. 5
( 13)


Paul Benson

60. See Frankfurt, “Three Concepts of Free Action,” pp. 53“4; also “Identi¬ca-
tion and Wholeheartedness,” pp. 170“1. Watson also adopts a related view
of taking responsibility in “Two Faces of Responsibility,” p. 234.
61. Cf. the similar condition that Fischer and Ravizza include in their account
of taking responsibility in Responsibility and Control, pp. 213“4, 235“6.
62. I do not take rational consideration to be narrowly intellectual. It can encom-
pass imagination, attention, and many varieties of emotional responsiveness.
63. For extended discussion of these conditions, see Answering for Ourselves, sec-
tions 5.2“5.4, 6.1. Space also does not permit an examination here of ways in
which these constraints might handle two related dif¬culties. One dif¬culty
concerns those who do not claim agential authority for themselves when it
seems they should. The converse dif¬culty concerns those who take up such
authority too readily, claiming the position of answerers when it seems they
should not.
64. I accept, then, that sound assessments of agents™ autonomy will, in particular
cases, often turn more directly on these familiar features of autonomy than
on the character of agents™ self-regard. This does not detract from my con-
tention that in some important and badly neglected cases, autonomy hinges
directly on agents™ stance toward their own status as potential answerers for
their actions. Nor does it detract from the general thesis that agents™ atti-
tudes toward their authority as answerers lie at the center of an illuminating
theory of autonomous agency.
65. Helpful discussions of the roles that social factors have in the development
of autonomy include Richard Dagger, Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and
Republican Liberalism; Lawrence Haworth, Autonomy; Diana T. Meyers, Self,
Society, and Personal Choice; Marilyn Friedman, “Autonomy and Social Rela-
tionships,” in Feminists Rethink the Self, ed. Diana Tietjens Meyers (Boulder,
CO: Westview Press, 1997); John Christman, “Feminism and Autonomy,”
in Nagging Questions: Feminist Ethics in Everyday Life, ed. Dana Bushnell
(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Little¬eld, 1995); and Marina A. L. Oshana, “Per-
sonal Autonomy and Society.”
66. Iris Marion Young advances an in¬‚uential version of such charges in Justice
and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990),
especially chapter 4.
67. I develop this point in Answering for Ourselves, chapter 5.
68. I am greatly indebted to comments offered on previous versions of this chap-
ter by fellow members of the Ohio Reading Group in Ethics (ORGiE) and
by an audience at Bowling Green State University. For their questions and
suggestions, I would like to thank David Copp, Justin D™Arms, Janice Dowell,
Dan Farrell, Don Hubin, Marina Oshana, Sigrun Svavarsdottir, David Sobel,
and David Velleman.

Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice

Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

One of liberalism™s core commitments is to safeguarding individuals™
autonomy. And a central aspect of liberal social justice is the commit-
ment to protecting the vulnerable. Taken together, and combined with
an understanding of autonomy as an acquired set of capacities to lead
one™s own life, these commitments suggest that liberal societies should be
especially concerned to address vulnerabilities of individuals regarding
the development and maintenance of their autonomy. In this chapter, we
develop an account of what it would mean for a society to take seriously
the obligation to reduce individuals™ autonomy-related vulnerabilities to
an acceptable minimum. In particular, we argue that standard liberal ac-
counts underestimate the scope of this obligation because they fail to
appreciate various threats to autonomy.
The reason these vulnerabilities have been underestimated, we believe,
is because autonomy has generally been understood in an essentially indi-
vidualistic fashion. The alternative account of autonomy we sketch here
highlights the ways in which individuals™ autonomy can be diminished or
impaired through damage to the social relations that support autonomy.
By articulating a conception of autonomy in terms of, more speci¬cally,
a theory of mutual recognition, we aim to pinpoint the individualistic
bias in liberal accounts and the concomitant underestimation of our de-
pendence on relationships of respect, care, and esteem. We conclude
by anticipating some broader implications of this for how proceduralist
accounts of social justice ought to be revised.

Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

I From Classic Individualism to Welfare-Rights Protections
Before challenging the individualism of traditional forms of liberalism
(and their underlying accounts of autonomy), it is important to under-
stand this commitment from a historical standpoint. Beginning in the
early modern period, a conception of freedom and autonomy gained
prevalence in Europe, both in philosophy and everyday life, that has de-
cisively shaped our current understanding of social justice. As individuals
increasingly pursued their own independent paths through life, there
was an increasing tendency to draw the normative implication that per-
sonal freedom and autonomy were a matter of allowing individuals to
develop their personally selected pursuits undisturbed. The guiding in-
tuition emerged that the less others constrain one™s actions, the greater
one™s ability to act in accordance with one™s own preferences. From the
outset, of course, liberal theorists recognized that this freedom was lim-
ited. Kant, for one, insisted that liberty and autonomy were to be re-
strained by the moral requirement that one™s chosen pursuits be com-
patible with everyone else™s autonomy.1 But these caveats do nothing to
alter the core idea that the autonomy of individuals increases with the
reduction of restrictions.
This individualistic conception of autonomy not only has historical
pedigree; it also has come to seem just obvious to many. Again, this devel-
opment is understandable. It re¬‚ects the important historical process by
which, within the social context of modernity, individuals have increas-
ingly shed traditional social ties and role-ascriptions to engage in their
own “pursuit of happiness.” But this modern conception of autonomy
actually sneaks in an additional component “ namely, the idea that in-
dividuals realize their autonomy by gaining independence from their
consociates. This is not to say that this conception equates autonomy with
isolation. But within culture at large, the images that accompany the
emergence of this conception of autonomy suggest that any constraints
reduce an individual™s autonomy. As part of this development, however,
an individualistic conception of personal autonomy has crept into mod-
ern theories of social justice. The point of creating a just society comes
to be seen as allowing people to be as little dependent on others as possi-
ble. The conceptual consequences of this individualist strain have been
massive. They include not only the idea, for example, that autonomy
increases with wealth but also the idea that unchosen membership in a
community represents a threat to personal autonomy.
This characterization of liberalism as individualistic is familiar from
communitarian political philosophy and some feminist theories of
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 129

autonomy, and in many cases it has been acknowledged by liberal the-
orists themselves. Even conceptions of justice that focus on reducing
interference do not actually assume that everyone really is a rugged in-
dividualist. But individualistic accounts certainly are best suited to those
who have no need for the bene¬ts of social cooperation or other forms
of support. The drive to maximize negative liberty thus seems to rely on
a misleading idealization of individuals as self-suf¬cient and self-reliant.
This focus on eliminating interference thus misconstrues the demands of
social justice by failing to adequately conceptualize the neediness, vulner-
ability, and interdependence of individuals. If, by contrast, we recognize
that individuals “ including autonomous individuals “ are much more vul-
nerable and needy than the liberal model has traditionally represented
them as being, a very different picture of the demands of social justice
The ¬rst step in this direction comes from theorists who highlight
the extent to which personal autonomy requires the resources and cir-
cumstances necessary for actually being able to lead the life one deter-
mines to be worthwhile.2 This typically shifts the notion of liberal rights
to a more positive account, one that includes especially socio-economic
rights. This “materialization” of the way in which liberal rights schemes
support autonomy (and justice) takes us a long way from hard-edged
rugged individualism. It adds signi¬cant content to the concept of au-
tonomy by underscoring some of the social conditions for the possibility
of autonomy, including the need for education, adequate food and shel-
ter, real opportunities for participating in one™s (minority) culture, and so
on. Consider, for example, the autonomy of people with mobility-limiting
disabilities. Unless physical accommodations are made for such persons “
wheelchair ramps, accessible vehicles, and so on “ their ability to exercise
their basic capabilities will be restricted in a way that constitutes a loss
of autonomy. In general, the argument here is that the commitment to
fostering autonomy “ especially of the vulnerable “ leads to a commit-
ment, as a matter of social justice, to guaranteeing what one might call
the material and institutional circumstances of autonomy. We view this as an
important step in the right direction, but it is not our focus here.
Instead, we propose to take up and further develop another expan-
sion of the claims of social justice in line with a conception of autonomy
that goes by various names “ relational, social, intersubjective, situated,
or recognitional “ but can be summarized in the claim that “Autonomy is
a capacity that exists only in the context of social relations that support it
and only in conjunction with the internal sense of being autonomous.”3
Although such theories are developed in response to a variety of concerns,
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

for our purposes here they serve to highlight vulnerabilities that are over-
looked by even the conceptions of social justice and autonomy that ac-
commodate the material and institutional circumstances of autonomy.
In the next four sections, we outline our preferred version of such an
account, a “recognitional” theory of autonomy.4 In Sections VI and VII,
we turn to the implications that this has for political theory and social

