Rival conceptions of modernity: Arnason and Honneth compared

Author: Nathan Dalton

Dalton, Nathan, 2022 Rival conceptions of modernity: Arnason and Honneth compared, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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How should we think about modernity? Classic accounts explain modernity in terms of a convergent grand narrative with universal application. More recent theories are sceptical of such universality and more inclined to emphasise the diversity of modern experience. In this context, Johann Arnason and Axel Honneth have developed rival conceptions of modernity that seem at first sight to contrast sharply. Honneth outlines a classically universalist account in which struggles for recognition animate moral progress to the extent that recognition is afforded to an ever-widening array of groups and individuals. Arnason describes a field of tensions in which modernity is irreducibly multiple, shaped by civilisational legacies, intercivilisational encounters and cultural interpretations. Honneth discusses the trajectory he thinks modernity ought to take, whereas Arnason avoids normative claims. I argue, however, that the views of the two thinkers are, to a degree, complementary. Within Arnason’s theory there are implicit normative commitments indicative of something like the notion of recognition found in Honneth. On the other hand, I show that marginal themes in Honneth’s approach open onto a more complicated view of recognition struggles analogous to the tensions indicated by Arnason. Indeed, Arnason provides a richer account than Honneth of the broader horizons of social interaction, staggered societal trajectories and different cultural reference points that might shape the contours of modernity. Whereas Honneth is more compelling when it comes to why conflicts might emerge from different experiences of modernity and why we should care about them. Ultimately, I will suggest that their rival approaches complement each other.

Keywords: modernity, alternative modernities, human diversity, struggles for recognition, conflicts of interpretation, intercivilisational encounters

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor George Crowder