ON EVENTS IN PHILOSOPHY: Badiou, Feyerabend, and Cavell

Badiou says there are no “events” in philosophy in the strong sense, but only in art, science, politics, and love. Cavell’s lifelong testimony shows that philosophy does intrinsically comport events, and happily so.

For Badiou two important factors closely associated with an event in the strong sense are “fidelity” and “incorporation” (the construction of a body for the event, a body that is both individual and collective). So it is quite interesting for me that in this conference Cavell puts his work under the sign of the Wittgensteinian event. (For Badiou this is not strictly possible, as philosophy merely configures the compossibility of events taking place in in science, art, politics, and love – but this is a case where Badiou’s system interferes with his insights and needs to be modified).

So in these terms we can see the conflict in Cavell between the “fidelity” (which is quite apparent) and the “incorporation”. Cavell talks about the body, about philosophy and embodiment, about how Wittgenstein’s “writing is (of) his body”, but that is at the level of theme or content. Cavell’s style comes across as curiously disembodied, and thus still metaphysical, one could say “idealist”.

I associate this disembodied, metaphysical stance with a failure of pluralism. Cavell gives us an idea of the ampleur of a true event and of its consequences. However he shows no curiosity about other events, in philosophy or in the other domains of thought. Even inside philosophy one major event is enough, the rest are preparatory (Austin) or confirmatory (Emerson). This is also a failure of democracy, as there is no sense of how, despite an implicit claim to modeling an individuating approach to philosophy, Cavell could engage with others who follow their own individual path or who work together to change things.

Cavell is part of an élite, an intellectual and institutional aristocracy. Badiou talks about this sort of response to the decadence of the modern world as “nostalgia” and “aristocratic idealism”. Badiou’s own counter-measure to decadence is also ambiguous, and has its own failures of pluralism and democracy. But his thought contains more of these ingredients than Cavell’s.

On this question of events, the comparison of Paul Feyerabend with Stanley Cavell is very interesting. Wittgenstein was an “event” for Feyerabend, just as much as he was for Cavell, but the consequences were very different. What Wittgenstein liked about the Kraft circle, of which Feyerabend was a member in his student days, was their irreverence. In his autobiography, Feyerabend talks about a vist Wittgenstein made to the group :

There were interruptions, impudent questions. Wittgenstein was not disturbed. He obviously preferred our disrespectful attitude to the fawning admiration he encountered elsewhere (KILLING TIME, 76).

One of Feyerabend’s earliest articles was an account of Wittgenstein’s PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS, and one can see the explicit and implicit influence of Wittgenstein throughout Feyerabend’s philosophical development until the end, and which remained under the sign of irreverence. Cavell’s “inheritance” of Wittgenstein is more under the sign of reverence.

Feyerabend tells us of many such events in his life: the encounter with Popper, with Bohr, with Brecht, with his dog Spund, with his wife Grazia, with the “Mexicans, Blacks, Indians [who] entered the university as a result of new educational policies”. In contrast, Cavell seems to develop his ideas in a near vacuum, just him facing Wittgenstein. He shows that Wittgenstein cannot be reduced to the technical vision of philosophy, and this is a big achievement. But Cavell’s disappointment with academic philosophy is sublimated into becoming a spiritual supplement, like a food additive, to a devitalised academic practice.

My own experience of philosophy as event is much closer to Feyerabend’s than to Cavell’s. In 1979, when I was very much under the influence of Feyerabend’s pluralism, I read two big books that I was very impressed by: Stanley Cavell’s THE CLAIM OF REASON and Deleuze and Guattari’s ANTI-OEDIPUS. I had a doctoral scholarship that would pay me for a year’s trip to another country to study. I did not even consider going to study under Cavell. My way of being “faithful” to Feyerabend was, strangely enough, not to go to Zurich and attend his seminars, but to go to Paris and attend Deleuze’s seminars. I was faithful to Feyerabend’s call to openness to new encounters and new intensities, and had no desire to become his disciple and to “repeat” his thought.

Feyerabend often claimed that he was not a philosopher but merely that his profession was that of “thought-bureaucrat”. Near the end of his life he published a little text called “Not a Philosopher”, and this was a constant theme of his talks and texts. He said he liked the job of philosophy professor because it paid him well to talk about whatever he liked, and he condemned the élite who protected their financial territory, and squeezed out anyone who disagreed with them, all the while pretending to disinterested reason. He was conscious of being a lucky exception in that regard. It would have been nice to hear Cavell talk about the financial aspect of his profession too.

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Philosophers Helping Society


I was exposed to the Quinean view of philosophy as technical exercise in my undergraduate days in Sydney University (especially in my first two years, in 1972 – 1973). One “Quinean” professor told me that what I was doing was “not philosophy” and that “perhaps some form of navel-gazing in India” would be more appropriate. I was sad and depressed for several years because of this attitude, but I did not drop out as so many others did. I finally emigrated to France, where there is a more rounded image of the philosopher. France was my “India”, if you will. And attending the seminars of Deleuze, Foucault, Serres, and Lyotard was my “navel-gazing”.

Originally posted on Philosophy Impact:

Whatever the cause of philosophy becoming sidetracked, over the course of the twentieth century philosophers increasingly followed W. V. O. Quine’s path in treating philosophy as a technical exercise of no particular interest to the public.

