Winter School 2024

9 courses taught June-July

The Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy is proud to present the Winter School 2024 curriculum.  All courses are 10 hours in length.  As always significant discounts apply for those enrolling in multiple courses. If you have any questions which aren't in our FAQs please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

When: 10 June - 19 July

Where: The five weekly courses will be at the Nicholas Building, Level 9, Room 19, 37 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000 and online via Zoom. The 5-day intensives will all be taught online via Zoom only. Also it's worth noting that Melbourne (AEST) is 10 hours ahead of UTC (5pm here is 7am in Berlin and 10pm in LA).

Payment: All payment must be made via credit card during enrolment.

Distance Enrolment: Please note that distance students will have access to the live Zoom lectures as well as access to the recordings of these lectures.  For in-person students the recorded lectures will be released to students at the end of the semester.

Fees (AUD):

Courses Waged Unwaged
1 $145 $90
2 $220 $150
3 $250 $180
4+ $280 $200


Winter Programme

2 hours per week for 5 weeks

Mon 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 10 Jun
Cosmopolitanism and Peace: Kant’s Political Writings
Lecturer: Andrew Benjamin
Tue 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 11 Jun
Knowledge Cultures: Rethinking Epistemology From African And Indigenous Australian Perspectives
Lecturer: Augustine Obi
Wed 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 12 Jun
Reason Strikes Back: New Rationalisms
Lecturer: Vincent Lê
Thu 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 13 Jun
What does Plato talk about when he talks about love?
Lecturer: Daniel Lopez
Fri 6:30-8:30pm
Starts 14 Jun
An Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
Lecturer: Gregory Marks

2 hours per day for 5 days

15-19 Jul
Philosophy of the Semiotic: On Julia Kristeva’s Early Work
Lecturer: John Lechte
15-19 Jul
The Passion for Formalization: Structural Materialisms in 20th Century Epistemology and Ontology
Lecturer: Daniel Sacilotto
15-19 Jul
After Hegel, Before Kant: Universality and Particularity between Freedom and Domination
Lecturer: Leksa Zhang
15-19 Jul
Phenomenology of Happiness in Edmund Husserl’s Thought
Lecturer: Sara Pasetto


Course Descriptions

Cosmopolitanism and Peace: Kant’s Political Writings

Lecturer: Andrew Benjamin

Starts: Mon 6:30-8:30pm 10 Jun

Full Schedule: June 10, 17, 24, July 1, and TBA

Location: In person at the Nicholas Building and online via Zoom.

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the work of Immanuel Kant via a study of a number of his short writings that engage political and ethical questions. Emphasis will be given to the study of complete texts in order to understand Kant’s mode of argumentation. The three texts on which the course will concentrate are: Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose; An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? and Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. 

Week 1. The first week will include an introduction to the dominant themes in Kant’s writings on political questions, followed by a close analysis of An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?

Week 2. The second week will be devoted to a study of his text The Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose. In addition to coming to an understanding of Kant’s argumentation the discussion will concentrate on what Kant means by the ‘cosmopolitan’.

Week 3. The third week will begin a study of Kant’s paper Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Again the project will be to understand Kant’s argumentation and what he means by ‘peace’.

Week 4. This week will continue the study of Kant’s Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. In addition to concentrating on how Kant understands peace, his thinking in this area will be juxtaposed with work by the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas on peace.

Week 5. Will allow conclusions to be drawn from the three texts by Kant which will have been studied and then to look at short commentaries on this aspect of Kant’s work by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

Knowledge Cultures: Rethinking Epistemology From African And Indigenous Australian Perspectives

Lecturer: Augustine Obi

Starts: Tue 6:30-8:30pm 11 Jun

Full Schedule: June 11, 18, 25, July 2, 9

Location: In person at the Nicholas Building and online via Zoom.

In his inspirational essay, “Hegel at the Court of Ashanti,” Robert Bernasconi examines Hegel's remarks on blacks in his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History and Lectures on the History of Religion and as a result, he takes exception to Hegel’s comment that "[the black] race has no 'historical interest of its own.” Rather than attributing Hegel’s claim to a culture-bound bias irrelevant to philosophy, Bernasconi suggests that “after rehearsing some of the more familiar objections to Hegel's verdict against [blacks],” he would  “turn the tables and put Hegel on trial…to take him before the court of the Ashanti, where his use of evidence (for the description of the black race as barbaric, primitive, and as a people with prelogical mentality) can be interrogated” (Bernasconi 1998: 41) to expose the myth of western modernity that locates the provenance of knowledge within the western philosophical tradition.

Whether one dismisses Hegel’s comment as a stand-alone null-point incapable of displacing his entire systematic philosophy or not, the reality is that Hegel’s perception has serious implications for non-European histories and their epistemic traditions, especially concerning their legitimacy and real existence, and the general consideration of their status as second order to Western history and epistemology.

This short course will attempt to explore how knowledge is framed and characterised within African and Indigenous Australian contexts. It aims to provide a unique and timely window into the different ways of knowing expressed by the Africans and Indigenous Australians which are often covered over or caged-in by the dominant western epistemological paradigms. Ultimately, the course seeks to use African and Indigenous Australian epistemological perspectives as an epistemological mirror through which epistemology can be reimagined. At a period when the call for epistemic decolonisation is gaining traction globally, this course will bring together leading African philosophers and key Indigenous Australian thinkers to shine a much-needed spotlight on different patterns of knowledge and how each constitutes an autonomous and authentic form of knowledge articulation.

Lecture One - ‘The Dreaming Emu’ And The Quest For Epistemic Liberation: Delineation Of  Indigenous Australian and African Knowledge Cultures

To begin, we engage with the interpretation of the complexity and depth of the Australian Indigenous knowledge culture as the metaphorical ‘Dreaming Emu’ that was “trapped in the net” of colonial invasion, and the long history of destruction and denial surrounding its existence and generative power (Bowers 2010). Based on this symbolism, we will then articulate the journey of exploration which has opened Western eyes to the dangers of a single knowledge provenance, and the different paradigms of Indigenous ‘knowing and being’ which offer substantive and unique worldviews that ought be recognised and celebrated. Ultimately, in this first lecture, we will analyse the ‘caged Dreaming Emu’ in terms of the resemblance it bears to the epistemic injustice that attended African colonisation, and the ways in which repudiation of the epistemic hegemony of the West has provided the opportunity to see in this caged ‘Dreaming Emu’ a ‘hidden different epistemology’ that warrants attention, respect, and engagement (Wyndier Kennedy 2011).  Having seen how the ‘caged Dreaming Emu’ symbolises the specific violence that insidiously undermined the capacity of colonised Africans and Indigenous Australians as autonomous knowers, we now turn attention, in the second half of the lecture, to attempt a portrayal of the natures of knowledge in African and Indigenous Australian epistemology. We will see how, any epistemological discourse about Africans and Indigenous Australians cannot be comprehensively understood without reference to “their cognitive relations with the world around them, which is influenced by their broader understanding or conception of reality” (Jimoh and Thomas 2015: 54). The important questions that therefore attend to these epistemological assumptions are: How can we specifically characterise these knowledge claims that are premised or derived from peoples’ widely held beliefs systems and practices? And what is the fundamental difference between these two knowledge cultures and other cultures like the Western (or even the Oriental) approach to knowledge and knowing?

