Professor Sean Sayers

Emeritus Professor of Philosophy

About

Professor Sean Sayers has written extensively on Hegelian and Marxist philosophy from a Hegelian Marxist perspective. He has worked in the areas of social philosophy, ethics, theory of knowledge, metaphysics and logic, has also written on Freud and psychoanalysis, and is currently working on issues concerning the relation of Marx to Hegel. 

Sean studied at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford and holds a PhD from the University of Kent. His work has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, and Turkish. 

He has held visiting appointments in Colorado, Massachusetts, Sydney, Istanbul, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Beijing and is a Visiting Professor at Peking University (since 2016) and at Canterbury Christ Church University (since 2016). 

His books include Marx and Alienation: Essays on Hegelian Themes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), Plato's Republic: An Introduction (Edinburgh University Press, 1999), Marxism and Human Nature (Routledge, 1998), Reality and Reason: Dialectic and the Theory of Knowledge (Blackwell, 1985), and Hegel, Marx and Dialectic: A Debate (with Richard Norman, Harvester, 1980). 

He has also co edited Marxism, Religion and Ideology (Routledge, 2015), Socialism, Feminism and Philosophy: A Radical Philosophy Reader (Routledge, 1991), Socialism and Democracy (Macmillan, 1991) and Socialism and Morality (Macmillan, 1990). 

Sean has published numerous articles in scholarly journals and books. He was one of the founders of the journal Radical Philosophy (1972), and he was the founder of the Marx and Philosophy Review of Books (2009). 

Appointments

  • Founder and Editor, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books (since 2009)
  • Editorial Advisory Board, 'Current Research in Western Marxism' book series, Renmin Publishing House, Beijing (since 2006)
  • Co-founder and Organizing Committee, Marx and Philosophy Society (since 2003)
  • Consulting Editor, Episteme (since 2002)
  • Editorial Board, 'New Critical Thinking in Philosophy' series, Ashgate (1999-2006)
  • Editorial Advisory Board, Cultural Logic: An electronic journal of Marxist theory and practice (since 1997)
  • Advisory Editorial Board, Historical Materialism (since 1997)
  • Co-founder of Radical Philosophy and member of editorial board (1972-2001); Book Reviews Editor (1993-8) 

For a full list of publications and CV, visit www.seansayers.com.

Publications

Showing 50 of 64 total publications in the Kent Academic Repository. View all publications.

