The Ends of Economic History: Alternative Teleologies and the Ambiguities of Normative Reconstruction

In Hans-Christoph Schmidt am Busch (ed.), Die Philosophie des Marktes – The Philosophy of the Market. Hamburg: pp. 289-323 (2016)
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Abstract

This paper critically evaluates institution reconstructing critique—the central methodological strategy employed by Axel Honneth in his latest book Freedom’s Right designed to articulate and justify the normative standards employed by a critical theory of the present. It begins by considering, at a general level, the promises and limits of three ideal-typical normative methodologies of social critique: first principles critique, intuition refining critique, and institution reconstructing critique. It then turns to the details of Honneth’s history and diagnosis of market spheres of society as one key example of institution reconstruction critique. This leads to a consideration of some challenges facing this kind of critique, paying particular attention to problems posed by alternative reconstructions of the same data. It argues, in particular, that there is a troubling indeterminacy in this reconstruction, since alternative teleologies yield substantively different normative analyses of capitalism, and hence substantively different social critiques. In conclusion, the paper suggests some methodological remedies which might need to be adopted in order to make good on the promise of institution reconstructing critique while avoiding some of its most challenging problems.

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Christopher Zurn
University of Massachusetts, Boston

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