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Recognition, Ideology, and Critique

Recognition, Ideology, and Critique

Paper given at Workshop "Ambivalence of Recognition"


Titus Stahl

April 04, 2013


  1. Recognition, Ideology, and Critique Titus Stahl Goethe University Frankfurt

  2. The issue Relationship between theories of recognition and models of

    critique Challenge of pessimist theories of recognition to a recognition-based model of social critique
  3. The argument (1) Recognition as a basis for critique -

    the optimist tradition and the challenge of ideological recognition (2) The failure of pessimism as a model of critique (3) Hegelian replies (4) A new start: ideology as a second-order feature of subjectivating practices of recognition
  4. Optimist and pessimist theories of recognition

  5. Optimism (1) A first optimist tradition: Recognition as basis of

    a vocabulary for reconstructing the justification of social and political demands and struggles. Model of critique: Social-historical immanent critique - employing the “normative surplus” of spheres of recognition to reconstruct justification of demands for progress.
  6. Optimism (2) A second optimist tradition: Neo-Hegelianism. Recognition as necessary

    for normative, discursive practices and for the possibility of there being subjects (subject as a normative status). (Implicit) model of critique: All normative demands, in virtue of their claims to justification, depend in their force on practices of recognition.
  7. Pessimism (1) Althusser: Recognition as ideology, subjecitivity bound to interpellation

    by ideological apparatuses and to acceptance of that interpellation by subjects.
  8. Pessimism (2) Potential problem for critique: If subjects are ontologically

    dependent on a prior submission to specific norms of recognition, a model of critique which reconstructs the demands of critique as expressing normative claims put forward by subjects constitutively cannot go beyond the norms of recognition.
  9. Pessimism (3) One potential consequence: Giving up on the project

    of a normative critique altogether.
  10. Pessimism (4) Butler: Combination of social ontological with normative and

    epistemic skepticism. Normative skepticism: Normative dependence of critique on subjectivating recognition might require a normative legitimization of a violation the subject experiences in the project of being recognized as such. Epistemic skepticism: By drawing on recognized demands of subject, critique might be systematically unable to account for the conditions of existence of these subjects.
  11. Pessimism (5) Summary: ontological skepticism (recognition-based critique might, in virtue

    of its ontology, be unable to criticize norms of recognition) normative skepticism epistemic skepticism
  12. Pessimism (6) If a model of normative critique presupposes the

    validity of claims instituted in practices of recognition, the following question arises: Is such a model still sufficiently capable of subjecting these practices themselves to a radical critique? Or is the whole perspective of normative critique so dependent on the existing practices of recognition that these practices effectively succeed in immunizing themselves against criticism?
  13. The failure of pessimism as a model of critique

  14. The argument An idealized argument (see handout): (P1) That some

    individual is a subject is not a description of some self-standing properties or capacities of that individual, but rather of the social status of that individual within a specific discursive practice wherein it is treated as such. (P2) This practice is itself governed by a set of rules R˜1 specifying who may legitimately be treated as a subject.
  15. The argument (P3) Among these constitutive rules R˜1 which define

    who counts as a subject, there may be rules that specify that, in order to count as a subject, an individual must accept responsibility for her actions according to a set of rules R˜2. Example: in order to count as a discursive subject, you must accept (but not necessarily always follow) the rules of logical consistency as valid for you. (C1) Thus, in order to be treated as a subject, an individual must accept the legitimacy of these rules R˜2.
  16. The argument (P3) A normative critique of social practices is

    a judgement about this practice which expresses a justified demand of persons who are affected in some way by this practice. (P4) “To be justified” is a social status which only discursive subjects can have. (C2) Thus, engaging in a normative critique presupposes that there are discursive subjects and that their demands and their perspective are a valid reference point for this critique.
  17. The argument (C3 – Pessimist thesis) This perspective thus either

    ontologically or normatively presupposes the normative validity of either R1 or R2 or is epistemically unable to recover the conditions under which R1 or R2 have acquired their normative force. (C4) Thus, the uncritical assumption that recognition is a valid foundation for social critique legitimizes the domination which these rules exert upon individuals or the violation which the imposition of these rules constitutes for these individuals.
  18. The problem of the pessimist model All forms of critique

    of recognition seem to be either based upon some claim of a subject which it is justified to make in virtue of having a legitimate claim to some form of recognition. But the fact that some subject has a legitimate claim either is true in virtue of the social status of that subject - then we are back within the optimist model of critique. Or this claim is true independently of social practices: Then we must be committed to some form of moral realism which makes a critique of recognition unnecessary.
  19. Hegelian replies

  20. A Hegelian argument (1) The perspective of normative critique is

    bound to some institutionally conditioned self-understanding, constituted by our relations of recognition. (2) Each such self-understanding includes standards of justification which can be used to critically evaluate that self-understanding. (3) From within a discursive order, we can employ the resources of this order to determine which of its rules we can reflectively endorse according to its own standards. Consequence: We can draw a difference between normatively justifiable and normatively unjustifiable rules of recognition according to a standard of reflective acceptibility.
  21. Problem with the Hegelian argument This standard is too weak:

    It evaluates practices as justified which are reflexively acceptable to their members (“only”) in virtue of the fact that they produce forms of subjectivity that are necessarily unable to criticize the constitutive rules of their subjectivation.
  22. A new start

  23. Resources within the Hegelian tradition There is a distinction between:

    first-order attitudes towards matters of fact second-order attitudes towards attitudes of others second-order attitudes towards the rules which define the space of possible attitudes
  24. The Hegelian solution, again Reconstruction of the Hegelian argument: The

    rules R of recognition / subjectivation of a practice P are warranted iff those individuals who count as subjects within P due to their acceptance of its rules R are, according to R, justified in having an affirmative second-order attitude towards R.
  25. A new attempt A practice is only ideological if its

    constitutive rules mandate constraints on potentially critical second-order attitudes towards the very same rules / if its constitutive rules limit the scope of aspects in relation to which the justification of its constitutive rules can be challenged.
  26. Ideological recognition A practice of subjectivation is ideological (if and)

    only if individuals can only become recognized as discursive subjects within that practice by accepting limitations upon the scope of their second-order attitudes. Example: Gender as ideology (recognition as a discursive subject depends on acceptance of an understanding of gender norms as natural)
  27. Ideological recognition Two new insights: not all constraints on subject-formation

    are ideological ideological character always a matter of degree
  28. The resulting model of critique The ideological character of a

    practice of subjectivation is only an apt object for critique if we assume that constraining second-order attitudes of persons violates a claim they have. Most plausible candidate: autonomy. Critique of ideological subjectivation thus presupposes a standpoint of a practice of mutual recognition of persons as entitled to autonomy.
  29. Pessimism Contrast to pessimist accounts: Rejection of a premise necessary

    for (C3) - norms of subjectivation do not already per se immunize a practice of recognition (and a critique that argues from within it) against radical critique.
  30. Conclusion A suitably revised and extended Hegelian conception can survive

    the challenge of recognition as ideology.