A Critique of Axel Honneth’s Theory of Reification

This cited anecdote is a commonplace phenomenon in capitalist society. No one would dare say the waitress is mistaken in referring to the customer as his[1] order, but no one should dare say that for all of history customers have always been identified as their orders. Marxists have long identified seeing human-beings as things (e.g., exchange relations, currency, commodities, etc.) as the process of reification. This essential critique of the capitalist way of life has “fallen into virtual oblivion in recent years,” [i] albeit the phenomenon of reification is a salient characteristic of the growth of capitalist relations.


Axel Honneth should be admired for bringing the theory of reification back into academic discourse in his recently published book Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea. Honneth wants to construct his theory in relation to Georg Lukács’s essay Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat, published in his 1922 masterpiece History and Class Consciousness. Since Lukács’s publication, the theory of reification never lost its cogency; it only lost its academic appeal. Unfortunately Honneth’s title is misleading. Instead of giving us a new look at an old idea, he gives the reader a unique look at a misunderstood idea.[pullquote]Instead of giving us a new look at an old idea, he gives the reader a unique look at a misunderstood idea.[/pullquote] By this I mean he develops his own unique theory of reification, which lacks a strong connection to the original theory, because he seems to have misunderstood the initial theory. If he has understood the initial theory, then he rejects it (implicitly), in which case one wonders why he refers to his own idea as reification too. Finally, if he really understood the original theory, he would have been more careful in writing his own theory, which can be criticized by the original theoretical insights as expressed by Lukács and Karl Marx.

In this essay I intend to present Axel Honneth’s theory of reification. Then I will critique his theory in two ways. 1) I will show that he misunderstood Lukács’s theory, and 2) I will show that the insights Marx gave, regarding reification, work as critiques of Honneth’s theory too.[ii] In order for Honneth’s theory to be viable he must meet the challenges of Marx’s structural analysis of capitalism. In the process of critiquing Honneth I will incorporate the work of Andrew Feenberg,[iii] and I.I. Rubin.[iv]


Honneth’s Theory

Honneth wants to revive the theory of reification, initially espoused by Marx, augmented by Lukács, and eventually completely reworked by the Frankfurt School. He believes that to “settle the question of whether the concept of reification still retains any value today,” we should return to Lukács.[v] After giving the reader Lukács’s supposed view, Honneth develops his own theory.

Honneth’s theory of reification can be grounded in empirical experimentation, with philosophical cunning. Emphatic engagement, which ontogenetically precedes a neutral stance towards reality, for Honneth, is the necessary precondition for developing a theory of reification as a neutral or objectively calculating stance towards reality. If it can be shown that humans are first emphatically engaged – in a relational sense – with the world, and another subject, and later lose their sense of emphatic relation, then somewhere along the line the subject has reified the world and/or the other.

Honneth wants to pinpoint “forgetfulness of recognition,” as the process of reifying the other.[vi] This framing of the problem has a necessary implication. If I forget how to recognize, I must have once known how to do it. Somewhere along the line of development, my former ability to emphatically engage with the other was severed. Honneth is convinced that Heidegger, Dewey and Lukács shared this same philosophy, albeit their explication of the theory was semantically different.[vii] By explicitly referring to this phenomenon of forgetfulness, Honneth is expanding upon the presumptions of Dewey, Heidegger, and Lukács. However, not wanting to rely solely on arm-chair philosophy, Honneth offers the reader empirical evidence.

In order to vindicate his theory, Honneth brings scientific research forward, specifically developmental psychology. “In the fields of psychology and socialization research, it has long been agreed that the emergence of children’s abilities to think and interact must be conceived as a process that occurs in the act of taking over another person’s perspective.”[viii] After citing several theorist (e.g. G.H. Mead, and Donald Davidson), he concludes that psychological research conducted on children has “demonstrated with astounding regularity that…[Children] must first have emotionally identified with an attachment figure before,” they can adopt the stance of this person toward the world.[ix] Thus, emotional attachment precedes adopting the stance of the other. This other is a person, and the relationship is intersubjective. Moreover, this relationship is primarily between child and parent. This emotional advancement toward the other could not be made if the child “had not already developed a feeling of emotional attachment to a psychological parent.”[x] Ergo the child’s “act of placing oneself in the perspective of a second person requires an antecedent form of recognition.” This antecedent form cannot be developed cognitively, and always contains elements of “openness, devotedness, or love.”[xi]

