Non-Philosophy 1: The Use of Philosophy

In what follows, I hope to offer a sketch of non-philosophy that will introduce some of its key concepts. Non-philosophy relies upon a highly technical, abstract, and counter-intuitive vocabulary, whose terms are almost always defined in relation to one another. This makes it nearly impossible for the uninitiated to get the hang of it, barring total dedication and immersion. This problem is further complicated by the current lack of translated texts by Francois Laruelle, the founder of non-philosophy, and the other members of the Non-philosophy Collective. The few that are available are highly forbidding.

So, to aid the introduction to non-philosophy, I have undertaken here the first in a series of posts aiming to clarify the context and meaning of the non-philosophical vocabulary, and to explain the purpose or reason behind non-philosophy and its relationship to philosophy (a forerunner to this post can be found here). Keep in mind, the forbidding character of the vocabulary is methodological, in that Laruelle has attempted to create a language that owes nothing to the saturated languages of philosophy. Nonetheless, the terms in question can be elucidated through use, which I have tried to do here. Rather than abstractly defining them, I have put them to work, with what I hope is adequate context in each case.

This post was also partially motivated by a misunderstanding that has arisen in the wake of my last post. Graham Harman and Levi Bryant both responded with well thought out critiques, which, while certainly understandable, nonetheless miss the point. This was in part my fault, as I, in that post, employed an unclear and unspecified mixture of philosophical style and non-philosophical ideas, making my position appear to be a philosophical one, attacking those of others. Yet non-philosophy is not a philosophy, it does not critique philosophical theories nor does it speak in a philosophical language. Indeed, for reasons that will hopefully begin to become clear below, philosophy cannot but misunderstand non-philosophy, it cannot help but try to understand it as a philosophical position amenable to critique and dialectic. Yet from a non-philosophical perspective, such criticisms are in vain, as they are formally incapable of ‘getting the point’, so to speak.

Non-philosophy is only intelligible from a non-philosophical perspective, and hence, to approach it as a philosopher is to invite confusion and ultimately dissatisfaction. So finally, my motive here is to explain why non-philosophy is worth embracing on its own terms, rather than those of philosophy. I can’t promise it will be persuasive, as philosophy tends to reinvest its discontent, using it as fuel for its endless expansion and reproduction. I can only say that discontent with philosophy does not need to result in either a rejection of philosophy itself, or a rejection of a certain family or tradition of philosophy. It can also lead to a new use of philosophy, one that is not itself philosophical, but that rather aims to transform the products of philosophy into more than a means to philosophy’s endless reproduction of itself.

So, for any philosopher or student of philosophy reading this post, a disclaimer: Try, as far as you are willing, to suspend the temptation to disagree with the ideas expressed below. They are not philosophical ideas, and to treat them as such would be to miss the point. If the purpose and function of non-philosophy is not clear by the end, then please feel free to comment. But criticisms, while always welcome, are not really applicable to non-philosophy: it is a theory that is not open to criticism, but only to being proven or disproven, which is to say, engaged on its own terms.

[Note: I have opted not to include any references and citation in this post, mainly for the sake of clarity and accessibility. Nonetheless, it must be said that these ideas, for the most part, originated with the work of Francois Laurelle, and that I was introduced to them through the few texts of Laurelle’s that are currently translated, as well as those of Ray Brassier. One can find the majority of these texts at Speculative Heresy.]


The Thought-World (Philosophy = World)

The philosopher describes, explains, or interprets the world. He does this by way of concepts and categories, which, as instruments of thought, populate a transcendental schema ideally capable of making the world intelligible. Yet the world, insofar as it is immanence, and insofar as philosophy begins within immanence and always pursues immanence (that is to say, philosophy aims to explain the world without resort to anything transcendent), includes the very activity of thought, its conceptual instruments and transcendental apparatus.

Therefore, it is not enough for a philosopher to offer an explanation of worldly situations. He must also offer an explanation of this explanation, not only describing the world, but also the relationship between this explanation and the world, or between thought and the world. Insofar as the philosopher thinks, and uses thought as a means of grasping or distancing the world, thought and world are always, inevitably, intermixed. If the proper object of philosophy is the world as such, or being as such, or immanence as such, this object nonetheless always includes and dissimulates its complicity or hybridity with thought.

Even ardent realist philosophers, who insist on grasping the world as it is in itself (for example, the world as multiplicity of mutually occasioning individual objects), without reducing it to its relation to thought, its accessibility by thought, or explainability for thought, are nonetheless stuck. Insofar as they are philosophers, they are human, and they hence conduct their explanation of the world by way of concepts (objects, substance, occasion, et cetera), which are instruments wielded by thought. The two options open to such a philosopher are not good ones: 1) either thought, and hence philosophical activity are not of this world, transcendent to it, and therefore fall beyond explanation of the world (and this has never been a comfortable philosophical position), or 2) thought, and hence philosophical activity, are of this world, they are objects like any other, and therefore a meta-philosophical theory that takes philosophy as object is possible, or even required.

The second option may seem attractive, until we note that this apparently reconciled and self-explanatory immanence nonetheless always has resort to a transcendental reserve, a meta- to which thought withdraws as condition, even while reducing itself in the first instance to the status of mere conditioned. In order to secure the sufficient explanatory power of its concepts, philosophy cannot resist raising itself again and again above the object, positing itself (auto-positing), that is, the concepts it marshals, as necessary conditions of worldly immanence, and not merely conditioned constituents of the world. It is both, it must be both, and even without presupposing anything transcendent, it nonetheless separates the immanence of the world between the transcendental immanence of the a priori conditions, which hold necessarily and universally in the world, and a posteriori immanence as presupposed or self-giving (auto-donating), self-evident and taken as given.

