(Non-)Epistemology and Ontology: Three more definitions from Laruelle’s Dictionnaire

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Aesthetic / axiom / badiou / epistemology / form / Laruelle / legitimacy / matter / non-philosophy / ontology / science / transcendental

Laruelle, Francois. Dictionnaire de la non-philosophie. Paris, Kime, 1998. Original translation by Taylor Adkins.


Unified theory of science and philosophy that takes for its object and material the discourse which lays claim to a particular mixture of science and philosophy: epistemology.

Philosophy recognizes epistemology in two ways which are not always exclusive. It can treat it as a continuation of traditional philosophy of science, crystallized around the Kantian question of the possibility of science, often relating precise and delimited scientific problems to philosophical systems, whether classical or modern (Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Russell, Quine, etc…) along with traditional philosophical positions (realism, empiricism, idealism, etc.). It can also consider it as a relatively autonomous discipline—simultaneously more regional and more technical—whose sources or occasions are extensions beyond the mechanical or Euclidean geometry of the physical, or even “exact” model of the concept of science; or still it can consider the technological interpretations of this concept. With this more specific preference, the epistemological tradition, going strong for over a century, has become extremely multiform and varied in regard to the nature and order of grandeur of its objects and methods. Nevertheless, its object or its final interest always more or less explicitly remains the criteria of scientificity for science or the sciences. This question, in its constantly displaced and renewed repetition, is always understood as aporetic and even at times gives rise to an admission of failure, which is the motivation for “external” perspectives (technological, sociological, economic, political, and ethical) on science. The advent of epistemology under these hypotheses seems like a becoming-network of its concept of science in a complex, non-linear and instable system.

This “advent” of epistemology is explained, according to non-philosophy, by the fact that it treats (and only treats) local problems in a spontaneous way beginning with the reduction of science to isolated knowledges and theories, consequently to the detriment of the nature of its extreme poles of constitution which are supposed in advance and without examining the fundamental supports which are decided upon. Therefore, it supposes the general rule of an implicit continuity between scientific and philosophical concepts, the possibility of an amphibological recovery of the ones through the others. It simultaneously acts as though one could produce statements on science—which is already in itself problematic—and as though philosophy were on the contrary a simple passage to the limit of an object defined or definable by a universal correspondent, a passage which makes it impossible to speak specifically about this uniting (englobant) which is philosophy. Instead, non-philosophy admits that we cannot take science for an object in the manner in which epistemology has done by imposing a philosophical objectification and reduction on it, but that we can describe an “invariant” of philosophy, which, far from being reified in a model, enriches and multiplies the effects and in particular makes their experimentation possible. For its own account, it will use the material of epistemology; it will relate its amphibologies, justifiably that which functions as “continuity” and “recovery,” to an identity which determines them in-the-last-instance, but by conserving the terms and the words of epistemology which, in a certain way, it will axiomatize according to a transcendental, but not logical, mode. This labor will make it possible not to give this discipline up to its mechanically foreseeable advent and to liberate the sciences and philosophy from an overly narrow and historical image. It will then have to shed light on new problems which are embarrassing and poorly thought: the impoverishment of the notion of “domain,” the formation of disciplines whose interest is not simply theoretical, taking into account the conjunctions around analogies in the formation of a scientific problem, the status of applied sciences, the signification of ethical discourses accompanying scientific and technological developments, etc…The latter only appear for an instant and in this epistemological framework in a symptomatic form, because the inexplicitness of its concepts and an overly narrow, not quite universal comprehension of philosophy insist that it always proceeds under the same hypotheses, occasionally reversed and intensified, not recognized as such, but always given up to philosophical sufficiency. Hence some of the very narrow and consequently moral descriptions (it’s necessary to “get your hands dirty” in order to comprehend science, etc.).

The dualysation of epistemology in accordance with its two sources permits the liberation of the latter as transcendental orders, their unification without hierarchy or non-unitary unification. But, as a result, the object of epistemological discourses seems as though it never had anything to do with science since these discourses essentially suppose a continuity between their object and the knowledge of this object. Epistemology effectively yet confusedly makes use of philosophy on behalf of the sciences. By transforming it into material, non-philosophy will be able to utilize these discourses as a source of new scientific and philosophical problems and knowledges in the occasion from which philosophy and science work on an equal footing. For example, the geometrical concept of fractality can find a scientific usage without being geometrical for all that; it can also be formulated in natural language without becoming a philosophical or epistemological mixture through a non-philosophical process of universalization. Hence the new non-epistemological conceptions of induction, deduction, axiomatization, hypotheses, definitions, and other notions of traditional epistemology.

