The loss of nature in Axel Honneth's social philosophy. Rereading Mead with Merleau-Ponty

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This paper analyses the model of interaction at the heart of Axel Honneth's social philosophy. It argues that interaction in his mature ethics of recognition has been reduced to intercourse between human persons and that the role of nature is now missing from it. The ethics of recognition takes into account neither the material dimensions of individual and social action, nor the normative meaning of non-human persons and natural environments. The loss of nature in the mature ethics of recognition is made visible through a comparison with Honneth's initial formulation of his project. As an anthropology of intersubjectivity combining the teaching of the German philosophical anthropologists and G.H. Mead, his first model sought to ground social theory in the natural preconditions of human action. The last part of the article argues that a return to Mead's theory of practical intersubjectivity informed by Merleau-Ponty's germane theory of intercorporeity provides essential conceptual tools to enable the integration of the natural and the material within the theory of recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-181
Number of pages29
JournalCritical Horizons
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2005


  • Habermas
  • Honneth
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Mead
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Philosophical Anthropology
  • Praxis


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