French Philosophy Today: Summary of Chapter 1 – Badiou

French Philosophy Today, New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malaobu, Serres and LatourOver the coming days I will be posting brief summaries of the argument of French Philosophy Today: New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malabou, Serres and Latour, chapter by chapter. Here is the main argument of Chapter 1, on Badiou.

This first chapter probes the limits of Badiou’s “formalised inhumanism”. It argues that it is wrong to characterise the figure of the human that emerges in Badiou’s thought as radically new, and traces its similarities with other figures which Badiou rejects. For both Badiou and his antagonists, the human is irreducibly composite: it cannot be what it is without a constitutive relation to an instance of inhumanity or non-humanity outside itself. Badiou’s split anthropology of the “human animal” and the “immortal” faces one major structural and ethical problem, which arises from the way in which he seeks to understand the relation between the animal and immortal: he makes fidelity to a truth, and therefore humanity in its full sense, contingent upon an individual’s possession of what he calls “the one and only uniquely human capacity” (Métapolitique111/ Metapolitics 97-8), namely the capacity for affirmative thought. Such thought functions for Badiou as a “host capacity”, a boundary marker or a gatekeeper of the uniqueness of humanity among animal, organic and non-organic entities. Despite exploring several creative ways to overcome the problems caused by Badiou’s “host capacity” account of humanity, I conclude that it remains a thorn in the flesh of his claim that “several times in its brief existence, every human animal is granted the chance to incorporate itself into the subjective present of a truth” (Logiques des mondes 536 n11/Logics of Worlds 514 n11).

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7 thoughts on “French Philosophy Today: Summary of Chapter 1 – Badiou

  1. I think this is part of the contradiction in Badiou’s work between an aristocratic tendency and a democratic one. Truths and subjects are rare for Badiou, yet he affirms his faith that we all (human animals) have several chances to be incorporated in a truth, to become subject.

    • Thanks Terence, I agree there’s a tension. If I were to try to stick up for Badiou here I’d say that, unless you accept that the way things currently are is just fine and nothing needs changing, then there will inevitably be an “aristocratic” moment in your thought. Someone needs to start something new, and unless everyone does so at the same moment there will be a vanguard which, structurally, is hard (in some ways) to distinguish from an aristocracy. The important question, I think, is not whether or not there is such a moment, but how the broader system of your thought deals with it and what knock-on consequences it has elsewhere. In other words, the question is not whether there is an “aristocracy” but the nature of the division between the aristocracy from the rest, and how the system of thought parses out and conditions the difference between and treatment of the two groups. It’s the consequences that I’m uncomfortable with in the case of Badiou, especially in regard to where it leaves some of the weakest in society. The consequences are unintended, to be sure, but that doesn’t make them OK.

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