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Radical Philosophy
July/August 2000

Ethics Without Others: A Reply to Critchley on Badiou's Ethics
by Peter Hallward

In his otherwise sympathetic survey of Badiou's ethics in Radical Philosophy100, Simon Critchley advances three significant arguments against Badiou's rather unusual position. They are likely to be fairly typical of the sort of objections we should expect from those committed, after Levinas and Derrida, to an ethics oriented around the category of the other. All three arguments are either insubstantial, misleading or both.

First, Critchley suggests that Badiou's curt rejection of Levinas's explicitly religious orientation (the subordination of `philosophy to theology') should at least be qualified by the inclusion of Levinas's name in 'that long line of anti-philosophes, like St Paul, Luther, Pascal, Rousseau, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, some of whom (Badiou) elsewhere praises... If it is granted that religion... is anti-philosophical, then I do not see why it cannot be a condition for ethical action.' Like Zizek and Lecercle before him, Critchley then goes on to suggest that religion should even be treated here as `the paradigm of ethical action' and the 'model' for Badiou's peculiar conception of the `conditions of philosophy' - that is, the four types of 'truth-procedures' Badiou classifies as politics, science, art and love.

Now it is true that Badiou believes that philosophy 'should always think as closely as possible to antiphilosophy', and in particular to the antiphilosophy professed by Lacan. But the prefix 'anti' has absolutely no seductive or subversive connotation here. Antiphilosophy simply means 'hostility to philosophy', and, as befits the author of a Manifesto for Philosophy (1989), Badiou seeks only to refute it at every turn. Antiphilosophy seeks precisely to humble philosophical pretensions so as to `clear the mind' for faith in some sort of ineffable, transcendent meaning. (Unsurprisingly, Wittgenstein's Tractatus is for Badiou one of the great antiphilosophical texts.) Every antiphilosophy privileges a 'silent, supra-cognitive or mystical intuition'. So yes, the great antiphilosophers do provide the philosophers with their most worthy adversaries (Pascal's charity against the pretensions of rationality, Rousseau's sincerity against the science of the Encyclopédistes, Kierkegaard's redemptive leap against Hegel's synthesis, and so on) - but adversaries they remain. Badiou's many interventions on this point invite no ambiguity: 'Of course I am anti antiphilosophy.'

As might be expected, the real model for Badiou's four conditions - not religion but that most anti-hermeneutic of disciplines, mathematics - provides the clearest demonstration of the point. For whereas the antiphilosopher looks first to the integrity or authenticity of the inspired speaker as its performative guarantee, 'philosophy has never been possible without accepting the possibility of an anonymous statement', the production of statements which compel examination `on their own right'. Mathematics is the pre-eminent source of such statements:

"The simple question, 'is mathematics a form of thought?' organizes, subterraneously, the debate between philosophy and antiphilosophy. Why? Because if mathematical propositions are thought-ful (pensantes), this means that there exists a speaking un dire) without any experience of an object, an a-subjective, regulated access to the intelligible. That being is not necessarily foreclosed to all proposition. That the (self-validating) act is perhaps even of a theoretical nature. Antiphilosophy challenges all this absolutely."

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