Recommended Readings

  • Bernasconi, R. 2001. Hegel at the Court of the Ashanti. Hegel After Derida. Criticism, 43:110-115.
  • Bowers, R. 2010, PLACE: Beyond an Indigenous critical analysis of fine art practice, discourse and culture and the contested nature of minority identity in the mainstream – articulating an Indigenous aesthetic, Cape Breton University Art Gallery, Retrieved 22 January 2010 from
  • Chemhuru, M. 2023. THE ONTOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF AFRICAN KNOWLEDGE A Critical Discourse in African Communitarian Knowledge. African Epistemology: Essays on Being and Knowledge. Taylor and Francis. Pp. 91-104.
  • Jimoh, A. and Thomas, J. 2015. An African Epistemological Approach to Epistemic Certitude and Scepticism. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, 5(11): 54–61. ISSN (Paper)2224-5766 ISSN (Online) 2225-0484 (Online)
  • Dwayne Andrew, K. 2011. Dreaming Emu: Indigenous cultural empowerment through art as therapy – Men & healing from the violence of colonisation. University of New England, Retrieved 23 May 2024 from 01_Front_Kennedy_PDFA.pdf (
  • Ikhane, P. 2023. THE ONTOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF AFRICAN KNOWLEDGE A Critical Discourse in African Communitarian Knowledge. African Epistemology: Essays on Being and Knowledge. Taylor and Francis. Pp. 19-34.

Lecture Two - Understanding Afro-Relational Knowledge

Lecture two will begin with a comprehensive exposition of the nature and characteristics of knowledge in African epistemology. Given Africa’s diverse geography and cultures, we will explicate the sense in which we understand Africa and its knowledge cultures. African approaches to knowledge are derived from the African belief in a universe composed of immaterial realities like spirits, deities, and the interaction or relation of these incorporeal realities with the material world. From our exposition, we will discover how African approaches to knowledge reflect a certain social or communitarian epistemology, and at the same time distinguish themselves as knowledge cultures by being characterised by a cognitive process involving what Peter Aloysius Ikhane refers to as “universe of harmony”: harmony  between the observable and non-observable aspects of reality (Ikhane 2023: 20).

Key References

  • Jimoh, A. and Thomas, J. 2015. An African Epistemological Approach to Epistemic Certitude and Scepticism. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, 5(11): 54–61. ISSN (Paper)2224-5766 ISSN (Online) 
  • Dwayne Andrew, K. 2011. Dreaming Emu: Indigenous cultural empowerment through art as therapy – Men & healing from the violence of colonisation. University of New England, Retrieved 23 May 2024 from 01_Front_Kennedy_PDFA.pdf (
  • Chemhuru, M. 2023. THE ONTOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF AFRICAN KNOWLEDGE A Critical Discourse in African Communitarian Knowledge. African Epistemology: Essays on Being and Knowledge. Taylor and Francis. Pp. 91-104.
  • Ikhane, P. 2023. THE ONTOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF AFRICAN KNOWLEDGE A Critical Discourse in African Communitarian Knowledge. African Epistemology: Essays on Being and Knowledge. Taylor and Francis. Pp. 19-34.

Lecture Three And Four - Embodied Rituals, Ceremonial Spiritualism, And Immanent Connection To ‘Country’: Indigenous Australians And Their ‘Relational Dynamics Of Knowing’

After analysing African epistemology as an interwoven experience grounded on the relation of knowledge to being, we will then explore the Indigenous Australian epistemology. Just like the continent of Africa, we will explore the long history of deep knowing in Indigenous Australian communities, and how through their connection to ‘Country’ or ‘land’ Indigenous knowledge is transmitted and shared through ritualised practices. In this way, knowing is premised on historical experiences that are not only adaptive, but also experiences that embrace the whole of Indigenous science, art, ecology, wisdom, spirituality, and beliefs which Samuel Curkpatrick has referred to as ‘relational dynamics of knowing.’ To further appreciate the interwoven relational dynamics that inhere in Indigenous Australian epistemology, we will examine Samuel Curkpatrick’s interpretations of Mandawuy Yunupiŋu’s exploration of Yolŋu thought, “the performance of manikay (public ceremonial song) by Wägilak singer Daniel Wilfred; Tyson Yunkaporta’s conceptualisation of “turnaround”; and Wanta Jampijinpa Pawu’s framework of ngurra-kurlu (home-having)” (Curkpatrick 2023:658) to discern how each of these ceremonial practices engenders an interactive embodied knowing. 

Key References

  • Althaus, C. 2020. Different paradigms of evidence and knowledge: Recognising, honouring, and celebrating Indigenous ways of knowing and being. Australian Journal of Public Administration. 79:187–207.
  • Burri Regula Valérie & Joseph Dumit (2008) ‘Social studies of scientific imaging and visualization’, Ch 13 in Ed Hackett et al., The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, MIT Press: p300.
  • Curkpatrick, S. 2023. Soundings on a Relational Epistemology: Encountering Indigenous Knowledge through Interwoven Experience. Journal of Intercultural Studies. 44: 658–677.
  • Curkpatrick, S. 2023. Difference within Identity: Recognition, Growth and the Circularity of Indigenous Knowledge. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 2023. 47: 547–565.
  • Cameron, L. 2021. Australian Indigenous sensory knowledge systems in creative Practices. Creative Arts in Education and Therapy – Eastern and Western Perspectives. 7(2):114–127.
  • Ellen, R. F., Peter Parkes, Alan Bicker (2000) Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and Its Transformations: Critical Anthropological Perspectives. Psychology Press.

Lecture Five - ‘Round’ Versus ‘Square’ Knowledge, Or ‘Circular’ Versus ‘Linear’ Knowledge: Recognising Knowledge In Mutual Formation And Our Responsibility To One Another

Having considered what is integral to recognising African and Indigenous Australian ways of knowing, we can describe the ways of knowing of Indigenous Australians as circular thinking and the Western knowledge paradigm as linear (Curkpatrick 2023). This critical epistemological distinction has also been described by David Claudie as a “difference between ‘round’ and ‘square’ thinking, the former understood as typifying Indigenous knowledge, and the latter characteristic of Western knowledge” (Claudie 2004).

We will conclude the course with some comments about the significance of the decolonisation of knowledge for the inauguration of an alternative cross-cultural knowledge production and sharing that privileges no particular knowledge tradition, but rather seeks to cohere “characteristics such as respect, attentiveness and friendship to motivate collaborative research and constitute knowledge within unique localities of people and place”  (Curkpatrick 2023). This cross-cultural knowledge is not enclosed in an abstract systematisation, but is rather generated through “life giving interactions of similarity and difference” (Curkpatrick 2023: 658, 673), echoing the words of Sir Doung Nicholls: “you can play a tune on black keys, you can play a tune on white keys, but both are needed for perfect harmony.”

Key References

  • Claudie, D.  2004. “Ancient but new”: policy development from the ground up’, presentation to Community Engagement Programs for Improved Collaborative Indigenous Policy Development. Smith, B. ‘We got our own management’: local knowledge, government, and development in Cape York Peninsula. Australian Aboriginal Studies. 2005/2:4-15.
  • Curkpatrick, S. 2023. Soundings on a Relational Epistemology: Encountering Indigenous Knowledge through Interwoven Experience. Journal of Intercultural Studies. 44: 658–677.
  • Curkpatrick, S. 2023. Difference within Identity: Recognition, Growth and the Circularity of Indigenous Knowledge. JOURNAL OF AUSTRALIAN STUDIES 2023. 47: 547–565.

