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EVALUING LARUELLE: non-philosophy as pseudo-science

by Terence Blake

ABSTRACT
My theoretical work is organised around two heuristic hypotheses:
1) contemporary Continental Philosophies can usefully be viewed as metaphysical research
programmes in Karl Popper's sense
2) within the domain of contemporary Continental Philosophy a reconceptualisation of pluralism as
ontological realism is taking place.
It is from this perspective that I examine François Laruelle’s "non-philosophy" and "non-standard
philosophy" as metaphysical research programmes. I analyse its failure to live up to its own criteria
and evaluate it in terms of a set of pragmatic meta-ontological criteria. Laruelle correctly identifies
the "vice" of philosophical sufficiency but is himself unable to propose a fully-developped virtuous
alternative. In view of Laruelle’s claims to scientific status and of his inability to respect his own
criteria we must conclude that Laruellean non-philosophy is pseudo-science.

1) CRITERIA AND PROGRESs

François Laruelle has described his philosophical development in terms of successive phases, each
of which represents an advance towards a more generic thought by means of the dissolution of
philosophical obstacles. Looking back over these phases, we can see that Laruelle’s thought is self-
correcting, evolving over time. Yet this error-correction, however praiseworthy, has another side.
Laruelle has often absorbed the critiques made of his work by others, including those made by
Derrida and Deleuze without acknowledgement.
Laruelle's replies to his critics are very often unconvincing attempts to ward off objections that he
will later come to adopt in his own autocritique. For example, the critique of scientism, and more
generally of all philosophical reductionisms. This refusal of dialogue is a serious defect in a system
that valorises democracy.
Judging Laruelle immanently, by his own criteria (genericity, non-arrogance, non-reductionism,
democracy), we can conclude that his research programme has much room for progress and could
usefully profit from democratic exchange. Recent attempts at validating Laruelle’s ideas in terms of
the criterion of “performativity” actively hinder their immanent evaluation. Performativity is not
infallibility, and needs itself to be evaluated.
In a recent interview surveying the overall sense and direction of his oeuvre, self-styled “non-
philosopher” François Laruelle contrasts his search for “new” uses of philosophical concepts to the
arrogant, dogmatic use that philosophy has always made of its own conceptual creations. Laruelle
calls this “bad” use of concepts “philosophie suffisante”, which is usually translated as “sufficient
philosophy”. However, Laruelle is playing on another sense of “suffisant”, which in French can also
mean “arrogant” or “self-important”.
On these two construals of the term, Laruelle’s critique of sufficient philosophy is a form of virtue
epistemology, and for him the sufficient philosopher is not virtuous. Sufficient philosophy is not
only closed, selective and dogmatic, but also arrogant and authoritarian.
“Sufficient philosophy” is Laruelle’s name for the enemy, corresponding to what others have called
“onto-theology”. Laruelle’s work contains not only a critique of ontology, but also, in recent books
such as FUTURE CHRIST and CHRISTO-FICTION, a rejection of “theology”.
Striving to find a “new use” for religious concepts such as the Christ, he extends his critical analysis
of sufficient philosophy to the domain of sufficient Christianity and posits a new figure, that of the
“quantum” Christ. This quantization of Christ has much in common with Quentin Meillassoux’s
hyper-chaoticisation of God and falls prey to much the same objections; In particular, Laruelle’s
messianism cannot exclude the coming of a “quantum” flying spaghetti monster as synonym of his
own more traditional appellations.
An important conclusion of this discussion is that there is no saving metaphor: you can’t break from
the tradition simply by conserving its vocabulary and quantising, or “hyper-chaoticising”, the terms
that happen to please you more than the others. Something more is needed. Laruelle acknowledges
this problem, that a re-visionary conceptuality is not enough to ensure philosophical “virtue”. A new
use of concepts is required. Here, a second problem arises. Laruelle cannot just declare that he is
making new uses of old concepts, he must give us some reason to think that he is indeed doing so.
Laruelle constantly declares that he is not using philosophical material in the same old non-virtuous
way. Yet is it so? His Anglophone disciples do not bother to pose the problem, and take him at his
word. When they feel the need to justify Laruelle’s repetitous incantatory self-legitimations, they
talk of his “performative” style. However, this is to ignore that “performatives” have felicity
conditions, as Bruno Latour tirelessly points out. A performative can be inappropriate, inauthentic,
feigned, or irrelevant. It can be a fake or a failure.
The discussion takes place at such a high level of abstraction that we are often tempted to “take his
word for it”, but this would not be virtuous. It would also amount to attributing to Laruelle’s
propositions the very “sufficience” that he is attempting to break free of. In such a confused and
confusing situation, an example may help us to fix our ideas. In the aforementioned interview,
Laruelle sums up the difference between his approach and that of Alain Badiou:
“I find the reference to physics more fecund than the reference to mathematics.
Mathematics has always had to do with philosophical authority, while physics refers to
strategies of thought, to gestures of interpretation, as does quantum theory” (my
translation).

