RECON Online Working Paper 2009/11

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Recognition and Political Theory

Paradoxes and Conceptual Challenges of the Politics of Recognition


Tanja Hitzel-Cassagnes and Rainer Schmalz-Bruns (University of Hannover)



Both in moral philosophy more generally and in political philosophy and theory (including constitutional theory) more specifically we have been witnessing a paradigmatic challenge of the conceptual foundations of moral constructivism and political liberalism. Although building on rather different sources such as the ethics of authenticity and difference, or on socio-philosophical inspirations derived from a critical interest in the pathologies of modern forms of life, approaches based on recognition theory seem to share a basic (Hegelian) conviction that morality and justice must be seen as anchored not in practical reason as such, but in a much broader web of normative concerns and orientations shaping an ethical form of life. Seen in this light, recognition presents itself as a theoretical alternative to political justice which acquires priority over justice, and in political terms promises to establish a new kind of balance between self-fulfilment, self-realisation, and self-determination. Accordingly, political liberalism is challenged as being too constrained as to handle the many faces of injustice and the multiple forms of oppression, exploitation and alienation; as such it seems too restrictive in order to do justice to all those concerned, be it within existing constitutional orders of ‘res publica’ or as a hypothetical idea of realising Kant’s ‘societas generis humani’ within the framework of a word-constitution. While acknowledging that recognition theory tries to capture the fact that self-realisation is not only a matter of justice, but that justice is a matter of self-realisation in the sense that we are asked to look for remedies of all sorts of failed or oppressed forms of self-realisation, we confront the question whether recognition theory allows for a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate claims to recognition – i.e., if it may also provide us with a normatively convincing account of self-limiting mechanisms that are built into the social, political or psychological dynamics of self-realisation.


Constitution Building – Diversity/Homogeneity – Identity – Legitimacy – Normative Political Theory  

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