While it is possible to point to philosophers who work with (rather than merely talk about) non-academics, among the mass of philosophers a lack of societal engagement is treated as a sign of intellectual seriousness. As Quine put it in a 1979 Newsday piece, the student who “majors in philosophy primarily for spiritual consolation is misguided and is probably not a very good student.” For him, philosophy does not offer wisdom, nor do philosophers “have any peculiar fitness for helping… society.”

We think philosophers do have a peculiar fitness for helping society.

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QUANTUM COLLISIONS: On the incipit to François Laruelle’s NON-STANDARD PHILOSOPHY (revised version)


“You are entering a zone of “non-philosophy”… For you the philosopher it is a knowledge-collider, for you the physicist it is a conceptual maze – you are in the Matrix” (first sentence, PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 7, my translation). The “Matrix” is Laruelle’s name for what Deleuze and Guattari call the “rhizome”. In this specific matrix philosophy and science are freed of their respective sufficiency principles and made available as material for new encounters.


“the axioms of this work are often beyond immediate comprehension of its utterances and force the reader…to explain to himself what he has read or written, and which no doubt cannot always be deduced from them, i.e. to extend it by a new invention” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 14).

The “axioms” of non-standard philosophy give rise to new utterances that are derived therefrom both deductively and non-deductively, giving rise to the need to “explain to oneself” the utterances encountered and/or produced. These explanations are part of the process of the book itself, which extends both non-philosophy and its own content more freely than classical or sufficient logic would allow. Such non-deductive chains are part of a quantum hermeneutic rather than a textual one.

This approach is based on a quantum temporality which takes precedence over the more familiar mechanical marxist temporality of “determination in the last instance”, which as future anterior is insufficiently futural – precisely because it involves projecting a future “last instance” that is backward-looking (this is the sense of the “future perfect”). The obsessive ritualistic repetition of the vocable “determination in the last instance” does not suffice to give it any existence as a concept, and even less to give it intellectual plausibility. Laruelle’s liberation of quantum-thinking from mathematical sufficience means giving primacy to indetermination over even such attenuated, because pseudo-futural, forms of determination.


We are in the matrix, we must explain the work by extending it, we read and think in terms of a quantum hermeneutics. That is to say the borders of the text do not imprison us, we are directly related to the outside. A purely internal reading is based on a relativistic ontology of axiomatic and referential closure. In Laruelle’s text there is no primacy of determination nor of determinism. There is no “boundary” determinate enough to stop our movements of thought. In the writing of this text, “there was no question of determinist discursivity, of a linear chain of reasons, or of analysis and synthesis for an experiment which is more of the order of a wager or of a throw of the dice” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 8). Further, “each titled paragraph is often
a new throw of the dice and a new beginning, the text as a whole can seem like a kaleidoscope of renewed fractal views of our problem. This is to say that a certain degree of aleatory reading is possible…even recommended” (8).

As in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS we are invited to place one passage in relation with a more distant one. Given the axiom of non-(en)closure this more “distant” passage can be taken from outside the text itself. Hence the later transition to ANTI-BADIOU and to CHRISTO-FICTION. The asymmetry between Badiou and Christ, in Laruelle’s treatment of them, is not an absolute given. Laruelle could have given a more “charitable” reading of Badiou by quantising him further, just as he could have given a less charitable reading of Christ by religionising him further.


Laruelle cites a maxim from René Daumal: “the human being is a superposition of vicious circles”, and gives a quantum acception to the term “superposition”. The implication is that quantum phenomena are not necessarily and automatically positive. In this case, the superposition of vicious circles delimits a closed space, that Laruelle calls “hell”, stating: “the human struggles in these circles of hell and strives to free himself” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 9).

It is interesting to note that the expression that I have translated as “struggles” is a reflexive verb “se débat”, one could almost translate “the human debates (or disputes) itself”. For Laruelle philosophy under the rule of the principle of sufficiency is Hell.

Yet this infernal superposition is still quantum and cannot definitively delimit, enclose, and contain. Quantum “leakage” can and does occur, even in Hell. Similarly, one must remember that in Deleuze and Guattari’s expression “ligne de fuite”, the word “fuite” means flight or escape, but also leakage. In other words, despite Laruelle’s critique of Deleuze (a critique that Deleuze himself had already made of his own work prior to his collaboration with Guattari) there is a quantum communality between them.

Laruelle and Deleuze agree on the need to go outside, to escape from Hell, and they also agree on the immanent means. “There is only one way of getting outside the circles of Hell, and that is to transform them by their collision into means of escape, not to climb up the interior of a Platonic chimney but to cross the ford by leaping from one rock to another” (ibid, 9).

Superposition is not enough, we need transformation by experimental collision and escape by quantum leap. “We are searching for a collider of concepts” (13). Philosophical worlds must be rendered porous.


Many of those who find Laruelle’s non-philosophy interesting would be willing to espouse the indetermination and the quantum leap into non-standard philosophy if it were not for the Christic obstacle, i.e. Laruelle’s obsessive reformulation of quantum insights in a Christ-oriented language. However, it would be a mistake to reject Laruelle’s “Christo-fiction”, which is far less religious than reductive (religionist) readings of his texts would have us believe.

Laruelle explicitly condemns the natural attitude of sufficiency that is associated with the
reductive constitution of simple classical universes, giving rise not only to scientism but also to the equally reductionist primacy given to politics, to religion or to aesthetics. In this sense, “sufficiency” is very similar to Badiou’s notion of “suture”). Thus we can speak of the dangers not only of scientism but also of politicism, religionism and aestheticism: “The conditions of intellectual experiment are here no longer the classical ones, where the subject was naturally plunged into the relatively simple universes, after all, of philosophy, science, religion, and art” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 8).

