Translation of Laruelle’s “Badiou and Non-Philosophy: a Parallel”

Translator’s Note: In order to avoid any sort of confusion, it should be noted that this article was included in an anthology of essays engaging various aspects of non-philosophy in contemporary philosophers. This article immediately follows Laruelle’s own essay responding to Deleuze, but was–for reasons that will become clear after reading–published under the pseudonym Tristan Aguilar.

Badiou and Non-Philosophy: A Parallel

Aguilar, Tristan. “Badiou et non-philosophie: un parallel” in Non-philosophie des contemporains. Ed. Le Collectif non-philosophique. Paris: Kimé, 1995.

            I. Everything seems to force the opposition between non-philosophy and the philosophy that takes the equation mathematics=ontology as its ontological base. This opposition can be identified on four levels:

            1. The central and guiding theme: on the one hand, a philosophy of the radical Multiple (Badiou=B.); on the other hand, a non-philosophy of the radical One (Laruelle=L.). One cannot, at least at first glance, imagine thoughts more extreme or more opposed in their common research of radicality in the name of anti-contemporary radicality (the philosophies of difference: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida).

            2. The object of thought: on the one hand (B.) Being, a more-than-fundamental ontology, a veritable ontological base for philosophy, an overhaul of the concept of “being” as first: on the other (L.) a secondarization of being as an instance of a completely relative autonomy on behalf of the One as radical immanence or instance of the absolutely non-objective real; a global and resolute refusal to understand the real as Being and consequently a refusal to understand the essence of thought, if not thought itself, as ontology, be it “Presence” or not.

            3. Thought itself: on the one hand (B.) the militant claim of philosophy against the ideology of its “death” or its “end” (in which B. tends to include L.) under the reserve of a certain anti-Heideggerian dissociation of ontology and philosophy itself, a division internal to philosophy but of external or scientific origin: on the other, a claim of “non-philosophy” and an external though immanent distinction of philosophy and non-philosophy, a distinction which is itself non-philosophical or founded in the ante-philosophical and no longer philosophical (B.) real. On the one hand, a hero-philosopher who inscribes himself in the Cartesian, Nietzschean, and Mallarmean tradition of the heroic philosopher; on the other, a reduction of philosophy to the state of material or object of a thought which is that of “ordinary man.” Plato and Rousseau? Plato and Kant? Plato and Marx?

            4. The conjuncture and the project: on the one hand (B.) how to supplant Heidegger by resuming the foundational Platonic gesture, how to avoid the Heideggerian extinction of ontology (under the form of the ontology of “Presence,” with its “post-modern” aftereffects); on the other (L.) how to elaborate a thought outside-philosophy but relating itself to every philosophy possible, modern and post-modern indifferently rather than to a particular philosophical decision (Platonic or contemporary, post-modern)? On the one hand, in what way does the fidelity to ontology demand a new, i.e. Platonico-modern ontology; on the other, how do we deliver thought from ontico-ontological primacy and more generally from every philosophical sufficiency by elaborating a new thought adequate to an experience of the One, an unprecedented experience foreclosed by philosophy?

            II. However, this antinomy, to indeed be real, must be nuanced and differentiated. Is it necessary to remember that, by definition, they do not speak of the same things when they use the same words? And that it thus cannot be a question of fabricating a simplistic opposition that would take these thoughts avant la lettre without a minimum of textual hermeneutics, as this is always necessary during the historical emergence of doctrines?

            1. If they both oppose the Multiple and the One, it is no longer a question of the Multiple and the One which form circlets or co-belongings like in the metaphysics of “Presence” or in Greek ontology before Plato’s most radical decisions, or like the state of affairs after Plato and Descartes. B. liberates the Multiple (in principle it is at least supposed liberated) from any unity: Multiple-of-multiples ad infinitum; Being contains nothing but the multiple without unity. L. liberates the one from the multiple and from the unity of their mixtures; hence a One-in-One (we shall compare the formulas “multiple-of-multiples” and “One-in-One”) or a real as identity through and through or radical immanence (to) itself rather than to the “unity”-form. The radicality of the positions simultaneously rigidifies and softens the antinomy which must no longer be thought according to the schemas, at least the most traditional, of the philosophical antithetic. For example, both thinkers agree upon carrying out the “death of the Greek god of the One,” even if they do not interpret this formula in the same way, the first reducing every possible One to the One of the metaphysics of Presence and its real content, the One of counting, the second distinguishing from these adulterated or empirico-metaphysical forms a One-in-One which has remained absolutely unthought by philosophy or foreclosed by it (including by B.’s ontology).

