New Translation of F. Laruelle’s “The Science of Phenomena and the Critique of Phenomenological Decision”

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The Science of Phenomena and the Critique of Phenomenological Decision


F. Laruelle. “La Science des phénomenes et la critique de la décision phénoménologique.” Analecta Husserliana 34 (1991: 115-127).

Translated by Taylor Adkins (6/15/20)

 1. The Scientific Rectification of Phenomenology


Every science is “science of phenomena.” Yet how do we give a founded and rigorous content to the connection of science and phenomena as such, how do we articulate the one and the other in a science, and how do we pass in this way from the generic and positivist formula to the scientifically elaborated concept of phenomenon? No doubt, this program belongs to any phenomenology whatsoever, provided that it always be somewhat a metaphysics and therefore a science of being. And yet this program surpasses the phenomenological horizon. What can surpass the phenomenological and ultimately metaphysical horizon? Maybe a deconstruction, but also perhaps a science, insofar as, by definition, it would have never been a science of being. Here, in the realization of this program, we will allow ourselves to be guided by the Idea of the radical autonomy of science-qua-thought with respect to thought in a metaphysical and therefore also phenomenological mode. We will put this idea to the test later on. What does such an idea initially entail?

Following in the footsteps of many other thinkers, Husserl receives the notion of “phenomenon” with three usages (the Greek and ontological use; the modern, critical, and subjectivist use; and then the positivist use), and he “modifies” this notion in the sense of transcendental idealism, which is scientific strictly in the sense in which it is philosophical. If, on the contrary, we suppose that science is science by itself and not because of its philosophical foundation, that philosophy as rigorous science is the dream of science but not science itself, then a science of the phenomenon supposes much more than its phenomenological modification; it supposes the scientific rectification of phenomenology itself, which has been science only in the sense in which metaphysics has always believed itself to be. Here’s the program: beyond phenomenology as science of the phenomenon or beyond the deconstruction of phenomenology, there is still the path of a non-phenomenological science of the phenomenon, of a “non-phenomenology,” which is the radical realization of a science of phenomenology rather than the realization of phenomenology as science. The two solutions we are now excluding both move in a certain inevitable vicious circle, a circle of the phenomenon and the logos or of phenomenological Difference in which all philosophies somewhat move. This difference, this eternal conflict of the phenomenon and the logos, of phenomenology and metaphysics, is still metaphysics, its range and wingspan, its capacity to dilate and to support difference. This kind of civil war wherein the phenomenon and the logos mutually encroach upon and determine one another is however no longer our problem, since we are supposing that science neither works nor thinks under the authority of the logos. It is the simple material of a new science, a science of philosophy and of phenomenology in particular.

The task is therefore to produce a concept of science that is no longer philosophizable, that is neither empirico-positivist nor transcendental-idealist, that no longer depends on a philosophical decision in general but roots science in itself, in an absolutely specific and primordial mode of thought. We will have to at least make a scientific thought (and no longer just knowledges) plausible, a thought that reconciles the most extreme realism and a dimension we shall continue to call “transcendental,” (albeit for new reasons, those of a radical immanence unknown to metaphysics, i.e. to philosophy). If every science therefore reposes in itself in this way and if it possesses this transcendental power, a particular, real science of philosophy becomes possible in lieu of the old dream of philosophy-as-science, albeit a science that will not degrade philosophical decision (in the empirico-positivst manner of the Vienna Circle, for example). The scientific critique of philosophy (and therefore of phenomenology) must emerge from science itself, insofar as science possesses an “interiority” inaccessible to the philosophical logos or to the philosophical concept and is more powerful than them.