One must bear in mind that the author of non-marxism did not stop there, but went on to write a “quantum trilogy”, comprising PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, ANTI-BADIOU, and CHRISTO-FICTION. Laruelle’s analysis of the various reductive principles of sufficiency (sufficiency is not only philosophical and mathematical, but also artistic, theological, and political) identifies them as the source of the normative evaluations associated with the various reductionisms.

Outside such a normative principle there can be no obligation to adopt Quantum or Christic or democratic thinking, or their inverse. However, to attain the quantum it is best to also get the relativity correct, which is something that I do not think that Laruelle always succeeds in doing, much less his disciples. In particular, the religionist reduction of Laruelle’s thought in English has been a hindrance to its possible understanding and wider reception.


In his search for a quantum thought Laruelle wants to free the quantum mode of thinking from its mathematical expression, that he finds reductive. Mathematical expressions such as Schrödinger’s equation come from a moment of return to order (which of course is necessary and desirable) but Niels Bohr often used a more intuitive strategy of thought (influenced by Kierkegaard), declaring that an exclusively mathematical approach would be too limiting and premature. I think that Laruelle is trying to capture the quantum heuristic behind its mathematical formulation.

Laruelle explains that non-philosophy does not try to comment on or to influence quantum theory as a regional ontology. “Given its very special object, it [i.e. non-philosophy] will have to bend itself to a difficult exercise, one scandalous both for the physicists: using quantum schemas without mathematical sufficiency, and for the philosophers: using philosophical schemas without their sufficiency” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 13).

In his escape from simple classical universes, Laruelle’s quantum thought is in part an answer to Badiou’s declaration that we are at the end of the age of the poets: not so for Laruelle. Science and poetry (and also religion) can be freed of their sufficiency and made to collide in the particle accelerator of non-standard philosophy.


Determination in the last instance must not be understood philosophically as some sort of ultimate determinist foundation. It is an underdetermination, what Laruelle calls an “under-foundation”. The “under” here does not mean a deeper even more foundational level, but that the determination in the last instance is less determinate and more generic than any foundation. As it is “generic” it is not in fact an instance, nor does it come “after” anything at all, so it is not “last” in any temporal or even logical sense. In quantum terms it is to be translated as “indetermination in the pre-prior genericity”.


“The Last Instance is a pre-priority, a before-first instance but which conserves its priority, become determinate, to philosophy” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 79).

The Last Instance can only be understood in terms of genericity and of quanticity, i.e. in terms of under-determination and of in-determination. Strictly, the “last” instance is pre-primary. It is only in closed, simple, classical universes that “determination in the last instance” takes on the meaning of determinism. Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy is a democratic thought, in which freedom has (pre-)primacy. This is the lesson of his “quantum deconstruction”.


Laruelle talks of quantum deconstruction as opposed to relativistic textual deconstruction, which he assigns to the more sophisticated versions of the macroscopic apprehension of classical universes. Thus he talks about philosophy as light, founded on transparence or vision without interaction, which corresponds to such a macroscopic apprehension of light.

In his talk about the “conciliation between science and philosophy under generic conditions” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 72) Laruelle maintains a certain ambiguity about primacy, as he wants both to keep a scientific reference and to de-mathematicise scientific notions such as the quantum, in order to turn them into stylistic approaches rather than retaining them as substantial functions. So there is a transfer of meaning here, but Laruelle claims that this is not metaphor. One way of explaining his position would be to say that it is rather the mathematisation that is
metaphorical, as the style of thought came first. This would be to claim that science in the making, or science as generic, has primacy (or what he calls “pre-priority”) whereas the function (whether mathematically expressed or not) belongs to determinate sciences or to science made.


“There is only one way to escape from the circles of Hell, and that is to transform them by their collision into means of escape” (PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, 11).

When Laruelle does not talk about Deleuze’s philosophy directly this allows it to permeate all his work as a Deleuzian undulation. When Laruelle refers to Deleuze explicitly he is transformed into a particle and rejected.

In this quote from the first introduction we see the Deleuzian tenor of Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, Laruelle’s “Hell” by superposition of closed circles is the equivalent of Deleuze and Guattari’s “Black Hole”, itself a construct of superposition. There is the same desire to escape from such enclosure and the same means are employed: transformation by collision and undulation (Laruelle), or by encounter and variation (Deleuze).

Laruelle accuses Deleuze of employing a method of “lazy, scholastic, and academic trampling of the past” as a “technique for leading philosophy to the nostalgia of its end” (9), the very thing that Deleuze constantly denounced and fought against. He presents as his own method the “procedure of the continuous transformation of problems” (9), the same method that Deleuze advocated and practiced.

Over and over we see Laruelle’s massive indebtedness to Deleuze combined with a fierce and damning critique. Laruelle famously said in an interview “Laruelle does not exist”, to refute accusations of solipsistic mastery. The conclusion that we may draw is that Deleuze too does not exist. But even this affirmation was borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari’s RHIZOME, where they declare that their own existence is not a determinate state of affairs: “Not a matter of reaching the point where one no longer says I, but the point where saying I or not no longer has any importance”.


Overturning Plato’s élitist “Let noone ignorant of geometry enter here”, Laruelle democratically declares “Anyone who is ignorant of geometry can enter here” (10), but warns that they must “be ready to meet a formalism that is conceptual rather than mathematical”. Such a “conceptual formalism” is to be met without fear, and we are invited to “let go at the very heart of the work” (10, italics in the original) and to “stop fantasising over the difficulties”.