II A Recognitional Account of Autonomy
The key initial insight of social or relational accounts of autonomy is that
full autonomy “ the real and effective capacity to develop and pursue
one™s own conception of a worthwhile life “ is achievable only under
socially supportive conditions. It is an impressive accomplishment that,
on the path from helpless infancy to mature autonomy, we come to be
able to trust our own feelings and intuitions, to stand up for what we be-
lieve in, and to consider our projects and accomplishments worthwhile.
We cannot travel this path alone, and we are vulnerable at each step of
the way to autonomy-undermining injustices “ not only to interference
or material deprivation, but also to the disruptions in the social nexus
that is necessary for autonomy. In developing a more “social” approach,
most theorists tend to focus on one of two points. Some theorists criticize
approaches to liberalism or autonomy as “individualistic” for failing to
adequately accommodate the centrality of relationships in the lives of
autonomous agents, speci¬cally for failing to recognize that meaningful
lives can (and generally do) include forms of attachment that are authen-
tic even though they cannot be easily be shed, such as parents™ bonds to
their children.5 Alternatively, defenders of “social” approaches criticize
individualistic accounts of autonomy for failing to appreciate the impor-
tance of dialogue within an adequate account of the critical re¬‚ection
central to autonomy.6
These are important points to make. But they are not enough to sup-
port the core contention from which the shift to a more social account
gets its normative point “ namely, that one™s autonomy is vulnerable to
disruptions in one™s relationship to others. If this idea is to be accommodated,
there are thus reasons to look for a different approach.7 One particularly
promising approach, in our view, situates agents™ social vulnerability in
the ways in which being able to lead one™s own life is dependent on one™s
being supported by relations of recognition.8 In a nutshell, the central
idea is that the agentic competencies that comprise autonomy require
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 131

that one be able to sustain certain attitudes toward oneself (in particular,
self-trust, self-respect, and self-esteem) and that these affectively laden
self-conceptions “ or, to use the Hegelian language, “practical relations-
to-self” “ are dependent, in turn, on the sustaining attitudes of others. In
a tradition going back to Hegel and George Herbert Mead,9 these three
modes of “relating practically to oneself ” can be viewed as being acquired
and maintained only through being recognized by those whom one also
recognizes. Self-trust, self-respect, and self-esteem are thus neither purely
beliefs about oneself nor emotional states, but are emergent properties of
a dynamic process in which individuals come to experience themselves
as having a certain status, be it as an object of concern, a responsible
agent, a valued contributor to shared projects, or what have you. One™s
relationship to oneself, then, is not a matter of a solitary ego re¬‚ecting
on itself, but is the result of an ongoing intersubjective process, in which
one™s attitude toward oneself emerges in one™s encounter with an other™s
attitude toward oneself.
The importance of mutual recognition is often clearest in the breach.
Consider, for example, practices and institutions that express attitudes of
denigration and humiliation. They threaten individuals™ own self-esteem
by making it much harder (and, in limit cases, even impossible) to think of
oneself as worthwhile. The resulting feelings of shame and worthlessness
threaten one™s sense that there is a point to one™s undertakings. And
without that sense of one™s aspirations being worth pursuing, one™s agency
is hampered. This claim is neither exclusively conceptual nor exclusively
empirical. It is, of course, psychologically possible to sustain a sense of self-
worth in the face of denigrating and humiliating attitudes, but it is harder
to do so, and there are signi¬cant costs associated with having to shield
oneself from these negative attitudes and having to ¬nd subcultures for
support. And so even if one™s effort to maintain self-esteem in the face of
denigrating treatment is successful, the question of justice is whether the
burden is fair.10
If this initial characterization of the autonomy-impairing effects of
denigration is plausible, it becomes clear how important an individual™s
social environment is, since the conditions for autonomously leading
one™s own life turn out to be dependent on the establishment of relation-
ships of mutual recognition. Prominent among these relationships are
(1) legally institutionalized relations of universal respect for the auton-
omy and dignity of persons (central to self-respect); (2) close relations
of love and friendship (central to self-trust); and (3) networks of solidar-
ity and shared values within which the particular worth of members of a
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

community can be acknowledged (central to self-esteem).11 To illustrate
and render plausible the outlines of what we are calling the “recognitional
approach,” it will be useful to examine each of these three relations-to-
self, their signi¬cance for autonomy, and the social contexts that support
them. In addition, however, in order to show that accommodating this
shift requires a move away from standard liberal approaches, we need
to show that the rights-based individualism of such approaches is inade-
quate for accommodating the autonomy-related vulnerabilities that the
recognitional approach brings to light.

III Self-Respect
We begin with self-respect and with the familiar liberal idea that auton-
omy and self-respect go hand in hand. Rawls, for example, considers self-
respect to be a basic condition for the pursuit of a good life. Sen argues
for the inclusion of the capability to “stand up in public without shame”
as a part of the basic capability set to which individuals have a funda-
mental claim. And Joel Feinberg suggests that “. . . what is called ˜human
dignity™ may simply be the recognizable capacity to assert claims.”12 If
one takes respect (including self-respect) to have, as its object, an agent™s
authority to raise and defend claims as a person with equal standing, then
self-respect can be seen as the affectively laden self-conception that un-
derwrites a view of oneself as the legitimate source of reasons for acting.
If one cannot think of oneself as a competent deliberator and legitimate
co-author of decisions, it is hard to see how one can take oneself seriously
in one™s own practical reasoning about what to do. Those with diminished
self-respect “ with less of a sense of their personal authority “ thus are
less in a position to see themselves as fully the authors of their own lives.
Without self-respect, then, autonomy is impaired.
If we can identify factors that diminish self-respect, we will then have
identi¬ed ways in which individuals™ autonomy is vulnerable and in need
of protection. Without getting into an exhaustive list of what diminishes
self-respect, we can say that any such list would have to include subordina-
tion, marginalization, and exclusion. For these are ways in which individ-
uals are denied the social standing of legitimate co-legislators. They are
told, in effect, that they are not competent to shape decisions, and unless
they have exceptionally strong inner resources for resisting this message,
it will be hard for them to think of themselves as free and equal persons.
In this sense, individuals™ autonomy is vulnerable to being diminished by
subordination, marginalization, and exclusion.13
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 133

It is this particular vulnerability that has made it a central task of social
justice to guarantee individual rights.14 In guaranteeing rights, a just legal
framework protects individuals from these forms of disrespect. Indeed,
within contemporary liberal culture, being a bearer of rights has almost
come to be synonymous with having the self-respect of a full person.
This close linkage is an excellent example of the central claim of the
recognitional approach we are advocating: it is in virtue of patterns of
recognition “ in this case, legally institutionalized patterns “ that the
relevant practical relation-to-self is secured.
Clearly, liberalism™s commitment to protecting individuals from
threats to their autonomy entails a commitment to securing individual
rights. But the recognitional approach gives a slightly different twist to
this conclusion than do standard liberal approaches. For on the recog-
nitional approach, guaranteeing rights does not ensure autonomy only
directly (in the negative sense of blocking interference) but also supports
autonomy via the support for self-respect.15 As we shall argue later, this
shift necessitates a rethinking of standard liberal approaches, even those
as sophisticated as Rawls™s.16
Before taking up that issue, we will ¬rst outline the other two practical
relations-to-self that, according to the theory of recognition we are de-
fending here, are vital for sustaining autonomy: self-trust and self-esteem.
Both cases exhibit the same argumentative structure discussed in con-
nection with self-respect: a practical relation-to-self is crucially important
for a component of full autonomy; the development and maintenance
of that practical relation-to-self is dependent, in turn, on patterns of
recognition; and thus the autonomy of individuals is vulnerable to threats
to those patterns. A society™s commitment to protecting individuals™ au-
tonomy thus entails a commitment to protecting the related recognitional
infrastructure: the more-or-less institutionalized relations of recogni-
tion that support not only self-respect, but also self-trust and self-esteem.

