Kostas Axelos

Kostas Axelos
Born (1924-06-26)June 26, 1924
Died February 4, 2010(2010-02-04) (aged 85)
Alma mater University of Paris (PhD, 1959)[1]
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental philosophy, Western Marxism, Phenomenology
Main interests
History of philosophy, praxis, techné, Open Marxism
Notable ideas
The game, planetary thinking, mondialisation, errance

Kostas Axelos (also spelled Costas Axelos; Greek: Κώστας Αξελός; June 26, 1924 February 4, 2010) was a Greek-French philosopher.


Axelos was born in Athens in 1924 to a doctor and a woman from an old Athenian bourgeois family, and attended high school at the French Institute[5] and the German School of Athens. He enrolled in the law school in order to pursue studies in law and economics due to dissatisfaction with the philosophy taught at the School of Philosophy of the University of Athens, but did not attend.[6] With the onset of World War II Axelos got involved in politics. Then during the German and Italian occupation he participated in the Greek Resistance, and later on in the prelude of the Greek Civil War, as an organiser and journalist affiliated with the Communist Party (19411945). He was later expelled from the Communist Party and condemned to death by the right-wing government. He was arrested but managed to escape.

At the end of 1945 Axelos moved to Paris, France on the Mataroa voyage, with around 200 other persecuted intellectuals, where he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and lived most of his life.[7] From 1950 to 1957 he worked as a researcher in the philosophy branch of CRNS, where he was writing his dissertations, and subsequently proceeded to work in École Pratique des Hautes Études. From 1962 to 1973, Axelos taught philosophy at the Sorbonne, and met Jacques Lacan, Pablo Picasso, and Martin Heidegger. His 1959 primary doctoral thesis Marx, penseur de la technique (translated as Marx, the Man Who Thinks Through Technique) tried to provide an understanding of modern technology based on the thought of Heidegger and Marx and was very influential in the 1960s, alongside the philosophy of Herbert Marcuse. Axelos' secondary thesis was on Heraclitus and was eventually published in 1962 as Héraclite et la philosophie: La première saisie de l'être en devenir de la totalité (Heraclitus and Philosophy: The First Grasp of the Being-in-Becoming of Totality).

Axelos was a collaborator on, columnist with, and subsequently editor of the magazine Arguments (19561962). He founded and, since 1960, has run the book series Arguments in Les Éditions de Minuit.[8] The journal had links to other European publications, e.g., Praxis in Yugoslavia and Das Argument in Germany,[9] and pursued a non-sectarian Marxist approach.[10] He has published texts mostly in French, but also in Greek and German. His most important book is Le Jeu du Monde (The Play of the World), where Axelos argues for a pre-ontological status of play. Because of this activity and connection to major European intellectual figures, Axelos played a central role in French and European intellectual life for over 50 years.[7]


Kostas Axelos tried to reconcile the ancient thinking of Heraclitus with the modern thinking of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, and others in order to gain a new perspective on some of the problems of Marxism during his time. Axelos used Heraclitus' philosophy as the primary basis for assessing the work of Marx and Engels. Axelos contributed to the growing interest of contemporary researchers in the Pre-Socratics, and generally for ancient Greek philosophy, through his reading of the role of concepts in interpreting the world.

Axelos' starting point was the argument in Marx's thesis that "the world's becoming philosophical is at the same time philosophy's becoming worldly, that its realization is at the same time its loss"[11] In his dissertation Marx, the Man Who Thinks Through Technique and in his work Alienation, Techne, and Praxis in the Thought of Karl Marx, Axelos draws heavily on the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, reading them with the help of Heidegger's and Nietzsche's concepts. He explored the consequences of "alienation" in history, such as the effects of the division of labor, private property and capital, in terms of the "externalization" of human beings in an "alien reality." Axelos tried to relate these descriptions of alienation and loss of "play" to Heidegger's concept of technological "enframing as standing-reserve [bestand]. For Axelos, this expanded understanding of technology became a way of interrogating both modern society and Marxism[12]

Following the example of his teacher Heidegger, who employed a poetic style of philosophy, Axelos often used a continuous flow of aphoristic statements to relate phenomena together, attempting to listen to "the game of the world". Using this method to approach the "horizons of the world," Axelos unpacks the "mythological elements" of Marxism and especially criticizes tendencies toward meta-narrative that he considers nihilistic and anthropocentric. Axelos' two doctoral theses and his book "Towards Planetary Thinking" (1964) were arranged as a trilogy—The Unfolding of Errance.

Axelos continued to engage with contemporary thinking and the emerging global world by seeking to discover the "unseen horizon encircling all things" (1964), further refining his method as a continuous wandering through the splintered "wholeness" that surrounds contemporary human beings. To describe this state of "being-in-becoming," Axelos uses the term "the game." This is the basis of Axelos' second trilogy entitled The Unfolding of the GameLe deploiement de jeu »), which includes the books: The Game of the World (1969), Towards an Ethics of Problematics (1972), and Contribution to Logic (1977).

Finally, Axelos' third trilogy is entitled The Unfolding of an Investigation, and consists of the books: Arguments of an Investigation (1969), Horizons of the World (1974), and Issues at Stake (1979). In employing both Marx and Freud, Axelos did not carelessly reject their arguments despite trying to "liberate the vital forces" within them (1964), as his autobiography notes: "it remains to ask again, to extrapolate the Marxian and Freudian intuitions" (1997). The focus of the searches is still the "set-game of sets," especially in the context of the "end of history" debates. This is restated as follows: "Since everything has been said and contradicted in a specific language, mainly the metaphysical language of philosophy and the language of anti-philosophy that subverts the metaphysical, is there is still something of meaning to say, and in what language?" (1974).

After completion of the third trilogy, Axelos published Open Systems (1984) as an extension of the concepts that he had hitherto employed on "exposures in the world 'with a means of capturing and writing also' the different and enormous 'wanderings' of the open world," i.e., what is not present-at-hand but what is "overwhelming more people and more historical societies."

Axelos' texts were almost all written as meta-philosophical epilogues with the intention not to "passively endure our time: the inquiries that we have launched require us to look and see both near and far" (1997). The ultimate goal was to write "in a speech poetic and thoughtful, a fervent life" (1997).

Open Marxism

Axelos' approach to thinking and philosophizing can be called 'Open Marxism,' a term Axelos himself has used.[13] However, Axelos identified aspects of modern technological thinking that needed to be criticized within Marx's texts, leading him to read Marx as the culminating figure of Western metaphysics (paralleling Heidegger's assessment of Nietzsche).[14] Open Marxism is therefore an attempt to transcend the political-ideological role of Marxism and to instead "pose fruitful questions and demystify 'existing realizations.'"[15] Axelos stressed that all kinds of action - political or otherwise - cannot be defined a priori. Axelos' thought attempts to question all forms of closure and is a form of open systems theory (as opposed to closed systems theory). Elsewhere, he called this "planetary thinking" (1964).

The concept of "play"

Axelos uses the concept of "play" (le jeu) both as an ontological category (the "system of systems") and as an ethical ideal for an unalienated society. Axelos argues, following Marx, that the opposition between work (necessity) and play (freedom) needs to be abolished, but recognizes that this would be both a concrete and ontological "world-play" (le jeu du monde) or errance.[16] He also argues, following Heidegger, that play is the meaning of Being which has been forgotten in the modern world (the oblivion of Being). Critiquing overly determinist accounts of globalization, for example, Axelos argues that it is a process of world-forming (mondialisation) which is more open to transformation than classical Marxists theorists often admit.[17] The relational aspect of play is what links human activity with the activity of the world, and the various systems of human life (magic, myth, religion, poetry, politics, philosophy, science) together and to the world.[18] Thus, play is not at all a childish vocation for Axelos.


French bibliography
German bibliography
English bibliography

Full English bibliography with links available at "Progressive Geographies". 

See also


  1. Fonds Kostas Axelos - École normale supérieure - Paris
  2. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, JHU Press, 1998, p. 326 n. 14.
  3. Stuart Elden, Understanding Henri Lefebvre, Continuum, 2004, p. 82.
  4. Julian Bourg (ed.), After the Deluge: New Perspectives on the Intellectual and Cultural History of Postwar France, Lexington Books, 2004, p. 113.
  5. Elden, Stuart (2005). "INTERVIEW: Kostas Axelos; "Mondialisation without the world"" (PDF). Radical Philosophy. Retrieved 2010-02-02.
  6. Memos, Christos, and Axelos, Kostas. "For Marx and Marxism: An Interview with Kostas Axelos." Thesis Eleven, No. 98, August 2009, 130.
  7. 1 2 Elden, Stuart. "Introducing Kostas Axelos and 'The World,'" from Systématique ouverte. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 24, 2006, 639.
  8. "Kostas Axelos". Éditions de Minuit. Retrieved 2010-02-02.
  9. Memos and Axelos, 2009, 131.
  10. Poster, Mark. Existential Marxism in Postwar France. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975, 212.
  11. Marx cited in Elden, Stuart "Kostas Axelos and the World of the Arguments Circle." In Bourg, J. (ed.). After the Deluge: New Perspectives on Postwar French Intellectual and Cultural History of Postwar France. Lanham: Lexington Books; 2004: pg. 132.
  12. Elden 2004: pg. 135.
  13. Axelos, Kostas. "Is there a Marxist Philosophy?," in Toward Planetary Thinking, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1964. Trans 1989, 242.
  14. Axelos, Kostas. Alienation, Praxis, & Techne in the Thought of Karl Marx. Trans. Ronald Bruzina. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1976: pg. 246.
  15. Memos and Axelos, 2009, 133.
  16. Axelos, Kostas, and Elden, Stuart. "Mondialisation Without the World." Radical Philosophy. No. 130: March/April 2005, pg. 27.
  17. Axelos and Elden 2005: pg. 27
  18. Axelos, Kostas. "Play as the System of Systems." SubStance, Vol. 8 (4), Issue 25, 1979, 21.
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