One of the fantasmatic difficulties or hindrances to understanding Laruelle’s texts comes from “the more or less new use of traditional vocabularies” (9). These vocabularies have been divested of the organising principle of philosophical sufficiency and made available for new uses. The guiding principle for their “non-standard” interpretation and use is that of radical immanence, pedagogically elucidated by means of an inventive, democratic and probabilistic (but de-mathematised or de-geometrised) thinking in terms of waves rather than a nostalgi, aristocratic and mechanistic thinking in terms of particles and points. This is what Laruelle calls the “paradox of non-philosophy”. The aim is the simplicity of lived openness, but in order to combat closed thinking and living a certain degree of semantic complexity is

“In order to rid itself of philosophical sufficiency … it must mobilise a whole complex … apparatus, make its operations visible by a type of precision entirely other than the phenomenological” (10). We cannot, Laruelle warns us, dissolve our problems easily and quickly by mere contemplation, we need to arrange conceptual collisions, but only by letting go and “floating”.


Can the principle of sufficiency of a discipline be overcome from within that discipline? Laruelle’s critique of the principle of philosophical sufficiency, his non-philosophy, seemed to come from a position outside philosophy, only retroactively did he understand that he was not situated in some radical other to philosophy, but was operating on the basis of “non-standard” philosophy. “Non-” is not the same as “exo-“, nor “ex-“. Laruelle calls Badiou “philo-rigid”. (Note: This echoes the recurrent critique of various public figures, famously the socialist candidate Lionel Jospin before the Presidential elections of 2002, as “psycho-rigid”).

Laruelle contrasts Badiou’s set theoreticism with his own quantum approach. But this limits his critique to the Badiou of BEING AND EVENT. The Badiou of LOGICS OF WORLDS makes use of category theory, and so has “quantised” himself. Sometimes Badiou still appeals to set theory as a unique foundational level of thought. But this is not always the case. This set theoretical exceptionalism and foundationalism is less and less a trait of his pronouncements as Badiou deepens and extends his reflexion.

If Laruelle can “quantise” Christ he should also quantise Deleuze, who he continues to reduce to philosophical sufficiency, despite his own debt to Deleuze’s thought. The same applies to Laruelle’s treatment of Badiou, where he contrasts Badiou’s set theoreticism and his own quantum thought. Laruelle should also search the qualitative, or even “quantum”, aspects of Badiou’s thought. This is a very serious failing in Laruelle’s application of his own ideas.

De-objectifying sets, as Badiou now does in LOGICS OF WORLDS, by rendering them local is a step towards greater genericity. Laruelle is himself “philo-rigid” in his readings of potential rivals, such as Deleuze and Badiou. Laruelle’s auto-critique of his previous scientism is in effect an acknowledgement of his own continuing philo-rigidity.

The principle of mathematical sufficiency that Laruelle invokes as a form of reductionism lets us envision 2 ways of overcoming sufficiency: an external overcoming from some outside, as Laruelle formerly hinted was his own path for overcoming philosophical sufficiency, and an internal overcoming, from the inside (even if the nature of this inside undergoes substantive revision) as Laruelle maintains now with his non-standard philosophy. The same twofold path may be seen in mathematics, where sufficiency may be overcome externally by metaphoric extrapolation, which is Laruelle’s path, or by internal relativisation and extension, in the constitution for example of nonstandard mathematical theories.

Laruelle must now decide between clinging to his former “philo-rigid” style, still prevalent in his non-philosophy, and embracing a new “philo-undulatory” style, as called for by his more recent “non-standard” philosophy, which will force him to abandon or to transform a lot of his former certainties. In particular, his reading of Badiou, which is brilliant in its polemical clarifications, is itself philo-rigid and needs to be complemented by a more undulatory hermeneutics.

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I find Laruelle very interesting, but I absolutely reject the mystique around his ideas, that he himself cultivates, especially under the principle of uniqueness (the idea that he is the only non-philosopher). I think he is guilty of a double standard: practicing and demanding a charitable reading of himself as non-philosopher, he practices an un-charitable reading of rivals such as Deleuze and Guattari, and Badiou.

Behind this lack of charity there lies a methodological problem. If Laruelle is stifled by the sufficiency of philosophy as he finds it in France, why does he not seek out fellow thinkers outside the confines of a very French nostalgic set of references? There is in his thought a principle of French sufficiency at work. He does seem to refer to German idealism as well, so we could call it the principle of Franco-German sufficiency. Other philosophical traditions are not explored.

We do not fully grasp the gestalt of Laruelle’s non-standard “quantum” thought, as up to now his books have been translated, explicated and discussed principally by his religionist Anglophone followers, secondly by political reductionists, thirdly by lacanian throwbacks, and only lastly, but most interestingly, by a diverse group of artists and those interested in a Laruellian aesthetics. The more scientific ideas that come to the fore in his more recent non-standard philosophy have been left uncommented and under-developped. A Carnap-Popper-Kuhn-Lakatos-Feyerabend axis of reading Laruelle’s quantum thought would be far more satisfying than the various esthetic, religionist, politicist, and lacanian readings that prevail today.

