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  • Participatory Parity and Self-Realisation
  • Simon Thompson (bio)

In this paper, I do not try to present a tightly organised argument that moves from indubitable premises to precise conclusions. Rather, my much more modest aim is to state a hypothesis—or, more informally and more accurately—to describe a hunch. This hypothesis—or hunch—is that it is possible to combine Nancy Fraser’s and Axel Honneth’s rival theories of recognition into a single theory which is better than either of its two component parts. This aim is hinted at in the title of my paper. Its two terms refer to the metrics by which Fraser and Honneth judge the justice of social orders. Fraser’s theory is founded on her principle of parity of participation, according to which ‘justice requires social arrangements that permit all to participate as peers in social life.’1 For Honneth, by contrast, ‘[t]he justice or well-being of a society is proportionate to its ability to secure conditions of mutual recognition under which personal identity-formation, hence individual self-realization, can proceed adequately.’2 By showing that these two metrics are of completely different natures, I shall also demonstrate that they are not direct rivals. This will then enable me to argue that they can provide complementary elements of a single and unified theory of justice as recognition.3 I believe that the attempt to create such a theory is worthwhile since, if I can show that Fraser’s and Honneth’s best insights can be combined, the result will be a powerful analytical framework and set of normative principles which can be used to evaluate and judge the justice of social orders.

For anyone acquainted with the critical exchange between Fraser and Honneth, this may seem an unlikely if not hopeless cause. While both claim to make it central to their theories of justice, their conceptions of recognition do not just diverge but appear to stand starkly opposed to one another. Honneth, true to Hegel’s legacy, endorses what Fraser calls an ‘identity model’ of recognition which is grounded in a historically nuanced social psychology. He believes, as I have suggested, that humans need recognition in order to form intact identities, and that justice is achieved to the extent to which the relations of recognition necessary for such identity-formation are in place. As a consequence, he believes that a ‘sufficiently differentiated theory of recognition’ can deal with all matters of justice.4 Fraser, strongly opposed to Hegel’s legacy, offers a rival ‘status model’ of recognition which makes no reference to individual identity or social psychology. According to her model, recognition is achieved if a society’s status order does not act as an obstacle to parity of participation. As a consequence, recognition plays a strictly delimited role in her theory, standing alongside two other principles of redistribution and representation. For her, all three of these independent principles must be met if justice as participatory parity is to be achieved.

Although it may appear to be a paradoxical move, in order to demonstrate how these two very different theories can be synthesised, I shall begin by emphasising how dissimilar their conceptions of recognition are. As David Owen and James Tully show, Fraser uses recognition in a ‘restricted’ sense to mean status equality, while Honneth uses it in a ‘general’ sense to mean ‘the acknowledgement of the value of others.’ Thus Fraser insists that recognition in the ‘restricted’ sense is distinct from redistribution, while Honneth insists that recognition in the ‘general’ sense can encompass redistributive issues.5 Taking up this point, I would say that, given the different senses Fraser and Honneth give to recognition, both of their claims about the relationship between recognition and redistribution are plausible. Fraser is right to say that recognition (in her sense of status equality), redistribution and representation are the three necessary conditions of participatory parity, and Honneth is right to say that recognition (in his sense of being appropriately valued by others) is the necessary condition for self-realisation.

However, although it is possible to endorse both these propositions just as I have formulated them, it is impossible to endorse both conceptions of recognition...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-9731
Print ISSN
1089-0017
Pages
pp. 57-62
Launched on MUSE
2009-08-21
Open Access
No
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