Questioning the Pertinence of the Classical Theory-Praxis Dichotomy in the Light of the Habermas – Castoriadis Debate about the Concept of ‘Imaginary’

  • Abstract:

    Refusing the classical distinction between praxis and theory from his early writings, Castoriadis developed a political philosophy, grounded in a political ontology, which abolishes the pertinence of this distinction. By exploring both Castoriadis’ theory of “the imaginary institution of society”, and Habermas’ critic of this theory, this paper aims at demonstrating how the theory-praxis distinction loses its relevance in Castoriadis’ thought of the society as a permanent process of auto-institution, leading to a renewed conception of praxis as paideia, or permanent education of individuals to autonomy.

    To proceed, we propose first to investigate on why and how Castoriadis social theory demonstrates the lack of relevance of the praxis-theory distinction. According to him – given that every act is shaped by the social-historical imaginary in which the subject evolves, and that the very same act in return shapes this imaginary -, every act of theorizing is then a form of praxis, and reversely, every single action always immediately affects the field in which the imaginary representations and significations of theory are shaped.

    Then, to explore the radicality of this thesis and its possible implications for the classical theory-praxis distinction, we will examine Habermas’ critic of the Castoriadian ontology sketched above. Indeed, in his book of 1986, Habermas tackles Castoriadis’ political ontology by claiming that this theory leaves no room for an authentic praxis as the subject can in no way influence the social-historical imaginary or have an effective action on it. By discussing this critic we will try to elucidate that, on the opposite, the radicalism of Castoriadis’ thought lies precisely in the fact that every single act of praxis as well as of theory always affects the social imaginary.

    To conclude, we will explore the implications of this theory for a renewed conception of “praxis”. This will lead us to develop the concept of infra-power, before moving to the implications that this renewed concept of praxis as paideia (or permanent education of individuals to autonomy) has for contemporary militancy, critical thought, and philosophy of emancipation.