ABSTRACTIVE AND SUBTRACTIVE ONTOLOGIES: The truncated pluralism of Alain Badiou and Graham Harman

We have traversd a period of polarisation during which the neoliberal doxa reigned uncontested almost everywhere, except in a few academic and para-academic enclaves, where a « refined » or aristocratic critique was elaborated. The philosophical result of the exténuation of this polarisation is in part the development  of abstractive (and a-political) ontology of objects as relay and effectuation of the neoliberal hypothesis (Graham Harman), and in part the elaboration of the subtractive ontology of multiples as relay and effectuation of the communist hypothesis (Badiou). In both cases we have a truncated form of pluralism: a synchronic ontology of objectal multiples where the diachronic is added on afterwards as a supplement.

For Harman time is not a real relation between real objects, but rather a « sensual » relation between sensual objects sensuels, ie in the illusory domain of simulacres (THE THIRD TABLE, 2012, acalls these sensual objects, ie the objects of common sense and of the sciences, “utter shams”, page 6). For Badiou time in the strong sense belongs to the event in the naming intervention, and there also, as for Harman, seems to be dependent, at least in part, on subjectivity.

There is also a monism which comes to overcode this ontological pluralism, at both the  ontological and the epistemological level:

a) ontological – For Harman the real is a unique and separate domain, real objects are « withdrawn »; the objects of common sense, of the humanities and of the sciences are pure simulacres, utter shams. For Badiou the real is the non-qualified mathematical multiple, and the objects of common sense, but also of the sciences and of the “humanities”, are constructed out of these multiples (but, and this is an important difference with Harman, these constructed objects are not necessarily simulacres). In both cases there is ontological primacy of one domain placed over and above the others.

b) epistemological – For Harman scientific knowledge does not accede to the reality of objects, the only possible knowledge is indirect and appertains to the arts under the control of object-oriented ontology, which dissipates the ontological and epistemological illusions, such as the naturalist prejudice and the scientistic prejudice. For Badiou to each truth-domain there corresponds a generic and paradigmatic procedure (matheme, poem, political invention, love). Philosophy serves to enounce the common configuration of these paradigmatic procedures and to dissipate the prejudices coming from the suture of philosophy to just one of these truth-domains. Badiou here is again more “pluralist” than Harman, as he recognises the existence of four truth-domain, and not just one.

Conclusion: abstractive and subtractive ontologies are in regression compared to the pluralist philosophies of their predecessors. They are the complementary representatives (a politicised communist version in Badiou’s case, a “de-politicised” neolibéral version in that of Harman) of a truncated pluralism, the synchronic shadow of the diachronic ontologies that they ape without being able to rival in their force of thought. Materially pluralist, they remain formally monist.

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3 commentaires pour ABSTRACTIVE AND SUBTRACTIVE ONTOLOGIES: The truncated pluralism of Alain Badiou and Graham Harman

  1. Bill Benzon dit :

    Your first paragraph seems to rest on the assumption that, in the end, metaphysics isn’t really an inquiry into the nature of the world. Rather, it’s just one more way either to reproduce or to resist capitalism.


  2. terenceblake dit :

    It rests on the assumption that there is no point of view from nowhere. All thinking is situated. Some ideas are virtually unthinkable at some historical moment, and become thinkable at others. This is neither determinism nor coincidence, and homology is one name for it. So it is best to be aware of the homologies so as to decide if one is comfortable with them or not. Revealing a homology is not the same as a refutation. If I can show you that you are doing exactly the same thing at home that a colleague you detest does at work you might want to change that behaviour, or you might start to appreciate your colleague.


  3. Ping : LATOUR DE-TEMPORALISED: Graham Harman’s synchronic travesty of Latour’s experimental metaphysics | AGENT SWARM

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