Thoughts on François Laruelle’s Preface and Introduction to Principles of Non-Philosophy (as translated by Fractal Ontology’s Taylor Adkins)

Taylor Adkins, from Fractal Ontology, has graciously shared with me some advanced rough drafts of his continuing translations of François Laruelle’s work from French into English. This morning I read one of the more introductory, programmatic pieces he sent — the preface and introduction to Principles of Non-Philosophy. This outlines in broad strokes Laruelle’s notion of “non-philosophy,” which, from what I gather, is one of the central themes of his work. The work exhibits an uncommon originality in its interpretations of traditional philosophical (and extra-philosophical) problems, accompanied by a casual erudition which appeals to my tastes greatly. Personally, I do foresee problems (or at least significant obstacles) which will present themselves to Laruelle’s enterprise, which may be dealt with more or less adequacy. Given the competence and ingenuity he displays in this short piece, however, I have no doubt that he will make an honest go of it. It would be ridiculous, in any case, to demand an exhaustive treatment or solution to these problems from a work which he openly admits is propaedeutic in its function (i.e., it only aims to be “the most complete introduction to non-philosophy in the absence of its realization”).

What follows are my initial thoughts in response to this piece. I will refrain from idle speculation into those sections which exceed my topical familiarity at present, and focus mostly on some of the references and implications which I take to be most plainly evident in the text. In this way I might perform some small service of gratitude to Taylor for offering his work for discussion, contributing the occasional insights my background makes available for those who are interested. It is quite possible that my own take on what Laruelle is trying to say is mistaken; aware of this fact, I welcome criticism and correction from all sides.

Departing from the continental orientation toward questions of ontology (the logic of Being) and its differential corollary of alterity which has predominated in recent years, Laruelle grounds his exposition of “non-philosophy” in its (ontology’s) traditional rival, henology (the logic of the One). This classification is misleading, however. For Laruelle’s conception of the One is highly idiosyncratic. It differs in many respects from the object of the classical Platonic, Stoical, and Spinozistic henologies — the One(s) which philosophically ground(s) the order of appearances in their modal correspondence and community with one another.

On this point we may elaborate. Specifically, Laruelle seems to take issue with the place the One occupies within philosophies and mystical tradition, as something which is accomplished or realized through the relation of its subsidiary modes. This holds whether the One is reached by speculative/dialectical ascent (as in transcendental and Hegelian logic) or through revelation or religious vision (as in mysticism). This is why categorizing Laruelle’s thought as henological is potentially confused, because any “logic” which is thought to articulate the One cannot be conceived as literal. It can appear only in scare-quotes, since the One “is immanent (to) itself rather than to a form of thought, to a ‘logic.’”

Instead of being a mere object of philosophical and mystical discourse, a metaphysical ultimate, Laruelle therefore suggests that the One is already the Real, and constitutes the sole ground by which experience (and thus philosophy) are even possible. The inversion lies here: the One does not philosophically ground reality; rather, the One really grounds philosophy (along with every other mode of knowledge or experience). Moreover, this ground is original — which is to say that it does not follow from anything, but everything follows from it. Hence his repeated emphasis on the transcendental status of the One (the Kantian “conditions necessary for the possibility of”). These two aspects, the original and the transcendental qualities of Laruelle’s One, together form the critical points on which the thrust of his argument rides.

These may be briefly elaborated. We shall begin hermeneutically, investigating the “original” dimension of Laruelle’s notion of the One. I assert that this lies plainly in its appellation as a “[r]adically immanent identity.” “Radical” is here not taken in its vulgar sense as indicating extremity, but rather in its more basic Latin sense (derived from radix, radicalis), designating the One’s originary status as the “root” of all else. Laruelle, well-versed in Kant, is doubtless aware of this meaning of “radical,” as Kant so famously employed it in his discussion of “radical evil” in his 1793 Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.

The “transcendental” aspect of the One appears in the threefold delineation of the “terms” which Laruelle takes it to “contain.” He describes these terms as “[1] a real or indivisible identity—the One-Real; [2] a term = X properly called, received from transcendence and which therefore is not immanent; [3] finally a term called ‘transcendental Identity,’ a veritable clone of the One which the term = X extracts from the Real.” Laruelle quickly reminds the reader that “in reality” (the way it is in-itself) the One is not reducible to any of these “terms.” However, an elucidation of these terms is appropriate to our discussion.

The first term bears the most similarity with mystical notions of the One, akin perhaps to the apeiron of Greek cosmology (the primal, formless chaos of Anaxagoras, Anaximander, etc.). It illustrates its primordial, undifferentiated identity.

The second term obviously alludes to the crucial passage in Kant’s “Transcendental Deduction” in the first (1781, A) edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, wherein he explains the proposition “A = B” (that is to say, the relation of subject to object, the “dyad” of which Laruelle speaks) rests on the transcendental possibility of their relation = X. As Laruelle writes, this term is “received from transcendence” because it transcendentally (noumenally) grounds the relation of a subject and a predicate which appear (phenomenally) unlike. Kant describes this as a necessary postulate of reason, a negative limit which can be invoked but not positively described. Laruelle later (implicitly) chides the reflective wonder which Kant tacitly adopted from Leibniz in viewing the amenability of the objective world to subjective cognition of it as justifying “the postulation of a ‘miracle,’ common sense or pre-established harmony, which dedicates philosophy to begging the question.”

