Session 5: The Theory of the Psyche and the Autonomy of the Subject

Trucking with Magic: Psychoanalysis and the Disenchantment of the World.
J. Whitebook, New School for Social Research, USA

The standard methodological debates try to locate Psychoanalysis within the established disciplinary categories. For example, is it a physical science or a hermeneutical discipline? As opposed to this relatively sterile approach, Castoriadis has suggested we understand psychoanalysis as a sui generis enterprise that combines, among other things, elements from science, philosophy, medicine, traditional healing practices and religion. Following suggestion, this paper will explore how the heritage of hypnosis lives on in current psychoanalytic practices and what the significance of this fact is both for psychoanalytic technique and philosophical anthropology.


Autonomy and Determination: On Castoriadis' Theory of the Subject.
K. Leledakis, University of Crete

Castroriadis' great contribution is the elaboration of the necessary condition for a theorization of an (always present) creativity of the social individual and an (historically specific) possibility of autonomy. This condition is that the -unless we return to the assumption of a pre-social or an a-social individuality- we need the assertion that the psyche can be (socially) constructed and yet retain elements of indeterminacy.

Castoriadis presents a theoretical framework that satisfies this condition based on the magmatic mode of being of the unconscious which allows, precisely, both determination and indeterminacy. However, his account sidesteps a critical issue. The mechanisms of social construction of the psyche he refers to concern only the replacement of primary, inherent significations by socially originating ones. The structuring of the unconscious flow of energy in endopsychic agencies of whatever form (such as Freud's ego and super-ego) is not discussed. Yet it is this type of structuring that constitutes the most important form of socialization. Thus the condition Castoriadis himself sets is not fully satisfied.

The argument can be retained, however, but in a modified form. The elements of indeterminacy can be located not in a denial of structuring nor in the process itself but in the way the outcome of this structuring -some form of ego or self- actually operates.


Castoriadis' Political Philosophy: Autonomy and Responsibility.
A. Haritopoulos, University of Warwick, U.K.

This paper is concerned with opening the Castoriadian theorization of autonomy to critique. It has two branches; on the one hand, it is argued that autonomy as theorized by Castoriadis should be utilized by social and political critical theorizing so as to develop a Castoriadian, as it were, vocabulary of critique. My argument is that this Castoriadian language will contribute to the regeneration of social and political critique. On the other hand, it is argued that there is a shadowy region in autonomy that Castoriadis sensed but did not theorize adequately. Autonomy - as was argued in the first 'branch' of my paper - is liberating for the subject. But there is also the responsibility of the subject that Castoriadis did not theorize satisfactorily. My argument is that the responsibility for the subject's actions is marked by the presence of heteronomy. To put it differently, the autonomous subject does not ever see himself as fully responsible for his actions. Responsibility is therefore a 'blind spot' in the autonomous Castoriadian subject. The subject as subject disavows responsibility for its actions; responsibility is attributed to factors that are external to the subject. The physis of the subject is to disavow responsibility, and the more the subject is theorized as autonomous, the more the disavowal of responsibility strikes one as absurd. It is therefore concluded that social and political critical theorizing should take up the challenge of this shadowy region in autonomy; and this paper aspires to be a first contribution in this direction.