Decision and the One (The Authority of Philosophy)

This separation does not cost philosophy anything, although it does have its price. Philosophy has always gotten away with the immanent separation of its transcendental explanatory schema from the immanent hybridity of thought with its objects (whether thought be considered as equal to the world, or subsumed by it, or subsuming of it). It does so by means of a decision, in which a superior co-immanence of transcendental and world is presupposed as authorizing both their immanent separation (or deduction in thought) and their transcendental synthesis (real conditioning). Here we must distinguish between the a priori conditions that are thought by concepts as immanent transcendentals, and the transcendental immanence that synthesizes concept and object.

This synthesis, moreover, is necessary, because while philosophy may endlessly include itself within its object, and hence raise itself to the level of meta-philosophy, or oppose itself as anti-philosophy, it nonetheless must posit the mere instruments and products of thought – concepts – as real conditions, and not mere explanatory fictions. The philosopher must claim that his doctrine, his concepts, are sufficient to grasp the real conditioning of the world or determination of the world, and hence that these concepts are objectively valid. He must claim that his concepts are prescribed by the real conditions that are immanently transcendental, and not simply devised as useful though unverifiable abstractions extrapolated from personal or collective intuition.

The philosopher, in short, must suppose not only a transcendental immanence as unity of condition and conditioned (in Harman’s case, conditions would be ‘object’, ‘substance’, ‘intention’, ‘occasion’, et cetera, whereas the conditioned is the empirical data given to the philosopher as worldly mixture of thought and world), but must, moreover, claim that this immanence is adequately or sufficiently given by way of its explanatory division into condition and conditioned, or concept and object, or faktum and datum. In other words, the philosopher must claim that this original unity which is separated and then re-united or synthesized is attested or expressed in this synthesis in thought (synthesis of concept and object), that it is adequately or sufficiently (if not exhaustively) given by way of thought, which is to say, philosophical explanation or interpretation.

This decisional structure takes on many forms: it can posit Being as condition and beings as conditioned, or the One as condition and multiplicity as condition, or Multiplicity as condition and ‘ones’ as conditioned, or Nothingness as condition and existence as conditioned, or Difference as condition and diversity as conditioned… In Harman’s case, Substantial form as condition and intentional object as conditioned. In every case, however, there is a third term which mitigates this separation by not only synthesizing it, but thereby attaining the original unity of absolute immanence that is relativized in separation. This term may be explicitly conceptualized or taken for granted, its degree of visibility within a theory is variable, but it is nonetheless always presupposed. For example, in Heidegger it is Dasein, or later, Ereignis, as the synthesis or co-belonging of Being and beings. For Deleuze, it is the Intensive spatium or plane of consistency as synthesis of Virtual and Actual. For Harman it is the occasion as synthesis of real and intentional object.

In every case, this third is what non-philosophy calls ‘the One’ as that originary unity that is separated and synthesized by philosophical decision. Decision not only operates on the One and by way of the One, using it as presupposition to mitigate its abstract separation of condition from conditioned, but moreover claims, in synthesis, to ‘reattain’ it. It claims that the synthesis of concept and object is adequate to their pre-analyzed unity, or that the artificial synthesis of transcendental thought and immanent hybridity of thought-world is convertible or reciprocal with the originary One.

This ‘One’ must be distinguished from numerical or quantitative oneness, although the latter is certainly one possible figure of the former. This One can equivocally name Difference, or Multiplicity, or the Other, or whatever else, so long as it is thought as encompassing and absolute immanence, the ‘one’ immanence that contains all differentiation and separation. It is used by philosophical decision as the basis of the latter’s prescriptive relevance and authority: philosophical explanation of the world is, moreover, an explanation of explanation itself, it explains how thought separates itself from what it explains and yet is reconciled to it. It explains how the One passes through separation into condition and conditioned and finally, in philosophy, is fulfilled in synthesis. Yet philosophy itself posits this presupposition, from which it claims to derive its authority.

This authority, which is also the faith of the philosopher in the adequacy of his thought to the pre-separated immanence of the One, defines the activity of every philosophical system, however vague or unsystematic it may appear (Nietzsche, for example). The systematization of concepts refers finally to the the self-authorization of philosophy, which presupposes a higher authority only to grant that very authority to itself. Without this presupposition, no philosopher would be capable of claiming that his concepts are better than others, they are more correct, more sufficient. No philosopher would be able to claim, for example, that ‘discrete individual objects’ is the most adequate characterization of the real, more so than a continuum, a void, or a relational totality.

The Non-philosophical Use of Philosophy (One-in-One, or the Real)

Enter non-philosophy. First of all, non-philosophy does not seek to criticize philosophy, to challenge it or denounce it, to destroy it or humble it. Non-philosophy is content to take the practice of philosophy, historically as well as contemporaneously, as a given, as a datum or object of investigation. Non-philosophy seeks to reduce philosophical decisions to indifferent materials, rather than authoritative theories. And for what purpose? To put it simply, the auto-authoritative structure of philosophy demands that any use of a philosophical theory or concept itself be philosophical, that it justify itself in terms of a (presupposed) absolute to which it must be adequate. Without such an authorized and authoritative use, philosophical materials are nothing but fanciful fictions which, though perhaps useful at times, are no better than mythic or religious fictions, which of course also have a certain pragmatic value.

Non-philosophy, on the other hand, opens the possibility of a non-authoritative use of philosophy that, for all that, does not collapse it into a convenient fiction. Whereas the philosopher uses philosophy in a philosophical way, non-philosophy is shorthand for a non-philosophical use of philosophy. Hence, while non-philosophy begins as an explanatory theory of philosophy, the former, in taking philosophy as its empirical material, nonetheless makes use of philosophy, and is finally nothing but philosophy itself as non-decisional or non-authoritative. Non-philosophy does not wish to put an end to philosophy, but to liberate it from its self-imposed strictures; it is not merely an explanation of philosophical theories, but a way of using philosophy itself, qua creation of concepts, in a manner wholly alien to philosophical authority (conceptual adequacy to the real).

