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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Norris, Christopher, 1947Badiou’s Being and event: a reader’s guide/Christopher Norris. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN-13: 978-0-8264-9828-1 (HB) ISBN-10: 0-8264-9828-0 (HB) ISBN-13: 978-0-8264-9829-8 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 0-8264-9829-9 (pbk.) 1. Badiou, Alain. Etre et l’événement. 2. Ontology. 3. Set theory. 4. Events (Philosophy) I. Title. B2430.B273E875 2009 111–dc22 2008045238 Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall

For Wendy Lewis and Ray Davies

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Overview of Themes 3.CONTENTS Acknowledgements Author’s Note viii x 1. Context 2. Further Reading 1 14 37 284 Notes 289 307 Index vii . Reading the Text 4.

hosted by the Centre for Ideas at the Victorian College of the Arts. as did Tim Andrews.D. Pat Clark. Richard Evans. Dave Hume and Dick James – stalwart companions of the control-line handle – did much to keep me on an even keel and to ward off the perils of writerly solitude. Robert Reay-Jones. Theo Grammenos. Vesna Main. students. Since then my writing of this Reader’s Guide has been helped. something of a Badiou occasion and confirmed my already strong sense that Being and Event is itself one of those major – ‘evental’ – occurrences in the history of thought that his book so impressively documents. Melbourne. Billy McMurtrie. Gerald Gould. Terry Hawkes. My interest in Badiou’s work was reinforced by meeting and hearing him at the splendid conference ‘Wandering with Spinoza’. Australia in September 2006 and organized by Elizabeth Presa and Dimitris Vardoulakis. Alison Venables and Barry Wilkins – for their friendship and encouragement over the past few years. sustained and occasionally nudged in some new direction by discussions with or readings of (among others) Gideon Calder. viii . Rob Stradling and Rea Wallden. This was also.A.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS My thanks to colleagues in the Philosophy Section at Cardiff – especially Robin Attfield. Dave Hilldrup. Laurence Peddle. Gordon May. Reg Coates. Manuel Barbeito Varela invited me to Santiago de Compostela where I was able to present an impromptu version of some of this material and benefited greatly from the students’ stimulating company during a week of intensive but none the less enjoyable exchange. Alison Scott-Baumann. Sam Gillespie. I am more than happy to acknowledge the regular fix of lively talk and intellectual stimulus – as well as good social cheer – that came from my weekly informal seminars with M. Scott Newton. as it turned out. Ricky Sebold read through a draft version and offered some exceptionally well-informed and pertinent comments. Rhian Rattray. Peter Hallward. and Ph. John Mealing. Paul Gorton.

although I realize now that I’ve been prefacing books with sentences to much the same syncopated upbeat/downbeat effect for the past two decades and more. Ray Davies. Clare and Jenny – as usual – my love and gratitude. Sarah Campbell at Continuum Books was quick to come up with the idea of this project when I first mentioned my interest in Badiou. Wendy Lewis. To Alison. Margaret Innocent. Cardiff October 2008 ix . Lyn Mererid. Di Corker. Beaty Smith and all my comrades in Cor Cochion Caerdydd (the Cardiff Reds Choir) were a great source of hope and a constant inspiration through some bad political times.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Digby Perriam and other friends in the South Bristol Model Aircraft Club. and has provided much welcome help and advice as the work went along.

What is clear enough – I should say – from a perusal of Logiques des mondes is that it stands as a largely self-sufficient text which takes up many lines of argument from that earlier work but does so from an angle (or variety of angles) so distinctive as truly to constitute a sequel rather than a supplement. In fact there were already clear signs of this new direction in his thinking by the time of Badiou’s Briefings on Existence: A Short Treatise on Transitory Ontology (original French publication 1998). for clarity’s sake. Given my remit here this is just as well since Being and Event is in itself something of an Everest – not to say a veritable K2 – for the commentator wishing to convey both the rigour and the sheer exhilarating sweep of Badiou’s philosophical enterprise. References to Being and Event are given by page number x . as well as marking a number of significant (at times quite extraordinary) new departures in Badiou’s thinking about issues of politics and ontology vis-à-vis developments and formal procedures in the logico-mathematical domain. 2006. an English translation by Alberto Toscano of Badiou’s Logiques des mondes (Paris: Seuil. integral part or concluding statement. It is a work fully comparable to Being and Event in scale and philosophical ambition.AUTHOR’S NOTE I should mention that there will have been published. continuation. by the time this book appears. Since my book is a running commentary with just a few shortlived proleptic swerves from Badiou’s carefully chosen sequence of argument I have decided. either as ‘Volume Two of’ or as ‘a sequel to’ Being and Event. since it first appeared and pending its English publication. 2009). London: Continuum. Logics of Worlds. This explains the confusion regarding its place in Badiou’s oeuvre because the new work has been described. to stick with his descriptive (often lengthy) section titles for my own headings from Chapter 3 on and use them as convenient signposts along the way.

