Honneth’s Account Of Social Freedom Analysis

Honneth’s Account Of Social Freedom Analysis

Social theories have had their due share in the subject of philosophy. The likes of Hobbes, Sartre, Plato, Aristotle, and even Honneth, have expressed appraisals on the integral aspects of the theory. They have also, in one way or the other, examined what persists within the accomplishment of this theory.

Certainly, one should understand that the various postulations are yet applicable in modern politics. Honneth’s account of social freedom allows individuals to reach an early and complete realization of self-actualization in understanding further relations amongst social entities.

Most importantly, the German philosopher divides freedom into three concepts, highlighting the importance of each one to reach a just society. Like many others in his field of study, he is particular about the outcome — moral justice — in his treatise on social freedom, which is heavily imbibed in his book, Freedom’s Right.


Axel Honneth is a German philosopher, professor, sociologist, and educator, born in 1949 in Essen, West Germany. He studied in Bonn, Berlin, Bochum, and Munich. His impact is very much appreciated in some prominent universities, such as the University of Berlin, University of Frankfurt, University of Amsterdam and even Columbia University in New York City.

The bulk of his work converges on the morality of philosophy and social politics. The seventy-year-old has a distinct view of justice. As a libertarian, he prides in the social freedom of the masses by attaining a certain level of inclusion in social relationships. The majority of his works have been translated to English, alongside other languages.

He currently holds the post of Jack C. Weinstein Professor of the Humanities at the department of philosophy at Columbia University.


Honneth fluidly elucidates his account of social freedom in his book, Freedom’s Right, published in 2014, wherein he calls it the Hegelian theory. This theory suggests that using already shared moral principles instead of constructing ones that are novel or inexistent will hinder society from reproducing. To him, making use of already existing morals that are known by individuals is the only way to make society grow.

In this frame, therefore, he proposes that societies “normatively reconstruct” themselves, since freedom of the individual is his primary ideal.

He goes further to establish three conceptions of freedom: negative, reflexive, and social freedom. All of which are central to the development of modern freedom. Negative freedom, he explains is “the absence of outside constraints” and the liberty of a person to pursue his unique interests without obstruction. This, however, is acutely similar to the theories of Hobbes, Sartre, and Nozick.

Reflexive freedom, to Honneth, demands that by contemplating personal desires, individuals can pursue them autonomously, without facing force on interests and wishes.

Lastly, going by the Hegelian theory, he defines social freedom as “being with oneself in the other”. Explicitly, one can only attain total freedom if he can understand the relationships that exist amongst other social relations, such as family, the economy, and democratic politics. Therefore, coming to terms with empathy, on the common grounds of simply comprehending how things work, and that a connection exists between the individual and his society enforces the feat of individual freedom.

Honneth’s account of social freedom states that it is only when freedom is achieved that a society is just. So, justice transcends freedom, which is the ultimate goal in the existence of a society.

To further explain his theory, the mere attainment of personal freedom is not enough to ignite self-actualization, or as he put it, social freedom. Amongst the three concepts of freedom, negative and reflexive freedoms are perfect for deciphering one’s desires and founds the ground for discovery. However, they do not look beyond the individual, thereby if adopted wholly, they give room for “social pathologies”. But total freedom is only achievable if “intersubjective relations” within the family, economy, and democratic politics are discovered.

Recall that Honneth advises the use of “normative reconstruction” to attain justice and freedom. By normative reconstruction, he implores the understanding of underlying values that exist in society. And reconstruction of these values; the determination of which is liberative or counterintuitive goes a long way in serving society.

It is with this note that he concludes his theory. Although it looks plausible enough to deem ii true, he states that it is not complete because of his lack of historical and economical facts. Honneth’s account of social freedom is contemplative, as well as discernible to a large extent. Indeed, the German philosopher has successfully basked in the authenticity that he has inaugurated as a reputable disposition.

Works Cited:

Arenstshorst H. (2014). ‘Freedom’s Right. The Social Foundations of Democratic Life’. Review of Freedom’s Right. The Social Foundations of Democratic Life, by Axel Honneth Joseph Ganahl. Journal of Social Ontology, 1(1), pp. 167-170.

David N. McNeill (2015) Social Freedom and Self-Actualization: “Normative Reconstruction” as a Theory of Justice, Critical Horizons, 16:2, 153-169, DOI: 10.1179/1440991715Z.00000000045

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