The Principle of Sufficient Theology

François Laruelle begins his initiation of non-philosophy by taking issue with the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy. Such a principle, Laruelle tells us, lies further at the core of philosophy than any other philosophical principle (such as the principle of sufficient reason) and is, in itself, not a philosophical principle at all. The Principle of Sufficient Philosophy lies outside of philosophy’s vision much in the same way that Narcissus does not see the pool which reflects his image back to him and it is thus only non-philosophy’s refusal of this principle (which is, of course, prefigured in other figures and methods) which brings it into vision. The Principle of Sufficient Philosophy can be summed up in the belief that everything is philosophisable. In this way philosophy gives itself a fundamental or necessary status in the discourses in which it shares (philosophy of art, political philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, etc.). As Laruelle’s project begins to be written about it will be said over and over in every single piece (at least for a time) that Laruelle’s project is not created to overcome or destroy philosophy. The Principle of Sufficient Philosophy is merely located as a fact about philosophy which may explain its many failures and which may be used in other ways as well. It is, as such, simple material.

Laruelle attempts to use this material while thinking according to what he terms the Real. According to and not about the Real and in this way the Real itself takes on a quasi-divine character. I’m still unsure how to understand this Real, which is described in a variety of ways through axioms scattered throughout his work. The nature of an axiom, however, is that it is fundamental for some system but cannot itself be proven. One must simply decide that it is and work out the system from it. In this way non-philosophy actually refuses the philosophical de-cision through its own decision for particularizing its own work according to what is not strictly particular – the Real. Via its method of axiomatization it does not decide and it does not think according to the Principle of Sufficient Philosophy – non-philosophy has and recognizes its limits (indeed, this is one of the most refreshing aspects of Laruelle’s passage from Philosophie I to III – the up-front recognition of his own works’ failures and inadequacies). Yet, and this perhaps is always the philosophical temptation, who can think according to the Real and not ask about the nature of the Real itself? Such is a temptation to heresy itself, but also to orthodox codification; that is, it is a temptation to theology. Laruelle’s axioms become, as is suggested in his Futur Christ: Une leçon d’hérésie, a form of unlearned knowledge [savoir indocte] (which he quickly differentiates, in fact far too hastily and without enough pedagogical comment, from Nicholas of Cusa’s learned ignorance) that reminds me of Bergson’s description of mystics in his Two Sources. Not mystical obfuscation, but the unlearned knowledge of the Real from which one proceeds. Something of this is deeply unsatisfactory, as it is Bergson, and yet, of course, I find myself drawn to it quite strongly.

There is a relationship one may draw between non-philosophy’s method and theology. Theology has its own self-sufficient problem analogous to philosophy’s: that of the Principle of Sufficient Theology. This is a bit different from philosophy’s narcissism and may find some elucidation by a comparison with the other figure in that myth, the nymph Echo. The history of all hitherto theology has been that of the interplay between echo and control (the figure of Hera). Theology, it is often said, has no object proper. It is at once simply in the service of the central event of the faith, for Christianity the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, claiming to merely echo that event while, at the same time, its complex task has been to codify the truth of that event into some sort of doctrine. The Creeds perform this function of theological determination brilliantly as a perfect instance of learned ignorance. The Creeds respond to the historical heresies, and one may generalize about heresy by claiming that, in contradistinction to orthodoxy, they always say too much and perform a sort of learned knowing (Laruelle himself locates this difference between his unlearned knowledge and the Principle of Sufficient Heresy). At the same time the Creeds go on to say quite a bit, all of it very learned, which is to say, with Laruelle, all very Greek, but all of it quite ignorant. Echo and control – learned ignorance.