Article

  • Sayers, S. (2009). Marxism and the Crisis of Capitalism. Philosophical Trends 2009:19-21.
    Capitalism is going through its greatest crisis since the 1930s or before. The banking system has been saved from meltdown (at least for the time being) only by extensive government intervention in the USA, Britain, and a number of other countries. Stock markets all over the world have plummeted. A long and deep recession is in prospect. Capitalism, it is sometimes said, may be on the verge of collapse.
  • Sayers, S. (2008). Review of John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. Radical Philosophy:49-50.
  • Sayers, S. (2008). Hegel and Marx’s theory of Creative activity and alienation. Marxism and Reality 2008:37-44.
  • Sayers, S. (2008). Marxist Philosophy in Britain: An Overview. Modern Philosophy 2008:52-57.
  • Sayers, S. and Haijuan, C. (2008). On the Revival of Marxism: an interview with Sean Sayers. Social Sciences Weekly.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Marx’s Concept of Labor. Science & Society [Online] 71:431-454. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1521/siso.2007.71.4.431.
    Marx conceives of labour as form giving activity. This is criticised for presupposing a `productivist' model of labour which regards work that creates a material product – craft or industrial work – as the paradigm for all work (Habermas, Benton, Arendt). Many traditional kinds of work do not seem to fit this picture, and new `immaterial' forms of labour (computer work, service work, etc.) have developed in postindustrial society which, it is argued, necessitate a fundamental revision of Marx's approach (Hardt and Negri). In this paper I argue that Marx's theory must be understood in the context of Hegel's philosophy. In that light, I show that the view that Marx has a `productivist' model of labour is mistaken. I criticise the concept of `immaterial' labour, and argue that Marx's ideas continue to provide an illuminating framework for understanding work in modern society.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Dialectic and Social Criticism. Spartacus:86-90.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). The concept of labor: Marx and his critics. Science & Society 71:431-454.
    Marx conceives of labor as form-giving activity. This is criticized for presupposing a "productivist" model of labor which regards work that creates a material product - craft or industrial work - as the paradigm for all work (Habermas, Benton, Arendt). Many traditional kinds of work do not seem to fit this picture, and new "immaterial" forms of labor (computer work, service work, etc.) have developed in postindustrial society which, it is argued, necessitate a fundamental revision of Marx's approach (Hardt and Negri). Marx's theory, however, must be understood in the context of Hegel's philosophy. In that light, the view that Marx has a "productivist" model of labor is mistaken. The concept of "immaterial" labor is unsound, and Marx's ideas continue to provide an illuminating framework for understanding work in modern society.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Individual and society in Marx and Hegel: Beyond the communitarian critique of liberalism. Science & Society [Online] 71:84-102. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1521/siso.2007.71.1.84.
    Marx's concepts of individual and society have their roots in Hegel's philosophy. Like recent communitarian philosophers, both Marx and Hegel reject the idea that the individual is an atomic entity, an idea that runs through liberal social philosophy and classical economics. Human productive activity is essentially social. However, Marx shows that the liberal concepts of individuality and society are not simply philosophical errors; they are products and expressions of the social alienation of free market conditions. Marx's theory develops from Hegel's account of "civil society," and uses a framework of historical development similar to Hegel's. However, Marx uses the concept of alienation to criticize the liberal, communitarian and Hegelian conceptions of modern society and to envisage a form of individuality and community that lies beyond them.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Review of Alasdair MacIntyre, The Tasks of Philosophy, Selected Essays Volume 1, and Ethics and Politics, Selected Essays Volume 2. Radical Philosophy:56-58.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Marxism And Morality. Philosophical Researches 2007:8-12.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Karl Marx and his Doctrine. Spartacus:72-74.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Marxist Philosophy in Britain: An Overview. Journal of the Institute of Marxist Studies (CASS Beijing).
  • Sayers, S. (2006). Religion and Politics in the Modern World. Modern Philosophy 4:1-11.
  • Sayers, S. (2005). Why Work? Marx and Human Nature. Science & Society [Online] 69:606-616. Available at: http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/guilford/access/912593771.html?dids=912593771:912593771:912593771&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT:PAGE&date=Oct+2005&author=Sean+Sayers&pub=Science+%26+Society&edition=&startpage=606&desc=WHY+WORK%3F+MARX+AND+HUMAN+NATURE.
    Why work? Most people say that they work only as a means to earn a living. This instrumental view is also implied by the hedonist account of human nature which underlies utilitarianism and classical economics and which has been influential in recent `analytical’ Marxism. It is argued in this paper that Marx's concept of alienation involves a more satisfactory theory of human nature which is rooted in Hegel's philosophy. According to this, we are productive beings and work is potentially a fulfilling activity. The fact that it is not experienced as such is shown to be at the basis of Marx's critique of capitalist society.
  • Sayers, S. (2003). Creative Activity and Alienation in Hegel and Marx. Historical Materialism 11:107-128.
    This article sheds important new light on the philosophical assumptions about human nature in Marx's account of alienation. The key to understanding these lies in Hegel's philosophy. This paper explains Hegel's account of the role of labour in human development and shows how it underlies Marx's theory. The paper focuses particularly on Hegel's Aesthetics and demonstrates that this work contains crucial but hitherto neglected material on this topic. It then goes on to discuss how Marx's views differ from Hegel's, and to criticise Arendt.
  • Sayers, S. (2001). The Importance of Hegel for Marx: Reply to Zarembka. Historical Materialism [Online] 8:367-372. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1163/156920601100414758.
    Explores how the Hegelian ways of thinking have influenced the philosophy of Karl Marx. Problems encountered by Marx in completing Volumes II and III of "Capital"; Role of Hegel in the theoretical structure of Marx's thought; Arguments regarding the thesis that Marx abandoned Hegelianism.
  • Sayers, S. (2000). Review of G.A. Cohen, If you’re an egalitarian, how come you’re so rich?. Radical Philosophy:39-41.
  • Sayers, S. (1999). Identity and Community. Journal of Social Philosophy [Online] 30:147-60. Available at: http://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/philosophy/articles/sayers/identity.pdf.
  • Sayers, S. (1997). Who are my peers? The Research Assessment Exercise in philosophy. Radical Philosophy:2-5.

