Monday, October 18, 2010

Owen, David. Review of Axel Honneth, PATHOLOGIES OF REASON. NDPR (October 2010).

Honneth, Alex.  Pathologies of Reason: On the Legacy of Critical Theory.  Trans. James Ingram.  New York: Columbia UP, 2009.

In this remarkably subtle volume of essays, Axel Honneth reflects on the tradition of which he is a distinguished contemporary representative, moving between historically guided reflection on systematic issues concerning the form and viability of the project of critical theory and insightful studies of aspects of the work of thinkers who inform this project (Kant and Freud) or directly contribute to it (Adorno, Benjamin, Franz Neumann, Alexander Mitscherlich, Albrecht Wellmer). Given the dialectical character of Honneth's engagement with the tradition of Critical Theory, one should not distinguish sharply between these two activities, and although the essays gathered in this volume can be read as free-standing pieces, they are more valuably engaged as a self-conscious reflection by Honneth on the conditions of his own activity as a Critical Theorist, that is, on the demands of the tradition within which he works and the contemporary requirements of maintaining this tradition. These essays, thus, reflect the working through of the relationship of inheritance and originality within which Honneth's intellectual activity is situated.

I will approach this collection initially in terms of the significance of the forms of self-reflection exhibited here for Honneth's own philosophical project (focusing on chapters 2-3 and the appendix) before turning to two more specific aspects, namely, Honneth's concern with psychoanalysis and its relationship to democratic politics (chapters 7-9) and his sympathetic reconstructions of the contemporary import of aspects of Adorno's work (chapters 5-6 with a side glance at chapter 10). . . .

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