Notes on François Laruelle’s Les Philosophies de la différence: Introduction critique – “Instructions for Use”

Adam has championed the posting of reading notes for the benefit of our own scholarship and the interest of AUFS readers. His notes on Agamben’s two most recent works, still not available in English but both being translated, have been very helpful to me and I’m sure to many others. Following the example he set and that our friend Andy followed with his notes on Foucault’s last lecture series I have decided to post notes on my reading of some of Laruelle’s key texts. I see two major reasons for doing this. First, it will be a helpful exercise for me as I finish up the translation of Future Christ and begin writing on Laruelle and non-philosophy in the first two chapters of my dissertation. Secondly, I hope that having more information on Laruelle that sticks close to his text will help deepen some of the engagement with non-philosophy in the philosophical blogosphere (and, of course, I hope it spread beyond there). As that non-entity Speculative Realism continues to be the buzzword of the day on philosophy blogs the philosophical taxonomy of a few individuals threatens to kill the reception of Laruelle in English before it has even begun. While it is true that Laruelle is a major influence on the nihilistic work of Ray Brassier, it isn’t the case that Laruelle’s and Ray’s work are of a piece. The fact that Ray was able to use the methods of non-philosophy in a way that seems, at least to me, very contrary to the aims of Laruelle himself is a testament to the model of heresy non-philosophy employs. In short, non-philosophy is worth considering, not because it is the savior of philosophy we’ve all been waiting for, not because it can become the latest fan boy craze, but because it offers us a theory of philosophy in its strengths and weaknesses and a methodology to use when attempting to construct other ways of thinking from the Real. It allows us to be bold in our thinking with a guide telling us where the traps, bind alleys, and false problems lie in the way we think itself. Laruelle’s non-philosophy is a way of thinking that allows for mutation according to knowledge of the Real as given in philosophy and other regional knowledges (science, religion, erotics, poetry, etc.). So, as I have already said, the hope in sharing these notes with the general public is to give interested readers an entry into Laruelle’s thought as directly as possible and to show that it can be both understood and used – in fact, in this case they are the same thing.

A short word about the book itself before I summarize the preface (entitled “Instructions for Use [Mode d’emploi]”. First, before anyone asks, Les Philosophies de la différence: Introduction critique (PUF, 1986) is currently being translated by Rocco Gangle for Continuum. I think we’ll see that English translation come out sometime in mid-2010 in an affordable hardback and then a year later in paperback. In Laruelle’s own history of non-philosophy this work is placed in the period called “Philosophy II”. This is the period of non-philosophy where Laruelle intentionally begins to develop his science of philosophy. The negative finding of this science of philosophy is in the theory of the philosophical Decision as the invariant structure of all philosophy. The philosophical Decision is the structure which dooms philosophy to a hallucinatory specularity, blinding it to the Real as Real. The positive theories developed in this stage are that of the vision-in-One and the reclaiming of science’s relationship with the Real for thought. In short, this book provides the criticism of philosophy and gives us the map to avoid the traps of philosophy’s structure. A necessary prolegomena for the positive work of non-philosophy found in the works of Philosophy III and Philosophy IV (works I hope to provide notes for in the future include the magnum opus Principes de la non-philosophie and Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains).

Laruelle begins by noting the need for “instructions” to reading the studies found in the book. In these instructions he will provide some explication on the method of the book, its ends, the interior problematic of philosophy it intends to introduce (in a critical way) as found in the most manifest problematic of contemporary philosophy (difference), and the book’s internal organization.

Method: Laruelle is explicit that this is not a doxography, it is not a typical history of philosophy book. But rather it makes use of figures, texts, themes, positions, and the usual elements of philosophy as if they were objects of one problematic and undertakes a reconstruction of that problematic from the suspended material of philosophy. Laruelle is considering Difference here as the most enveloping and comprehensive problematic of contemporary philosophy from Nietzsche onwards. The task of this work is not to show what particular thinkers thought about Difference (one might say “thought they thought”), but to use names like “Nietzsche”, “Heidegger”, “Derrida”, and “Deleuze” as indicies, indications of problems, the limits and the possibilities in the problems, etc., and to bring out the “syntax” of philosophy. While the book aims to be an introduction it does so not descriptively, but critically of the thinkers it introduces.