Honneth wants to show that this antecedent form of recognition takes place prior to cognition. This requires ontogenetic evidence. He cites the research of Peter Hobson, and Michael Tomasello (both developmental psychologist). After experimentally observing 9 month year old children, they came to the conclusion that this antecedent act of recognition, which was empirically taking place, must precede cognition, since cognition develops temporally after 9 months of age. This research is quite tantamount to Meads concept of “playing.”[xii]

If the reader accepts Honneth’s conclusion, which is essentially the conclusion of Tomasello and Hobson, then we must ask ourselves, temporally, when does the child, or adult, lose this ability to emphatically engage the other? When did empathy wane away? If “in human social behavior, recognition and emphatic engagement necessarily enjoy a simultaneously genetic and categorical priority over cognition,” why is it lost? This leads Honneth to ask “how can the concept of reification be formulated once again for us today in a way that takes as much account as possible of Lukács original intentions.”[xiii]

According to Honneth – and the conclusion is false – Lukács believed that humans came to regard each other in a neutral way, constituting their new “second nature,” and thus failing to emphatically engage the other. Since we now know, ontogenetically, that humans once had this capacity, and have since lost it, we are to term this “forgetfulness of recognition” as “reification.”[xiv] But what is the source of this forgetfulness? Lukács, and/or Marx, would of course emphasize the way society (re)produces itself, specifically the capitalist process of (re)production.[2] Honneth will not entertain this point, believing that having shifted “the concept of reification from a simple level…to a complex level,” the problem of finding the source of forgetfulness cannot be as easy as Lukács and Marx made it seem (but did they make it seem easy?).[xv] He will however consider social sources of reification, but not the ones Lukács and Marx consider, because they rely too heavily on the base as necessarily, and directly, determining the superstructure of society.[xvi] Although Honneth considers social sources as potential mediators of reification, he admits his results are only in their hypothetical stage. The two sources he speculates one are online job interviews and dating websites. Nonetheless, he offers almost no answer as to what causes the forgetfulness of recognition. For someone steeped in critical and social theory, to debar capitalism as a source is vexing. I will now contest that had he understood Lukács and brought Marx into his analysis, he could in fact address his own problem, in identifying sources of forgetfulness.

Understanding Lukács

The fact Honneth is now choosing to incorporate Lukács into his theories of intersubjectivity is almost vexing. In an older essay he wrote that Lukács’s theories are “shielded completely from any form of general empirical examination,” thus “Lukács’s critique of reification” ceases to have “any significance in the realm of social philosophy.”[xvii]

In outlining Honneth’s theory of reification, it is important to remember that he gives us a tenuous starting point. Although he believes he needs to develop his theory against the backdrop of Lukács’s essay, he does not inform us why he chooses Lukács over Marx (whose name and works never appear in the text in anything more than a vague referential way), nor why the reader should, either. Chronologically, Marx precedes Lukács in developing the theory of reification, and Lukács was consistent in his work of reminding his reader of this point. To understand Lukács completely, one must also understand Marx. Lukács makes this point crystal clear in the thesis of his essay:

Our intention here is to base ourselves on Marx’s economic analyses and to proceed from there to a discussion of the problems growing out of the fetish character of commodities, both as an objective form and also as a subjective stance corresponding to it. Only by understanding this can we obtain a clear insight into the ideological problems of capitalism and its downfall [emphasis in original].[xviii]

Three things are strikingly clear from this thesis: 1) Lukács theory is grounded in Marx’s economic analysis. The economic structure precedes the individual.[xix] 2) Lukács wants to understand “the problems” (i.e., reification) that emanate from treating commodities in a fetishistic way. 3) Lukács was never dealing with individual consciousness, or any loss of emphatic engagement to the other. Like Marx, he is concerned with more generalized social relations.

Honneth on the other hand begins with an analysis of what he believes Lukács is saying about the individual, and ends his book passively suggesting that looking to structural sources of reification is unhelpful. Whereas Lukács begins in the exact opposite way; throughout Honneth’s entire book then he has put the proverbial cart before the horse! Although Lukács will go on to discuss the way humans treat each other under capitalism, his essential starting point is the way humans relate to the commodity form (i.e., use-value, value, and where it comes from), both as objects, and as subjects towards those objects). Any talk about ontogenetic ontology, and antecedent forms of expression, while interesting, are not exactly relevant to how a subject views a commodity (he may even love a commodity, emphatically – which is a problem in and of itself), nor the type of subjectivity required to enter an exchange relation that (re)produces the social and economic situation.

