Post-truth blues. One of the biggest dangers to thought today is the « post-truth » image of thought that one may call democratic relativism (note: other, less objectionable, forms of post-truth are possible).
The contemporary philosophical context is driven by the search for a form of pluralism that does not fall back into mere relativism. This involves elaborating an ontology that is immanent, pluralist, diachronic, egalitarian, apophatic, realist, and testable.
Such an ontology can be treated as a metaphysical research programme, and evaluated in terms of its degree of satisfaction of these criteria, and also in comparison to rival or alternative research programmes that themselves embody some or all of these criteria. Within this general typology of pluralism versus relativism one can find divergent images of thought that interact in complex ways with the criteria of ontological felicity.
Thought-images. There are two influential images of thought that have given rise to diverse contemporary metaphysical research programmes in Continental Philosophy: the quantum image and the performance image. These are articulated in opposition to the dominance of the structuralist image.
Quantum and performance images. The most radical version of the quantum image of thought is given by Slavoj Zizek’s recent work, while the most radical version of the performance image is given by Bruno Latour’s AIME project.
François Laruelle attempts to give a version of the quantum image, and some of his followers have tried to develop a performance image in his name. In both cases their thought is not radical enough, because they are caught in un-criticised structuralist presuppositions.
Pluralism and relativism. Zizek and Latour are pluralists, their most recent thought is devoted to providing a grounding for truths, and to avoiding relativism. Laruelle is a relativist, his thought is a fall back into the democratic relativism of “all thoughts are equal”. In a word, testability is abandoned in favor of reductive equality.
Laruelle identifies the vice of philosophical sufficiency as invalidating the pretension of contemporary philosophy to come to terms with immanence, but is himself unable to propose a virtuous alternative. In view of Laruelle’s claims to scientific status for his non-philosophy, and his inability to respect his own criteria (in this case “immanence”), we must conclude that his non-philosophy is pseudo-science.
An ambiguous criterion, that of performativity (something supposedly being so because one declares it so) replaces the scientific criterion of testability in the non-philosophical research programme.
The philosophical struggle is reduced to simplistic applications of moralistic terms: the battle between vicious sufficiency and virtuous performativity. The evaluation is purely moral, based on the peremptory judgment of the one true non-philosopher (Laruelle).
The Laruellean performative hypothesis rejoins the Althusserian thesis of theory as theoretical practice.
However, Althusser himself required a political evaluation of his and others’ theoretical performances. Performance alone is not enough, the attempt to make it suffice is idealist.
Another example of the performative image of thought is to be found in the recent work of Bruno Latour, who argues that there exist different felicity conditions for the diverse performances in the different modes of existence or of veridiction, each of which has its different temporalities, and actualities.
The problems of evaluation and of testability cannot be avoided, mere performance by itself is not enough. It requires criteria of success or failure.
Performativity can only be seen as a positive criterion when its use is non-foundational. A foundational use of performativity is one that makes, or purports to make, something true by the mere fact of its being enounced. This idealist appeal to performativity is the principal vice of democratic relativism.
Such is the case for the scientism of Laruelle, which hesitates between the sufficiency of reductive scientism (science legitimates his theses in the last instance) and performative scientism (science legitimates his theses by the declaration their scientificity).
Laruelle’s work claims to give us a “science of philosophy”, but the only proof he offers of this structuralist claim is performative: the repeated enunciation of the scientific, or non-philosophical, character of the texts. This claim, in Laruelle’s use of it, is not testable.
Laruelle’s use of this philosophical material is abstract, universal, self-validating, and essentialist, whereas Alain Badiou’s use of it is in comparison concrete, historical, and dialectical. Laruelle’s attempt at new performativity fails, it is sufficient vice and not pluralist virtue.
Worse, Laruelle is incapable of recognizing a virtuous performativity when he comes across it, for example in Badiou. Instead of citing Badiou in a democratic pluralist spirit as a successful exemplar of his own goals, and hailing his non-standard usages, Laruelle re-essentialises them.
Laruelle poses important questions, but his answers are useless. The questions can be turned back on him with devastating consequences for the evaluation of his adhesion to his own criteria.
His demand for new uses of conceptual material is inspiring, but he does not go very far in that direction. Despite his promotion of the revisionary semantics of philo-fiction and the pluralist pragmatics of performance his own dramatizations are poor and graceless.