Recognition and social freedom

European Journal of Political Theory (1) (2022)
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In this article I describe and defend an account of social freedom grounded in intersubjective recognition. I term this the ‘normative authorisation’ account. It holds that a person enjoys social freedom if she is recognised as a discursive equal able to engage in justificatory dialogue with other social agents about the appropriateness of her reasons for action. I contrast this with Axel Honneth’s theory of social freedom, which I term the ‘self-realisation’ account. According to this view, the affirmative recognition of others is necessary for obtaining a positive relation-to-self and hence freedom. I identify several problems with this account, which challenge the connection Honneth draws between social recognition and freedom. I show how the normative authorisation account avoids these problems and captures some basic features of our everyday, normative interactions. Finally, I suggest that the account fits well with recent work on epistemic injustice. Specifically, it shows that securing the social conditions of freedom requires ensuring epistemically-just social relations. Thus, the normative authorisation account is an explanatorily powerful, inclusive theory of social freedom that fits well with wider accounts of justice and freedom. Thus, it represents the most promising way of understanding social freedom in terms of interpersonal recognition.

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Paddy McQueen
Swansea University


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