Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy

Book Pages: 176 Illustrations: 1 map Published: September 2017

Author: Karatani Kojin

Translator: Joseph A. Murphy

Politics > Political Theory, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

In Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy—published originally in Japanese and now available in four languages—Kojin Karatani questions the idealization of ancient Athens as the source of philosophy and democracy by placing the origins instead in Ionia, a set of Greek colonies located in present-day Turkey. Contrasting Athenian democracy with Ionian isonomia—a system based on non-rule and a lack of social divisions whereby equality is realized through the freedom to immigrate—Karatani shows how early Greek thinkers from Heraclitus to Pythagoras were inseparably linked to the isonomia of their Ionian origins, not democracy. He finds in isonomia a model for how an egalitarian society not driven by class antagonism might be put into practice, and resituates Socrates's work and that of his intellectual heirs as the last philosophical attempts to practice isonomia's utopic potentials. Karatani subtly interrogates the democratic commitments of Western philosophy from within and argues that the key to transcending their contradictions lies not in Athenian democracy, with its echoes of imperialism, slavery, and exclusion, but in the openness of isonomia.


"A work of historical importance, this book should be read by all who are interested in the innumerable conflicts that beset the contemporary world. Essential." — J. A. Fischel, Choice

"Karatani’s Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy is a deceptively complex work that offers numerous transdisciplinary insights for the philosophically initiated and uninitiated alike. And while its true value may be its intellectual historical angle – namely, its fascinating re-presentation of the history of Greek philosophy – Isonomia is a very worthwhile part of Karatani’s broader effort to offer readers an illuminating systematic perspective from which to view our contemporary political and philosophical situation." — Brendan Harvey, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

"Karatani is presenting . . . a concrete analysis of the conditions necessary to produce the scientific method, the rational against the superstitious, the cosmopolitan. . . It need hardly be said that these themes are more timely than ever." — Mat Callahan, Socialism and Democracy

"In our anti-Eurocentrist era, attempts abound to 'decenter' European legacy, to demonstrate how European ideology borrowed from and simultaneously oppressed other traditions. Kojin Karatani does something very different: he decenters European legacy from within, shifting the accent from the classic Greek idealism (Plato, Aristotle) to its half-forgotten predecessors, the so-called Ionian materialists (Thales, Democritus), the first philosophers who were also the true founders of democratic egalitarianism. Karatani’s book makes you see the entire history of philosophy in a new way; it deserves to become an instant classic." — Slavoj Žižek

"A unique and ambitious intellectual project, Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy marks a new phase in the history of Marxism and in the career of Kojin Karatani. It should be regarded as one of the radical critiques of Western metaphysics by virtue of its challenge to conventional accounts of the origins of philosophy. This work is of historical importance." — Naoki Sakai, author of Translation and Subjectivity: On Japan and Cultural Nationalism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kojin Karatani is an internationally renowned theorist and philosopher. Previously, he was a professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, Kinki University in Osaka, and Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books, including The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange and Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Translator's Note  vii
Map  viii
Author's Preface to the Japanese Edition  ix
Universal Religion  1
Ethical Prophets   5
Exemplary Prophets  7
1. Ionian Society and Thought
Athens and Ionia  11
Isonomia and Democracy  14
Athenian Democracy  17
State and Democracy  20
Colonization and Isonomia  22
Iceland and North America  26
Isonomia and Council  31
2, The Background of Ionian Natural Philosophy
Natural Philosophy and Ethics  35
Hippocrates  39
Herodotus  42
Homer  46
Hesiod  51
3. The Essential Points of Ionian Natural Philosophy
The Critique of Religion  56
Self-Moving Matter  58
Poiesis and Becoming  62
4. Post-Ionian Thought
Pythagoras  68
Heraclitus  80
Parmenides  87
Post-Eliatics  96
5. Socrates and Empire
The Athenian Empire and Democracy  103
Sophists and Rule by Rhetoric  107
The Trial of Socrates  110
The Riddle of Socrates  114
Daimon  118
The Socratic Method  121
Plato and Pythagoras  125
The Philosopher-King  127
Isonomia and the Philosopher-King  130
Appendix. From Structure of World History to Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy  135
Timeline of the Ancient World  141
Notes  143
Bibliography  155
Index  159
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6913-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6885-4
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