How does non-philosophy achieve this other use of philosophy, without thereby giving way to pragmatic relativism? It begins with the One, which for philosophy is the operator of synthesis. Yet rather than positing the One as original unity which philosophy separates and then reunites, non-philosophy begins by positing the One as without separation, or as already separated from the dyadic separation and synthesis, or cleavage, of thought and the world (which non-philosophy calls the Thought-World). The One as radical immanence is no longer split up into two parts which are then mixed together, but is itself already split off from every splitting. It is not the original unity of these two parts, but rather, is without unity and without parts. It is not a plane of consistency, nor is it inconsistent multplicity, for it is without consistency, separated from consistency without being separated into consistency and inconsistency, on the basis of either.

There are no predications of the One, there are no conceptual values assigned to it, because the legislation of such values already supposes the separation of thought from the world. The One is that which is already given without being given by way of a concept. It is not deduced by thought, but already given without deduction. While philosophy may appropriate the One for its own use, to authorize it and validate it, it only does so in an illusory way, employing a concept of the One rather than the One itself, which is without appropriation.

The One-without-unity and without-consistency, which is to say, without-concept, is already separated from the philosophical amphiboly of thought and world, or the Thought-World. Hence, the two constitute a Duality, yet this duality is not reconciled in a synthesis. Philosophy is capable of synthesizing its dyad only by doing so on the basis of an illusory appropriation of the One. Yet because the One is already separated from the dyad without being separated in and by the dyad, this Duality is also without-distinction, in that the One is already distinct from the Thought-World even while thought cannot distinguish itself from the former. Philosophy imagines that it already includes the One, that it is sufficient to the One, that its transcendental synthesis is ultimately identical to the One-as-unity. Yet the One is Identity (to) itself, and not the identity ‘of’ philosophy, nor identical ‘to’ its synthesis.

Unilateral Duality and Determination-in-the-last-instance

Because the One distinguishes itself from the Thought-World without the latter distinguishing itself from the it, we say that their duality is a unilateral duality, a duality that goes from the One to the World, but not reciprocally back to the One from the World. The World (which is ultimately another name for philosophy) is determined by the One, given by the One, but does not in turn give the One or determine the One. Because this determination is not reciprocated, we say that the One (or the Real) determines the World in-the-last-instance, akin to the manner in which, for Marxism, the economy determines superstructure by giving it and constituting its unsurpassable horizon, even without directly determining or ‘deciding’ its contents.

The One unilaterally determines the World in-the-last-instance as mixture of thought and world on one hand, and as their transcendental separation and synthesis, on the other hand. Or in other words, the One gives philosophy without philosophy in turn giving the One. The One is necessary, though insufficient, for philosophy (because philosophy requires a decision as well). Non-philosophy begins by submitting philosophy, taken as a material, to this determination-in-the-last-instance which it denies. Yet if philosophy is already really submitted to this unilateral determination, if the One is already really foreclosed to philosophical concepts and the decisions that determine them, then why do we need non-philosophy? The answer is that non-philosophy seeks to suspend philosophy’s self-declared sufficiency to the One, so as to render the decisional structure inoperative. Once inoperative, the philosophy becomes a pure material without prescribed or authorized use.

Vision-in-One, Cloning, and the Force (of) Thought

Again, if this foreclosure is already really operative on philosophical decision, then how does non-philosophy submit the latter to the former? How can it claim to do what is already accomplished? The answer is that, while the One is already really foreclosed to philosophy, non-philosophy accomplishes the transcendental effectuation of this foreclosure: it registers this foreclosure within the transcendental apparatus of philosophy itself. It does this by beginning from the One, by installing itself in the position of the One’s separation, so as to see philosophy in view of its unilateral duality. This unilateral gaze upon philosophy is called vision-in-One. Yet far from pretending to ‘be’ the One, to see for it or speak for it, vision-in-One sees philosophy according to the One or ‘alongside’ the One. For this reason, the vision-in-One is operative at a transcendental level, it is like a ‘clone’ of the One, or a transcendental organon that attaches itself to philosophy without synthesis.

Non-philosophy accomplishes this by locating the illusory One of synthesis presupposed by philosophy within a given decision, taken as occasional cause (or sufficient but non-necessary condition of non-philosophical thought). It then separates from the illusory One the One (in) itself, or the Real in-One, and installs itself as this separation which constitutes a transcendental horizon for philosophy itself. Non-philosophy thus clones the immanence hybridized in philosophical decision, so as to effectuate its transcendental foreclosure. This amounts to a kind of intervention upon a decision that registers within it that which was already the case, but which decision had to deny. This transcendental registration of real foreclosure is accomplished by ‘cloning’ the One-as-concept of the decision, in the form of a non-conceptual symbol for the One-without-concept. The decision in question, now placed under the transcendental sign of real foreclosure, is alleviated of its illusory sufficiency to the Real, and is instead seen-in-One as unilaterally given by the Real, without reciprocity.

The transcendental effectuation of this unilateral duality, accomplished though a non-conceptual symbol cloned from the decisional amphiboly of the real and concept, is performed (without-performance) by non-philosophical thought as a transcendental organon that, unlike philosophical thought, which is always capable of transcending and encompassing itself through the meta-, is more like the force (of) thought (without thought), a thought according to the real, acting on behalf of the real, rather than a thought that is of the real according to itself and on behalf of itself. While non-philosophical thought is still thought, it is, as force (of) thought, not a thought of or about anything worldly, but a kind of force exerted by thought that enacts or registers the separation of the One from itself and the world.

Using Philosophy According to the Real (Unified Theory of Philosophy and Science, and Effective Utopia)

The suspension of decisional sufficiency is univocally applicable to all philosophical decisions, and hence constitutes a kind of universalized syntax (or uni-tax) capable of translating all philosophical concepts in-the-last-instance. This is not a translation of one philosophy into another, but rather, a translation of any and all philosophy according to the Real, a universal decipherability or legibility seen-in-One. There is thus no universal philosophical language, but only a universalization and generalization of philosophical lexicons as materially equivalent for thought, insofar as they are given-in-the-last-instance by the Real and according to the Real. This material equivalence is also that of use, insofar as the materials yielded by all decisions, once suspended, become equivocally determined according to the Real.

