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  • Thompson, Participatory Parity and Self-Realization
  • Andrew Buchwalter (bio)

I am pleased to comment on Simon Thompson’s paper, as I agree with much of what he has to say. With Thompson I also see the concept of recognition as providing very fertile ground for a theory of justice. I too would assign a priority to Honneth’s more comprehensive account of justice. I also agree that there is a need to surmount some of the dichotomies that characterize the Fraser/Honneth debate, and that doing so can also enrich each position. And I share his interest in surmounting oppositions like the right and the good.

Within the context of this underlying agreement, then, let me raise a few issues that may contribute to further discussion. First, I question Thompson’s acceptance of the tripartite differentiations that characterizes Honneth’s and Fraser’s positions. Second, I raise a couple of questions regarding Thompson’s effort to synthesize the two positions. Third, I make some general comments about a topic he broaches at the end of his paper: the relationship of the right and the good.

A central component of Thompson’s effort to synthesize the two positions is to detail the degree in which their two conceptions of justice cut across one another. In particular, he shows how Honneth’s three-fold distinction between care, respect, and esteem constructively engage Fraser’s tripartite distinction of recognition, redistribution, and representation. I find this effort very rich and suggestive. Behind this effort, however, remains Thompson’s conviction that the principles and modes of ordering in Honneth’s and Fraser’s respective accounts are analytically distinct and mutually irreducible. I question whether this is the case. For instance, he notes how claims to individual autonomy typically require attention to availability of socioeconomic resources. Doesn’t this call into question Honneth’s categorical distinction between the norms of respect and care? Similarly, he suggests how individual autonomy is connected to the political structure of society, including the ability to have a voice contributive to public debate and decision-making. Yet doesn’t he thereby call into question the distinction between recognition and representation central to the Fraser account?

Thompson of course does not deny the interpenetration of categories. Indeed, his point is just to demonstrate how “analytically distinct” principles and orderings may still cut across one another institutionally. Yet the evidence he marshals to support this institutional overlapping seems to question the analytic distinctions themselves. For instance, in noting the dependence of individual autonomy and the availability of social resources, he cites Taylor’s famous essay, “What’s Wrong with Negative Liberty?” Yet isn’t the point of this essay just to question the viability of the conceptual distinction between negative and positive liberty? Similarly, isn’t the point of Habermas’ assertion of the internal connection of private and public invoked by Thompson just to question the proposition that the two are mutually irreducible?

Let me now turn to Thompson’s effort to synthesize Honneth’s and Fraser’s conceptions of recognition. Fraser of course understands recognition as directed to conditions of participatory parity and what might generally be called equality, while for Honneth’s conception of recognition is “an intersubjective relationship in which one party acknowledges the positive value of the other.” With regard to their possible synthesis, Thompson suggests that a proper account of Honneth’s conception cannot be sustained without a societal commitment to equality, enabling all members of a society to obtain the recognition needed for processes of self-realization.

I have two questions here. First, is it really the case that equality is not to be understood as a component of Honneth’s notion of recognition? At least on its face this claim seems implausible. Central to an intersubjective account of recognition is the notion of reciprocity, and it is hard to construe recognition (and its cognate mutuality) except as a species of the principle of equality. If this indeed is the case, then Honneth’s principle of recognition may already include the principle that Thompson finds lacking and so may not need the supplementation he finds in Fraser’s approach.

Of course, it is not fully clear that...


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pp. 76-78
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