Reason Strikes Back: New Rationalisms

Lecturer: Vincent Lê

Starts: Wed 6:30-8:30pm 12 Jun

Full Schedule: June 12, 19, 26, July 3, 10

Location: In person at the Nicholas Building and online via Zoom.

In the contemporary philosophical context of what has been called “the revenge of reason,” this course explores two of the most prevalent new rationalisms today. On the one hand, there is the “orthogonalist” school most often associated with Nick Bostrom’s Future of Humanity Institute at The University of Oxford and Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkeley, as well as the Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias online forums so frequented by Silicon Valley tech workers. It is the orthogonalists’ rationalist—or, more precisely, decision and game theoretical—model of an advanced “artificial general intelligence” that would rapidly self-improve into a superintelligence in order to execute the goals we gave it but in unexpectedly catastrophic ways, that is behind the doomsday scenarios which appeared all over social media and the mainstream news in the wake of ChatGPT3’s release. On the other hand, there is the less widely known but steadily growing rival “neorationalist” school most often associated with philosophers Ray Brassier, Peter Wolfendale and Reza Negarestani. Largely influenced by the rationalist tradition stretching from Hegel to Robert Brandom, neorationalism has mounted a major critical examination of the orthogonalists’ conception of intelligence as a predominantly single agent that could be locked into pursuing the potentially catastrophic goals we inadvertently give it for all time. For the neorationalists instead, any general intelligence can only emerge through a community of rational agents collectively choosing their goals forever anew. This course considers how orthogonalism and neorationalism differ insofar as the former conceives of intelligence as a single agent that is programmed to pursue a fixed goal where the latter conceives of it as a multi-agent system that freely revises its values. Along the way, we will also see that despite these differences the two rationalisms share a commitment to the Humean is/ought, Moorean fact/value or Sellarsian causes/reasons dichotomy that leads to a conception of reason as having no intrinsic values or goals. Instead, all values and goals are freely determined by either human—or at least humanlike—beings.

Week 1. The Many Meanings of Reason

Before turning to the new rationalisms directly, we will first look at the many possible meanings of reason or general intelligence, such as those proposed by psychologist Howard Gardner’s “theory of multiple intelligences”: Linguistic; logical-mathematical; bodily-kinesthetic; musical; interpersonal; intra-personal; and several more besides. We will also look at a popular contemporary conception of rationality that emerges out of the modern AI research program and its efforts to build an artificial general intelligence (AGI) that is able to emulate human reason. As we will see, it is in this context that both Bostrom’s and Negarestani’s new rationalisms emerge.

Suggested readings:

  • Howard Gardner, “The Idea of Multiple Intelligences,” in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 3-11.
  • Ashok K. Goel and Jim Davies, “Artificial Intelligence,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, eds. Robert J. Sternberg and Scott Barry Kaufman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 468-480.

Weeks 2-3. “Literally Everyone on Earth Will Die”: Bostrom’s Orthogonalism

The second and third weeks focus on the most prevalent and influential rationalist school today known as orthogonalism. After an initial survey of the history of the modern AI research program out of which orthogonalism arises, we will turn to Bostrom’s 2014 book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies to draw out five key conceptual axes that prove pivotal to the orthogonalist conception of intelligence and rationality. Firstly, notwithstanding some remarks about the possibility of a collective superintelligence, Bostrom tends to conceive of AGI as an individual agent or what he calls a “singleton.” He proceeds to analyze this AGI in terms of two theses. “The orthogonality thesis” holds that intelligence and final goals are orthogonal in the sense that any level of intelligence can be programmed to pursue practically any goal whatsoever. “The instrumental convergence thesis” holds that AGI will invariably pursue certain subgoals, “convergent drives” or “basic AI drives” like “self-preservation,” “goal-content integrity,” “cognitive enhancement,” “technological perfection” or “creativity” and “resource acquisition,” because they are a universally useful means of achieving any primary goal it might have. Bostrom’s hypothetical “AI takeover” scenario then proceeds to argue that this singleton AGI subject to the instrumental convergence and orthogonality theses would pose “existential catastrophic risks” (or x-risks), not by turning against us, but by fulfilling our goals in disastrous ways that we did not expect. It is the threat of this AI takeover scenario that leads Bostrom to his final point of proposing a “friendly AI project” for ensuring that AGI remains safe and friendly to humans.

Suggested readings:

  • Nick Bostrom, “The Superintelligent Will” and “Is the Default Outcome Doom?”, in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 105-126.

Weeks 4-5. “Nothing Can Stop the Rise of Intelligence”: Negarestani’s Neorationalism

While the orthogonalist school undoubtedly provides the predominant account of intelligence and rationality in the contemporary literature, we will see in the fourth and fifth weeks that it can be productively contrasted with the rival neorationalist school. In turning to Negarestani’s 2018 book Intelligence and Spirit, we will first trace neorationalism back to his critique of what he calls the “antihumanist” conception of general intelligence for being inadvertently humanist to the extent that it mistakes certain contingent epistemic and cognitive structures as the universal and necessary basis for all human thinking. We then zero in on Negarestani’s critique of Bostrom’s argument that an AGI could be locked into pursuing a disastrous goal for all time when in fact any truly general intelligence on Negarestani’s account must be able to revise its values and goals through the dialectical game of giving and asking for reasons with other rational agents. We will then be in a position to examine Negarestani’s constructive conception of general intelligence as only arising through a whole community of rational, language using agents autonomously determining and redetermining their values, purposes and goals in dialogue with one another. Negarestani ultimately uses this conception of a self-determining general intelligence to critique what he calls “aborted nihilism” and its efforts to collapse the Humean is/ought, Moorean fact/value or Sellarsian causes/reasons dichotomy by treating certain facts about nature like reason’s inevitable extinction as supposedly objective tendencies or norms in nature, which ought to limit what reason should strive to do in the here and now. In comparing and contrasting neorationalism and orthogonalism along the way, we will also be able to examine how they diverge from each other in some crucial respects while also sharing certain basic rationalist principles in others.

Suggested readings:

  • Reza Negarestani, “Conception and Transformation,” in Intelligence and Spirit (Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2018), 1-86.
  • Peter Wolfendale, “Rationalist Inhumanism,” in Posthuman Glossary, eds. Rosi Braidotti and Maria Hlavajova (Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2018), 379-382.

What does Plato talk about when he talks about love?

Lecturer: Daniel Lopez

Starts: Thu 6:30-8:30pm 13 Jun

Full Schedule: June 13, 20, 27, July 4, 11

Location: In person at the Nicholas Building and online via Zoom.

At the famous symposium at Agathon’s house, Eryximachus recounted a complaint made to him frequently by one of the other attendees, Phaedrus. He was bored with scholarly volumes dedicated to Heracles, salt and other Greek divinities. “How could people pay attention to such trifles,” the radiant, aristocratic boy frequently asked, according to Eryximachus, “and never, not even once, write a proper hymn to Love (Erôs)?” (Symposium, 177d)

It was a valid question, well asked. And while the other guests proved sympathetic, at least one understood the subtext. “How could I vote ‘No’,” Socrates replied, speaking to Eryximachus’ motion, “when the only thing I say I understand is the art of love?” (Ibid.) Notwithstanding the apparent contradiction between this self-account and others given by the wisest man of Athens, there was at least one other topic Socrates understood with certainty: what Phaedrus wanted. And what Phaedrus wanted was to hear Socrates speak about love.