The latter also contains a selective bibliography of writings on Badiou for readers with an interest in various specific aspects of his work. All other sources are fully referenced in the chapter endnotes. while other works by Badiou are referred to by bare title in the chapter endnotes and then with full publication details in the ‘Further Reading’ section. xi .AUTHOR’S NOTE only in the text.

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Thus his book is very clear from the outset that it will have no truck with any version of the standard Manichean account according to which – and depending on one’s own allegiance – it is either a case of the ‘analytic’ virtues contra the typically ‘continental’ vices of obscurity. arid technicality and narrowly professionalized ethos of much ‘analytic’ or mainstream Anglo-American philosophy. In fact the case for writing it is also the case for considering Badiou’s Being and Event a work that thoroughly deserves such treatment and which makes exceptional demands of its reader. epistemology and – central to Badiou’s project – ontology as a constant point of reference for all those other disciplines of thought. language. pretension and stylistic self-indulgence or else of ‘continental’ creativity and intellectual flair versus the tedium. politics. One reason for this is his adamant refusal to accept that Kantian agenda – whether in epistemology. aesthetics or political thought – whose effect (so he argues) has been to impose a variety of false and actively misleading dualisms like those between subject and object.1 These go beyond a willingness to stretch one’s mind around a great range of subject-areas including mathematics.CHAPTER 1 CONTEXT Of the making of books (and of books about books) there is seemingly no end so this one needs at least a few words by way of self-justification. both of which have their proximate source in certain issues and unresolved problems bequeathed by Kant. It also requires an effort to grasp the unusual combination of a highly speculative mindset very much in the ‘continental’ (i. ethics. ethics. Badiou’s work overleaps the great rift that is supposed to have opened up between these two intellectual cultures. aesthetics and psychoanalysis along with philosophy of logic. post-Kantian mainlandEuropean) line of intellectual descent with an approach that strives for the utmost degree of conceptual and logical precision. mind and world. sensuous intuitions 1 .e.

the phenomenal and the noumenal or mere inclination (however benign) and the dictates of absolute moral law. For now. Of course the precise nature of that relationship and the different forms that it can take in each case are topics that need a lot more detailed explanation and to which we shall return at various points in this book. politics. he never ceases to emphasize that philosophy is not and in truth has never been such a self-sufficient enterprise possessed of its own intellectual authority or juridical power whereby it presumes to lay down standards of validity or truth for those other. art and love. social and human sciences) began to assert their distinctive claims. its constant need for involvement with debates and activities outside what counts (on a typecast division of academic labour) as philosophy pure and proper. For Badiou the most essential conditions are science. In fact it is a central precept of Badiou’s work – fully borne out by his own practice in a text like Being and Event – that philosophy can make progress or achieve worthwhile results only when it acknowledges its crucial dependence on certain extra-philosophical ‘conditions’ of thought.2 In each case. It is in relation to developments in these four chief areas of knowledge and experience that philosophy is able to reflect upon the kinds of conceptual or ethical breakthrough that can then be seen to mark a genuine and lasting – rather than merely notional or short-term – stage of advance. Not that Badiou is for one moment setting the philosopher up as sovereign dispenser of truth. neopragmatists and followers of Wittgenstein – to the point of 2 . On the contrary.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT and concepts of understanding. the latter understood largely (though by no means exclusively) in psychoanalytic terms. supposedly less well-regulated subject-domains. that is to say. that refusal goes along with his leading claim that ontology – rather than epistemology – must be the starting point for any project that would seek to throw off this inherited burden of strictly (on their own terms) insoluble problems and instead make room for the kind of constructive or creative-exploratory thinking that is philosophy’s true vocation. what I want to stress is the fact that Badiou seeks neither to aggrandize philosophy’s juridical role as was once (not so long ago) the fashion nor yet to play it down – like some present-day postmodernists. knowledge and wisdom or wishing to re-live past philosophical glories from a time before the other disciplines (the natural.

