Pinkard on New Honneth Book

Over at NDPR, Pinkard reviews Honneth’s Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life.

From my perspective, Pinkard’s best point comes toward the end of the review when he writes:

That struggle over recognition is also a struggle over what counts as reasons in the struggle, and lands us squarely with questions of social norms and how such norms can be redeemed as genuine reasons instead of, for example, being merely well disguised assertions of power. That in turn, so Hegel argued, pushes us to ask whether there is a deeper logic to what is involved in giving and asking for reasons such that some type of putative reasons historically turn out to not really have been good reasons, however much in sync with the times they were.

This is my complaint about the Pittsburgh Hegelians and readings of Hegel which focus on normativity – they seem woefully unable to distinguish between social norms substantiated by genuine reasons and assertions of power (though I’ve read too much Foucault to think there is any firm distinction between the two). At heart, this inability fails to recognise how well ideology ‘works’. Ideology is not only a set of normative assumptions; it is the limits of the debate around social norms. Put another way, Hegelians who focus on social normativity and the giving and asking of reasons, often fail to appreciate the extent to which social norms determine what counts as reasonable. In defining ‘reasonableness’, these assumptions determine the limits of debate.

This critique was the basic question of my PhD thesis – given that Hegel is able to describe the relationship between religion, the state, civil society and the family in ways that continue to illuminate contemporary society, are there ways of forcing critical (or negative) disruptions within these relationships?

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