This is one of the most original and important works of contemporaryEuropean thought. First published in France in , it is the major theoretical work of one of the foremost thinkers in Europe today. This is one of the most original and important works of contemporary European thought. Castoriadis offers a brilliant and far-reaching analysis of the unique character of the social-historical world and its relations to the individual, to language, and to nature. He argues that most traditional conceptions of society and history overlook the essential feature of the social-historical world, namely that this world is not articulated once and for all but is in each case the creation of the society concerned. In emphasizing the element of creativity, Castoriadis opens the way for rethinking political theory and practice in terms of the autonomous and explicit self-institution of society.
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Cornelius Castoriadis was an important intellectual figure in France for many decades, beginning in the lates. Trained in philosophy, Castoriadis also worked as a practicing economist and psychologist while authoring over twenty major works and numerous articles spanning many traditional philosophical subjects, including politics, economics, psychology, anthropology, and ontology.
His oeuvre can be understood broadly as a reflection on the concept of creativity and its implications in various fields. Perhaps most importantly he warned of the dangerous political and ethical consequences of a contemporary world that has lost sight of autonomy, i.
Cornelius Castoriadis was born to an ethnically Greek family living in Constantinople Istanbul in The year was one of the most tumultuous in modern Greek history.
Following the First World War, lands granted to Greece at the expense of the Ottoman Empire by the victorious Entente powers were being claimed militarily by Turkish nationalists. As a result, Castoriadis spent his youth in Athens where he discovered philosophy at the age of twelve or thirteen. He engaged in communist youth activities while in high school and later studied economics, political science, and law while resisting the Axis occupation of Greece during Second World War.
His Trotskyist opposition group distanced itself from the pro-Stalinist opposition. In he won and accepted a scholarship to write a philosophy dissertation at the Sorbonne in Paris, thus starting a wholly new stage in his life.
In Paris Castoriadis planned to write his dissertation on the impossibility of a closed, rationalist philosophical system. This plan took second stage, however, to his critical-political activities. By Castoriadis developed his own criticism of the Soviets who, he argued, had only created a new brand of exploitation in Russia, i. Discovering he shared similar views with recent acquaintance Claude Lefort, the two began to distance themselves altogether from the Trotskyist goal of party rule.
Castoriadis began two major vocations in First, he and Lefort co-founded the journal and political group Socialisme ou Barbarie Socialism or Barbarism. They focused on criticizing both Soviet bureaucracy and capitalism and on developing ideas for other possible organizations of society.
On the one hand, the traditional questions Marx raised about workers and social organization would remain important, while on the other hand any commitment to specific Marxist positions would remain conditional.
He would remain there until , analyzing the short- and medium-term economic status of developed nations. His work with OEEC not only allowed him an income and the possibility of remaining in France until his eventual nationalization, but it also permitted him great insights into the economies of capitalist countries and into the functioning of a major bureaucratic organization. Contemporary society, he argued, is split between a stratum of managers who direct workers, and a stratum of workers obedient to managers.
Workers pass real-world information up to the managers; but they must then carry out the often nonsensical orders that are passed back down. Such a managerial apparatus, argued Castoriadis, leads to inefficiency, waste, and unnecessary conflict between aloof managers and servile workers.
The domination of society by the managerial apparatus can only be surpassed, argued Castoriadis, when workers take responsibility for organizing themselves. They should form workers councils consisting of conditionally elected members.
Those members, in a strict reversal of the bureaucratic managerial model, should convene frequently not in order to make decisions for workers but in order to express the decisions of the workers. They should then convey important information back to the workers for the purpose of helping workers make their own decisions. Rather, it helps convey information to workers for their purposes.
While Castoriadis did support a centralized institution, or assembly of councils , capable of making rapid decisions when needed, such decisions, he argued, would be at all times reversible by the workers and their councils. In the end, Castoriadis contrasted self-management with individualistic, negative libertarian, or anarchic ideals, i. Such countries reject the role of workers councils but they then become heavily bureaucratized anyway.
Castoriadis also contrasted self-management with the explicitly centralized, exploitative bureaucracies of the so-called communist countries. In both cases what currently blocks the emergence of self-management is the division between directors and executants.