 He wasn’t the only one. Of course, there was also Alcibiades — but more importantly, there was Plato, who recorded Socrates’ words, so that they might “continue to signify just that same thing forever.” (Phaedrus, 275d) Words, after all, do not change. But paradoxically, this is why Socrates’ speeches about love roam “everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it.” (Phaedrus, 275e) And, as Plato goes on to explain, this is why his (Socrates’? Plato’s) discourse “produces a seed from which more discourse grows in the character of others. Such discourse makes the seed forever immortal and renders the man who has it as happy as an human can be.” (Phaedrus, 277a)

These words have proved prophetic — and they present modern readers with a number of mysteries. Self-evidently, Plato’s discourses on love are marked by the Ancient Greek patriarchal family and corresponding civic and religious institutions which denied rights and recognition to women. By a similar token, Plato’s aristocratic ethos seems to overdetermine his account of the soul, which valorises restraint and self-discipline, while his recourse to Greek religion and myth — despite its irony and ambiguity — is difficult to reconcile with the anti-metaphysical turn in modern philosophy. Nevertheless, we can discover in his account of Eros as a third, transcendent term that emerges in the relation between two lovers a startlingly modern theory of love. To do so requires us to examine the gulf that separates us from Ancient Greek culture and philosophy. By re-reading Plato speculatively — that is, by historicising his philosophy and re-cognizing its conceptuality in light of feminist thought, Lacanian psychoanalysis, modern poetics and modern philosophies of love — we can discover a Plato that lives by virtue of the non-identity and non-closure of his meaning. In short, if we encounter Plato aporetically and in light of our own standpoint, it will be argued that a third term appears: Eros the Absolute.

This five-week series will begin with two lectures on Plato’s Symposium. In week three, guest lecturer Jonathan McCoy will consider Jacques Lacan’s famous Seminar VIII and its reading of the Symposium. For the last two lectures, we will turn to Plato’s Phaedrus. While the focus will be on close reading, we will draw on commentaries and related texts by Stanley Rosen, Luce Irigaray, Anne Carson and others.

Week One — The Symposium

In Week One, we will begin to explore Plato’s most famous work dedicated to love, The Symposium. The lecture will cover the first part of The Symposium, up to the beginning of Socrates’ speech. In addition to the philosophies of love presented by speakers other than Socrates, we will consider the historical, cultural and religious background to Plato’s work, as well as its position with respect to his other writing.

Primary Reading:

  • Plato, “The Symposium” in Complete Works, ed., John M. Cooper (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), pp. 457-484.

Secondary Reading:

  • Rosen, Stanley, Plato’s Symposium, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987)

Other secondary readings TBC.

Week Two — The Symposium

Week Two will consider Socrates’ speech in The Symposium. We will undertake a close reading of the text, paying attention to the metaphysical, mythic, aesthetic and literary elements of the philosophy of love presented. We will also consider Diotima of Mantinea — who was she and why does Socrates’ devote his time to recounting her speech on love?

Primary Reading: 

  • Plato, “The Symposium” in Complete Works, ed., John M. Cooper (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), pp. 484-505. 

Secondary Reading: 

  • Luce Irigaray, “Sorcerer Love: A Reading of Plato’s Symposium, Diotima’s Speech”, trans. Eleanor H. Kuykendall in Hypatia, (Winter, 1989, Vol. 3. No. 3, pp. 32-44)
  • Nancy Evans, “Diotima and Demeter as Mystagogues in Plato’s Symposium”, in Hypatia (Spring, 2006, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 1-27)
  • Other secondary readings TBC.

Week Three — Lacan on The Symposium

Presented by guest lecturer Jonathan McCoy.

Lacan's commentary on The Symposium is given in sessions II-XI of Seminar VIII, Transference. We will refer to material from many of these sessions, but the primary reading this week is session VIII, “From Epistéme to Mythous”; this is representative of Lacan's approach to Plato's text, and treats a number of topics that will be significant for our discussion. We will also use session I, “In the Beginning Was Love”, in order to consider Plato's significance for Lacan's teaching more generally.

Primary Reading:

  • J. Lacan, 'From Epistéme to Mythous' in Transference: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VIII, ed. J.-A. Miller, trans. B. Fink (Cambridge: Polity, 2015), pp. 110-124.

Secondary Reading

  • J. Lacan, 'In the Beginning Was Love' in Transference: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VIII, ed. J.-A. Miller, trans. B. Fink (Cambridge: Polity, 2015), pp. 3-16.

Week Four — The Phaedrus 

Week Four’s lecture will turn to The Phaedrus, among the most mystic and inspired of Plato’s dialogues. In addition to the philosophy of love presented, we will consider the cosmological, mythic, psychagogic and poetic elements of the text. What is divine madness and why does Plato hold that it is superior to man-made sanity? 

Primary Reading 

  • Plato, “The Phaedrus” in Complete Works, ed., John M. Cooper (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), pp. 506-529.

Secondary Reading

  • Selections from Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet, (Surrey: Princeton University Press, 1986).

Week Five — The Phaedrus

Week Five will conclude our reading of The Phaedrus. We will examine the second half of the text, beginning with the allegory of the chariot. We will consider Plato’s comments on rhetoric, writing, philosophy and the soul while asking the question: how can a philosophical text remain true despite the passage of almost two and a half millennia? 

Primary Reading 

  • Plato, “The Phaedrus” in Complete Works, ed., John M. Cooper (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), pp. 529-556. 

Secondary Reading 

  • Selections from Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet, (Surrey: Princeton University Press, 1986).

SPECIAL EVENT: A Symposium on Love 

All enrolled attendees are invited to a symposium on love, to be held one week after the conclusion of this course (venue TBC — there will be wine.) 

Interested symposiasts are invited to give a short contribution on the theme of love. This may consist of a speech, a poem or other performance. Further mysteries associated with this event will be revealed to initiates in due course.

An Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit

Lecturer: Gregory Marks

Starts: Fri 6:30-8:30pm 14 Jun

Full Schedule: June 14, 21, 28, July 5, 12

Location: In person at the Nicholas Building and online via Zoom.

These lectures will present a close reading of the preface, introduction, and conclusion to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. The approach will be primarily textual, providing a step-by-step guide to Hegel’s argument, its construction, and its implicit points of reference. Rather than summarise the entire work, the lectures will focus on its paratextual chapters to highlight the conceptual framework by which it is structured, the speculative perspective from which Hegel attempts to write it, and the difficulties he encounters in merely stating these elements at the outset. The reading will be supplemented by a structural overview of the book’s composition and an account of its place in the rest of the Hegelian system. Though the lectures will be concerned in the main with the explication of Hegel’s writing, reference will also be made to the foundational commentaries of Hyppolite, Lukacs, and Rose (among others), as well as the critical receptions of Marx, Althusser, and Derrida.