IV Self-Trust
In speaking of “self-trust” (or “basic self-con¬dence”), we have in mind
the characteristic of an agent who has an open and trusting relationship
to his or her own feelings, desires, impulses, emotions, and so on. Thus,
whereas self-respect has to do with one™s capacities for processing vari-
ous considerations in deliberating about what to do, self-trust has to do
with the affectively mediated perceptual capacities by which what is sub-
jectively felt becomes material for deliberation in the ¬rst place. Again,
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

think of what happens in the breach. There is strong clinical evidence
that various forms of trauma “ for example, that resulting from rape
or torture “ cause individuals to view their own feelings with suspicion,
and to distrust their own desires.17 The relevance of this for autonomy is
clear: those who have lost this basic trust have lost the basis for leading
their life in accordance with their most basic convictions, since they can
no longer trust their desires to be authentically their own.18
However far most of us may be from the debilitating effects of such
traumatic mistreatment, we all fall along a continuum regarding the par-
ticular capacity involved and the degree to which it is fostered by our social
context. Self-trust is a vital component of anyone™s autonomy because of
the complexity of our access to our feelings, yearnings, fears, regrets, and
so on. In part, the importance of self-trust stems from the dif¬culty of the
interpretive work that must be done to understand oneself “ and from
the elusiveness of ¬rst-person authority reports.19 But even these dif¬-
culties are radicalized by a further insight, associated with the “critique
of the subject” “ namely, the discovery of the unconscious. One of the
enduring accomplishments of psychoanalytic theory lies in exposing the
illusion both of complete transparency about our motives and of perfect
harmony among our desires, even in the case of perfectly autonomous
agents. This unavoidably inchoate, shadowy, and con¬‚icted inner life
suggests the need for a more polyvocal conception of how autonomous in-
dividuals relate to their desires, impulses, fantasies, and other dimensions
of subjectivity.20
Of course, autonomy clearly requires that one be constituted in such a
way that openness to both of these creative impulses does not mean that
they simply take over the self. But the point of emphasizing polyvocality is
to underscore that it is also crucial to avoid psychological rigidity. And to
appreciate how much self-trust contributes to autonomy, it is important
to see that it is not entailed by standard requirements of being rational
or responsive to reasons, which is the way in which psychological rigidity
is often handled in the philosophical literature.21 In addition to being
¬‚exible enough to respond appropriately to life-changes, autonomous
agents are also open to those sources of identity and choice that underlie
practical reasons, in the primitive and inchoate urges, impulses, longings,
and despairings that can come to be transformed into reasons. Thus, in
this sense, the model of the autonomous agent that emerges from tak-
ing seriously the polyvocal character of the self is of a person who is not
only freed from compulsive behavior patterns but is also open to new,
as-yet undisclosed desires. This idea is re¬‚ected in the shift within the
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 135

psychoanalytic conception of maturity, from a capacity for controlling
one™s inner urges (that is, “ego strength”) to the potential for inner dia-
logue, for openness to both a multiplicity of internal voices and a variety
of communicative relations to them.22
As with self-respect, however, self-trust is not a solo accomplishment.
Its acquisition and maintenance are dependent on interpersonal rela-
tionships in which one acquires and sustains the capacity to relate to
this dynamic inner life. And in the case of self-trust in particular, there
is strong evidence from object-relations theory and intersubjectivist ap-
proaches to social psychology that self-trust emerges particularly within
intimate relationships.23 Especially given the ambivalent and con¬‚icted
nature of much of our inner life, the genuine openness characteristic of
fully free and autonomous re¬‚ection and deliberation can be risky. The
courage to engage with one™s deepest feelings both openly and critically
is facilitated by the sure love of others and the self-trust it supports. And
insofar as being comfortable and con¬dent doing this is essential to self-
understanding, critical re¬‚ection, and thus autonomy, it becomes clear
that there is an internal connection between the openness and freedom
of one™s inner life and the openness and freedom of one™s social context.
The crucial implication of this discussion is that individuals™ autonomy
is also vulnerable, in principle, to anything that diminishes self-trust, ei-
ther directly or indirectly. With regard to direct effects, we can note that
because “intimate violations” such as rape and torture are so harmful
to agents™ self-trust and hence their autonomy, a society committed to
protecting individuals has an additional reason to be committed to pre-
venting such violations. With regard to indirect effects, the key result, for
our purposes, is that a society™s commitment to protecting the conditions
for autonomy can also be seen to entail a commitment to protecting the
kinds of relationships within which self-trust is developed and fostered.
Thus, for example, work/family policies (such as parental leave) can be
seen as part of a commitment to protecting and promoting one important
component of the capacities constitutive of autonomy.24

V Self-Esteem: Semantic Vulnerability
Someone who was protected from the exclusions that undermine self-
respect and the threats that undermine self-trust could, however, still
have his or her autonomy jeopardized in another way (already men-
tioned in Section II): the conditions for developing a sense of self-worth
and self-esteem can be impaired as a result of patterns of humiliation
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

and denigration and can do so in a way that renders a person less able
to be self-determining with regard to his or her projects. This potential
threat to autonomy raises, in turn, further questions about social justice
and the guaranteeing of autonomy.
To make clear the importance of self-esteem for autonomy, we can
begin with an extension of the point from the previous section. For the
self-interpretive activity central to autonomous re¬‚ection presupposes
not only a certain degree of quasi-affective openness but also certain
semantic resources. Again, this stems from one of the genuine insights of
the twentieth-century critiques of modern “ “Cartesian” “ conceptions
of the subject: individuals cannot decide for themselves what their
(speech) acts mean. Rather, determining the worth and meaning of
one™s activities is fundamentally framed by the semantic and symbolic
¬eld in which that re¬‚ection occurs “ what gets termed variously
the “space of reasons” (McDowell), “horizon of signi¬cance” (Taylor),
“regime of truth/knowledge” (Foucault), or socio-cultural means of
need-interpretation (Fraser).25 Thus, for example, the very possibility
of being “openly lesbian” or “a stay-at-home dad” is framed by a whole
constellation of evaluatively loaded ways of talking.
It is the unavoidably evaluative character of this symbolic-semantic ¬eld
that has the crucial implications regarding autonomy. For if the seman-
tic resources available for thinking about one™s way of life are negatively
loaded “ if, for example, “stay-at-home dad” is taken to be a euphemism
for “unemployed” “ then it becomes hard to view it as worthwhile. Not
impossible, perhaps. But without an especially high level of personal re-
silience, subcultural support, and persistent effort “ that is, without other
(often limited) sources of self-esteem “ marginalized ways of life cease to
be genuine options for individuals.
In itself, this restriction of options might not be seen as a threat to
autonomy. But it has always been one of the strengths of the liberal tra-
dition to highlight the degree to which such restrictions pose a threat to
the individuality of persons. Think, for example, of J.S. Mill™s On Liberty.
But once we grant that those individual lifestyles provide the basis for a
sense of being worthwhile as a consequence of their getting a certain con-
¬rming “uptake” within the social world, then the richness of the identity
available to any individual can thus be restricted by limitations on the
richness of the available semantic ¬eld. To the extent to which one™s way
of life not only fails to get uptake but is an active target of denigration
and humiliation, the task of pursuing one™s way of life as meaningful is
even more fraught with dif¬culty.
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 137

In connection with autonomy, we can add a point about the effects that
such denigration has on a person™s sense of agency and personal effec-
tiveness. This is a more formal consideration: to the extent to which one
lacks a sense that what one does is meaningful and signi¬cant, it becomes
hard to pursue it wholeheartedly. There is at least a tension between pur-
suing that way of life and thinking of oneself as doing something that
makes sense. And, as David Velleman argues, being able to make sense of
what it is we are doing is intimately tied up with actually doing it.26 Thus,
a socio-cultural environment that is hostile to considering what one does
meaningful is demoralizing. Because of the way they can undermine self-
esteem, systematic patterns of denigration thus pose a threat not merely
to the happiness or identify but to the agency of those affected.
In short, for the exercise of autonomy, individuals are not only de-
pendent on a semantic-symbolic environment that “meets them halfway”
for enabling a rich self-interpretation; they are also vulnerable to hos-
tile and denigrating semantic-symbolic environments that more directly
assault or limit their autonomous agency. Accordingly, a conception of
social justice that is seriously committed to protecting the autonomy of
individuals must include a protection against threats of denigration.27
Pulling the strands of the last three sections together, we have the out-
lines of a recognitional model according to which autonomy represents
an emergent property of individuals as the bearers of certain socially
situated capabilities. This theoretical shift makes it much more straight-
forward to articulate and theorize the link between mutuality and indi-
vidual enablement. Full autonomy “ the real and effective capacity to
develop and pursue one™s own conception of a worthwhile life “ is facili-
tated by relations-to-self (self-respect, self-trust, and self-esteem) that are
themselves bound up with webs of social recognition. But self-trust, self-
respect, and self-esteem remain more or less fragile achievements, and
their vulnerability to various forms of injury, violation, and denigration
makes it a central matter of justice that the social contexts within which
they emerge be protected.