It is consequently within the interior of a general program of an “empirical” science of philosophy—empirical rather than empiricist—that we shall inscribe this scientific reflection of the phenomenon for which phenomenology is nothing but a simple material to be worked on. An “empirical” science of philosophy in fact implies that it stops being merely the power to legislate on itself, that it is—rather than the mere circle of an auto-comprehension and an auto-legislation—also and as such (yet now under a non-philosophical reason) a simple, philosophically inert or sterile given for a discipline that reposes on other principles. If we assume the radicality of this program, we will have to acknowledge that a whatever philosophical decision [une décision philosophique quleconque] (the phenomenological, for example) is stricken by a radical contingency by science, for which it becomes a simple object. This is scientific and no longer philosophical contingency, for example the History of Being and the Destiny that gives it. Once achieved, this scientific rectification of the phenomenological representation of the phenomenon will allow us to conclude that phenomenology is still a manner of forgetting the essence of the phenomenon, that Husserl’s interminable discourse is its logical negation, that the logic or onto-logic of the phenomenon is merely its philosophy, not its science (if at least the essence of science is no longer allowed to be determined like philosophers believe to determine it spontaneously and always as a deficient mode of the logos, sometimes understood as an onto-logic, sometimes as a deconstruction of logic). The transformation of philosophy into a scientific continent can only occur from a non-philosophical point of view, a point of view where the real is no longer confused with the logical by any means—the logical in every sense of the word and in the sense of the logos in particular. The dissolution of the amphibology of the real and the logos, of the transcendental and the logical, and ultimately of science and philosophy is the absolute condition for this constitution of philosophy into a new scientific continent. And what necessitates this dissolution is science itself.

2. The Phenomeno-logical Modification of the Phenomenon


“Phenomenon” is initially an empirico-ideal given, a notion of ordinary and philosophical language received as such by phenomenology. Phenomenology treats the phenomenon according to a body of invariant rules that will be described. It thereby produces the properly philosophical concept of “phenomenon.” But is phenomenology (i.e. a supplementary philosophy) capable—in the two forms in which it understands the logos, i.e. as science of being and as deconstruction of this science—of elaborating a rigorous scientific concept in the way it believes to be able to do? We mean by rigorous scientific concept necessarily already what the idea of an autonomy of scientific thought requires: a concept that is (1) proper or specific to the thing, capable of explicating the identity of the phenomenon; (2) descriptive of said phenomenon, i.e. founded in the immanence of knowledge to the real of the phenomenon; (3) radically transcendental, not still impregnated with sensible or cosmological determinations; a concept that wouldn’t be surreptitiously empiricist, that wouldn’t specularly reflect its object, whether it be the empirical given of the phenomenon or its real essence. Such a concept will have to show or describe in its “transcendental purity” (Husserl) but also in its non-empirical reality the essence of the phenomenon (the phenomenon as such) and eliminate the pragmatic or utilitarian circles between its transcendent empirical sides (for example, its cosmological, solar, and diurnal sides such as Heraclitus conserves for it) and its essence or its reality. This requirement is all that a science (perhaps unlike philosophy) can and must intend in the idea of “transcendental purity.”

It is obvious that the phenomenological treatment of the phenomenon has never satisfied these criteria. Like any philosophical decision, phenomenology is an articulation or a syntax that assembles unitary dualities, i.e. dualities obtained by way of division or scission and simultaneously surmounted or reunified by way of synthesis. Whatever their modes may be, these are invariants. Certain types of unitary dualities obviously organize phenomenological description: for example, the decision of the empirical and the a priori, of the real and the ideal; then the decision of the a priori and the transcendental, of ideality and reality in the transcendental-idealist sense. These dualities interlock together and generate one another circularly within an identity or a Unity that is susceptible to division and fulfills secondary functions as the agent of reconciliation. The phenomenological concept of phenomenon does not have a proper or specific reality; it merely expresses this labor and this trajectory of phenomenological decision imposed on it from outside or in a transcendent way.

(1) On the one hand, its a priori idealization or its eidetic reduction—the distinction between appearance and the object appearing (a distinction Husserl makes into the Archimedean point of his whole enterprise)—continues to internalize empirico-transcendent determinations in the a priori of the phenomenon, in the concept of appearance as lived experience; otherwise, there is the thunderbolt and the whole Heraclitean cosmological apparatus, with daybreak manifesting beings in a solar mode, at least the model of perception and intuitive seeing or intuition (Anschschauung), which is inseparable from the transcendence of the transcendent object insofar as it is so idealized. The eidetic reduction of the phenomenon is not enough to really eliminate the risk of a transcendent empirical sensibilization of its reality—it is, on the contrary, this sensibilization representative of the philosophical type of manifestation that remains Greco-cosmological at base. Husserl ensconces “scientific” phenomenology on a simply meta-physical concept of the phenomenon. He “exposits” it in a transcendental aesthetic no doubt, but an aesthetic that is still eidetic, too idealizing, precisely so as not to specularly reflect in it the empirical and transcendent side of phenomenality. A science cannot remain content with this Greek imagery, which is the real content of philosophical speculation.