3 This latter idea is one that Badiou has most emphatically denounced and which he sees as threatening not only the fine-tuned balance of interests between philosophy and its fourfold conditions but also its capacity for critical reflection on issues in the wider intellectual. describe. Those who take the language-first approach should be seen not so much as philosophers in any genuine or properly applicable sense of that term but rather as standing squarely in line of descent from the ancient sophists. postmodernism and the type of ‘strong’-descriptivist or ultra-constructivist thinking espoused by someone like Richard Rorty.4 These latter are best thought of as ontological in character since they have to do directly with the question of being – in its various kinds or modalities – as distinct from the epistemological question with regard to our knowledge thereof or the linguistic question with regard to what we can say. namely their belief – the hallmark of linguistic philosophy in general – that only through recourse to language as the basis of all enquiry could philosophy escape from those false dilemmas induced by the epistemological ‘way of ideas’ from Descartes to Kant and beyond. In treating language – for which read alternatively ‘discourse’. or justifiably assert concerning it. cultural and socio-political spheres. ethical.CONTEXT recommending that philosophers abandon their trade altogether. the ‘linguistic turn’ is not – as its proponents would have us believe – a means of liberation from outworn ideas or misconceived pseudo-dilemmas but rather a means of distracting attention from problems that would otherwise occupy the forefront of any philosophical project meriting the name. whom Plato charged with promoting mere eloquence above the interests of truth and justice. or skilled all-purpose rhetoricians. post-structuralism. or else give up their delusions of epistemological grandeur and content themselves with being just one more voice in the ‘cultural conversation of mankind’. ‘paradigm’. For Badiou. On his account there is something highly suspect about the widespread ‘linguistic turn’ across various philosophic schools of thought. from the echtanalytic (Frege-Russell) mode and the reactive ‘ordinary language’ approach with its sources in Wittgenstein or Austin to hermeneutics. ‘descriptive framework’ or ‘conceptual scheme’ – as their 3 . Whatever their deep-laid differences these schools have one major premise in common.

given various practical constraints. or best suited to convince those (the relevant target-group) whose agreement or good opinion one seeks to win. may not rank high (or figure at all) on the list of priorities for anyone doing specialist work in the field. conventionalist or communitarian stance whereby ‘truth’ cashes out for all practical purposes as what’s ‘good in the way of belief’. Where this function is exercised to most decisive effect is through the readiness to raise questions or engage issues that directly concern those other disciplines yet which. nevertheless it – and they – will suffer a lapse into inertly orthodox or passively conformist ways of thought unless philosophy retains a sense of its own relative autonomy and proper (reflective and critical) role. it is Wittgenstein’s later thinking and its pervasive influence in so many quarters of current academic debate that Badiou identifies as the single most potent source of a loftily dismissive attitude to real. This they do mainly by focusing on problems amenable to their sorts of treatment – prototypically the issue about rule-following – and hence failing to think mathematically 4 .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT ultimate court of appeal these thinkers more or less overtly embrace a pragmatist. constructive or humanly beneficial purpose except through exposure to issues and challenges thrown up by one or other of its four ‘conditions’. What is distinctive about Badiou’s critique is the fact that he locates this sophistical strain not only in thinkers like Rorty who would happily subscribe to such a characterization of their views but also right across that large tract of present-day philosophic country where the dominant approach is one or another version of the linguistic turn. with regard to mathematics where there exists a great distance between working mathematicians who mostly take little interest in what philosophers might have to say and philosophers – especially those in the analytic mainstream – whose approach and whose choice of topics for debate all too often invite just such a negative response. one that would have us regard those problems as involving no more than a regrettable failure to observe the proprieties of this or that ‘language-game’ or communal ‘form of life’. Above all.5 As against such derelictions of its proper role Badiou is at pains to emphasize his point: that although philosophy cannot be pursued to any worthwhile. as we shall see. even urgent philosophical problems. he argues. Such is most strikingly the case.

