Reading WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (3): Laruelle’s Lapse into Scientism

Agitation, Not Sufficiency

Laruelle, despite his considerable merits, is forever wrong when he assigns Deleuze to the realm of philosophical sufficiency (which Deleuze calls « representation »). Despite his deep and intense non-philosophical voyage Laruelle is incapable of reading Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? in terms of the relation with the outside, because he has not measured what the collaboration of Deleuze and Guattari brought to both of them.

It is noteworthy that WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY is not just a work by Deleuze, as Laruelle’s response,“A Reply to Deleuze” implies. It was written in collaboration with Guattari, a non-philosopher, who Deleuze explicitly honours for taking him outside philosophy.

Philosophy, Non-philosophy

François Laruelle gives a one-sided “philosophical” reading of the book, and so comes to the predictable conclusion that it is still “philosophy” in the sense of enclosure within the principle of philosophical sufficiency, which has next to nothing to do with Deleuze and Guattari’s sense of philosophy as expounded in the book Laruelle is purportedly replying to. For them philosophy comes from « agitation », the encounter with chaos.

On Laruelle’s Scientism

In WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Deleuze and Guattari mention Laruelle twice explicitly.

“The non-philosophical is perhaps closer to the heart of philosophy than philosophy itself,  and this means that philosophy cannot be content to  be understood only philosophically or conceptually, but is addressed essentially to non-philosophers as well” (41).

Followed by note 5:

“François Laruelle is engaged in one of the most interesting undertakings of contemporary philosophy. He invokes a One-All that he qualifies as “non-philosophical” and, oddly, as “scientific,” on which the “philosophical decision” takes root. This One-All seems to be close to Spinoza” (220).

Deleuze and Guattari highlight the function of the prefix « non- » in their account not just of philosophy but also of art and of science:

“The plane of philosophy is pre-philosophical insofar as we consider it in itself independently of the concepts that come to occupy it, but non-philosophy is found where the plane confronts chaos. Philosophy needs a non-philosophy that comprehends it; it needs a non-philosophical comprehension just as art needs non-art and science needs non-science” (218).

Followed by note 16:

« François Laruelle proposes a comprehension of non-philosophy as the “real (of) science,” beyond the object of knowledge: Philosophie et non-philosophie (Liege: Mardaga, 1989). But we do not see why this real of science is not non-science as well” (234).

1) The Authority of Science

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? was first published in French in 1991, i.e. well within Laruelle’s PHILOSOPHY II, which lasted from 1981 to 1995. Deleuze and Guattari pose the question of Laruelle’s scientism, that is to say of his continuing imprisonment in the presuppositions of the authority of science that characterise both State philosophy and Royal Science. In PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY, published in French in 1995, Laruelle seems to accept this criticism as he declares that during Philosophy II he had been still under the sway of the principle of sufficient philosophy in the form of a scientistic submission to the “authority” of science.

2) The Privilege of Science

Deleuze and Guattari’s second criticism of Laruelle concerns not the authority of science but the privileged relationship of philosophy with science, where they advocate a similar relationship with art too. In his PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY (page 34) Laruelle analyses his PHILOSOPHY II phase as being based on two axioms that were supposed to be complementary, but that he later found to be conflicting in their loyalties:

1) The One is immanent vision in-One.

2) There is a special affinity between the vision-in-One and the phenomenal experience of “scientific thought”

Axiom 1 is faithful to non-philosophy. Deleuze and Guattari have their own version of an immanent « vision-in-one », the infinite that is present on virtually every page of WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY.

(For details see my article MY PATH THROUGH BADIOU’S THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS: Philosophical intensities and language of the infinite)

Axiom 2, with its supposed “special affinity” between the vision-in-One and science, is faithful ultimately to the ruses of philosophy.

It was not until his Philosophy V that Laruelle, in his published works, was able to free himself  partially from this “special affinity” with science in his actual practice of non-standard philosophy (in his works on non-photography and non-religion). However, this break with scientism is more a pious wish, than a real practice, always announced but never fully accomplished.

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