Non-philosophy appears to mimic theology in its thinking from the Real and not of it. Rather than the Real we find the name God. Theology thinks from God and not of God in the same way that philosophy would think of God. Theology cannot think of God without first thinking from God and in this way theology is an axiomatic practice like non-philosophy. Yet it is this very axiomatic aspect of theology’s practice that underlies its Principle of Sufficient Theology where everything is theologisable because theology’s non-object, God, is related or even meta-related to everything that is. In non-philosophy’s methodological cloning of theology how does it avoid its own self-sufficiency? The Principle of Sufficient Theology is clearly in a different register than the-philosophy’s self-sufficiency principle in that it does not claim to have privileged place in the thinking of everything self-sufficiently, but as auto-donation of Divine sufficiency from its own notion of the Real. Laruelle suggests in Futur Christ that it is the figure of the heretic which must be taken up and that Christ is a model of heresy. Yet, Christ himself wanted to draw all things unto himself and Laruelle wants to use this universal salvation in his presentation of what non-Christianity can do. Can one still have this sort of theological universal, even as cloned in non-religion (whatever that may come to really look like), and avoid theology’s Principle of Sufficient Theology? Does not, then, non-philosophy  need to be unified with non-theology in order then to overcome this principle?

6 thoughts on “The Principle of Sufficient Theology

  1. I find this approach to theology really interesting, especially since I’m currently experimenting and trying to do something really similar with what might be called the Principle of Sufficient Capitalism. With that in mind, it would seem like the problems I’ve run into might be similar to some that you’ve come across.

    The first problem being the precise nature of what makes philosophy (or theology, or capitalism) self-sufficient – is it its Decisional structure? Or is it simply that the Principle of Self-Sufficiency takes everything to be possible material for its conceptual machinery? (Which is what you suggest, I believe.) Part of the problem for myself is the limited amount of Laruellian work in English; I’ve really only got Brassier’s stuff to work out how this Self-Sufficiency operates.

    In either case though – how does this Principle come about? Who/what institutes it and in what way? The closest thing I can find in Laruelle so far is this idea that the Real is non-sufficient and requires that philosophy give itself according to its own mode of givenness – which seems to suggest some sort of creation of out nothing. Perhaps that’s less problematic for a non-theology, but sort of disconcerting for a non-capitalism or even, presumably, a non-philosophy. Not necessarily an impossible impasse, but still something that would have to be taken into account.

    And the last major problem I’m trying to work through – even if the previous two problems were resolved, what would be the use of non-philosophy/theology/capitalism? Sure, it points to the fact that these structures aren’t self-sufficient like they present themselves, but how does that change our lived experience of these structures? In Brassier’s discussion of the use of non-philosophy (in “Axiomatic Heresy”), he seems to suggest there’s very little ‘practical’ use for it, since any use of it would require a project which requires some philosophical Decision. But then what’s it good for besides breaking a self-sufficient circle??

    More related to your own post here, though, I think it’s a really interesting parallel you draw out between non-philosophy and theology’s thinking from, rather than about, the Real. I think a potential answer to your final questions may lie in narrowing down what is meant by the Principle of Self-Sufficiency. If we take it to mean the result of a Decisional imposition (and I understand Decision as Brassier outlines it), then perhaps non-philosophy doesn’t require a non-theology because theology, in fact, remains within that Principle by virtue of it constituting “its own notion of the Real.” So, despite the parallel you cite between theology and non-philosophy, theology ultimately thinks from the Real and simultaneously constitutes that Real – revealing itself to take part in the Decisional structure.

    I think that all might have been a little bit rambling, so hopefully it all makes sense…! Cheers

  2. I am quite sure that I did not follow all of your thinking in this post but I was curious to hear how or if Laruelle’s work might relate to Marion’s phenomenology (not that I have a firm grasp of his work either). Did I stray way too far from what was intended here?

  3. It is a fine question, but I don’t really know. It seems that Laruelle has written some on Marion (so saith Google Books) but I haven’t read the piece. Laruelle is not a phenomenologist, though his work clearly is indebted to that tradition. He does have a notion of the given-without-givenness that may have come from looking at Marion, but I’m not sure I understand the concept and can’t claim any real knowledge about its development. Sorry that isn’t more helpful. What did you have in mind?

  4. It just came to mind as I am wading into In Excess, which is my first go at Marion. As he tries to establish his place as first (or last) philosophy their appeared to some similarity in the way the two are positioning themselves in receiving and not creating or constructing reality and perhaps then in how they account for subjectivity. Not much more to add on that for now.

  5. Thank you, Anthony. I’ve just now how the time to read what is a very incredible post. It is introductions such as this to provocative new material that sucked me in to the weblog/AUFS in the first place.

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