This latter point is crucial, if we are to finally elucidate what a non-philosophical use of philosophy can do. Because the elements of philosophical decisions (concepts, for the most part), once released or at least disengaged from their decisional determination, no longer pretend to sufficiently explain, or determine, or give the Real, but rather, are posited as given according to the Real, concepts themselves become equivocally real materials for use. The conceptual contents of all philosophical doctrines, insofar as the latter have been adequately suspended and so the former adequately cloned, become the material of an experimental theoretical practice and practical theory, and no longer the instruments of a theory of practice and practice of theory. Concepts and theories, no longer sutured to their explanatory sufficiency, becomes the subject of an experimental use. This experimentation is performed on the basis of a new experience of the Real or of radical immanence itself, insofar as it is now a matter of an experience of (philosophy or the world given according to) the Real. It is this experience according to the One, or vision-in-One, that opens up a radically non-intuitive thought, for which concepts no longer function as conditions, but as ‘fracalizers’ capable of inducing unprecedented forms of experience, just as the telescope and microscope did so for the natural sciences.

Non-philosophy then constitutes a unified theory of philosophy and science, as it suspends philosophy’s pretentious claims upon the real, which in the past have always led to confrontations in which philosophy aimed to ‘ground’ science, or ‘subsume’ it, or deny it, or challenge it, or at least supplement it. Non-philosophy, on the contrary, as a use of philosophy, no longer seeks to explain the Real, but rather, like science, seeks to explain empirical phenomena through experimental testing and constant negotiation amongst disparate theories. For non-philosophy, philosophy itself becomes the empirical phenomena to be explained, experimented with, and theorized. The non-philosopher no longer claims privileged access to the Real, but rather, like science, confines itself to a kind of empirical pragmatics determined according to the Real. Good science never claims privileged access to the Real, but only the best available theory of how given phenomena work, while always leaving the determination in the hands of the Real (in-the-last-instance). This is why, for the scientist, the results of an experiment always take precedence over the hypothesis: determination is ultimately left in the hands of the Real, not in those of the theory.

As we can see, non-philosophy offers a universal pragmatics of philosophy, or a use of philosophy that is not itself determined according to philosophy. This is a use not only of philosophical materials taken as given, but philosophy itself taken as the means of production of conceptual materials. No longer constricted to their ‘authorized’ or ‘official’ use, the concepts and theories belonging to the history and future of philosophy are no longer pitted in an aimless and endless war of decision against decision, doctrine against doctrine, philosopher against philosopher. Rather, they are liberated of this vain toil and free to be used according to the Real. And as man himself is, in the flesh, given according to the Real as well, this use is determined according to the Real in-man or in-person, rather than man-as-philosopher. The question of this use according to man is also, finally, the question of a utopian use. Not a hypothetical, imaginary, or regulative idea of utopia, but an effective utopia as already given according to the Real, rather than according to decision.

This entry was posted in non-phi and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Non-Philosophy 1: The Use of Philosophy

  1. Pingback: a non-philosophy response « Object-Oriented Philosophy

  2. Pingback: Correlationism and Non-Philosophy « Speculative Heresy

  3. Hopefully, I’ll have more to say about your outstanding post later this week. At the outset, I would just like to make two points. First, whenever a position claims that outside positions are destined to misunderstand it I think we should approach that position with suspicion. Few gestures are more ideological in character than the suggestion that a position is immune to critique by virtue of the fact that any critique already begins from a particular stance of misrecognition.

    Second and more substantially, I think one of the key points you’re overlooking in my own position is what I have called “Latour’s Principle” or the “Principle of Translation”. When I claim that Onticology and perhaps Graham’s Object-Oriented Philosophy are perhaps post-non-philosophical philosophies already situated in the real, it is based on this principle. The Principle of Translation states that there is no transportation without translation. This amounts to the claim that any object translates the differences of other objects according to its own constitution. This is not a far cry from Laruelle’s own account of the sorting of the world into the transcendental and the datum with respect to philosophy, but, and this is crucial, generalized to all objectal relations and not just the relation between philosophy and the real. I suspect something similar follows from Graham’s own account of “vicarious causation”.

    This aside, I think Nick’s question over at Speculative Heresy is apropos. Non-Philosophy ultimately doesn’t seem to get us very far, but appears to leave us in a sort of radical relativism without any grip on the real. Despite non-philosophy’s claims to be delivering us to the real, it strikes me as more akin to the obsessional always preparing to reach the real without ever doing so.

    • reidkane says:

      Thanks for your reply, Levi. Your first point is clearly called for, and perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of non-phi. Nonetheless I do think it is called for, insofar as non-phi is not one philosophical position contrary to others. It makes no claims about the content of philosophical positions, but only about the form of the discourse in general. Moreover, a principle claim non-phi makes is that the decisional form of philosophical discourse must remain opaque to participants in that discourse in order for their statements to be valid. At best, you can have someone like Badiou, who openly admits he begins with a decision, but gives no second thought to the possibilities of a non-decisional thinking of the real. Finally, in interpreting a claim in the terms of philosophical discourse, one is wont to understand it in terms of decisional legibility. But as non-phi does not employ a decisional structure, it has no such legibility, so any intra-philosophical understanding of it would either find it incomprehensible, or would at best distort it to the point of resembling a philosophical position.

      While I certainly sympathize with your point about ideology, I think there is something politically salient about ‘closed discourses’ in which one must already situate oneself within that discourse in order to understand it. First of all, philosophy itself can be understood in this way: if one does not think philosophically, philosophical questions and statements will seem like ludicrous abstractions. For better or for worse, this was essentially the position of the logical positivists.

      Second of all, science also functions this way. Scientific statements about, say, the quantum mechanics, are bound to appear either incomprehensible or refuted by common sense for the layman.

