|Died||26 December 1997 75) (aged|
|Other names||Corneille Castoriadis, "Pierre Chaulieu," "Paul Cardan," "Jean-Marc Coudray"|
|Education||8th Gymnasium of Athens |
University of Athens
(1937–1942: B.A., 1942)
University of Paris
(Dr. cand., 1946–1948)
University of Nanterre
|Institutions||École des hautes études en sciences sociales|
Cornelius Castoriadis : Κορνήλιος Καστοριάδης; 11 March 1922 – 26 December 1997) was a Greek-French philosopher, social critic, economist, psychoanalyst, author of The Imaginary Institution of Society, and co-founder of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group.(Greek
His writings on autonomy and social institutions have been influential in both academic and activist circles.
Cornelius Castoriadis (named after Saint Cornelius the Centurion)was born on 11 March 1922 in Constantinople, the son of Kaisar ("Caesar") and Sophia Kastoriadis. His family had to move in July 1922 to Athens due to the Greek–Turkish population exchange. He developed an interest in politics after he came into contact with Marxist thought and philosophy at the age of 13. At the same time he began studying traditional philosophy after purchasing a copy of the book History of Philosophy (Ιστορία της Φιλοσοφίας, 1933, 2 vols.) by the historian of ideas Nikolaos Louvaris .
Sometime between 1932 and 1935, Maximiani Portas (later known as "Savitri Devi") was the French tutor of Castoriadis.During the same period, he attended the 8th Gymnasium of Athens in Kato Patisia, from which he graduated in 1937.
His first active involvement in politics occurred during the Metaxas Regime (1937), when he joined the Athenian Communist Youth (Κομμουνιστική Νεολαία Αθήνας, Kommounistiki Neolaia Athinas), a section of the Young Communist League of Greece. In 1941 he joined the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), only to leave one year later in order to become an active Trotskyist.The latter action resulted in his persecution by both the Germans and the Communist Party.
In 1944 he wrote his first essays on social science and Max Weber,which he published in a magazine named Archive of Sociology and Ethics (Αρχείον Κοινωνιολογίας και Ηθικής, Archeion Koinoniologias kai Ithikis). Castoriadis heavily criticized the actions of the KKE during the December 1944 clashes between the communist-led ELAS on one side, and the Papandreou government aided by British troops on the other.
In December 1945, three yearsafter 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. The same voyage—organized by Octave Merlier—also brought from Greece to France a number of other Greek writers, artists and intellectuals, including Constantine Andreou, Kostas Axelos, Georges Candilis, Costa Coulentianos, Emmanuel Kriaras, Adonis A. Kyrou, Kostas Papaïoannou, and Virgile Solomonidis.
Once in Paris, Castoriadis joined the Trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI). He and Claude Lefort constituted a Chaulieu–Montal Tendency in the French PCI in 1946. In 1948, 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. ou B., 1949–1966), which included Jean-François Lyotard and Guy Debord as members for a while, and profoundly influenced the French intellectual left. Castoriadis had links with the group known as the Johnson–Forest Tendency until 1958. Also strongly influenced by Castoriadis and Socialisme ou Barbarie were the British group and journal Solidarity and Maurice Brinton.
In the late 1940s, he started attending philosophical and sociological courses at the Faculty of Letters at the University of Paris ( faculté des lettres de Paris ), where among his teachers were Gaston Bachelard,the epistemologist René Poirier, the historian of philosophy Henri Bréhier (not to be confused with Émile Bréhier), Henri Gouhier, Jean Wahl, Gustave Guillaume, Albert Bayet, and Georges Davy. He submitted a proposal for a doctoral dissertation on mathematical logic to Poirier, but he eventually abandoned the project. The working title of his thesis was Introduction à la logique axiomatique (Introduction to Axiomatic Logic ).
At the same time (starting in November 1948), he worked as an economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) until 1970, which was also the year when he obtained French citizenship. Consequently, his writings prior to that date were published pseudonymously, as "Pierre Chaulieu," "Paul Cardan," "Jean-Marc Coudray" etc.
In his 1949 essay "The Relations of Production in Russia",Castoriadis developed a critique of the supposed socialist character of the government of the Soviet Union. According to Castoriadis, the central claim of the Stalinist regime at the time was that the mode of production in Russia was socialist, but the mode of distribution was not yet a socialist one since the socialist edification in the country had not yet been completed. However, according to Castoriadis' analysis, since the mode of distribution of the social product is inseparable from the mode of production, the claim that one can have control over distribution while not having control over production is meaningless.
