Word of the Day: Praxis

Praxis, n.
1. The process by which a theory or lesson is put into action.
2. The synthesis of action and theory; a dynamic process recognizing a reciprocal relationship between theory and practice.
3. Free, self-conscious, authentic activity practiced by free persons, as opposed to alienated labor.

The term comes from Ancient Greek, where Aristotle defined it as direct action, distinct from theoretical knowledge (theoria) and production (poiesis). Specifically, praxis for Aristotle was an activity that was good as an end in itself (for its own sake), whereas poiesis was an action that was good as a means to another end (e.g. economic activity). Praxis is informed by theoria, putting theory into action.

That is, praxis is an informed, deliberate action, not just habitual custom. It directly contributes to a flourishing life, rather than being an indirect means to a later end.

Sartre distinguished praxis (action) from the practico-inert (the structure or context in which that action happens, which builds out of and informs praxis). “Speech acts are praxis, whereas language is practico-inert; social institutions are practico-inert but the actions they foster and limit are praxes” [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]. In other words, our institutions, ideas and social structures are powerless and meaningless without considering the praxis that instantiates and informs them. This leads to a feedback loop where our actions create their own contexts — we create the structures of our world, and that in turn shapes our actions. We reshape our world by interrupting this loop, inserting new actions deliberatively.

Finally, I’ll take this opportunity to plug sf0, a collaborative game that takes place in the real world, the virtual world, and its players’ minds. Players complete tasks — ranging from the simple to the absurd to the illegal to the transcendent — in order to level up and gain access to more tasks. It’s action for the development of character, community, chaos. Check out the praxis to look at some recently completed tasks.

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