Translation of F. Laruelle’s “Toward an Active Linguistics”

I apologize in advance for the many bracketing of the French, but this was only to render the distinctions between langue and langage clear (as well as pouvoir and puissance). Furthermore, all the footnotes are mine, and I have included them to provide as much context and added scholarly value, so to speak, as possible. -TA

Laruelle, F. “Pour une linguistique active (la notion de phonèse)”, Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger Vol. 168 Issue 4 (Oct.-Dec. 1978): 419-431.

Toward an Active Linguistics (The Notion of Phonesis)

By François Laruelle

 “When one has demonstrated that a thing is of the highest utility, one has however thereby taken not one step towards explaining its origin: that is to say, one can never employ utility to make it comprehensible that a thing must necessarily exist”.[1]

This axiom is not Spinoza’s, but Nietzsche’s (Daybreak, #37). If we introduce a Spinozist point of view (i.e. anti-Cartesian) into linguistics, what will be our estimation of man? Will we impose on science’s serenity the requirements of an Ethics and the point of view of the active passions? How does one speak of God’s enjoying? How does one make of linguistics a science of beatitude in the subject?

The idea of an active linguistics

An era is fading away under our steps, that era in which antihumanism served as the sigil if not for linguistics, then at least for the philosophical usages of linguistics. We are now free to pose our problem otherwise, to add complements and nuances to it, to differentiate this antihumanism. For quite a while it’s been a misunderstanding, both in linguistics and outside. A principle was made of antihumanism, whereas it’s perhaps nothing but an effect; it was made into a project, whereas it was just the index of other deeper critiques and surely the symptom (but it became automatic) of a change of terrain in the manner of apprehending the phenomena of language. Taken in its sense and its ambitions, this structural mutation should be a “break”, but too often it functions less as a veritable displacement than as a simple “revolution”, i.e. a reversal that returns on the spot and passes through the same positions. It leads to refusals that we esteem as fully and completely inefficacious. Furthermore, on this terrain certain rectifications have been set in motion, more or less explicitly (by Althusser, Lacan, Foucault). It suffices to extend this line of new deeds to define the limits that antihumanism may not surpass in order to remain what it is. For on the one hand it’s a method, or, if you will, merely a procedure and a strategy devoted to the determination of certain critical effects against classical anthropological presuppositions; on the other hand, it’s a tendency that can receive new theoretical forms and new instruments, pass through non-structural mutations and become in these forms a guiding thread for a new examination of language’s phenomena, i.e. the project of an “active linguistics” that we shall outline below. What are these limits?

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Laruelle’s Essay on Simondon: “The Concept of a ‘First Technology'”

Laruelle, François. “Le concept d’une ‘technologie première’” in Gilbert Simondon: une pensée de l’individituation et la technique. Paris: Albin Michel, 1994. 206-219.

The Concept of a “First Technology”

François Laruelle

A “Unified Theory” of Technics and Technology

In order to define the object of which we speak and to set its limits in our discourse, also in order to define a certain relation to the work of Simondon or Heidegger—the two greatest philosophers of technics—we will make two distinctions whose relevance or non-relevance will be demonstrated by their capacity or incapacity to “found” a new discipline called “first technology.” This distinction is expressed thus: a science rather than a philosophy or a “human science” of technics, but a science of the essence of technics, not of technical properties or facts. Thus our object in the constitution of Simondon and Heidegger’s works will participate according to a relation to be determined whose formulation testifies to a paradoxical nature: a true science, not a philosophy; but a transcendental science of a new genre of essence, not a science of facts, whether “ontic” or “positive.” Essence is the traditional object of philosophy and that through which it claims to be distinguished from science: how could the latter, while still remaining science, take an essence for its object?