Capitalism, Marxism, and the Soviet experiment were all based in a common set of presuppositions. This name implies that the principle of the social order in the USSR is truly an analogue—albeit a more centralized analogue—of the Western capitalist order, which Castoriadis called fragmented bureaucratic capitalism FBC Castoriadis Reader Both capitalist thought and Marx assumed that capital has enormous, even total power over humanity.
This assumption led to an excessive desire on both sides to control its supposed force. The managerial, bureaucratic class became a unified, oppressive force in itself, pursuing its own interests against the people. That philosophy itself had emerged from the common social imaginary that FBC and TBC share, namely the desire to gain total control of nature and history through controlling capital. Marx, he argued, failed to consider the importance of the unplanned, contingent actions of the proletariat, actions powerful enough to save a company from mismanagement or to lead it into disaster.
Rather, workers sustain or destroy capitalism itself through their own actions. The actions of workers cannot be sufficiently explained by supposed laws of historical dialectic.
From out of this engagement with Marx, Castoriadis began to develop his own view of how autonomous society could arise. Autonomous society, he argued, is a creation of the singular individual and the collectivity.
It cannot be sufficiently deduced or developed from tendencies, potentialities, impossibilities, or necessities contained within the current system. These struggles had preceded capitalism, were subdued within capitalism and the modern era of rational mastery, and are still present but also largely subdued in the contemporary age of FBC and TBC World in Fragments For the remainder of his life he engaged with a broader variety of disciplines, including psychoanalysis, biology, sociology, ecology, and mathematics.
His specific views in each field were almost always linked to his general theory of the creative imagination—operating at both singular and collective levels—and to its implications for each discipline. He argued there that the imagination is not primarily a capacity to create visual images. Rather, it is the singular or collective capacity to create forms , i.
The theory of the creative imagination developed over many years through essays conversant with the Western intellectual tradition.
In this section I will present his views as a dialogue with the figures to whom Castoriadis acknowledged a debt. Since sensations themselves are always true according to Aristotle, the extra imaginary capacity primarily serving to reproduce what the senses provided, to recombine past sensations into new images, or to supplement sensation confusingly was treated mainly as an obfuscator of truth. Castoriadis argued that philosophy usually considered this account of imagination to reveal its basic power.
Regardless of whether they attacked or praised it, philosophers tended to treat the imagination in this way as something that creates a kind of fantastical non-reality. Indeed, in De Anima 3. It should be interpreted, Castoriadis argued, as a capacity for the very presentation of reality as such, a presentation required for any further understanding.
In this way, the primary imagination precedes any re -presentation of reality. Even so, Aristotle remained an ambiguous figure for Castoriadis. He had raised difficult problems for any account of imagination as strictly negative or re-presentational; but he also failed to draw out the full consequences of his discovery of the primary imagination. Most of his writings and most of traditional philosophy portray the imagination as mainly reproductive, negative, or obfuscatory.
According to Castoriadis, Immanuel Kant rediscovered the importance of the imagination and gave philosophy a new awareness of its role World in Fragments In Critique of Pure Reason , Kant had allowed that the imagination is the capacity to present an object even without the presence of that object in sensible intuition.
As such, he freed the imagination from the traditional role of merely following or accompanying the senses in an a posteriori function. For Kant, the imagination was already involved in the initial presentation of whatever may appear to the senses. Like Aristotle, however, Kant was an ambiguous figure for Castoriadis. For example, while Kant allowed the imagination a role in a priori mathematical construction in intuition, he allowed that it works in this way only within the framework of the pre-established forms of intuitions themselves that is, within the pre-set structures of space and of time.
With this shock, the imagination goes into operation generates a presentation for itself. While Fichte had suggested that the imagination in some sense gives itself this shock, Castoriadis denied that the question of the internality or externality of the shock was decidable.
Something in what the imagination forms thus lends itself to formation by the imagination. Finally, Castoriadis took his Kant-inspired account even further. He argued that the imagination can in some cases create a presentation of reality by starting without any shock whatsoever. The imagination can create a presentation or form of reality without any conditioning shock Castoriadis Reader Thus, while there are inevitably some shocks for any psyche, the shock is not a necessary condition for the operation of the imagination.