(2) On the other hand, this initial duality extends (yet does not extend itself without surpassing itself) into another duality, the duality of a priori essence and reality, the duality of appearance qua lived experience distinct from the appearing and the real immanence of the phenomenon, from its absolute given in its “transcendental purity.” Here, the process involves a purification and a realization that are transcendental or founded in the immanence of absolute givenness. Nevertheless, purification is not purity, no more than realization is the real or givenness the given. These are still operations or decisions that suppose, on the one hand, what is required (the purity, the reality, and the given of the phenomenon, i.e. its absolute, specific, and immanent identity) and, on the other hand, the preceding distinction upon which they work but whose transcendent elements they internalize a little more without really managing to suspend them. That the transcendental ego does not contain the “least bit of the World” is a true assertion, but only in the sense in which the World as a whole and as such is contained there—the World as a whole, i.e. philosophical decision as such.

“Presence,” “truth,” “the definitive and veritable absolute” is what Husserl calls this process (which is still transcendent or includes within it the transcendence of decision, i.e. of reductions) through which he intends to acquire—and acquire by force—the absolute given of the phenomenon and the phenomenon of the absolute given. This process bears witness to philosophical “truth” but certainly not to scientific truth. “Presence” is not immanence; presence is the repression of immanence or its loss. Phenomenological decision at most produces a flocking of concepts of phenomenon, a continuum of modifications obtained by way of division and identification. The phenomenon loses its identity here, both the immanence and the identity of its reality or of its essence and the descriptive rigor of its concept. It disperses its identity, dissolves its reality and its given by way of definitions both total and partial. Both the sense and the ordeal [1] of radical immanence are lost with phenomenological decision, which nevertheless solicits them. This logic explains certain infamous phenomenological “nuances,” like the impossible and incessant search for the phenomenon’s essence. The transcendental radicalization of the phenomenon has never procured the phenomenon as the radical of manifestation but has at most supposed it, i.e. presupposed and divided or alienated it in cosmological and intuitive representation. This interminable circular process does not respond to any criteria of a scientific theory of the phenomenon but merely cooks up the impossible phenomenological dream of science.

As for the Heideggerian deconstruction of phenomenology, it no longer reaches the real identity of the phenomenon. The possibilization of the latter proceeds by relating the possible or the a priori of the phenomenon to a “real,” no doubt, but a real coupled (albeit coupled in other ways) with the Greek and ideal possibility of the phenomenon. Heidegger condenses this possibility in the generic formula of “that which appears or unveils itself, that which manifests itself.” As for the “real” which founds this possibility, it is obviously “withdrawal” or “veiling,” at least such as it prevails here over the unity it also forms with unveiling. Whence its non?phenomenological[2] definition of the phenomenon as that which is at first hidden…This slide from presence to aletheia therefore takes place within the common logos and remains inside the orbit of philosophical decision, which it remains content with suspending without being able to fully nullify it or make it contingent. The deconstruction of the phenomenon merely consists in accentuating the moment of dehiscence, in aggravating the withdrawal which already belonged to presence in an attenuated form, and in once again playing with transcendence alone.

Heidegger distances himself a little further from a science of phenomena than Husserl. He distances himself from such a science because Husserl’s concept of “presence” already testified to the radical and irretrievable loss of the immanence of the phenomenon. But he also distances himself because he believes that “destruction,” the real suspension of the Greek horizon that opens and closes thought, has to do with a supplement of transcendence to decision, of alterity to presence, and that it is enough to affect the essence of the phenomenon with an Un-Wesen, with a non?eidetics or a non?logic. The finitude (understood in exteriority in this way) of the phenomenon cannot really remove the latter from the sphere of metaphysics. It continues to suppose (as unavoidable and so as to differ/defer it) presence or parousia as the real content of the phenomenon. Acquired in this way, the phenomenality of the phenomenon is not merely real, it is real (-and-) possible, real (-and-) ideal, it continues to dissolve the reality or immanence of manifestation into these fetishized games that claim to exhaust its essence.

