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

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

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.

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banquet, communication, epistemology, fractal, history, humanities, information, interruption, logic, matter, michel serres, narcissism, ontology, parasite, physics, power, relation, Science / Mathematics / Technology, Serres, symmetry, time, topology, turbulence

Science and Parasites: Michel Serres and the Unification of Human and Natural Sciences

Theorem: the history of science obeys the law of diminishing returns. The first attack on the narcissism of science…

Second: if we examine the set made of the problem and of the actions that transform it, there is no doubt that it is, at the beginning, more complex than the thing itself or the process. Clearer perhaps, yet more complicated. The question can then be reexamined in order to try to illuminate this new complexity and maybe, to transform it. Thus we form a set: the chain seems unending. The strategies of intervention, the interruption of the process or of the thing, observation that seeks to clarify, photon bombardment, the inseparable association of the knowers and the known–all make complexity increase, the price of which increases astronomically. A new obscurity accumulates in unexpected locations, spots that had tended towards clarity; we want to dislodge it but can only do so at ever-increasing prices and at the price of a new obscurity, blacker yet, with a deeper, darker shadow. Chase the parasite–he comes galloping back, accompanied, just like the demons of an exorcism, with a thousand like him, but more ferocious, hungrier, all bellowing, roaring, clamoring.

Have I described the elementary link of a system of knowledge or its pathology? I do not know. Anyway, it makes work, gives sustenance. One parasite drives out another. The second attack on the narcissism of scientists. The shadow brought by knowledge increases by one order of magnitude at every reflection.

Can we henceforth do without an epistemology of the parasite?

Michel Serres, The Parasite 17

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abstraction, badiou, Carnap, Dialectical Materialism, epistemology, French Translation, ideology, marxism, mathematics, meta-theory, model, philosophy of science, Quine, Untranslated Theory

Translation: Alain Badiou and the Concept of the Model: Introduction to a Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics


The following is the first three sections of Alain Badiou’s first theoretical book Le Concept de modèle: introduction à une épistémologie matérialiste des mathématiques. Paris: Maspero, 1968. p. 7-17 and is an original translation by Taylor Adkins [10/17/07].

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The beginning of this text continues a talk given on April 29, 1968 by Alain Badiou within the framework of the “Course of philosophy for scientists” given to the National university.

This continuation should have been the subject of a second exposition on May 13, 1968. This day, it is known, the popular masses mobilized against the middle-class Gaullist dictatorship affirming in all the country their determination, and enticing the process that led to a confrontation of classes on a great scale, upsetting the political economic situation, and causing effects whose continuation will not be made to wait.

It is often imagined that in this storm, the intervention on the philosophical front had to pass to a second plan.

This very day, the somewhat “theoretical” accents of this text return to a surpassed economic situation. The struggle, also ideological, requires a totally different style of labor and a just and lucid political combativeness. It is no longer a question of aiming at a target without reaching it.

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Cognition, epistemology, history, multiplicity, paradox, psychosituation

On Epistemiology

Every epoch is haunted by a series of paradoxes: every social formation, every expression or formulation of knowledge is structured by that which it cannot integrate into itself. The epoch defines the series, but the paradoxes structure the limit-boundary of the epistemic situation. There is no radical exterior to a given ‘psycho-situation.’

The ‘outside of knowledge’ is not merely clouded in ignorance, obscurity, but is, in fact, paradoxically absent. There is no ‘outside’ of the historical-linguistic situation, or rather, the position of the unnameable or ‘uncounted’ within the situation is already the structure of a paradox from the standpoint of that historical epistemic formation.

I must immediately clarify that I am not trying to establish a scheme for the division of historical eras; rather, I mean to investigate the series of human cognitive acts as an intentional evolution of the relationship between language and power. The question of what we shall call a ‘psychosituation’ is that of the interdependent reproduction of forms of truth-expression and systems of truth-repression. In other words, the epistemological schema is interwoven into the socio-political organizations as conflict; in fact, they emerge only later, as a result this paradoxical struggle, as separate, self-perpetuating, atheoretical forms of knowledge or historical formations of power. The question which can only be answered within a later psychosituation (as it is always an unresolved paradox within the episteme) is about the relationship between the ‘accidental’ multiplicity of sociality and conversation and the ‘deliberate’ generality of knowledge forms and power-relations, whether pyramidal and axiomatic or dis-associated and subtractive. Thus we are asking an epistemo-technological as much as a sociohistorical question. The boundaries of the psychosituation are formally paradoxical, which is equivalent to the impossibility of traversing, from within the given social formation or epistemological paradigm, any rational structure which is paradoxical from within the psychosituation. Since the relation between knowledge and the social (‘real’) situation exposes radically the inextricable bondage of cognitive potentiality to political, cultural and biological forms, how do we account for the true, episteme-shattering act of cognition which represents an authentic yet radical break with the traditional forms of knowledge tradition?