Here Laruelle is unwittingly repeating Badiou’s distinction between Truth and knowledge, between
the event of a new truth disrupting the static structures of authoritative, and authoritarian,
knowledge and that knowledge as instituted veridicity. Mathematics, for Laruelle, is always already
linked to synchronic domination, whereas physics is diachronic, mobilising “strategies” and
“gestures”.
Thus, Laruelle takes over Badiou’s distinction, which applies inside each domain insofar as it
participates in one of Badiou’s “truth-conditions” (art, politics, love, and science), and turns it into a
criterion of demarcation between static authoritarian domains and dynamic democratic ones. This is
a case where we can see Laruelle at work in what he calls a “new use” of philosophical material.
The philosophical material is Badiou’s conceptual distinction between Truth and knowledge,
alluded to in Laruelle’s distribution of roles between mathematics and physics. The “new use” is
Laruelle’s extraction of ths dialectical distinction from a dynamic historical perspective and his
reifying it into some essential distinction between domains.
Laruelle’s use of this philosophical material is abstract, universal and essentialist, whereas Badiou’s
use is in comparison concrete, historical, and dialectical. His attempt at new performativity fails, it
is sufficient and arrogant, and not virtuous.
Worse, Laruelle is incapable of recognising a more virtuous performativity when he comes across it
in Badiou, and instead of favourably citing Badiou in a democratic pluralist spirit as an exemplar of
his own goals, hailing his non-standard usages, he re-essentialises Badiou's propositions and thus
his own.

My theoretical work on pluralism in Continental Philosophy, embodied in diverse articles (see my


page on academia edu) and on the blog AGENT SWARM, proposes an outline, analysis, critical
discussion and evaluation of the major recent tendencies in contemporary Continental philosophy
(Zizek, Badiou, Laruelle, Lyotard, Bruno Latour, Bernard Stiegler). It argues for the overall guiding
heuristic hypothesis:
all of these seemingly incommensurable philosophies can be grouped together, compared, and
critically discussed under the general rubric of competing metaphysical research
programmes.
These different, and rival, Continental philosophies can be examined as "metaphysical research
programmes" in the sense of Karl Popper. Metaphysical research programmes, according to Popper,
contain both testable scientific components and untestable (for the moment) metaphysical
components. It is from this perspective that I wish to examine François Laruelle's non-philosophy
and non-standard philosophy as instances of metaphysical research programmes.
It is important to see how Laruelle's philosophy fares when examined non-tautologically, i.e. not
just in its own terms, but in terms of a different philosophical tradition. Laruelle talks a lot about
science, but his small circle of Anglophone supporters have no idea of developments in Anglophone
philosophy of science that would allow us to challenge both Laruelle's claim to uniqueness and his
pretention to the status of science.
A specific lexical problem arises for the vocabulary of Laruelle's "non-philosophy": the terms are so
defined that if one uses Laruelle's own definitions, non-philosophy comes out as vastly different
from and superior to its rivals. Non-philosophy in this sense is a self-indulgent exercise in
tautological lexical oneupmanship.
Yet we are constantly witness to Laruelle-inspired texts replete with grandiose pronouncements
about a so-called "democracy" of thought, claiming that there is no normative prescription obliging
us either to become non-philosophers or to be forever consigned to the inferior status of those who
hallucinate immanence without ever achieving it.
Philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and Alain Badiou are condemned for failing to attain the goal of
immanence, whereas non-philosophy supposedly attains this goal. Sadly, there is much will-to-
power, hypocrisy and double-talk among the "non-philosophers".
From the beginning of my theoretical work I have defended the thesis that Feyerabend's philosophy
is a useful instrument for examining contemporary Continental Philosophy, as it embodies many of
the same aspirations and anticipates many of the arguments that traverse Continental Philosophy
today.
Feyerabend's metaphysical research programme, as expressed for in his posthumously published
book CONQUEST OF ABUNDANCE (1999), is far less known and discussed than his earlier
epistemological anarchism. This research programme, sometimes described by Feyerabend as
epistemological pluralism combined with ontolgical realism, proposes a pluralist, diachronic,
realist, apophatic, democratic ontology.
This list of five criteria (pluralism, historicity, realism, apophaticism, democracy) gives us a useful
set of reference points for orienting ourselves in the sometimes confusing mass of conflicting
alternatives competing for our attention, and our adhesion, in the field of contemporary thought.
A second major thesis of my work is that philosophically we are currently traversing a period of the
reconceptualisation of pluralism, attempting to articulate its relation to realism, and to distinguish it
from relativism. This is what I have called the pluralisation and the immanentisation of Platonism.
Several philosophies partake of this general movement, but no one of them is satisfying enough to
absorb all the advantages of all of its rivals. François Laruelle's insistence on "quantum thought"
and "non-standard philosophy" is a very important contribution to the critical discussion of this
reconceptualised pluralism.
However, despite belonging clearly to this general movement, non-philosophy suffers from major
flaws arising from its denial, or ignorance, of kinship with other similar endeavours.
My two general theses are thus:
1) recent Continental Philosophies can be viewed as metaphysical research programmes in the sense
of Karl Popper.
2) a reconceptualisation of pluralism subsuming its epistemological realism under an ontological
realism is taking place.