VI Recognition and the Language of Rights
In returning to questions of social justice and political liberalism, we now
take up the question of the extent to which this recognitional approach to
autonomy raises challenges for liberalism. In particular, we shall consider
two attempts to accommodate the vulnerabilities we have been discussing,
attempts that we see as not entirely successful. First, we discuss, in a cursory
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

fashion, the limitations of trying to articulate in the language of rights the
imperatives generated by these vulnerabilities. Then, in the next section,
we discuss, at somewhat greater length, the question of whether Rawls™s
theory of justice can accommodate these considerations adequately.
Initially, a rights-based approach might seem perfectly well suited to
articulating the idea that a commitment to social justice requires that
society protect individuals with regard to their autonomy-related vulner-
abilities. As we noted earlier, rights-based approaches have tended to
focus on the conditions for self-respect “ such as rights to full participa-
tion “ to the exclusion of self-trust and self-esteem. But it might be argued
that we have not yet shown that the claims to conditions supportive of
the acquisition and maintenance of self-esteem and self-trust could not
be accommodated within the language of rights, at least as rights-claims
vis-` -vis the circumstances of justice. This is what has been attempted, for
example, in the politics of identity, where groups have sought to claim
a right to be recognized, as individuals, for their cultural needs. But the
idea of addressing these needs for recognition in the vernacular of rights
has turned out to be a quagmire. The central problem is that it misses
its target, for what one needs is to be loved or esteemed “ and precisely
not because one has a legal claim to it. Moreover, attempts to conceptual-
ize human needs and vulnerability in the domains that support self-trust
and self-esteem in terms of rights that can be individually possessed are
strained beyond plausibility: it is particularly clear here that these are
fundamentally relational circumstances. Knowing oneself to be the ob-
ject of very personal concern or having the sense that one™s undertakings
are considered worthwhile “ these are not matters that one person has
in independence from a relationship. They are emergent properties of re-
lationships of a certain sort.
Once this point is acknowledged, it becomes attractive to reconsider,
more radically, the individualistic understanding of rights as well. For
rights too have this general intersubjective structure. These rights “ and
the power and freedom they accord to individuals “ are actually the result
of members of a community recognizing each other as free and equal.
To view them as free-standing is to confuse an emergent property for
something independently existing. According to this non-individualistic
conception of the way in which rights support personal autonomy, ¬rst
developed by Hegel, gains in freedom and power come from having
others see one™s needs and aspirations as legitimate. These gains are wel-
come at the individual level, of course, and that is where they are subjec-
tively experienced: I can do things I couldn™t do before. But they remain,
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 139

essentially, the product of social relationships with a decisive character-
istic: individuals mutually recognize, acknowledge, and accept each other
as consociates. It is in this sense that traditional rights language is prob-
lematically individualistic, in that it conceptualizes rights-guaranteeing
relations as a matter of speci¬c powers that can be distributed among
individuals as if they were individual possessions.
Rights do, of course, have a central place in any plausible conception of
how a just society protects and enables individual autonomy. The question
is whether they can do it alone. Without denying their importance, we
think it is clear that the medium of rights is inadequate to address the
full vulnerability of humans. Legal relations are a clumsy medium for
securing many aspects of an individuals™ ability to develop and pursue
their own conception of a worthwhile life. An adequate approach must
start out from the broader range of social institutions and interpersonal
contexts within which one ¬nds the recognitional relations crucial for

VII Rethinking Proceduralist Justice in Light
of the Recognitional Model
Up to now, we have not yet considered how various protections from
autonomy-related vulnerabilities ought to ¬t together or how to set pri-
orities among these various vulnerabilities. Answering these questions
involves developing a substantive normative theory. Here, however, our
concern is with the prior question as to the procedure for justifying any
such answers. This is the task of specifying the standpoint from which to
determine the content of social justice.
Within political theory today, there is widespread agreement on the
proceduralist assumption that normative justi¬cation is to be located in
the deliberative contexts in which the potential members of the rele-
vant society reach an understanding, under real or ¬ctitious conditions
of impartiality, about the principles that are to regulate their future co-
operation. This underlying demand for impartiality is intended to both
guarantee the general acceptability of the results and provide a princi-
ple of inclusivity vis-` -vis all members of society. The principles on which
the participants in this deliberative social contract would agree serve to
regulate the relations between persons, represented as interested in the
most autonomous possible realization of their individual life-plans.
Rawls™s theory of justice as fairness represents the most in¬‚uential ver-
sion of this proceduralism. The question we now wish to pose is whether a
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

recognitional understanding of autonomy-relevant vulnerabilities neces-
sitates a rethinking of Rawls™s version of this proceduralism. We shall
argue that to some extent it does. This leaves open the question of
whether the best way to accommodate the recognitional insights into
these vulnerabilities is through modifying proceduralism or adopting a
non-proceduralist approach.28
Starting out from the idea that a ¬ctional deliberative context is the
best way to operationalize insights into universally acceptable principles
of justice, the ¬rst task is to determine the normative presuppositions for
an impartial standpoint, one that includes all participants. The idea is to
ensure that none of the parties to the deliberations endorses a particu-
lar proposal only because he or she could bene¬t from it. This goal of
generating an impartial standpoint through purely procedural means is
what led Rawls to introduce the idea of a “veil of ignorance,” as a way
to ensure that those seeking to ¬nd agreement on principles govern-
ing their fair cooperation are not permitted to have any knowledge of
their talents or social position.29 That subtle move provides a way of en-
suring that the parties in this thought experiment must be thought of as
neutral legislators, since they cannot have any self-regarding interests. For
the rest, Rawls (like almost all contract theorists before him) attributes
to the parties merely instrumental capacities for practical reasoning, in
order to avoid having to take up complex and controversial claims about
the moral character of humans.
In the present context, we are not interested in discussing this part
of Rawls™s theory, although from the standpoint of Hegel and other in-
tersubjectivistic thinkers, this is a highly problematic move, insofar as it
makes it very dif¬cult to explain why the parties should subsequently be
motivated to abide by the agreed-upon principles.30 Rather, we are inter-
ested in the extent to which the Rawlsian characterization of the veil of
ignorance ends up allowing the fact of human intersubjectivity to disap-
pear more than necessary from view. Don™t the parties need to have some
awareness “ even within the procedural constraints that are to generate
impartiality “ of their intersubjective vulnerability if they are to qualify as
human, as the sort of creatures for whom the institutions of justice are so
What makes this more than an arti¬cial question is the way in which
it reveals the impossibility of determining the justi¬catory procedures in
complete independence from assumptions about the de¬ning character-
istics of human personhood. Rawls insists that the parties in the original
position should not have knowledge of what people in the society are
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 141

like, except the most basic features of their instrumental rationality.32
Given what we have said thus far, this suggests that Rawls allows the veil
of ignorance to fall a bit too low. For if liberal justice is centrally about
protecting individuals in areas in which they are vulnerable “ especially
as it pertains to threats to their autonomy “ then it would seem to be
of vital importance that the parties in the original position have a clear
understanding of the recognitional needs that must be met if individuals™
autonomy is to be adequately protected and enabled. Unless the parties
share this understanding, it is hard to see how the principles they develop
could do justice to these vulnerabilities and needs.
There are several responses open to Rawls. He could insist that in the
original position, parties should indeed be ignorant of empirical con-
siderations regarding human vulnerabilities, but that these issues can be
addressed at the “legislative” level. This is the move that he makes, for
example, with issues of health care policy, where he argues that although
considerations regarding the prevalence of various illnesses are excluded
from deliberations within the original position, they can be taken up later,
in the legislative stage.33 Similarly, it might be that the speci¬cation of the
primary goods, within the original position, ought not to admit consid-
erations about the nature of our vulnerability to injury to our self-trust,
self-respect, and self-esteem, but that those considerations could be taken
up in the legislative stage, without their needing to be built into the fun-
damental principles of justice. The problem with this is not only that, if
the recognitional approach is on the right track, the capacities at issue
are more extensive than the faculty or “moral power” that Rawls discusses
for having “a capacity for a conception of the good.”34 More straightfor-
wardly, the autonomy-related capacities that are vulnerable to injustice
are so widely and deeply implicated in central aspects of deliberation that
it would be foolhardy to trust this to a subsequent legislative stage.
But perhaps the more fundamental issue at stake here has to do with
the degree to which we should appeal to quasi-empirical aspects of hu-
man personhood in developing a conception of justice for liberal soci-
eties. Indeed, Rawls insists that the notion of a “person” that is essential
to his conception of justice as fairness is “normative and political, not
metaphysical or psychological.”35 Thus, the fact that we are vulnerable
could be accommodated within justice as fairness by saying that the basic
structure needs to protect persons from threats to their “moral power”
to form a conception of a worthwhile life-plan, and thus needs to secure
the primary goods necessary for that. And this is quite extensive, for what
is at issue is a matter of the requisite powers of moral personality and the
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