Ends: The goal of the book is not primarily criticism. Laruelle mocks the usual philosophical commentary industry tactics of writings books. Either the author shows that there are no problems in the thinker examined or it claims to have found the insurmountable problem in the thinker or it claims to know the thinker better than the thinker himself and to provide a new Hegelianism beyond Hegel or new Spinozism beyond Spinoza. For this kind of writing philosophy becomes primarily criticism, whereas for Laruelle’s project the criticism is secondary and an effect of the transcendental approach to philosophy. Its real end is to develop a theory of philosophy itself in order to exit the trap of philosophy. It does so in its “scientific theory” of the philosophical Decision.

Internal Problematic: Firstly, Laruelle appears to be resolutely humanist. It is this non-philosophical humanism of “immanent man” that he sets against the problematic of Difference or rather demands that Difference be thought through. He writes, “philosophy is made for man, not man for philosophy (10).” It is with this in mind that he then states a major thesis for the book, “We experiment here, in this case from Difference, from Heidegger and Derrida principally, and from Nietzsche and Deleuze also, with the “thesis” that, in the One (in the sense we have extended to it), we find the radical unity of man and of knowledge [savoir] the most immanent and the most real (10).” We are warned not to confuse unity with unitary philosophy. Instead unity refers to the privileged mode of knowing that science has of the Real, which Laruelle names “gnosis” in honor of the forgotten martyrs of greco-occidental philosophy. It begins by taking up the forgetting of Being in the name of the One. According to Laruelle the One, as found in Dualists and Gnostics, is the minoritarian position in thought even as it is the scientific one. The task then becomes to think Being from the thought of the One and not, as has been the case, the One from ontology. The One is beyond ontological systems and open to the Real that is irreducible to a unitary conception of Being or the One or Difference.

Organization: Laruelle then summarizes each chapter. The first chapter establishes the conditions of possibility for a real and scientific critique of Difference and the philosophical Decision in general. It explains his concept of the “vision-in-One”. The second chapter examines the syntax of Difference, though with the problem of Finitude (which will become a major theme in the chapters on Heidegger and Derrida) suspended as this chapter deals with thinkers of the infinite (Deleuze and Nietzsche). The third chapter examines the reality of Difference and introduces the irreducible dimension of Finitude as “ontic” and “real”. The fourth chapter analys the overlapping of Difference and Finitude in order to overcome the opposition of “Concept” and “finite Difference”. The fifth chapter considers the work of Derrida in order to show the intereiror of the universal and invariant schema of Difference. Here the Jewish-Occidental philosophy of Derrida overturns the Greek-Occidental philosophy of Nietzsche and Heidegger through a radical concept of finitude. This is, however, an idealist overcoming of the prevailing hierarchy. The following two chapters continue this overcoming but through a replacing of the idealist elements with the Vision-in-One and begins the real critique of Difference. The sixth chapter is the most fundamental and shows how the One in its rigorously transcendental essence is required and denied by Difference. That the One has been forgotten. It goes on to examine scientific and non-philosophical aspects of the real critique of Difference. The seventh chapter moves past the specific problematic of Difference to develop the theory of the philosophical Decision using the tools uncovered through the preceding studies.

It is in order to move past the aporias of both Greek-Occidental and Jewish-Occidental philosophy that non-philosophy undertakes its transcendental science. This is not primarily a criticism of philosophy, but a critical introduction to the practice of non-philosophy.

10 thoughts on “Notes on François Laruelle’s Les Philosophies de la différence: Introduction critique – “Instructions for Use”

  1. Very helpful and very clear. I’ve read a bit of Laruelle (the dictionary that’s online) and my biggest problem is not with understanding what philosophy is for him, but what science is. I frankly don’t grasp what he means by “science” although he insists it’s not anything other than what most people mean. I guess I don’t connect his claims about the realist epistemology of science with what scientists actually do or claim to be able to do when they develop and test their theories. I especially don’t see how scientific theories that do claim a sort of universal grasp of what there is relate to what he calls the One: how can multiple possible universes in certain understandings of quantum physics be about the One?