The final term, as Laruelle tells us, is abstracted/extracted (“over” and “out”) from this relation (X). In this respect the One is a clone (thereby ectypal) rather than original (archetypal) because it is conditioned by our empirical recognition of the relation by which we identify it. The dyad of A = B vows “revenge” on its duality, on its mutual alienation from its other, and “resigns its desire by extracting an image from the One (of) the One where the latter is not alienated.” I suspect this refers to the Hegelian henology, and accounts for the reciprocality of its 2/3 and 3/2 “fractional matrix.” The “3” side invariably refers to the transcendentally exterior “synthesis,” while the “2” refers to the immanently interior dualism of “thesis” and “antithesis” (to use crude Fichtean terms).

It is my belief that Laruelle intends to identify non-philosophy primarily with the first of these terms, the “One-Real.” Only this term is truly original and “radically immanent.” The second term, by contrast, is based on an observation of a relation in Being and is thus ontological; the third term simply takes this ontic relation and purifies it logically. Laruelle suggests that Marxism came close to making the “discovery/invention” (a beautiful paradox) of the One-in-One or One-Real, by inverting Hegel’s idealism into materialism/realism. Still, it had fallen prey to the old Hegelian practice of scolding the “common consciousness” (only now it was “false consciousness”) as an “ideological” byproduct over which it exalted itself as a material science. Again it fell back on assigning to ordinary cognition a regrettable status as non-philosophical, or “unscientific” (to use a Leninist epithet).

Laruelle says early on that philosophy should remove itself from its elitism, reconciled with “democracy.” In granting non-philosophy some efficacy of its own (autonomy), he hopes to liberate it from its theodical subordination to the triumph of philosophical consciousness. And while non-philosophy might never be “the educator of philosophy,” it should nevertheless be understood as equiprimordial with it. In providing a genetic account (from and not to) of their ontological bifurcation from the henological One, Laruelle might help philosophy forget its vanity and see the common origins (roots) it shares with non-philosophy, whether “common consciousness” or even regional knowledges (natural sciences, disciplines).


This calls to mind the assurance in apophatic theology that in His simplicity, God is not reducible to any of the terms by which He manifests Himself to creation (i.e., as God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit in Christianity; as Jehovah, Elohim, YHVH in Judaism).

See the section on “Teleological Judgment” in the third Critique.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on François Laruelle’s Preface and Introduction to Principles of Non-Philosophy (as translated by Fractal Ontology’s Taylor Adkins)

  1. Ross! This is truly a wonderful post. You did exactly what I hoped, which is to help situate Laruelle in terms of his idealist predecessors whom he has so much admiration (and argumentation) for. I liked this illumination on henology and apeiron, though I haven’t come across either of those terms until now. I still need to get back to you about Fichte, but I took it that your illustration of the three moves…well, as far as I can tell, those three moves are–and maybe I’m wrong, but he goes into more detail in chapter 6 of Princips–the ones that we talked about, namely the ones modeled after Fichte’s fundamental principles about self-positing, reciprocal determination of the self and non-self, etc. I haven’t read the System in over a month, so I really should get back to that. There’s an interesting book which Laruelle and his non-phi collective issues which is about the Non-philosophy of contemporaries…anyway, some of the names included are Althusser, Russell, Badiou, Deleuze (his only essay in there), Fichte, Wittgenstein, Sartre, Kojeve, etc. I was thinking about trying to get a copy of it to see the essay on Fichte for possible translation purposes.

    Also, three of us (Nick from accursed share and Ben from naught thought) have created a new blog called Speculative Heresy (Laruelle likes to say that non-philosophy does not proceed by revolution–which is too philosophical–but by mutation, and lately this has taken on the form of heresy (to the dogma/priesthood of the philosophical decision?). In any case, I was thinking that your critical voice would be a wonderful asset for the site and I’d really hope you’d contribute pieces like these to the site (not at all keeping you from posting them on your own thought). Here’s the idea: we basically conceive Speculative Heresy to feature a wide range of voices on Laruelle, non-philosophy, transcendental empiricism/materialism and speculative realism (all broad names, but Laruelle is not the only one…Brassier and Meillasoux are some other names)…we hope to make it basically the one-stop site for all of these things, including commentary, book reviews, translations of Laruelle and various non-philosophy gurus, notes, upcoming conferences, etc. I think your overall insight and your particular strength in German idealism would inevitably add a great deal to helping relate non-philosophy back to its material, i.e. philosophy! In any case, the site was just put up a few days ago, so I will let you know when more material comes up and things start happening. I’m extremely glad that you enjoyed Laruelle as I thought you would have!

    All the best,

    Taylor

  2. Taylor,

    Thank you for your praise. I must say I am flattered by your invitation to participate in your new blog. I’d be thrilled to join in this project — so count me in! I’ve always flirted with heterodoxy, if not outright heresy. So while I might occasionally still prove loyal to traditional (dogmatic) philosophy, this could provide a nice outlet for my heretical tendencies.

    In any case, I’ll be sure to limit my commentary to things that are eminently pertinent to non-philosophy. I will, of course, have to rely on your translations and articulations of the non-philosophical position (as represented by Laruelle & others), as I am not generally acquainted with it outside of what you have already shared with me. But if you feel that I can make worthy contributions to your new blog, I would be more than happy to offer my services in this undertaking. How does this sort of thing work? I’m rather new to blogging and don’t know how to join an already-existing blog.

    Best,
    Ross

  3. Pingback: Francois kratz | Syr21

  4. Pingback: “Interview with Anthony Paul Smith on the slow reception of philosopher François Laruelle,” by C. Derick Varn | The Charnel-House

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s