2) TEN THESES ON LARUELLE

On the more specific question of the value of Laruellean non-philosophy, it is necessary to examine
the obstacles to its diffusion in English.
1) Corpus Incompletum: Laruelle's non-philosophy is insufficiently translated, and his master
work PHILOSOPHIE NON-STANDARD has yet to be translated.
2) Corpus Hermeticum: many of the existing translations are seriously flawed and contain
numerous errors. Some existing translators are not only not linguistically competent, but not
competent in relevant epistemology and philosophy of science.
3) Dogmatic Presentation: there is insufficient critical discussion of Laruelle's theses. The existing
discussion is mostly hagiographical. Critical analysis is ignored, stigmatised, or actively erased
from the sanctioned discussions. .
4) Lexical Obscurantism: Laruelle's style is obscure, mostly for terminological reasons: many of
key terms are undefined or very insufficiently explicated.
5) Solipsistic Promotion: Laruelle's self-description is problematic in that he presents himself alone
as attaining the immanence that other philosophers aim at without attaining. This is crucial to what I
call Laruelle's Uniqueness Hypothesis: there is only one non-philosopher, Laruelle.
6) Tautological Validation: Laruelle's vocabulary is designed to validate the superiority of his own
philosophy compared to that of his contemporaries.
7) Ideological Protection: in reply to objections, ad hoc defences of Laruelle's ideas have been
advanced, notably the hagiographic syntactic defence of Laruelle's difficult style as expressing the
"syntax of the real", and the pragmatic defence of Laruelle's dogmatic and solipsistic approach as
embodying philosophy as performance.
Both of these notions (syntax of the real, performance philosophy) are attempts to elude the very
real semantic obscurantism of Laruelle's texts. Both illegitimately grant infallibility to Laruelle's
pronouncements.
8) Epistemological Naiveté: ignorance of relevant developments in 20th Century philosophy of
science which cast Laruelle's scientism in a very unsatisfactory light.
9) Historical Misdescription: Laruelle's biased depiction of the historical context (what I have
called Laruelle's "time machine"). Much of what Laruellle says belongs to a twenty or thirty year
old context. Many of the critiques he proffers as his own were anticipated and replies were
elaborated decades before he advanced them.
10) Sutural Reductionism: all of Laruelle's Anglophone presenters write each under the dictation
of a particular suture: religious, political, artistic, or scientific. Thus alongside duplicates of
Laruelle's own scientism we are confronted with religionism, aestheticism, and politicism. The full
extent of Laruelle's research programme, expounded outside the obedience to any particular suture,
is as yet absent in English.

3) PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY: creative tension or self-paralysing conflict?

Laruelle's PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY was published in French in 1996. Some people


have claimed that it is in part a response to Deleuze and Guattari's book WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?,
published in 1991. I do not think this is so, which is just as well as in this case it would be a very
bad reply. It reads more like part of Laruelle's continuing reply to Deleuze's DIFFERENCE AND
REPETITION (1968).

I have several times commented on Laruelle's "time machine" effect (see Appendix) in his relation
to Badiou. In this book and in later ones, in particular ANTI-BADIOU, Laruelle shows no sign of
having come to grips with Deleuze and Guattari's ANTI-OEDIPUS (1972) or A THOUSAND
PLATEAUS (1980). Deleuze remains for Laruelle a frozen photo, a conceptual persona, the
philosopher of difference and not of multiplicities. For more on this see my article LARUELLE
AND DELEUZE: From difference to multiplicity.

Laruelle's PRINCIPLES OF NON-PHILOSOPHY (1996) embodies a great tension, in several


respects. It contains at once the retrospective summation and systematisation of his preceding non-
philosophical works and a prospective programmatic statement of the principles that will lead to the
later non-standard philosophy.

Further, the book embodies a tension between two voices.There is the non-standard voice of an
unknown stranger and an unassimilated foreigner in Laruelle's texts ("étranger" in French means
both stranger and foreigner) along with the standard voice of a Continental academic philosopher.
Even the title of the book expresses Laruelle's awareness of, and struggle with these two voices.