following Cantor.CONTEXT in a way that might put them more closely in touch with the sources of mathematical creativity.7 This discovery – as Badiou most emphatically considers it. practices and modes of social being as well as of intellectual enquiry far beyond the mathematical as normally (i. but which all have the same constitutive feature of numerical equivalence with one of their proper subsets.e. In Being and Event this work has to do with developments in post-Cantorian set theory and their potentially transformative effect – as Badiou seeks to show – on disciplines. procedures and hypotheses can be expected to proceed through 5 .e. rather than a mere paradigm change or shift of working method among mathematicians at a certain point in time – is the heart of his entire philosophical project and will therefore be the focus of detailed commentary later on. restrictively) defined.6 What sets Badiou’s work so decidedly apart is its refusal to engage in suchlike familiar (since intra-philosophical) kinds of debate and its insistence that any ‘philosophy of mathematics’ worthy of the name will have to manifest not only a strong intellectual command of the subject but also the capacity for conceptual work of a sufficiently high order. It follows. this means that the development of set-theoretical concepts. there are three points that chiefly need explaining. Thirdly. it became possible to define an infinite set as a set whose members are equinumerous (i. For the moment. quantities and ratios which can indeed be reckoned with and placed in precisely calculable relationship one with another. Most significant here is Cantor’s radically innovative way of conceiving infinity not. secondly. in quasi-mystical or crypto-theological terms. as that which by very definition transcends the utmost powers of human reckoning or calculative grasp but rather as belonging to a realm of transfinite numbers. Thus the infinite set of natural numbers (integers) can be paired off with the infinite set of odd numbers even though the latter is a proper subset of the former or a set that on any ‘normal’ (finite) method of counting would be missing one integer for every two counted. First is the fact that. that there must exist multiple orders or ‘sizes’ of infinite set whose cardinality or proportion one to another can best be thought of by analogy with that between the integers and even numbers. stand in a one-to-one equivalence relation) with one of its proper subsets.

some set theorists – those who rate higher in Badiou’s esteem – have rejected any fall-back ‘solution’ along these lines and opted instead for a highly conjectural. it is a mode of enquiry that has typically achieved its most notable advances at the point of coming up against some obstacle.10 Here again. The same goes for those other main topic-areas of Being and Event – politics. On the other hand. Hence the centrality to Badiou’s project of certain set-theoretical methods developed by Paul Cohen. or a sense of possibilities at present blocked off by the limits of existing methods and proof-procedures. by that which exceeds its present-best powers of assured set-theoretical grasp. that is. Advances of this sort may come about either through the impact of some currently recognized but so far recalcitrant problem or else through the anticipatory awareness of a problem that has not yet emerged distinctly to view but which they are able to discern as a kind of presumptive anomaly. in particular those of ‘forcing’ and ‘the generic’.9 Russell purported to resolve this problem by adopting a purely stipulative rule. so to speak. even adventurous but none the less rigorous and consequent mode of hypothesis formation which requires the truth of certain as-yet unprovable statements or theorems. which between them provide a means of explaining how such developments occur.8 Such was the problem that Bertrand Russell famously uncovered with regard to self-referring or self-predicative expressions. one which decreed – as a matter of fiat – that such expressions were illicit since they contained terms belonging to two logically distinct (object-language and meta-linguistic) levels and were therefore certain to create all manner of confusion. In other words. science. art and 6 . What Badiou brings out very clearly is the way that mathematicians from Cantor to the present have responded to such challenges by allowing their thought to be drawn ahead of itself. paradox or hitherto unnoticed anomaly which threatens to undermine its conceptual foundations. the dilemma or logical contradiction that results if one tries to make sense of phrases such as ‘the set of all sets that are not members of themselves’. I must defer a more adequate treatment of these complicated matters until we reach the relevant stage of my detailed commentary on the text.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT a series of further limit-point encounters like that which motivated Cantor’s original discovery.

