The so-called “philosophies of difference” had great importance in the 1960s in France, but by the end of the 60s something else was happening in thought. The “deconstruction” of structuralism was already under way. Difference is the master-concept of structuralist philosophies, multiplicity characterises a non-structuralist, or “post-structuralist” thought that attempts to have done with the master-function of such concepts by subjecting them to various processes of multiplication, relativisation, and continual variation.
The transition from a philosophy of “difference” to a philosophy of multiplicities can clearly be seen in Deleuze’s LOGIC OF SENSE, and even Derrida’s more timid progress is visible in the passage from “différance” to “dissemination” (which “marks an irreducible generative multiplicity”). Lyotard’s libidinal economy and Foucault’s archeology can best be seen as transitional philosophies on the way from differentialism to pluralism.
The supposedly great works of the “philosophies of difference”, Derrida’s WRITING AND DIFFERENCE and Deleuze’s DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION are not programmatic texts for a new paradigm. They signal the end of an epoch, and contain the seeds of something else. Retrospective syntheses of what has been accomplished, built on moving terrain.
When Laruelle publishes his THE PHILOSOPHIES OF DIFFERENCE in 1986 he does not represent a lone voice in the desert criticising a hegemonic ideology, he is stating what is obvious to all, labouring a point that others have laboured better and more creatively before him. Far from isolating and extracting the contemporary philosophical “decision”, he is expressing his own decision that nothing has changed, that philosophy remains the same.
However, French philosophy had changed considerably since the structuralism and the differentialism of the sixties. Deleuze and Guattari published A THOUSAND PLATEAUS in 1981, Lyotard THE DIFFEREND in 1983, Michel Serres in GENESIS (1982) and in ROME (1983) proposes a thought of the pure multiple, as does Badiou in his seminars in the 80s, culminating in BEING AND EVENT (1988). These are all pluralist works that have left the differentialism of the 60s far behind.