Formal ontology (Uni-versalized transcendental Logic)

Equivalent of transcendental Logic (under its “analytic” aspect) generalized under the uni-versal conditions of the vision-in-One. It contains the a priori non-autopositional moments which are equal to Position as dimension of the philosophical Decision. Counterpart of material ontology as generalized transcendental Aesthetic, the former would also be under the same uni-versal conditions and would correspond to Givenness.

A formal ontology does not exist as such in philosophy, but it does find its restrained forms here, for example in Kant’s “transcendental Analytic” (ontology or “transcendental” philosophy” “considers the understanding and reason even in the system of all the concepts and principles which are related to objects in general without admitting the objects which would be given,” Critique of Pure Reason, version B, part II, chapter III); and in Husserl’s “formal ontology” (the aprioritic doctrine of the object but taken on the modes of something in general).

Non-philosophy contains a “material ontology” or a “generalized transcendental Aesthetic,” uni-versalized in-the-last-instance, which is a theory of “something in general” insofar as it is given. It results from the work of the force (of) thought on the aspects of Givenness which are those of the philosophical Decision and in particular of this givenness par excellence which is that of the regional. It also contains its counterpart from the perspective of the Position which belongs to Decision. To the a priori of position correspond the non-autopositional a prioris of Transcendence, Position, and Unity. Why are these formal?

a) These a priori are all generalized and simplified in a non-autopositional mode in the sense that each of them, as cloned identity, in-the-last-instance escapes from or leaps beyond the contrasted couple which it forms with another or with itself in its being-doubled: they are all expressed in an equal way from philosophy in accordance with the One-real.

b) In particular, transcendental logic is generalized because it leaps beyond the disjunction of forms as intellectual or sensible: it also contains the clones of the sensible or intuitive forms (“Transcendence” and “Position” insofar as they are simultaneously intellectual and intuitive, ideal and sensible—topological), provided that they form, posit, or objectify something in general. The givenness/position couple (the leading thread in the research of the a priori) must be distinguished from the intellectual/sensible couple (which completely remains internal to philosophy, its frontiers being indeterminate and porous). The terms “formal” and “material” intend to surpass the formal/material philosophical couple and its internal folding, the Kantian projection of the intellectual form and the sensible intuitive form. These couples are restrained, even when they are no longer understood “metaphysically” but “transcendentally” (neo-Kantianism) and when form conditions matter a priori. This transcendental direction, still understood as circle or empirico-transcendental doublet, does not succeed in generalizing form (the formal) or matter (the material), i.e. in breaking the circle of their correlation or reciprocal determination and in positing relatively autonomous orders (in regard to the force (of) thought) of a generalized transcendental logic and aesthetic. This generalization is only acquired when the “transcendental subject” and its circle yields to the force (of) thought which alone is uni-versal and which alone can determine the a prioris of form and matter, of position and givenness, in their universal and equal validity for philosophical material.

Two complementary points follow:

1. Being given the uni-versal generality of non-philosophy, it is less a question in this universal transcendental logic of “categories” than transcendentals (the Other, Being, Unity, the Multiple, etc. and the One equally as objects of a theory); consequently, it is a question of transcendentals in their non-autopositional usage.

2. When non-philosophy breaks away from theories of something in general (object in general + given or matter in general), in the theory of some object X (the Event, the Subject, the Multiple, the Affect or something still more concrete) it must establish that which we will call the transcendental equation of this object X, i.e. to preliminarily define the type, order, nature and syntax of the non-autopositional transcendentals which in some sense establish the proper formula or “algorithm” for this object. The syntax of this system of transcendentals is always a mode of the determination-in-the-last-instance or envelops the latter.

Material ontology (Chôra, uni-versalized transcendental Aesthetic)

That which philosophy becomes or the function which it fulfills in relation with experience when its sufficiency is suspended by the force (of) thought and when it is reduced to its sense (of) identity. It then becomes the material a priori through which all phenomena are necessarily given; equal to the term of chôra in its non-philosophical usage.

