Prof. Dr. Iain Macdonald

Prof. Dr. Iain Macdonald

Short Term Senior Fellow

Period at the center: June 2024

Research Project: Adorno’s Material Doctrine of Categories



Iain Macdonald is the author of What Would Be Different? Figures of Possibility in Adorno (Stanford, 2019), in addition to a number of essays on Adorno, Heidegger, Hegel, and others, on topics ranging from metaphysics to the philosophy of history and philosophy of film. He is a former Leibniz-Professor at Universität Leipzig and research fellow at the Forschungskolleg Humanissenschaften, and elsewhere. He is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the Université de Montréal in Canada.

Research Project

Adorno’s Material Doctrine of Categories

In my current research, which builds on prior work, my approach has been focussed on what Adorno and his colleague Max Horkheimer sometimes refer to as a “material doctrine of categories,” by which they mean the way in which apparently broad and abstract metaphysical categories are rooted in social phenomena and experience. Indeed, Adorno thinks that fundamental categories such as possibility, actuality, necessity, unity, difference, causality etc., which are sometimes taken to be independent and even invariable conditions of historical experience, are in fact mediated by the latter.
Examples include Adorno’s discussions of coldness, love, culture, and education (e.g., Kälte, Liebe, Kultur, Bildung) as these concepts are invoked in Adorno’s writings. The point in each case is to see how certain social frustrations, impediments to autonomy, and ideological commitments are in fact instances of what he calls metaphysical experience (metaphysische Erfahrung).
In particular, I am currently working on issues related to Adorno’s reception of Lukács’s and Heidegger’s reception of Hegel in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in addition to Adorno’s treatment of what he calls primary experience (primäre Erfahrung) in relation to his readings of Ibsen and Hegel.

Selected publications


What Would Be Different: Figures of Possibility in Adorno (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019).

Articles, Book Chapters

“Avalanches: On Ruben Östlund’s ‘Force majeure,’” Zeitschrift für kritische Theorie 50/51 (2020): 62–79.

“Philosophy of History,” in P. Gordon, E. Hammer et M. Pensky (eds), A Companion to Adorno (Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell/John Wiley & Sons, 2020).

“Adorno and Literature,” in P. Gordon, E. Hammer, and A. Honneth (eds), The Routledge Companion to the Frankfurt School (London: Routledge, 2019).

“Vers une démodalisation du possible : Heidegger et le clivage de l’estre,” Philosophie 140 (2019): 21–30.