TIME-LAG: 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, I have argued that Bruno Latour’s AIME project of an “empirical metaphysics” is an instance of the “metaphysical research programme” in Popper’s sense (see the “Metaphysical Epilogue” to Popper’s QUANTUM THEORY AND THE SCHISM IN PHYSICS). It has been my argument on this blog for several years that Laruelle’s non-philosophy project is another such metaphysical research programme.
VOCABULARY-LAG: There have been an increasing number of attempts to explain François Laruelle’s version of “non-philosophy” in English. Most of these are content to present non-philosophy in terms of its own claims about itself and outside any context that is meaningful in an English-speaking philosophical world. Most commentators naively accept and repeat Laruelle’s definitions of philosophy and of metaphysics, definitions that are flagrantly inapplicable in an Anglophone context. This vocabulary-lag is not specific to Laruelle’s works, as many words in French do not have exactly the same meaning as their direct English equivalents.
PHILOSOPHY-LAG: 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 systems and syntheses of recent date that he knows so well. None of his arguments apply to most of the post-Wittgensteinian or post-Popperian, or even post-Jamesian, philosophy developped in the English-speaking world.
TESTABILITY: 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 vocabulary and criteria to assess his contribution to our own philosophical context. Using the Anglophone vocabulary of post-Popperian epistemology, we can say Laruelle’s non-philosophy project is “metaphysical”, in a non-pejorative sense: metaphysics as theoretical claims about the real that are currently untestable. Popperian 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 aimed at testability, which is another name for non-sufficience.
SCIENCE AND SCIENTISM: A recent discussion of Laruelle’s ideas, titled “What can we do with non-philosophy?” is very interesting in this regard. I wish to comment on Ian James’s presentation, which is devoted to non-philosophy and science, and is a very clear and useful account. This talk is a perfect illustration of how Laruellean non-philosophy, despite its claims about itself, is a metaphysical research programme in rivality with other such programmes. This is not James’s intention, but this is what he ends up doing.
Much of Laruellean commentary is obscurantist hogwash, and Ian James’s presentation has the advantage of clarity, i.e. he is actually saying something sufficiently clear and substantial to be discussed. I agree with his conclusions, once the Laruellean sufficiency encasing them has been removed. I am in favour of a diachronic pluralist apophantic ontology, and have been very explicitly so for some time. I differ with Ian in that I think that some of his arguments don’t work, and that his philosophical context for discussing these matters needs widening, and I give some of that context (for details, one can easily find them on my academia.edu page.
METAPHYSICS: James describes how the “empiricist” results of the ontological pluralists (Cartwright, Dupré, Hacking) need to be subsumed under the “overarching, more general or generic logic of unilateral causation or determination in the last instance”. (This is from roughly 37 to 39 minutes in). He continues by talking of “the separation of science from overarching figures or horizons of totality or the absolute” as a “desirable outcome”, without noticing the contradiction. Nor does he seem aware of how this parallel between an “overarching a priori of the Real as One” and overarching figures of totality and unity (and, we might add, overarching figures of ontological plurality outside totality and unity, such as we can find in Cartwright, Hacking, and Dupré, and many others) vitiates the entire self-description of non-philosophy as non-metaphysical and not in rivality with philosophical positions.
He does not seem to notice that if you follow the positivist idea of trying to free science’s “empirical core” from its “metaphysical packaging” you are left with only meaningless equations or correlations, and with no motor for scientific change. James provides Laruelle with such a motor, drawing on Unger and Smolin (as well as Cartwright, Dupré, and Hacking) to supplement Laruelle. However, the result is a metaphysical research programme on a par with others.
Of course, if one indulges in a Laruellean equivocation on the sense of metaphysics, then Laruelle’s non-philosophy comes out, tautologously, to be the only non-metaphysics in the affair. All this discussion is situated in the pre-quantum Laruellean research programme of non-philosophy as opposed to the quantum non-standard philosophy, as are almost all the other Anglophone interpretations of Laruelle. The more recent quantum phase of Laruelle’s thought has the advantage of being more forthright in its explicitly metaphysical extrapolation of some features of scientific thought.
I found the ensuing discussion on science very unsatisfactory as the question of Laruelle’s possible scientism was broached but dismissed rather quickly as being an erroneous interpretation. This is quite surprising as scientism runs through Laruelle’s work from the beginning to now. Further, Laruelle’s quantum phase was declared an “experiment”, when Laruelle himself claims that quantum thinking is the messiah.
CAUSALITY: Another worrisome feature of the discussion was the unconsciously empiricist use of the idea of the “causality” of the real. Causality is a metaphysical principle, which is fine on my pluralism of metaphysical research programmes, but poses problems for Laruelle’s self-descrition as non-philosopher. In Ian James‘s talk “direct causation” and “unilateral causation” are used as synonyms for “determination” (by the Real, in both cases). He also says “Science is determined in the last instance by the real as its cause”, “Science…has no need of a philosophical foundation because it has a cause, an immanent cause, that of the real itself, in its radical immanence.”
CONTEMPORARY CONTEXT: Ian James’s talk was very interesting despite the rather naive positivism of some of its arguments, because of his attempt to supplement Laruelle’s ideas with a diachronic pluralist apophatic ontology such as is to be found in Feyerabend’s later works, in the later Lyotard, Bruno Latour, and Bernard Stiegler (who prefers the diachronic term “ontogenesis” to “ontology”, which he finds to be too static and monist).
I have defended this sort of ontology on many occasions, and discussed it in relation to Laruelle in general and to his take on science in particular. So I approve the position that Ian James is seeking to articulate, while regretting the overarching positivism enrobing it.
Note: I discuss and defend the sort of pluralist diachronic apophatic meta-paradigm, or metaphysical research programme, that Ian James is aiming for, to supplement Laruelle’s non-philosophy, in my paper “Is Ontology Making Us Stupid“.