Social Pathologies and the Catholic Political Imagination

In: International Journal of Public Theology

The article uses early Christian sources to identify three main features of a theological conception of ‘Hell’ (effacement, toxic silence, pointlessness); these three features can be reconstructed in Axel Honneth’s influential writings on Social Pathologies as key characteristics of pathological social conditions that undermine the possibility of a good life—Honneth can be understood to distinguish between pathologies of identity (effacement), pathologies of the social (toxic silence), and pathologies of reason (pointlessness). Catholic social teaching (cst) is presented as a response to these pathologies making use of a ‘therapeutic reading’ of cst documents. Catholic social teaching is presented as an exercise in political imagination developing a deep concept of the human person (against effacement and the pathology of identity), an understanding of the permeability between micro structured and macrostructures (against toxic silence and pathologies of the social), and the recognition of a normative order (against pathologies of reason).

  • 3

    Macarios, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 63.

  • 5

    Cf. Clemens Sedmak, ‘Human Dignity, Interiority, and Poverty’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 192 (2013), 563–575 at 566.

  • 7

    Diarmaid MacCulloch, Silence. A Christian History (London: Allen Lane, 2013), p. 191; in a personal account of silence Sara Maitland talks about ‘the dark side’ of silence, of dark and heavy silence, a silence of being ‘nowhere’ e.g. in the midst of a misty landscape without helpful noise to provide orientation—Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence (London: Granta, 2008), ch. 3.

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  • 9

    Cf. Simone Weil, Waiting on God (London: Fount, 1977), pp. 53–61; Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (London: Ark, 1987), pp. 11–15; pp. 100–102.

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  • 10

    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1967), p. 564—see ibid., p. 62, p. 142, p. 545 and p. 567. A good illustration of what is at stake is especially investigation p. 142: ‘the procedure of putting a lump of cheese on a balance and fixing the price by the turn of the scale would lose its point if it frequently happened for such lumps to suddenly grow or shrink for no obvious reason’. ‘Waiting’, we could say, loses its point if there is no clear idea about an event or subject satisfying the conditions of ‘the wait is over’.

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  • 12

    Axel Honneth, Disrespect. The Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), p. 10 and p. 14.

  • 16

    Honneth, Disrespect, p. 4. Social pathologies are developments that prevent members of society from having a ‘good life’. Social philosophy emerged as a representative of an ethical perspective in the territory of society (p. 33).

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  • 18

    Honneth, ‘Critical Theory’, p. 376.

  • 20

    Cf. Axel Honneth, ‘Organized Self-Realization: Some Paradoxes of Individualization’, European Journal of Social Theory, 7:4 (2004), 463–478.

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  • 22

    Lars G. Hammershøj, ‘The Social Pathologies of Self-Realization: A diagnosis of the consequences of the shift in individualization’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 41:5 (2009), 507–526 at 512. Loneliness can be seen as a particular social pathology in our days and times—see White, Lonely.

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  • 23

    Honneth, Struggle for Recognition, p. 173.

  • 24

    Honneth, Disrespect, p. 24; concerning the German tradition of anthropology see Andrea Borsari, ‘Notes on “Philosophical Anthropology” and Contemporary German Thought’, Iris. European Journal of Philosophy and Public Debate, 1 (April 2009), 113–130.

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  • 25

    Axel Honneth, ‘Invisibility: On the Epistemology of “Recognition” ’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume, 75:1 (2001), 111–126.

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  • 26

    Honneth, Disrespect, p. 30. Honneth suggests, not too far from Arendt’s approach, ‘reflexive cooperation’ as the basis of functioning democratic societies—Axel Honneth, ‘Democracy as Reflexive Cooperation’, Political Theory, 26:6 (1998), 763–783.

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  • 32

    Honneth, Pathologies of Reason, p. 25.

  • 33

    Honneth, Pathologies of Reason, p. 25.

  • 35

    Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 6.

  • 37

    Honneth, Disrespect, p. 15.

  • 38

    Honneth, Pathologies of Reason, p. 24.

  • 39

    Zurn, ‘Social Pathologies as Second-Order Disorders’, p. 346. Bob Cannon who worked extensively on the demands of critical theory shares this concern: ‘Thus rather than looking to individuals to acquire moral identities via the sublation of material interests, critical theory should look to the way individuals forge new social identities in response to the individuating forces of modernity . . . Let me reiterate, the recovery of ‘ethical life’ is not achieved by transcending sociality but by transforming it in line with the normatively constituted ends of participants’. Bob Cannon, Rethinking the Normative Content of Critical Theory. Marx, Habermas and Beyond (New York, ny: Palgrave, 2001), p. 182.

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  • 48

    Cf. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 123.

  • 49

    Cavell, The Claim of Reason, p. 125.

  • 50

    Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 107.

  • 51

    Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 38.

  • 55

    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (London: Penguin Books, 2007), p. 151.

  • 56

    Peter Bieri, Eine Art zu leben. Über die Vielfalt menschlicher Würde (Munich: Hanser, 2013).

  • 58

    Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations (London: Vintage, 1993).

  • 66

    Cf. Marilynn P. Fleckenstein, ‘The ‘Right to Associate’ in Catholic Social Thought’, Journal of Business Ethics, 38:1–2 (2002), 55–64.

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  • 71

    Cf. Robert R. Marsh, ‘Looking At God Looking At You. Ignatius’ Third Addition’, The Way, 43:4 (2004), 19–28.

  • 73

    John H. Newman, Prayers, Verses and Devotions (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), p. 338.

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