Heidegger no doubt already elaborates a non-phenomenology, albeit in an overall negative or at least aporetic mode. He does not reach a specific and positive determination of the non- of non-phenomenology but still partially determines it based on its circle with the phenomenological. Whence the indetermination, the non-reality, the persistent unreality of his concept of phenomenon. The real or scientific content of phenomenology must no doubt be defined as “non-phenomenological”: the non- must still be determined in an ordeal that flows from the identity and reality of the phenomenon and from the phenomenon rather than from the logos, instead of flowing from the logos and affecting in exteriority a “phenomenon” received empirically.

In a general way, the logos of the phenomenon, whatever the experience that its real content may be (presence or aletheia, etc.), consists in a modification and an interpretation of what is given both as empirical and ideal fact, as “phenomenon,” as “that which manifests or unveils itself,” etc. The phenomenon is supposed given in an empirical mode rather than absolutely given or given in a merely immanent way so as to then be treated by the operations of philosophical decision. It is difficult not to see in this manner of proceeding, which is that of every philosophy, a transcendental technology rather than a science. Husserl’s phenomenology is a transcendental technology of phenomena, while Heidegger’s phenomenology is the simple delimitation or inhibition of this technology. In both cases, it is not a science: it supposes given a material it continuously or unitarily transforms, as if the material and the process reciprocally determined one another. It is not science’s lot but philosophy’s to believe that it is a part (whether abstract or concrete, yet a part) of its object; and it is phenomenology’s lot to believe that the essence and empirical determinations of the phenomenon (as well as the concept and the object “phenomenon”) belong to one another and transform one another mutually. On the other hand, it is science’s lot to treat its material as a contingent given for its essence of science and to treat the scientific concept of phenomenon as really “pure” of all empirico-transcendent determinations precisely because it holds for all these determinations as non (-phenomenological).


3. The Essence of Science


How do we produce a scientific concept of the phenomenon on the basis of the ordinary and philosophical meanings of the word? By rectifying these in accordance with the schema by which we define the essence of science and distinguish it from that of philosophy. Philosophy is founded on unitary dualities or dualities by way of scission, while science is founded on radical immanence or real identity—the One insofar as it is the indivisible lived experience (of) indivision itself—and only then on a duality. This duality is consequently a primordial duality (not obtained by division of the One) and is founded in the One as such without deriving from it continually. This is the duality of the One itself or of the real and the (now radically contingent) given. This given is here the phenomenological decision itself on the phenomenon, the noetico-noematic decision (nt/nm). Consider the following diagram:

                                                    Image Laruelle   

The non-phenomenological “destruction” of phenomenology is realized here as a scientific transformation of phenomenology thereby reduced to the state of simple material for knowledge. Outside this algorithm, which is the algorithm of a noncircular, nonspecular knowledge that only suspends the authority of philosophical decision, there are nothing but unstable fantasies of the unitary or undecidable distinctions of phenomenology. Heidegger’s judgment on Husserl deserves to be turned back against Heidegger himself. In the History of the Concept of Time, he writes: “Husserl’s primary question is not concerned with the character of the being of consciousness. Rather, he is guided by the following concern: How can consciousness become the possible object of an absolute science?”. But Heidegger’s fundamental question is not one that asks after the world of being or the essence of the One; he is instead guided by reflection: supposed as given, how can the One serve to think Being? Supposed as given, how can the real and the thought of the real (i.e. science) serve to think (contra science) ontology and the origin of ontology? He also writes in the History of the Concept of Time: “The elaboration of pure consciousness as the thematic field of phenomenology is not derived phenomenologically by going back to the things themselves but by going back to a traditional idea of philosophy.” But the elaboration of the essence of Being as a thematic field of thought is no longer derived due to the return to the thing itself, i.e. to the real = One, but instead by supporting itself on the traditional idea of philosophy. No more than Husserl, Heidegger does not think on the basis of things themselves but on the basis of the history of metaphysics. He grounds himself on the amphibology of philosophy and the real, an amphibology which, for science, is perhaps the transcendental illusion that affects not only metaphysics but every philosophy and therefore every deconstruction of metaphysics.