            2.  Neither thinks philosophy without a de jure relation to science, even if they place themselves between these disciplines and have two different relations to them. Epistemology under its different forms, all differentialist to various degrees (idealist, positivist, applied-rationalist, critical, etc.), is de-programmed and eliminated as a sterile or fetishizing combination of philosophy and science. They oppose to it an identity of science and philosophy rather than a difference; identity either partial, but internal on behalf of philosophy (B.) which divides the latter, or total but external or assured by a non-philosophical cause which guarantees the undivided identity of philosophy (L.).

            3. Both involve a privileged relation to Marxism, a relation more (B.) or less (L.) explicit. B. engages dialectical Materialism transformed moreover in its materialist side (Being or multiple in-itself) and in its dialectical side (multiplicity of the set-theoretical type). L. instead engages historical Materialism, transformed in its materialist side (the real as One-in-One) and in its historical side (philosophy as enveloping or universal horizon of human practices).

            4. The relation to philosophy no longer has the simplicity that certain slogans or appearances might suggest. B. does not completely or without distinction maintain a homogeneous relation to philosophy which L. would call “sufficiency” of the “philosophy-all” type, despite the Manifesto for Philosophy: this relation to philosophy or of philosophy to itself is internally divided or restrained by science (mathematics), philosophy identifying itself with science and in some sense depriving itself of its traditional ontological core, a function now assumed by mathematics. Ontology is then a special form of “non-philosophy” inside philosophy itself. L. does not maintain, despite certain contrary appearances, a relation of negation, but a positive relation to philosophy, and merely a relation of suspension to its so-called sufficiency for the real. The distinction passes in B. between two “parts” of philosophy that globally conserve its authority and a prohibited or truncated form of sufficiency; in L. it passes into the “philosophy-all,” i.e. between the “Principle of philosophical sufficiency” and the identity of philosophy as simple material. The first opens philosophy from the inside to mathematics; the second opens it from the outside to a thought which is nevertheless immanent (only the radical immanence of the One-in-One can be absolutely heteronomous to philosophy and yet “act” upon it). B. affirms philosophy by sacrificing its ontology to science, while L. neither affirms nor denies philosophy but sacrifices its global sufficiency or its claim to an immanent though heteronomous identity of science and philosophy.

            III. This first attempt at relating B. and L. sought to scramble the appearances and complicate any sort of judgment. It is possible to carry the comparison further or complete these indications.

            1. The One, Being, the Multiple.

            a) The real is understood either (B.) as Being, i.e. radical exteriority, not in relation to something else but in-itself (multiple-of-multiples) or in a certain way, just as the immanence of pure transcendence is thus released to itself and is absolutely autonomous; or (L.) as One, i.e. radical immanence which is not the immanence of an exteriority in-itself, but immanence (to) itself rather than in-itself. The common adversary for these thinkers is transcendent unity, synthesis in general, difference in particular, but in the name of pure Being, Being in-itself, or even the One-in-One. In reality, the refusal to various degrees bears upon metaphysical autoposition in the name of a certain identity (or non-difference) of the pure Multiple or even of Immanence.

            b) Being is first and enjoys a primacy over the One, rejected into the secondary and operative stratum of the calculation or counting necessary to the representation of the multiple (B.); the One is first but without primacy or hierarchy over Being, henceforth secondary and necessary to the distinct thought of representation (L.). B. conserves hierarchy by inverting it, yet by “repressing” and displacing the One; this Multiple is thus not a simple inversion of the One on behalf of the Multiple, for the inversion is also a real displacement. L. from the outset invalidates hierarchy in the name of simple priority or order and therefore distinguishes primacy and priority.

