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Castoriadis's Ontology

Being and Creation

Suzi Adams

Publication Year: 2011

This book is the first systematic reconstruction of Castoriadis' philosophical trajectory. It critically interprets the internal shifts in Castoriadis' ontology through reconsideration of the ancient problematic of 'human institution' (nomos) and 'nature' (physis), on the one hand, and the question of 'being' and 'creation', on the other. Unlike the order of physis, the order of nomos played no substantial role in the development of western thought: The first part of the book suggests that Castoriadis sought to remedy this with his elucidation of the social-historical as the region of being elusive to the determinist imaginary of inherited philosophy. This ontological turn was announced with the publication of his magnum opus The Imaginary Institution of Society (first published in 1975) which is reconstructed as Castoriadis' long journey through nomos via four interconnected domains: ontological, epistemological, anthropological, and hermeneutical respectively. With the aid of archival sources, the second half of the book reconstructs a second ontological shift in Castoriadis' thought that occurred during the 1980s. Here it argues that Castoriadis extends his notion of 'ontological creation' beyond the human realm and into nature. This move has implications for his overall ontology and signals a shift towards a general ontology of creative physis. The increasing ontological importance of physis is discussed further in chapters on objective knowledge, the living being, and philosophical cosmology. It suggests that the world horizon forms an inescapable interpretative context of cultural articulation - in the double sense of Merleau-Ponty's mise en forme du monde - in which physis can be elucidated as the ground of possibility, as well as a point of culmination for nomos in the circle of interpretative creation. The book contextualizes Castoriadis' thought within broader philosophical and sociological traditions. In particular it situates his thought within French phenomenological currents that take either an ontological and/or a hermeneutical turn. It also places a hermeneutic of modernity - that is, an interpretation that emphasizes the ongoing dialogue between romantic and enlightenment articulations of the world - at the centre of reflection. Castoriadis' reactivation of classical Greek sources is reinterpreted as part of the ongoing dialogue between the ancients and the moderns, and more broadly, as part of the interpretative field of tensions that comprises modernity.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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General Introduction: Castoriadis in Context

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pp. 1-16

Ontological creation was long held to be an extrahuman affair and occupied a central place in philosophical and theological discussions alike. In Western philosophical traditions, the civilizational constellations surrounding Athens and Jerusalem have provided dual cultural sources for its historical elaboration. It was the arrival of modernity, however, that first ushered in the social-historical horizons from which the ontological...

Part I. Nomos

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Introduction to Part I: The Importance of Nomos

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pp. 19-24

The significance of the ancient Greek institution of the physis and nomos was a lasting problematic for Castoriadis.1 As distinguished from the normative order of physis, nomos indicated the order of self-institution and human convention for Castoriadis, and, as such, it encompassed the two central motifs of his thought: Autonomy and human creation.2 As the...

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1. Toward an Ontology of the Social-Historical

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pp. 25-59

If the 1964–65 section of the IIS announced Castoriadis’s farewell to Marx, the second section (written 1970–74) heralds his shift from phenomenology to ontology.1 It declares itself with the programmatic chapter on the social-historical as an occluded ontological region that has remained unrecognized by traditional philosophy. Castoriadis’s original purpose in the second part of The Imaginary Institution of Society was to

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2. Proto-Institutions and Epistemological Encounters

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pp. 60-82

Since Kant and the transcendental turn, the status of ontology—in the sense of philosophical claims about being—has been questioned.1 In the previous chapter, Castoriadis boldly approached the subject of being in an elucidation of the social-historical, but he quickly encounters heightened epistemological issues and a corresponding Kantian problematic: Ontological...

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3. Anthropological Aspects of Subjectivity: The Radical Imagination

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pp. 83-99

Castoriadis’s philosophical anthropology of the subject is found in the chapter of the IIS called ‘‘The Social-Historical Institution: Individuals and Things.’’ Here an elaboration of the psyche as radical imagination is placed in the foreground.1 The imagination was an incipient theme common to Kant, Freud, and the phenomenological movement, but with Castoriadis...

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4. Hermeneutical Horizons of Meaning

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pp. 100-134

Merleau-Ponty famously wrote, ‘‘because we are in the world, we are condemned to meaning’’ (1962, p. xix). Castoriadis would seem to agree, at least in the writings predating his ontological turn. For example, his 1971 homage to Merleau-Ponty—‘‘The Sayable and the Unsayable’’—discloses a rich meditation on the importance of the world in the formation of sociocultural meaning (SU). With the onset of his ontological turn, however...

Part II. Physis

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Introduction to Part II: Physis and the Romanticist Imaginary of Nature

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pp. 137-144

As was evident by the final chapter of the IIS, Castoriadis had begun to extend the scope of magmas beyond the human realm and into nature. Not surprisingly, this expansion wrought changes in his overall philosophical reflections, in particular to his rethinking of the ontological significance of the creativity of nature, on the one hand, and the lines of continuity and discontinuity between human and nonhuman nature, on...

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5. The Rediscovery of Physis

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pp. 145-162

If Castoriadis focused on an elucidation of a regional ontology of nomos during the 1970s, from the 1980s a shift becomes apparent in his thought as his writings become more infused with a growing realization of the importance of the creativity of physis. For convenience, we can date this with the publication of his 1980 review of Varela’s Principles of Biological Autonomy (1979). More broadly, by the end of the 1970s and the beginning...

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6. Objective Knowledge in Review

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pp. 163-180

Castoriadis’s ongoing reflections on science were critical in paving the way for a new reflection on physis. Although he subsumed his epistemological critique to the discussion of the proto-institutions of legein and teukhein as a critique of elementary reason at the time of the IIS, it later developed its own momentum. During the 1980s Castoriadis’s epistemological reflections go beyond the IIS to further relativize the claims of science while...

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7. Rethinking the World of the Living Being

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pp. 181-194

The living being emerges as a central theme for Castoriadis’s rethinking of creative physis.1 His reengagement with the mode of the living being sees the simultaneous reappearance of the physis and nomos problematic, although it is reconfigured at a new level. In line with the more general trend evidenced in Castoriadis’s philosophical path during the 1980s, the living being is now less characterized as self-organizing—which implies an ensidic...

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8. Reimagining Cosmology

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pp. 195-213

Castoriadis’s cosmological considerations emerge from his reflections on the interconnectedness of time and creation. He seeks to offer a philosophical articulation of the physical universe—as one reducible neither to a purely scientific nor a religious imaginary—by an elucidation of the overarching meaning of time.1 Castoriadis’s dialogue with—and continual movement between—the ancients and the moderns continues to inform...

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Conclusion: The Circle of Creation

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pp. 214-222

The present study has taken the reader through the figurations—and reconfigurations— of Castoriadis’s philosophical path through ontology, and into the ‘‘crossroads in the labyrinth’’ emerging beyond. It offered a hermeneutic reconstruction of Castoriadis’s ontological path, with a particular emphasis on his central concept of ‘‘creation.’’ Its argument was twofold: First, it showed that over the course of his philosophical trajectory...


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pp. 223-258


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pp. 259-284


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pp. 285-300

Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823249213
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823234585
Print-ISBN-10: 0823234584

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

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Subject Headings

  • Castoriadis, Cornelius, -- 1922-1997.
  • Ontology.
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