We think that the means of resolving the most general antinomy, that of science and philosophy, exists beyond philosophy either as epistemology, or as positivism (=science of philosophy) and that it must be sought beyond the invariant means of ontology, but not outside a dimension of thought and experience which philosophy itself has always postulated without ever recognizing it as such and completely denying its role in science. It is no longer a question of Being, but of the One insofar as it refuses any convertibility with Being and thus must be called “One-of-the-last-instance” so as to render it inalienable in Being. We will return to this point. What signification can it then have for this antinomy, partially derived from the precedent of technics and technology? Can the principles of a unified and not unitary (=philosophical, thus hierarchical) theory be established from the technical and the technological? This new discipline, “founded” in the non-philosophical experience of the One, would require a double support. It would require the support of technology, i.e. of a philosophical type of knowledge of technics, of the logos as techno-logos, consequently the dimension of essence. And it would also require the support of science insofar as the latter is the gauge of an objective, rigorous, analytic and non-interpretative treatment of technical objects and properties and which we will in fact call “technics,” but only under the reserve of this treatment, thus distinguishing this usage of the word “technics” from its philosophical or technological usage. We can thus define the object of this unified theory—if it is possible: for knowledge, it will have to set off again from the One—no longer as the banal and philosophical essence of technics, which supposes given or supposedly given objects as technical, as well as their intentional telos under the philosophical horizon of essence as eidos; but as the Essence (of) technics, a writing designed to indicate an indivisible block, a strict and no longer philosophical or hierarchical identity of technics and essence. This “strict” identity obviously remains to be thought and to be known both with the help of the One and technological discourses; but we can always posit it as our object.

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Laruelle’s “Reflections on the Meaning of Finitude in the Critique of Pure Reason”

Laruelle, Francois. “Reflections sur la sens de la finitude dans la Critique de la Raison Pure.” Revue International de Philosophie 35 (1981): 269-83.

Reflections on the Meaning of Finitude in the Critique of Pure Reason

François Laruelle

“Finitude” designates human knowledge’s positive nature of not creating its object which it nevertheless determines as object, of having to receive it so as to determine it. The Critique of Pure Reason modifies the theological problematic of finitude which, in the classical age, instead designates man’s being created, transposing it into the problematic of the intuitive relation of repraesentatio to the object and in fact the powerlessness of man to create the latter. We must make three preliminary yet essential distinctions. Finitude primarily and essentially is said of (human) intuition and secondarily, not essentially, of the imagination, the understanding and reason which are simultaneously finite and infinite. Furthermore, we must distinguish the finitude of intuition and its infinite (synthetic) condition in intuition: finally, we must distinguish these limited places [1] of finitude in accordance with certain parts of the Critique, simultaneously in accordance with the faculties and relations of one space of “form” to another—in accordance with finitude as the general principle of interpretation which is then globally opposed to an interpretation which would take for its guiding-thread the rise of Reflection throughout the Critique towards the highest instance of rational determination, the infinite and ideal. The first supposes that Reason can be liberated from the bondage of its initial finitude in “sensible” intuition, the second supposes this liberation without, however, its bonds with receptivity being fully broken.


We often oppose the Heideggerian and idealist (Hegelian or neo-Kantian) interpretations of these problems. On one side, finitude as irreducible and unsurpassable becomes the principle interpretation of Reason itself as pure finite Reason. On the other, finitude is simply an initial, limited and surpassed moment, either of the pure Idea, or of the transcendental reflection of infinite Reason. And it is true from the one to the other, from the directing primacy of Intuition to that of Reason and its ends, from the primacy of reception to that of phenomenal, then intelligible determination, from the primacy of sensibility to that of the intelligible (the universal moral Law in the solution to the third antinomy), there is seemingly a reciprocal reversal of perspectives which are rendered irreconcilable, thus changing their particular sense (that of sensibility to the understanding) and their critical value (their relation to the Whole or to the architectonic of the Critique). The adversaries themselves are bound to be carried away in these somewhat excessive debates and in oppositions which are all too often unilateral. Finitude becomes a problem, acquiring sense and value, when the preliminary or prefatory position of the texts which indicate and program it are recognized. Like any threshold, finitude can also be crossed “unproblematically” since it leads to the tabernacle of the moral Law, which detains its visitors in its folds indefinitely. Hence the two necessary interpretations mentioned above. This essay endeavors to rediscover their co-belonging and to stop opposing what the threshold itself never opposes: the simple indication or transition, and the program.

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