We shall say a psychosituation is the functioning of language/power as it (subjectively) investigates/dominates truth/the real. The psychosituation is only traversed paradoxically, that is, it is traversed at the same time it is traversed e process of technological progress as it relates to real historical development is essentially paradoxical. This is because the psycho-situation is the most real, functional unit of progress, that is, an epistemic co-ordinate: a mapping of power and technology to knowledge and ‘truth’ in a society. The given “psychosituation” is always particular, unique, an historical accident, but also an inevitable result of the resolution of earlier ‘paradoxes’ (and we’ll get into what exactly we mean by that in a second); thus the psychosituation is the multiplicity of the social relation. Thus it is a singular multiplicity; the birth of the psychosituation is the inauguration of a new language, the ground or staging for a new set of paradoxes.

The question of historical analysis, then, would seem to revolve around reconstructing narratives of previous epochs around the new psychosituation–in a sense, we see them clearer because we have the benefit of hindsight, of having many of the paradoxes which haunted earlier eras resolved. Psychosituational analysis means considering the relationship between tools, power, language, etc., and the ‘real’ web of social organization. The primary hypothesis is that we must view historical social organizations (inevitably) as positive, creative formations–the criterion is as always never whether the formation (the idea, the act, the organization or the technology) is good or bad in itself, but whether it successfully reproduces its own mode of existence, i.e., as the resolution of a paradox and the staging of new paradoxes. The present moment is an accidental conjuncture, a nonsensical sense-event, which is produced as the disjunctive epicenter of dual, interlocking corridors of non-symmetrical paradox. The structure of the paradox is both delightful and humorous as much as it is alien and horrifying because it is an epistemologically-directed ‘logic bomb.’ It is aimed at the heart of what we can and can’t know, and blurs the distinction so that no traversal is possible within the structure of the paradoxical narrative; it is a description, nonetheless, of a particular though somehow logically inconsistent universe, which causes the very reason which enabled us to comprehend the structure somehow unable to continue. The paradox does not aim to point out a contradiction in anything but truth itself; hence the convoluted ‘dual’ structure where its very particularity implies its address is universal, extending from the tiniest particles in the universes to the black holes our galaxies spin around.

An epoch cannot traverse its paradoxes, for once the traversal is made the epoch upon which they depended for their staging disappeared; then the new paradoxes become the old paradoxes, and the stage is set for a new escape. But ultimately this is inadequate, right? Let’s say paradoxicality possesses a rational structure which yet cannot be traversed by reason; you could say paradoxes are post-sensical. There is no escape from the structure of paradox–which we now understand as the entire process of the creation of a space between psychosituations, so there’s no escape from the epistemological present within the epistemological present, we have to go, in a sense, beyond space, beyond time. Multiplicity is the basis of paradox, the infinite depth of the original abyssal contradiction: self-interpretation; yet a paradox, The reproduction of the structure of the singular multiple establish the boundaries between epistemes at the same time it stages questions, disarms and dissolves boundaries in the same, contradictory movement–and this movement is the evolution of reason.

anxiety, epistemology, freud, pleasure principle, psychoanalysis, superego, surface tension

Pleasure and Epistemology (Freud’s Outline of Psychoanalysis)

It is right here and right now that we must ask: is our knowledge about to commence or already at its end?

The question is not as straightforward as it appears. The issue is whether HERE — right here where we are right now, at the intersection of sensation and the conscious act, at the imbrication of the mental series into physical ‘reality’– are we at the beginning of what we know, or at the end? Is this all we know, or just an overture?

A delightful antimony– after all, this is the end of our knowledge, since we certainly cannot know what we cannot also (at least) think, feel or experience. Yet, this is also the beginning of knowledge, as the spark which catches our imagination and causes a shift in our perspective; only through this shift do we come to knowledge at all, which is still confined strictly within the limits of the paranoid: what seems obvious is the identity, the connection, the fundamental ‘wholeness’ of the body and the mind. Yet this ‘certainty’ is ruptured by an even more ‘fundamental’ certainty of disjunction–for the body is NOT the same as ‘consciousness,’ even if the two are in more intimate proximity than any other entities in the universe, this proximity is not physical, not empirically measurable. As we trace a sensation through perception, imagination and memory, we trace not only its distortions and translations but its transfiguration and transubstantiation; the idea is not the word is not the thing, even though their formal content may appear identical throughout, the primary bearer of meaning is modulated and demodulated. So today we’re going to examine this circuit of consciousness and see whether or not we can resolve the question– is our knowledge already terminated or just being born?

So the question is in a sense about action, what aspects of the self must be involved, what we must have in order to say: “this constitutes a conscious act.” In answering this, are we at the beginning of what we know, or at the end? What seems obvious is the separation (mind/body); what seems obvious is the strict identity (mind-body.) At this level where it is possible to sensefully say both division and unity reign, we are caught in an epistemological circularity which allows us to assert knowledge on the basis of an irreducible gap. Our desire is to avoid ‘nothingness’; this vacuity causes anxiety, uneasiness. We fervently wish to complete the blank: __________. Filling in the hole is desire, a fantasy that the subject can be ‘reconstituted’ as an unfracture whole.

