THE MYTH OF FRENCH RELATIVISM: liquidationists vs affirmationists

Far from trail-blazing a new paradigm in the comprehension of Nietzsche, Domenico Losurdo, with the publication of his book NIETZSCHE THE ARISTOCRATIC REBEL is a late-comer to the actual battle for hegemony based on an ongoing « radical » ressentiment against post-68 French thought.

For the last 50 years there has been a growing flood of books and articles trying to caricature, denigrate, and liquidate the heritage of May ’68 as both intellectually and politically deleterious.

From Luc Ferry and Alain Renault’s polemic « French Philosophy of the Sixties » through former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s condemnation of the heritage of May ’68, and on and on, the accusation has been repeated of moral, political, and intellectual relativism.

A number of French philosophers, contemporary to the event and trying to inherit from the theoretical and practical creativity preceding, accompanying, and stemming from May ’68 had a very different type of response to the accusation of relativism indistinguishable from nihilism.

They responded also to the related critiques that they were guilty of « textualism » (reducing real life to mere textual play and of « differentialism » (as partisans of the so-called « philosophies of difference » and of its permissive « anything goes » attitude).

Gilles Deleuze’s whole evolution after DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION is driven by the need to resolve this dilemma of serving the doxa and the status quo or defending an impotent relativism.

Deleuze dropped the vocabulary of difference in his next book LOGIC OF SENSE in favour of that of multiplicities, and proceeded to collaborate with Guattari on the formal arrangements of desire as a way of critiquing and escaping the oppressive, exploitative status quo and its legitimating doxas. This book was misunderstood as propounding formlessness and a relativism of desire (and it must be kept in mind that all such misunderstandings are political, in the concrete sense of the struggle for hegemony and its fruits). Deleuze and Guattari indirectly responded to these critiques by de-emphasising (not abandoning) the concept of desire in favour of a two-pronged concept of arrangement (agencement) as both machinic and enunciative, in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS.

Even this precision that desire is always machined and semiotiically formed was not enough to avoid the accusation of re-producing relativism at a higher order of abstraction, in a sort of meta-relativism. This pitfall was obviated by their increasing recourse to ideas of an absolute: resistance as primary, absolute deterritorialisation, the outside, the infinite. This conceptual line is pushed to the forefront in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? where the vocabulary of the « absolute » (noun and adjective) and the infinite is deployed in a constant critique of the relative and the finite.

Jean-François Lyotard is another key thinker in this response to the dismissal of « May ’68 thought » as textualist, relativist, and nihilist. His insight that « difference itself » could never be instantiated as such led him to a far-reaching critique of Freudian and Marxist problematics and strategies, resulting in his LIBIDINAL ECONOMY. This book too was criticised for its supposed relativism, which led Lyotard to traverse a long series of conceptual experimentations culminating in THE DIFFEREND. His key insight was that « relativism » is correlative to metaphysics, the privileging of the machinic signified over the semiotic regime and of the descriptive and cognitive over the prescriptive and the vocative. There is a turn towards the « authority of the infinite » and towards an absolute interiority.

Derrida’s path is in appearance more complicated, but in attempting to respond to the ever-present accusations of textualism, relativism and nihilism, he turned towards an absolute of « justice » as that which is undeconstructable.

Alain Badiou sees the problem of the spectre of relativism, but his response is once again the opposite of that proposed by those critics. His most recent systematic work, THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, deploys the mathematics of infinity, in the wake of Deleuze, Lyotard, and Derrida’s use of this concept to save French thought from the accusation of relativism.

Badiou is trying to inherit from the thought of his predecessors and to push it further. His analytical and critical remarks on Lyotard, Derrida, and Deleuze are not radical negations aimed at the liquidation and abandon, unlike Losurdo and Rehmann, but are geared towards transformative prolongations.

Losurdo is liquidationist, Badiou is affirmationist. I see noone working with Losurdo who rejects his easily refuted accusation of post-’68 thought as relativism. Losurdo’s followers are in the liquidationist camp.