  2. His is, as far as I understand, a very big One. Or, because the metaphor of size isn’t really that appropriate, the One seems to be deployed as an evolutionary openness and adaptation. I’m hopeful to see if some of my assumptions about Laruelle, informed by previous readings of Anthony’s work (though nothing by Laruelle himself) bear true: namely, that science’s relationship with the Real is less one strictly of analysis, in which the Real is as though an object of analysis. Identifying coherently what it is, however, has been the sticking point for me, so I’m excited to for these posts.

  3. I confess to being severely miffed when the word “science” is used carelessly. Wait wrong blog… I’d be curious to hear thoughts on Bruce’s questions as well. I’m not in a position to make judgments regarding Laruelle, because what little I’ve read I do not understand, but it is hard for me to see how what he is doing is or even could be “scientific.”

  4. Bruce,

    For him the One is known as the (real and immanent) unity of the Real. Also, there can be multiple instances of the One, so it isn’t like “the Whole” of Hegelianism. It seems that the One has to be something different from what philosophies has previously said of the One because, at least according to Laruelle, that “One” is always subordinate to Being (and we’ll have to see how this plays out in the Derrida chapter and in his discussion of “the Other” of Levinas’ attempt to get beyond Being). This is why you see Laruelle at many points opposing unity or unified objects to unitary objects.

    As for what science is for him, there is a slightly more complex conception here. I should probably post a short history of non-philosophy I’ve written for an essay and may do that after I’ve finished this comment. Science is, like you say, nothing other than what most people mean by it. During the period of Philosophy II Laruelle assumes that science has a privileged relationship to the Real. I agree that this is somewhat problematic and, unsurprisingly, Laruelle does too. In the period of Philosophy III he suspends this axiom and rejects all authority about the Real instead allowing a kind of perspectivism (though that would have to be modified) coming from “regional knowledges”.

    So, to connect this to the concrete question at the end of your comment, the knowledge of multiple universes is known from the vision-in-One because multiple universes have no constitution from outside the Real. They are One in their unity as real, but this does not have anything to do with their being a unitary object.

  5. Thanks for this. I need to go to bed, so just a short question.

    What does he mean by thinking from the Real? And please, feel free to treat me as an ignorant idiot when responding. Because I think any other assumption will go over my head.

    Thanks again for these posts.

  6. Is Laruelle trying to form an alternative to neo-Platonism, while sharing its premise of a One beyond Being? A transcendental rather than transcendent neo-Platonism?

    In Norway (my country) we have a philosopher who have written a 21-volume series on “henology”, inspired by Plato (the “Parmenides” dialogue above all) and his christian interpretors. The idea that the One is beyond Being is a cornerstone of his thinking.

  7. Scu,

    His is a gambit, a gnostic gambit, that we can think from the thing itself, from the Real itself. One way to think about it is to say that he denies the Kantian schema of a noumenal and phenomenal realm and instead claims that there is only one world that we have an unlearned knowledge of. In a debate with Derrida over this very book Derrida asks him where he gets his knowledge from and Laruelle says “from the things themselves”. Laruelle says in the Dictionary that the Real is “Instance defined by its radical immanence under all possible conditions of thought: thus by its being-given (of) itself, yet called Vision-in-One or One-in-One, and by its being-foreclosed to thought. The Real is neither capable of being known or even “thought,” but can be described in axioms. On the other hand, it determines-in-the-last-instance thought as non-philosophical.” So when we think from the Real we do so through axioms and, as in mathematics, those axioms will either be shown to be true or false depending on if they work. Does that help?


    I think it must come in part from Plotinus, though I think it is mutated beyond what any Neo-Platonist would accept. The gnostic influence on Laruelle is important here as the One becomes simply another name for an aspect of the Real (the unity of the Real) which is never “of the world”. Who is the philosopher you mention?

  8. I’m in the midst of reading Michel Serres’s The Five Senses and it seems very close to the Laruelle as here described, only it’s actually quite beautifully written (what I’ve read of Laruelle is not beautiful). I recommend the book to one and all (to One and All?).

  9. There are bits of wordplay in Laruelle I think are quite good and if you enjoy dense philosophical writing with literary influence from Gnostic scripture (and really, who doesn’t!) then you may enjoy him.

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