READING “READING MARX” (2): we have always been non-standard


I distinguish “extension” theories, such as those of Deleuze, Badiou, and Zizek (whatever one may think of their respective merits) from, adapting Zizek’s terms, “replacement” theories (Latour, Laruelle, Harman).


Zizek argues that OOO cannot explain the passage from substance to subject, and so has no room for the subject (except the illusory humanist subject). The same argument can be applied to non-philosophy. Laruelle’s unilateral duality constitutes an apophatic veil such that there is no science of man but only a science-man or man-science. Despite his talk about a stranger subject, Laruelle can only posit the subject as a supplement.

In conclusion Laruelle’s non-philosophy, like Harman’s OOO, has no means of getting from substance to subject except by tautological synonymic chains that do not lead where he claims they lead.

SOLIPSIST NON-METAPHYSICS: Laruelle’s uniqueness hypothesis

Despite his declarations to the contrary, Laruelle’s thought is metaphysical, unless you buy into his dishonest self-serving re-definition of metaphysics to include everyone but himself.

In my own analyses I do not accept Laruelle’s definition of metaphysics, I accept Popper’s concept of metaphysical research programmes. This subtracts Laruelle’s self-proclaimed uniqueness, and makes it possible to create useful comparisons and encounters between his views and those of others.

So I think Laruelle’s definition just creates an obstacle to research rather than allowing for or furthering progress.

NON-NEGATIVITY: place-holder for a future solution

The”non” of non-philosophy is the closest that Laruelle can get to productive negativity in his “non-philosophy” phase, an empty promise instead of the real thing. If we want to be charitable, we can call it the place-marker for a hoped for solution.

Laruelle eventually came to realise these problems with his position himself, and that his insistence on his being outside philosophy and of replacing it was an impossible utopian dream. This is why he moved on to “non-standard philosophy”, which comes much closer to a satisfactory formulation.

UNRELIABLE NARRATOR: non-philosophy as pseudo-science

Laruelle is often an unreliable narrator as to what he has in fact said. Here is a quotation from the introduction to A BIOGRAPHY OF ORDINARY MAN:

“the sketch, by way of an introduction, of the most general program of a rigorous science of man intended to replace philosophy and its avatars, the “Sciences of Man.” A transcendental science, which is to say a non-empirical science, but also not a “philosophical” one…”

Laruelle’s research programme here intends to replace philosophy, and it is unjustifiably called “science”, despite Laruelle declaring that it is “transcendental”, or “non-empirical”.

Laruelle’s constant recourse to this sort of word magic explains why we can never accept his definitions when evaluating his claims.


Do not take my word for any of this, only (re-)read for example Laruelle’s A BIOGRAPHY OF ORDINARY MAN with my comments in mind (there is no need to believe me) without automatically accepting his self-descriptions and self-evaluations, treating them not as posits to acquiesce to but as hypotheses to examine for their credibility, coherence and consequences, and you will be amazed.

Note: I am indebted to a discussion with Matt Barber for helping me to clarify my ideas on these topics.

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WHAT USE IS PHILOSOPHY?: peers or partisans

What use is philosophy? or non-philosophy? The honest answer is I don’t know, I have no idea. I am just a common man not a scholar or an expert, but I feel I am part of the larger philosophical community, of those that care about philosophy, even if I am not a professional philosopher.

How do I fit in? The answer is still ongoing, and this blog is part of it. What place is there for me? Precious little, just enough to go on. I don’t like party lines, cliques, tribunals, and exclusions.

I was banned from the Laruelle facebook page by the official Laruelleans because ignoring me and demanding that others do the same was not enough to reduce me to silence.

So I created my own space, once again, as I have always done, as I have seen this sort of behaviour before. Democracy is easier to talk about than to practice. People want simple answers.

This is why Bruno Latour’s emphasis on diplomacy and negotiation is a useful corrective. It reminds us that when anything worthwhile is at stake there are always several parties concerned, and that negotiation is our ordinary state.

This is what Paul Feyerabend calls an open exchange, and Deleuze and Guattari call an “arrangement”. “Agencement” is often translated as assemblage, but this may tinge it with a too mechanical connotation. It also means arrangement.

Full time professional or not, we are all peers, and our relations, insofar as they are democratic, are not imposed or fixed. We make our own arrangements. And I continue to make mine.

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READING “READING MARX” (1): replacement theories, scientism and the denial of time

I will be blogging my reading of “READING MARX” by Slavoj Zizek, Frank Ruda, and Agon Hamza, Chapter One by Zizek: “Marx Reads Object-Oriented Ontology”.

