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When Thought Gets Left Alone: thinking, Recognition and Social Justice

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Abstract

In this chapter I use the work of third generation critical theorist, Axel Honneth, to explore the intimate interconnection between thought and social justice. The isolation and rarefication of thought is, I suggest, a social justice matter because it impinges on the relationships we can forge and sustain, it distorts the knowledge with which we aim to engage and it fosters a cold instrumentality within society. What Honneth offers is a robust theorisation of social justice, built around different realms of mutual recognition. Such recognition is inherently social, based upon both giving and receiving. Similarly, thinking is a social activity that requires engagement with the minds of others. Consideration is given to the nature of disciplinary thinking when understood through this lens of Honneth’s critical theory. To exemplify the importance to social justice of thought understood in its social context, an example is drawn from the discipline of Economics, which has been subject to critiques about a narrowing of its social gaze and a lack of epistemological diversity.