      Third of all, I think political discourses that pretend to openness, in which their position is plainly transparent to any interlocutor, are guilty of their own sort of ideological distortion, in which they pretend not to be partial in their very form. Mainstream leftists in this country, for example, were shooting themselves in the foot for decades by trying to simply ‘tell the truth’, as if the facts should be enough to persuade anyone paying attention. Unfortunately, they failed to acknowledge that yes, they may be the plain facts, but the form of their discourse involved various value judgments that made it either incomprehensible, or worse, downright immoral, to a large population of Americans.

      Finally, I think there are virtues to closed discourses that outweigh their apparently ideological form – and of course, if one is of the position that all (or most) discourse is ideologically overdetermined, this is a necessary compromise. All sorts of positions openly accept this form: Marxism, psychoanalysis, the church…(this only goes to show its not a virtue in itself). Zizek makes this point somewhere, if I remember correctly. The point is that, from outside certain presuppositions, these discourses look absurd, but within, everything else looks explainable.

      I’ll address the points about your principle of translation and perspectivism in a future post.

      Finally, I think you last point about obsessional neurosis misses the point. Non-philosophy most certainly does not claim to deliver the real. Rather, this is precisely what philosophy does in every case (even anti-realists deliver the real of absolute thought, etc). Non-philosophy, on the other hand, claims we already are the real in the flesh, and hence to ‘give’ or ‘deliver’ the real is an inherently wrongheaded thing to do.

  4. Gary Smih says:

    This guy writes a very, very pleasing sentence. Such command, such panache, such a lively step. It is the first time in a long time I have enjoyed reading a blog post. Lovely! It is, however, typical philosophy-goo and not non-philosophy, which, I suppose, is OK with me, sort of.

  5. Gary Smih says:

    Ok, it may be non-philosophy because what goes by the name philosophy today is not philosophy and, though you were playing with words, you came up with what might be called Absolute Philosophy, or philosophy philosophizing itself into a stupor, the thing-itself, or dialectically just that. Nothing much, but somehow Truth with a capital T, something some boy might like to wear on a necklace and bang around outside some academic garden where very serious goings-on are going on, with lunch served later. Sorry … my point, was that I am impressed with your ability to wield a right nice sentence. It’s downright fun to read them. Please accept my compliment. I am impressed. You have style. I will rummage around to see if I can find more of your stuff. Could it be that you can’t see the brilliance of your own dance?

    • reidkane says:

      I appreciate the compliment, but sentences like

      “Ok, it may be non-philosophy because what goes by the name philosophy today is not philosophy and, though you were playing with words, you came up with what might be called Absolute Philosophy, or philosophy philosophizing itself into a stupor, the thing-itself, or dialectically just that.”

      just appear meaningless to me. Maybe you could clarify?

  6. ZSDP says:

    Reid –

    I understand that non-philosophy is not meant to be subject to philosophical critique, but . . . it really sounds like it’s based on a Neoplatonism.

    I mean—the One is absolutely immanent to itself, beyond predication, and can only be thought be a non-decisional thinking (for Plotinus, being swallowed up in the One, the mystic’s loss of distinction with ultimate reality). It only becomes intelligible to decisional thought upon being split into the ‘Thought-World’ (Nous and Psyche?). Even the talk of ‘unilateral duality’ reeks of the Neoplatonic One, which, though it gives itself in its emanations, its emanations cannot in turn give.

    I assume, however, that I’m missing something. Would you be able to clear this up for me?

    • reidkane says:


      Kevin of Frames /sing has brought this up before. I’m not sure what Laruelle’s specific debt is to Neoplatonism, but as far as I understand it, you’re right, they are very similar, up to a point. The most glaring difference arises when we look at Plotinus’s doctrine of emanation, in which complex multiplicity is derived from the indivisible one by way of descending degrees of perfection.

      At this point, any question of Plotinus’s philosophical standing is settled. Non-philosophy axiomatically restricts any possible predication of the One, and therefore once we begin saying that the One is ‘perfect’, ‘simple’, and ‘indivisible’ we’ve already gone to far. For non-phi, the One-in-One is without perfection as much as without imperfection, without simplicity as much as without complexity, without unity as much as divisibility.

      Moreover, non-phi cannot say anything about the derivation of the world from the One. Non-phi only says that the One gives or determines the world in-the-last-instance, or as a necessary but not sufficient condition for the world. Neoplatonists like Plotinus, on the other hand, have the world as determined by its degree of perfection relative to the absolute perfection of the one.

      Nonetheless, a non-philosophical investigation of Neoplatonism would certainly be worthwhile, and is something I’d like to undertake in the distant future.

      • ZSDP says:

        Reid –

        I’m glad to see I’m not too far out in left field with this, even if I wasn’t entirely correct. My relative newness to these discussions often makes me reticent to join the fray, as I am concerned I don’t really understand what is going on. Your reply is encouraging, to say the least. Anyways . . .

        Plotinus is a tricky bastard, to say the least. He at once insists the One is beyond predication, and then he starts describing it as “‘perfect’, ‘simple’, and ‘indivisible’.” It seems to me that he is either being inconsistent or using these predications in a figurative way to talk about something that he doesn’t have the vocabulary to articulate.

        If the latter is the case, do you think this might strengthen his similarity to non-philosophy?

        Obviously, there would still be differences—Plotinus’s insistence on a dialectic between the One and the Many, treating the emanations (Thought-Worlds) as worthless simulacra rather than as “empirical materials” to be investigated in their own right, and, perhaps most glaringly, the One’s sufficiency for giving the Thought-World (or emanations, whatever).

        I am still troubled by the giving of the (Thought-?)World in-the-last-instance. For Plotinus, the One splits the Nous-Psyche out of itself as an overflowing. The One acts upon itself to perform this splitting—it is, then, the necessary and sufficient condition of the World’s determination. What, for non-philosophy, is the sufficient condition, if it is not the One? What is doing the splitting of the One into Thought-World, if the One is prior to all splits? In other words–what is there (other than the One) to split the One before it is split? What am I missing?