1) REPLACEMENT THEORIES: de-marxised ontologies

In the opening lines Zizek writes:

“The reading of Marx we really need today is not so much a direct reading of his texts as an imagined reading: the anachronistic practice of imagining how Marx would have answered to new theories proposed to replace the supposedly outdated Marxism” (page 17).

Zizek’s “imagined reading” outlines how Marx might have replied to a “complex field” of proposed replacement theories. Among these candidate successor theories he specifically cites object-oriented ontology, new materialism, and assemblage theory. He finds them to be superficially opposed variants of the same underlying ontology.

I do not wish to repeat mechanically Zizek’s analysis and examples, I prefer to substitute my own examples to test his analyses and to explore their convergences and divergences with my ongoing inquiry into contemporary Continental ontologies. On this blog, I have been analysing a different set of replacement theories (Graham Harman’s OOO, François Laruelle’s NP) and Bruno Latour’s AIME project). My analysis is convergent with Zizek’s on important points, although it differs on others.

My analysis of these replacement theories is in terms of post-Althusserian problematics. Althusser is not only an important predecessor, he determined and exemplified many of the terms of  the current conjuncture. His thought went through a scientistic phase, but he was able to overcome this scientism in the course of his ongoing self-criticism. This progress was not only epistemological, but also ontological. Althusser’s later aleatory materialism is a form of “quantum” thinking, elaborated in part at least in dialogue with Deleuze’s thought.

2) SCIENTISM: Laruellean denialism and Laruelle’s failed self-criticism

Laruelle’s non-philosophy is indebted to both Althusser and Deleuze, without his having given proper acknowledgement to either. In contrast, Laruelle’s scientism is a throwback to the earlier Althusser, and his own self-criticism is only very partially accomplished.

This problem of scientism highlights the dogmatic, nostalgic, monistic side of Laruelle that I have always rejected. Laruelleans typically deny that Laruelle is guilty of scientism, despite its presence on virtually every page he wrote.

The problem with this denialism in his disciples is that Laruelle himself acknowledges the problem, and claims to struggle against its primacy in his own work. Despite this admission, I think that Laruelle still fails to escape scientism. This is also Deleuze and Guattari’s conclusion in their discussion of Laruelle in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

Even if scientism is a real problem, I do not think that it is the principal one today. Both Harman’s and Latour’s projects are vigilant in their anti-scientism. However, they share with Laruelle a reductive impoverished ontology that requires supplementation to bring it back to a semblance of concrete relevance.

3) DEMI-POST-STRUCTURALISM: the absence of time

An important instance of this impoverishment is the absence of time in the three systems that I discuss (OOO, NP, AIME). Each is in need of diachronic supplementation to what is basically a synchronic system.

1) Graham Harman has made the explanation of change a central aspect of his polemic against relational ontologies. Yet he himself is incapable not only of explaining change, but even of acknowledging its reality: for Harman’s OOO time is unreal, a mere “sensual” supplement to real objects and relations.

2) Laruelle’s system is a-temporal (the Real) and structuralist (philosophy regimented by an invariant principle of sufficiency). Some Laruelleans try to remediate this defect by means of a standard temporal supplement (Bergson) or of a non-standard operator of temporalisation (“performance”).

3) Latour’s AIME project also suffers from the lack of a temporal dimension: the modes of existence are too incommensurable to interfere with each other, and so change can only come from outside the modes.

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THE SUPPLEMENT IS THE MESSAGE: on disposable ontologies

This strange logic of supplementation, where the seemingly derivative supplement to a philosophical system becomes hegemonic and all-pervasive, such that its proponents talk of the supplement almost all the time (to the detriment of its fundamental principles and self-declared original themes), is typical of recent movements in Continental philosophy.

OBJECT-ORIENTED PHILOSOPHY: beyond the apophatic veil

Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology starts with the fundamental posit that objects withdraw from relations. This is a powerful ontological thesis, but it leaves adherents in an enunciative void. It is in principle impossible to say anything about what is behind the apophatic veil of withdrawal.

To remedy this problem the real ontology requires the supplement of a second, sensual ontology, and pretty soon OOO is talking only about these supplementary sensual objects and relations. The much-touted return to the real becomes inverted into a renewed and reinforced immersion in illusion with a strong ontological prohibition of escape.

This sort of supplementation intended to cover over a weak point in one’s system, rather than to re-think or modify it, transforms a philosophy into its opposite.

NON-PHILOSOPHY: scientism’s non-self-overcoming

A similar process is at work in François Laruelle’s thought. Non-philosophy’s critique of standard philosophy’s failure to attain immanence needs to be supplemented by a notion of “transcendental” science, i.e. no science at all.

This purported science then becomes the thematic core of its enunciated content, and the formal law of its enunciation. The supplement takes over.