In one passage, Lukács even damns the “bourgeois method”, which tries to neutrally examine a phenomenon and report it as an ahistorical “essence” of the “individual”; which is ironically what Honneth is doing by extrapolating generalized conclusions about mankind from narrow infant studies. In retort Lukács contends:

The essence of history lies precisely in the changes undergone by those structural forms which are the focal points of man’s interaction with the environment at any given moment and which determine the objective nature of both his inner and his outer life. But this only becomes objectively possible (and hence can only be adequately comprehended) when the individuality, the uniqueness of an epoch or an historical figure, etc., is grounded in the character of these structural forms, when it is discovered and exhibited in them and through them[emphasis added].[xx]

Even if Honneth’s studies into the nature of adolescents are to be taken as ahistorical truth, man’s inner and outer nature (his historical essence e.g., Monarch, monk, or CEO) is going to be expressed, and molded, by specific focal points which include objective and subjective interaction with the environment he is born into. If we want to know why one is not emphatically engaged, we must proceed to analyze, dialectically, man’s mediation with his environment. To present Lukács as being first theoretically concerned with our forms of engagement, antecedent to our historical backdrop is untenable. As Lukács later remarked in the third volume of his Ontology of Social Being: “the social here and now… cannot be reconstructed experimentally precisely because of the radical irreversibility of social being,” and, mirroring one of Marx’s points, “As the human anatomy provides the key to the anatomy of the ape, so the more primitive stage can only be reconstructed in thought from the higher stage,” giving us only “approximation[s].”[xxi] The same holds true of reconstructing in thought the more primitive/adolescent stages of our human essence, from our higher/adult vantage point. We are left only with approximations, always already mediated by an insurmountable position of social being.

Andrew Feenberg points out (and I agree) that what Lukács specifically meant by reified consciousness can be expressed in Lukács statement:

Man in capitalist society confronts a reality ‘made’ by himself (as a class) which appears to him to be a natural phenomenon alien to himself; he is wholly at the mercy of its ‘laws’, his activity is confined to the exploitation of the inexorable fulfillment of certain individual laws for his own (egoistic) interests. But even while ‘acting’ he remains, in the nature of the case, the object and not the subject of events. The field of his activity thus becomes wholly internalized: it consists on the one hand of the awareness of the laws which he uses and, on the other, of his awareness of his inner reactions to the course taken by events.[xxii]

This theory does not, as Honneth suggested it did, critique the neutral or contemplative stance man takes in society. Instead, it refers to the fact that man, as subject, is not in control of the alien laws that ostensibly govern society.[3] Feenberg summarizes this mode of being, this form of reification, in an uncanny example: “The capitalist investor stands in a contemplative relation to the stock market. He tries to position himself in relation to trends, not to control the trends.”[xxiii] Thus, clarifying Lukács’s thesis, that the individual subject, relates to his object (the stocks), as an actually existing object (fetishizes them), and in the process of treating them with objectivity, he (re)produces a social way of being that he in fact cannot actually control. His only semblance of control is conformity to alien laws, even if he sees through said laws. This alien process is experienced by the worker, the capitalist, and the bureaucrat, who are all reified “in the sense that [they]…cannot alter their laws, only understand and manipulate those laws to personal advantage.”[xxiv]

Clearly Lukács’s theory does not concern itself with a “forgetfulness of recognition,” nor some form of detached engagement with the other. Lukács, as a revolutionary, was primarily concerned with superseding the conditions that gave rise to alien laws that commoditized, and reified, the subject’s social life. Honneth wanted reification to “lose its dramatic character and instead prompt some illuminating speculation.”[xxv] Lukács was adamant that reification needed to be obliterated, by a self-aware proletariat, who recognized themselves as the subject-object of history, and engaged in revolutionary praxis. Thus the source for quelling reification was revolution, not philosophical speculation, and hypotheses about dating websites. Or, as Marx would say to Honneth, in favor of Lukács: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”[xxvi]


Marx’s Structure

Sartre makes an observation in his Search for a Method which remains true in relation to Honneth:

I have often remarked on the fact that an “anti-Marxist” argument is only the apparent rejuvenation of a pre-Marxist idea. A so-called “going beyond” Marxism will be at worst only a return to pre-Marxism; at best, only the rediscovery of a thought already contained in the philosophy which one believes he has gone beyond. [xxvii]

This sentiment is extremely contentious, but in relation to Honneth, I believe it is mostly accurate. Honneth states that

according to our analysis thus far, we only reify other persons if we lose sight of our antecedent recognition of their existence as persons [this]…demonstrate[s] just how unconvincing is Lukács’ equation of commodity exchange and reification, given that the persons with whom we interact in the process of economic exchange are normally present to us, at least legally, as recognized persons. [xxviii]

Marx’s structural analysis of the alien laws which capitalism (re)produces itself under, must be taken into consideration, if Honneth is to 1) Identify sources of our reification and 2) Inform us what needs to be changed in order to quell reification. Moreover, Marx’s structural analysis must be taken into consideration in order to defend Lukács theory, and indicate that just because people enter intersubjective relations as legally recognized people (if they do at all), it does not necessarily follow that these relations are de facto not reified.[4] If this can be demonstrated, then Honneth’s theory loses serious veracity.

I.I. Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value defends Marxist economics from charges of error. In this book he introduces the ingenious notion that “the theory of fetishism is, per se, the basis of Marx’s entire economic system,”[xxix] and proceeds to highlight the role reification played in Marx’s system. By reviewing Rubin’s work, we can further understand how people under capitalism are reified in spite of Honneth’s claim regarding legal recognition.

The first point Rubin makes, about intersubjective relations under capitalism, is that the basic production relations “connects the participants for a short time, not creating a permanent connection between them,” nevertheless, these abrupt connections are necessary, when considered in their totality, for “maintaining the constancy and continuity of the social process of production.” That is, the moments of intersubjective relations on the market are A) fleeting and too fast for sincere recognition and B) always already mediated by the economic relation underlying them, to prevent a genuine and sincere relationship from developing. Even if I recognize my pizza delivery man as a fellow human being, the exchange is too fast for me to establish the type of emphatic engagement I would with my parent, at the age of nine months, and our exchange is already pre-mediated by the necessity of sale and purchase. We treat each other primarily as means to an end.

Before returning to Rubin’s analysis, the pizza delivery example needs to be extended even further, because in this relation, we have an intersubjective moment whereby we can either affirm or deny Honneth’s theory. Before Marx utilized reification in Capital Vol I, he used the term in A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy. Utilizing reification, in his analysis of exchanging commodities for money, or for other commodities, Marx points out that under capitalism, where labor has an exchange value (e.g. cost of labor power), the individual labor of the person is perceived as a thing (a temporal quantifier). Thus the work of concretely different people “is equated and treated as universal labor only by bringing one use value into relation with another in the guise of exchange value.” Although the exchange appears to be between people it “is necessary to add that it is a relation hidden by a material veil.” And thus, “all the illusions of the monetary system arise from the failure to perceive that money, though a physical object with distinct properties represents a social relation of production.” [xxx] Marx goes on to expand upon the reification of money, but I do not think it is necessary to elaborate this point to critique Honneth’s theory. Money is the material veil of individually concrete labor that is abstracted into socially necessary labor time (dehumanization has already begun), and thus quantified into value, for exchange. Thus, when my relation with the pizza man is analyzed from a third point of view (distinct from the point of view of A and B above), we must recognize that I am exchanging part of my formally concrete labor time, via currency (representing my labor abstractly), for someone else’s concrete labor, now abstracted too, viz. the pizza. But the producer of the pizza, let alone the producer of the ingredients of the pizza, and the machines that make it (in this case variations between constant and variable capital), are disguised, or do not appear on the scene directly, but are having their formerly concrete labor mediated by the exchange of currency (between me and the delivery man), without ever actually entering the intersubjective relation of sale. Moreover, in the process of paying for this pizza, by a currency that already mediates these faceless producers’ concrete attributes into the abstract and universal value exchange system, I am (re)producing the very conditions that lead to the continuance of a productive relation that is never entirely intersubjective. Thus, even if I retained full emphatic engagement, antecedent recognition, and desired to engage with the other, the structural arrangement of this transaction prevents that process from existing, and actually (re)produces its continued nonexistence.[5] When all uniquely concrete labor can be sold and bought with currency that measures concrete labor abstractly, and socially, we are always already (re)producing relations of reification.

