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.