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Timo Jütten

Recognition can be understood as a positive acknowledgment or affirmation of a person’s existence, identity, rights, or achievement. It is sometimes said to be a necessary condition for self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem. Although the concept has origins in Hobbes, Rousseau, Fichte, and Hegel, it has come to renewed prominence since the early 1990s, when philosophers such as Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth developed theories of recognition. These showed that the need for social recognition underlies many social and political movements from struggles for civil and labor rights to modern multiculturalism. In social and political philosophy, Honneth has argued that three forms of social recognition—affective care, equal respect, and social esteem—are preconditions of individual autonomy and that the principles governing these three forms of recognition should be the core of a conception of social justice. According to the theory of recognition, modern capitalist society can be evaluated as a recognition order that institutionalizes the distribution of respect and social esteem according to people’s individual achievements in their contributions to socially shared goals. Methodologically, Honneth uses an approach of normative reconstruction. Rather than constructing principles of justice on the basis of hypothetical agreement, he reconstructs the normative principles that are immanent in our social practices and institutions and sometimes contain a “normative surplus” that points beyond the status quo. This approach has been very productive in elucidating the importance of social recognition in the sphere of work, but critics have suggested that it limits the scope of radical social criticism. Honneth has proposed the concept of ideological recognition, where there is a chasm between the evaluative promise entailed by a form of recognition and its material fulfilment, in order to address this problem. More generally, critics have questioned whether recognition must be understood as positive rather than ambivalent, because this limits the scope of misrecognition and means that phenomena such as interpellation or objectification cannot easily be analyzed as forms of misrecognition.