other capacities that enable persons to be normal and fully cooperating
members of society over a complete life.36 It is not implausible, for ex-
ample, that it could include the same conditions for the development of
autonomy that we have speci¬ed here “ self-trust, self-respect, and self-
esteem. The details would still need to be worked out, of course, but Rawls
does have impressive resources for accommodating the sorts of points we
have been making. Indeed, Rawls™s discussion of self-respect already sug-
gests that the parties in the original position must be aware of some of
their needs for recognition. For it makes sense for parties to include the
basic intersubjective good of self-respect in their deliberations over the
basic structure of a just society only if they already understand that
the conception and pursuit of their life-plans depend fundamentally on
the esteem of others. Perhaps, then, the recognitional account of auton-
omy we have been developing identi¬es an area where important work
needs to be done, but more as an elaboration of the basic Rawlsian ap-
proach than as a signi¬cant departure from it.
If this were all we accomplished here, it would already be a substantive
contribution. We see, however, three grounds for thinking that Rawls™s
model still needs to be revised to accommodate the recognitionalist ac-
count of autonomy: (1) it needs to be more open to considerations based
on what we know about human persons; (2) it needs to address more
broadly the ways in which a society™s recognitional infrastructure can
leave the autonomy of individuals unacceptably vulnerable; and (3) it
needs to acknowledge that the broad relevance of recognitional condi-
tions necessitates a shift away from exclusively distributive issues. In the
remainder of this chapter, we sketch out these three points and argue
that they do, indeed, suggest the need for signi¬cant revisions to basic
commitments of (Rawlsian) liberalism.
Consider, ¬rst, the issue of how relevant psychological considerations
ought to be in deliberations about principles of justice. There are, of
course, good reasons for not basing a conception of justice on a concep-
tion of human nature. The deeper theorists get into claims about what
it is to be “truly human,” the greater is the danger that the agenda for
establishing justice will be set by (sub)culturally biased claims about what
constitutes a proper form of life. But in his effort to accommodate the
fact of reasonable pluralism, Rawls™ makes a sharp split between political
and “metaphysical” claims regarding the nature of human persons that is
neither necessary nor, ultimately, defensible. It is not necessary because
claims about human qualities need not be parochial: some basic needs
are more or less universal, and as recent “capabilities approaches” have
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 143

argued, an appeal to basic human needs and characteristics are not obvi-
ously incompatible with a commitment to inclusive, universalistic forms
of liberalism.37 We see no reason why a theory of justice ought to count as
disrespecting pluralism simply as a result of incorporating empirical con-
siderations about human vulnerabilities, such as the effect that certain
forms of neglect have on the potential for forming rewarding personal
relationships. The burden of proof is rather on those who would say that
there are necessary illiberal effects resulting from allowing a given set of
considerations to carry weight in deliberations within the original posi-
tion. Moreover, the purportedly sharp split between “metaphysical” and
“political” claims about personhood tends to break down upon closer ex-
amination. After all, everything we know about the conditions required
for acquiring the two moral powers comes from experience with human
persons. This knowledge is clearly relevant to issues of justice, but it is
entirely unclear how this could be anything other than “psychological”
knowledge about the nature of humans.
But even if we were to follow Rawls in limiting ourselves to a “nor-
mative/political” conception of the person (and to refrain from making
claims about the nature of human persons), there is a second reason
to think that the recognitional approach we have outlined here would
require more a transformation than an extension of his approach: it
improperly limits the scope of what goes into the notion of the “moral
power” to conceive and pursue a way of life, or even what goes into the
conditions for acquiring the positive disposition toward oneself that Rawls
refers to as “self-respect (or self-esteem).”38 In part, this is a matter of not
giving much attention to the recognitional conditions for acquiring and
maintaining self-trust (and thus of the associated openness to the cre-
ative impulses stemming from inner dynamics). Indeed, when Rawls says
that the parties in the original position can be thought of as “heads of
families,”39 he is concerned with the idea of responsibility for the wel-
fare of other family members and of descendents rather than with the
importance of maintaining the intimate relations crucial for self-trust.
Similarly, when Rawls discusses self-esteem, the social relations that he fo-
cuses on are limited to clubs and voluntary associations.40 But this gives
a far too restricted role to much more broad-reaching factors such as
symbolic-semantic resources and the way those cultural patterns frame
the range of available options. But most fundamentally, the point is that
parties in the original position need much better understanding of these
conditions for acquiring self-respect and self-esteem than Rawls equips
them with. And including this knowledge “ even when it is not centrally
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

about human psychology “ will unavoidably introduce into the discussion
of the principles of justice issues about what qualities to promote, both
as essential aspects of the autonomy-sustaining relations-to-self we have
been discussing and as indirect conditions for the acquisitions of those
Finally, and perhaps most speculatively, the intersubjectivism of the
recognitional approach seems to require a reconceptualization of the
nature of justice. As we have seen, the standard liberal combination of
legally protected liberties and material resources does not exhaust the
requisite conditions for fostering and protecting individuals™ autonomy,
given the additional dimensions of autonomy and the associated vul-
nerabilities. Once it is acknowledged, further, that even these prelimi-
nary conditions for autonomy are not a resource that can be distributed
at will, then it becomes clear that we “ like the parties in the original
position “ must undertake a rethinking of what the object of a theory
of justice is. From the perspective of asking what the conditions are that
equally guarantee the personal autonomy of all members of society, and
equally protect them in their intersubjective vulnerability, the main focus
of application for principles of justice becomes the structure and quality
of social relations of recognition. As a result, this liberal conception of
justice loses its character as a theory of distribution. It becomes instead “ to
put it somewhat provocatively “ a normative theory of the recognitional ba-
sic structure of a society. What comes, then, to take the place of principles
of just distribution are principles governing how the basic institutions of
society secure the social conditions for mutual recognition. And that is
a profoundly different “ and largely unexplored “ way of thinking about
social justice.

VIII Conclusion
We have proposed here a recognitional model of autonomy that empha-
sizes the intersubjective conditions for being able to lead one™s life as
one™s own, and sketched some implications that this may have for re-
thinking basic features of the liberal political order. Central to that model
of autonomy is the idea that the acquisition, maintenance, and exercise
of the array of competencies comprising autonomy depends on the es-
tablishment of particular ways of “relating to oneself practically,” espe-
cially self-respect, self-trust, and self-esteem. Because these are, in turn,
bound up with various social relations of recognition, autonomy turns out
to presuppose, as a condition of its possibility, a supportive recognitional
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 145

infrastructure. Because agents are largely dependent on this recognitional
infrastructure for their autonomy, they are subject to autonomy-related
vulnerabilities: harms to and neglect of these relations of recognition
jeopardize individuals™ autonomy.
This expanded conception of the ways in which individuals™ auton-
omy can be undermined suggests an expanded scope for the core liberal
obligation to guarantee individual autonomy. There are, to be sure, re-
sources within liberalism for accommodating this expanded scope. If our
argument here is sound, however, those resources are not entirely ade-
quate. Liberalism faces a new challenge of doing justice to the profoundly
intersubjective nature of autonomy.

We would like to thank Bert van den Brink, Pauline Kleingeld, and Chris Zurn
for comments on a previous draft of this chapter.
Immanuel Kant, “Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals,” in Mary J. Gregor
(trans. and ed.), Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1996), pp. 43“108.
A diverse sampling of such views might include Robert Young, Autonomy:
Beyond Negative and Positive Liberty (New York: St. Martin™s Press, 1986); Marina
Oshana, “Personal Autonomy and Society,” The Journal of Social Philosophy 29
(1998): 81“102; Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1999);
Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986); John Rawls,
A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971); Thomas
W. Pogge, Realizing Rawls (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); and
Jurgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms, trans. William Rehg (Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 1996).
Jennifer Nedelsky, “Reconceiving Autonomy: Sources, Thoughts, and Possi-
bilities,” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 1:1 (Spring 1989): 25. See also, for
example, Catriona Mackenzie and Natalie Stoljar, “Autonomy Re¬gured,” in
Mackenzie and Stoljar (eds.), Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Au-
tonomy, Agency, and the Social Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000),
3“31; Marilyn Friedman, “Introduction: Autonomy in Social Context,” in
Creighton Peden and James P. Sterba (eds.), Freedom, Equality, and Social
Change (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1989), pp. 158“69; John Christman,
“Autonomy and Feminism”; Meyers, Self, Society, and Personal Choice; and Joel
Anderson, “Autonomy and the Authority of Personal Commitments: From In-
ternal Coherence to Social Normativity,” Philosophical Explorations 6 (2003):
We are using “recognitional” to denote attitudes, experiences, vulnerabilities,
and so on that are related to claims to recognition. In some cases, it also
serves to designate an approach based on recognition (as an equivalent for
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

