Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 8, No 2 (2012)

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What ought we to do? Tragic answers from Heidegger and Castoriadis

Andrew Cooper

Abstract


Martin Heidegger and Cornelius Castoriadis both understood Greek tragedy in relation to a political rupture in the Athenian world, a rupture containing insights into the ontological grounding of human beings. This paper critically explores the role of 'the Greeks' in Heidegger and Castoriadis' political thought, drawing implications for the availability of the Greeks for any philosophical thinking. After his infamous Rectoral Address in 1933 Heidegger turned explicitly to Greek tragedy in his lectures at Freiburg (Introduction to Metaphysics and Hölderlin’s Hymn) to search for resources that might prove fundamental to instigating a new political era. However, he constructed a transcultural notion of 'the Greeks' at the expesnse of seeing tragedy as the development of a public institution that facilitated the criticism of the shared values and ideas of a particular historical epoch. Castoriadis, on the other hand, saw tragedy not simply as an awareness of the groundlessness of human society, but as the ceaseless questioning of what society is for. For Castoriadis, the Greeks are present to us in the same political rupture we experience today. In this paper I will argue that Castoriadis is more successful than Heidegger in developing an account of human creativity that holds open the problematic relation between the created world and human beings, though not without significant problems. I will conclude by suggesting that Euripides, a tragedian overlooked by Castoriadis, can supply some critical recouses for addressing them.

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