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Between normativism and naturalism: Honneth on social pathology

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Särkelä Arvi, Laitinen Arto,
Project Eine Diagnose sozialer Pathologien? Variationen des Naturalismus in der Sozialphilosophie
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Constellations
Volume (Issue) 26(2)
Page(s) 286 - 300
Title of proceedings Constellations
DOI 10.1111/1467-8675.2019.26.issue-2

Open Access

Type of Open Access Repository (Green Open Access)


Honneth’s ambition is to establish social philosophy as an evaluative approach to social reality not reducible to the perspectives of moral and political philosophy (Honneth 2007). Social philosophy is oriented towards a “deeper” layer of reality (Honneth 2014b, 791), a “higher” order of wrongs (Honneth 2014a, 86) or the “society itself” (Honneth 2014b, 684). This level, which marks the jurisdiction of a distinctively social philosophy, would not be reached by the vocabularies of moral and political philosophy. Diagnosing the characteristic evils at this level would require the vocabulary of “social pathologies”. In what follows, we assume, for the sake of experiment, that social philosophy is, indeed, as Honneth argues, a critical enterprise of diagnosing and finding cures for social pathologies. We will, however, try to show that in different texts, Honneth has appealed to different conceptions of a social pathology, some of which are mutually incompatible. He has first of all understood it as a kind of “umbrella term” for social-philosophical wrongs, and, with qualifications, supported Christopher Zurn’s analysis of social pathologies as second-order disorders (sec 1). Secondly, Honneth has appealed to an organicistic conception of social pathologies as “diseases of society” (sec 2). Thirdly, he has – at least implicitly – given expression to an idea of social pathology as stagnation of social life (sec 3).