Readings: The only prescribed readings will be selections from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirt (trans. Michael Inwood) for weeks 1-4, and Gillian Rose’s “The Comedy of Hegel and the Trauerspiel of Modern Philosophy” (in Mourning Becomes the Law) for week 5.

Week 1 – Outlines of a Speculative Thought: The Opening of the Preface (§1-35)

This week will cover the first half of the preface to the Phenomenology, examining Hegel’s abstract statement of his project. We will begin with the irony of the chapter’s opening, where Hegel hedges against prefaces as a sub-philosophical genre of writing, even as he carries on writing one himself. This will be followed by an explication of Hegel’s polemics against formalism, with its implicit targets of Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. Finally, having moved through these initial critical moves, we will see how Hegel’s absolute idealism begins to take shape as the recognition of substance as subject, and vice versa. 

Week 2 – Thinking the Absolute: The Rest of the Preface (§36-72)

The second week will turn to the rest of the preface, where the abstract polemical statements of the first half are complicated by Hegel’s ambition to not only state the path to absolute knowing, but show it in its own terms. We will follow Hegel through a series of philosophical oppositions: true and false, understanding and reason, abstract and concrete. Then, we will see how even these oppositions must become complicated in the work of their exposition, which may give them as results but cannot depend upon them at the outset.

Week 3 – Negative Experiences: The Introduction (§73-89)

In week three we will perform the same process of close reading on Hegel’s introduction, where he presents his concept of experience and offers some explanations of what makes his work specifically phenomenological. The reading of this short chapter will be supplemented with a structural overview of the rest of the work, detailing the orders of logic, narrative, and historical reference around which the key moments of the Phenomenology cohere.

Week 4 – Estrangements: The Conclusion (§788-808)

Jumping from the Phenomenology’s introduction to its conclusion, we will see how the notions of abstraction, experience, substance, and subject presented in the opening of the book are transformed by the exposition of the intervening chapters. Moving beyond the Phenomenology, we will also see how the work takes up multiple places as the introduction to Hegel’s system: first as the bridge into the Science of Logic (the shape of which is already modelled in the forms of Spirit), then as the groundwork for absolute ethical life rearticulated in the Philosophy of Right, and lastly as the first draft for what would later become the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Mind.

Week 5 – Two Narrative Perspectives on the Phenomenology of Spirit

In the final week we will take a step back from reading the Phenomenology to examine the cohesion of its narrative overall. This will be performed with reference to the conventions of two genres: tragedy and comedy. The tragic reading of Hegel’s work lends itself to his labours of the negative, in which the many forms of Spirit must inevitably succumb to the contradictions of their inner character. But such a reading of the Phenomenology as a drama of fate tends to put the cart before the horse: presupposing its conclusions and reducing the moments of Spirit from independent beings to fleeting stage-masks. The comedic reading, on the other hand, is one turned to the ironic reversals and unexpected resolutions that motivate the work. As absolute comedy, the Phenomenology attempts to incorporate the negativity of its moments into a narrative that does not justify but fulfils them. To make sense of this comedy of Spirit is to recognise the contingency of its moments, the critical stance it takes toward its subject matter, and its intention toward a conceptual coherence that cannot be presupposed.

Philosophy of the Semiotic: On Julia Kristeva’s Early Work

Lecturer: John Lechte

Starts: Mon 10:00-12:00pm 15 Jul

Full Schedule: 15-19 July

Location: Online via Zoom.

This year, 2024, marks the 50th anniversary of the original French edition Julia Kristeva’s epoch-making work, La Révolution du langage poétique. L’avant-garde à la fin du XIXe siècle: Lautréamont et Mallarmé (Revolution in Poetic Language. The Avant-Garde at the End of the XIXth Century: Lauréamont and Mallarmé’). Only the first third of this text dealing with basic theoretical issues has been translated: c.f.: Revolution in Poetic Language (1984). And although references to the last two-thirds of the work in question do exist, they are few and far between. 

The aim of the course, then, is to provide a response to the question: what is the philosophical significance of Kristeva’s key concept of the ‘semiotic’? Despite all that has been written on this celebrated term, its philosophical status has yet to be fully determined. To highlight the philosophical status of the semiotic, the psychoanalytic dimension will be put to one side (bracketed). We will, however, begin by providing an explication of the logic of carnival, as it puts in question the notion of the excluded middle that dominates traditional logic. The semiotic is partly captured by the logic of carnival. 

Although the English translation of Revolution in Poetic Language is important to our inquiry, it is the application of philosophy to Kristeva’s semiotic approach to the poetic texts of ‘Comte de Lautréamont’ (nom de plume of Isidore Lucien Ducasse (1846-1870)) and the poet, Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), that is of fundamental importance in gaining a deeper appreciation of the semiotic as a philosophical entity. 

In short, while Kristeva approaches philosophy from a semiotic perspective, the course endeavours to approach the semiotic from a philosophical perspective. This constitutes the uniqueness of what will be in play in the lectures to come. We will see that the concept of immanence is important in understanding the philosophical import of the semiotic.   

Because the historical context of France at the end of the nineteenth century is also significant in relation to the philosophical and revolutionary status of the practice of the semiotic, the course will thus offer a new, philosophical way of illuminating this context. 

Lecture One

The aim of this lecture is to provide background to the semiotic through an explication of Kristeva’s invocation of the logic of the carnival. This is a logic that puts in question the primacy of the principle of the excluded middle, viz, one or the other: the 0-1 logic, as opposed to the carnival logic of 0-2. As such, carnival also has the quality of being a medium.


  • Kristeva, Julia (1980) ‘Word, Dialogue, and the Novel’ in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and the Arts, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 64-91. 
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984) ‘Introduction’ in Rabelais and His World, trans. Helène Iswolsky, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1-58.   
  • Lechte, John (2024) ‘The Meaning and Signification of “Medium”’ in Philosophy of the Medium, London, New York and Dublin: Bloomsbury, 21-38.  
  • Da Silva, Jairo José (2011) ‘On the Principle of Excluded Middle’, Principia 15 (2): 333–347. [For the more technically minded.]
  • Serres, Michel (2015) ‘Part Three: The Excluded Middle’ in Rome: First Book of Foundations, 115-190, London and New York: Bloomsbury. [This is for those who wish to follow up on the theme of the excluded middle.] 

Lecture Two

This lecture will explore two key moments in the history of philosophy that contribute to the development of the concept of the semiotic. The first of these is Plato’s much discussed notion of ‘chora’ (also:‘khôra’). We want to know in what sense ‘chora’ gives rise to the semiotic. Here reference will also be made to Jacques Derrida’s interpretation of Plato’s ‘chora’. The second key moment is Husserl’s concept of ‘hyle’ (matter/data of sensation) in relation to meaning and the positing of the transcendental Ego. Is ‘sensation’ the basis of the semiotic? And what of positing the ego/subject? A response will be given to both these questions. Also to be considered is Husserl’s invocation of the epochē (bracketing, ‘parenthesizing’ or reduction) as the basis of philosophy.