Castoriadis was particularly influential in the turn of the intellectual left during the 1950s against the Soviet Union, because he argued that the Soviet Union was not a communist but rather a bureaucratic capitalist state, which contrasted with Western powers mostly by virtue of its centralized power apparatus.His work in the OECD substantially helped his analyses.
In the latter years of Socialisme ou Barbarie, Castoriadis came to reject the Marxist theories of economics and of history, especially in an essay on "Modern Capitalism and Revolution", first published in Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1960–61 (first English translation in 1963 by Solidarity). Castoriadis' final Socialisme ou Barbarie essay was "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory", published in April 1964 – June 1965. There he concluded that a revolutionary Marxist must choose either to remain Marxist or to remain revolutionary.
When Jacques Lacan's disputes with the International Psychoanalytical Association led to a split and the formation of the École Freudienne de Paris (EFP) in 1964, Castoriadis became a member (as a non-practitioner).
In 1968 Castoriadis married Piera Aulagnier, a French psychoanalyst who had undergone psychoanalytic treatment under Jacques Lacan from 1955 until 1961.
In 1969 Castoriadis and Aulagnier split from the EFP to join the Organisation psychanalytique de langue française (O.P.L.F.), the so-called "Quatrième Groupe",a psychoanalytic group that claims to follow principles and methods that have opened up a third way between Lacanianism and the standards of the International Psychoanalytical Association.
Castoriadis began to practice analysis in 1973 (he had undergone analysis in the 1960s first with Irène Roubleff and then later with Michel Renard).
In 1967, Castoriadis submitted a proposal for a doctoral dissertation on the philosophy of history to Paul Ricœur (then at the University of Nanterre).An epistolary dialogue began between them but Ricœur's obligations to the University of Chicago in the 1970s were such that their collaboration was not feasible at the time. The subject of his thesis would be Le fondement imaginaire du social-historique (The Imaginary Foundations of the Social-Historical ) (see below).
In his 1975 work, L'Institution imaginaire de la société (Imaginary Institution of Society), and in Les carrefours du labyrinthe (Crossroads in the Labyrinth), published in 1978, Castoriadis began to develop his distinctive understanding of historical change as the emergence of irrecoverable otherness that must always be socially instituted and named in order to be recognized. Otherness emerges in part from the activity of the psyche itself. Creating external social institutions that give stable form to what Castoriadis terms the (ontological) "magmaof social significations" allows the psyche to create stable figures for the self, and to ignore the constant emergence of mental indeterminacy and alterity.
For Castoriadis, self-examination, as in the ancient Greek tradition, could draw upon the resources of modern psychoanalysis. Autonomous individuals—the essence of an autonomous society—must continuously examine themselves and engage in critical reflection. He writes:
... psychoanalysis can and should make a basic contribution to a politics of autonomy. For, each person's self-understanding is a necessary condition for autonomy. One cannot have an autonomous society that would fail to turn back upon itself, that would not interrogate itself about its motives, its reasons for acting, its deep-seated [profondes] tendencies. Considered in concrete terms, however, society doesn't exist outside the individuals making it up. The self-reflective activity of an autonomous society depends essentially upon the self-reflective activity of the humans who form that society.
Castoriadis was not calling for every individual to undergo psychoanalysis, per se. Rather, by reforming education and political systems, individuals would be increasingly capable of critical self- and social reflexion. He offers: "if psychoanalytic practice has a political meaning, it is solely to the extent that it tries, as far as it possibly can, to render the individual autonomous, that is to say, lucid concerning her desire and concerning reality, and responsible for her acts: holding herself accountable for what she does."
In his 1980 Facing the War text, he took the view that Russia had become the primary world military power. To sustain this, in the context of the visible economic inferiority of the Soviet Union in the civilian sector, he proposed that the society may no longer be dominated by the one-party state bureaucracy but by a "stratocracy"—a separate and dominant military sector with expansionist designs on the world. He further argued that this meant there was no internal class dynamic which could lead to social revolution within Russian society and that change could only occur through foreign intervention.