Laruelle's appeal and continuing relevance lies in the difficult and conflicted harmony (or at least
co-presence) of these two voices. He maintains the exigency of immanence in perhaps its purest
form today, although that very purity may have prevented him from attaining it except in its most
general, and programmatic, outlines.

Reading this book and the immediately preceding books (where Laruelle tries to come to terms with
Lacan) and also the succeeding ones (where he tries to come to terms with Levinas and Althusser),
we can see that something more than non-philosophy is required if Laruelle is to actually implement
his research programme.

Laruelle is in need of a non-standard supplement to allow him to pass from the critique of
philosophy's sufficiency and abstract programmatic talking about a different mode of thinking to its
concrete practical effectuation. He responds to this need for a supplement providing the bridge from
critique of philosophy (negative heuristic) and programmatic principles (positive heuristic) to
concrete application first by a supplementation with a gnostic dramatisation of the figure of Christ
(FUTURE CHRIST) and second with the quantum meta-modelisation of thought (in NON-
STANDARD PHILOSOPHY).

These bridging principles of Christ and Quantum are insufficient as "Christ" is already too concrete
a concept, and is insufficiently generic. On the other side of the attempted bridging, Laruelle's
"quantum" thought is too abstract, and he is unable to determine it outside a very obscure
conceptual jargon.
Unable to produce the necessary bridging principle for the non-standard implementation of his
thought, Laruelle proceeds to simply combine in an abstract-concrete hybrid these two
unsatisfactory attempts, identifying Christ and the quantum, in CHRISTO-FICTION.

We can conclude that despite the seeming promise of the (negative and positive) heuristic principles
of Laruelle's metaphysical research programme it is missing a crucial element: namely the bridging
principle that would permit the practice of non-philosophical thought. This un-bridged gap accounts
for the disappointing attempts at realisation, usually amounting to repetitive affirmations of a "new
use of philosophy" by Laruelle and his disciples, as if simply proclaiming something made it so.
This inability to bridge the gap between principles and performance characterises Laruellean non-
philosophy as a form of performative idealism.

This gap also explains Laruelle's persistent blindness with respect to other thinkers that do achieve a
non-standard use of philosophy: Foucault, Michel Serres, Deleuze, Latour, Stiegler, the later Badiou
(LOGICS OF WORLDS), Zizek. Beyond any personal dynamics and academic positioning, there is
a fundamental fault in the system, a conceptual blindspot, and the voice of the stranger is stifled yet
again.

Laruelle exhibits a real deficit of immanence. He claims scientific status in virtue of his unique
appropriation of immanence. Yet his critique of his contemporary rivals is laid out in terms of a
transcendent structure of sufficiency. Laruelle seems absolutely incapable of immanent critique, or
even of recognising the real role of immanence in philosophers such as Deleuze and Badiou.
We are forced in view of Laruelle’s claims to scientific status and his inability to respect his own
criteria to conclude that Laruellean non-philosophy is pseudo-science.

APPENDIX: DIS-ANTI-BADIOU or Laruelle's ANTI-BADIOU as time machine


A striking example of Laruelle's sufficiency and blindness can be found in his (non-)reception of
Badiou.

Laruelle published ANTI-BADIOU in 2011, discussing Badiou’s philosophy from the point of view
of his own “non-philosophy”. In another article I have undertaken the sketch of a response, not by
replying to the book itself, but by doing the same sort of thing as Laruelle: describing how his non-
philosophical project appears when viewed through Badiousian spectacles.
My hypothesis is that Laruelle’s ANTI-BADIOU (2011) can properly be understood as belonging
with the initial responses to BEING AND EVENT (1988) published in the immediately succeeding
years by Rancière, Desanti, Lyotard, and culminating in Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS
PHILOSOPHY? (1991).
Laruelle’s book functions as a time machine back to that period in that it does not take into account
Badiou’s evolution since that time. In the intervening period Badiou undertook an immense work of
extension, reformulation, and conceptual invention, culminating in a second volume, LOGICS OF
WORLDS, which was published in 2006 .
During that period Badiou elaborated an encounter with and a theorisation of “antiphilosophy” in
his seminars from 1992 to 1996, treating successively Nietzsche (1992-93), Wittgenstein (1993-94),
Lacan (1994-95), and Saint Paul (1995-96).
None of these developments are taken into account in Laruelle’s book. Yet, as Badiou’s recent book
MÉTAPHYSIQUE DU BONHEUR RÉEL shows, this running engagement with “anti-philosophy”
has always been central to Badiou’s project and continues to be so today. These considerations are
essential to his work in view of a third volume of BEING AND EVENT on subjectivation, whose
tentative title is THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS.