Cornelius Castoriadis was a Greek-French philosopher, social critic, .. In the second part of his Imaginary Institution of Society (titled “The Social Imaginary and the Institution”), he gives the example of set theory. Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity ‘Castoriadis’s The Imaginary Institution of Society is a work of great power and originality. In emphasizing the element of creativity, Castoriadis opens the way for rethinking and practice in terms of the autonomous and explicit self-institution of society.

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Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. As a work of social theory, I would argue th “[T]he most original, ambitious, and reflective attempt to think through the liberating mediation of history, society, external and internal nature once again as praxis”.

Cornelius Castoriadis

As a work of social theory, I would argue that it belongs in a class with the writings of Habermas and Arendt”. First published in France init is the major theoretical work of one of the foremost thinkers in Europe today. 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.

Paperbackpages. Published January 23rd by Mit Press first published To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Imaginary Institution of Societyplease sign up. Be the first to ask a question about The Imaginary Institution of Society. Lists with This Book.

Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society – PhilPapers

Jul 06, stephen rated it it was amazing. Mar 27, Freddie rated it it was amazing. For me the best parts of the book were the Castoriadis’ exposition of alienation as ‘social heteronomy’, of which his notion of autonomy constitutes a central aspect, avoiding the pitfalls of more Marxist-humanist conceptions of alienation.

Also enjoyed the aspects that insisted upon the fundamentally social orientation of autonomy. Bit too reliant on Freud and Psychoanalysis for my likings his work could certainly be enriched by a dialogue with Schizoanalysisbut the five stars is earned from the humour and honesty throughout the book. For me, the most useful aspect of his work is the notion of the ‘imaginary’, in which he argues that social reality is but the implementation of “imaginary significations” I.

Vocabulary for a New Eraed D’Alisa et al, pp. My favourite section of the book was Castoriadis randomly, but refreshingly, making the case of autogestion self-management and autonomy amidst complex social ontology. Reminds me of the ‘early’ philosophical Marx – it resonates the tone of the manuscripts: Like most people, I can live in this one and adapt to it — at any rate, I do live in it. However critically I may try to look at myself, neither my capacity for adaptation, nor my assimilation of reality seems to me to be inferior to the sociological average.

I am not asking for immortality, ubiquity or omniscience.

I am not asking society to ‘give me happiness’; I know that this is not a ration that can be handed out by City Hall or my neighbourhood Workers’ Council and that, if this thing exists, I have to xornelius it for myself, tailored to my own needs, castorriadis this has happened to me already and as this will probably happen to me again.

In life, however, as it comes to me and to others, I run corneluis against a lot of unacceptable things; I say that they are not inevitable and that they stem from the organization of society. I desire, and I ask, first of all that my work be meaningful, that I may approve what it is used for and the way in which it is done, that it allow me genuinely to expend myself, to make use of my faculties and at the same time to enrich instittion develop myself.

And I say that this is possible, with a different organization of society, possible for imaginar and for everyone. I say that it would already be a basic change in this direction if I were allowed to decide, together with everyone else, what I had to do and, with my fellow workers, how to do it. I should like, together with everyone else, to know what is going on in society, to control the extent and the quality of the information I receive.


I ask to be able to participate directly in all the social decisions that may affect my existence, or the general course of the world in which I live. I do not accept the fact that my lot is decided, day after day, by people whose projects are hostile to me or simply unknown to me, and for whom we, that is I and everyone else, are only numbers in a general plan or pawns on a chess board, and that, ultimately, my life and my death are in the hands of people whom I know to be, necessarily, blind.

I know perfectly well that realizing another social organization, and the life it would imply, would by no means be simple, that difficult problems would arise at every step. But I prefer contending with real problems rather than with the consequences of de Gaulle’s delirium, Johnson’s schemes or Khrushchev’s intrigues.

Even if I and the others should fail along this path, I prefer failure in a meaningful attempt to a state that falls short of either failure or non-failure, and which is merely ridiculous. I wish to be able to meet the other person as a being like myself and yet absolutely different, not like a number or a frog perched on another level higher or lower, it matters little of the hierarchy of revenues and powers.

I wish to see the other, and for the other to see me, as another human being. I want our relationships to be something other than a field for the expression of aggressivity, our competition to remain within the limits of play, our conflicts — to the extent that they cannot be resolved or overcome — to concern real problems and real stakes, carrying with them the least amount of unconsciousness possible, and that they be as lightly loaded as possible with the imaginary.

I want the other to be free, for my freedom begins where the other’s freedom begins, and, all alone, I can at best be merely ‘virtuous in misfortune’. I do not count on people changing into angels, nor on their souls becoming as pure as mountain lakes — which, moreover, I have always found deeply boring. But I know how much present culture aggravates and exasperates their difficulty to be and to be with others, and I see that it multiplies to infinity the obstacles placed in the way of their freedom.

I know, of course, that this desire cannot be realized today; nor even were the revolution to take place tomorrow, could it be fully realized in my lifetime. I know that one day people will live, for whom the problems that cause us the most anguish today will no longer even exist.

This is my fate, which I have to assume and which I do assume. But this cannot reduce me to despair or to catatonic ruminations.

Possessing this desire, which indeed is mine, I can only work to realize it. And already in the choice of my main interest in life, in the work I devote to it, which for me is meaningful even when I encounter, and accept, partial failure, delays, detours and tasks that have no sense in themselvesin the participation in a group of revolutionaries which is attempting to go beyond the reified and alienated relations of current society — I am ijaginary a position partially to realize this desire.

If I had been born in a communist society, would happiness have been easier to attain — I really do not know, and at any rate can do nothing castorkadis it. I am not, under this pretext, going to spend my free time watching television or reading unstitution novels. Does my attitude amount to denying the reality principle? But what is the content of this principle? Is it that work is necessary — or that it is necessary that work be meaningless, exploited, that it contradict the objectives for which czstoriadis is allegedly done?

Is this principle valid, in this form, for someone of independent means? Is it valid, in this form, for the natives of the Trobriand islands or Samoa?

The Imaginary Institution of Society

Is it still valid today for fishermen in a poor Mediterranean village? Up to instiuttion point does the reality principle reveal nature, and at what point does it begin to reveal society? Why not serfdom, slave galleys, concentration camps?

Where does a philosophy get the right to tell me: I accept the reality principle, for I accept the necessity of work as long, in any case, as it is real, for it is becoming less obvious every day and the necessity of a social organization of work. But I do not accept the appeal to a false psychoanalysis and to a false metaphysics, which introduces the precise discussion of historical possibilities, gratuitous assertions about castoriadiss impossibilities, about which this philosophy knows nothing at all.


Might my desire be infantile? But imaginaey infantile situation is that life is given to you and that the Law is given to you. In the infantile situation, life is given to you for nothing; and the Law is given to imagiinary without anything else, without anything more, without any possible discussion.

What I want is just the opposite: I want to make my life and to give life if possible, and in any event to give something for my life. I want corneliua Law not to be simply given, but for me to give it to myself at the hhe time. The person who socjety constantly in the infantile situation is the conformist and the apolitical person, for they accept the Law without any discussion and do not want to participate in shaping it. Someone who lives in society without any will concerning the Law, without any political will, has merely replaced the private father with the anonymous social father.

The infantile situation is first receiving without giving, and then doing or being in order to receive.

What I want is a just exchange to begin with, passing beyond exchange afterwards. The infantile situation is the relation of duality, the phantasy of fusion — and in this sense it is the imagknary society that constantly infantilizes everyone, by the imaginary fusion with unreal entities: What I want is for society to cease to be a family, moreover a false one and even a grotesque one; I want it to acquire its peculiar dimension as a society, a network of relationships among autonomous adults.

Is my desire a desire for immaginary But what I want is the abolition of power in the current sense; I want the power of each and every one. For current power, other people are things, and all that I want goes against this. The person for whom others are imaglnary is himself a thing, and I do not want to be a thing either for myself or for others.

I do not want others to be things, I would have no use for this.

If I may exist for others, be recognized by them, I do not want this to be in terms of the possession of something external to me — power; nor to exist for them only in an imaginary realm. The recognition of others has value to me only inasmuch as I recognize them as well. Am I in danger of forgetting all this if ever events were to carry me close to ‘power’? This seems more than improbable to me. If this were to happen, a battle would perhaps be lost but not the war, and am I to rule my entire life on the assumption that I might one castoriadiis slip back into childhood?

Should I follow this chimera of wanting to eliminate the tragic side of human existence? It seems to me that instead I want to eliminate the melodramatic aspect, the false tragedy — the one in which catastrophe arrives without necessity, in which everything could have been otherwise if only the characters had known this or had done that. That people should die of hunger in India, while in America or in Europe governments penalize farmers who ‘over’-produce — this is a macabre farce, this is Grand Guignol in which the cadavres and the suffering are real, but this is not tragedy, there is nothing ineluctable here.

And if one day humanity perishes by cormelius bombs, I refuse to call this a tragedy. I would call it stupidity. I would like an end to Guignol and to the transformation of people into puppets by other puppets who ‘govern’ them.

When institutiob neurotic repeats for the 14th time the same behaviour-pattern of failure, reproducing for himself and for those nearby the same type of misfortune, helping this person get out of such a situation is to rid his or her life of grotesque farce, not tragedy; it is to allow the person finally to see the real problems of life and the tragic element they may contain — which the neurosis served in part to express but especially to mask.

When one of Buddha’s disciples came to tell him, after a long voyage in the West, that miraculous things, instruments, medications, methods of imagimary and institutions had transformed people’s lives since the time the Master had retreated into the mountains, Buddha stopped him after a few words. Have they wiped out sadness, sickness, old age and death?

No, replied the disciple.