5. Regarding the importance of such “unsheddable” attachments, see John
Christman, “Relational Autonomy, Liberal Individualism, and the Social Con-
stitution of Selves,” Philosophical Studies 117 (2004): 143“64; Harry Frankfurt,
Necessity, Volition, and Love (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999);
Sarah Buss, “Autonomy Reconsidered,” Midwest Studies 9 (1994): 95“121;
Eva Feder Kittay, Love™s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency (New
York: Routledge, 1999). See also, however, Marilyn Friedman™s discussion of
overlooked sensitivity to the relational within liberal accounts of autonomy
in “Autonomy and Social Relationships: Rethinking the Feminist Critique,”
in Autonomy, Gender, and Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003),
6. See Diana T. Meyers, Self, Society and Personal Choice (New York: Columbia Uni-
versity Press, 1989); Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community and
Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1992); Charles
Taylor, “The Dialogical Self,” in David R. Hiley, James F. Bohmann, and
Richard Shusterman (eds.), The Interpretive Turn: Philosophy, Science, Culture
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 304“14; Joel Anderson, “A So-
cial Conception of Personal Autonomy: Volitional Identity, Strong Evaluation,
and Intersubjective Accountability” (Ph.D dissertation, Northwestern Uni-
versity, 1996); and Jurgen Habermas, “Individuation through Socialization:
On George Herbert Mead™s Theory of Subjectivity,” in Postmetaphysical
Thinking, trans. William Hohengarten (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992,
7. Clearly, not everyone is interested in developing a social account, and many
theorists may well ¬nd this to be a mistaken move. To show, against them,
that the recognitional approach is the correct one would require a differ-
ent argument than what we provide here. Our explicit aims, however, are
more limited: ¬rst, to show that the recognitional approach has an ini-
tial appeal and plausibility; and second, to show that if one adopts this
approach, then there are certain interesting implications that follow from
8. For further development of these ideas “ as well as references to the empirical
evidence in favor of them “ see Axel Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition: The
Moral Grammar of Social Con¬‚icts, trans. Joel Anderson (Cambridge, MA: Polity
Press, 1995); “Invisibility: The Moral Epistemology of ˜Recognition™,” The Aris-
totelian Society, supp. vol. LXXV (2001): 111“26; “Grounding Recognition: A
Rejoinder to Critical Questions,” trans. Joel Anderson, Inquiry 45 (2002):
499“519; Suffering from Indeterminacy: An Attempt at a Reactualization of Hegel™s
Philosophy of Right (Assen: Van Gorcum, 2000); and (with Nancy Fraser) Re-
distribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange, trans. J. Golb, J.
Ingram, and C. Wilke (New York: Verso, 2003).
9. On the historical sources, see especially G. W. F. Hegel, “Jena Lectures on
the Philosophy of Spirit,” in Leo Rauch (ed. and trans.), Hegel and the Human
Spirit: A Translation of the Jena Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit (1805“06) with
Commentary (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983); George Herbert
Mead, Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955);
and their discussion in Honneth, The Struggle for Recognition, chapters 1“4.
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 147

10. Note that our claim is merely that part of what makes practices of denigration,
disrespect, and intimate violation unjust is that they impair autonomy or
put that autonomy at signi¬cant risk. Obviously, these practices can also be
criticized directly as subordinating or painful.
11. Two points need to be noted about this tripartite distinction of “spheres” of
recognition relations, as it has been a source of controversy in discussions
of the recognitional approach. (See, for example, Nancy Fraser™s contri-
butions to Redistribution or Recognition?) First, these three domains are not
transhistorical “givens” but are rather established and expanded through
social struggles that are fueled by feelings of outrage and indignation over
recognition being denied or withheld. For our purposes here, we do not
even need to presuppose that these are the only three relations of recog-
nition, since all we are arguing here is that there are at least these three
dimensions along which we are vulnerable. Second, since allowing for the
historical contingency of these spheres (and the corresponding claims about
self-trust, self-respect, and self-esteem being necessary for autonomy) opens
up potential problems of normativity, it is important to note that the account
we are presenting here needs to be supplemented by an account of how the
historical emergence of normative claims for recognition can nonetheless
have critical authority. Because of limited space, the reader will have to look
elsewhere for that account “ for example, in Honneth, The Struggle for Recog-
nition, chapter 9; “Grounding Recognition,” and “The Point of Recognition,”
in Fraser and Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition?, pp. 256“65.
12. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, §67; Amartya Sen, “Social Exclusion: Concept,
Application, and Scrutiny,” Social Development Papers No. 1 (Asian Develop-
ment Bank); and Joel Feinberg, “The Nature and Value of Rights,” in Rights,
Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980),
p. 143.
13. See also Avishai Margalit™s development of the idea that “a decent society is
one whose institutions do not humiliate people” in The Decent Society, trans.
Naomi Goldblum (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).
14. See, for example, Rainer Forst™s discussion of “legal autonomy” in “Political
Liberty” (Chapter 10 in the present volume).
15. Andreas Wildt, “Recht und Selbstachtung, im Anschluss an der Anerken-
nungslehren von Fichte und Hegel,” in Michael Kahlo, Enst A. Wolf, and
Rainer Zaczyk (eds.), Fichtes Lehre von Rechtsverh¨ ltnis (Frankfurt am Main:
Klosterman, 1992), 127ff.
16. In speaking of “standard” liberal approaches, we intend to set to one side
“perfectionist” approaches, many of which share our view that guaranteeing
rights is a matter of guaranteeing access to valuable social practices, many
of which presuppose, in turn, that one be able to act autonomously. See, for
example, Raz, The Morality of Freedom; George Sher, Beyond Neutrality: Perfection-
ism and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); and Steven
Wall, Liberalism, Perfectionism and Restraint (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1998). For an excellent discussion, see Bert van den Brink, The Tragedy
of Liberalism: An Alternative Defense of a Political Tradition (Albany: SUNY Press,
2000), chapter 4.
Joel Anderson and Axel Honneth

17. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1985); Trudy Govier, “Self-Trust, Autonomy, and
Self-Esteem,” Hypatia 8 (1993): 99“120; Dorothy Brothers, Falling Backwards:
An Exploration of Trust and Self-Experience (New York: Norton, 1995); and Susan
J. Brison, Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2003).
18. Of course, the ability to question whether one™s desires are “one™s own” is
an important component of autonomy more generally. But normally, when
desires are questioned, they are questioned against a background of a web
of convincing desires and values. The dif¬culty faced by those who have little
self-trust is that so many of their most basic desires are being doubted that
the process of re¬‚ection can get no foothold.
19. See, for example, Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Iden-
tity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), part 1; Richard Moran,
Authority and Estrangement : An Essay on Self-Knowledge (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2001); Joel Anderson, “Competent Need-Interpretation
and Discourse Ethics,” in James Bohman and William Rehg (eds.), Plural-
ism and the Pragmatic Turn: The Transformation of Critical Theory (Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press, 2001), 193“224; and John Christman, “Autonomy, Self-
Knowledge, and Liberal Legitimacy” (Chapter 14 the present volume,
Section II).
20. See Diana T. Meyer™s discussion of “polyvocal” subjectivity in Subjectivity and
Subjection: Psychoanalytic Feminism and Moral Philosophy (New York: Routledge,
1994), chapter 4“5; see also her discussion of skills of self-discovery in
“Decentralizing Autonomy: Five Faces of Selfhood” (Chapter 2 in the present
volume). The connection between this conception of autonomy and the “cri-
tique of the subject” is further elaborated in Axel Honneth, “Decentered
Autonomy: The Subject After the Fall,” in Charles Wright (ed.), The Frag-
mented World of the Social: Essays in Social and Political Philosophy (Albany, NY:
SUNY Press, 1995), 261“72.
21. See, for example, Alfred Mele, Autonomous Agents: From Self-Control to Autonomy
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 131“43.
22. For a further development of this idea, see Honneth, “Postmodern Identity
and Object-Relations Theory: On the Supposed Obsolescence of Psychoanal-
ysis,” Philosophical Explorations 3 (1999): 225“42.
23. See especially Donald Winnicott, The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating
Environment (London: Hogarth Press, 1965); see also, Honneth, The Struggle
for Recognition, pp. 95“107.
24. Along related lines, Christopher Beckett has recently argued that liberalism™s
commitment to promoting autonomy underwrites policies that encourage
marriage-like relationships in “Autonomy, Liberalism, and Conjugal Love,”
Res Publica 9 [2003]: 285“301. Also crucially important for the protection
of the contexts that nourish self-trust is a domain of privacy, which is not to
be understood exclusively in terms of rights; see Beate R¨ ssler, Der Wert des
Privaten (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2001).
25. See, respectively, John McDowell, Mind and World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1994); Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; Michel Foucault,
Autonomy, Vulnerability, Recognition, and Justice 149

The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, trans. A. M. Sheridan
Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970); and Nancy Fraser, “Struggle over
Needs: Outline of a Socialist-Feminist Critical Theory of Late Capitalist Polit-
ical Culture,” in Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary
Social Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), pp. 161“87.
See, for example, J. David Velleman, Practical Re¬‚ection (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1989).
See Margalit, The Decent Society; and Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship:
A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
For more historical development of the following argument, focused
on Hegel, see Honneth, “Gerechtigkeit und kommunikative Freiheit.
Uberlegungen im Anschluss an Hegel,” in B. Merker, G. Mohr, and
M. Quante (eds.) Subjektivit¨ t und Anerkennung: Festschrift Ludwig Siep
(Paderborn: Mentis Verlag, 2003).
See especially John Rawls, Theory of Justice and Justice as Fairness: A Restatement
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
See, for example, Bert van den Brink™s Chapter 11 in the present volume.
Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the
Virtues (Chicago: Open Court, 1999).
Rawls, A Theory of Justice §24.
Rawls, Justice as Fairness, pp. 171“3.
Rawls, Justice as Fairness, p. 19.
Rawls, Justice as Fairness, p. 19.
Rawls, Justice as Fairness, pp. 18; A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1971).
See, for example, Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: A
Capabilities Approach (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p. 440.
Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p. 128.
Rawls, A Theory of Justice, §67.
A related point is made in the discussion of whether liberalism can justi¬ably
insist that societies can do entirely without any (perfectionist) commitment
to promoting various qualities and dispositions in their citizenry, such as
“civic virtues.” See, for example, Raz, Morality as Freedom, and Richard Dagger,
Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1997) and his chapter (8) in the present volume.