            c) B. and L. both make of the pure Multiple and finally of the void the essence and “name” of Being. But the Multiple and the void are sometimes (B.) first, sometimes second and posited after the One (L.). Above all, the concepts of the Multiple differ according to their position in order. B. produces a concept of the purely quantitative Multiple or without quality, a Multiple of set-theoretical origin which, as void, “represses” or “prohibits” the set-form and thus conserves it in a “truncated” or barred way in the identity of the pure Multiple at the core of this identity. L. produces or infers a radical, purely qualitative Multiple or without quantity, without any residual bond with mathematics; it is as radical as the One itself and consequently without set-form or repressed unity: the essence of this Multiple resides in the pure non-autopositional exteriority that Being is and that “follows” from the One. It has nothing but a transcendental identity, not the transcendent identity of the repressed set-form.

            d) B. defines under the name of “ontology” a new form of materialism by substituting for the old “empirical” vocabulary of metaphysical materialism a post-Heideggerian transcendental vocabulary, in particular that of Being, the One, and the Multiple, and sometimes the Sartrean terminology of the “in-itself.” It is a “materialism” because it is a question of the identity “in-itself” of pure transcendence or the Multiple “in-itself,” of Being outside every “ontological difference.” L. defines under the name of “non-philosophy” a thought which, as transcendental and not simply using transcendentals, refuses every philosophical decision (idealist and/or materialist) and takes root in the One-real alone, all while being a relation to…philosophy in general, to any philosophical decision whatsoever. B. turns Platonic idealism into a pure materialism, while L. dissolves transcendental realism into a duality of the One-real and transcendental-thought which follows from the One. The real or immanent One and transcendental Being of L. are opposed to the transcendent Being of B.

            2. The non-epistemological relation to science.

            The suspension of the “epistemological” combination of philosophy and science supposes new relations between them. B. detaches ontology from philosophy properly speaking but nevertheless treats ontology as a detachment of philosophy after science, or better yet: as an identity of the former and the latter. It is a question, on the side of science, of a particular but supposedly paradigmatic science (mathematics and, within the latter, axiomatized set theory); and, on the side of philosophy, a new distinction brought into it through its identification with science: that of philosophy and meta-ontology, as if science, dividing the philosophical tradition into ontology and philosophy proper, would re-divide the latter into a “meta-ontology” and philosophy. These re-foldings represent a residue of the autoposition which has not been radically eliminated. L. globally takes philosophy as ontology and with ontology, without separating them, and treats it in relation with the scientific thought grasped in its essential operations (axiomatization of hypotheses, induction, and deduction). But it passes through two distinct positions of their relations: a) in Philosophie II it supposes an affinity of the vision-in-One and scientific thought rather than philosophy and thus attributes a certain primacy to science over philosophy; b) in later works (announced as Philosophie III: cf. Theorie des Étrangers) it dissolves this preferential bond still close to B’s solution: the vision-in-One is indifferent to science and philosophy, but it always determines a non-philosophy rather than a non-science as well (refusal of Deleuze’s objection). Non-philosophy, the thought adequate to the One-real, takes as its object-material the different philosophical relations of science and philosophy (including epistemology) and elaborates on this basis a “unified Theory”—and not “unitary” = philosophical—of thought as identically philosophy and science, removing them from their autoposition or residual form in B.

            Against the four “truth procedures” (including science) that sustain philosophy properly speaking (B.) are opposed the open multiplicity of “unified theories,” in which each of the latter takes as object-material the relations of the fundamental and the regional (philosophy + a determined region of experience: philosophy and politics, philosophy and psychoanalysis, philosophy and ethics, philosophy and art, philosophy and technology, etc.) (L.). Science no longer has exclusive privilege in philosophical material (including the case of B.), which is precisely nothing but a material. Positivism and scientism, which are both philosophical possibilities, are suspended as much as possible. Lastly, if B. uses a determinate scientific theory in the traditional philosophical way (Cantor, Cohen), L. instead lays claim to scientific styles (axiomatic, non-Euclidean, and various models: fractal, Gödelian, etc…).

            3. The relation to Marxism.

            B. recovers from set theory a quasi-dialectic, which is Platonic rather than Hegelian, for a quasi-matter or an “in-itself” of the Multiple that challenges empirical and sensible materialism. It refuses in general the difference of materialism and the dialectic and instead posits their identity, which supposes the identity of the Multiple and the Void, a mathematical materialism transcendent to the “subject” that it determines. L. reactivates and transforms the themes of historical Materialism of which he makes liberal use: 1. The real as immanence, immanence as radical “individuality”; 2. thought defetishized as force (of) thought (cf. “labor power” [force de travail] and which 3. effectuates the One-real as determination-in-the-last-instance; 4. a “science” (“unified theory”) of superstructure (philosophy, in its complete concept, not as “ideology”), etc. Both gather together and assume a Marxist heritage which they do not wish to leave disinherited, but both refuse every “neo-Marxism.”