in present-day terms. The political dimension is directly linked to his writing on mathematics since the latter provides Badiou not only with the rudiments of a social ontology – that is. set theory provides by far the most adequate conceptual resources when it comes to accounting for this democratic deficit and locating those oppressed or excluded social elements that lack recognition or pass unacknowledged under dominant (official or consensual) ideas of social membership. freedoms guaranteed by rule of law and so on – and the reality of various blatant exceptions to each and every one of these notional achievements. on the one hand. another of those key concepts in Badiou 7 . equality. justice. According to Badiou. with a closely analogous means of explaining the modus operandi of various socio-political orders. the sharply distinguished set-theoretical concepts of part and member. there is a large and precisely specifiable gap between the claims put forward on behalf of liberal democracy – claims concerning inclusiveness. universal rights. belonging and inclusion. more to the point. they don’t figure anywhere in the legal-administrative ‘count-as-one’. Thus. disenfranchised or oppressed minorities (such as the sans-papiers or ‘paperless’. For it is precisely through the everpresent excess of inconsistent over consistent multiplicity – of the parts whose sum total constitutes the truth of a given situation over the members legally or socially acknowledged as belonging to it – that a politics of radical participant democracy might hope to gain a strengthened critical purchase. on the other. such pressing issues of social justice or political representation and. or inconsistent and consistent multiplicity. a conception of the various structures and modes of interaction that characterize human collectivities – but also. legally unrecognized immigrants in France) who simply don’t count as persons for official. electoral or social-welfare purposes. In so doing it would fasten on precisely those excluded.CONTEXT love – set forth by Badiou as the principal ‘conditions’ that should or must inform any philosophically substantive project of thought. This latter distinction plays a crucial role in Badiou’s case for mathematics as the basis of social and political as well as scientific or physical ontology. That is to say. Thus he sets out to show – utterly improbable as this might seem to readers brought up in orthodox disciplinary ways of thought – that there exists a close structural homology between.

more advanced stage of enquiry. there suddenly appears a nonnegotiable rift between the socio-political order as viewed from a legitimist. of whatever can truly be said concerning the existence of entities (whether physical or abstract) which might always transcend the scope of current-best knowledge – of empirical verification or formal proof – while none the less possessing an objective truth-value that may yet be discovered at some further. logic and the formal sciences – where signal advances most often occur through the encounter with some deep-laid obstacle or paradox – so likewise in the political context it is always at these points of maximal stress that society first manifests the signs of imminent structural change. one that runs strongly counter to the thinking of assorted empiricists. again in a specific mathematical sense) which could not possibly have been predicted since they found no place in the pre-existent social ontology.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT that enable him to posit a direct equivalence – not just a loose analogy or suggestive structural kinship – between the two domains of set theory and political philosophy. that is. Here we should recall the title of this book and its pointed juxtaposition of two terms which between them stake out the philosophic territory that Badiou aims to traverse. Just as in the case of mathematics. That is to say. Thus it is always at those particular locations or ‘evental sites’ on the margins of the recognized body politic that the dominant order is likeliest to come under strain through a forced encounter with that which exceeds and challenges its sovereign or juridical powers. reformist or social-democratic perspective and that which so far exceeds its grasp as to pose a constant (if hitherto suppressed or dissimulated) threat to its authority. Here also it is a matter of decisive events (‘singularities’ as Badiou terms them. Being is the domain of ontology. social constructivists and others who will have no truck with any such (as they 8 . What then emerges with (at times) revolutionary force is the discrepancy between what Badiou terms the ‘state of the situation’ and the ‘situation’ itself. logical positivists and anti-realists not to mention post-structuralists. neo-pragmatists. Badiou will have much to say about this cardinal distinction between truth and knowledge. yet which afterwards – following this singular event – necessitate a likewise radical change in our grasp of what had indeed been possible in just that prior situation.