Autonomy and Male Dominance

Marilyn Friedman

In recommending to would-be princes how best to consolidate their
power, Machiavelli posed the rhetorical question as to whether it was bet-
ter to rule by being loved or by being feared by a populace. Machiavelli
answered that it was best to rule by promoting both attitudes, but that
if a ruler had to choose, he should choose to rule through fear, “for
love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being sel¬sh, is broken
whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of pun-
ishment which never fails.”1 Machiavelli was an astute observer of human
motivation, missing only that love can sometimes be grounded on fear.
Fear of other persons can have a major impact on how we live our
lives. When we have to cope on a chronic basis with people who threaten
to harm us, we are less able to do what we want or value, or what re-
ally matters to us. Such fears can deeply affect our capacity to live and
choose autonomously. In the face of threats from those we fear, we may
have to devote ourselves to self-defense and, perhaps, even to simple
self-preservation.2 Not only do a person™s particular choices and actions
change as a result of her fear of others; her entire character may become
distorted by the need for heightened vigilance and frequent self-defense.
There are many situations and relationships in the world that put cer-
tain people in chronic fear of certain other people. One state makes
war on another state, one ethnic group oppresses another ethnic group,
one religious group crusades against another religious group, one racial
group enslaves another racial group. These sorts of con¬‚icts sometimes
involve ruthless atrocities “ death and suffering on a massive scale. Per-
sonal autonomy for the oppressed is likely to be a lost cause, and its loss
may be the least of their concerns under those conditions.
Autonomy and Male Dominance 151

Domination is effective, at least in part, because dominant individuals
use coercion or the threat of coercion to maintain their control. This
chapter focuses in particular on male dominance. Male dominance is
global. Evolutionary psychologist Felicia Pratto writes: “There are no hu-
man societies in which women dominate men. Instead, societies in which
men dominate women are so common that male dominance has been
considered a human universal.”3 Male dominance may be found in all,
or nearly all, spheres of life. It appears in both “public” and “private”
relationships between women and men. It involves men™s greater control
than women™s of resources and power and men™s control of women™s sex-
uality and reproduction.4 Wherever male dominance appears, women™s
autonomy is threatened.5
The analysis of how male dominance diminishes female autonomy
may, of course, be generalized to other dominance relationships that
bear the same features as male dominance. Care must be taken with
this extension, however, since different kinds of dominance have distinct
modes of operation and may not diminish autonomy in the same ways.
One crucial context for the practice of male domination consists of inti-
mate heterosexual relationships in which an individual woman (or several
women) relate to an individual man who is the “head” of their household.
Such asymmetrical relationships are usually legalized as marriage and
regarded by many as the building blocks of society. Reproductive activ-
ity is the obvious reason for this social arrangement and, consequently,
the explanation for the distinctive character of male dominance as con-
trasted with other forms of domination.6 Unlike, for example, ethnic or
racial groups, which can separate from each other and reproduce en-
dogamously, women and men must mingle with each other intimately in
order to reproduce themselves.7
Thus, rather than forming cohesive communities that might resist
male dominance, women have been divided throughout nearly all hu-
man communities into small household units headed by men, who are
usually socially authorized to rule their individual homes like “castles.”
Gender relationships involve individual women relating to, indeed often
legally bound to, individual men in intimate settings. Few other forms
of dominance are so individualized and leave the subordinated party so
personally and directly under the authority or control of one or a few
members of the group that holds sway.
Some philosophers have recently emphasized the social dimensions
of autonomy.8 Intimate and familial relationships are among the so-
cial relationships in which autonomy competency can be most readily
Marilyn Friedman

nurtured. Subordination in these sorts of relationships, as occurs in male
dominance, is therefore particularly detrimental to the development and
exercise of women™s autonomy competency.
Racial dominance has sometimes taken the form of the enslavement
of members of one racial group by members of another racial group, and
slavery is an obvious example of a dominance relationship that involves a
similar sort of individualized servitude. In slavery, individual owners rule
at least some of their individual slaves in the intimacy of household rela-
tionships. Yet slavery is not the only form that racial dominance can take.
Racial dominance can take public forms such as political disenfranchise-
ment and economic discrimination. Thus, racial dominance can leave
members of the dominated group relatively free to forge their own “pri-
vate” lives among themselves without the literal presence of dominant
group members. Members of a dominated racial group may thus ¬nd,
in their intimate lives, a refuge from racial domination and a locus for
achieving some measure of personal autonomy. Male dominance is not
like this; it has always affected domestic and intimate life. In addition, it
has often involved the very con¬nement of women to domestic life with
no other options. Where male dominance prevails, women have little
or no refuge from its in¬‚uence. It permeates both public and private
spheres, thus proving inescapable in practice for most of the women who
are affected by it.
Male dominance is bolstered by men™s statistically greater degree of
aggressiveness and ¬ghting strength as compared to women. Women
are thus, on average, denied the most useful traits by which people de-
fend themselves against physical threats from other persons. These claims
are mere statistical generalizations, obviously. Yet the statistical differ-
ences between women and men make it commonplace for the woman
or women in any household to be less strong and less aggressive than
the dominant man or men in the household. When men™s aggressive-
ness and physical forcefulness is bolstered by social norms that legiti-
mate their dominance, women are systematically subordinated, a conse-
quence that cannot but have an affect on women™s desires, fears, values,
commitments “ indeed their very characters.
Men are also dominant over women in the “public” spheres of most
societies. Men typically hold the highest and most powerful of¬ces of
most societies and wield the greater share of social resources. Granted,
some societies have committed themselves to sexual equality, and many
members of those societies try to reduce the degree of male domination
Autonomy and Male Dominance 153

their societies permit. Several prominent countries have elected female
heads of state, and some of these women have even led their countries
in war.9 In governments that rely heavily on military power, however,
most top-ranked of¬cials are male. On a global scale, male dominance
remains pervasive and well entrenched. Also, any place in the world that
is ruled by gangs or warlords, or in which the rule of law has broken
down and anarchy prevails, is a place in which most or all of those
with power are men.10 It is no accident that there is no such word as
Thus, on a global level, there is little hope of eradicating male dom-
inance any time soon even though the struggle to do so must con-
tinue. Meanwhile, this chapter is about how we should now rethink au-
tonomy in light of the current global persistence of male dominance.
Does the nature or value of autonomy change, given the ways in which
the identities and life circumstances of women in many parts of the
world lead them into positions of public and/or private subordination to

I Traumatic Bonding
To grasp the features of male dominance “writ large,” let™s consider some
extreme forms of general dominance relationships such as captivity and
abuse. Captors who take hostages or political prisoners, as well as chronic
women-batterers, try to exercise what Judith Herman calls “coercive con-
trol” over the lives of their victims while at the same time demanding from
their victims expressions of “respect, gratitude, or even love.” Herman
writes, “In situations of captivity, the perpetrator becomes the most pow-
erful person in the life of the victim, and the psychology of the victim is
shaped by the beliefs and actions of the perpetrator.”13
Accounts of how women are “seasoned” into prostitution by pimps or
controlled by chronically abusive men, and of how hostages are terrorized
into submission, show remarkable similarity in the techniques employed.
The techniques depend mainly on forms of psychological control; captors
use overt physical violence infrequently to attain their ends. They do
rely, however, on the threat of physical violence. Thus, captors engage in
“inconsistent and unpredictable outbursts of violence,” the “capricious
enforcement of petty rules,” and “scrutiny and control of the victim™s body
and bodily functions” (77). As a result, the victim comes to regard the
captor as all-powerful and to think that resistance will be futile. She comes
Marilyn Friedman

