The Adventures of the Dialectic from Kant to Žižek


A striking feature of much modern European philosophy has been its insistence on the importance of the dialectic.  But what is the dialectic? To its advocates, it can seem as if it functions like algebra; but to its opponents, it is closer to alchemy.  At the most basic level, it involves the idea of the interplay of contradiction and transformation in both thought and reality.  Is the dialectic then inherently - dialectical?  

This course will endeavour to identify the rational kernel of the idea of dialectic by tracking its development from the end of the eighteenth century to our own time.

We will examine the origin of the modern conception of the dialectic in Kant, where it plays a negative role, then its positive transformation by Fichte and Schelling, leading to Hegel's development of a thoroughly dialectical philosophy.  The Hegelian dialectic was then both criticized and radicalized by the Young Hegelians, most notably of course by Marx, which in turn led to the development of the ambitious philosophical world-view espoused by many twentieth century Marxist theoreticians until the banner of dialectical materialism.  The dialectic was then subject to a variety of critiques and re-workings by Sartre, Deleuze, Adorno and others, and continues to resonate in our own time, notably in the work of Slavoj Žižek.

Programme details

Courses starts: 25 Apr 2023

Week 1:  Kant: dialectic as the "logic of illusion"

Week 2:  Fichte: the "thesis/antithesis/synthesis" model

Week 3:  Schelling: the dialectic of the absolute

Week 4:  Hegel: dialectical idealism 

Week 5:  The Young Hegelians: radical dialectic

Week 6:  Marx: revolutionary dialectic

Week 7:  Dialectical materialism in the twentieth century

Week 8:  French re-thinkings of the dialectic: Sartre, Althusser and Deleuze 

Week 9:  Adorno: negative dialectics

Week 10:  Žižek: dialectic in the twenty-first century


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £238.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Meade McCloughan

Meade McCloughan has been studying philosophy for nearly 40 years and has taught at University College London and Birkbeck College London.  He is on the organising group of the Marx and Philosophy Society.

Course aims

To elucidate the modern conception of the dialectic. 

Course Objectives:

1. To show how the dialectic develops from Kant to to Žižek

2. To assess the rationality of the dialectic.

Teaching methods

Extracts from all the material to be discussed will be made available in class.  The tutor will give a presentation in class, before opening up for discussion. Electronic presentations will be used and made available to students in advance in a variety of formats.  Students will be able to benefit from formative feedback on written work during the course.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

- be able to appreciate the varieties and values of dialectical thinking;

- understand the development of important strands of modern European philosophy;

- have developed skills in reading and evaluating a variety of historical philosophical texts.

Assessment methods

Participants will be given four short exercises during the course to take home and complete (up to 500 words each) and then return subsequently (either hardcopy or electronically). The tutor will assess and provide written comments on completed exercises. Students will be able to do all four short exercises.

Students can choose to be assessed for the course EITHER on the basis of THREE completed short exercises OR by submitting an essay of 1,500 words on a chosen topic from the course (suggested questions will be provided during the course). Those choosing to write an essay can submit a 500 word draft for feedback in advance of submitting the final version or can use one of the short exercises for the same purpose.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

This course deals with difficult philosophical ideas, and some familiarity with modern European philosophy would be an advantage.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)