4. The Science of Phenomena

Unlike a philosophy, which remains content with a representation of the real in the guise of the real (or which conflates the two), a science addresses itself first with the real alone and can only describe an object by supposing it; more exactly: by postulating that it be given in such a way as an absolutely and nothing-but-real object before even being represented and described in founded knowledges, i.e. given absolutely a priori or in the last instance before any possible objectivation. A science first knows the real only in the unobjective form of objective representations. It is only then and on this real basis that it can endeavor to produce knowledges, i.e. rectify the first immediate representations of its real object and the function of that object.

The algorithm proposed therefore requires that a science distinguish not two/three continuous and distinct senses of the phenomenon at the same time in the manner of a philosophy (phenomenon as object, as sense, and as act or lived experience), but: on the one hand and “apart” from its essence, recognized as the phenomenon’s identity or as its reality, which is what science postulates concerning every object as being a real object and not a simple philosophical representation; on the other hand (in a primordial duality, without continuity with essence), these phenomenological senses now reduced to the state of simple givens or representations not yet elaborated as knowledges of their real object; and, finally, the transformation of these philosophical representations of the phenomenon in accordance with their real object (the essence or identity of the phenomenon), a transformation which produces an object of knowledge that is the rigorous description of the real object. We shall attempt this labor of transformation, i.e. of a knowledge’s production, by asking ourselves the following question: under what conditions does the “phenomenon” stop being a philosophical representation so as to “become” the real object of a science and above all so as to be described as this real object such as it is a priori characterized by its reality, i.e. by a radical identity and a radical immanence that distinguish it from a simple immediate (for example, phenomenological) representation? Concretely, a science of the phenomenon amounts in utilizing (so as to describe the absolute immanence of the phenomenon) the phenomenological representations of this immanence which are inadequate in principle; in critiquing them in their appeal to transcendence and intuition; in rectifying them in accordance with absolute immanence; in thereby making them serve to describe the phenomenon in the scientific sense of the word; and in turning away from phenomenology as factum to phenomenology as simple datum.

This labor is impossible to carry out here, but we can indicate how phenomenology is a simple representation of the phenomenon and does not know the phenomenon in its reality or remains content with representing it rather than rigorously knowing it. Consciousness (even absolute consciousness) in fact cannot give the One’s real immanence or identity. The One’s real immanence or identity is non-self-decisional and non-self-positional [non décisionelle (de) soi et non positionnelle (de) soi][3], while consciousness can be, as Husserl spontaneously said, only the position (Setzung) of a seen or intuited given. Moreover, it includes within it the dimension of intentionality or transcendence, and intentional or ideal immanence cannot but affect the conception of the real immanence of lived experience the moment the latter is not acknowledged as absolutely and primordially given outside any relation to transcendence. Both the fact that Husserl oscillates in a decisional or circular way between real immanence and intentional immanence and the fact that he conceives real immanence as a position constitute and pertain to philosophical decision rather than science. The other traits of consciousness confirm this a little more; philosophical decision can be constitutive of the given or make it present and manifest, can actively acquire (erwerbende Aktivität) presence, can be a pure intuitive seeing and a reflection only if its essence is transcendence and representation in general and if it is simply blended with the real.

From this point of view, Heidegger’s arguments on the simply philosophical nature of pure consciousness are only valuable against Husserl but have no value against the Idea of radical immanence, which he wrongly confuses (following in the footsteps of every philosophy) with consciousness. Heidegger says that pure consciousness is (1) immanent; (2) given in an absolute way; (3) constitutive of all transcendence; (4) pure vis-à-vis every individuation. This description is the description of a philosophical type of transcendental Unity; it is still borrowed from representation rather than from the real. What we call the One (1) is really and solely immanent; the One is not an immanence of, by, with a transcendence, however purified and idealized it may be (as in Husserl’s case); (2) the One is a truly absolute given and not a supposed given like the philosophical and phenomenological absolute, which includes transcendence and which therefore cannot be really and solely given; (3) the One is not constitutive of any presence or representation, whether it be that of an object or of itself: insofar as it is non-self-decisional, it is also non-self-constitutive; (4) the One is precisely the individual itself, Identity as real and not logico-real, the individual before any transcendent process of individuation.

