Peter Sloterdijk  

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"Critical theory is dead" --Peter Sloterdijk

"The arse seems to be condemned to live in the dark. Among the different parts of our body, it leads the life of a tramp. It truly is the idiot of the family. Yet it would be a miracle if this black sheep of the body did not have a ready opinion of the events taking place in higher regions, just like those who have been rejected by society often express the most sober views of it." -- Critique of Cynical Reason (1983) by Peter Sloterdijk

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Peter Sloterdijk (born June 26, 1947 in Karlsruhe) is a German philosopher, best-known for the trilogy Spheres. The Critique of Cynical Reason, published by Suhrkamp in 1983, became the best-selling philosophical book in the German language since the Second World War and launched Sloterdijk's career as an author.



Sloterdijk studied philosophy, Germanistics and history at the University of Munich. In 1975 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg. Since 1980 he has published many philosophical works, including the Critique of Cynical Reason. In 2001 he was named president of the State Academy of Design, part of the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe. In 2002 he began to co-host Das Philosophische Quartett, a show on the German ZDF television channel devoted to discussing key issues affecting present-day society.


Sloterdijk’s philosophy strikes a balance between the firm academicism of a scholarly professor and a certain sense of anti-academism (witness his interest in Osho’s ideas). Notwithstanding the criticism that some of his thoughts have provoked, he refuses to be labeled as a “polemic thinker,” describing himself instead as “hyperbolic.” His ideas reject the existence of dualisms--for example, between body and soul, subject and object, culture and nature--since their interaction, spaces of coexistence, and technical advances create a hybrid reality. Thus Sloterdijk, who is trying to develop a new humanism, sometimes labeled posthumanism, seeks to integrate different components that have been, in his opinion, erroneously considered detached from one another. This search has led him to propose the creation of an “ontological constitution” that would incorporate all beings--i.e. humans, animals, plants, and machines--as elements.

Critique of Cynical Reason

The Kritik der zynischen Vernunft (Critique of Cynical Reason), published by Suhrkamp in 1983, became the best-selling philosophical book in the German language since the Second World War and launched Sloterdijk's career as an author.

In Kritik, Sloterdijk describes the evolution of middle and upper-class consciousness by employing negative examples, which he draws from European history and from the history of education.

Sloterdijk attempts to trace the Reception History of Kant's three Critiques and their various interpretations up to contemporary times. He attempts to show that Kant's "critical trade" became instrumentalized via the premise of Francis Bacon's aphorism that "knowledge is power," and was finally subverted and neutered by it. Moreover, he uses the ancient Greek Cynicism as a foil for the contemporary, inhumane cynicism that evolved, so Sloterdijk claims, through a combination of middle-class semiologies and grand philosophical ambitions. Sloterdijk concludes that, unlike the ancient Greek version, Cynicism no longer stands for values of the natural and ethical kind that bind people beyond their religious and economically useful convictions. Rather, it has become a mode of thought that defines its actions in terms of a "final end" of a purely materialistic sort and reduces the "ought" to an economic strategy aimed at maximizing profit. This contemporary sort of Cynicism remains silent, however, when it comes to social, anthropogenous, and altruistic goals having to do with the "in" and "for" of the "good life" the original Cynics were seeking.


The trilogy Spheres is Peter Sloterdijk’s magnum opus. The first volume was published in 1998, the second in 1999 and the last in 2004.

Spheres is about spaces of coexistence, spaces which are commonly overlooked or taken for granted and conceal information crucial to developing an understanding of what humans are. The exploration of these spheres begins with the basic difference between mammals and other animals: the biological and utopian comfort of the mother's womb, which humans try to recreate through science, ideology, and religion. From these microspheres (ontological relations such as fetus-placenta) to macrospheres (macro-uteri such as political structures like nations or states), Sloterdijk analyses the spheres where humans unsuccessfully try to dwell and traces a connection between vital crisis (e.g. emptiness and narcissistic detachment) and the crises that are created when a Sphere shatters.

The author has said that the first paragraphs of Spheres are “the book that Heidegger should have written," a companion volume to Being and Time, namely, "Being and Space". He was referring to his initial exploration of the idea of Dasein, which is then taken further as Sloterdijk distances himself from Heidegger’s positions.


For Sloterdijk the present-day concept of globalization lacks historical perspective. In his opinion it is merely the third wave in a process in which humans overcome distances (the first wave being the metaphysical globalization of the Greek cosmology and the second the nautical globalization of the 15th century). The difference, in Sloterdijk's opinion, is that while the second wave created cosmopolitanism, the third is creating a global provincialism. Sloterdijk's sketch of a philosophical history of globalization can be found in Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals (2005), subtitled "Die letzte Kugel" (The final sphere).

Genetics dispute

Shortly after Sloterdijk conducted a symposium on philosophy and Heidegger, he stirred up controversy with his essay "Regeln für den Menschenpark" ("Rules for the Human Zoo"). In this text, Sloterdijk regards cultures and civilizations as "anthropogenic hothouses," installations for the cultivation of human beings; just as we have established wildlife preserves to protect certain animal species, so too ought we to adopt more deliberate policies to ensure the survival of Aristotle's zoon politikon.

"The taming of man has failed", Sloterdijk laments. "Civilisation's potential for barbarism is growing; the everyday bestialisation of man is on the increase."

Because of the eugenic policies of the Nazis in Germany's recent history, such discussions are seen in Germany as carrying a sinister load. Breaking a German taboo on the discussion of genetic manipulation, Sloterdijk's essay suggests that the advent of new genetic technologies requires more forthright discussion and regulation of "bio-cultural" reproduction. In the eyes of Habermas, this made Sloterdijk a "fascist". Sloterdijk replied that this was, itself, resorting to "fascist" tactics to discredit him.

The core of the controversy was not only Sloterdijk's ideas but also his use of the German words Züchtung ("breeding", "cultivation") and Selektion ("selection"). Sloterdijk rejected the accusation of Nazism, which he considered alien to his historical context. Still, the paper started a controversy in which Sloterdijk was strongly criticized, both for his alleged usage of a fascist rhetoric to promote Plato's vision of a government with absolute control over the population, and for committing a non-normative, simplistic reduction of the bioethical issue itself. This second criticism was based on the vagueness of Sloterdijk's position on how exactly society would be affected by developments in genetic science. After the controversy multiplied positions both for and against him, Die Zeit published an open letter from Sloterdijk to Habermas in which he vehemently accused Habermas of "criticizing behind his back" and espousing a view of humanism (critical theory) that Sloterdijk had declared dead (see critical theory is dead).

List of works

Works in English translation

  • Critique of Cynical Reason, translation by Michael Eldred ; foreword by Andreas Huyssen, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8166-1586-1
  • Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche's Materialism, translation by Jamie Owen Daniel; foreword by Jochen Schulte-Sasse, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8166-1765-1
  • Theory of the Post-War Periods: Observations on Franco-German relations since 1945, translation by Robert Payne; foreword by Klaus-Dieter Müller, Springer, 2008. ISBN 3-211-79913-3
  • Terror from the Air, translation by Amy Patton, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2009. ISBN 1-58435-072-5
  • God's Zeal: The Battle of the Three Monotheisms, Polity Pr., 2009. ISBN 978-0-7456-4507-0
  • Derrida, an Egyptian, Polity Pr., 2009. ISBN 0-7456-4639-5
  • Rage and Time, translation by Mario Wenning, New York, Columbia University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-231-14522-0
  • Neither Sun nor Death, translation by Steven Corcoran, Semiotext(e), 2011. ISBN 978-1-58435-091-0Sloterdijk answers questions posed by German writer Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs, commenting on such issues as technological mutation, development media, communication technologies, and his own intellectual itinerary.
  • Bubbles: Spheres Volume I: Microspherology, translation by Wieland Hoban, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2011. ISBN 1-58435-104-7
  • The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice, translation by Karen Margolis, New York, Columbia University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-231-15870-1
  • You Must Change Your Life, translation by Wieland Hoban, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7456-4921-4
  • In the World Interior of Capital: Towards a Philosophical Theory of Globalization, translation by Wieland Hoban, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7456-4769-2
  • Nietzsche Apostle, (Semiotext(e)/Intervention Series), translation by Steve Corcoran, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2013. ISBN 978-1-58435-099-6
  • Globes: Spheres Volume II: Macrospherology, translation by Wieland Hoban, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2014. ISBN 1-58435-160-8
  • Not Saved: Essays after Heidegger, translation by Ian Alexander Moore and Christopher Turner, Cambridge, Polity Press, forthcoming 2016.

Original German titles

  • Kritik der zynischen Vernunft, 1983.
  • Der Zauberbaum. Die Entstehung der Psychoanalyse im Jahr 1785, 1985.
  • Der Denker auf der Bühne. Nietzsches Materialismus, 1986. (Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche's Materialism)
  • Kopernikanische Mobilmachung und ptolmäische Abrüstung, 1986.
  • Zur Welt kommen – Zur Sprache kommen. Frankfurter Vorlesungen, 1988.
  • Eurotaoismus. Zur Kritik der politischen Kinetik, 1989.
  • Versprechen auf Deutsch. Rede über das eigene Land, 1990.
  • Weltfremdheit, 1993.
  • Falls Europa erwacht. Gedanken zum Programm einer Weltmacht am Ende des Zeitalters seiner politischen Absence, 1994.
  • Scheintod im Denken – Von Philosophie und Wissenschaft als Übung, Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp), 1995.
  • Im selben Boot – Versuch über die Hyperpolitik, Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp), 1995.
  • Selbstversuch, Ein Gespräch mit Carlos Oliveira, 1996.
  • Der starke Grund zusammen zu sein. Erinnerungen an die Erfindung des Volkes, 1998.
  • Sphären I – Blasen, Mikrosphärologie, 1998. (Spheres I)
  • Sphären II – Globen, Makrosphärologie, 1999. (Spheres II)
  • Regeln für den Menschenpark. Ein Antwortschreiben zu Heideggers Brief über den Humanismus, 1999.
  • Die Verachtung der Massen. Versuch über Kulturkämpfe in der modernen Gesellschaft, 2000.
  • Über die Verbesserung der guten Nachricht. Nietzsches fünftes Evangelium. Rede zum 100. Todestag von Friedrich Nietzsche, 2000.
  • Nicht gerettet. Versuche nach Heidegger, 2001.
  • Die Sonne und der Tod, Dialogische Untersuchungen mit Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs, 2001.
  • Tau von den Bermudas. Über einige Regime der Phantasie, 2001.
  • Luftbeben. An den Wurzeln des Terrors, 2002.
  • Sphären III – Schäume, Plurale Sphärologie, 2004. (Spheres III)
  • Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals, 2005.
  • Was zählt, kehrt wieder. Philosophische Dialogue, with Alain Finkielkraut (from French), 2005.
  • Zorn und Zeit. Politisch-psychologischer Versuch, 2006. Template:ISBN
  • Der ästhetische Imperativ, 2007.
  • Derrida Ein Ägypter, 2007.
  • Gottes Eifer. Vom Kampf der drei Monotheismen, Frankfurt am Main (Insel), 2007.
  • Theorie der Nachkriegszeiten, (Suhrkamp), 2008.
  • Du mußt dein Leben ändern, Frankfurt am Main (Suhrkamp), 2009.
  • Philosophische Temperamente Von Platon bis Foucault, München (Diederichs) 2009. Template:ISBN
  • Scheintod im Denken, Von Philosophie und Wissenschaft als Ubung (Suhrkamp), 2010.
  • Die nehmende Hand und die gebende Seite, (Suhrkamp), 2010.
  • Die schrecklichen Kinder der Neuzeit, (Suhrkamp), 2014.
  • Was geschah im 20. Jahrhundert? Unterwegs zu einer Kritik der extremistischen Vernunft, (Suhrkamp), 2016.
  • Das Schelling-Projekt. Ein Bericht. Suhrkamp, Berlin 2016, Template:ISBN.
  • Nach Gott: Glaubens- und Unglaubensversuche. Suhrkamp, Berlin 2017, Template:ISBN bzw. Template:ISBN.
  • Neue Zeilen und Tage. Notizen 2011–2013. Suhrkamp, Berlin 2018, Template:ISBN.
  • Polyloquien. Ein Brevier. Hrsg. v. Raimund Fellinger, Suhrkamp, Berlin 2018, Template:ISBN.
  • Den Himmel zum Sprechen bringen. Über Theopoesie. Suhrkamp, Berlin 2020, Template:ISBN.
  • Der Staat streift seine Samthandschuhe ab. Ausgewählte Gespräche und Beiträge 2020–2021. Suhrkamp, Berlin 2021, Template:ISBN.

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