Vol. 15 No. 2 (2022): Aesthetics & Ontology in Étienne Souriau

Is Souriau Also Among the Sophists?

Casey Boyle
University of Texas-Austin

Published 2023-02-06


  • aesthetic responsibility,
  • rhetoric,
  • sophists,
  • Souriau

How to Cite

Boyle, C. (2023). Is Souriau Also Among the Sophists?. Aisthesis. Pratiche, Linguaggi E Saperi dell’estetico, 15(2), 125–135. https://doi.org/10.36253/Aisthesis-13901


Whether viewed as unduly complex or necessarily ornate, Étienne Souriau’s written style accents the importance of placing artistic form in conversation with intellectual content. In seeking to better understand Souriau’s advocacy for a philosophy of instauration – the process through which an existence gains in existential formality – this essay examines how aesthetic tropes and devices order ontological meaning. First, it links Barbara Cassin’s case for sophistical practice to Souriau’s advocation for ontological multiplicity. The essay then reads the 1956 essay “Of the Mode of Existence of the Work To-Be-Made” and Souriau’s adjacent work as consciously rhetorical and profoundly aesthetic attempts to recruit others to his philosophical commitments. This account further discerns  an array of rhetorical devices (e.g. chiasmus) in Souriau’s work that function not merely to adorn description but rather to order an experience of the work-to-be-made. Attending to turns of language as contributing to reality necessarily raises questions of responsibility, so the essay’s then reconsiders philosophy’s long-standing charge of sophistic irresponsibility alongside Souriau’s skewing of agency and choice through instauration. The essay concludes by considering the implications of Souriau’s central concepts as filtered through sophistical practice as not incidental to philosophical aesthetics but a charge to philosophy to be responsible for promoting lesser existences in and across multiple modes.


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