A formal recognition of social attachments: Expanding Axel Honneth's theory of recognition

Inquiry 50 (2):180 – 205 (2007)
Axel Honneth draws a distinction between three types of recognition: (1) love, (2) respect and (3) social esteem. In his The Struggle for Recognition, the recognition of cultural particularity is situated in the third sphere. It will here be argued that the logic of recognition of cultural identity also demands a non-evaluative recognition, namely a respect for difference. Difference-respect is formal because it is a recognition of the value of a particular culture not "for society" or "as such", but for the social group involved. Yet, although it is formal, difference-respect cannot be reduced to respect for personal autonomy and its preconditions, as Honneth wrongly suggests in Redistribution or Recognition? It is argued here that difference-respect is oriented towards another dimension of the person, namely social attachments. This kind of respect entails a separate register of formal recognition with a corresponding concept of personal identity and a parallel category of social disrespect. What morally justifies difference-respect from a recognition-theoretic approach is the practical relation-to-self that thus becomes possible, namely self-respect as a sense of belonging. The formal conception of the good life that Honneth articulates should include the insight that this sense of belonging is as much a necessary condition for the good life as is personal autonomy.
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DOI 10.1080/00201740701239897
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