Prof. Dr. Markus Gabriel

Rheinish Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Bonn

Markus GabrielMarkus GabrielMarkus Gabriel


Curriculum Vitae

Marcus Gabriel studied philosophy, classical philology and German philology at the Universities of Hagen, Bonn, Heidelberg and Lisbon. He was awarded the Ruprecht-Karl prize by the University of Heidelberg for his 2005 doctoral thesis on the philosophy of Schelling. Following the award of his postdoctoral lecture qualification in 2008 in Heidelberg, on “Skepticism and Idealism in Antiquity” (“Sketpizismus und Idealismus in der Antike”), he first taught as Assistant Professor (tenure track) at the Department of Philosophy of the New School for Social Research in New York. At the young age of 29, he was given the chair for theory of cognition, modern and contemporary philosophy at the Rhenish Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Bonn in July of 2009. Moreover, Gabriel was guest professor at numerous international universities, including Naples, Florence, Toulouse, Lisbon and Fortaleza. Since 2012, he is Director of the International Centre for Philosophy of the University of Bonn.

Gabriel’s research interests lie in epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of religion and aesthetics. From April 2011 until March 2012, Markus Gabriel was developing a theory of normativity as Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”. From April 2012 until September 2013, he was Assistant Director of the Center.


Research project

Non-normative preconditions of normativity

In the current landscape of philosphophical theory of normativity, it has become commonplace to tie the concept of law to that of autonomy. Legal subjects are conceived of as subjects that can orient themselves according to their own normativity. Normativity is itself a norm, to which one can subject oneself. In this discussion, Kantian figures of thought are obviously applied. However, Hegel and Marx have already objected to this model, claiming that normativity has constitutive limits, which are historically expressed in the entanglement of law and violence. Particularly, a famous paradox emerges for Kant: If we only become autonomous by orienting ourselves according to normativity, then the decision in favor of normativity, i.e. the constitution of subjects, is not normative. For Kant (and his contemporary supporters), this leads to the old Hobbesian problem of a transition from a natural state to a normative order.

In my project, however, I wish to first develop a dialectic theory of normativity. This means that I assume that already normatively composed subjects retroactively create the assumption that they had transitioned from a non-normative state toward normativity. However, this assumption is paradoxical. In my view, the concept of law reacts precisely to this paradox by suggesting, that initially heteronomous subjects are to become autonomous subjects, and that this tie can only be safeguarded through disciplinary action.

However, this function of the concept of law is in no way necessary or without alternative. What possible alternatives might look like, is the subject of the second part of my project, in which I engage in a comparative, transcultural analysis of the representation of the “Kantian paradox”. Here, on the one hand, John Ford’s famous western “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), much-discussed by theorists of normativity, and, on the other hand, Raj Kappor’s “Awaara” (1951), the most successful Indian court drama of all times, will be interpreted. AS it turns out, the Kantian paradox can be interpreted and resolved differently according to the specific culture. This observation suggests a historization and contextualization of normativity, which is not possible from a purely Kantian perspective, so that the transition from Kant to Hegel goes beyond Kant more substantially than heretofore believed. Particularly, the concept of law emerges as a concept of non-normative precondition of ethical normativity. In this sense, law is blind, yet nonetheless offers orientation in a normative order it has produced after the fact.


Publications (selected)

  • Warum es die Welt nicht gibt, Ullstein Verlag: Berlin 2013
  • Die Erkenntnis der Welt - Eine Einführung in die Erkenntnistheorie, Freiburg/München: Verlag Karl Alber 2012
  • Transcendental Ontology: Essays on German Idealism, New York/London: Continuum 2011
  • Together with Slavoj Zizek: Mythology, Madness, and Laughter: Subjectivity in German Idealism. Continuum: New York/London 2009
  • Skeptizismus und Idealismus in der Antike. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt/Main 2009
  • Antike und moderne Skepsis zur Einführung. Junius: Hamburg 2008  [Review by Kay Ziegenbalg in: Die Berliner Kulturkritik, 5.6.2009.]
  • An den Grenzen der Erkenntnistheorie - Die notwendige Endlichkeit des Wissens als Lektion des Skeptizismus. Alber: Freiburg/München 2008