Social pathologies as second-order disorders

In Danielle Petherbridge (ed.), Axel Honneth: Critical Essays: With a Reply by Axel Honneth. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic. pp. 345-370 (2011)
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Aside from the systematic theory of recognition, Honneth’s work in the last decade has also centered around a less commented-upon theme: the critical social theoretic diagnosis of social pathologies. This paper claims first that his diverse diagnoses of specific social pathologies can be productively united through the conceptual structure evinced by second-order disorders, where there are substantial disconnects, of various kinds, between first-order contents and second-order reflexive understandings of those contents. The second major claim of the paper is that once we understand social pathologies as second-order disorders, it becomes apparent that critical social theory must do more than accurately identify and explicate these disorders at the phenomenological and action-theoretic levels. It must further engage in insightful sociological explanations of the social causes of those pathologies in order to further the prognostic and therapeutic tasks implied by the aim of developing a social theory with emancipatory intent. The paper argues that the identificatory and explicative components of diagnostic social theory have been fulfilled by Honneth to a much greater degree than the latter components of explanation, prognosis and therapy.

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Christopher Zurn
University of Massachusetts, Boston


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