Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Rationality, Autonomy, and the Social Bond

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Rationality, Autonomy, and the Social Bond

Article excerpt

MODELS OF HEGELIAN RECOGNITION AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL THEORY

Following major interpretations by American philosophers such as Terry Pinkard and Robert Pippin, but also through the systematic work of Robert Brandom, a fresh appropriation of Hegel has been made possible for contemporary philosophy, notably for social and political philosophy.1 Beyond differences between these authors, some of which are significant,2 a fundamental premise is shared by all of them: namely, the original link established by Hegel between rationality, autonomy, and social life. Like Kant, Hegel sets up a structural link between autonomy and rationality. To be autonomous, on that model, is to be capable of taking a perspective upon oneself and one's own actions which allows one to escape the different kinds of causality bearing upon the human individual, that is, to be able to give the reasons for one's actions. This is one way of understanding the definition of freedom as "self-determination." Hege,l however, adds a second structural link, that between rationality and sociality. For Hegel, as the American commentators show very well, rationality is no longer defined substantially, but socially, as emerging from the discursive exchanges between social partners about what ought to have normative value, what ought to count as a norm, exercising some kind of authority over social life and individual behavior. Reason, on that definition, is redefined as that which emerges from the intersubjective exchange of reasons. As Pippin sums up, this is a radically constructivist view of rationality.

This type of reading of Hegel has substantial implications for contemporary social and political philosophy. It leads to a vision of modern society as a form of social life in which the only norms that remain legitimate are those for which good reasons have been or can be given, in the social exchange of reasons. Autonomy then is the capacity of individuals to position themselves in their actions and judgments, at this universal level.

Such readings of Hegel can be aptly called "post-Kantian" inasmuch as they emphasize the intimate link uniting autonomy and rationality, but also inasmuch as they follow Hegel in his attempt to overcome Kant, by insisting on "the sociality of reason." As "post-Kantian" readings, however, they have a specific take on recognition. That take on recognition can be characterized as rationalistic for the following reasons. As just said, on this reading, being autonomous is being rational in the sense that one can give the reasons behind one's actions. Recognition then is a necessary feature of the model since the social nature of reason requires that one address other agents as rational in the game of asking for - and providing - reasons. Reciprocally, my own rationality, as foundation of my autonomy, consists in nothing other than my recognition by others as a rational being - again, as a being capable of providing the reasons behind his or her actions. As soon as rationality is defined as an exchange of reasons, recognition and rationality are quasi interchangeable. But clearly recognition here means strictly recognition of the other or of oneself as rational.

This essay defends a different approach to Hegelian recognition. It argues that the rationalistic interpretations of Hegelian recognition overlook crucial aspects of the concept and thereby miss important aspects of what makes it significant for contemporary social and political philosophy. One can gauge the theoretical wealth that the Hegelian theme of recognition harbors by contrasting the recent American interpretations with older readings developed in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, by authors such as Ludwig Siep, Michael, Theunissen, Jürgen Habermas, Andreas Wildt, and Ernst Tugendhat. These readings of Hegel have been a great source of inspiration and in a sense culminate in Axel Honneth's "ethics of recognition." In these readings of Hegel, the relationship between autonomy and rationality is of course important, but the concept of recognition also has a crucial developmental, or genetic, dimension. …

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