BADIOU ON EVIL AND LOVE (2): against philosophical presumption

Theory of Evil, Theory of Love begins with the hypothesis of the entry of a conceptual character in a mental landscape:

“Let us suppose that the whole university of doxography assembles and that a layman or an unbeliever enters” (page 11, my translation).

We can take “doxography” literally as the writing down of the doxa, one of the principal functions of the university. The “layman” is the opposite of the expert, and along with the figure of the “unbeliever” recalls Socrates. Both these terms (layman, unbeliever) connote the philosopher in opposition to the religious believer.

In this minimal conceptual drama the unbeliever is called on to respond to the “religious proposition on Good and Evil”, by relating the problem to the “essence of philosophy”. In suspending doxographic belief, the philosophical unbeliever will refuse to project evil outside and will

“show that philosophy, in its disaster, induces historial figures of the category of Evil, at the peril of its exercise” (11).

The exercise of philosophy secretes its own evil, one of whose forms is the university of doxography. More generally, for Badiou the philosophical act is “the apprehension of the compossibility of truths” (13), and its negative is the prescription of the system of truths.

Philosophy apprehends, it does not prescribe. It configures the space of compossibility of truths, it does not constitute them. Philosophy invents concepts, it does not propound its own truths. Badiou rejects the “presumption” of philosophy to constitute its truths:

“Instead of the void, intrinsic liberty of the philosophical act, there is the presumption of a fullness” (89).

This critique of philosophical presumption both parallels and precedes “non-philosopher” François Laruelle’s critique of philosophical sufficiency. Badiou’s over-riding question in this period (1986-1992) is “What is philosophy?”. Like Deleuze, Badiou is at odds with the claim to the “closure” of philosophy, replying that this closure is itself a philosophical act, one far too certain of itself.

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