This is the deeper reason for Laruelle’s “quantum” turn. For a long time he was unable to critique his scientism – neither from without (as he is hindered by his non-philosophical blinkers, that blinded him to the existence of thought that escapes his critiques) nor from within (as his scientism pervades both everything he says and how he says it).

Laruelle was obliged to search within science itself a way out of scientism. In doing so he came to elevate an empirical discipline, quantum physics, to the position of transcendent principle, indulging in precisely the sort of manoeuvre that non-philosophy originally set out to critique and go beyond.

AIME: élitist posits as empirical inquiry

Bruno Latour’s AIME project proceeded in abstraction from all empirical content. He was obliged to posit a special religious mode of existence serving to ratify his own prejudices as to the underlying, and irrefutable, Catholicity of our society. Multiplying the modes of existence left him free to posit anything that suited his purposes.

The need to dissimulate this method of free positing explains why concrete “inquiry” became the key word for Latour’s methodological supplement to a basically dogmatic abstract approach.

At the level of form, AIME’s pluralistic post-scientific, post-referential truth ontological project is very abstract. As we have seen, it needed to be supplemented by the fiction of a concrete “inquiry”.

At the level of content, the inquiry needed to be supplemented by some empirical datum to produce the illusion of concrete application. Hence Latour’s logorrhea on Gaia, which as a multi-modal object is strictly incompatible with his system.

Notwithstanding this incompatibility, Gaia functions both as empirical supplement and retroactive legitimation to a shoddily constructed ontological system.

CONCLUSION: bridge hypotheses and supplement as mind-trick

In all these cases we have an originally innovative abstract hypothesis finding itself in need of bridging principles to relate its abstractions to our concrete life. These ad hoc bridges serve also to immunise the hypothesis from all critiques of its obvious failings.

Thus one can have one’s ontological cake (speculative boldness) and eat it too (empirical adequation). The more mind-bending your ontology the more arbitrary and desperate is the supplementation it needs to get back to the empirical world.

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AIME-LESS PROGRESS: convergent exchange and unearned supplements

I was an enthusiastic supporter and early contributor to Bruno Latour’s AIME project, as I hoped it would live up to its potential of providing a space of open-ended thought and of free exchange contributing to the elaboration of a contemporary pluralist ontology and epistemology.

However I soon came to suffer from the lack of critical discussion of Latour’s theses, and from the circular instrumentalisation of the AIME website as a tool of legitimation of its theses and of validation of its presuppositions rather than of their trial.

Latour uses a rhetoric of tests and trials borrowed from Popper, but made to function in support of a Kuhnian “normal” or conservative research and publication process.

My disappointment with Latour’s AIME project is that finally the mountain gave birth to a mouse. The original encyclopedic ontological treatise was presented as a first draft, and the website received contributions from many scholars and readers, who proposed many examples, modifications and extensions.

The result of all this ontological and epistemological research was not the publication of a new improved treatise but the production of some minor political spin-offs, presented as somehow “legitimated” by the preceding quagmire of book and site.

This is no mere contingent result, one due to “external” difficulties, such as finding time for writing and obtaining funding for publication. The  problem lies in Bruno Latour’s AIME methodology, which for all its pluralist clothing was ruled by a monist principle of convergence. Only convergent, or mildly divergent, contributions were validated, real trials were avoided, and conceptual progress was minimal.

I also think that Latour’s conception of teamwork can give a false sense of being open to critical discussion, as the team represents a typical case of selection bias: the more fundamental critiques have been filtered out by the conditions of membership in the team.

To take a specific example: there is no relation between Latour’s ontology of modes of existence and his discourse on Gaia. He could easily change the number, names, and specifications of the modes without having to change a word in his commitment to Gaia militancy. In fact the incessant talk about Gaia serves to cover up the fact that Latour has a very inadequate philosophy of Nature and that his idea of politics is very conservative.

Latour’s politics of Gaia is an anomalous supplement to his ontological system (which specifically forbids such multi-modal objects), yet it benefits from an unearned aura of legitimation provided by Latour’s jumping back and forth between the incommensurable registers of AIME and Gaia.

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STEVE FULLER AND THE POST TRUTH CONDITION (4): Brexit and Apophatic Theology

My method so far in this review (and more generally on this blog) has been the simple pluralist one of comparing rival hypotheses in order to give increased understanding (and I would argue increased content) to each hypothesis.The goal is not just increased understanding but also intellectual exchange and open-ended dialogue (a rarity today).

Steve Fuller’s new book POST-TRUTH Knowledge as a Power Game provides us with an excellent instrument for breaking up the monolithic authoritative voice assumed by rival research programmes such as Bruno Latour’s AIME project, and his own project contains many interesting ideas and useful suggestions in its own right. We need to put forth and discuss multiple hypotheses.

