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The Reference to Social Pathologies and its Implications for Critique, from Adorno to Honneth

Political Theory
Social Justice
Critical Theory
Ethics
Katia Genel
Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne
Katia Genel
Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne

Abstract

Practicing a “critical” theory of society, unlike other approaches, such as political philosophy, implies making a diagnosis of “what is wrong”, and referring to social evils, diseases or pathologies. Thus, with recognition, Honneth intends to refer to an “other of justice”: not phenomena constituting infringements of principles of justice, but the way in which forms of life are damaged or alienated. The point here is to question the medical reference to social pathologies and its implications for criticism. We will study the discrepancies in the reference to social pathologies within Critical Theory itself, between Adorno’s philosophy, which does not refer to pathology but deals with it, and Honneth's philosophy. The thesis of the paper is that the gap between Adorno’s theorization of social evils and Honneth’s understanding of social pathologies lies in the conception of social evolution. While Adorno proceeds in a negativistic way and refuses any reference to the normal and any idea of progress, Honneth conceives of the social “misdevelopment” in relation to a good social evolution. The present contribution attempts in particular to specify what type of critique is implemented in each case, on what conception of the sick society this critique is based, and on what apprehension (naturalistic, norrmativist or social) of ethics it is founded.