Badiou is clearly in the transformationist camp. Badiou tries to preserve the Deleuze-Lyotard-Derrida line from the spectre of relativism, Losurdo abandons them because of their putative relativism.

An instructive example of this liquidationist line is to be found in Jan Rehmann, who is an inheritor of Losurdo’s Nietzsche critique. The very title of the book gives the game away: « DECONSTRUCTING POSTMODERNIST NIETZSCHEANISM Deleuze and Foucault ».

Rehmann is not at all concerned with Nietzsche, or even Nietzscheanism (whatever that may be), but « postmodern nietzscheanism », in plainer words the left-Nietzscheanism of Deleuze and Foucault (and by implication the other French thinkers of their ilk). But even this is misleading. Rehmann does not give a damn about Deleuze’s thought, and his « scholarship » on that subject is lamentable and lacunary, he is in fact concerned with the struggle for intellectual hegemony between an oldstyle Marxism and the inheritors of French post-structuralism that have already critiqued the avatars of that Marxism.

What strikes me about the debunkers of a left-Nietzscheanism such as Losurdo and Rehmann is the bad quality of their thinking. They are unable to see a move of conceptual creation (as in Deleuze’s linking of Spinoza and Nietzsche) as anything other than a historical « error ».

They accuse Deleuze and Foucault of being guilty of « textualism » (i.e. to be the exemplars of everything they fought against, really kids!), nothing counting except the text, yet all they do is limited to the text, to the historical archives. They are the true textualists.

Losurdo is so deeply buried in the archives trying to prove that left Nietzscheanism is an impossibility, an argument based on Nietzsche’s left-wing partisans’ own supposed misinterpretations, conceptual confusions and category mistakes that he never considers that there is perhaps an empirical question to investigate.

Just how many contemporary readers of Nietzsche (and I’m not talking about academic experts) are left-wing in orientation? How many are extreme right readers? What are the relative proportions? Losurdo and Rehmann do not even remotely envision the question. Yet their project presupposes the answer:

there are many such left-wing readers of Nietzsche, and of Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard. To attempt to stigmatise that vast array of intellectual and political forces as being the victims of relativistic confusionism is ridiculous.

Indeed, why pose the empirical sociological question, or even just look around themselves in the diverse academies that they wish to purge of rivals, when they can use the reductionist readings deriving from their own textualism to validate the prejudices of their own pressure groups?

Rehmann’s case is the worst as he deliberately misreads Deleuze’s texts, misunderstands their stakes, conflates passages from radically different phases of his work, fails to consult Deleuze’s well-known and very explicit discussions of these different phases and of their conceptual evolution.

For example, Rehmann perpetrates the fable of Deleuze as a « philosopher of difference » rather than of multiplicities, basing himself mainly on the title DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, despite the rarity of « difference » in Deleuze’s work prior to that book and its almost complete absence after.

In conclusion, Rehmann’s book is insignificant and deleterious as a contribution to the understanding of contemporary « left-Nietzscheanism » in that it is permeated by bad scholarship, bad arguments, and bad readings.

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« The task of modern philosophy has been defined: to overturn Platonism [which] means denying the primacy of original over copy, of model over image; glorifying the reign of simulacra and reflections ».

(Cited on twitter by Justin justin (@nonpedagogy) from Deleuze DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION)

In defence of @nonpedagogy‘s quote it must be noted that overturning Platonism is only superficially and provisionally to invert Platonism. To invert Platonism is only the first step (and remains only as a mask) in overturning the philosophy of division, of demarcation.

The « simulacrum » is a transitional term in Deleuze’s work, that drops out once it has done its job of « contesting both the model and the copy », i.e. of contesting the absoluteness of such a demarcation.

What follows, in Deleuze’s later works, is a situational use of the demarcation where sometimes the model is privileged and sometimes the copy, and at other times the fuzziness underlying the division, its permeability.