to take us into speculative regions of thought where knowledge may be forced up against its limits at any given time and indeed drawn beyond those limits by a sense of what requires some more or less radical re-thinking of current truthclaims. what results from a grasp of this evental character – as opposed to the cumulative process of knowledge acquisition – is a sharpened sense of how far it can exceed or transcend the scope of knowledge at any given stage in that process. To this extent their nature and modes of occurrence cannot be captured by any account that adopts a straightforwardly progressive or developmental conception of truth as that to which knowledge constantly aspires or upon which it steadily converges at the end of enquiry. unique in this regard. Such was. Thus it offers a striking example of the way that events – in Badiou’s strictly defined sense of that term – have the twofold character of arriving. must be counted a great many so-called ‘major’. up-to-now thinkable) order of things. for instance. 9 .11 Hence – to repeat – his insistence on the power of mathematics. ‘epochal’ or ‘world-historical’ episodes – is the fact that it exerts this intransigent demand on those who come after and whose elective or self-imposed task it is to press so far as possible in working out its further (presently obscure or unguessed-at) implications. What marks the genuine event as distinct from its various false surrogates – among which. so to speak.e. out of the blue or without the kind of partial foreknowledge that attends more regular modes of occurrence and also of requiring that their further development be followed through with a rigorous fidelity to their logical or indeed their ethico-political consequences. the advent of Cantorian set theory with its totally transformed conception of the infinite and its opening up of a conceptual terrain – a new-found range of ontological resources – whose discovery was not so much a further consequence of previous advances or successes but rather a product of the leap beyond a previous state of logical impasse. he thinks. methods and procedures. Rather. are just those strictly unforeseeable and – as they appear at the time in question – wholly contingent irruptions of the new that may turn out to exert a uniquely powerful and lasting effect but which elude ontological specification precisely insofar as they belong to no existing (i. Events.CONTEXT take it) hopelessly outmoded ‘metaphysical’ conception. on the other hand.

first with regard to the prior status of ontology as a matter of absolute philosophic principle. by very definition. After all. and second with regard to the event as. that which falls outside and beyond the sphere of any knowable ontology? For there would seem to be a clearly marked logical tension – if not an outright contradiction – between the idea of truth as intrinsically a matter for ontological enquiry (since pertaining to the ‘being of beings’ and whatever can be thought concerning them) 10 .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT This is why Badiou insists so resolutely on the return to ontology as first philosophy in place of what he sees as the disastrous wrong turn that thinking has taken. accordant with this. on the essentially formal character of those various projects or truth procedures that constitute the otherwise diverse spheres of human scientific. it is Badiou’s chief contention – not only as concerns mathematics and the formal as well as physical sciences but likewise across the whole range of subject-areas where truth is in question – that advances of this order are always preceded by a formal discovery or the invention of a new. it might be asked. In which case. how could such advances ever come about were it not that there always already existed a space of possibility opened up for them by some foregoing venture onto new ontological ground? That is to say. how can Badiou think to square these two apparently conflicting claims. ethical and artistic endeavour. provable theorems or accredited matters of fact. political. It is also why he lays such unremitting stress on mathematics as the basis of all ontological enquiry and. ontologically ground-breaking procedure which then makes room for their admission to the realm of knowable truths. Hence Badiou’s idea of the ‘militant’ for truth who seizes – or is seized by – some such intimation of that which lies beyond their present-best powers of attainment or epistemic grasp yet which none the less exerts an intransigent demand upon their will and capacity to seek it out. first towards epistemology (thus privileging issues of the scope and limits of knowledge over questions of truth) and then – worst of all – towards language as that which purportedly constitutes the ultimate horizon of human understanding. or the domain of ontology and that which intrinsically eludes any pre-established mode of ontological grasp. Perhaps the hardest thing to grasp about his work is how he can maintain that crucial distinction between being and event.