In 1980, he joined the faculty of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) as Directeur d'études (Director of Studies).He had been elected Directeur de recherche (Director of Research) in EHESS at the end of 1979 after submitting his previously published material in conjunction with a defense of his intellectual project of connecting the disciplines of history, sociology and economy through the concept of the social imaginary (see below). His teaching career at the EHESS lasted sixteen years.
In 1980, he was also awarded his State doctorate from the University of Nanterre; the final title of his thesis under Ricœur (see above) was L'Élément imaginaire de l'histoire(The Imaginary Element in History).
In 1984, Castoriadis and Aulagnier divorced.
In 1989, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Social Sciences by Panteion University and in 1993 another one in Education Sciences by the Democritus University of Thrace.
In 1992, he joined the libertarian socialist journal Society and Nature (established by Takis Fotopoulos) as a writer; the magazine also featured such writers as Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky.
He died on 26 December 1997 from complications following heart surgery. He was survived by Zoe Christofidi (his wife at the time of his death), his daughter Sparta (by an earlier relationship with Jeanine "Rilka" Walter,"Comrade Victorine" in the Fourth International), and Kyveli, a younger daughter from his marriage with Zoe.
Edgar Morin proposed that Castoriadis' work will be remembered for its remarkable continuity and coherence as well as for its extraordinary breadth which was "encyclopaedic" in the original Greek sense, for it offered us a paideia , or education, that brought full circle our cycle of otherwise compartmentalized knowledge in the arts and sciences.Castoriadis wrote essays on mathematics, physics, biology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, linguistics, society, economics, politics, philosophy, and art.
One of Castoriadis' many important contributions to social theory was the idea that social change involves radical discontinuities that cannot be understood in terms of any determinate causes or presented as a sequence of events. Change emerges through the social imaginary without strict determinations,but in order to be socially recognized it must be instituted as revolution. Any knowledge of society and social change can exist only by referring to (or by positing) social imaginary significations . Thus, Castoriadis developed a conceptual framework where the sociological and philosophical category of the social imaginary has a central place and he offered an interpretation of modernity centered on the principal categories of social institutions and social imaginary significations; in his analysis, these categories are the product of the human faculties of the radical imagination and the social imaginary, the latter faculty being the collective dimension of the former. (According to Castoriadis, the sociological and philosophical category of the radical imaginary can be manifested only through the individual radical imagination and the social imaginary.) However, the social imaginary cannot be reduced or attributed to subjective imagination, since the individual is informed through an internalisation of social significations.
He used traditional terms as much as possible, though consistently redefining them. Further, some of his terminology changed throughout the later part of his career, with the terms gaining greater consistency but breaking from their traditional meaning (thus creating neologisms). When reading Castoriadis, it is helpful to understand what he means by the terms he uses, since he does not redefine the terms in every piece where he employs them.
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The concept of autonomy was central to his early writings, and he continued to elaborate on its meaning, applications, and limits until his death, gaining him the title of "Philosopher of Autonomy." The word itself is Greek, where auto means "for/by itself" and nomos means "law." It refers to the condition of "self-institution" by which one creates their own laws, whether as an individual or as a whole society. And while every society creates their own institutions, only the members of autonomous societies are fully aware of the fact, and consider themselves to be the ultimate source of justice.In contrast, members of heteronomous societies (hetero- 'other') delegate this process to an authority outside of society, often attributing the source of their traditions to divine origins or, in modern times, to "historical necessity." Castoriadis then identified the need of societies not only to create but to legitimize their laws, to explain, in other words, why their laws are just. Most traditional societies did that through religion, claiming their laws were given by God or a mythical ancestor and therefore must be true.
An exception to this rule is to be found in Ancient Greece, where the constellation of cities (poleis) that spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean, although not all democratic, showed strong signs of autonomy, and during its peak, Athens became fully aware of the fact as seen in Pericles' Funeral Oration.Castoriadis considered Greece, a topic that increasingly drew his attention, not as a blueprint to copied but an experiment that could inspire a truly autonomous community, one that could legitimize its laws without assigning their source to a higher authority. The Greeks different to other societies because they not only started as autonomous but maintained this ideal by challenging their laws on a constant basis while obeying them to the same degree (even to the extent of enforcing capital punishment), proving that autonomous societies can indeed exist.
