Is a political ontology required for political philosophy? Making the case for a political path with Castoriadis and some Buddhists


Speaker: Pierre-Julien Harter, University of New Mexico

When: Feb 24, 2023 - 03:30pm - 05:00pm

Where: Mitchell Hall 102



This talk explores the possibility of Buddhist political philosophy by addressing the question whether Buddhist philosophy has the resources for elaborating a political ontology and whether this is an element required for any political philosophy. A political ontology can be understood as an account of the kind of reality a political community is constituted of. Political philosophies sometimes ground their ontology on individuals (individualism) and sometimes on groups (holism). These two alternatives would not be acceptable to late Indian Buddhist philosophy, in its Mādhyamika version, given its commitment to an “ontology of emptiness,” which rejects any kind of substance or essence (svabhāva), threatening both the existence of individuals and wholes. The present reflection will draw from the works of Cornelius Castoriadis (1922-1997) to make the case that a political ontology that precisely does not rely on pre-given realities (but rather on what he calls “chaos”) and considers imagination as central for the capacity of societies to institute themselves (“auto-institution”) is best suited to provide a justification, not a foundation, to a democratic political organization. Castoriadis’ concepts of imagination and auto-institution will allow us to elaborate, in the final part of the talk, on the relevance of the concept of a political path for a political philosophy that rejects identitarian presuppositions without abandoning the aspiration of creating communities aiming at their own betterment, an essential feature of the concept of the Buddhist path.