Some more science-based commentators have been hostile to Laruelle’s use of quantum theoretical concepts outside their scientific domain of origin. However, there should be no problem with Laruelle’s making a qualitative use of quantum ideas. Philosophers of science have often commented on the heuristic use of qualitative considerations as a driving force in the development of quantum theory. Niels Bohr put a lot of emphasis on the priority of qualitative explorations, considering that the mathematical formalisation should be subordinated to the qualitative concepts.

This scientistic hostility to Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy is unjustified. I do not think that Laruelle is talking nonsense or misusing quantum vocabulary, but I do think he is lagging behind other thinkers, such as Deleuze and Feyerabend, who have just as much right to call themselves non-philosophers or non-standard philosophers, and who have elaborated their thought in close relation to quantum theory.

Even if by “qualitative quantum” thinking all that Laruelle means is something very simple such as the impossibility of both correlation and withdrawal due to the impossibility of sharply defined untraversable boundaries, that is a very useful insight to keep in mind. Laruelle seems to have a few such maxims that would be very useful if he left them in the form of maxims, but he has inflated them into a system self-proclaimed to beboth radically new and beyond all the other, philosophical, systems.

Laruelle’s rejecting the idea of diverse (linguistic, conceptual, behavioural and perceptual) worlds with sharply defined untraversable borders is an important step, that allows us to cut through lots of the Lacanian pathos of the “trauma of the real”. He makes this step in the first introduction to PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, in terms of his new use of quantum concepts.

Other thinkers make this step for quite different reasons than Laruelle, not necessarily for “quantum” reasons. We can recognise that he is trying to follow out the consequences of such a step in his more recent work, and he adduces quantum reasoning to justify his approach. His argument is be based on a metaphorical or impressionistic application of quantum concepts such as superposition, complementarity, the wave/particle duality and quantum tunneling. In this light we no longer need a traumatic rupture of the borders of our world to communicate with other worlds or to be in relation with the real. This idea of porous borders and quantum leakage is Laruelle’s way of breaking free from the “myth of the framework” and of avoiding the spectre of relativism.

Laruelle is perfectly in his right to make such metaphoric transfers from science to philosophy, on the grounds that (1) we do it all the time, and (2) it is necessary to use concepts loosely in order even to communicate, and even more so to get thought moving. Laruelle is also in his right here in that (3) he is not doing analytic philosophy of of quantum mechanics but trying to construct a “new” general image of thought. (4) A further defence is that philosophy is more about conceptual exploration than about referentiality. This is not a a licence for a philosopher to say just anything that comes into his or her head, regardless of empirical reality. On the contrary philosophy, even transcendental philosophy, is more empirical than it acknowledges, and should be even more so, at least in spirit.

On the question of science, Laruelle’s system would be in big trouble if it could be shown that he got all the science wrong. Yet science makes use of or presupposes philosophical concepts, and we should not accept that they are the sole proprietors of these concepts. So (5) we can defend Laruelle’s attempt on democratic grounds as well. I say Laruelle’s “attempt” as there is no guarantee that he is successful in constructing a new and useful type of thought. One of the indicators would have been to explore argumentatively but charitably the relations of his thought to other recent and contemporary thinkers working on comparable endeavours, but this is vitiated by Laruelle’s continuing noetic posture of uniqueness and beyondness.

One of the major obstacles to understanding Laruelle’s texts is lexical: the absence of proper definitions, even on a very loose contextualised notion of defintion. I must admit that I do not see why he insists so much on “idempotence”. Laruelle uses a set of words in an incantatory way, a veritable Laruelle litany. This does him a disservice. For example one of his older, non-philosophical, incantatory words is “unilateral”. In his new non-standard philosophy phase he introduces the quantum notion of complementarity, but he cannot stop himself from talking about “unilateral complementarity”, which is a contradiction in terms.

There is also the problem that his text is extremely repetitious, and his use of mathematical and physical vocabulary take on a role of ritual invocation of a future thought that he announces without being able to provide. This is what I have called the “Laruelle litany””. It is often a place-holder for a concept-to-come. For example, applying Badiou’s distinction of three types of negation, we can say that Laruelle’s use of the term “superposition” is basically a case of paraconsistent negation, and the more physical associations are mostly not relevant.

Some people have tried to claim that Laruelle’s style is obscure because its syntax is innovative, following the “syntax of the real”. But I do not see much syntaxical innovation in his texts, rather the obscurity is lexical: terminological innovation, badly justified metaphorical transfer and the absence of adequate definitions (Further, this notion of “syntax of the real” is an expression of the very worst sort of naïve empiricism. There is no syntax of the real).

Laruelle’s qualitative use of concepts is close to Deleuze’s notion of “deterritorialised” concepts in view of a pop-philosophy. The problem is that neither Deleuze nor Laruelle attain that pop level of expression. Only Badiou seems to have done that: first with his manifestos following each difficult book, and even more so with his series of “plays for children”. Notwithstanding, I do not think that in the absolute Laruelle can be criticised for not teaching us the relevant quantum physics, as he declares that this is not his aim. Relatively, however, he comes out bad compared to Badiou, who does help us to learn more about set theory and category theory. and to understand them better. Nor will knowing something already about quantum theory necessarily help us to understand Laruelle’s discussions. Badiou himself often quite effectively makes an allegorical use of mathematical language, but Laruelle’s quantum allegory remains comparatively under-developed.

NB: Laruelle published in 2010 a big book of over 500 pages, entitled PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD, expounding his non-standard ideas after his quantum turn. I have tried to explicate the first introduction to that book (as there are two of them) which is only seven pages long. It is very interesting, but hampered by the ever-present Laruelle lexical litanies. My explication can be found here.