Regarding modern societies, Castoriadis notes that while religions have lost part of their normative function, their nature is still heteronomous, only that this time it has rational pretenses. Capitalism legitimizes itself through "reason," claiming that it makes "rational sense",but Castoriadis observed that all such efforts are ultimately tautological, in that they can only legitimize a system through the rules defined by the system itself. So just like the Old Testament claimed that "There is only one God, God," capitalism defines logic as the maximization of utility and minimization of costs, and then legitimizes itself based on its effectiveness to meet these criteria. Surprisingly, this definition of logic is also shared by Communism, which despite the fact it stands in seeming opposition, it is the product of the same imaginary, and uses the same concepts and categories to describe the world, principally in material terms and through the process of human labor.
The term "imaginary" originates in the writings of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (see the Imaginary ) and is strongly associated with Castoriadis' work. Castoriadis believed that for a given society, as we penetrate the layers of its culture deeper and deeper, we arrive at meanings that do not mean something other than themselves. They are, so to speak, "final meanings", that the society in question has imposed on the world, on itself.And yet, for the very reason that these meanings, manifestations of the "radical imaginary" in Castoriadian terminology, never point to anything concrete, that they are also impossible to analyse rationally, since the very categories that logic needs to operate are derived from them. They are arational (rather than irrational), and must therefore be acknowledged rather than comprehended in the common use of the term. Castoriadis' views on concept formation is in sharp contrast to that of postmodernists like Jacques Derrida, who explicitly denies the existence of concepts "in and off themselves".
Radical imaginary is at the basis of cultures and accounts for their differences. In his seminal work The Imaginary Institution of Society, Castoriadis argues that societies are founded not as products of historical necessity, but as the result of a new and radical idea of the world, an idea that appears to spring fully formed and is practically irreducible. All cultural forms (laws and institutions, aesthetics and ritual) follow from this radical imaginary, and are not to be explained merely as products of material conditions. Castoriadis then is offering an "ontogenetic",or "emergentist" model of history, one that is apparently unpopular amongst modern historians, but can serve as a valuable critique of historical materialism. For example, Castoriadis believed that Ancient Greeks had an imaginary by which the world stems from Chaos, while in contrast, the Hebrews had an imaginary by which the world stems from the will of a rational entity, God or Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible. The former developed therefore a system of direct democracy where the laws were ever changing according to the people's will while the second a theocratic system according to which man is in an eternal quest to understand and enforce the will of God.
Traditional societies had elaborate imaginaries, expressed through various creation myths, by which they explained how the world came to be and how it is sustained. Capitalism did away with this mythic imaginary by replacing it with what it claims to be pure reason (as examined above). That same imaginary is the foundation of its opposing ideology, Communism. By that measure he observes (first in his main criticism of Marxism, titled the Imaginary Institution of Society,and subsequently in a speech he gave at the Université catholique de Louvain on February 27, 1980) that these two systems are more closely related than was previously thought, since they share the same industrial revolution type imaginary: that of a rational society where man's welfare is materially measurable and infinitely improvable through the expansion of industries and advancements in science. In this respect Marx failed to understand that technology is not, as he claimed, the main drive of social change, since we have historical examples where societies possessing near identical technologies formed very different relations to them. An example given in the book is France and England during the industrial revolution with the second being much more liberal than the first. Similarly, in the issue of ecology he observes that the problems facing our environment are only present within the capitalist imaginary that values the continuous expansion of industries. Trying to solve it by changing or managing these industries better might fail, since it essentially acknowledges this imaginary as real, thus perpetuating the problem.
Castoriadis also believed that the complex historical processes through which new imaginaries are born are not directly quantifiable by science. This is because it is through the imaginaries themselves that the categories upon which science is applied are created. In the second part of his Imaginary Institution of Society (titled "The Social Imaginary and the Institution"), he gives the example of set theory, which is at the basis of formal logic, which cannot function without having first defined the "elements" which are to be assigned to sets.This initial schema of separation (schéma de séparation, σχήμα του χωρισμού) of the world into distinct elements and categories therefore, precedes the application of (formal) logic and, consequently, science.
Castoriadis was a social constructionist and a moral relativist insofar as the radical imaginary of each society was opaque to rational analysis. Since he believed that social norms and morals ultimately derive from a society's unique idea of the world, which emerges fully formed at a given moment in history and cannot be reduced further, it follows that any criteria by which one could evaluate these morals objectively are also derived from the said imaginary, rendering this evaluation subjective. This does not mean that Castoriadis stopped believing in the value of social struggles for a better world, he simply thought that rationally proving their value is impossible.
This however does not mean that Castoriadis believed there is no truth, but that truth is linked to the imaginary which is ultimately arational. In his book World in Fragments, which includes essays on science, he explicitly writes that "We have to understand that there is truth - and that it is to be made/to be done, that to attain [atteindre] it we have to create it, which means, first and foremost, to imagine it".He then quotes Blake who said "What is now proved was once only imagin'd".
The concept of "Chaos", as found in Ancient Greek cosmogony, is one that is frequently encountered in Castoriadis' work, and is intrinsically connected to the idea of the "imaginary".Castoriadis translates the word as nothingness, although its modern use, as a state of maximum entropy, is not entirely excluded. According to him, the core of the Greek imaginary was a world that came from Chaos rather than the pre-existing will of God as described in Genesis. Castoriadis concludes that this radical idea of a "world out of chaos" was ultimately what made the Greeks so different, and allowed them to create institutions such as democracy. Because what this imaginary conveys is that if the world is created out of nothing, then man can indeed model it as he sees fit, without trying to conform on some pre-existing order like a divine law. He contrasted that sharply to the Biblical imaginary, which sustains all Judaic societies to this day, according to which, in the beginning of the world there was a God, a willing entity and man's position therefore is to understand that Will and act accordingly.
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Castoriadis views the political organization of the ancient Greek cities (poleis) not as a model to imitate, rather as a fertile sperm, a source of inspiration towards an autonomous society. He rejects also the term city state; for him the administration of Greek poleis was not a State in the modern use of the term, as Greek poleis were auto–administrated. The same goes for colonisation since the neighbouring Phoenicians, who had a similar expansion in the Mediterranean, were monarchical till their end. During this time of colonization, however, around the time of Homer's epic poems, we observe for the first time that the Greeks, instead of transferring their mother city's social system to the newly established colony, instead, for the first time in known history, legislate anew from the ground up. What also made the Greeks special was the fact that, following the above, they kept this system as a perpetual autonomy which led to direct democracy.
This phenomenon of autonomy is again present in the emergence of the states of northern Italy during the Renaissance,again as a product of small independent merchants.
He sees a tension in the modern West between, on the one hand, the potentials for autonomy and creativity and the proliferation of "open societies" and, on the other hand, the spirit-crushing force of capitalism. These are respectively characterized as the creative imaginary and the capitalist imaginary:
I think that we are at a crossing in the roads of history, history in the grand sense. One road already appears clearly laid out, at least in its general orientation. That's the road of the loss of meaning, of the repetition of empty forms, of conformism, apathy, irresponsibility, and cynicism at the same time as it is that of the tightening grip of the capitalist imaginary of unlimited expansion of "rational mastery," pseudorational pseudomastery, of an unlimited expansion of consumption for the sake of consumption, that is to say, for nothing, and of a technoscience that has become autonomized along its path and that is evidently involved in the domination of this capitalist imaginary.
The other road should be opened: it is not at all laid out. It can be opened only through a social and political awakening, a resurgence of the project of individual and collective autonomy, that is to say, of the will to freedom. This would require an awakening of the imagination and of the creative imaginary.
He argues that, in the last two centuries, ideas about autonomy again come to the fore: "This extraordinary profusion reaches a sort of pinnacle during the two centuries stretching between 1750 and 1950. This is a very specific period because of the very great density of cultural creation but also because of its very strong subversiveness."
Castoriadis has influenced European (especially continental) thought in important ways. His interventions in sociological and political theory have resulted in some of the most well-known writing to emerge from the continent (especially in the figure of Jürgen Habermas, who often can be seen to be writing against Castoriadis).Hans Joas published a number of articles in American journals in order to highlight the importance of Castoriadis' work to a North American sociological audience, and Johann Pál Arnason has been of enduring importance both for his critical engagement with Castoriadis' thought and for his sustained efforts to introduce it to the English speaking public (especially during his editorship of the journal Thesis Eleven ). In the last few years, there has been growing interest in Castoriadis's thought, including the publication of two monographs authored by Arnason's former students: Jeff Klooger's Castoriadis: Psyche, Society, Autonomy (Brill), and Suzi Adams's Castoriadis's Ontology: Being and Creation (Fordham University Press).
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