It should be noted that in his publications in the 1960s Deleuze is heavily influenced by and reliant on the terminology of Pierre Klossowski, but he abandons this terminology of the simulacrum a few years later as not very useful.

On the situational use of these divisions:

Deleuze does not hesitate to condemn the « imitators » as doing normatively « better » than the creators because they are only copying the products of the creative act. So here he de-inverts Platonist division.

Thus the full path of Deleuze’s « overturning » of Platonism is

1) rising to the level of the method of division (demarcation),

2) inverting the terms of the division,

3) uncovering the permeabilities,

4) returning to the division while keeping hold of the permeability,

5) situationally inverting, de-inverting, or bridging and crossing according to the circumstances.

Thanks to Justin for prompting me to clarify Deleuze’s path.

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DEPTH AND RELATIONAL ONTOLOGIES: OOO – provocation, incomprehension or projection?

The problem of ontological depth: « If entities are defined by their relations, this deprives them of any depth beyond their current deployment in the world, and there is no reason that anything would ever change » – Graham Harman

This provocative affirmation is far from obvious and calls for deeper analysis.

First remark does Graham Harman mean « defined » or constructed? Harman is using a personal definition that is semantically loaded in favour of his conclusion, but it still does not work. This formulation is pure assertion, often repeated, and easily shown to be wrong.

For example, in physics force implies acceleration, and thus change in the deployment of velocities and positions. This means that relations between forces define a configuration that deploys change.

In fact, the same argument applies to the relations between velocities, as velocity is itself a rate of change. An assemblage defined in terms of multiple velocities is constantly changing its « current deployment ».

In Deleuzian terms, the kinetics (latitude, velocities and positions) define the current deployment and the dynamics (longitude, forces and power to affect and to be affected) of a configuration define the « depth » or potential modifications of that actual deployment.

Thus the notion of a static « current deployment » conceals a radical incomprehension, it involves the reduction of configurations to non-kinetic properties and non-dynamic properties.

Thus relational ontologies can easily accommodate depth and change in a unified account, whereas objectal ontologies cannot.

Harman’s OOO splits the object between depth and change, between deep object (real but unchanging) and changing object (sensual, but superficial).


The Problem of Change in Harman’s OOO: How can a withdrawn object « de-withdraw »?

BARAD AND HARMAN: avoiding a-temporal dichotomous dualism

This whole argument is part of Harman’s rhetoric of projection: isolate a flaw in his system (in this case the inability to handle time, change, and becoming) and then project it onto rival ontologies. The actual argument does not matter, what counts is bare assertion, bold projection.

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PROAMNESIS: forgetting Badiou’s maths

This post is part of my ongoing discussion of Alain Badiou’s IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS and allows me to give an overview of my general approach to philosophy in this blog.

To be clear, I think we must seriously and thoroughly work through Badiou’s maths, no short cuts, but with the foreknowledge that we will actively forget it at the end (unless maths is our thing). I call this the Principle of Proamnesis.

As I argued in a previous post, maths is one conceptual character among many, albeit an important one, in THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS. Just as we need to read the book’s non-math discussions (which are quantitatively dominant in the book) in constant anamnesis of the maths, we must read the maths in constant proamnesis. And the same for the other truth procedures.

Mathematics is heuristically privileged because it constitutes the easiest path to the Absolute. Badiou constantly emphasises how easy and clear, because explicit, maths is. The other truth procedures are much more complex. There is no monopoly of the Absolute by maths.

Lovers, militants, and poets have their own access, their own paths up to the Absolute and down into finitude bearing its traces, re-indexing its classes and classifications.

Heraclitus tells us « The way up is the way down ».

If we ascend to the Absolute by way of the mathematical path without the necessary proamnesis we will descend by the same path and have only a very one-sided understanding.

