social life.
This book provides an accessible overview of Honneth’s main contributions across a variety of fields, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of his thought. Christopher Zurn clearly explains Honneth’s multi-faceted theory of recognition and its relation to diverse topics: individual identity, morality, activist movements, progress, social pathologies, capitalism, justice, freedom, and critique. In so doing, he places Honneth’s theory in a broad intellectual context, encompassing classic social theorists such as Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Dewey, Adorno and Habermas, as well as contemporary trends in social theory and political philosophy. Treating the full range of Honneth’s corpus, including his major new work on social freedom and democratic ethical life, this book is the most up-to-date guide available.
Axel Honneth will be invaluable to students and scholars working across the humanities and social sciences, as well as anyone seeking a clear guide to the work of one of the most influential theorists writing today.

Table of Contents
1 Introduction
1.1 A Brief Biography
1.2 Honneth’s Themes
1.3 Intellectual Contexts
2 Individuals’ Struggle for Recognition
2.1 The Intersubjectivist Turn
2.2 Self-Confidence and Love
2.3 Self-Respect and Rights
2.4 Self-Esteem and Solidarity
2.5 Antecedent Recognition
2.6 Critical Perspectives
3 Social Struggles for Recognition
3.1 Conflicts of Interest vs. Moral Conflicts
3.2 Social Struggles for Recognition
3.3 Historical Progress
3.4 Critical Perspectives
4 Diagnosing Social Pathologies
4.1 Social Philosophy as Social Diagnosis
4.2 Social Pathologies as Second-Order Disorders
4.3 Critical Perspectives
4.4 Recapitulation
5 Recognition and Markets
5.1 Work and Recognition
5.2 Fraser’s Challenges, Honneth’s Responses
5.3 Assessing an Unfinished Debate
6 Social Freedom and Recognition
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Social Freedom
6.3 Social Spheres
6.4 Innovations and Critical Perspectives
7 Concluding Speculations

"While continuing in the tradition of critical social theory inaugurated by the Frankfurt School in the 1930s, Axel Honneth has been one of its most innovative developers. Zurn's study of Honneth's social theory of recognition and freedom captures clearly and incisively the dialectical interplay between philosophical inquiry and empirical research that defines his approach. It is the best guide I know of to the rich, multidisciplinary work of this significant thinker."
Thomas A. McCarthy, Northwestern University

"A masterful and remarkably clear systematic reconstruction of the core ideas and arguments of Honneth's distinctive approach to critical social theory. Situating Honneth's work in relation to its historical sources, mainstream social and political theories, and rival approaches to critical theory, Zurn provides an invaluable resource for students of critical theory. But this is not just a book for students. Zurn is one of Honneth's best and most insightful critics, and his book is interpretatively generous yet at the same time incisively critical, assiduously defending the significant achievements of Honneth's theory while pointing out the challenges it has yet to overcome."
Amy Allen, Dartmough College