  • Kristeva, Julia (1984) Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller, New York: Columbia University Press, 25-26; 31-37; 66-67, 109-118, 239 n.13.
  • Plato. (1980), Timaeus, in PLATO: THE COLLECTED DIALOGUES, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Bollingen Series LXXI, Tenth Printing, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Derrida, Jacques (1995) Khôra’ in On the Name, trans. Ian McLeod, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 89-130.
  • Hope, Alexander (2015) ‘Khōra – plus de métaphore’, Textual Practice, 29 (4), 611-630,
  • Lechte, John (2023) ‘Julia Kristeva: Chora, Infinity, Modernism’, in Maria Margaroni, ed., 
  • Understanding Kristeva, Understanding Modernism, New York and London: Bloomsbury, 40-44. 
  • Sallis, John. (1999), ‘The Χώρα [chora]’ in Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 91-124.
  • Husserl, Edmund (1982)., Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy: First book, trans, F. Kersten, Dordrecht: Kluwer, §8, §32.
  • Williford, Kenneth (2013) ‘Husserl’s hyletic data and phenomenal consciousness’, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 12 (3), 501-519.  

Lecture Three

Also relevant to the emergence of the semiotic as philosophical entity is Hegel’s concept of ‘negativity’ (also called ‘rejection’ by Kristeva) to be distinguished from the logical form of ‘negation’. Compared to negation, negativity has a dynamic, open-ended quality: it enables a certain transcendence of the present moment. Of equal importance, as we shall see, is the Hegelian notion of ‘force’. 

Also to be considered as to how it might illuminate the semiotic is Heidegger’s notion of ‘care’ or ‘cura’ (Lat.). Of interest, too, but to a lesser degree than previous notions discussed is différance proposed by Jacques Derrida’s philosophy. In sum, the lecture will then set out how the semiotic is informed by negativity, force, care and différance.

To what degree, however, is the semiotic more than a synthesis of philosophical influences and becomes a philosophical entity in its own right?


  • Kristeva, Julia (1984) Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller, New York: Columbia University Press, 109-146.
  • Hegel, G. W. F. (1977) Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 79-103.
  • Heidegger, Martin (1978) Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 83-84, 157, 241-44, 329-331, 416, 
  • Derrida, Jacques (1982). ‘Différance’ in Margins of philosophy, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 3-27.

Lecture Four

This lecture addresses the philosophy of poetic language and the context of France at the end of the nineteenth century. We define poetic language and examine key passages from Kristeva’s interpretation of the work of Lautréamont and Mallarmé as an incarnation of the semiotic. The question is: how does philosophy illuminate poetic language? Does poetic language prompt us to think philosophically? 

By way of comparison, we will refer to the relationship between philosophy and poetry in Heidegger’s reading of Stefan George’s poem, Das Wort (The Word). 


  • Kristeva, Julia (1984) Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller, New York: Columbia University Press, 217-234.
  • Kristeva, Julia (1974) La Révolution du langage poétique. L’avant-garde à la fin du XIXe siècle: Lautréamont et Mallarmé, 210-230. (Translation provided).
  • Lechte, John (1990) Julia Kristeva, London and New York: Routledge, 140-153.
  • Heidegger, Martin (1982) ‘Words’ [Das Wort] in On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz, New York, Harper & Row Perennial Library, 139-156.
  • Biographical info on Lautréamont:
  • Biographical info on Mallarmé:

Lecture Five

This lecture focuses on the philosophy of the semiotic. Rather than asking what, in the first instance, the semiotic is, we ask about the nature of philosophy. Here, Levinas may be invoked: philosophy is the counterpart of naïveté. For Husserl, philosophy is the counterpart of the ‘natural attitude’. Is it the case then that philosophy is the counterpart of immanence? 

In this, we face the following dilemma: if, as Kristeva would say, philosophy essentially participates in the Symbolic order, how can it do justice to an entity that underpins this order? It will be shown that at issue here is the poetic/sacrificial origin attributed by Kristeva to the Symbolic. Some consideration will be given to this. Part of the answer to our question regarding the outside of the Symbolic emerges through the relation between immanence (the semiotic) and transcendence. In this regard it will be argued that transcendence is prior to immanence, that is, is prior to sacrifice. 


  • Kristeva, Julia (1984) Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller, New York: Columbia University Press, 70-85.
  • Levinas, E. (1969) Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 21-30.
  • Lechte, John (2020) ‘Language, Literature, and the Founding Murder in the Work of Julia Kristeva’ in Sara S. Beardsworth, ed., The Philosophy of Julia Kristeva, Chicago: Open Court, Library of Living Philosophers, 121-132.

The Passion for Formalization: Structural Materialisms in 20th Century Epistemology and Ontology

Lecturer: Daniel Sacilotto

Starts: Mon 12:30-2:30pm 15 Jul

Full Schedule: July 15-19

Location: Online via Zoom.

This course explores various attempts to reconstitute the possibilities for a materialist philosophy through structuralist methodologies. While the term “structural realism” was introduced by John Worrall in 1989 when providing an account of scientific progress across theory changes, the core tenets of structural realism/materialism can be traced to the birth of philosophy, and to the view according to which it is mathematics or mathematized languages that allows thought to pierce beyond the realm of appearances and access the reality of being/becoming.

Different versions of the structural realist or materialist thesis have been explored throughout philosophical history, acquiring exceptional vigor since the twentieth century. In particular, we propose to focus on two major traditions of twentieth-century philosophical thought, where the ideal of mathematical formalization was seen as the key to avoid different forms of metaphysical idealism and epistemological anti-realism. First, the continental post-War French structuralist materialist tradition in their attempts to recode empiricist and rationalist epistemological concerns in an ontological or metaphysical register. Within this constellation, we first discern how a group of “Heraclitean empiricists” think of a vitalist materialism where the structure of pure becoming or difference as virtual multiplicity is given by a formal ontology of the differential calculus, capturing the dynamics of life (Bergson, Deleuze). In contrast, we then discern those “Parmenidean rationalists” who rekindle the possibilities of dialectical materialism by conceiving of the structure of pure being as an order of inconsistent multiplicity accessible to pure thought, by a formal set-theoretical ontology and pure semiotics, withdrawn from conceptual sense and intuitive sensation (Althusser, Badiou, Meillassoux.) As we shall see, both of these trajectories aimed to overcome the limitations associated with phenomenological and existentialist approaches, the better to open new paths for speculative and revolutionary thought.

The second tradition we follow is the analytic structural realist epistemology and metaphysics of science, which sought to overcome the perceived theoretical nihilism following from Wittgenstein’s assault against the classical project of semantic analysis associated with logical positivism, as well as the epistemological relativism-historicism associated with Kuhn’s account of scientific revolutions. In turn, the thinkers we associate with structural realism proposed to conceive of new possibilities for a scientific realist epistemology and ontology that would salvage philosophy from anti-realism and linguistic relativism. In this context, we also discern two subsidiary trajectories of thought. First, the post-Sellarsian attempts to naturalize Kant through the resources of a historicized understanding of the transcendental, and a structural-formal dialectics of scientific change, elaborated above all by Jay F. Rosenberg. Second, the ontic structural realist tradition following downstream from the work of John Worrall and elaborated above all by James Ladyman and Don Ross, who attempt to describe the conditions for a metaphysics of pure patterns formalized by information-theoretic conceptions of thermodynamics and computer science. As we shall see, both of these trajectories also attempt to resist a perceived anti- realist danger incubated in the philosophy of language and semantic programs of early analytic philosophy.