CONTEXT and the idea of truth as strictly a matter of post hoc fidelity to events whose occurrence could never be envisaged (let alone aimed for or knowingly sought) by any such project. contextspecific instances of how truth emerges in the course of human endeavour or enquiry nor again (like mathematics) a first-order discipline engaged in the discovery of hitherto unexplored ontological terrain. Still Badiou makes it clear that he is far from relegating philosophy to the kind of strictly subordinate or ‘under-labourer’ role to which it was confined by thinkers – from Locke to the logical positivists – for whom the natural sciences figured as a model of soundly based. Moreover – and despite his unequivocal belief that mathematics must constitute the basis for any regional ontology remotely adequate to the task in hand – Badiou also counts the mathematicians (even the most eminent among them) as standing in need of philosophic assistance when drawing out the kinds of further implication that their thinking truly warrants. none the less makes its absence felt through the pressure of unresolved problems. Thus the best that philosophy can do is keep a close eye on the distinction between being and event – or ontology and that which unpredictably emerges to throw those explorations off their preconceived course – while seeking to articulate and clarify the process through which such events come to pass and to exert a profoundly transformative effect on one or other of its own elemental conditions. dilemmas or failures of demonstrative proof. artists and psychoanalysts (the latter here figuring as those who. qua ‘experts’ in the subject. albeit with regret. It is no exaggeration to say that this issue touches the quick of his work not only in philosophy of mathematics but also in each of those other main fields which Badiou takes to comprise philosophy’s fourfold enabling conditions. that philosophy cannot itself claim to be one of those generic truth-procedures since it is neither (like them) a means of access to particular. political theorists. Indeed it is his contention with regard to the scientists. or that which lies within the compass of their present-best conceptual grasp from that which. should have most to tell us concerning love) that they are all of them crucially reliant on philosophy when it comes to distinguishing knowledge from truth. rationally conducted and knowledge-conducive enquiry. On the one hand he is compelled to insist. 11 . while currently eluding such grasp.

Yet by far the most convincing defence of Badiou’s position is that which he himself provides in the course of Being and Event.12 In his own case (as I have indicated here and will go to argue in more detail) this charge can be shown to miscarry when confronted with Badiou’s meticulously reasoned presentation of set-theoretical developments from Cantor to Cohen and also his manifest depth of engagement with issues that can scarcely be considered beneath or outside the mathematicians’ concern. that is. most productively engaged as if de novo and with minimal reference to whatever has been written about them in the past. Nor is it in any way coincidental that those same classic texts – Wittgenstein’s apart – are among his chief points of reference in Being and Event. intellectually heartening aspects of Being and Event is the way that Badiou cuts clean across the supposed genre-divide between recent ‘continental’ thought with its frequent focus on the detailed exegesis of canonical texts and mainstream analytic philosophy with its typical assumption that problems are best. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason or (although Badiou might strongly dissent) Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. his demonstration – in the strictest (mathematical) sense of that term – that set theory can offer the basis for some highly productive and innovative thinking in subject-areas from which it might seem (most of all to analytic philosophers) as remote as could be.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT This helps to explain his at times quite waspish criticism of those analytic philosophers who focus on their own sorts of intra-disciplinary dispute and thereby avoid any serious engagement with real mathematical challenges. whether treated from a broadly sympathetic and supportive or a mainly critical and diagnostic standpoint. Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Spinoza’s Ethics. 12 . For among the many striking and. This is why it is one of the very few philosophic works published during the past 50 years that merit the kind of close-focused exegetical commentary afforded to such acknowledged classics as Plato’s Republic. I would say. Descartes’ Meditations. However he also takes issue with ‘working mathematicians’ – including some whose achievements he holds in the highest regard – who dismiss the philosophers’ efforts tout court as so much irrelevant or futile since (as they presume) mathematically under-informed intellectual pretension.

to key my commentary closely to the text of Being and Event. so far as possible. past and present. social. Along the way I also seek to clarify its relation to those many other thinkers. Any adequate answer will have to take the form of a commentary on Being and Event that keeps this challenge constantly in view while also acknowledging just how far – and in just what specific or decisive ways – Badiou’s thinking exceeds the limits of that analytic paradigm. The approach throughout is a mixture of close exegesis (always with an eye to concepts or arguments that are likely to put up resistance.13 No doubt there will be some analytic philosophers whose first response will be to turn the argument around and deploy it as a tu quoque rejoinder against Badiou or those who put the case for his preeminent status in this regard. and not just the debased and currently overworked sense which often means either someone who has invented a minor new twist on well-worn philosophic themes or else someone who has come up with a genuinely new line of argument but only by reason of its utter perversity or the sheer unlikelihood that anyone would think that. especially for those unacquainted with the rudiments of set theory) and passages of more generalized comment where I draw out the further implications of Badiou’s work. For their convenience – but also because Badiou pursues such a complex yet rigorously consequent order in the working-out of his case – I have designed this volume mainly as a serviceable vade mecum and therefore tried. an aim that will have been best achieved if the reader eventually casts my book aside and returns to the original text with a sharpened sense of its extraordinary range and depth of philosophical insight. Thus they will ask what could possibly be more perverse than a project of thought that claims to derive substantive truths with respect not only to natural-scientific but also to political. Such will be my aim in what follows.CONTEXT Hence my seemingly extravagant claim for Being and Event as a work that bids fair for admission to the elevated company mentioned above. ethical and even aesthetic understanding from an abstract ontology grounded in the even more abstract resources of set-theoretical thought. 13 . with whom he has engaged in a running debate of often quite remarkable intensity and scope. Badiou is a truly original thinker in the sense of that term that these comparisons properly imply.

