During these final hours of the second millennium, intellectuals clung to the fervent, if desperate, belief that — through the thickening cloud of decadence, repression, and conformity — we might once again discover a more original and authentic .
Needless to say, this generation of politico-cultural passes, rushes, and punts has failed to return a first down.
Western civilization plunged headfirst into an ethical darkness.
To meet this colossal challenge, the finest minds of the post-war West worked furtively to reclaim fertile land beyond the sterility and superficiality of consumerism: Lacan excavated the Real, Debord constructed Situations, and Ginsberg dropped LSD.
Unfortunately for Honneth, upon delivering his newly minted theory in the form of the Tanner Lectures at Berkeley, he was immediately met with resistance by Judith Butler, Raymond Geuss, Jonathan Lear, and others.
Honneth’s theory, they argued, draws numerous false equivalencies, fails to remain morally impartial, and so alters the original intent of reification that it can no longer function within the purview of Marxism.
In order to rectify these issues and formulate a theory of reification which (1) respects the value of objectivity, (2) contains a normative (if not moral) element, and (3) is not so reliant on economic explanations, Honneth turns his attention to recent advances in developmental psychology and existential philosophy.
Honneth goes on to equate the “primacy of recognition” with Heidegger’s concept of Reification, Honneth concludes, is the praxis which ensues from a “forgetfulness of recognition” — when, “in the course of our acts of cognition, we lose our attentiveness to the fact that this cognition owes its existence to an antecedent act of recognition”(59).
More specifically, I will consider Honneth’s own idea of reification in light of the work of Louis Althusser, which threatens to expose even Honneth’s modified formulation as, at best, disappointingly outdated or, at worst, a troubling regression toward a not-so-distant past in German thought.
But first, a closer look at the history of reification.