Finally, we shall explore different attempts today to bring together insights from both traditions, in a revival of structuralist- formal approaches to ontology and epistemology. We shall do so by surveying the contours of two major contemporary philosophical projects: Gabriel Catren’s proposed merger of Spinoza and Kant in his recently published Pleromatica: On Elsinore’s Trance; and Lorenz Puntel’s structural systematics in his largely underappreciated treatise Structure and Being. Above all, the seminar will attempt to trace an integrative line of convergence between themes that bind both the continental and analytic traditions, in their common pursuit for materialist and realist strategies in epistemology and ontology.


Syllabus and Weekly Breakdown:

Week I – Introduction: A Brief History of Structuralism in Philosophy

This week we propose a protracted rehearsal of the evolution of the structuralist thesis, from antiquity and until the present. We begin by a brief excursion on the ancient origins of the structuralist thesis in its Democritean, Pythagorean, and Platonist iterations, and its subsequent modern developments.

  • Plato – Phaedo
  • Democritus - Fragments
  • Verity Harte – excerpts from Plato on Parts and Wholes: The Metaphysics of Structure
  • Descartes – excerpts from Discourse on Method

Week II – The French Post-War Structural Materialist School I: The Heraclitean Empiricists

This week we follow the attempts by the French post-War to appropriate structuralist methods in the social sciences and psychoanalysis to reconstitute the valences of materialism in an empiricist and rationalist register. We begin by focusing on the empiricist tradition concentrated in the works of Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, in which a new formal ontology of pure difference virtual multiplicity becomes part of a metaphysics of Life.

  • Henri Bergson – excerpts from Creative Evolution and Matter and Memory
  • Gilles Deleuze – How Do we Recognize Structuralism?, excerpts from Difference and Repetition

Week III – The French Post-War Structural Materialist School II: The Parmenidean Rationalists

This week we follow the second, rationalist orientation of the structuralist materialist French tradition, looking at attempts by the followers of the Althusserian school to reconstitute the valences of dialectical materialism through a formal ontology of pure multiplicity. We focus on the works of Alain Badiou and Quentin Meillassoux, in which a mathematical ontology and speculative materialism become aligned to a conception of structure that subtracts thought from the deliverances of sensibility and language.

  • Alain Badiou – excerpts from Being and Event (Meditation II); Platonism and Mathematical Ontology
  • Quentin Meillassoux - Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Sign Devoid of Meaning

Week IV – The Structural Realist Analytic Philosophy of Science

This week we focus on two trajectories of the analytic philosophy of science which sought to overcome the limitations associated with Wittgensteinean pragmatism, and Kuhnian relativism. We focus on examples by the Sellarsian school, and in particular by Jay F. Rosenberg, to pursue a broadly Peircean strategy or “convergent realist” conception of theoretical change, in which scientific and ontological theories are seen as approximating the ideal of absolute knowledge. In turn, we follow the ontic structural realist tradition, looking at the information-theoretic ontology of pure patterns proposed by James Ladyman and Don Ross.”

  • Jay Rosenberg – Another Look at Convergent Realism
  • James Ladyman and Don Ross – “Rainforest Realism,” in Everything Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized

Week V – Contemporary Approaches to Structural Realism and Materialism

This week we survey some notable attempts to draw from the various traditions we have surveyed in his course, to forge new materialist programs that traverse the methodological gulf between analytic and continental approaches. We focus on two such attempts, where the prospects of a formal ontology become also part of a systematic reimagining of the scope of philosophy in the contemporary world: Lorenz Puntel’s global structural systematics in the attempt to formalize the general integrative ambitions of German Idealism, and Gabriel Catren’s neo-vitalist materialism through a synthesis of Spinoza and Kant.

  • Lorenz Puntel – excerpts from Structure and Being
  • Gabriel Catren – excerpts from Pleromatica: On Elsinore’s Trance.

After Hegel, Before Kant: Universality and Particularity between Freedom and Domination

Lecturer: Leksa Zhang

Starts: Mon 3:30-5:30pm 15 Jul

Full Schedule: 15-19 July

Location: Online via Zoom.

The course offers a Hegelian reading of Kant, or more precisely, a mutual (mis)translation between Kant and Hegel. The starting point of this course is that the structure of Reason in Kant is mutual recognition. For both Kant and Hegel, mutual recognition in its ethical substantiality constitutes the condition of possibility of ethical life in modernity—the concrete universality. On the other hand, what renders the problem of mutual recognition—and its dirempted counterpart, relations of domination—especially acute is the novel character of the modern subject, namely its infinite freedom. The double bind of modern ethical life is therefore the reconciliation or articulation of the relation between mutual recognition and subjectivity, the universal and the particular, each endowed with infinite value: freedom without recognition leaves behind relations of domination, whereas recognition without freedom forsakes the gains of modernity.

The experience of modernity is the persistent failure of this project shared by Kant and Hegel. In suggesting that universal mutual recognition is the condition of possibility of Reason as such, where reason is the condition of possibility of experience, the failure of universal mutual recognition becomes the impossibility of experience. The result is therefore a strangely Adornian Kant: experience is impossible in this world. The critical question—how is experience possible?—becomes truly critical: how is experience hitherto impossible? Read in such a way, Kant—more than Hegel—offers the more lucid diagnosis of the aporia of modern ethical life, but this is a reading of Kant that is possible only after Hegel.

1. Kantian Reason and Mutual Recognition

The task of the first lecture is to foreground mutual recognition in the Kantian project. I argue that Kantian reason has the structure of universal mutual recognition; in fact, reason cannot be thought at all without a community of universally mutually recognizing subjects. The name Kant gave to this community is species—the species is the bond that ties the universal to each particular, yet the species in Kant remains an idea of reason without actuality. Tracing the presence of a rational idea of universal mutual recognition in Metaphysics of Morals and other writings, I will focus on the third critique to articulate how Kant envisions the mutually recognizing community as the condition of possibility of judgments in general and hence of experience as such.


  • Kant: What is Orientation in Thinking?; Critique of Power of Judgment (§§30-40); Metaphysics of Morals (p.68-82)

2. Kant’s Master/Slave Dialectics: Freedom and Domination

The second lecture focuses on the other pole of the dilemma: modern subjectivity with infinite freedom. Here particularity attains infinite dignity. Addressing the question ‘why must subjects struggle to death in the Phenomenology?’, I suggest the answer is: because they’re Kantians. The struggle to death, while one of many possible paths to recognition in Hegel, is determined by the shape of Kantian freedom as necessary and inevitable. For Kant, freedom is the freedom to legislate universally; to legislate universally, however, is to deny the legislation of all others. Therefore, a moment of transgression and non-recognition is structurally inevitable for Kantian freedom. This universality of each Kantian subject is what makes them appear to each other as enemies that must be subjugated. The master is the one whose legislation is obeyed: it is by virtue of our being Kantian, i.e. universally legislative subjects that we must  struggle for dominance. The result of the struggle, however, is not true universality, but the usurpation of universality by a particular will, i.e. that of the master. The structure of master/slave therefore is the wound left behind by Kantian universal subjects. 


