Axel Honneth and the Struggle for Recognition in the Sphere of Family: Challenges and Limitations

Document Type : Scientific extension


1 PhD Student of Philosophy, University of Tehran

2 Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Tehran


The ethical and political thinking of Axel Honneth—German philosopher and leading scholar in the third generation of Frankfurt School Critical Theorists—is considered an inclusive theory that accepts the other. Honneth attempts to present a theory that is neither too abstract so that no conception of "good life" can endure, nor is too thick and substantive, and thus exclusionary. He attempts to demonstrate a theory in the middle.  However, his theory has also been subject to the criticism that it rests on an ideological and exclusionary basis. Nevertheless, most such criticisms have their root in the entanglement of the second and third spheres of recognition and thus accept Honneth’s distinction between private and public life, according to which the former contains an immanent and pre-political logic. As a result, except for a few feminist philosophers, criticisms of ideological recognition are confined to the second and third spheres, respectively the realm of human rights and societal solidarity. By contrast, this article explores the ideological predicaments of the first sphere of recognition—familial love—by rejecting the private-public distinction and advocating for broader love-based recognition. Eliminating this distinction will help Honneth's account of the first sphere of recognition to consider the asymmetrical power plays and ideological predicaments between family members.


Allen, A. (2010), “Recognizing domination: recognition and power in Honneth’s critical theory ”, Journal of Power, 3(1), 21-32.
Butler, J. (2002), Antigone's Claim: Kinship between life and death, New York, Columbia University.
Connolly, J. (2010), “Love in the private: Axel Honneth, feminism and the politics of recognition”, Contemporary Political Theory, 9(4), 414-433.
Deranty, J.-P. D. (2009), Beyond communication, A critical study of Axel Honneth's social philosophy, Leiden, Brill.
Fraser, N. (1989), Unruly practices: Power, discourse, and gender in contemporary social theory, Minnesota, U of Minnesota.
ــــــــــــــــــــ, Honneth, A. & Golb, J. (2003), Redistribution or recognition?: a political-philosophical exchange, New York, Verso.
Honneth, A. (1996), The struggle for recognition: The moral grammar of social conflicts, Cambridge, MIT.
ـــــــــــــــــــــ (2002), “Grounding recognition: A rejoinder to critical questions”, Inquiry, 45(4), 499-519.
ـــــــــــــــــــــ (2012), “Facets of the presocial self: Rejoinder to Joel Whitebook”, The I in We: studies in the theory of recognition, 217-231.
ــــــــــــــــــــ (2020), Recognition: A Chapter in the History of European Ideas, Cambridge, Cambridge University.
McNay, L. (2008), Against recognition, Cambridge, Polity.
Meehan, J. (2011), “Recognition And The Dynamics Of Intersubjectivity”, In Axel Honneth: Critical Essays, 89-123, Brill.
Mesbahian, H. (2010), “Modernity and its Other: The Logic of Inclusive Exclusion”, In the name of God, 38 (1), 165.
ــــــــــــــــــــ (2020), “Habermas and the Other of Occidental Rationality: The Dichotomous Logic of Exclusive Inclusion”, Falsafeh (The Iranian Journal of Philosophy), University of Tehran, 47(2), 145-165.
Mesbahian, H. (2021), “Recognition to Come: Towards a Deconstructive Encounter with Iranian Identity in a Globalized World”, Religions, 12(1), 52.
Misgeld, D., Norris, T. & Mesbahian, H. (2010), “A philosopher's journey from hermeneutics to emancipatory politics”, Paideusis, 19 (2), 86-97.
Petherbridge, D. (2011a), “Social Solidarity And Intersubjective Recognition: On Axel Honneth’s Struggle For Recognition”, In Axel Honneth: Critical Essays, 125-153, Brill.
Petherbridge, D. (2011b), Axel Honneth: critical essays: with a reply by Axel Honneth, Leiden, Brill.
ــــــــــــــــــــ (2013), The critical theory of Axel Honneth, Lexington books.
Renault, E. (2011), “The Theory Of Recognition And Critique Of Institutions”, In Axel Honneth: Critical Essays, pp. 207-231, Leiden, Brill.
Rössler, B. (2007), “Work, recognition, emancipation”, Recognition and Power: Axel Honneth and the tradition of critical social theory, 1, 135-161.
Thompson, S. (2006), The political theory of recognition: A critical introduction, Cambridge, Polity.
Young, I. M. (2007), “Recognition of love’s labor: considering Axel Honneth’s feminism”, Recognition and Power: Axel Honneth and the tradition of critical social theory, 189-212.
Zurn, C. (2015), Axel Honneth, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons.
ــــــــــــــــــــ (2012), “Misrecognition, marriage, and derecognition”, In Recognition Theory as Social Research,  Springer, 63-86.
Whitebook, J. (2001), “Mutual recognition and the work of the negative”, PSYCHE-ZEITSCHRIFT FUR PSYCHOANALYSE UND IHRE ANWENDUNGEN, 55 8, 755-789.