Seminar Schedule 2013-2014

The seminar takes place, normally biweekly, on Mondays, from 16:00-18:00, in room 246, Senate House, University of London.

On this page the pre-reading schedule will be published and updated as the seminar progresses. The outline below may be subject to change.

Audio and video recordings of the seminars can be found here.

We meet on the following dates:

7 October

Introduction of the theme: 1) the task of materialism 2) materialism and idealism 3) materialism, modality and potentiality. Pre-reading: Diana Coole and Samantha Frost’s New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, Politics (Duke 2010) and Slavoj Zizek’s article Is it still possible to be a Hegelian today? ( 2011). We will discuss these publications to develop a background for the seminar.

21 October

The time of dawn: Lay mysticism, alchemy and the birth of materialism: Eckhart, Boehme.

The cobbler Jacob Boehme was a great philosopher. Many renowned philosophers are just big cobblers. (Karl Marx)


Meister Eckhart:

Von der Abgeschiedenheit. This short treatise was written probably between 1314 and 1323, in Strassbourg or Cologne. The first printed edition dates from 1670. Its authorship is not undisputed, but it is the most widespread work attributed to Eckhart. The critical text edition can be found in the standard edition of Eckhart’s writings, Die deutschen und lateinischen Werke, Stuttgart Kohlhammer 1958ff. Our treatise can be found in volume 5. Online here. I have not checked the online version for accuracy. An English translation of this text can be found in: Meister Eckhart – The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises and Defense, tr. by Colledge and McGinn, Paulist Press 1981, pp. 289-294.

Vom edlen Menschen, a sermon written as part of the Liber Benedictus, at the request of Agnes, queen of Hungary, after 1308. Also in vol. 5; online here. Not checked for accuracy. English in Eckhart, Selected Writings, London: Penguin 1994, translated by O. Davies, pp. 97-108.

Jacob Boehme:

Aurora oder Morgenroete im Aufgang (1612), preface, chapters 1 and 2.

Text edition: Sämtliche Schriften. Band 1, Aurora, oder Morgenröthe im Aufgang (1612). 2., unveränderte Auflage des Neudrucks, Stuttgart/Bad Cannstatt: Fromann-Holzboog 1986. Online here. I have not checked for accuracy. A new edition with commentary by Gerhard Wehr was published by Marix Verlag 2013.

There is an English translation available online (and as a Kindle e-book): Aurora: That is, the Day Spring or Dawning of the Day in the Orient or Morning Redness in the Rising of the Sun. Online here. A re-print of the 1656 English translation was published in 2010 by Kessinger Publishers.

Useful background reading:

Denys Turner: ‘Eckhart: Detachment and the Critique of Desire’, in The Darkness of God – Negativity in Christian Mysticism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1995 (online edition 2009), pp. 168-185.

G.W.F. Hegel: Vorlesungen ueber die Geschichte der Philosophie, 3. Teil, Neuere Philosophie, 1. Abschnitt B, Jakob Boehme (in the Surhkamp edition by Moldenhauer and Michel vol. 20, pp 91-119). There is an English translation by Haldane, which was revised and reissued by Frances Simson in 1995 (University of Nebraska Press). The Haldane translation itself is available online here.

For those with German, a very useful reader of philosophical texts on matter, from the beginnings of philosophy to contemporary discussions is: Materie: Grundlagentexte zur Theoriegeschichte, ed. by S. Koehler, H. Siebenpfeiffer and M. Wagner-Egelhaaf. Frankfurt, Suhrkamp Verlag 2013

4 November

Microscopic ontology: the materialism of Leibniz

“It must be confessed, moreover, that perception, and that which depends on it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is, by figures and motions, And, supposing that there were a mechanism so constructed as to think, feel and have perception, we might enter it as into a mill. And this granted, we should only find on visiting it, pieces which push one against another, but never anything by which to explain a perception. This must be sought, therefore, in the simple substance, and not in the composite or in the machine.”

The text for this session, on materialism in Leibniz’ thought, is Leibniz’ Monadologie (1714). This text was written in French; the edition that will form the basis of our discussion is the French-German edition by Herring (which follows the critical edition of the French text etablished by Robinet, and the translation by Buchenau), Hamburg: Meiner Verlag 1982ff.

The title ‘Monadologie’ was given by Heinrich Köhler, who made the first German translation of the text during Leibniz’ lifetime. The Köhler translation can be found here.

An English translation can be found here; or in G.W. Leibniz, Philosophical Texts, tr. by R.S. Woodhouse and R. Francks, Oxford: OUP, 1998, pp. 267-281. There is also a French-English parallel edition, with commentary, by Nicholas Rescher (Pittsburgh University Press 1991).
As background reading please read Margaret Wilson, ‘Leibniz and Materialism’, in Canadian Journal of Philosophy 3.4 (1974), pp. 495-513 and Graeme Hunter, ‘Leibnizian Materialism’, in Dialogue 49.4 (2010), pp. 573-588. I would also like to point you to the first chapter of Gilles Deleuze Le Pli: Leibniz et le Baroque (1988); we will refer to the English translation by Conley, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, London: Continuum 2006, chapter 1, ‘The Pleats of Matter’. For those who do not have access to the book, the first chapter can be read in its entirety on Google Books.

