Session 7: Castoriadis' Political Philosophy

The Constitution of Ethical Identity in Taylor and Castoriadis
V. Romanos, Athens

This article examines Taylor's and Castoriadis's contrasting groundings of democracy, which in their view is encountered not solely from the viewpoint of a collective determination of institutions, but as the political form of society which aims at creating and legitimating the historical identity of a people. Given that this understanding of polity is founded upon the subjects' capacity to transform their cultural horizon and activate those collective projects that aim at constructing new self-definitions about who they 'want to be', the debate between them focuses on the way they conceptualize the relationship between subjectivity and the normative structures of meaning and substantive value under which subjects find themselves. I argue that Taylor's anthropological theorization of the subject as a self-interpretive agent, and his characterization of meaning-structures as patterns of interpretive reason, limits the possibility of subjecting inherited horizons of meaning and capacities for self-understanding to systematic criticism. When the web holding together the world-views and practices is too tightly woven or blocked by power, ideology or other forms of collective bias, Taylor's subject does not have the adequate critical distance for escaping closure. By contrast, Castoriadis' notion of the 'imaginary', as exemplified in the constantly open and indeterminate character of meaning and as this immanent power within the psyche that prevents the subject from being completely socialized, underlies the impossibility in the process of a social world's self-institution of reducing the collective patterns and forms of meaning into closed structures. It prevents thus the perpetual entanglement into instituted forms of reason. For Castoriadis, crises of identity and their resolution within a democratic polity, point to a further interest in autonomy, unacknowledged by Taylor's hermeneutics. The image of the socio-historical world he forwards as the self-creation of humanity whose variety of institutions and meanings are historically creative acts of self-institution, not only gives expression to the radical forms of alterity present within human societies, but it also serves to found this interest upon our capacity of recognizing our mode of being in the world as autonomous: Every society is by necessity instituted politically i.e. autonomously, because the reference to a transcendence external to society in the very operation of originally instituting the meaning of a social order, opposes the radical idea of the self-origination of society.


Equality and the Project of Autonomy from a Castoriadian Perspective.
A. Kioupkiolis, University of Oxford, U.K.

Equality and autonomy constitute together the core normative components of democracy. However, both in theory and in practice, the relation they entertain to each other is highly contestable. Theoretical frameworks and political projects (Rousseau, Marxism and Kantian liberalism) that have traditionally provided a justification for considering them as closely interdependent or as mutually entailing each other have been discredited as a result of historical experience and of philosophical critique. The void they have left behind needs to be filled somehow. This is a pre-requisite in order for the project of radical democracy, of continuing the democratic revolution, to become more lucid and well founded. Limits set to democratisation, to deepening freedom and equality in wider areas of society, can be overcome through concepts and practices of freedom and equality that do not make wider and deeper freedom subvert equality or vice versa. To defend the claim that equality and autonomy are mutually enhancing is moreover a theoretical weapon in the struggle against anti-democratic discourses that in the name of freedom justify steep inequalities in civil society and politics.

In this context, the work of Castoriadis, with the conception of autonomy Castoriadis has sketched out, assumes a particular political importance. My central argument is that autonomy as defined by Castoriadis can serve this purpose of reconciling freedom, understood as autonomy, with equality, conceived as equal autonomy. Instead of expanding on Castoriadis's explicit thoughts about the relation of freedom to equality, which I consider contestable, I will take as my point of departure his conception of autonomy itself. I will then show, in a tentative and fragmentary way, why a subject that pursues its own autonomy will not regard inequality or exclusion of others as a condition that secures and facilitates autonomy. An autonomous subject in Castoriadis' s sense will not only tolerate the equal autonomy of others, but will view it as a positive contribution to its own autonomy. The equal autonomy of the other can serve to contest, disturb and unsettle the fixity of my personal and social identity. It can help me overcome closure and achieve lucidity and openness to new possibilities. It can open breaches in the reified form of life that my personal history and the social institution may have imposed on me and can let my imagination surge forth and construct new forms of thinking and acting. The equal autonomy of the other can thus enhance my ability to create new determinations for myself, to be radically autonomous.

What is at issue is not only a theoretical resolution of a conflict between freedom and equality. What is at stake is the search for a new ethos of freedom that would blow fresh air into the political project for more freedom and equality, and the potential usefulness of Castoriadis's insights in this regard.


Castoriadis' Political Philosophy in a Sociological Context
E. Roumkou, University of Ioannina, Greece

Castoriadis with his critic on Marx essentially prepares the terrain for a particular interpretation of the category of praxis, on which he attempts to lay the foundations of a theory of society: in all his work, he puts emphasis on the revolutionary practice, the aspect of the creative elaboration of a new social order. Castoriadis employs in a distinctive way the aristotelian conception of praxis referring, as Hannah Arendt, to the decisive difference between praxis and poiesis. The theory of the developing praxis constitutes the key - stone of Castoriadis' political philosophy, which is founded on the concept of the institution, as well as on his attempt to elaborate an "ontology of the indeterminate". On the one hand, the creative action refers actually to the creation of institutions and, on the other hand, to the world as place of possiblity.

While the first phase of Castoriadis' intellectual evolution is marked by the discussion with the marxism, the second phase is marked by an equally intense discussion with the contemporary social sciences. Furthemore psychonalysis acquires an increasing significance for his work since the 1960s.

Castoriadis is especially atracted to the functionalism of Parsons and the structruralism of Levi - Strauss, theories which he regards as the most important approaches to the social issues. The entire theory of institutions depends on a concept of alienation in which he juxtaposes the positive concept of autonomy. The project of autonomy is characterized by the actual breaking - up of heteronomy and by the submission to anonymous mechanisms.

According to Castoriadis, each society represents a context of meaning which is sympbolically mediated by its relation to an imaginary horizon of significance. This imagery acts as a categorical sheme of organisation, which forms the context of the possible representations. It also determines the way in which a society "lives perceives and forms its own existence, its world".