Analysing Conceptions of Social Pathology: Eight Questions

Arto Laitinen, Arvi Särkelä


Axel Honneth has suggested that the task of social philosophy can be defined as the diagnosisand therapy of social pathologies. He has developed that view in various writings (Honneth2007, 2009, 2014a, 2014b; cf. Zurn 2011; Freyenhagen 2015). In these different writings, he has in fact defended different conceptions of social pathology, as we try to show elsewhere(cf. Särkelä & Laitinen, ms). In so doing he has nonetheless brought the notion of social pathology to the centre of interest for researchers interested in Frankfurt School Critical Theory or the philosophy of social criticism more generally.

In this short paper, we suggest some central questions for analysing and comparing conceptions of social pathology, which could be thought to be useful for social philosophy, especially for the tradition of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. Rival conceptions of socialpathology will give rival answers to these questions and the conceptions can be classifiedand compared with the help of these answers. Of course, any two conceptions can be compared in any of the details that either of them have, but our aim here is to map some of the central issues as stake in the philosophical discourse on social pathology. We discuss and compare in more detail four conceptions of social pathology with the help of these questions in Laitinen & Särkelä (2018) and in Honneth’s work in particular in Särkelä and Laitinen (2018). The questions we present in this paper are intended less as an a priori foranalysing conception of social pathology, than a potentially helpful a posteriori reflectionof the kind of questions one is confronted with when inquiring into the debate on social pathology. ’Pathology’ can mean both the science studying diseases and the object of inquiry, the disease itself. Unless otherwise indicated (as in subsection 7), we refer to the diseases themselves with ‘pathology’.

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