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The Concept of Normative Reconstruction: Honneth, Hegel, and the Aims of Critical Social Theory

Reconstructing Social Theory, History and Practice

ISBN: 978-1-78635-470-9, eISBN: 978-1-78635-469-3

Publication date: 22 November 2016



An assessment of Axel Honneth’s reception and appropriation of Hegel’s theory of normative reconstruction as presented in his Freedom’s Right (Columbia University Press, 2014).


A comparative assessment of Honneth’s and Hegel’s approach to normative reconstruction focusing on three basic issues: general methodology, understandings of the logic and program of the Philosophy of Right, and analyses and assessments of modern market societies as detailed in Hegel’s account of civil society (bürgerliche Gesellschaft).


For Honneth, normative reconstruction consists in reworking modes of social rationality already realized in modern institutions. By contrast, Hegel is shown to advance an approach to reconstruction in which an account of social rationality is properly fashioned only in the reconstruction process itself. In this way Hegel is also shown to proffer an approach to normative reconstruction that is at once more robustly reconstructive and more robustly normative than is the case with Honneth.


The paper demonstrates the ongoing value of Hegel’s thought for social and political theory. It illuminates Hegel’s uniquely dialectical approach to immanent social critique, dedicated not only to explicating existing tensions and “bifurcations” (Entzweiungen) but – with the help of a distinctive account of Bildung (cultivation or formation) – to engaging those tensions and bifurcations in order to delineate the conditions for their constructive supersession. It also elucidates different ways in which critical social theorists, committed to notions of “immanent transcendence,” draw on the resources of market societies to mount normative challenges to the aporias of those societies.



Buchwalter, A. (2016), "The Concept of Normative Reconstruction: Honneth, Hegel, and the Aims of Critical Social Theory", Reconstructing Social Theory, History and Practice (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Vol. 35), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 57-88.



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