Sometimes it is so difficult to understand a French philosopher’s theories and to translate his works that we transpose them directly, untransformed, into English, without allowing for or taking into account the sometimes very different cultural and intellectual contexts of Francophone and of Anglophone philosophy. A sweeping radical generalisation in French, if translated without an awareness of context, will seem even more sweeping and radical in English.
As Bruno Latour points out, the French respect for science is so great that it will never be probed and questioned, except for rare exceptions, in the way it is examined in English-speaking philosophy. The French readers will automatically and unconsciously apply a stronger set of filters than exists in English. Michel Serres points out too that writers such as Sartre and Foucault make far-reaching statements about the relations between knowledge and subjectivity and politics, without including hard science in their purview.
The non-philosophy of François Laruelle is a typical example of this effect of majoration by translation. When Laruelle discusses the closure of “philosophy” inside of the principle of sufficiency, he has in mind, whether he knows it or not, the grand German and French syntheses of recent date that he knows so well. None of his arguments apply to most post-Wittgensteinian or post-Popperian, or even post-Jamesian, philosophy developped in the English-speaking world.
Such is the conceptual and temporal phase-lag between continents that what seems like an amazing novelty to Continental thinkers may well have already been treated, under a different name, by Anglophone thinkers. For example, we can think of Bruno Latour’s “empirical metaphysics” as a “metaphysical research programme” in Popper’s sense (see the “Metaphysical Epilogue” to Popper’s QUANTUM THEORY AND THE SCHISM IN PHYSICS). Laruelle’s non-philosophy project is another such a metaphysical research programme.
We must not be afraid of, or taken in, by words. Laruelle talks of “non-philosophy” using a vocabulary based on the French context. But we are not obliged to use his French-based vocabulary and criteria to assess his contribution to our own philosophical context. Using the Anglophone vocabulary of post-Popperian epistemology, we can consider Laruelle’s non-philosophy project as a metaphysical research programme, taking “metaphysical” in a non-pejorative sense. Popper’s metaphysical research programmes are composed of precisely the mixture of philosophical and scientific elements called for by Laruelle in view of a non-philosophical usage of philosophical material aimed at testability, which is another name for non-sufficience.
This re-description of Laruelle’s project, outside the exclusive use of his own descriptors, is not a move of destructive criticism or reductive dismissal. It makes Laruelle both more important and more relevant for discussions outside the closed and narrow circle of Continental constructs. If we are content to translate his discourse with no awareness of the respective contexts, then Laruelle’s non-philosophy will seem outlandish, dogmatic, or irrelevant to analytic concerns. If however non-philosophy can be seen in terms of our own contexts to be working on something that other, more familiar, philosophers have begun to discuss in different terms, then his contributions can be taken more seriously by a far wider audience. This would seem to be a considerable advantage, given Laruelle’s emphasis on “democracy of thought”.