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David James

My research interests include German Idealism together with its legacy (e.g. the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory) and social and political philosophy, especially the tradition that can be traced from Rousseau through Kant, Fichte and Hegel to Marx. My current research projects include a study of the role played by practical necessity in the writings of key figures in the history of social and political philosophy ranging from Hobbes to Marx. I am particularly interested in the implications of these philosophers' insights into the different ways in which human social and political agency is subject to practical contraints for discussions of

(i) The possibility of various kinds of freedom (e.g. 'negative' freedom and autonomy).

(ii) The nature and genesis of social and political constraints in a normative sense.

(iii) Our understanding of history (e.g. What is the relation of practical necessity to historical necessity? To what extent can history be effectively shaped by human social and political agency?).

(iv) The limits of 'ideal' normative theory.

(v) The way in which appeals to practical necessity may perform an ideological function.

Selected publications


  • Practical Necessity, Freedom and History from Hobbes to Marx (Oxford University Press, under contract)
  • Fichte’s Republic: Idealism, History and Nationalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • Rousseau and German Idealism: Freedom, Dependence and Necessity (Cambridge University Press, 2013; paperback 2015).
  • Fichte’s Social and Political Philosophy: Property and Virtue (Cambridge University Press, hardback 2011; paperback 2013; Chinese translation 2016).

Edited Books

  • Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • (With Günter Zöller) The Cambridge Companion to Fichte (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).


  • 'Marx's Genealogy of the Idea of Equality', European Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming).
  • ‘Practical Necessity and the Fulfilment of the Plan of Nature in Kant’s Idea for a Universal History’, Journal of the Philosophy of History 13 (2019): 42-65.
  • 'Der geschlossene Handelsstaat als Theorie der distributiven Gerechtigkeit mit Blick auf Fichtes Begriff der Politik', in Thomas Sören Hoffman (ed.), Fichtes Geschlossener Handelsstaat (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2018).
  • ‘From Kant to Sade: A Fragment of the History of Philosophy in the Dialectic of Enlightenment’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26(3) (2018): 557-577.
  • ‘Reading Rousseau’s Second Discourse in the Light of the Question: What is the Source of Social Inequality?’, European Journal of Philosophy 26(1) (2018): 238-260.
  • ‘Self-mastery and Universal History: Horkheimer and Adorno on the Conditions of a Society “in Control of Itself”’, Philosophy and Social Criticism 43(9) (2017): 932-952.
  • 'The Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity in Marx's Idea of Communist Society', European Journal of Philosophy 25(2) (2017): 270-293.
  • ‘Hobbes’s Argument for the “Naturalness” and “Necessity” of Colonization’, History of Political Thought 38(3) (2017): 339-461.
  • ‘Practical Necessity and the “Logic” of Civil Society’, in David James (ed.), Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • ‘Fichte and Hegel on Recognition and Slavery’, in David James and Günter Zöller (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Fichte (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
  • ‘The Political Theology of Fichte’s Staatslehre: Immanence and Transcendence’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24(6) (2016).
  • ‘Fichte on Personal Freedom and the Freedom of Others’, in Gabriel Gottlieb (ed.), Fichte’s Foundations of Natural Right: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
  • ‘Property and Independence in Kant’s Rechtslehre’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 24(2) (2016).
  • ‘Enlightenment and the Unconditional Good: From Fichte to the Frankfurt School’, International Journal of Philosophical Studies 24(1) (2016).
  • ‘Radical Distributive Justice: Fichte’s The Closed Commercial State’, in Camilla Boison and Matthew C. Murray (eds.), Distributive Justice Debates in Political and Social Thought: Perspectives on Finding a Fair Share (London: Routledge, 2015).

  • ‘How “Natural” Is Fichte’s Theory of Natural Right?’, in M. C. Altman (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism (London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014).

  • 'Selfhood, Virtue, and the Wissenschaftslehre: Fichte's Engagement with Rousseau's First Discourse', The Review of Metaphysics 67(3) (2014).