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In his book PHARMACOLOGIE DU FRONT NATIONAL (2013) Bernard Stiegler poses an interesting question: Why did post-structuralism cease to make use of the concept of ideology? This is a good question, in that critical discussion of “ideology” did not entirely disappear, as Stiegler seems to think, but explicit use of the term “ideology” did become rare in the works of post-structuralist thinkers. Stiegler’s hypothesis is that in abandoning the term ideology they also abandonned the ideological struggle against what he calls the “ultraliberal ideology”. This interpretation seems to me to be particularly wrong-headed.

In fact in the works of these thinkers (Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida), while they may not make explicit use of the word “ideology”, the concept is there nonetheless but in a reconfigured problematic. For example, Foucault wanted to free both himself and us from the Althusserian idea of science, and more generally to free us of all demarcationist and structuralist ideas of science.

Expressed paradoxically, the poststructuralist idea is that there is something “ideological” or “metaphysical” in how the separation between science and ideology is conceived, and thus in our concept of science itself. This idea has gained substance and received more explicit attention thanks to work in the sociology of science and science studies (David Bloor, Bruno Latour, Andrew Pickering). Given the epistemological inadequacy of the metaphysical vision of science and also given the adverse political consequences of such a vision Foucault and other thinkers, such as Derrida and Deleuze and Lyotard, tried to look at epistemological and ideological formations from the outside, and turned to less formal notions such as micro-political apparatuses of power relations (Foucault) and assemblages of enunciation and desire (Deleuze and Guattari).

This vision from outside posed the question of its own source of legitimacy and efficacy, which explains Foucault’s turn to techniques of the self to find a source that would not be a metaphysical foundation. Deleuze calls this turn the search for a relation to an outside that is further than any outside and more interior than any inside. This is what Deleuze calls the line of subjectivation and what I think can also be called, following Simondon (but also following Jung) a line of “individuation”. Foucault himself talks about the post-universal theorist as speaking to others from the experience of a singular practice, which nicely captures the nature of individuation as both singular and collective.

Stiegler’s hypothesis is erroneous both historically and hermeneutically.

A) On the historical error involved in Stiegler’s discussion

Historically, it is just not true that explicit use of the word “ideology” was abandonned by everybody. Zizek and Badiou, for example, continued to make use of it to name a central notion in their own systems. Zizek defines ideology not as ideas but as the cognitive, affective, perceptive, and ethico-political framework that determines us to have certain sorts of ideas: “a set of explicit and implicit, even unspoken, ethico-political and other positions, decision, choices, etc., which predetermine our perception of facts, what we tend to emphasize or to ignore”.

Ideology, on this acception, is not found at the level of explicit utterance so much as in pervasive attitudes and habitual comportment. This is why Zizek can claim that Chomsky’s work though useful does not really come to terms with ideology: “If one defines and uses this term the way I do (and I am not alone here: my understanding echoes a long tradition of so-called Western Marxism), then one has to conclude that what Chomsky is doing in his political writings is very important, I have great admiration and respect for it, but it is emphatically not critique of ideology”. It is not critique of ideology because it is limited to the critique of ideas, rather than of the frameworks and practices that make those ideas possible.

Yet it is true most poststructuralist Continental philosophers have avoided using the word “ideology” and prefer to express their critiques of frameworks, discourses and practices, and of the social formations they are embedded in, in other terms. To clarify matters I would like to give an account of diverse senses of ideology that we can find in Althusser, and then discuss Deleuze and Guattari’s subsequent avoidance of the word. I distingish three main senses of “ideology” as used by Althusser:

1) ideology as opposed to science, the opposite of science – this is the epistemological sense that comes most readily to mind. It is regrettable that in Continental Philosophy a direct confrontation with Althusser’s positions on this sense of ideology never took place. This non-engagement with Althusser’s dualist and demarcationist epistempology left the field free not just for scientism but also for the hegemeony of technocrats and the tyranny of experts, and also for the primacy of management over politics. A distant consequence of this neglect has been the rise of Graham Harman’s OOO packaged ascontemporary  Continental Philosophy when it is in fact its exact opposite, a regressionto a form of Althusserism, only de-marxed, de-politicised, and de-scientised. The idea that ideology does not find an Other in science, and that both are constituted in assemblages of heterogeneous elements was proposed by Deleuze and Guattari (in RHIZOME, for example), but was left to the sociology of science to be worked out in detail.

2) ideology as structure of misrecognition – this is the sense that is taken up and reformulated in Deleuze’s concept of the dogmatic image of thought as State-image. Here Althusser makes use ofnotions taken from Lacan’s works to claim that there will never be any society free of ideology. Deleuze and Guattari have analysed this structure in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS in terms of conformist significations and subjugated subjects. But all these analyses in terms of the illusion of the One and of transcendence can be seen as part of their critique of ideology.

3) ideology not only as system of representations but also as integral part of of state apparatuses. This is Zizek’s sense in which ideology is not only the force of ideas but also a material force. Deleuze and Guattari accept this idea of the material inscription of desire, but ally it to Foucault’s idea that the state is not a determining instance. This leads to the notion of ideology as inextricably structuring desiring assemblages. One could say that the idea that the State holds power is itself ideological. Following Foucault’s lead Deleuze and Guattari preferred to abandon the word “ideology”, but the concept itself remains present in diverse notions: dogmatic image of thought, plane of organisation, transcendence, and also in the notions of diagramme and abstract machine.

B) On the hermeneutical error involved in Stiegler’s discussion

Why did post-structuralism cease to make use of the concept of ideology? Is there some generalised movement of “forgetting”, as Stiegler supposes, that led to the weakening or to the abandon of the ideological struggle against capitalism’s theoretical self-justifications and self-legitimations? I think that this is a misreading, and that Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault  carried on “ideological critique” throughout their work, including after May ’68. They did not participate in the neoliberal movement of forgetting ideology, but they were very critical of the binary opposition between « science » and « ideology ». They thus searched for a different terminology to allow them to pursue the critique of another modern ideology: scientism. It is true that Deleuze and Guattari state in RHIZOME that there is no ideology, but they also affirm that there is no science either, only assemblages. However assemblages are not all equal, for example some are more individuating (they speak in terms of processes of singularisation and of subjectivation) whereas others are disindividuating.

My historical hypothesis concerning the quasi-disappearance of the word « ideology » in the texts of Deleuze, Foucault, and Lyotard is that these philosophers, despite the relative effacement of the word “ideology”, do not abandon the concept of ideology nor the battle against it. They continue to analyse ideology and to carry out an ideological critique. In trying to free themselves from the Althusserian notion of ideology, they produce and elaborate a different set of concepts in order to deconstruct the famous Althusserian binary opposition between science and ideology. This strategy, while comprehensible in its strategic intention to transform the concepts and the problematic by also transforming the vocabulary, is in danger of leading to an impasse, that of the impossibility of pursuing a critique of the ideology of scientism. However, the poststructural perspective goes much further than the narrow point of view of (structuralist) epistemology, which places all the impurity and enslavement on the side of ideology and all the purity and the liberation on the side of science (structuralist epistemology being demarcationist and univocal, incapable of handling ambiguity).

This impasse is avoided in the case of Deleuze and Guattari. In their triad composed of collective assemblages of enunciation, of incorporeal transformations, and of machinic assemblages we can see the sketch of the triplicity that allows us to escape from the dualist trap. My question is: does our philosophical vocabulary, in order to be critical, need to contain the word “ideology” in an essential way, or would it not rather be a secondary term whose diverse meanings are better expressed by the vocabulary of assemblages and networks? Deleuze and Guattari give a positive answer to this question, and their so-called “forgetting” of ideology is in fact its replacement by a set of terms that are more specific, and less immersed in a marsh of deceptive connotations.

ANTI-OEDIPUS contains an application of a very sophisticated theory of ideology and its critique that is elaborated in its generality in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS. However, they do not make much use of the word “ideology” because of its dualist implications (the famous science/ideology distinction), but also because of the eymological association with “ideas”, which would seem to assign ideology as a derivative phenmenon to the superstructure.

Once one accepts that ideology is embedded in frameworks and practices and not a phenomenon limited to ideas (as Althusser, and Zizek argue) one may wish to discard the word itself as misleading. This is what Deleuze and Guattari (and also Foucault and Lyotard) do. In relation to the concept of ideology, there is no rupture and “forgetting”, but rather a continuity and an intensification of their previous work. In relation to the word “ideology” there is the alternative between abandoning and replacing it with more satisfactory terms (the solution of Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard) or of conserving the word but redefining it (Althusser, Zizek) so that it no longer refers to ideas alone.

This setting aside of the word “ideology” is not absolute. It becomes much rarer as a theoretical term, and serves as a simplified translation of more complex and more nuanced analyses. Obviously the phenomenon of ideology continues to exist for Deleuze and Guattari, but they do not limit its presence and impact to the superstructure, locating it at the deeper level of the libidinal assemblages. They make this connection between ideology and assemblages in RHIZOME (“There is no science and no ideology, there are only assemblages”), but at the same time they reject the word’s dualist connotations in its opposition to science.

Guattari is even more explicit in LIGNES DE FUITE, written in 1979 but published in 2011. He argues that “Althusser has made ideology into a category that is too general, which includes and conflates semiotic practices that are radically heterogeneous” (143, my translation). He prefers to limit its meaning to semiotic processes that are linguistically coded, so as not to preclude the existence of other non-linguistically coded semiotic processes aligned with the formations of power. The goal remains the same: the analysis of our repressive institutions and practices with the aim of transforming them to permit greater freedom.

The important step is to get out of the idea of ideology as mere superstructure, a sort of passive reflection of what goes on in the economic base. Even if this picture can be complexified, as in Althusser’s work, by notions of relative autonomy, non-expressive totalities, different sorts of contradictions, uneven development and heterogeneous phases co-present in the same structure, this more sophisticated picture still leads to trouble as long as we stick to the definition of ideology as (1) the Other of science (dualism knowledge-illusion), (2) an eternal and universal structure of misrecognition (dualism lived relation to the world-truth) and (3) a system of ideas (dualism superstructure-base).

This set of dualisms can’t work because there is no magic criterion of demarcation to discern and attribute the status of scientificity or of truth on the one hand, and of illusion on the other. If we take ideology in the wider sense as the unawareness of the material (i.e. political, economic and technological) origins and/or conditions of our ideas (this sense is close to 2) then it becomes a more plausible notion, but it can no longer be the Other of science, and we have left the space of structuralist epistemology.

Having taken this step outside structuralist epistemology the poststructuralists began to accentuate the tension between their psychoanalytic and the structuralist influences. Structuralism was scientistic and tended to read Lacan in a rationalist vein, but Lacan’s vision of misrecognition as a systemic feature led the poststructuralists to see that even science had “ideological” features, hence the decomposition of the notion of ideology into sub-components, that are then conserved under other names, except for the polemical treatment of ideology as the other of science. But I think that poststructuralist French theory balked at a barrier that in other countries Science Studies breached. Foucault did genealogies of human sciences, but did not touch the natural sciences. Lyotard toyed with relativising the authority of the sciences but eventually just limited it to the cognitive domain, where he gave it unrivalled hegemony. Deleuze talked about ‘nomad science” but it was more a content-level distinction than any heuristic analysis of the processes of construction of scientific results.

The Althusserian idea has certain advantages as situates ideology not just in ideas but as a structuring principle in practices and institutions, eg in the definition of roles and functions. It also adds the notion of a sort of systemic cognitive bias, or even blindness, concerning the factors that structure the very type of subjectivity pervading a society. All this is far more radical than the “Other of science” strand, which makes alchemy for example a case of ideology and chemistry a science. The problem is that by rejecting the crude binary demarcations of the last strand, theorists threw the baby out with the bathwater and lost sight of, or expressed more cryptically, the positive aspects of the two other strands of ideology as structuration of embodied practice and of ideology as misrecognition or cognitive blindness.

In conclusion, the substitution of a variety of more specific words for the over general word “ideology” has certain advantages for the pursuit of philosophical analyses. But it has deprived us of a single word to designate the various unities composed of these sub-parts. This has tended to give poststructuralist thought an allure of élitism, an aristocratic language only for the small circle of the initiated. In compensation certain figures have emerged whose thought is more approachable as they occupy a position halfway between structuralism and post-structuralism. One could call them demi-post-structuralists. Zizek is a good example of this, as since he is still stuck in the problematic space opened up by the Althusser-Lacan conjuncture, he has privileged Lacan as an alternative way out of structuralism, preferring to remain Lacanian in contrast to the more pluralist accounts of his immediate predecessors. Zizek is able to follow the analogical play of translation and of conceptual movement crossing boundaries between traditionally separate domains, but he retains Lacanian psychoanalysis as preferred language capable of specifyng the cognitive content of all the variants.

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In a very interesting article, Alain Badiou distinguishes three types or senses of negation: classical, intuitionist, and paraconsistent. Classical negation is strong negation, and obeys both the law of the excluded middle LEM) and the law of non-contradiction (LNC). On the other hand, intuitionist negation is weak negation, and obeys LNC but not LEM, allowing for the existence of intermediate values between P and non-P. Finally, the even “weaker” paraconsistent negation obeys LEM, but not LNC, allowing for both P and non-P to be true in the same domain and at the same time.

Much the same ground is covered, in less compressed form in the video of a talk by Badiou on “The Event as Creative Novelty”. Duane Rousselle gives a useful summary of the talk here.

These three senses of negation are useful in understanding François Laruelle’s evolution from classical philosophy to non-philosophy to non-standard philosophy. It is clear that for Laruelle sufficient philosophy is subjected to the laws of classical negation, at least at the manifest level. In contrast, non-philosophy makes use of an intuitionist acception of negation as it evolves in the multiplicity of values between P (philosophy) and non-P (its classical negation). This underlies the thematic that the “non-” of non-philosophy does not negate absolutely, in the strong sense, but extends what it negates, and so the law of the excluded middle is not respected.

Laruelle’s later move to “non-standard” philosophy is rather a move against the law of non-contradiction, in that we have something (NSP, non-standard philosophy) that is both P and non-P.

Laruelle’s blind spot is in his uniqueness hypothesis: the supposition that there is only one non-philosopher (himself), or later there is only one non-standard philosopher (disciples excepted). The underlying assumption is that all “philosophy” is sufficient, employing classical logic. Thus Laruellle gives a classical reading of Gilles Deleuze’s work, whereas it is far more plausible to read Deleuze in terms of intuitionist logic up to 1969 (his meeting with Guattari) and paraconsistent logic after (this is the sense of his collaboration with Guattari, it allows him to be both philosopher and non-philosopher, i.e. non-standard).

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response to R. Scott Bakker on transcendental phenomenology and BBT


Bakker is caught in a picture drawn on the basis of the bifurcation of subject and object and of the consequent quest for certainty. This quest fails, and messiness or disorder can no longer be seen as obstacles to cognition or to meta-cognition but as active facilitators of them. This is the lesson of Michel Serres’ THE PARASITE, amongst many other works that Bakker “refutes” so glibly with his repetitive scientistic mantras. Bakker has no idea of the paradigm change that makes disorder and uncertainty, in other words “error”, into key components of knowledge.

Originally posted on Footnotes2Plato:

Anyone who posits some form of efficacy or constraint outside the natural order on the basis of some kind of interpretation of ‘experience’ has the same argumentative burden to discharge: How do you know? What justifies such an extraordinary (supernatural) posit?…What makes the question so pressing now is that their instrument, reflection, has finally found itself on the coroner’s table. -R. Scott Baker

There is nothing “outside” the natural order. In this sense, I am opposed to the transcendentalist’s move to remove Reason or the reflective understanding from physical reality. There is indeed a supernaturalist residue in much transcendental and phenomenological philosophy. This is why my project has always been to theorize “the natural order” as itself always already creative, aesthetic, interpretational, experiential (mine is a naturalized transcendental (Schelling’s “Nature is a priori”)). There is no “other” world from which the causal efficacy of our world derives. With our universe…

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