Alas, capitalism cannot proceed to (re)produce itself, without reifying concrete labor, into abstract labor, as mediated by socially necessary labor time, and quantified into value, which serves as the medium of exchange.[xxxi] Value is objective, and immaterial, as Marx would put it, abstracting from the real material relations of men, leaving those relations completely reified.

Really delving into Marx’s theory of value, whereby the theory of reification is seen as undergirding the whole process is outside the scope of this essay. However, it is important to point out that structurally, according to Marx and Lukács, all concrete labor (i.e., the labor John Doe does as a unique human being) is always already abstracted into socially necessary labor time. When we order a pizza, we all expect it to arrive in thirty minutes or less; this is a role that society pressures upon the producer as producer (not as John Doe). And we exchange in general an equivalent for the thirty minute pizza (e.g. $20), no matter which chain we order it from. Thus, the employees’ uniqueness, and role as human beings, in any place of employment, is always already mediated by social expectations that are abstract and temporal.[xxxii]

This leads to the next stage of reifying the human being from the point of view of the capitalist. The capitalist must pay the worker enough to reproduce the same labor power for the following shift (i.e., his ability to (re)produce the same work into the future). This wage for labor power is also abstracted, and generalized (e.g. the minimum wage). Thus, all workers of a lower class are paid the same general sum, albeit what each actually needs to (re)produce himself into the future is always quantitatively different, given variables of family size, preexisting debt, medical conditions, etc.

All of these points lead up to Rubin’s conclusion that under capitalism:

Separate individuals are related directly to each other by determined production relations, not as members of society, not as persons who occupy a place in the social process of production, but as owners of determined things, as social representatives of different factors of production.[xxxiii]

Thus, what ought to be direct social relations, that are emphatic, and intersubjective, end up as “material relations” between persons, and “social relations between things.”[xxxiv] This moment where social relations are personified by things, is clearly demonstrated when someone can be a capitalist because of the money they own, and not because of their uniqueness as a human being. Or as Marx put it roughly in Capital, it is not because you are a titan of industry that you become a capitalist; instead it is because you are already a capitalist (a possessor of lots of money-other peoples abstracted labor) that you become a titan of industry.[xxxv]

It is at this point of development that Rubin offers the reader keen insight into why, even if Honneth is correct, capitalism is most assuredly a source of reification, despite Honneth’s contention otherwise:

Every type of production relation which is characteristic…[of] a capitalist economy ascribes a particular social form to the things for which and through which people enter the given relation. This leads to the “reification…of production relations among people. The thing which is involved in a determined production relation among people and which has a corresponding social form, maintains this form even when the given, concrete, single production relation is interrupted…Since the things come forth with a determined, fixed social form, they, in turn, begin to influence people, shaping their motivation, and inducing them to establish concrete production relations with each other. Possessing the social form of “capital,” things make their owner a “capitalist” and in advance determine the concrete production relations which will be established between him and other members of society. It seems as if the social character of things determines the social character of their owners [Emphasis in Original].[xxxvi]

Rubin goes on to develop this point, but further development is unnecessary to vindicate that the structures of a capitalist economy does at least to some degree reify the subject, or impinge upon his mental autonomy.

The final point that needs to be made, regarding Marx’s analysis of the structure of capitalism, is that even if Honneth is right that all subjects are legally recognized citizens, it does not follow that all relations under capitalism are therefore intersubjective and thus not prone to reification. Moreover, the matter of forgetting to be emphatically engaged (the core of Honneth’s thesis) is not necessary for reification to take place.