Philosophy claims to give regional or singular phenomena through its form and submits them to its legislation. Consequently, it posits them according to the very diverse modes in its interior and from its relation to the experience of universal and necessary structures of the “a priori” type, which are all generally copied from the sciences. It therefore supposes: 1) a certain contingency or autonomy, indeed alterity, of experience in relation to these a priori; 2) a certain superiority, which is proper to it, over experience through the means of the a priori itself—to which it is however not reduced—through which it is the superior form still called “transcendental”: the principle of reason for example must be “grounded” in turn or “ungrounded” accordingly. Philosophy presents itself as both the ultimate legislator of experience as well as its a priori organon. As a whole, philosophy wills or desires its unity with experience, but this unity remains contingent, menaced, aleatory: reassuring it is the motor of the creation of new philosophies supposedly more in control of the real than preceding philosophies.

The suspension of the Principle of sufficient philosophy in its different stages (real, transcendental, a priori) liberates the identity (of) philosophy and transforms the latter in a general way into a noematic a priori of the World or all possible experience, but into an a priori itself of the non-philosophical type. Thesis: “everything, from experience, is philosophizable” never ceases being a new philosophical and antinomical decision, while philosophy is necessarily and universally equal to all phenomena without exception, if the diverse dimensions of the mixture of philosophy insofar as it is givenness—and from the latter with experience—are lived in their sense (of) identity through the force (of) thought. Philosophy ceases being the legislator of the event in order to become the a priori donator: mixture itself is given as identity.

The contingent relations of experience and philosophy are then intrinsically indissoluble or thought beyond all hierarchies. Hence an equivalence (without exchange or reciprocity) of identities (non-mixtures) which introduces democracy into the heart of the given or new experience. Every ontic or ontological and philosophical term of object or action, every statement, etc. is henceforth treatable as such an identity in which experience is immediately inscribed philosophically and philosophy immediately incarnated ontically in the same movement. This radical diversity of “material” identities forms a chôra to which philosophy and its necessary relation to experience are reduced. Philosophy is reduced to the state of simple “material” a priori, or “material” rather and thus itself becomes, under this form, the basic material of non-philosophy. This is the “uniformal” form of the material givenness of phenomena. It fulfills a function, but only from a simple a priori organon of experience. It corresponds to a “transcendental aesthetic” of the World or to whichever experience possible beginning from transcendence. “Aesthetic,” but which substitutes philosophy itself (its identity) and thus its relation to whichever experience for regional and limited models of givenness which are scientific, perceptual, artistic, etc. which would be grasped so as to be assured of givenness and its mastery over phenomena. “Transcendental,” but only because of the origin of this reduction in the force (of) thought. Its principle being the identity—but exercised in its real origin, not posited dogmatically—of Being and the Existent, it thus generalizes the fundamental axiom of a recent materialist ontology: mathematics=ontology (Badiou) by intending it for all experience possible beyond mathematics and by transcendentally determining this equation instead of passing over to a dogmatic thesis lacking any legitimacy other than being one decision among others. Philosophy as simple material ontology is a way of cutting materialism short as a hidden philosophical decision. Furthermore, by limiting philosophy to a simple aprioritic ontology of experience, non-philosophy legitimates it or validates it—in certain limits which precisely returns to the extrication of the violent and arbitrary act of auto-legitimation (including its Kantian auto-limitation or its deconstructive hetero-limitation) but which better assures it a necessary and positive function.

The Author

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  1. michaeloneillburns says

    thanks for posting this, the hard work of translation is appreciated. any news on a full length laurelle translation coming out?

  2. Hello Michael! Thanks for your comment, I’m glad to be of service. As for right now, I have an agreement with repress to send in to Cosmos and History (an online journal associated with them) an excerpt from the first chapter–I’d love to do the whole first chapter, but it’s 43 pages in the French, and I think they’re looking more for a 5-8000 word piece. Anyway, if that excerpt goes well and they decide to publish in the journal they will want to proceed with the whole book. I have just asked for the rights to a chapter of the book and/or the whole book depending on the above. Oh, the book in consideration is called Philoisophie et non-philosophie (1989), one of his more systematic accounts of non-philosophy.

    On the other hand, I have emailed Miguel de Beistegui about Laruelle’s Princips de la non-philosophie (1996), his self-proclaimed most important work. He is the editor of Palgrave’s Forum for French Philosophy which is dedicated to publishing translations of untranslated French philosophers. I should be hearing back from him soon on this possibility. Other than that, my friend Sid and I are pursuing the publication of his essay on Deleuze with a suitable journal. I’ll be sure to post when something interesting occurs.

    All the best,


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