18 November

Materialism in German Idealism

“The balance between the Ego and this external reality must be kept up; hence, the reality always remains the same, that is, reality. As such, as matter, it can undergo no modification, for a modification would be in its case annihilation. Hence, the impulse of the Ego does not affect the reality as such, but effects a certain determination, modification of the reality of the matter. (It is wrong to say: different matter. Matter as such, materiality, is absolutely simple. One can only say: matter with different determinations.) Now, it is this determination of the external reality through the impulse which is felt as a yearning. Hence, yearning does not at all tend to produce matter as such, but merely to modify it.” (Fichte)


1. Kant, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der NaturwissenschaftVorrede (, 1786, pp. 11-24 in vol. IX of the Werkausgabe by Wilhelm Weischedel, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1957.
English translation: Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, by Michael Friedman, CUP 2011; Preface.
A detailed commentary to the running text by Jonathan Bennett can be found here:
2. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Der vierte Paralogism der Idealität (des äusseren Verhältnisses), 1781, A367-381. The University of Bonn has made an online edition of the Akademie Ausgabe of Kant’s works. The text of the “Fourth paralogism of the ideality (of the external relation)” can be found here:
In English, the text can be found in the Cambridge Kant Edition, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. by Guyer and Wood, CUP 1998, pp.425-431.
3. J.G. Fichte, Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre (1794/95), Zweiter Teil, Grundlage des theoretischen Wissens, Par. 4.E.III.2b, English, Foundations of the Entire Science of Knowledge, tr. by Heath and Lachs, CUP 1982, Part 2, The foundation of theoretical knowledge, par. 4.E.III.2b.
4. Friedrich Schiller, Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, 11.-13. Brief. There are numerous editions of this text. Online:; 1795. English: Letters on the aesthetic education of man, letters 11-13; there is an English translation by R. Snell, Dover Paperbacks 2004. An online translation:

2 December

Continued from the previous session, Fichte and Schiller.

13 January

Seminar cancelled.

27 January

Materialism in German Idealism, Hegel.

1. Wissenschaft der Logik II, I.2.2.1.B and I.2.2.1.C (Das Bestehen des
Dings aus Materie and Die Auflösung des Dings).
2. Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften in Grundrisse, II, Erste
Abteilung, par. 261-266 and par 271.

These texts can be found collected, in German, in S. Köhler et al., Materie:
Grundlagentexte zur Theoriegeschichte, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp 2013.

10 February

Materialism in German Idealism, Schelling.

1. Einleitung zu dem Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie, oder Über
den Begriff der spekulativen Physik und die innere Organisation eines
systems dieser Wissenschaft, par. 6/m.
2. Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur, Einleitung.

These texts can be found collected, in German, in S. Köhler et al., Materie:
Grundlagentexte zur Theoriegeschichte, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp 2013.

24 February

An early spring: materialism and ideology in the German Vormärz. Feuerbach, Philosophie der Zukunft

The text can be found in English here.

10 March

Session cancelled.

12 May

Marx/Engels, Deutsche Ideologie. Preface and Section I.I.A, “Die Ideologie überhaupt, namentlich die deutsche”. Marx Engels Werke, Band 3, S. 5ff, Dietz 1969. Online on


9 June

In this session we will discuss Horkheimer’s 1933 essay Materialismus und Metaphysik, one of the founding texts of the Frankfurt School. An English translation can be found in: Max Horkeimer, Critical Theory – Selected Essays, New York: Continuum 1972, pp. 10-46.

23 June

Dionysian materialism: Sloterdijk’s atmospheric materialism as world-making and the affordances of a new materialism. Text: Peter Sloterdijk, Der Denker auf der Bühne – Nietzsches Materialismus (Thinker on Stage – Nietzsche’s Materialism). We will focus on the introduction, chapter 1 and chapter 5.


  1. Phil Walden · · Reply

    After our successful first session, I wanted to say something about the early dialectical materialism of Josef (Joseph) Dietzgen. He was a contemporary of Karl Marx but unlike Marx he thought that the proletarian movement should have a use for the category of spirit, which he took from Hegel’s philosophy. For Dietzgen, spirit is a form of matter. This links with Hegel’s view that the revolution requires the reconciliation of Reason and Faith. The French Terror happened because the revolutionaries opposed reason absolutely against faith, and thereby created a false universal. Dietzgen’s idea that spirit is a form of matter is, I think, important because it helps to give the proletarian movement access to spirit, which it does not get from Marx. I haven’t read Dietzgen in the original German but some of his ideas are available in English in the Charles H Kerr editions of “The Positive Outcome of Philosophy” (1906 and 1923).

    1. This is very interesting, thanks for the reference. It seems to prefigure Bloch’s distinction between a ‘cold stream’ and a ‘warm stream’ in Marxist or revolutionary thought. The cold stream is the naked critical analysis of ideology, oppression, alienation. The warm stream is the utopian vision that motivates concrete change. The latter seems related to something you might call spirit. The spirit of utopia, after all. However, the precise question as to the ontological status of this Geist has not been answered by this of course.

  2. Nathaniel · · Reply

    If by Spirit we mean in German Idealist parlance the more-than-natural qua cultural, historical, social etc., then according to the renewed materialist speculations of a Zizek or an Adrian Johnston, spirit is matter in the sense that it is more-than-matter which nonetheless has its condition of possibility in matter. How does something like spirit come from matter? Zizek and Johnston would answer (and perhaps this links to Bloch): because the expanse of matter is a de-totalized Real, not-One, non-All, a poetica tempestas without reposing in itself. Spirit surges from matter because matter is Being-in-possibility, as Bloch would say.

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