In Fuller’s Augustinian terms our speculative power is part of our nature as imago dei (in the image of God), our fall into authoritarian enforcement stems from peccatum originis (Original Sin), that needs to be constantly corrected. (cf. Steve Fuller, Foreword, THEISTIC EVOLUTION (Moreland et al., Crossroads, 2017).

In this foreword, Fuller highlights the empirical aspect of his thought, tying it to his anti-authoritarian sensibility:

“Moreover, public opinion surveys consistently show that people are pro-science as a mode of inquiry but anti-science as a mode of authority”

This citation expresses very clearly one of the key themes of POST-TRUTH Knowledge as a Power Game and it encapsulates the difference between fSteveFuller’s project and Bruno Latour’s AIME. Latour’s modes of existence are modes of inquiry. The problem is that they are also modes of authority, and he gives primacy in the modes and in his own inquiry to the authority of experts.

This pervasive authoritarianism explains why Bruno Latour’s “Inquiry” into modes of existence does not take into account the opinions of laypersons but only that of experts.

A bold imaginative leap in this regard is taken in Chapter One of Fuller’s  POST-TRUTH Knowledge as a Power Game with conjoining of the controversy over intelligent design and the Brexit debate. Given the strong anti-authoritarian aspect of the popular rejection of expert opinion and advice, Fuller’s social epistemology gets a closer grip on the forces at play than Bruno Latour’s AIME.

We must be wary of simply attributing a position to Fuller that we think we understand (e.g. ID equals fundamentalism) on the basis of Fuller’s attempt to give a fair discussion of competing alternatives. Fuller’s discussion is indirect and meta-, not directly partisan, although he has also made known his own views and suggestions.

Fuller’s own version of “intelligent design” is cosmological: suggesting that the universe is structured such as to be potentially intelligible to human understanding either as it is or, more likely, as it will become. It has logically nothing to do with the origins of life or of humanity, and is quite compatible with the orthodox neo-Darwinian account, although it does not require it or ratify it.

Fuller’s view is based on a principle of intelligibility. It is quite close to, but not identical to, Einstein’s “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility”. My worry here is that Fuller sometimes gives specific content to this “mystery”. However Fuller’s view is far more nuanced than most people realise. His difference with Latour’s AIME project is that Latour creates a separate mode of existence to protect this mystery from criticism, whereas Fuller treats his own specifications as empirical hypotheses.

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STEVE FULLER AND THE POST TRUTH CONDITION (3): post-truth, realism, and quantum thought

On this blog I have been analysing the work of contemporary Continental philosophers working in the domain of epistemological and ontological pluralism (Laruelle,  Latour, Zizek, Badiou, Stiegler) as articulating competing “metaphysical research programmes”. I employ this expression in Popper’s sense of general conceptual frameworks combining both speculative and empirically testable elements.

These pluralist metaphyisical research programmes can be analysed, compared, and put into dialogue in terms of an open set of heuristic criteria: degree and nature of pluralism, historicity, non-foundationalism, anti-essentialism, realism, apophaticism, testability. By means of this formal comparison we can better evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each programme, and make positive suggestions as to its improvement.

Steve Fuller’s research programme as it has emerged over a period of thirty years of published work, is an important contribution to that philosophical constellation, and allows for a richer critical discussion of shared and contested theses and concepts. In particular, his discussion of the concept of post-truth is an extremely useful contribution to the contemporary concern over the spread of the relativist idea that all thoughts are equal.

An interesting and important consequence of Steve Fuller’s critique of the one-sidedness of the pejorative definition of “post-truth” is that it must not be confused with relativism. Post-truth is not post-real, and one can have an epistemology that is both post-truth and realist.

A second theme of my blog that has emerged in my discussion of Laruelle and Zizek (and also of Feyerabend) is the possible elaboration of a “quantum” image of thought, in terms of an underlying vision that is separable to some extent from physics and transferable elsewhere (transversality). This quantum thought is something that Fuller has begun to discuss in recent years, and there is an extended discussion of quantum physics and modal power in his new book POST-TRUTH Knowledge as a Power Game.

This quantum vision must be kept in mind when we discuss Steve Fuller’s defence of the hypothesis of “intelligent design” (or ID), as quantum indeterminism and the ontological incompleteness of the past re-qualify what can be meant by “design”. Similarly we should be wary of conventional notions of intelligence when extrapolated onto the cosmological scale. Intelligent design is not necessarily intelligible design and by becoming more “God-like” we may well be becoming more unknown and unintelligible to ourselves than less.

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