This is like the blind men in the Buddhist parable, who touch an elephant and describe it in terms of the part they touch, saying it’s: like a snake (the trunk), a fan (the ear), a pillar (the leg), a wall (the flank). They violently disagree and each suspects the others of stupidity (ideology) or lying (propaganda).

Without proamnesis, whatever the path, we have reductionism. The mathematicists take at face value Badiou’s declaration that « mathematics is ontology », while the militants, the psychoanalysts, the artists find resources for their own perspective’s privilege.

We find the same one-sidedness on the meta-level. Badiousians who are self-identically Badiousian (the formula for turning philosophy into ideology is self-identity) and so anti-Deleuzian, Deleuzians who are self-identically Deleuzian and so anti-Badiousian, etc.

A simple criterion is given in Badiou’s distinction between the « waste product » (that I have argued may be translated as « crap ») and the « work ».

Anytime someone is discussing Badiou and claiming he is right as against for example Deleuze, who is « wrong », we are in the crap, unless this discussion is accompanied by a proamnesis that allows them to go on to use both thinker’s concepts and writings freely, in a « work » of their own.

For my part, my proamnesic approach allows me to read Badiou in terms of Deleuze, Latour, Laruelle, Zizek, Stiegler, and to read all these in terms of the overarching meta-ontology of metaphysical research programmes.

This proamnesic reading and re-thinking of contemporary (mostly French) Continental Philosophy is what I have been doing on my blog for the last twelve years (today is the 12th anniversary of the blog), and I hope to continue as long as I can.

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BADIOU’S LAW: the waste is the product

Badiou in IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS speaks of the difference between the « déchet » (finite) and the « oeuvre » (infinite).

« Déchet » poses a difficult problem of translation. In the recently published English translation it is rendered as « waste product », which is correct but softens the sense, and so weakens the insight.

An alternative translation for « déchet » would be « crap », in the sense of Sturgeon’s Law:

« 90% of everything is crap ».

According to the legend this was SF author Theodore Sturgeon’s reply to criticisms of science fiction as mostly crap. It first appeared in print in 1957, and so Sturgeon anticipates Badiou’s theory of works and waste.

Note – this law is close in import to Antonin Artaud’s maxim:

« All writing is pig shit ».

This slogan was endorsed by Deleuze and Guattari in ANTI-OEDIPUS, and so we have another passage between their philosophy and Badiou’s system.

For Deleuze and Guattari, the neurotic

makes at least an economic error, an error in tact, and does not spread his values. Artaud puts it well: all writing is so much pig shit—that is to say, any literature that takes itself as an end or sets ends for itself, instead of being a process that « ploughs the crap of being and its language, » transports the weak, the aphasiacs, the illiterate (ANTI-OEDIPUS, 134).

Another « law » of Sturgeon’s was

« nothing is always absolutely so ».

I myself take this to be virtually synonymous with the first law, and also with Badiou’s insistence that V, the Absolute, the Universe of all sets, is a class and not a set. No set is the Absolute, but a set can bear the index of the Absolute, and be a work, or it can contain or be referenced by no such index, and be crap.

To translate « déchet », « waste », « trash », « crap » are all valid options at the level of sense (as are detritus, rubbish, junk, garbage, dross), but there is a difference at the level of syntax. These words are noncount nouns in English, whereas « déchet » is countable in French.

The translators are being overzealous here, as by trying to preserve both aspects (sense and syntax), they introduce a dummy count noun « product », so as to make a countable expression (« waste product »), i.e. one that can be put in the plural. Unfortunately in doing so they are adding connotations not present in the original.

« Déchet » etymologically comes from the same root as the verb « déchoir » (to fall) and is cognate with « décadence ». It designates that which falls from a material that is being worked on to produce a product, and also the degradation of a material (a work, a person, a reputation).

Badiou’s insight is that the waste is the primary product, not a secondary unwanted result, i.e. the waste is the product (and not a waste product).