  • Kant: Universal History, Perpetual Peace, MM p.123-50; 
  • Hegel, Phenomenology (§§166-96), Philosophy of Right (§158), fragment on love (recommended)

3. Hegel contra Kant 1

The third lecture continues to think through the aftermath of the master/slave dialectic in Kant. Kant believes that from the usurpation of universality by the master, a truer universality of lawfulness could emerge, and the resultant civil condition could function as the transition to a true ethical life. Hegel contests this model. As Kant thinks of civil condition merely in terms of external right and coercion, Hegel argues, Kantian right is nothing but relations of domination. Ethical life remains irredeemably separate from the state of legality. The truth of Kant’s civil condition, in Hegel’s account, is Roman despotism. Kant, however, I suggest, would agree with this assessment. The systematic implication of Hegel’s critique, moreover, is that Hegel cannot criticize the insubstantiality of Kant’s civil condition without turning the same accusation against his own account of civil society. We will address the ramifications of this in the final lecture.


  • Kant, MM (55-62,68-80, 123-50), Universal History, Perpetual Peace. 
  • Hegel, Phenomenology (§476-82)

4. Hegel contra Kant 2

The fourth lecture continues with Hegel’s critique of Kant. If Hegel polemicizes against the lack of actuality of Kantian philosophy, it is not only that it is not (yet) actualized, but that Kant’s concepts are thought of in such a way so that it is a priori unactualizable. I will focus on Hegel’s argument about particularity and universality: according to Hegel, Kant posits the particular wills as a priori opposed to the universal will, therefore the universal will or general will cannot be arrived at without infringing on particular wills. Insofar as particularity and universality are a priori opposed, their mutual articulation and reconciliation—the actuality of ethical life—remain impossible. Contra Kant, Hegel believes in the primacy of ethical syllogism, that particularity and universality are always already in concert with each other. It is this new conception of non-antinomian particularity-universality relation that constitutes the foundation of Hegel’s overcoming of Kant’s dualisms. But this reading of Kant is not necessarily correct: for a Hegelian syllogistic logic, I turn to the category of community in the first critique, and suggest that Kant is not unaware of Hegel’s innovation, and this is the problem that drove him to develop the intersubjective structure of reason in the critical project in the first place. The problem, then, cannot be solved by a simple Hegelian Aufhebung.


  • Hegel, Philosophy of Right (§29, 40, 257-8); 
  • Kant, remarks on the Sublime and the beautiful (109-10), Critique of Pure Reason (p.215-6, 484-9), .

5. Beyond Impossible

Hegel’s charge of Kantian non-actuality in the final analysis turns against Hegel as well. Kant, more than Hegel, provides us with critical perspectives to think about this predicament as embodied beings living in history without foreclosure or predestined reconciliations. What Hegel resolves, Kant problematizes. Our reading of Kant is thus: the first critique grounds objectivity in the subject, the third critique grounds subjectivity in mutual recognition. Only the community of mutually recognizing rational beings secures the intelligibility of experience, that is to say, experience as such. The fact of domination, however, exposes the groundlessness of this mutually recognizing community. This predicament applies to Hegel as much as Kant. The fault lines of this insubstantial mutual recognition bears the name of ‘remnants of state of nature’ in the Philosophy of Right, in the figure of the rabbles. Hegel’s critique of Kant forces us to think seriously about the precariousness of modern ethical life. 

We return, once again, to Kant’s problematic universality of domination. The master not only claims for himself the universal, he simultaneously assigns to the slave a delegitimate particularity. Kant’s opposition of the universal and the particular has its genesis in the concrete relations of domination: it is not so much that particularity and universality cannot be reconciled, but that their reconciliation is a sham under present conditions. But the consequences of being denied recognition as a universal being are greater than expected: the predicament is most starkly revealed in the figures of women and slaves as embodied beings. Non-recognition becomes instrumentalization, instrumentalization, however, culminates in cannibalization. In a world where empirical non-recognition persists, the relation between particularities is one of cannibalism. Ethical life is impossible in this world.


  • Kant, MM 95-9; 
  • Hegel, Philosophy of Right, §200, 244, 253, 

Recommended readings:

  • Cristi, Renato. Hegel on freedom and authority . University of Wales Press, 2005.
  • Fenves, Peter. A peculiar fate: Metaphysics and world-history in Kant. Ithaca , NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1991.
  • Geiger, Ido. The Founding Act of Modern Ethical Life: Hegel’s critique of Kant’s moral and political philosophy. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.
  • O’Neill, Onora. Constructing authorities: Reason, politics and interpretation in Kant’s philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Shell, Susan Meld. The embodiment of reason: Kant on spirit, generation, and community. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Yovel, Yirmiyahu. Kant and the philosophy of history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Phenomenology of Happiness in Edmund Husserl’s Thought

Lecturer: Sara Pasetto

Starts: Mon 6:00-8:00pm 15 Jul

Full Schedule: 15-19 July

Location: Online via Zoom.

Can philosophy teach us something about happiness? In the past, philosophy was considered a crucial ethical approach in life, which gives a certain consolatio. Through (1) the example of Edmund Husserl, who dedicated his life to philosophy as an elevated ethical value for humanity, we will explore the conceptual nuances of happiness within some of his analyses. The cartography of the latter will show various possible dimensions from (2) the categorical imperative of fulfilling the best of all possible goods and the problem of ethical instinct to (3) the decision of removing the obstacles on our way to the good by doing maybe the worst, until (4) the phenomenological variations of happiness, sadness, and satisfaction and (5) the ethical problematic of the happiness of the others. What does it mean to be happy if others are not?

1. The Happiness of Philosophers

Husserl’s Happiness: A Short Biography

What is the Happiness of Philosophy?


Dan Weijers’ article:

2.   The Best is the Enemy of the Good:

Franz Brentano’s Principle of Absorption

Moritz Geiger’s Objections to Husserlian Phenomenology


  • Quotes translated from Husserl, Edmund. 1988. “Vorlesungen über Ethik und Wertlehre 1908-1914”. In Husserliana XXVIII, edited by Ullrich Melle. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer
  • Quotes translated from Husserl, Edmund. 2012. “Einleitung in die Philosophie. Vorlesungen 1916-1920”. In Husserliana: Materialen IX, edited by Ullrich Melle. Dordrecht/Heidelberg/New York/London: Springer

3. The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

Husserlian Will of Power


  • Quotes translated from Husserl, Edmund. 2020. “Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins. Teilband III: Wille und Handlung. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1902–1934)”. In Husserliana XLIII/2, edited by Ullrich Melle and Thomas Vongehr. Leuven: Springer
  • Sara Pasetto’s article: The Husserlian Will to Power: ‘I Can Do Whatever I Want’

4. A Satisfied Mind

Phenomenology of Happiness, Sadness, and Satisfaction


  • Quotes translated from Husserl, Edmund. 2013. “Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie. Analysen des Unbewusstseins und der Instinkte. Metaphysik. Späte Ethik. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1908–1937)”. In Husserliana XLII, edited by Rochus Sowa and Thomas Vongehr. Dordrecht/Heidelberg/New York/London: Springer
  • A Satisfied Mind (Jeff Buckley’s version):

5. I can only be very happy if humanity as a whole can be

The Ethical Happiness


  • Quotes translated from Husserl, Edmund. 2013. “Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie. Analysen des Unbewusstseins und der Instinkte. Metaphysik. Späte Ethik. Texte aus dem Nachlass (1908–1937)”. In Husserliana XLII, edited by Rochus Sowa and Thomas Vongehr. Dordrecht/Heidelberg/New York/London: Springer

Course Descriptions