        • reidkane says:

          First, on your point about ‘figurative descriptions’: a point well taken, but the problem here is that the one is still substantialized in one way or another. We may not be able to literally say anything about it, but we can roughly describe it through analogies and figures, etc. But for non-phi, the One is not a substantial ontological element at all. It is a pure axiomatic function. It’s not that we’re incapable of describing it or speaking about it or even knowing it. It is, strictly speaking, nothing but its theoretical function.

          To clarify, non-phi has no interest in describing the Real ‘in-itself’. It is only interested in explaining philosophy. It uses this axiomatic function to universally suspend all philosophical claims upon the Real. In this way, it treats philosophy as given according to the Real, but it does not treat philosophy as thereby giving the Real itself.

          Moreover, it makes no sense to say that the world somehow emerged from the primordial One. The One of non-phi is not the ‘source’ of the world, the cause or sufficient reason of the world. It is only the radically immanent identity of that world, so radical that, in differentiating the world from it, philosophy thereby loses it.

          Thanks for the challenging questions, I hope this helps.

          • ZSDP says:

            Thanks for taking the time to answer.

            Shortly after posting my questions, I decided to actually go read some Laruelle. Let’s just say that, halfway through “A Summary of Non-Philosophy”, I realized that I had been (and probably am still) very confused. In retrospect, it is obvious that I was misunderstanding the sense in which the One is also called the Real by trying to understand non-philosophy in terms of ontology. So, I probably won’t attempt to add anything more here until I’ve finished reading all the Laruelle I found on Speculative Heresy.

            Thanks again for the help, and I look forward to reading more posts on non-philosophy.

  7. musicalcolin says:

    Color me confused. This is all very jargon heavy in a way that I find highly frustrating. I have many questions, but I will ask two questions, and raise one confusion.

    1. According to your post non-philosophy takes philosophical theories and concepts as objects of study. You say “Non-philosophy … as a use of philosophy … seeks to explain empirical phenomena through experimental testing and constant negotiation amongst disparate theories. For non-philosophy, philosophy itself becomes the empirical phenomena to be explained, experimented with, and theorized.” What is the empirical method of inquiry that non-philosophy uses to conduct its experimental research on philosophical theories?

    2. You say “This is why, for the scientist, the results of an experiment always take precedence over the hypothesis: determination is ultimately left in the hands of the Real, not in those of the theory.”

    This seems wedded to a particularly strong theory of science in which there are theory independent answer to scientific questions that the world provides. Is this correct? And if so, is this a correct model for non-philosophy?

    3. At the beginning of the essay you say that non-philosophy cannot be criticized only proven or disproven. What would constitute a proof of non-philosophy, and what would constitute a disproof? Obviously for any theory (or non-theory!) this is crucial because any theory, but is especially crucial in this case because you have at the outset stated that any other criticism is impossible.

    • reidkane says:

      Thanks for your questions.

      1. The ’empirical’ method in question is what Laurelle calls cloning. The reason I use scare quotes is that this method does not simply approach a given empirical phenomenon, but must transform something transcendental into something empirical. The method is hence not simply one of approaching philosophy sociologically or anthropologically, as a phenomenon of human behavior. Rather, it suspends philosophical claims about the Real by attaching a theoretical prothethic that severs any pretension of that philosophy vis a vis the Real. In doing so, the philosophical theory no longer has a prescriptive valence, it is not to be treated as a theory that is more or less adequate or correspondent to the Real. Non-philosophy hence reduces a given philosophical theory to an empirical case exemplifying the hypothesized structure of philosophy in general.

      2. I don’t think there is anything the least bit controversial about saying that science supposes there is a ‘theory independent answer’ out there in the world. That is the point of science, to submit our theories about the world to a rigorous testing of the world itself. Moreover, non-phi operates in a similar dimension, but with an additional twist: because philosophy is itself a theoretical approach that does not submit its theories to the objective validity of the world, non-philosophy takes this already existing theory and suspends its claim to extra-empirical validity on the basis of the Real as already-given without philosophical givenness. In other words, it suspends philosophy by claiming the Real gives philosophy without philosophy reciprically giving us the Real in turn. In the same way, science is given by the Real (experimentation), yet it does not exhaustively give the Real (its theories are always tentative and subject to potential falsification or modification). Non-phi is simply the submission of philosophy to Real determination, rather than allowing it to submit the Real to determination in thought.

      3. Non-phi begins from a central hypothesis, that all philosophy is decisional or pretends to give the Real. This hypothesis is tested by analyzing (or dualyzing, as Laurelle calls it) given philosophies. Yet this hypothesis is, in a sense, constitutive of its object (axiomatic), in that its claim is that something is only philosophical insofar as it is decisional. Now, if you look at the history of philosophy, the vast majority of cases seem to support this definition, so there isn’t much trouble there. But proving or disproving this for a given philosophical case does not thereby invalidate non-phi, any more than disproving a given scientific hypothesis invalidates science itself.

      Non-phi can make more specific hypotheses about the particular operation of decision within a given philosophical theory, which can obviously be proven or disproven on the basis of the theory in question. But to disprove a specific non-philosophical theory about a philosophy is much different from the philosophical refutation of all other decisions, which ultimately boils down to a matter of faith, not proof.

  8. musicalcolin says:

    First a question about the terms of the discussion

    Is there a tension between your claim that non-philosophy is not open to philosophical critique merely to proof or disproof, and your claim that disproving a non-philosophical theory is possible, but accepting non-philosophy itself can only be a matter of faith? If I’ve misunderstood you, please let me know. I’m not sure what is gained by the non-philosopher on this instance. It sounds more like a religious text than anything else, which is fine, but not something I would be interested in.

    Second a question about cloning.

    You describe cloning as follows: “it suspends philosophical claims about the Real by attaching a theoretical prothethic that severs any pretension of that philosophy vis a vis the Real.” This seems like the key move here, and remains opaque to me. The goal seems to be to turn a philosophical concept into something that can be empirically tested against the real. The concept is not longer true (valent in your terminology) unless it correctly describes the real. Is this vague approximation even close to correct?