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My basic idea is that different research programmes, or « traditions », may well be incommensurable in a strong sense when taken as abstract traditions and be compartmentalised, mutually hermetically sealed, with nothing to say to each other (semantic incommensurability and deductive disjunction), but these same traditions when taken as historical traditions are pragmatically both commensurable and mutually permeable.

Religion and science are merely « extreme » examples (at least in our culture) of such abstract separation and pragmatic interaction (from a longer term historical perspective).

An interesting example of this is Bruno Latour’s Modes of Existence project. Initially this was set up to spell out the different ontologies belonging to different modes of enunciation within our contemporary world and to set up « felicity conditions » so as to avoid category mistakes resulting from transgressing the demarcations between the incommensurable frameworks.

Latour was then obliged to admit that some of these categorial « crossings » were not mistakes, but were acceptable and even fruitful, and then he was led to give ever greater importance in his project to such crossings.

Finally Latour has come to combine the traditions of religion and science, locally and conjuncturally, around the question of cosmology in a way that his original outlook would have forbidden as a case of cartegory-mistake.

I find this sequence of philosophical evolution very positive, and also very Feyerabendian.

Crossings are studied in Latour’s book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE (which gives us the acronym AIME) principally as negative things, as category mistakes that violate the constitutive felicity conditions of the different modes of existence that he extracts and elaborates. His book’s goal is to police the respect the incommensurabilities between the modes of existence.

It takes time for Latour to notice that he himself is violating these felicity conditions constantly – and happily so as this is heuristically fecund.

This post hoc valorisation of crossings comes no doubt in response to criticism (I for one criticised from the beginning the impermeability of the demarcations between modes of existence. As Latour (like most French philosophers) prefers positivity and new creation to addressing objections in terms of critical discussion this created the retrospective illusion that they were always valued as positive phenomena.

In a sense they were implicitly acknowledged as valuable, given that most of what Latour was saying about Gaia involved such crossings intrinsically and massively. It just took him time to notice, catch up, and patch over. This is a normal evolution, although perhaps a little slow.

The whole set up of the initial project was to provide felicity conditions and to enforce their respect, i.e. to disallow as illegitimate reductions of one or more modes of existence to another.

There is virtually no mention of crossings in the book (for one notable exception see note below) nor in the initial organisation of the accompanying website. Then suddenly with no explanations the crossings become so important that they are incrusted in the structure of the site.

Thus the overall initial impression is that crossings are Bad, dangerous reductionist transgressions of the felicity conditions for the incommensurable modes that the book is setting up.

« the crossings of all the modes will have to form the heart of our inquiry, for this is where the causes of mistakes are obviously the most important—and also the least well studied » (56).

« modes can be compared in pairs when they intersect in crossings, occasions revealed most often by a test of category mistakes bearing on one of the felicity conditions » (73).

Then they become (or at least some of them) Good, creative reminders of the necessary permeability of the modes to each other, that were first set up as de jure impermeable structures.

Note: the situation is a little more complex than I have been presenting it to be. The general movement is from placing the emphasis on the « bad » crossings (category-mistakes to be eliminated) to focusing on the « good » crossings (fertile categorial intersections).

The concept of good crossings is in fact present in the book, and the inquiry as a whole is placed under the sign of the consequences that can be drawn from the creative crossing NET-PRE.

« The [NET-PRE] crossing is rather special, since it is the one that authorizes the entire inquiry » (63).

I am indebted to a conversation with Tim Howles for helping me to clarify my ideas on this subject

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LAYERS OF THEORY, DEALING WITH THE REAL: a note on the layer-cake model

In my recent posts on Badiou’s method I am making no unusual or unduly metaphysical claims about the logic of necessity or the nature of reality..

I am merely starting out from the famous « layer-cake » model of testing starting with observational theories (I say observational « theories because there are no pure observations) going upwards via more and more conceptually elaborated auxiliary theories and ending with some very general speculative theory. The constitutive principles of each theoretical stratum are mutually exclusive, because of the time factor.