When Marx analyzed the process of absolute surplus value[xxxvii] (i.e., the extraction of surplus value by increasing the temporal duration, and/or intensity of the workers’ productivity), he refers to the fact that the owner of the company will place a representative on the work floor (e.g., a manager, assistant manager, district leader, etc.), in order to ensure time is not wasted, and work is always productive. For example, ensure the worker does not spend too much time taking out the trash, or making a phone call. As a company expands outward, geographically, the capitalist loses the ability to maintain intersubjective relations with all employees, at all times, during all shifts. A representative of the interest of capital accumulation – the manager – must act on the capitalist behalf. Even if the capitalist does not intend to extract absolute surplus value (unlikely), he still has his relation to his employees mediated by someone else. As this process expands, with the outward expansion of capital, the capitalist eventually only sees his employees as statistics, numbers on a chart, and representatives of abstract labor. Labor power, as Marx rightly pointed out, is completely commoditized. It is not possible for a multinational corporation to function on the basis of each employee being unique, and emphatically engaged with; the only way the company can continue to (re)produce itself, is to (re)produce its labor pool as one of many costs, that are subjected to the interest of the capital accumulation process, and almost never as intersubjective relations. This relation is indicative of a panopticon, where the capitalist(s) see their employees in a mediated relationship (via charts, graphs, and reports), but the employees never see their real boss. Thus, through mediating the workers via graphs, the relationship is not intersubjective between both subjects, but only – as the panopticon demonstrates – unidirectional. The capitalist sees the worker, already reified, but the worker, never sees the capitalist. Thus, reification is not a moment, or pathology, where one forgets their emphatic recognition, but as Marx and Lukács suggested, the capitalist relations of production set people in relations where recognition never takes place to begin with, independently of someone’s capacity to recognize.

Although there is more to be found in Marx’s analysis of reification and capitalism (e.g., In Capital Volume III where he discusses how land becomes a value, and capable of exchange), continued critique is rather superfluous, to vindicate my primary point: despite Honneth’s objection, the structure of capitalism is in fact a source of reification, and to move the theory of reification in a direction that is contentious to this point, is to lose the foundation upon which reification was built, and to render the theory less profound, and less capable of real agitation.


I have reviewed Axel Honneth’s theory of reification and I have demonstrated that in regards to Lukács’s theory, he seems to have misunderstood the idea from the start. Therefore, we are not given a new look at an old idea, but a new idea, generated from a straw man. Also, Honneth rejected capitalism as a source of reification, and I have demonstrated that despite the main tenet of his theory – reification is forgetting how to emphatically engage with the other – reification can in fact take place even if one never forgets how to emphatically engage. To move away from structural reification, and direct the theory towards the responsibly of subjects, is to give capitalism more credit than it deserves, and hold people more responsible than they ought to be. As Ernest Mandel wrote in 1970:

This habit of reification is not the fault of the inhumanity or insensitivity of the workers. It results from a certain type of human relation rooted in commodity production and its extreme division of labor where people engaged in one trade tend to their fellows on as customers or through the lenses of whatever economic relations they have with them.[xxxviii]



[1] I will stick to masculine nouns and pronouns, for the sake of clarity, because the authors I am citing are using masculine language too.

[2] (Re)production refers to a phenomena that Marx points out under any mode production. In any act of production, once performed, the producer(s) are simultaneously reproducing the circumstances that undergird the act of production. The term “(re)production” denotes this point: “Whatever the form of the process of production in a society, it must be a continuous process, must continue to go periodically through the same phases. A society can no more cease to produce than it can cease to consume. When viewed, therefore, as a connected whole, and as flowing on with incessant renewal, every social process of production is, at the same time, a process of reproduction.” For a full elaboration read see chapter 23 of Capital. This concept will play an important role in critiquing Honneth.
Marx, Karl. Capital. New York: Penguin, 1990. 711. Print

[3] These laws are of course historical, and surmountable, through revolutionary praxis, as Lukács emphasizes ad nauseum throughout the book.

[4] Just to give a crude and horrifying example, it’s not as if the day after (or even decades after) the emancipation proclamation, racial harmony followed suit. To cite legal recognition as evidence of intersubjective relational cognition is tenuous at best.

[5] This example exists for more than a pizza exchange, and can be found in almost every market exchange some set of producers, or producers of constant capital (i.e., the means of productions themselves) is only recognized through a distant purchases currency exchange.

[i] Honneth, Axel. Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 3. Print.

[ii] Honneth is also critiqued my Judith Butler, Raymond Geuss, and Jonathan Lear, none of whom are Marxist, nor fans of Lukács. So, although their critiques are cogent, I intend to ignore them, and focus solely on Honneth’s relation to Lukács, Marx, and Marxism, voices that are oddly absent from an initially Marxist theory.

[iii] He holds the Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Technology School of Communication, at Simon Fraser University. And wrote a very cogent critique of Honneth’s book in his essay titled Rethinking Reification, which was published in chapter six of Georg Lukacs: The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence.

[iv] “Born in Russia in 1886, I. I. Rubin was an activist, economics professor and then a researcher at the Marx-Engels Institute. In 1930 he was arrested, imprisoned, exiled and then disappeared. (For his sister’s account of this, see B.I. Rubina’s essay in R. A. Medvedev Let History Judge, translated from the Russian by Colleen Taylor, New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1972.) Rubin also authored four books. The English titles are: History of Economic Thought; Contemporary Economics in the West; Classics of Political Economy from the Seventeenth to the Mid-Nineteenth Century; and Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value. Summarized from “About the Author” in TOV.”

[v] Honneth, Axel. Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 21. Print.


[vi] Ibid 52.

[vii] Ibid 28-30

[viii] Ibid 41

[ix] Ibid 42

[x] Ibid 43

[xi] Ibid 45

[xii] Ibid 43

[xiii] I bid 52.
As I will argue later, considering Honneth never understood Lukács’s project, why is this question even a question?

[xiv] Ibid 56

[xv] Ibid 58

[xvi] This view of the base and superstructure is an old canard, that neither Lukács nor Marx held, and Lukacs former student, Istvan Meszaros, Professor Emeritus at the University of Sussex, has utterly refuted this conception of the base superstructure in:
Meszaros, Istvan. Social Structure and Forms of Conciousness, Volume 2: The Dialectic of Structure and History . New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011. Print.

[xvii] Honneth, Axel. Disrespect: The Normative Foundations of Critical Theory. Cambridge: Polity, 2007. 25-26.

[xviii] Lukács, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971. 84.

[xix] As Marx said in the 18th Brumaire: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

[xx] Ibid 153.

[xxi] Lukacs, Georg. The Ontology of Social Being 3. Labour. London: Merlin Press, 1980. II-III.

[xxii] Feenberg, Andrew. Rethinking Reification. 4. The essay can be downloaded off his faculty website:
www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/lukacs-honneth.doc and it also appears in the book Georg Lukacs: The Fundamental    Dissonance of Existence.
[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Ibid, Honneth, 28.

[xxvi] Engels, Frederick. Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy. New York: International Publishing, 2010. 82.

[xxvii] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/critic/sartre1.htm

[xxviii] Ibid, Honneth, 75.

[xxix] Rubin, I.I. Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value. Aaker Books, 2008. 6.

[xxx] Marx, Karl. A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy. New York: International Publishers, 1970. 34-35


[xxxi] Unfortunately I am having to summarize Marx’s theory of value into a paragraph, for the sake of space constraints. For more info see:
Marx, Karl. A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy. New York: International Publishers, 1970. 34-180.

[xxxii] Ibid, Rubin, 5-55.

[xxxiii] Ibid, Rubin, 21.

[xxxiv] Ibid, 22.

[xxxv] Marx, Karl. Capital. New York: Penguin, 1990. Chapter 13.

[xxxvi] Ibid, 24

[xxxvii] Marx, Karl. Capital. New York: Penguin, 1990. Part Three.

[xxxviii] Ibid, Mandel, 26.


Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

By Michel Kail , Richard Sobel: Economic Crisis and the Crisis in Economic Thought A Progressive-Iconoclastic Perspective Inspired by Sartre

By Frank Kirkland: The Questionable Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education: Du Bois’ Iconoclastic Critique

By Lori Watson: What Is a “Woman” Anyway?

By Kevin Anderson: Four Years After the Arab Revolutions: Fighting on Amid Reactionary Retrenchment

By Steven Panageotou: No Democratic Theory Without Critical Theory

By Brian Caterino: The Practical Import of Political Inquiry: Perestroika’s Last Stand

By Mark Worrell: Moral Currents in Durkheim and Huysmans

By Chris Byron: A Critique of Axel Honneth’s Theory of Reification

By Kurt Jacobsen: Prefatory Note to The Twin Research Debate

By Jay Joseph , Claudia Chaufan , Ken Richardson , Doron Shultziner , Roar Fosse , Oliver James , Jonathan Latham: The Twin Research Debate in American Criminology

By Leonard Quart , Al Auster: Hollywood Follows the Money: Films of the ‘Great Recession’

By Tony Lack: Slavoj Žižek: Absolute Trouble or Recoil in Paradise?

By Brian Trench: Gabriella Coleman, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy – the many faces of Anonymous

By Kurt Jacobsen: Daniel P. Bolger, Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

By Riad Azar: Michael Gould-Wartofsky, The Occupiers

By Linda Etchart: Eduardo Galeano, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History

By Benjamin J. Pauli: Murray Bookchin, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy