Praxis (Ancient Greek: πρᾶξις) is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. "Praxis" may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practising ideas. This has been a recurrent topic in the field of philosophy, discussed in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Paulo Freire, Ludwig von Mises, and many others. It has meaning in the political, educational, and spiritual realms.
In Ancient Greek the word praxis (πρᾶξις) referred to activity engaged in by free men. The philosopher Aristotle held that there were three basic activities of man: theoria (thinking), poiesis (making), and praxis (doing). Corresponding to these activities were three types of knowledge: theoretical, the end goal being truth; poietical, the end goal being production; and practical, the end goal being action. Aristotle further divided the knowledge derived from praxis into ethics, economics and politics. He also distinguished between eupraxia (εὐπραξία, "good praxis") and dyspraxia (δυσπραξία, "bad praxis, misfortune").
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Young Hegelian philosopher August Cieszkowski was one of the earliest philosophers to use the term praxis as meaning "action oriented towards changing society" in his 1838 work Prolegomena zur Historiosophie (Prolegomena to a Historiosophy). The 19th century socialist Antonio Labriola called Marxism the "philosophy of praxis". This description of Marxism would appear again in Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks and the writings of the members of the Frankfurt School.
In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt argues that Western philosophy too often has focused on the contemplative life (vita contemplativa) and has neglected the active life (vita activa). This has led humanity to frequently miss much of the everyday relevance of philosophical ideas to real life. For Arendt, praxis is the highest and most important level of the active life. Thus, she argues that more philosophers need to engage in everyday political action or praxis, which she sees as the true realization of human freedom. According to Arendt, our capacity to analyze ideas, wrestle with them, and engage in active praxis is what makes us uniquely human.
In Maurizio Passerin d'Etreves's estimation, "Arendt's theory of action and her revival of the ancient notion of praxis represent one of the most original contributions to twentieth century political thought. ... Moreover, by viewing action as a mode of human togetherness, Arendt is able to develop a conception of participatory democracy which stands in direct contrast to the bureaucratized and elitist forms of politics so characteristic of the modern epoch."
Paulo Freire defines praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as "reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed." Through praxis, oppressed people can acquire a critical awareness of their own condition, and, with their allies, struggle for liberation.
Praxis may be described as a form of critical thinking and comprises the combination of reflection and action. Praxis can be viewed as a progression of cognitive and physical actions:
- Taking the action
- Considering the impacts of the action
- Analysing the results of the action by reflecting upon it
- Altering and revising conceptions and planning following reflection
- Implementing these plans in further actions
This creates a cycle which can be viewed in terms of educational settings, learners and educational facilitators.
Scott and Marshall (2009) refer to praxis as “a philosophical term referring to human action on the natural and social world”. Furthermore, Gramsci (1999) emphasises the power of praxis in Selections from the Prison Notebooks by stating that “The philosophy of praxis does not tend to leave the simple in their primitive philosophy of common sense but rather to lead them to a higher conception of life”. To reveal the inadequacies of religion, folklore, intellectualism and other such ‘one-sided’ forms of reasoning, Gramsci appeals directly in his later work to Marx’s ‘philosophy of praxis’, describing it as a ‘concrete’ mode of reasoning. This principally involves the juxtaposition of a dialectical and scientific audit of reality; against all existing normative, ideological, and therefore counterfeit accounts. Essentially a ‘philosophy’ based on ‘a practise’, Marx’s philosophy, is described correspondingly in this manner, as the only ‘philosophy’ that is at the same time a ‘history in action’ or a ‘life’ itself (Gramsci, Hoare and Nowell-Smith, 1972, p. 332).
Praxis is also key in meditation and spirituality, where emphasis is placed on gaining first-hand experience of concepts and certain areas, such as union with the Divine, which can only be explored through praxis due to the inability of the finite mind (and its tool, language) to comprehend or express the infinite. In an interview for YES! Magazine, Matthew Fox explained it this way:
- Wisdom is always taste—in both Latin and Hebrew, the word for wisdom comes from the word for taste—so it's something to taste, not something to theorize about. "Taste and see that God is good," the psalm says; and that's wisdom: tasting life. No one can do it for us. The mystical tradition is very much a Sophia tradition. It is about tasting and trusting experience, before institution or dogma.
According to Strong's Hebrew dictionary, the Hebrew word, ta‛am, is; properly a taste, that is, (figuratively) perception; by implication intelligence; transitively a mandate: advice, behaviour, decree, discretion, judgment, reason, taste, understanding.
- Christian theological praxis
- Lex artis
- Praxis Discussion Series
- Praxis (disambiguation)
- Praxis intervention
- Praxis school
- Practice (social theory)
- Ramsey, Ramsey Eric; Miller, David James (2003). Experiences between philosophy and communication: engaging the philosophical contributions of Calvin O. Schrag. SUNY Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-7914-5875-4. Retrieved 1 August 2010.
- Smith, M. K. (1999, 2011). ‘What is praxis?’ in the encyclopaedia of informal education. Retrieved: 11/28/2016
- Aristotle, NE, VI, 5, 1140b7.
- Krancberg, Sigmund (1994), A Soviet Postmortem: Philosophical Roots of the "Grand Failure", Rowman & Littlefield, p. 56.
- Joseph Francese, Perspectives on Gramsci: Politics, Culture and Social Theory, Routledge, 2009, p. 59.
- Marx alluded to this concept in his Theses on Feuerbach when he stated that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."
- Joseph Francese, Perspectives on Gramsci: Politics, Culture and Social Theory, Routledge, 2009, p. 2.
- Max Horkheimer (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Yar, Majid, "Hannah Arendt (1906—1975)", The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Fry, Karin, "Arendt, Hannah" in Women-philosophers.com.
- d'Entreves, Maurizio Passerin (2006), "Hannah Arendt", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Kolb, D., "David A. Kolb on experiential learning", Informal Education Encyclopedia.
- Freire, P. (1970), Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Bloomsbury Academy, p. 126.
- Freire, P. (1986), Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, p. 36.
- Holy Impatience: an interview with Matthew Fox, YES! Magazine.
- The dictionary definition of praxis at Wiktionary
- Entry for "praxis" at the Encyclopaedia of Informal Education
- Der Begriff Praxis