Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Allen, Amy. Review of Hans-Christoph Schmidt am Busch, et al., eds. THE PHILOSOPHY OF RECOGNITION. NDPR (September 2010).

Schmidt am Busch, Hans-Christoph, and Christopher F. Zurn, eds.  The Philosophy of Recognition: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010.

Over the last two decades, the concept of recognition has become central to debates within two distinct intellectual contexts: contemporary social and political philosophy, on the one hand, and history of philosophy, of German Idealism in particular, on the other. The goal of The Philosophy of Recognition: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives is, as the subtitle suggests, to bring together essays by scholars working both within and across these two areas of recognition theory. As Christopher Zurn explains in his insightful and substantial introduction to the volume, the editors organized the book in this way because they
are convinced that progress in the philosophy of recognition will only be made through careful attention to the insights available from the past combined with scrupulous attention to both the specific character of contemporary debates in moral, social, and political philosophy and contemporary moral, social, and political life itself.  (1)
Given this aim, it is not surprising that Axel Honneth's work is at the heart of this volume. For, more than any other contemporary recognition theorist, Honneth has developed his theory in conversation with both historians of philosophy -- in particular, Hegel scholars -- and contemporary social and political theorists -- in particular, critical social theorists. Like Honneth, Zurn aligns the project of recognition theory with that of critical theory, claiming that the former can be understood as "a systematic constellation of moral theory, social theory, and political analysis" which "reanimates the tradition of a critical diagnosis of the social pathologies of the present" (11). In light of this collection's focus on the relationship between recognition and critical theory, in general, and on Honneth's work, in particular, it should be of great interest not only to anyone interested in the concept of recognition, but also to all those interested in the current direction of critical theory.

In addition to Zurn's introduction, the volume contains fourteen essays, seven of which have more of a historical focus and seven of which have more of a contemporary focus, though several of the essays do, indeed, bridge that divide in interesting ways. The editors chose not to divide the volume up into distinct sections, perhaps as a way of avoiding the temptation to introduce potentially misleading or invidious distinctions between historical and contemporary approaches to the topic. And yet that decision has the side effect of leaving the thematic connections between the essays and the organizational structure of the volume as a whole for the reader to discern for herself. Zurn's introduction explains with admirable clarity the historical and intellectual context for contemporary recognition theory, argues convincingly for the importance of the concept of recognition given the state of current debates in moral, social, and political philosophy and provides incisive synopses of each of the individual essays. . . .

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