to believe “that her life depends upon winning his indulgence through
absolute compliance” (77). Victims may come to feel gratitude toward
their captors for the smallest kindness or indulgence (77). Captors also try
to isolate their victims from other social contacts from which they might
derive support (79). Under these conditions, the victim will “come to
see the world through the eyes of the perpetrator” (81). Victims become
emotionally dependent on their captors and begin to seek a “common
humanity” in their captors (82). Thus arises a kind of love, one that is
grounded on fear.
Donald G. Dutton and Susan Painter have developed a theory of the
“traumatic bonding” that occurs under conditions of captivity or abuse.14
Traumatic bonding affects abused women, abused children, hostages,
cult members, and even non-human animals under abusive conditions.
It occurs when one party is more powerful than the other and dominates
or subjugates the other, and when the abuse is intermittent in nature.
The bonds are strongest when the abuse is “interspersed with permissive
and friendly contact.”15 The pattern of “alternating aversive and pleas-
ant conditions” is known in learning theory as “partial or intermittent
reinforcement,” and is very effective in “producing persistent patterns of
behavior that are dif¬cult to extinguish.”16
What Herman and Dutton and Painter describe are reactions under ex-
treme conditions, those of captivity and severe abuse. Many women do not
regard the typical male dominance in their lives (if any) as literal captivity
or as severe abuse (although we should not underestimate the amount
of male dominance that is so). Our ¬rst response might be to think that
traumatic bonding is irrelevant to an understanding of common forms
of male dominance. Commonplace male dominance, however, may in-
volve this effect after all, but at a reduced level, depending on the degree
to which women are trapped and threatened in situations controlled by
men. Oppression may be so subtle and concealed as to be, in J. Harvey™s
words, even “civilized.”17 In the micro-politics of daily life, women may
indeed sometimes ¬nd themselves controlled by men in ways they cannot
avoid. In some of those situations, women may feel cut off from social
support and helpless to prevent what is happening. Even women who are
secure from male aggression most of the time may ¬nd it intruding on
occasion, suddenly and powerfully. As playwright David Mamet (certainly
no friend of feminism) has revealingly remarked: “People can say what
they will, we men think, but if I get pushed just one little step further,
why I might, I just might “ (FILL IN THE BLANKS) because she seems
to have forgotten that I™M STRONGER THAN HER.”18 In other words,
Autonomy and Male Dominance 155

the phenomenon of traumatic bonding may well be “writ small” in the
daily lives of many women worldwide.

II Male Dominance and Heteronomy
Personal autonomy has to do with behaving or living according to what
is in some important sense “one™s own.” In brief, it involves an agent™s
acting from and according to wants or values that she has re¬‚ectively con-
sidered under conditions that were not unduly coercive or manipulative.
Heteronomy, by contrast, involves behaving or living in accord with what
is in some important sense not, or other than, one™s own.
Heteronomy has two signi¬cant and familiar branches. First, one may
live in accord with aspects of one™s larger or whole self that are never-
theless not “one™s own.” Depending on one™s theory of personhood or
personal identity, these aspects might include one™s desires, emotions,
passions, inclinations, drives, addictions, or compulsions. Second, het-
eronomy may have to do with behaving or living in accord with what
is in some important sense that of other persons. Such behavior may
take the form of deference to other particular individuals or thoughtless
conformity to group conventions or norms. Most contemporary discus-
sions of autonomy in mainstream philosophy focus almost exclusively on
sources of heteronomy that arise within the self, considered in abstract
social isolation. They neglect the sorts of heteronomy that derive from
interpersonal relations and the treatment of a self by others.19 Male dom-
inance is, in the ¬rst instance, a problem of this latter, or interpersonal,
sort of heteronomy.
Elements of “internal” heteronomy, however, seem to be part of the
whole story of male dominance. Aspects of someone™s larger or whole
self may make her especially vulnerable to interpersonal heteronomy.
Someone may have character traits of (thoughtless) submissiveness that
make her vulnerable to domination by others. Yet how do such traits
arise? Surely one determinant of submissive character traits consists of a
chronic lack of capacities for self-defense in the face of stronger, more
aggressive others.
John Christman has observed that someone™s bodily features form a
background that shapes the choices she makes and, ultimately, her capac-
ities for autonomy.20 On Christman™s view, bodily features do not arise
as topics for a person™s conscious re¬‚ection or reconsideration. Instead
they “orient judgment and structure choice” (ibid ). Christman forgets
that people sometimes do focus conscious re¬‚ection on their bodily
Marilyn Friedman

features, and make those features quite deliberate topics of choice and
endeavor, for example, in health regimens, weight training, and cosmetic
adornment. Christman is right, however, that the body is a background
for choice.
One™s embodiment is relevant to autonomy in at least two distinct but
interrelated ways.21 First, one™s body plays a major role in one™s capacity to
do things. This idea is closest to Christman™s concern. One™s capacities to
do speci¬c things “ one™s talents and skills “ open up options that might
well otherwise be closed. The utter lack of capacity to do something
can truncate one™s desires and ambitions. A second aspect of embodi-
ment that is important to this discussion, an aspect not mentioned by
Christman, is the embodied vulnerability to harm. The harm that peo-
ple can do to each other are of special relevance to autonomy. These
two aspects of embodiment, capacity and vulnerability, are interrelated
in that vulnerability to a particular harm diminishes as one™s capacity to
defend oneself against that type of harm increases. Women, for example,
are particularly vulnerable to rape and domestic violence.
The notion of the embodied vulnerability to harm dovetails with the
recent philosophical emphasis on the social nature and conditions of
autonomy.22 Many accounts of autonomy now take note of the social rela-
tionships required for persons to be autonomous and of the social nature
of autonomous actions, characters, and lives. Embodied vulnerability to
harm has crucial social dimensions. Someone™s autonomy is especially
threatened by her vulnerability to harms in¬‚icted by other persons as
forms of control. Dominating persons may use punishment, reprisals,
and retaliation as means of in¬‚uencing the behaviors of others. If some-
one refrains from doing what she really wants to do because she fears
retaliatory violence from, say, her domestic partner, then she is behaving
heteronomously. Thus, comparative bodily features (such as strength rel-
ative to that of others) help to determine how people interact with each
other socially, and the social context of embodied inter relationships is a
crucial background for both autonomy and heteronomy.
There is, of course, a psychological dimension as well as a physical
dimension to someone™s vulnerability to harm. Most human behavior
occurs in social settings; it is not performed in isolation. People act in
company with, and in af¬liation with, others, often engaged with them in
joint endeavors. Since much behavior, if not all of it, is socially situated,
the capacities for autonomy must include some ability to shape the life
one lives with others. Analogous to Aristotle™s, Rousseau™s, and Kant™s
ideal political citizens, an autonomous person is both “sovereign” and
Autonomy and Male Dominance 157

“subject” to the social order, participating in it but also helping to shape
the interpersonal relationships that constitute it. Some people more than
others have the capacity to behave in social settings in the way they want to
or value. They may be able to exert more in¬‚uence than others over joint
endeavors. Or they may be better able than others to de¬‚ect opposition
to what they themselves try to do. Those who are less capable than others
of thus in¬‚uencing social relationships are less able to act as they want or
value in interpersonal contexts.23
Thus, interrelationships in all their dimensions, bodily or otherwise,
provide the ground out of which emerge both autonomous and het-
eronomous behaviors. Yet the power that stems from physical strength
and aggressiveness is particularly threatening because of its capacity to
do immediate and severe damage. Chronic physical intimidation and bat-
tery can put a permanent mark on someone™s character. It is important to
remember, again, that women are far more vulnerable to sexual bullying
and domestic violence than are men.24
There are various ways in which one can try to cope with domination
and coercion. One may try to resist the domineering efforts of others,
and perhaps even try to dominate them in return. This option, however,
may lie beyond someone™s capacities or may provoke retaliation, which
only makes things worse. A safer way to cope with domination is to try
to do what one wants to do in secret, furtively hiding what one does
from the surveillance of dominating others. This alternative, however,
imposes costs on one™s life and character, such as having often to lie or
dissimulate. One may also try to separate oneself from oppressive social
relationships and to act apart from them. This measure, however, results
in social isolation, something that many people ¬nd unbearable.
There is yet a fourth alternative. One can remain in a dominance rela-
tionship but try to placate the dominator by submissiveness, loyalty, and
even affection. As I noted earlier, captives, when coping with extreme
forms of coercive control, often come to identify with their captors and
to take an interest in the well-being of their captors. Dominated persons
may abandon wants and values that dominance relationships prevent
them from realizing. A dominated person may try to convince herself
that she never really wanted those things in the ¬rst place. From a third-
person perspective, this behavior looks like a survival mechanism based
on understandable fear. Yet to the submissive person, it may feel like gen-
uine concern. As self-protective devices, loyalty and submissiveness are
likely to be most effective when they are convincingly expressed, and this
may require some measure of genuine sincerity. Somehow the dominated
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