The Principle of Contradiction

Edward Conze
Graham Priest (Foreword)
Holger R. Heine (Translation and Introduction)


The Principle of Contradiction by Edward Conze


 “the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect.”

(Aristotle, Met. 1005b 19-20)

Edward Conze and The Principle of Contradiction

Edward Conze 1930
Edward Conze (circa 1930)

Edward Conze (1904–1979) is well known for his prolific writings on Buddhist philosophy and his many translations of key Buddhist texts. Most of of writings were published in English and few knew about his German background. Because of this, Conze’s major philosophical work, Der Satz vom Widerspruch (The Principle of Contradiction) may come as a surprize. Conze published his monograph in December 1932 in Hamburg, during the final days of the Weimar Republic, with great urgency and under considerable risk to both author and printer alike.  Less than six months later, almost the entire first edition of Conze’s work was destroyed during the Nazi book-burnings in the spring of 1933. Conze’s first major philosophical work, and his hopes for an academic appointment in Germany, had been crushed.

Conze’s academic career began in the 1920’s in Germany. He received his PhD from the University of Cologne  in 1928—only a few months after he celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday! In his dissertation, Conze develops a critical analysis of the medieval philosopher Francisco Suárez’ concept of metaphysics (Conze 1928).

But Conze’s early philosophical interests were not limited to scholastic philosophy, as his thesis might suggest. Conze’s interests encompassed the full spectrum of the Western tradition, ranging from ancient and medieval philosophy to modern and contemporary early twentieth-century philosophy—culminating in what Conze thought of, at that point in his life, as philosophy’s latest (and necessary) stage of development: Marxism and the theory and practice of dialectical  materialism. Continue reading “Edward Conze and The Principle of Contradiction”

About the Book

Conze’s monograph The Principle of Contradiction: On the Theory of Dialectical Materialism is his most important philosophical work and the foundation for his later publications as a Buddhist scholar and translator.

The openly Marxist work was published under considerable risk to both printer and author alike in December 1932 in Hamburg, Germany. Only months later, in May 1933, almost all of the five hundred copies of the first edition were destroyed during the Nazi book burning campaign. It is only now, more than eighty years later, that Conze’s key philosophical work is made available to a broad audience in this English translation.

In the work, Conze sets out to develop a detailed account of the historical and material conditions that support the emergence, production, and transmission of theoretical knowledge—as exemplified by the principle of contradiction—and, furthermore, to show that under different social and historical conditions the allegedly necessary truth and indubitable content of the principle would dissolve and be replaced by a radically different understanding of the principle of contradiction—a dialectic understanding of the principle that would compel a rejection of the Aristotelian dogma. Continue reading “About the Book”


The near-total suppression of Edward Conze’s The Principle of Contradiction by the Nazi regime was a huge loss to 20th Century Marxist scholarship. Holger Heine’s discovery of a rare copy of the German manuscript, and production of an English translation, is undoubtedly one of the great gains of the 21st. There is much in the work to interest Marxists of course, but it also makes contributions that are of significance to all scholars of contemporary Philosophy of Logic. Moreover, anyone with an interest in the history of radical thought will find much food for thought within its pages, particularly in Heine’s excellent introduction. (READ MORE).

— Alex Miller Tate

The Principle of Contradiction, written by the German polymath Edward Conze in 1932, was all but lost to the world in the Nazi purges of 1933. Fortunately, a few copies survived. Heine is much to be praised for making it generally accessible again in English translation. The book is a fascinating window into the mind of Conze himself and German Marxist thought in this dark period. Conze’s book is notable for its Aristotelian and Marxist erudition, but also resonates with both Buddhist thought and developments in contemporary logic. Heine’s introduction beautifully locates the book in its historical and intellectual context. This is an impressive piece of scholarship all round.

— Graham Priest, CUNY Graduate Center

This is a truly remarkable work, a scholarly discovery of major importance. Undoubtedly the most comprehensive work on the dialectical principle of contradiction from a Marxist perspective, and beyond that an encyclopedic history of ideas about contradiction from the ancient Greeks onwards, and an outstanding work of synthesis. Originally published in the 1930s but then effectively lost, it now appears in an excellent translation with a full and useful Introduction by the translator. It will be an essential point of reference for all future philosophical work in this area.

— Sean Sayers, University of Kent


Rowman & Littlefield

The Principle of Contradiction