    • reidkane says:

      You misunderstand on two counts here. Non-philosophy is not a matter of faith. Rather, non-philosophy claims that philosophy is a matter of faith. With non-phi, there is nothing to have faith in, as it makes no substantive claims about the Real, only holding the latter as a symbolic placeholder from its own discursive foreclosure.

      Second, the point of cloning is not to see how accurates a concept ‘describes’ the Real – this is what philosophy does. Non-phi suspends the legitimacy of conceptual descriptions of the Real, but only to determine concepts according to the Real. Non-philosophical experimentation amounts to a use of concepts by the Real, or by the non-philosophical subject as surrogate for the Real, transcendental effectuation of the Real’s foreclosure. In other words, the subject as Real in-the-last-instance uses the Real according to itself, rather than according to a philosophical circumscription of the Real. Experimentation is not strictly scientific, here; or we might say scientific experiementation is encompassed by, but does not exhaust, this kind of experiment – we use thing in such a way, no because we are obliged to or supposed to, but because there is no proper and obligatory way to do so.

  9. Gary Smih says:

    I would here like to come to the defense of “Non-philosophy” and its notion of cloning. In the middle ages, as the ideas of Plotinus concerning the One and its multiple Emanations and Reflections were developed by the more Platonic theologians, notions very similar to a clone appeared. Somewhat the same idea is used in today’s mathematics of Transfinite numbers in relation to Absolute Infinity. It’s a perfectly good philosophical and set-theoretical idea. My only objection to so-called Non-philosophy is that it has so unnecessarily taken up with the nineteenth century idea of “overcoming” philosophy and the absurd notion of creating a science of philosophy. In spite of that, “Non-philosophy” has brought back some very interesting and beautiful ideas. Non-philosophy is philosophy. Sometimes good philosophy. If it would only get rid of the jargon and the attempt to be untouched by all the messiness that went before.

  10. Kate says:

    Fascinating and frustrating! The core of Laruelle’s work, his hypothesis of philosophy’s decisional structure makes perfect sense, but his utopian prescriptions seem somewhat unnecessarily tacked on, and continue to perplex me.

    “It is this experience according to the One, or vision-in-One, that opens up a radically non-intuitive thought, for which concepts no longer function as conditions, but as ‘fracalizers’ capable of inducing unprecedented forms of experience, just as the telescope and microscope did so for the natural sciences.”

    What are these “unprecedented forms of experience,” how are they magically induced by the practice of detaching philosophy’s abstract material from its pretension to sufficiency, and what, outside of decision, would personally motivate one to undergo them?

    Ray Brassier raises some related questions about the necessity of (some of) the non-phi program in Nihil Unbound, specifically the experiential and human aspects you focus on here. According to Brassier, this program depends in part upon Laruelle’s identification of philosophy as a whole with decision–but contrary to what you seem to suggest here, such an identification is far from assured.

    As of yet, I can’t get past this obstacle to understanding Laruelle’s work as more than an expert diagnosis, not a cure, of philosophy’s failures.

    • reidkane says:

      I understand your feelings about the utopian stance. I’m going to write about it again in the near future, hopefully to clarify things.

      I’m reading Brassier’s book right now, and I’m actually in the middle of the Laurelle chapter. I basically agree with his discussion of decision (in this post, I’m only trying to explain Laurelle’s position, not totally endorse it. I haven’t yet read the part where he drops the experiential mutation stuff; I can’t judge ahead of time, but it seems odd to me that he would want to abandon it, as that seemed to be his main argument for non-phi in Alien Theory.

      I don’t think its as ‘magical’ as you suggest. Basically, the point is that experience is plastic, shaped and constructed (even constructed as the experience of a subject, etc), by theoretical structures, which are also material structures instantiated in the brain, amongst other media (‘epistemic engines’). Non-phi, in that sense, is meant to suspend the claim that any given engineering of experience is correct or sufficient or superior, so as to open us to a radically experimental use of our cognitive apparatus.

      I agree with Brassier that the human should be dropped, but the point is we can’t just pretend we aren’t already human, we have to transform ourselves, our self-perception and cognitive machinery, mutating our theoretical structure away from the human default.

      Anyway, I will hopefully write more on non-phi soon, so I’ll try to address these questions then. Thanks for the questions!

  11. godinterrupted says:

    Thanks, this helps somewhat.

    Point taken re: Brassier. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that Brassier had completely dropped the “experiential mutation” idea. My take was that he suggests that the value of Laruelle’s work is in his discovery of the non-dialectical logic of unilateralization, rather than in “non-philosophy” insofar as Laruelle has constructed it to work with subjectivity, experience, and the human (“an overdose of phenomenological solipsism”–Nihil Unbound, p. 138), and insofar as he insists on its incommensurability with philosophy.

    I’m glad you did not mean to imply some sort of magical gnosis through non-phi. Obviously, experience is “shaped and constructed by theoretical structures,” and they are definitely instantiated in the brain, but I think that the “how” of this experimental use needs to be developed and expanded beyond the arcane, constricting tools that Laruelle has provided so far. Some examples of such development may include Nihil Unbound and perhaps your schizoanalysis!

    I look forward to reading your next post.

  12. schluehk says:

    From the brief description you’ve given above non-philosophy feels reminiscent of radical constructivism but without the terminology of cybernetics and systems theory but rather that of traditional philosophy ( object, immanence, concept, substance, world, causality etc. ).

    This is just an initial impression of course since I know close to nothing about Laruelles work.

    • reidkane says:

      Not a bad estimation. I’m working on a project now dealing with cybernetics to an extent, and I plan on bringing it into contact with non-phi in the future. Thanks for the comment!

  13. Nate says:

    A lot of this is way over my head. Simple question, why the term “non-philosophy”? The term lends itself to confusion, in that in one sense any activity which is not philosophy is ‘non-philosophy’. Is there a reason you like this term in particular?