Castoriadis argued that Kant had implicitly recognized the creativity of the imagination. Kant, however, tried hard to chain down the imagination to stable structures of thought and intuition. He recognized the primary imagination. Hence Kant, like Aristotle, is an ambiguous friend for Castoriadis. However, it differs in that it does not involve the monism implicit or explicit in modern idealism Hegel and materialism Nietzsche, Marx.
More broadly, in contrast to prevalent cultural relativism of the twentieth century West, he instead expressed an absolute support for the project of moral and political autonomy Section 4. Castoriadis does not assign a positive value to creativity as such.
The endless search for the next thing or the newest idea in contemporary thought leads to a lack of understanding of the already established norms, and therefore to an unconscious redeployment of those norms. Even so, the radical creativity of the imagination does, in a different way, lead to value-theoretic considerations and, in particular, to a kind of politics.
While value cannot be derived from being or creation, the very fact that being is creation leads to another question: What ought we create or re-create , institute or perpetuate , or set for ourselves as a project? How can we provide limits and institutions for ourselves so that we may effectively achieve and call into question what we understand to be good?
As the above dialogue with the philosophical tradition has already suggested, Castoriadis argued that being is creation. He described creation as an emergence of newness that, whether deliberate or unconscious, is itself not sufficiently determined by preceding historical conditions.
He thus described creation as ex nihilo , or as stemming from nothing. Even so, he also insisted that creation is neither in nihilo nor cum nihilo Castoriadis Reader , In other words, while creation must be understood to emerge out of nothing, this creation always emerges within a set of historical or natural conditions.
However, these conditions are not sufficient to account for the being of the new creation. Thus, even if there were per impossible a complete and exhaustive account of the conditions contextualizing any occasion of creation, neither the existence nor the specificity of the new creation could be fully understood as derived from those conditions.
The creation of democracy broke through the conditioning constraints of the existing social state of affairs. In this sense, Greek democracy was radically new. Castoriadis repeatedly contrasted ex nihilo creation with production or deduction of consequences.
First, production entails that a set of elements or materials is given, which givens are then molded or modified into a new product. Even notions of self-differentiation are really just notions of productivity in this sense, for they envision the new creation call it X-prime as emerging from the original X merely as a self-modification of that original X. This is not what Castoriadis means by a new creation.
The Imaginary Institution of Society
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The Imaginary Institution of Society: Creativity and Autonomy in the Social-historical World
You are currently using the site but have requested a page in the site. Would you like to change to the site? Cornelius Castoriadis. Castoriadis offers a brilliant and far-reaching analysis of the unique character of the social-historical world and its relations to the individual, to language and to nature. He argues that the most traditional conceptions of society and history overlook the essential feature of the social-historical world, namely that this world is not articulated once and for all but is in each case the creation of the society concerned. In emphasizing the element of creativity, Castoriadis opens the way for rethinking political theory and practice in terms of the autonomous and explicit self-institution of society.
His writings on autonomy and social institutions have been influential in both academic and activist circles. He developed an interest in politics after he came into contact with Marxist thought and philosophy at the age of Castoriadis heavily criticized the actions of the KKE during the December clashes between the communist-led ELAS on one side, and the Papandreou government aided by British troops on the other. In December , three years  after earning a bachelor's degree in law , economics and political science from the School of Law, Economics and Political Sciences of the University of Athens where he met and collaborated with the Neo-Kantian intellectuals Konstantinos Despotopoulos , Panagiotis Kanellopoulos , Konstantinos Tsatsos ,   he got aboard the RMS Mataroa ,  a New Zealand ocean liner, to go to Paris where he remained permanently to continue his studies under a scholarship offered by the French Institute of Athens. In , they experienced their "final disenchantment with Trotskyism",  leading them to break away to found the libertarian socialist and councilist group and journal Socialisme ou Barbarie S. Castoriadis had links with the group known as the Johnson—Forest Tendency until At the same time starting in November , he worked as an economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD until , which was also the year when he obtained French citizenship.