How to criticize? On Honneth’s method

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This article investigates the meaning and role of social critique in the social sciences. This form of theorizing has always been a significant part of the social sciences. Due to the scientific ideal of value neutrality, however, the manner in which social criticism is conducted is seldom discussed. I claim that the value-neutrality ideal rests on a conception of normative subjectivism that can be challenged by turning to some notion of practical reason. However, there is no need to turn to any strong notion of reason; instead, I use the term ‘normative reasoning’. The main question posed in the article then becomes: What is it that we do when we reason in a normative manner in the social sciences? The first part of the article addresses Axel Honneth’s ‘Grand Social Theory of Modernity’ in Freedom’s Right. His procedure in the book is treated as a significant case of normative reasoning. I investigate his method of ‘reconstruction’ by comparing it primarily to the methods of ‘construction’ and ‘genealogy’. The second part of the article is a critical discussion of Honneth’s method of normative reasoning. My main criticism is that, despite his intentions, his procedure is overly constructivist in the sense that it prevents a disclosure of ongoing transformations of ethical life. In the conclusion, I argue for a pluralistic methodology; different ways of normative reasoning should be used to solve different kinds of normative problems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - Axel Honneth, critical theory, immanent critique, normative reasoning, method, reconstruction, social criticism, theorizing

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