Book

  • Sayers, S. (2011). Marx and Alienation: Essays on Hegelian Themes. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
    What does Marx mean by 'alienation'? What role does the concept play in his critique of capitalism and his vision of a future society?
    Marx and Alienation deals in depth with some of the most important philosophical assumptions of Marx's work. It sets Marx's account of alienation and its overcoming in the context of the Hegelian philosophy from which it derives, and discusses it in relation to contemporary debates and controversies. It challenges recent accounts of Marx's theory, and shows that knowledge of Hegel's philosophy is essential for an understanding of central themes in Marx's philosophy.
    Marx and Alienation explains and discusses Marx's ideas in an original and accessible fashion and makes a major contribution to Marxist philosophy.
  • Sayers, S. and Alpagut, ? (2009). Marksizm Ve Insan do?As?. Istanbul: Yordam Kitap.
  • Sayers, S. (2008). Marxism and Human Nature. Beijing: Oriental Press.
  • Sayers, S. (2008). Plato’s Republic: An Introduction. Seoul: Seo-Kwang-Sa Publishers.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Marxism and Human Nature. London: Routledge.
    Defending the controversial theory that human nature is a historical phenomenon, this book defends the Marxist and Hegelian historical approach, engaging with a range of work at the heart of the contemporary debate in social and moral philosophy.

Book section

  • Devellennes, C. (2016). Marx and Atheism. In: Sayers, S., MacKenzie, I. and Bates, D. eds. Marxism, Religion and Ideology: Themes from David McLellan. Routledge.
  • Sayers, S. (2012). Marx. In: Angier, T. P. ed. Ethics: The Key Thinkers. London and New York: Bloomsbury, pp. 175-196.
  • Sayers, S. (2011). MacIntyre and Modernity. In: Blackledge, P. and Knight, K. eds. Virtue and Politics: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Revolutionary Aristotelianism. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, pp. 79-96.
    According to MacIntyre, the advent of modernity has led to the fragmentation and compartmentalization of social life and values. In this paper I argue that it has also involved the creation of new forms of social relation and new liberal values. MacIntyre's critique does not do justice to the complex and contradictory character of these changes. I make this point through a discussion of the notion of tolerance and of developments in the modern university, including the impact of the RAE. Similar issues are raised by MacIntyre's criticisms of the `enlightenment project' and his attempt to return to an earlier Aristotelian model as the basis for moral and social thought. Rather than rejecting modernity and enlightenment ideas, I argue, we should affirm its core values of liberty, equality and community and seek to realise them in the modern world. A more adequate picture of modernity provides some grounds to question MacIntyre's pessimism about the possibilities of doing so.
  • Sayers, S. (2010). Religion and Politics in the Modern World. In: Interpretations of Marxism: Chinese and Western. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, pp. 209-229.
  • Sayers, S. (2009). Labour in Modern Industrial Society. In: Chitty, A. and McIvor, M. eds. Karl Marx and Contemporary Philosophy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 143-158.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Philosophy and Ideology: Marxism and the Role of Religion in Contemporary Politics. In: Bates, D. ed. Marxism, Intellectuals and Politics. London: Palgrave-Macmillan, pp. 152-168.
  • Sayers, S. (2006). Alienation, Contradiction, Dialectical materialism, Engels, Historical materialism, Ideology, Lenin, Marx, Marxism. In: Protevi, J. ed. The Yale Dictionary of Continental Philosophy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 22, 107, 149-50, 170.
  • Sayers, S. (2006). Alienation, Contradiction, Dialectical materialism, Engels, Historical materialism, Ideology, Lenin, Marx, Marxism. In: Protevi, J. ed. The Edinburgh Dictionary of Continental Philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 22, 107, 149-50, 170.
  • Sayers, S. (2006). Freedom and the "Realm of Necessity". In: Moggach, D. ed. The Left-Hegelians: New Philosophical and Political Perspectives. Cambridge, UK and New York, US: Cambridge University Press, pp. 261-274.
    This paper gives an original account of one of the most discussed passages in Marx dealing with the concepts of work and freedom. It criticises the view that there are two conflicting strands in Marx's thought (Cohen, Arendt, et al.). It demonstrates that it is a mistake to interpret Marx as opposing the realms of `necessity' and `freedom'. It refutes the common idea that Marx's views on work and freedom changed significantly in his later writings and argues for a more utopian vision.
  • Sayers, S. (2000). The Prospects for Socialism in the Twenty-first Century. In: Jiaqin, G. ed. Socialism and the Twenty-First Century. Beijing: Central Party Translation Bureau Publishing House, pp. 71-78.
  • Sayers, S. (1997). Marx. In: Parker, N. and Sim, S. eds. The A-Z Guide to Modern Social and Political Theorists. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice-Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, pp. 241-245.

Review

  • Sayers, S. (2012). A question of ethics. International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory [Online]:0-0. Available at: http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=859&issue=136.
  • Sayers, S. (2009). Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea. Mind [Online] 118:476-479. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/mind/fzp057.
  • Sayers, S. (2009). Review of David Leopold, The Young Karl Marx and Douglas Moggach, The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer. Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain:173-80.
  • Sayers, S. (2007). Review of Louis Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-1987. Political Studies Review [Online] 5:248-248. Available at: http://www.blackwell-synergy/doi/full/10.1111/j.1478-9299.2007.00132_1.x.
  • Sayers, S. (2004). Review of Iseult Honohan, Civic Republicanism. Philosophical Books 45:269-71.
  • Sayers, S. (2004). Adriaan T. Peperzak, Modern Freedom: Hegel’s Legal, Moral, and Political Philosophy. Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain 49/50:158-163.
  • Sayers, S. (2004). Paul O’Grady, Relativism. International Philosophical Quarterly 44:123-124.
  • Sayers, S. (2003). Reviews: The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays. Radical Philosophy:52-53.
  • Sayers, S. (2001). Review of Onora O’Neill, Bounds of Justice. First Review [Online]:n/a. Available at: http://www.theglobalsite.ac.uk/review/111sayers.htm.
  • Sayers, S. (2000). Hegel and Marx: the concept of need. Political Studies 48:583-583.
  • Sayers, S. (2000). Review of Tony Burns and Ian Fraser (eds), Hegel and Marx: the concept of need. Political Studies [Online] 48:146-146. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-9248.00255.
  • Sayers, S. (2000). Review of Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent rational animals: Why human beings need the virtues and Stuart Hampshire, Justice is Conflict. Radical Philosophy [Online]:47-49. Available at: http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/default.asp?channel_id=2189&editorial_id=10030.

Thesis

  • Whittingham, M. (2014). The Self and Social Relations.
    The central subject of this thesis is the nature of the self. I argue against an atomistic conception which takes the human self to exist self-sufficiently and prior to social relations, and in favour of a holistic conception which takes the self to be constitutively dependent on social relations. I defend this view against criticisms that a holistic account undermines the need for what I call 'critical distance' between subjects and their communities. This involves answering the charges that such constitutive dependence: 1) removes the possibility for individuals to determine themselves freely apart from the communities in which they engage; and 2) deprives us of an external standard with which to engage critically with those constitutive communities.
    I argue that the above criticisms are encouraged by reliance on a certain epistemological picture. This picture involves a foundationalist construal of knowledge that ultimately depends on a notion of an immediately given epistemic content that can serve to give us an absolute conception of an objective reality with which we can do away with partial or relative conceptions of ourselves and the world we inhabit. It is this that leads the critic to demand a standard external to communities, which in turn encourages a notion of the self and freedom that can ultimately be grounded apart from the "distortions" of social practice.
    I directly attack the notion of an immediately given epistemic content through a series of transcendental arguments, showing that the condition of possibility for our forming any conception of ourselves or the world is participation in social forms of life. I further argue that properly human identities are essentially shaped by the self-conceptions these forms of life make available to us. Since freedom can no longer depend on radical detachment, I offer a new account of freedom as a social achievement, based on a notion of rational progress which allows us to develop ourselves and our social world critically, drawing only on those standards available within our practices.
    With the notion of an immediately given epistemic content undermined, I have shown not only that freedom and rational progress are consistent with a holistic account, but that in fact they depend on such a holistic account.

Visual media

  • Sayers, S. (2006). The "Uplifting Influence" of Work and Industry: The Philosophical Background to The Step Of Steel. Cheltenham: IDM Ltd and AHRC.
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