Real immanence is consequently repressed by phenomenology’s pure consciousness and is only safeguarded in scientific practice. Husserl is a sufficiently great thinker to not feel himself to be bound (like Heidegger) by the philosophical tradition and not to give guarantees to a philistinism of this tradition, to not (on the other hand) feel himself obligated by science. But he has not clearly perceived (insofar as he is still blinded by the appearance of the necessity of metaphysics) that he re-introduced a philosophical model of science in lieu of science. As for the Heideggerian project of a non-phenomenology, here it has some chance to be better determined and realized more positively. It stops being a reaction to Husserl and authorizes a positive multiplicity of phenomenological descriptions and models. It must decisively abandon the metaphysical axiom according to which what is not a science of being is no longer veritably a science.

To renounce a philosophical critique of phenomenology for a science of phenomenology and philosophy as a whole does not mean abandoning phenomenological labors. It is precisely a question of no longer replacing one philosophical decision with another. If we are philosophers, we cannot but be phenomenologists to a certain extent. Phenomenological (and, in general, philosophical) activity is simply no longer possible except from within the suspension of its claim to be a science. Non-phenomenology is neither the (metaphysical, positivist, nihilistic, etc.) negation of phenomenology—which already sufficiently negates itself—nor a phenomenology of the non-. It must instead be understood based on the model of the “non-Euclidean.” Phenomenology (from Husserl to Heidegger and many others) is restricted or internally limited by a restrictive postulate, a postulate philosophers do not perceive because it is the postulate that opens-and-closes the field of philosophical decision and therefore the field of phenomenal givens. This postulate is the following: to the “subjective” phenomenon (qua lived experience of appearance) there necessarily corresponds—this is a relation of essence—one objective correlate, one type of correlate and one alone, i.e. the phenomenon-object or the appearing object. The noetico-noematic correlation remains fundamentally bi-univocal, even when its circle is cracked, opened, sometimes broken by various deconstructions. One cannot apperceive the particular and restrictive nature of this rule of the noetico-noematic correlation such as it is inscribed within the ultimate roots of philosophical decision. However, it will appear as contingent and limitative to those who will measure it by the proposed algorithm of science for which another postulate is valid: the absolute or radical phenomenon identified in its transcendental reality no longer necessarily corresponds to one phenomenon-object and one alone; in other words, it corresponds to an infinity of these phenomena-objects as now contingent correlates of the real phenomenon, correlates which are contingent both due to their equivalence with one another vis-à-vis the absolute phenomenon and due to the non-necessity of such a correlate with respect to the reality of the absolute phenomenon. The radical opening of a really unlimited transcendental field of phenomena (or, rather, of possible descriptions and models of the phenomenon, i.e. of knowledges) is the immediate consequence of the non-phenomenological transformation of phenomenology. The phenomeno-logical opening of philosophy will have been its immediate closure. The opening proper to science has a different scope.


[1] [This word in French has a variety of meanings, and Laruelle always uses this ambiguity to its fullest extent: as a noun, it means “test,” “ordeal,” “trial,” including a scientific trial, which is evident in the fact that it contains the word preuve, i.e. “proof.” As a verb, it can indicate “to test,” but also “to sense,” “to feel,” “to experience,” etc.—TN].

[2] [The question marks are in Laruelle’s original French and serve to mark the undetermined or ambiguous nature of the “non” in these usages (as opposed to his modeling of the hyphenated “non-“ based on the “non-Euclidean”).—TN.]

[3] [This is Laruelle’s syntactical way of indicating a suspension-in-immanence of the reversibility of certain prepositions, the most common example of which is the preposition “of.” By bracketing this preposition, Laruelle reduces the duplicity of this preposition (which acts both as partitive and genitive) and renders it uni-lateral or facing-from-the-One: all of this is explained in a dialogue in his book En tant qu’Un [Qua One], where he suggests that the bracketed words should be read performatively as having only one parenthesis (the left parenthesis), and the right parenthesis should be elided by the reader as lifted-in-immanence. For a French reader, this bracketing sometimes also has the effect of making the word on the right-hand side of the parenthesis act as an adjective (insofar as in French and other Romance languages—with a few standard exceptions—adjectives are placed after the modified noun and not before). For this lengthy phrase, I have chosen to render it as it would be read by a French speaker, substituting hyphenation for parentheses—TN.

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