Note: this is not a logical necessity but a pragmatic one.

As various observational and auxiliary theories (concerning instrumentation, experimental set-ups, and more or less low level regional laws) are already in place it would be very surprising if a new theory at the speculative level were to be able to generate all the lower-level theories compatible with its concepts – and all at the same time – and able to replace the already entrenched theories.

This is why I talk in terms of « research programmes » (sort of a de-dogmatised Kuhnian paradigms). It takes time to build a new research programme and to fill in all the intermediate levels.

The example of Galileo’s heliocentric theory and the associated auxiliary theories needed to support it, but coming only much later (e.g. a theory of the telescope’s construction, functioning, and conditions of reliability) already illustrates this time-sensitivity in dealing with incommensurable theories layered in terms of differing degrees of generality and differing degrees of observationality.

Thus I make no absolute claims about the « real world » but talk about a theory as being able to « deal with the real world » if it has testable content in terms of this model.

This dealing with the world (or not) can only be evaluated from within a particular truth procedure.

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BRIDGE LAWS AND CATEGORY-CROSSINGS: on the relation between philosophical propositions and truth procedures

Far from privileging the « poetic » my interpretation is methodological, I have been applying Popper’s and Lakatos’s multi-layered concept of « metaphysical research programmes » to contemporary French philosophy for the twelve years of existence of my blog.

The emphasis of my reading is on the methodological dimension for the global structure of the system of ideas and I give relative importance to the poetic procedure as there exists already good discussions of Badiou’s philosophy that concentrate on the mathematical procedure (and also with his system from the perspective of the political procedure).

Such discussions typically need to move back and forth between the mathematical formulations and the philosophical conceptualisations, and so contain statements that some are inclined to reject as « category-mistakes ». In fact they are absolutely necessary parts of any philosophical speculation that can claim to deal with the real world.

My schema of metaphysical research programmes generalises these sorts of category-crossings (as opposed to « category-mistakes ») as not being purely inside mathematics (or inside some other truth procedure), but as constituting a bridge between a philosophical concept and a mathematical one.

From my methodological perspective the relation between philosophical theories and theories within the truth procedures is one of incommensurability. One needs a third sort of instance to bridge the gap and move freely between the procedures and their philosophical correlates and back.

Such « bridge laws » are quite common inside science (e.g. in physics). They are needed to bridge the gap of incommensurability between a general theory and the various observational auxiliary theories needed to specify its empirical consequences and to make it testable.

I generalise this necessity for bridge laws to include philosophy’s relations to the various practices and procedures that instantiate and inspire its concepts.

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BADIOU’S LADDER (2): Poetry – truth procedures as conceptual characters

In my previous post I discussed Badiou’s method of taking one particular truth procedure, in his case mathematics, and proceding by a form to guided abduction to elaborate speculative hypotheses at the more general philosophical level (noetic ascent) that could then be tested by a process of investigation within any of the four truth procedures (noetic descent). The particular experimental montage differs for each of the truth procedures.

Note: I am indebted to a discussion with Serge Druon for helping me clarify my ideas on this point.

This analysis supports my argument that mathematics has no privilege here, that we do not have to start with mathematics, and that we could take any of the other truth procedures as our starting point.

For example, poetry.

Thus the four truth procedures are not items in an epistemic hierarchy, but rather co-equal conceptual characters in a dramaturgy of ascent and descent

Badiou gives some amazing readings of poets, something that should not be missed. In IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS he has a chapter each (sometimes frustratingly short) on René Char, Victor Hugo, Emily Dickinson, Celan, Mandelstam, Pessoa, Brecht.

On the subject of poetry as a way into Badiou’s system: I produced a video summary and commentary of Badiou’s discussion of Rimbaud’s poem « Youth ». This is based on material from Badiou’s seminar that didn’t make it into the book. It allows us to have an overview of the conceptual trajectory of the book.

Subjects discussed in this video: the world of finitude and its sad affects, the capacity of everyone to encounter and participate in the infinite potentials of Truths-in-the-making, consolidating the multiple breakthroughs, the work of truth, paradigm-change and the new subjectivity.

My advice to anyone interested in the ongoing progress of recent French Philosophy’s meta-research programme is to read IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS. It is a game-changer, helping us to see that whole tradition with new eyes.

For example, Badiou made me see things in Deleuze’s work that I hadn’t noticed before e;g. the presence of four concepts of infinity in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS and the importance of the absolute in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

On the agon running through Deleuze’s work between pluralism and multiplicity on the one hand and infinity and the absolute on the other see:

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BADIOU’S LADDER: On the hypothetico-deductive method in IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS

I do not think mathematics contains the essential content to Badiou’s ideas, although it may be the key, or more properly it is the ladder which we climb up and can then throw away (except if we’re specially interested in that particular ladder).

Mathematics is the heuristic starting point only because it is easier (despite its difficulties) compared to the other truth procedures to see the concepts that Badiou is trying to develop in clear and distinct form.

Mathematics is transcendentally simple but empirically difficult.

The heuristic path is to start with any procedure and with an analysis of the situation – to extract the ideas and articulate,by means of noetic ascent, the philosophical concepts that configure these ideas in the space of philosophical reason – then by noetic descent to test these ideas quasi-empirically by means of the other truth procedures.

Note: I say « quasi »-empirically because the relation between the philosophical concepts and their truth-procedural instantiation is not one of formal logical deduction but a freer pragmatic deduction.

We must also bear in mind that the truth-procedural base provides not raw experience but experience already selected or experimentally constructed and theoretically transposed, thus transformed.

Thus Badiou’s method is not unique to him (although the particular workings out and the order of pedagogical presentation may sometimes be different), but typical to many French philosophers (e.g. Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault, Stiegler, Latour, Laruelle). Badiou’s method is the very classical one of a hypothetico-deductive falsificationism.

These philosophical systems are instances of what Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos call « metaphysical research programmes », containing both speculative and testable propositions. It is to be noted that « falsificationism » here means sophisticated falsificationism, i.e. confirming instances do count, as do historical evolutions, positive and negative heuristics, and cross-comparison or even cross-fertilisation with competing research programmes.

In Badiou’s case the four truth procedures maths, politics, art, love) provide the « observational » base (this observation being in principle irreducible to ordinary sense-experience and often in contradiction to it). The initial hypotheses are « bold conjectures » (Popper’s term) arrived at by a sort of guided abduction ascending from maths as starting point.

Obviously other starting points are conceivable, otherwise Badiou would not be able to find the trace of the different concepts of infinity inside the works of poets such as Mallarmé, René Char, Victor Hugo, Artur Rimbaud, Emily Dickinson, Paul Celan etc. Starting from poetry instead of maths should be equally possible (transcendentally speaking), but perhaps more difficult (empirically).

Ditto politics. Ditto love.

This is not to say « forget the maths ». On the contrary, maths is our ladder.

Maths is not necessarily our closest ladder, but perhaps our sturdiest.

(Like all such affirmations, this must be taken conjuncturally – it is the case for us now in the current problem-situation. This is why Badiou later affirmed that his famous claim « mathematics is ontology » was conjunctural).

One must work through the mathematical parts of IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, they are essential – but only insofar as they give us a grasp of the philosophical concepts and permit us to perceive and to act on the corresponding instances in the other procedures.

We are not all math geeks, nor should we be, nor are we called to be by this book.

The book is amazing, it permitted me to see all the French philosophy I had worked on in new ways, and I do not want it to fall into the reductionist hands of a few experts (against scientistic or politicist reductions).

Like all true philosophy you don’t have to adhere or subscribe, but think it through and test it through your thoughts and observations within your truth procedures (even ones that are not on the official list of truth procedures).

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