Ontology of the False State

On the Relation Between Critical Theory, Social Philosophy, and Social Ontology


  • Italo Testa Università di Parma


social ontology, critical theory, recognition, reification, John Searle, Axel Honneth, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno


In this paper I will argue that critical theory needs to make its socio-ontological commitments explicit, whilst on the other hand I will posit that contemporary social ontology needs to amend its formalistic approach by embodying a critical theory perspective. In the first part of my paper I will discuss how the question was posed in Horkheimer’s essays of the 1930s, which leave open two options: (1) a constructive inclusion of social ontology within social philosophy, or else (2) a program of social philosophy that excludes social ontology. Option (2) corresponds to Adorno’s position, which I argue is forced to recur to a hidden social ontology. Following option (1), I first develop a meta-critical analysis of Searle, arguing that his social ontology presupposes a notion of ‘recognition’ which it cannot account for. Furthermore, by means of a critical reading of Honneth, I argue that critical theory could incorporate a socio-ontological approach, giving value to the constitutive socio-ontological role of recognition and to the socio-ontological role of objectification. I will finish with a proposal for a socio-ontological characterization of reification which involves that the basic occurrence of recognition is to be grasped at the level of background practices.


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