Axel Honneth on Reification and Cavell


Axel Honneth, Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea, with Judith Butler, Raymond Geuss, Jonathan Lear, and Martin Jay (ed.) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Axel Honneth (Director of the Institute for Social Research in Frankurt am Main) delivered the Tanner Lectures at U.C. Berkeley in 2005 — on the concept of “reification” — and we’ve just learned that he discusses Cavell’s work in one of those lectures (mostly on pages 47-52 of the OUP published text). Any text written by Honneth has intrinsic interest, of course, but we thought readers of this blog would be particularly interested to know of his remarks about Cavell’s work, especially those readers already thinking about the possible connections between Cavell and (Frankfurt School) Critical Theory.

You can access a limited preview of the published lectures on Google Books, and by clicking on this link, you can go right to the point in the text at which Honneth’s discussion of Cavell begins. (Alternatively, you can download a PDF of Honneth’s lectures from the electronic archives of the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah; please note, however, that the text of this PDF may not be identical to the text of the version published by Oxford. To download the PDF version, click here.)

Here is Oxford University Press’ description of the volume:

In the early 20th century, Marxist theory was enriched and rejuvenated by adopting the concept of reification, introduced by the Hungarian theorist Georg Lukács to identify and denounce the transformation of historical processes into ahistorical entities, human actions into things that seemed part of an immutable “second nature.” For a variety of reasons, both theoretical and practical, the hopes placed in de-reification as a tool of revolutionary emancipation proved vain. In these original and imaginative essays, delivered as the Tanner Lectures at the University of California, Berkeley in 2005, the distinguished third-generation Frankfurt School philosopher Axel Honneth attempts to rescue the concept of reification by recasting it in terms of the philosophy of recognition he has been developing over the past two decades. Three distinguished political and social theorists: Judith Butler, Raymond Geuss, and Jonathan Lear, respond with hard questions about the central anthropological premise of his argument, the assumption that prior to cognition there is a fundamental experience of intersubjective recognition that can provide a normative standard by which current social relations can be judged wanted. Honneth listens carefully to their criticism and provides a powerful defense of his position.

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