Jordan Bartol: Universal Injuries Need Not Wound Internal Values: A Response to Wysman

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Universal Injuries Need Not Wound Internal Values: A Response to Wysman

Jordan Bartol

In his recent article, Internal Injuries: Some Further Concerns with Intercultural and Transhistorical Critique, Colin Wysman provides a response to my (2008) article, Is Internal Critique Possible?. In his article, Wysman offers a very complex and robust account of the failure of Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition.  Wysman ultimately supports my assertion – that Honneth’s theory fails to provide a universal ground for moral criticism – while arguing that the route by which I arrived at my conclusion was unnecessarily complicated.  In what follows, I will provide a brief recapitulation of my argument and expand on how I take my position to be situated relative to Wysman’s argument.  Doing so will necessarily require an explication of the difference between my assertion that Honneth must provide a universal ground for criticism – as opposed to a culturally relative ground – and Wysman’s insistence that Honneth provide an internal form of critique rather than an external one.  I will conclude with what I believe to be a very dense philosophical and meta-ethical question raised by this exchange about the relationship between internal moral critique and the universal grounds for moral critique.

In my original piece (Bartol, 2008), I explained that Honneth was forced to rely on a theory of moral progress when attempting to adjudicate between competing tokens of recognitive norms.[1] In these instances, Honneth (2002) asserts, we must rely on the presumption of moral progress to determine which of a set of competing and conflicting moral norms are antecedent and which are the latter.  It is Wysman’s contention that by appealing to diachronically prior norms, Honneth’s theory necessarily fails.  Wysman is correct in noting that this is an important departure from my critique of Honneth.  In my 2008 article, I asserted that we must illustrate the problems with the application of Honneth’s notion of moral progress before concluding that the theory fails.  For Wysman, however, the fact that Honneth appeals to moral progress at all is grounds for dismissal because the historically prior norms to which we appeal when using a theory of moral progress are external to the lifeworld in question.[2]

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