Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-sh8wx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-23T02:55:35.382Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

14 - Giving an account of oneself amongst others: Hegel, Judith Butler and social ontology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Liz Disley
University of Cambridge
Nicholas Boyle
University of Cambridge
Liz Disley
University of Cambridge
John Walker
Birkbeck College, University of London
Get access


The concept of recognition in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit has had, and continues to have, a profound effect on twentieth-century philosophy. Emerging as a key topic in mid-twentieth-century Continental thought, the concept is more relevant than ever to early twenty-first-century philosophy on both sides of the Atlantic. Whilst philosophers writing in the Continental tradition have been more interested in the ontological conditions of recognition and the relation of this issue to questions of, as Lévinas would put it, first philosophy, the political connotations have not been neglected, and the question of the concept of recognition as a way of understanding the political has been explored in the works of Axel Honneth, Jürgen Habermas, Edith Düsing and Michael Theunissen, as well as Alexandre Kojève's original seminal interpretation.

These accounts and criticisms of Hegel's concept have attempted, to a greater or lesser extent, to flesh out the concept so that it might be useful in today's political world. Receptions of Hegel's concept of recognition in the English-speaking world have focused more strongly on the directly political and less on the concept of recognition as a part of Hegel's system in general, that is, less, if at all, on the ontological and epistemological aspects of the concept. One focus of this kind of interest in recognition is what Nancy Fraser calls the ‘identity model’, whose proponents

transpose the Hegelian recognition schema on to the cultural and political terrain [and] contend that to belong to a group that is devalued by the dominant culture is to be misrecognized, to suffer a distortion in one's relation to one's self.

This is one locus of the continued feminist interest in Hegel's theory of recognition, particularly combined with Miranda Fricker's recent work on epistemic injustice, although Simone de Beauvoir's more ontologically inclined analysis has remained influential, and the target of much criticism. The political debate on recognition has been truly international, and has crossed traditional disciplinary and subdisciplinary borders. An excellent example of this crossing can be seen in the 2003 volume, Redistribution or Recognition?, coauthored by Fraser and Honneth. Whilst the question of whether a Hegelian concept like recognition can be divorced from its ontological and dialectical scheme remains one which divides analytical and Continental philosophers, it would not be true to say that there are two separate and unconnected discussions taking place.

The Impact of Idealism
The Legacy of Post-Kantian German Thought
, pp. 312 - 330
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2013

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Hegel, G. W. F., Werke in zwanzig Bänden, ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel, 20 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1969–71), iii, 140Google Scholar
Lévinas, E., Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne, 1969)Google Scholar
Honneth, Axel, The Struggle for Recognition: the moral grammar of social conflicts (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1996)Google Scholar
Giddens, A., ‘Labour and interaction’, in J. B. Thompson and D. Held (eds.), Habermas: critical debates (London: Macmillan, 1982), 149–61Google Scholar
Kojève, Alexandre, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel / by Alexandre Kojève: lectures on the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, ed. Allan Bloom, trans. James H. Nichols Jr (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1980)Google Scholar
Fraser, N., ‘Rethinking recognition’, New Left Review 3 (2000), 107–20, at 109Google Scholar
Fricker, M., Epistemic Injustice: power and the ethics of knowing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fraser, Nancy and Honneth, Axel, Redistribution or Recognition? A political-philosophical exchange (London: Verso, 2003)Google Scholar
Thompson, S., ‘Is redistribution a form of recognition? Comments on the Fraser–Honneth debate’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 8 (2005), 85–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beauvoir, S. de, The Ethics of Ambiguity, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Citadel Press, 1976)Google Scholar
Searle, John, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: Free Press, 1995)Google Scholar
de Beauvoir, Simone, Le deuxième sexe (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), 231 (translation L.D.)Google Scholar
de Beauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex, trans. Howard Parshley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), 277Google Scholar
Irigaray, L., ‘This sex which is not one’, in R. R. Warhol and D. Price Herndl (eds.), Feminisms: an anthology of literary theory and criticism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 363–9Google Scholar
Lundgren-Gothlin, E., Sex and Existence: Simone de Beauvoir's ‘The Second Sex’, trans. Linda Schenck (London: Athlone, 1996)Google Scholar
Butler, Judith, Subjects of Desire – Hegelian reflections in twentieth century France (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 62Google Scholar
Butler, Judith, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Butler, Judith, ‘Sex and gender in Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex’, Yale French Studies 72 (1986), 35–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Theunissen, Michael, ‘The repressed intersubjectivity in Hegel's Philosophy of Right’, in Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosenfeld and David Carlson (eds.), Hegel and Legal Theory (1991), 3–63
Nancy, Jean-Luc, The Restlessness of the Negative (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 64, cited in Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself, 26Google Scholar
Rotenstreich, Nathan, ‘On the ecstatic sources of the concept of “Alienation”’, Review of Metaphysics 16, no. 3 (1963), 550–5Google Scholar
Ikäheimo, Heikki and Laitinen, Arto (eds.), Recognition and Social Ontology (Leiden: Brill, 2011)Google Scholar
Thiem, Annika, Unbecoming Subjects: Judith Butler, moral philosophy, and critical responsibility (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hegel, G. W. F., Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 145–6, § 177Google Scholar
Westphal, M., Hegel, Freedom, and Modernity (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992)Google Scholar
Pippin, Robert B., ‘Naturalness and mindedness: Hegel's compatibilism’, European Journal of Philosophy 7 (1999), 194–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats