Kyla Bruff's areas of specialization in the history of philosophy are German Idealism, with a particular emphasis on Schelling and Hegel, the Frankfurt School, and 20th century French Philosophy. Thematically, her research interests lie broadly in the domains of Political Philosophy and Metaphysics.


In her doctoral dissertation, Schelling's Political Philosophy from the Perspective of Critical Theory, she explores the contemporary relevance of classical German political philosophy by reading the late work of F.W.J. Schelling (post-1809) through critical theory in order to retrieve his political relevance.

In the area of 20th century French Philosophy, Kyla has published on Deleuze, Foucault and Merleau-Ponty, and maintains an active research interest in this area.

Summary of Kyla Bruff's doctoral dissertation:


Schelling's Political Philosophy from the Perspective of Critical Theory

The thesis of my dissertation is that the late Schelling can be read as a critical theorist, i.e., as approximating the critical, philosophical program of Adorno. By reading Schelling through Adorno, I aim to establish a new, contemporary, political relevance of both of their work. More specifically, I argue that Schelling and Adorno both achieve a sustained critique of domination and exploitation in their writings. In so doing, they are implicitly critical of both neoliberal individualism on the one side, and the subordination of the individual to organized collectivism on the other.


While it might appear that neither critical theory, due to its Marxist heritage, nor German Idealism, due to its privileging of human reason, has much to offer contemporary politics, my intention to show that the opposite is the case by reading the late-Schelling's under-researched political philosophy through Adorno. I make the claim that classical German Philosophy has never been more relevant than today—at a time when liberal democracy is embattled from all sides and populism is rising.


This theoretical approach may seem surprising: Schelling is typically taken as a proponent of 19th century German conservatism and Adorno of 20th century Marxism. However, my project proposes that these two philosophers can now enter into a productive dialogue. More specifically, I propose that their analyses of the individual and her relation (or lack thereof) to state structures could positively add to political debates on the relation of the individual to the collective in modern society. 


I thus address the question: how are we to analyze the alienation of the individual under the conditions of the impending decline of democracies in capitalist modernity? While the relevance of Adorno’s approach to historical materialism after Marx to politics today has been explored in Germany, this has not yet occurred in a parallel fashion in North America. I therefore suggest that a return to Schelling’s original Hegel critique and theory of the individual and the state could reinvigorate Adornian critical theory in an original way, such that it could effectively speak to the contemporary context..

I specifically argue that the materialist and empirical tendencies of the late Schelling provide the foundations for an Adorno-inspired critique of domination and the state-concentration of power. These materialist and empirical tendencies are grounded in Schelling’s own characterization of his late philosophy is an “empirical apriorism" (SW XIII: 130), along with the historical claim maintained by Manfred Frank, Ernst Bloch, Hans-Jörg Sandkühler, Ludwig Hasler, among others, that Schelling is a “precursor of historical materialism" (Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, Continuum, 2006, 46). The key insight of this materialist-empiricist approach to Schelling is that any system of reason (or of language) depends on certain external conditions outside of itself for its very existence. Such systems can therefore be described as contingent, and, Schelling affirms, their concepts cannot be adequate to or exhaustive of all of existence (including the material forces which condition human life). In short, the system excludes something that makes the system possible (e.g., material history). My project examines this contingency thesis as rooted in Schelling and Adorno’s critiques of Hegel, and show that it informs a specific concept of the individual that can make decisions on how to relate to her concrete political context.


For Schelling and Adorno, individual experience is always at once mediated by language but also, at the same time, exceeds language. Experience involves practical motivations and material elements, which cannot be exhaustively expressed through reason or words. The overriding value of the richness of individual human experience give Adorno and Schelling’s approaches to politics a unique existential dimension. In this vein, Schelling maintains that the state, governed rationally, is a necessary “support, hypothesis, transition,” and while it should aim to create the conditions of freedom, the individual must, at the same time, surpass it (SW XI: 550, 553).


My conclusion is that a specific notion of the existing, experience individual, which remains embedded in (yet irreducible to) a set of historical, material, embodied conditions, is the only entity that can will resistance under oppressive—yet often rationalized—political conditions, or furthermore, can will that things be politically different.