In Defence of Speculative Materialism

In: Historical Materialism
Cat Moir School of Languages and Cultures, University of Sydney

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Ernst Bloch’s recourse to speculative philosophy has guaranteed him the position of a perpetual outsider in the history of Western Marxism. When Jürgen Habermas described Bloch’s philosophy in 1960 as a ‘speculative materialism’, it was to denounce him for crossing the boundaries of critical thought set down as much by Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as by Marx’s critique of political economy. This article argues that Bloch’s speculative materialism deserves to be re-assessed. Contrary to Habermas’s assertion that speculation is divorced from critique, I argue with Bloch that (1) the speculative hypotheses we unavoidably use to interpret the world around us inform our political beliefs and actions, and (2) to stifle speculative thinking as that creative and inquisitive enterprise which questions and transgresses the given is not only a ‘crime against reason’, as Hilary Putnam once claimed, but also a crime against freedom.

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