Sociality, Alterity, Responsivity

Social philosophy sometimes resembles a walk through a hardware store. Because one of its central questions, if not the central question, is: What holds our society together? Since the fragmentation of social cohesion is regularly lamented from a wide variety of political directions, social philosophers “roam the shelves” looking for the right mortar, putty or glue. Some are simply hoping to find a hammer and nail. In most concepts, the cohesion of society is to be secured by some kind of commonality, be it a common legal order or simply common values.

At the Department of Philosophy III, we are looking at the problem from a different direction: What if it is not so much what we have in common, i.e., that in which we are alike, that we should be looking at, but rather the differences between individuals? Here we focus on the thinking of Jean-Paul Sartre and Emmanuel Levinas, as well as on the development of their ideas by Bernhard Waldenfels: here, it is precisely these aspects of otherness, fracturing, or withdrawal that are at the forefront. Social philosophy, therefore, does not see the issue from a starting point of autonomous, independently acting subjects and their ideas, goals, and purposes, but rather, as Levinas sees it, from the demands of the “Other,” to which we always already respond in some way. Seen from the other side, social philosophy does not aim to restore a primal, intimate communion with the other, but rather to emphasize the difference that persists in the subject, his corporeality, and his relation to others, and thus results in the social never being allowed to come to rest, but rather being haunted by a kind of perpetual disquiet.

Developing such a conception of the social, based on alterity and difference theory, is one of the most far-reaching projects in the department, and has already given rise to numerous publications. At a more general level, we have addressed the topic in two introductions to social philosophy, in texts on the figures of the third, the social bond, or the (double) asymmetry of the social. From this perspective, we take a more concrete look at conceptions of recognition, linguistic violence, and even digitization. And of course, the thinking of the other also shapes our view of the political or of our corporeality – because the other is always already in play.


In the research field Sociality, Alterity, Responsivity, the following works have been published so far:

  • Steffen Herrmann: Ich – Andere – Dritte. Eine Einführung in die Sozialphilosophie, Freiburg: Alber 2018.
  • Thomas Bedorf und Steffen Herrmann (Hg.): Das soziale Band. Geschichte und Gegenwart eines sozialtheoretischen Grundbegriffs, Frankfurt am Main: Campus 2016.
  • Sven Ellmers und Steffen Herrmann (Hg.): Korporation und Sittlichkeit. Zur Aktualität von Hegels Theorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, München: Fink 2016.
  • Steffen Herrmann, Symbolische Verletzbarkeit. Die doppelte Asymmetrie des Sozialen nach Hegel und Levinas, Bielefeld: Transcript 2013.
  • Steffen K. Herrmann, Anerkennung und Abhängigkeit. Zur Bindungskraft gesellschaftlicher Ungleichheitsverhältnisse nach Hegel, in: Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Band 62, Heft 2, 2014, S. 279-296.
  • Thomas Bedorf: Andere. Eine Einführung in die Sozialphilosophie, Bielefeld: transcript 2011.
  • Thomas Bedorf, Verkennende Anerkennung. Über Identität und Politik, Berlin: Suhrkamp 2010.
  • Hannes Kuch und Steffen K. Herrmann (Hg.): Philosophien sprachlicher Gewalt. 21 Grundpositionen von Platon bis Butler, Weilerswist: Velbrück 2010.
  • Thomas Bedorf: Dimensionen des Dritten. Sozialphilosophische Modelle zwischen Ethischem und Politischem, München: Fink 2003.
Chair of Philosophy III | 04.12.2023