Materialism in German Philosophy

In the academic year 2013-2014 we will discuss the history of materialism in German philosophy against the background of the contemporary revival of materialism in continental thought. Materialism will be conceptualised as a destabilising, transgressive and opposing motif in philosophy, a form of critical and enlightened thought that is directed against the ideological structure of all idealisms, including the attempt to silence materialism in much of 20th-century German philosophy by its reduction to a metaphysical doctrine. We will think about materialism’s far-reaching implications for the self-understanding of philosophy, for the theory of subjectivity, of agency, morality, embodiment, freedom, truth, space and time, nature and life, meaning and history.

The opposition between materialism and idealism is far from obsolete, and can also be used today to understand the renewed task of philosophy as the theory and practice of liberation. The seminar will also devote attention to the historical split between university philosophy and non-academic philosophy in German culture, a split that is closely aligned with that between idealisms and materialisms. Other topics will include: materialism and science; materialism and the dialectic of Enlightenment; materialism and Romantic philosophy of nature; dialectical materialism; historical materialism; materialism, individuation and existentialism; objective and subjective materialisms; materialism in aesthetics; materialism in critical theory and Freudo-Marxism; materialism and futurity; materialism, freedom and the absolute. Against the image of German philosophy as the source of modern idealism, there will emerge a clear line of materialist thought in German philosophy, from its beginnings at the end of the Middle Ages, to today: a strong undercurrent of radical thought about the real, uncanny nature of that most German of ideas: Geist. Read German philosophy as you have never read it before.

The seminar will be based on close reading and discussion.

Texts will include, among others, parts of the following:

Boehme, Aurora oder Morgenröte im Aufgang.

Leibniz, Monadologie

Schelling, fragments from System des Transzendentalen Idealismus and Naturphilosophie

Feuerbach, Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft

Marx, Thesen über Feuerbach; Philosophisch-Ökonomische Manuskripte

Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft

Nietzsche, Morgenröte

Horkheimer, Materialismus und Metaphysik; Traditionelle und Kritische Theorie

Bloch, Das Materialismusproblem: seine Geschichte und Substanz

Benjamin, Thesen über den Begriff der Geschichte

Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

Adorno, Metaphysik: Begriff und Probleme; Meditationen zur Metaphysik

Sloterdijk, Der Denker auf der Bühne: Nietzsches Materialismus; Sphären.


All are welcome to attend. Please register with the seminar leader in advance:


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