Badiou does indeed seek to think through the “question of Being,” but in a very differentkey than does Heidegger: specifically, he wants to
this question, to scrub it free of any aura of magic or summons such as one can easily think adheres to it, at least when reading Heidegger. For Badiou, there is no mystery about Being, and one need not speak of it in hushed tones or with any “pietyof thinking;” but at the same time, one need not capitulate to the flattening of logical positivism whichtried to laugh Heidegger out of court. In a sense, indeed, Badiou regards not only Heidegger but alsoCarnap “as commonplace.” He does this first by stipulating, and then by very patient spelling out theconsequences of, a remarkably simple and audacious equation: ontology
mathematics; and Being
themathematical.This (all too?) elegant formula means that insofar as anything
, its structure is in principle completelydelimitable in the language of mathematics. It is the task of mathematics—not philosophy—to elaboratethat language. What
, is simply the multiple as such; mathematics
ontology, and ontology
mathematics. An entity is always an ensemble, and its orderedness (what makes it an entity rather thanmerely scattered random things) is, in the language of mathematics, its status as a
. Yes: for Badiou,the formulations of set theory provide the best language for ontology available.
In his application of settheory, Badiou carefully takes its axioms and shows how each one unpacks into a clear and applicable philosophical procedure. The axiom of extensionality, for instance, states that two sets are equivalent if and only if their elements are the same. It is clear, says Badiou, that this axiom pertains directly to the old problematic of the same and the other, or identity and difference; it not only states the terms of the problematic, but also give a precise formula for resolving it. The axiom of extensionality is thus revealedas a proposition about Being. The same is shown in
Being and Event
for each of the axioms of set theory.Badiou’s recourse to mathematics has an overtly philosophical motivation: it is his express desire torehabilitate the notion of
. Truth, like Plato, had a hard time of it philosophically in the 20
century,and on the contemporary scene one might be excused for thinking that its critique was pretty well finallyestablished. About the world, human beings, and the way to live, the widespread and unstated publicconsensus is that Nietzsche got it right: there are no truths, only interpretations. One may fairly quicklylay out the problem with this easy and unthinking relativism, ostensibly revolutionary (according to itsapostles from the counterculture of the 1950s to the political correctness of the 1990s): de facto, it alwayscapitulates to the status quo. Either it is incapable of sustaining its revolutionary intuitions into practice because it cannot formulate a coherent self-rationale; or it winds up overtly drawing the only logicalconclusion: that of Thrasymachus in the
, which of course, needs no coherence or rationale, because it is only a practice, not a discourse. This reveals why one often finds it, with a little pushing,even among people of ostensibly “conservative” positions, who one might expect to take a morerigorously realist position with regards to politics or ethics. Nine times out of ten, it suits the conservative just as well to defend the status quo in relativist terms as to insist upon argument from shared premises; ittakes far less time; it disarms the opponent, who usually agrees with relativism himself; and while it isless bald than saying “I am stronger than you,” the results are the same.
Manifesto for Philosophy
This is the case at least in Badiou’s first great book,
Being and Event
. In a second installment,
Logics of Worlds
, Badiou hasalso made extensive use of category theory. In some important ways, this second book, subtitled
Being and Event II
, nuances theapproach of the earlier work, but the fundamental thesis, that of the equivalency of ontology with mathematics, is onlyelaborated, never gainsaid.