Prof. Dr. Iain Macdonald

Professor of philosophy, Université de Montréal, Canada

May until August 2017

Research project title:
Future Possibility: Figures of Possibility in Hegel, Adorno, and Heidegger

In collaboration with Prof. Dr. Christoph Menke

Funded by The Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”, Goethe University Frankfurt in cooperation with Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften


Professor Macdonald investigates questions of Nineteenth and twentieth century European philosophy: critical theory, phenomenology, aesthetics, Hegel, Marx.





Research abstract: My current research falls under several headings, organized mainly around modality, especially the concept of possibility and the problem of “actualization of philosophy” announced by Marx (but which has its roots in Hegel’s thought). In a monograph in progress, these questions are developed in reference to the works of Hegel, Adorno, and Heidegger. The book first explores the rather curious neglect of the concept of the future in Hegel’s writings, where the future is taken to be a figure of possibility. In this context, various aspects are discussed, including the critique of the ought (Sollen) and the posterity of thought (Nachwelt). Adorno’s critique of Hegel also comes into play, especially as regards Hegel’s concepts of actuality, reality, and actualization (Wirklichkeit, Realität, Verwirklichung), as presented in the Science of Logic but also in connection with the concept of education/enculturation (Bildung) discussed in the Phänomenologie des Geistes  and the Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. Adorno’s own view of possibility is then presented in detail, with special emphasis placed on the suppression of emancipatory possibilities that are currently blocked by a variety of social mechanisms. The central claim of the book is that the Hegelian typology of possibility needs to be reworked in light of Adorno’s diagnosis of such “blocked” possibilities. In light of this question, Heidegger’s concept of possibility (presented in Sein und Zeit, as well as in the Beiträge zur Philosophie and elsewhere) is analyzed as a counter-view to Adorno’s. I am currently writing the ultimate chapter of the book, which deals with the Adorno-Heidegger dispute, as seen through the lens of the concept of possibility. This approach has the advantage of providing a clear point of conceptual tension that also provides a novel perspective on the incompatibility of Adorno’s and Heidegger’s philosophical approaches. Reference will also be made to political aspects of the debate, including in relation to writings by Ernst Jünger and Walter Benjamin. In Frankfurt, I will work mainly on this ultimate phase of the book. Additionally, in connection with the argument put forward in the monograph but conceived as a separate, article-length project, I am also working on modality and the notion of “deactualization” (Entwirklichung) in Marx’s writings. Finally, I am in the planning stages of developing some of the insights of the book in the context of the philosophy of education, focussing mainly on Hegel and Adorno. (Iain Macdonald)

Publications (selection):
“Unfettering the Future: Estrangement and Ambiguity in The Trial,” in E. Hammer (ed.), Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives, Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
“Vers une “démodalisation” du possible: Heidegger et le clivage de l’estre,” in Philosophie, forthcoming.
“Adorno’s Modal Utopianism: Possibility and Actuality in Adorno and Hegel,” Adorno Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (2017): 1-12.
“L’autre pensée: la possibilité de l’autre commencement et la critique de l’effectivité dans les Beiträge zur philosophie,” in C. Perrin (ed.), Qu’appelle-t-on la pensée ? Le philosopher heideggérien, Bucharest: Zeta Books, 2014.

Paper Presentation, 16 June 2017, 11.30am
Actualization, Deactualization: Marx, Hegel, and Modality

Lecture, 19 July 2017, 6pm
Actualization, Deactualization: Marx, Hegel, and Modality


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