Critical social philosophy, Honneth and the role of primary intersubjectivity



Publication Details

Varga, S. and Gallagher, S. 2012, 'Critical social philosophy, Honneth and the role of primary intersubjectivity', European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 243-260.


Gesellschaftskritik, or social philosophy that aims to provide firm criticism of pathological social practices, requires normatively grounded evaluative principles. In this article, we assess different possibilities for such principles with focus on a model that takes specific patterns of intersubjective interaction as its point of reference. We argue that in order to understand the full significance of this ‘intersubjective turn’ for social philosophy, and to strengthen the normative foundation of social philosophy, we need to distinguish several levels of intersubjectivity and, in particular, focus on the somewhat neglected level of primary intersubjectivity. The article will discuss the account of primary intersubjectivity in Honneth’s work. We show that Honneth’s account runs into difficulties, and drawing on recent findings in developmental psychology, we suggest a rethinking of elementary recognition in terms of ‘affective proximity’. This both renders the account less susceptible to criticism and provides a normative perspective that can effortlessly enter into interdisciplinary collaboration.

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