    • reidkane says:

      The term isn’t mine, its Laurelle’s. He uses it as an abbreviation for ‘non-Decisional philosophy’, which essentially means a form of philosophy which does not claim to speak with authority about the Real. That doesn’t mean philosophy that simply gives up on ontological questions, claiming they are impossible to answer, because such a position still makes an authoritative claim – that the Real is unknowable. Non-philosophy begins by saying the Real is indifferent to conceptual distinctions like knowable/unknowable, instead claiming that the Real determines our concepts without being exhaustively given by way of those concepts.

      Laurelle’s reasons for using such a confusing term are hard to specify. The entire vocabulary of non-philosophy is plagued by these problems. Nonetheless, non-philosophy operates through the use of syntactic symbols (non-, without, already, in-the-last-instance) that function performatively. It takes hold of a given philosophy and uses these symbols to remark upon it the foreclosure of the Real, suspending the authority of its concepts regarding the Real. In other words, these symbols seek to distance us from the immediate use of a given philosophy, be it a critical or non-critical use, so that we can use it without submitting to its terms.

      Non-philosophy, as any other case where the prefix ‘non-‘ is used, does not refer to ‘anything that is not philosophy’ but to a kind of negative (not negation) of philosophy that encompasses and redefines philosophy. Laurelle likes to use the analogy that non-philosophy is to philosophy as non-Euclidean geometry is to Euclidean geometry.

      I hope that helps. This stuff is not easy to explain, as it is rather ‘circular’. Let me know if I can clarify further.

      • Nate says:

        Thanks for clarifying. It was clear that the term was more specific than it’s literal meaning (such that there’s not a parallel between, say, “non-philosophy” and “non-fiction”). I’m not familiar with Laruelle, so I just assumed the term was yours.

  14. himanshu damle says:

    frankly speaking, i had difficulty following it smoothly for quite a while, but at last your analogy of marxian superstructure did dilute the matters into some sort of even-ta-lity. one thing that is still not clear as to why is it called the science of philosophy. maybe you could help clarify the matter a bit. is it only because as you have mentioned “Good science never claims privileged access to the Real, but only the best available theory of how given phenomena work, while always leaving the determination in the hands of the Real (in-the-last-instance). This is why, for the scientist, the results of an experiment always take precedence over the hypothesis: determination is ultimately left in the hands of the Real, not in those of the theory.” or because of some other reason.
    i guess, a unified theory of science and philosophy is different from a science of philsophy.

    anticipating a clarification.
    himanshu damle

    • reidkane says:

      Laurelle only referred to non-phi as a science of philosophy in his earlier work, opting later on for the locution ‘unified theory of philosophy and science’. Nonetheless, the point is to treat philosophical theories in the same tentative and un-authoritative manner as scientific ones. Of course, science can claim to speak with a certain authority, but this ends when we consider the admission of new experimental data, which is always afforded the ultimate determining role, capable of at the limit totally undermining the coherence of a theory. Philosophers do not accept such a limitation on their authority.

      As for the unified theory, the point is to develop a theory of how both science and philosophy work without reducing one to the other, or limiting one by the other, but limiting both by the Real, as occasions for the determination of the Real by its transcendental effectuation in non-philosophical thought.

  15. Pingback: Does Speculative Realism Exist? « Planomenology

  16. Lancek says:

    Absolutely wonderful. The premises of non-philosophy are so clearly put: it proposes to reconcile the subject and object through negating its discursive possibility by taking philosophy as the representative of the institution (of the subject-object).
    i am curious how this non-philosophy addresses such duality without using the mechanism of duality that is inherent in our way of commmunicating.

    There is no ‘getting to know’ the terms of non-philosophy once one has come to terms with the contradictions inherent in the traditional philosophical mode. The non-philosophical terms introduce themselves as obvious, once one reads the first sentence of the definitions. So wonderful ! and yet so silly in its need and presentation. (which is wonderful.)
    But until i can read some of Laurelle’s and others original works, I would have to submit that he (or they) are complicit in philosophy activity, and only defferentiate his ideas by the same philosophic means: by defining ‘philosophy’ as a particular thing, and non-philosophy as another, different thing. It is a novel way of discursive gymnastics; and he was either a charletan or an ignorant. i tend to think something else is going on (even before reading the orginal source) that those who need the definitions, and yet still have difficulty with non-philosophy, will not grasp. i tend to think Laurelle is attempting to solve the age old problem of philosophy, but ends up positing just another method — although a very useful method indeed.

  17. Lancek says:

    perhaps, some might understand better the ‘concepts’ as ‘material’ in this way: we cannot speak of something that is true, or real, we can only use the concepts, granted to us, within a dialectic in order to point to how the concepts are situated for our reality.
    Absolutely wonderful. I am amazed I hadnt heard of this non-philosophy until now. i never thought of calling this analysis “non-philosophy”. It has been so obvious.

  18. Pingback: Transcendental Dynamism I: A note « Naught Thought

  19. drew hempel says:

    Yeah it’s cultural studies — Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek. A lot of “non-talk” without any actual direction on how to practice “being.” Zizek does mind yoga — to “empty” out thoughts and that realm even gets into meditation explicitly in some cases. But they are so far from figuring out the psychophysiology of brain transformation to create spiritual “direct perception” (i.e. telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, etc.). Zizek of course attacks the New Age and also Western Buddhism — I encouraged him to read Master Nan, Huai-chin to find out real Buddhism — that was on an old website devoted to him – the website then soon after shut down before any response was posted. haha. Zizek sent me a postcard personally saying after a quick glance what I sent him was fascinating and he’d get back to me. He didn’t except his next book was directly a response to my critique of him — he wasn’t happy — attacking ecofeminists and the New Age the whole time — 1997.

    Anyway I’m about to listen to John Gray on his Straw Dogs book – he’s a great “non-philosopher” — but even though he explicit embraces Taoism (hence the book title) — he doesn’t get into actual mind-body complementary opposite resonance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s