Isabell Dahms

Research project: Speculation: Hegel and Feminist Thought


This thesis examines the role of the concept of speculation for philosophy. First identified as a philosophical problematic by Immanuel Kant, this term, once redefined by Hegel, comes to designate a number of distinct, though related problematics within modern European philosophy, including feminist philosophy, particularly in its theorizing of the concepts of sex and gender. 

According to Kant,speculation, though problematic, is inherent to human reason. Since the understanding cannot postulate its own systematic coherence, it relies on speculative reason to introduce a principle of unity into human cognition. Reason, Kant argues, projects an imaginary point of reference, the ideas of reason, by means of which it approximates its own closure and the closure of its world. While Hegel retains the Kantian definition of speculation as the systematization of knowledge and thus as the epistemological attempt of reason to understand an object in its relationality, he also constructs an ontological definition of this term. The idea as a question of conceptual form is, Hegel proposes, also to be understood as ontological Thätigkeit (‘activity'). The Logic, it will be argued,introduces a concept of performativity, which is speculation in its ontological dimension.

With reference to the work of Irigaray and Butler, it will be elaborated how the questions addressed by Kant and Hegel under the heading of speculation are rethought within feminist philosophy. Irigaray draws attention to the more recent etymological history of the twin concepts of speculum and speculation, its meaning as recorded from 1774 of buying and selling in search of profit from rise and fall of market value, and its reference to the gynaecological instrument. In so doing, she draws a link between philosophy, patriarchal power, commodification, market fetishism, and the history of medicine as history not just of science but of social control. While Butler critiques Irigaray's overarching narrative and the construction of the concepts of sexual difference and phallogocentrism that emerge from it, her own attempt to theorize gender in terms of gender performativity, that is as a dynamical concept, one that only is what it performs, remains itself within a Hegelian speculative tradition.


I am a PhD candidate in the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP).

Areas of research interest

  • Continental philosophy
  • Feminist philosophy
  • German idealism
  • Political theory

Funding or awards received

  • TECHNE funding