Philosophy of Praxis.


In the middle of his important (but by now slightly dated) essay “Dasein as Praxis: the Heideggerian Assimilation and the Radicalization of the Practical Philosophy of Aristotle,” Franco Volpi says:

“Aristotle considers human life in totality as a praxis and not as a poiesis; and praxis is considered as the specific kinesis of human life, which is not simply oriented toward the conservation of life itself, towards living pure and simple (zen), but which is bios, the project of life which, once vital conservation is assured, comes to terms with itself in the space which opens up before it in relation to the problem of how to live, that it, to the choice of the preferable form of life by man, to the problem of living well (eu zen) and to the means suited to realizing this goal. This means that man, qua political animal endowed with logos, carries the weight of the responsibility of deliberating (bouleusis), of choosing and of deciding (prohairesis) about the modalities and the forms of his life by turning toward that which he takes to be the best. As we know, it is the wise man, the prudent man (phronimos), who succeeds in deliberating well, in choosing and deciding well and who realizes right action (eu prattein), the good life (eu zen), and therefore happiness (eudaimonia).” (Volpi, “Dasein as Praxis,” Michael Macann ed. Critical Heidegger, London: Routledge, 1996, 47).

This is an important paragraph to the extent that it prefaces many discussions in the last twenty or thirty years of reflection: think of biopolitics, think of “living well” in the late Derridean or even the decolonial sense, think of Giorgio Agamben’s work.  We can agree with Volpi that Heidegger, in the ten years of so prior to Being and Time (1927), picks up many of the Aristotelian determinations for practical life, while reformulating, radicalizing, and ontologizing them.   And it is arguable that Heidegger never gave up on this, and that even his latest musings and reflections are still entirely contained within a practice of thought as the explicit interpretation of practical life, against every productionism (that is, against every form of poietic thought), and against every theoreticism (and the extent to which this is so remains paradoxically unexplored in Heideggerian criticism.)   What emerges as a question—and the question concerns our interpretation of Aristotle’s relevance even more than that of Heidegger’s for contemporary life—is whether Volpi is right in attributing to Aristotle, and by extension to Heidegger, the notion that practical life is fundamentally decided through its “political condition.”  With the exception of any number of things he said or did during the admittedly many pro-Nazi or pro-Hypernazi years, it can be said that Heidegger stepped back from the fundamentally political determination of existence towards what we have been calling infrapolitics. But is that the move identified by Volpi in reference to Aristotle’s definition of “man” as “political animal”?   As a “political animal” you can presumably choose to step back from politics in the same way that as a passionate fellow you can choose to calm yourself down, but what does that mean? Is phronesis a condition that is necessarily implemented within the political world, or is phronesis a condition that helps you determine your interests both within and without politics? Is the phronimos a political animal that has politically succeeded in living well as the culmination of political life, or is the phronimos a practical animal that can eudaimonically choose its field of engagement transpolitically or parapolitically? What is ontologically prior, politics or practical life? If you reread the quotation above, you may see that the answer is not at all clear in Volpi’s words.

Mario Tronti said at a recent meeting in Rome that Antonio Gramsci’s philosophy is a “philosophy of praxis,” connecting it all of course to the famous Marxian thesis on Feuerbach about transforming the world. So, one first question ought to be whether the “philosophy of praxis” as transformation of the world in the Marxist tradition needs forcefully to be “hegemonic praxis” (“hegemonic” or “counterhegemonic” makes no difference here). I think both the Marxist and the post-Marxist traditions actually prove that to be the case. “Transforming the world” ends up being picked up as simply putting the world upside down in hegemonic terms—that is, as a merely ontic transfer of power. The second question is whether the Marxian tradition would allow for any consideration of an alternative form of praxis, namely, posthegemonic praxis. Posthegemonic praxis is already the claim that, even within politics, “transforming the world” does not and cannot simply mean altering its hegemonic constitution. A radical philosophy of praxis is posthegemonic to the very extent it is infrapolitical–that is, to the very extent that it cares about the very conditions of political relation, without presupposing them as always already given, always already enacted. The infrapolitical step-back is the claim that questioning the presupposition of political saturation is already the proof that there is and can be no political saturation (that is, that merely ontic transfers of power are not and could never be the ultimate horizon of human praxis). An infrapolitical philosophy of praxis aims to “transform the world” of the (bogus) world-transformation only ever theoretically invoked by hegemonic thought in its counterhegemonic versions.

The thought of infrapolitical praxis takes its departure from something other than the notion of the radical politicality of the human being, without denying it. Yes, the human being can be or is a “political animal,” also a “productive animal,” also a “theoretical animal,” also an animal pure and simple. But those four determinations do not exhaust the field. There is a fifth determination (within a series that may remain open: there could be n determinations), which is the infrapolitical one. The contention is simply that there is a practical priority for the infrapoltical determination, not because without it the other four are only elements in an undetermined series; rather because infrapolitics is the name for what has remained unthought in any philosophy of praxis, as the very ambiguity of Volpi’s quotation helps confirm.

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