Now, we simply cannot speak meaningully of the subject’s existence as a singularity or as a plurality; we must recognize the fundamental inconsistency, imbalance and rupture at the basis of identification. So we cannot posit either division or unity as the origin of subjectivity–the ontological categories don’t fit the phenomenological factum (qualia are neither rational nor irrational, but non-rational; they are felt, not known.) Axioms represent the assertion of knowledge at this pivotal crux, which is (as we have seen) an irreducible rupture, the subject’s non-identity with herself. Since as such the ego does not coincide with the subject, the ‘I’ cannot
correspond precisely to the mind or the body. Yet the mental and physical series are inextricably interwoven, as a complex tapestry; the question is not: whether there is a mind-body dualism, or monism, or some kind of inconsistent multiplicity– but what such a theoretical position would even amount to structurally: how consciousness exists. How is this ex-centric subject/ego rupture produced and maintained?

In order to see if a solution lurks upon the surface, we look at Freud’s paper An Outline of Psychoanalysis:

“In consequence of the pre-established connection between sense perception and muscular action, the ego has voluntary movement at its command. It has the task of self-preservation. As regards external events, it performs that task by becoming aware of stimuli, by storing up experience (in the memory), by avoiding excessively strong stimul (through flight), by dealing with moderate stimuli (through adaptation) and finally by learning to bring about expedient changes in the external world to its own advantage (through activity.) As regards internal events, in relation to the id, it performs that task by gaining control over the demands of the instincts, by deciding whether they are to be allowed satisfaction, by postponing that satisfaction to times and circumstances favorable in the external world or by suppressing their excitations entirely. It is guided in its activity by consideration of the tensions produced by stimuli whether these tensions are present in it or introduced into it. The raising of these tensions is in general felt as unpleasure and their lowering as pleasure.”

I like what he’s working with here. If you read carefully, it’s almost a force-based model. Tensions arise in the gap or struggle between the inside and outside, produced by stimulation whether the tension is present in the ego or introduced into it. These tensions guide the activity of the ego: should we not already say push and pull with the pressure of seeking marginal pleasure increases?

“…The ego strives after pleasure and seeks to avoid unpleasure. An increase in unpleasure that is expected and foreseen is met by a signal of anxiety; the occasion of such an increase, whether it threatens from without or within, is known as danger.”

So the ego, unless it is asleep, is engaged, connected with the external world, pulled along by the
tension/distension of pleasure-forces. “Tension” seems to be an aggregate. Now since pleasure is not uniformly distributed, we’re not getting pulled equally in all directions (in which case there’s a net force of zero) but this is not the case: we’re always imbalanced, drawn unevenly and asymetrically towards and away these tension-filled gaps between reality and desire. At the surface, we’re pulled outwards by the Other who is deeper inside the liquid, flowing external reality. The ego is drawn to pleasure and is intensely attracted to this surface tension with which we easily identify, the ordinary confusion of reality with an appearance of generic depth. Yet this “surface” tension is always a percieved need, a lack of relaxation, a deficiency of release–but only lacking, needed because it is expected (in the way dissonance can lead to consonance.)

Freud continues: “The long period of childhood, during which the growing human being lives in dependence on his parents, leaves behind it as a precipitate the formation in his ego of a special agency in which this parental influence is prolonged.”

Here of course we’re talking about the super-ego, which attempts to reconcile the demands between the id and of reality. The super-ego as a “precipitate” seems at first glance to bear out a chemical meaning, i.e., the solid formed in a solution during a reaction; the reaction in question seems to be a supersaturation of authority, which “chemically” changes the disciplined body, compounds the complexity of interaction and leaves behind a symbolic residue of cultural normativity. The super-ego is shitted out of the reaction as the excrement of the oedipal relation; the obscene call sinks to the bottom where it screams to be obeyed, commands us to believe, controls and supervises our enjoyment. The tension between the pleasure principle and the reality principle is never wholly resolved and indeed the amount of tension, the amount of displacement is not the absolute amount of displacement from the position of the subject–which is nowhere, an empty square–the tension which is felt is not an absolute displacement, but “something in the rhythm of the changes” (as Freud puts it) since the true distance from you to yourself doesn’t exist. The two never coincide: me/my reality, super-ego/ego, ego/id; all these antagonisms are only fictionally united out of a desire for wholeness. Immediately after naming the ego as the pleasure principlce (“The ego strives after pleasure and seeks to avoid unpleasure”) Freud speaks of anxiety, of the knowledge of danger. Isn’t all knowledge dangerous in this sense, founded upon nothing but subjectivity, uncertain, paranoid? But anxiety is not known directly, only through a symbol-signal; what is felt (and not known) is the tension, between the reality/pleasure principle, a disjunction which although managed by the superego can never be completely erased.

(More later…)