Freedom, justice, and recognition: The normative grounds of Hegel's social theory and Axel Honneth's critical theory

Gwynn Andrew Markle, Fordham University


This dissertation reconstructs and defends a differentiated conception of recognition as the normative ground for a 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 political liberalism, while at the same time not proposing a normatively problematic form of community that communitarians often 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 which express agents' expectations embedded in social practices of Western democracies regarding legitimate types of treatment, and it is the violation of these expectations 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. Chapter one addresses a number of problems and criticisms of political liberalism from communitarians and from Charles Taylor's recognition theory. Chapters Two, Three, and Four are historical in nature and examine the details of the role of recognition in Hegel's mature philosophy of objective spirit. Chapter Two examines 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 it argues that his critique of social contract theory does not apply to Rawls's hypothetical version of contractarianism. Chapter Four interprets Hegel's theory of recognition as articulating the 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 critically analyzes Axel Honneth's naturalized version of recognition theory as the basis for a theory of justice and argues that it makes categorically possible the disclosure of social discontent, suffering and domination beyond the purview of Rawls's liberalism. I address some problems posed for such a theory of justice by deontological, procedural Kantian critiques of his version of critical theory.

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Recommended Citation

Markle, Gwynn Andrew, "Freedom, justice, and recognition: The normative grounds of Hegel's social theory and Axel Honneth's critical theory" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3098133.