            4. The non-philosophical relation to philosophy.

            B. lays claim to philosophical sufficiency but on condition of deducting ontology from philosophy which is now carried out by mathematics, philosophy being reduced on the one hand in its relation to the latter, to a meta-ontology; on the other hand, in its relation to the four “truth procedures” in a simple function of “collection,” either in a broad synthesis or a weakened non-encyclopedic system where the old function of the One returns excluded from ontology. There is thus a “non philosophical” basis in the sense of “mathematics simply” for philosophy, and it is also a “non philosophical” basis of philosophy in the sense that the latter identifies itself under the form of its meta-ontological relation, even though the non philosophical is not thematized as such but carried out as a “negative” critique of “Presence.” L. lays claim to the all of philosophy, without parts, but as a simple material without validity over the One-real yet validated as the object of a non-philosophical usage. B. still maintains a philosophical relation to philosophy, but which is non philosophical through the subtraction of science, whereas L. maintains a primarily non philosophical but positive relation to philosophy. In the first case, “non-philosophy,” determined as mathematics, remains ordered in philosophy as meta-ontology but in a relation of identity instead of difference; on the other hand, the non-philosophical usage of philosophy returns to universalize thought beyond philosophy and correlatively to ultimately generalize the latter, no matter what philosophical decision, in every experience in the manner of an a priori. Either philosophy is supposed globally important through its traditional claims, or one even considers that it is a question of a simple claim which must be limited (as for the real) and legitimated (by restriction to experience). Either there is the “non philosophical” rather than a non-philosophy, the former remaining partial, external (and) internal (without difference) to philosophy and dividing the latter—this is B’s solution and  in another sense Deleuze’s solution as for “non-philosophy”; or non-philosophy is global (more exactly to the extent that, through its identity, it is equivalent to/for every philosophy and all philosophy), external or heteronomous (and) immanent, thus preserving, or requiring rather, the identity of philosophy.

            Both authors pose the problem: how do we conserve philosophy, what meaning do we give it after its “death” or “end”? B. answers by re-affirming the ontological claim which was that of philosophy but by being assumed by mathematics, cloistering the traditional activities of philosophy in functions now restrained by the “collection” and “disposition” of truths produced elsewhere. L. answers by globally diminishing, over the entire scope of philosophy, the claims of the latter but, restraining them to experience alone, assures them a certain legitimacy in the manner of a transcendental deduction of philosophy (of the identity of philosophy), whereas B. refuses this identity and cuts it off from its essential part. Although in reality, it is above all B. who poses the problem of conserving philosophy and who answers with the amputation of its diseased limb (the philosophical ontology of “presence”) and with mathematical prosthesis, while L. claims to assure its integral life by suspending what would prevent this identity: its posture or “real” claim, renouncing this process of amputation upon itself which was already the entire life of philosophy. B. begins by cutting into philosophy between two of its parts or functions and thus claims to save it, while L. refuses to cut and decide (to philosophize) and on the contrary requires its identity and only distinguishes philosophy and its apparent trait of claim upon the real in view of its identity. The first is the hero who brings himself to the aid of an endangered philosophy, while the second is the redeemer who thinks it as “saved” a priori: this is why L. can give the appearance of losing or refusing it. Philosophy was already saved, but we do not recognize this, because we were in philosophy and because the latter hid its true face from us…

Translated by Taylor Adkins

10 thoughts on “Translation of Laruelle’s “Badiou and Non-Philosophy: a Parallel”

  1. Pingback: Prefatory Thoughts for Reading Laruelle’s Anti-Badiou « An und für sich

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  3. It absolutely confounds me that you can translate this work and then having read selections from Constructive Undoing, not see near symmetry if not parallel. Every translation I read of yours confirms my position. I wish I could figure out how my communication is lost. It makes me wonder if I am not too correct, but not complicated enough. I appreciate your translations. Perhaps that is enough.

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  6. Pingback: Translation of F. Laruelle’s “The Transcendental Computer: A Non-Philosophical Utopia” – SubSense

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