POINTS OF DEPARTURE: AGAINST THE CULTURAL TIDE By 2005 when the English translation appeared Alain Badiou was able to look back over the 15 years since L’être et l’événement was published and reflect. Most prominent among them is the kind of ‘free-world’ liberalism – in his view the thinly veiled adoption of a rhetoric with its source in old-style Cold War propaganda – very often taken up as a badge of ideological conformity by those who had once belonged to various groupings of the radical left but had switched allegiance 14 . but one that he places squarely before us in the knowledge that so far as the prospective reader is concerned it will stand or fall on what his work is able to achieve over the next 500 pages of intensive philosophical argument. in particular. that here he had fulfilled his desire to write a ‘great’ book.CHAPTER 2 OVERVIEW OF THEMES 1. For this is indeed. as he is pleased to announce. Badiou’s Preface to the English translation goes on to make a number of retrospective points about the book’s genesis and. a text that invites – even requires if it is to have any hope of gaining a well-equipped readership – the kind of close-focused scholarly and critical ‘interpretation and commentary’ that have normally been lavished on works by the great (and mostly long dead) philosophers from Plato down. ‘not without pride’. Thus he stakes out his distance from a number of positions and movements of thought which he thinks to have characterized that earlier period and still to be a source of much that is wrong with present-day intellectual culture. the historico-political and socio-cultural context of its writing. Not the most modest of self-estimates. to ‘inscribe his name in the history of philosophy’ and moreover ‘in the history of those philosophical systems which are the subject of interpretations and commentaries throughout the centuries’ (BE xi).

historiography and even (through the so-called ‘strong programme’ in sociology of knowledge) logic and mathematics. Badiou thinks.1 That is to say. Hence. Kant’s political philosophy – especially when read (as was mostly the case) through a postmodernist lens – offers plentiful resources for anyone intent upon reversing the thrust of Marx’s famous dictum that philosophers had hitherto interpreted the world.OVERVIEW OF THEMES in the wake of les événements (the failed revolution) of May 1968.3 More precisely. Badiou has nothing but scorn for these purveyors of a doctrine of ‘human rights’ that was highly selective in its application as well as philosophically and politically bankrupt and which marked. epistemology. as he writes. xii). the former lent support to this wider cultural-relativist trend through that influential branch of the analytic enterprise that found its chief inspiration in the later Wittgenstein and his idea of ‘language-games’ or cultural ‘life-forms’ as the end point of all philosophical as 15 . it found a willing echo in those varieties of cultural-relativist thinking that had lately migrated across sundry disciplines from its home-ground in anthropology and cultural studies to other. the very marked revival of interest in Kant among various twice-born (i. less likely fields such as philosophy of science. this ‘alliance between the market and parliamentarianism’ which ‘functioned as if the only possible doctrine.2 These developments were further reinforced by the ‘linguistic turn’ that became a very prominent feature of philosophy during the second half of the twentieth century. Moreover. ex-leftist) recruits to the banner of ‘freeworld’ democracy and ‘human rights’.e. whether in the mainstream analytic tradition or the broadly ‘continental’ (mainlandEuropean) line of descent. Such was – and continues to be – the ‘abstract universality of our epoch’. but that henceforth their task was to change it. xi). a culture ‘in full intellectual regression’ and ‘moral philosophy disguised as political philosophy’ (p. these latter conceived in ideologically loaded terms. and on a worldwide scale’ (p. Along with this went a widespread return to Kant – often in pointed opposition to Marx – for his conception of politics (or his idea of how philosophers should properly view politics) not as a matter of active engagement on the part of those with a practical stake in its outcome but rather as a topic for contemplative judgement from the standpoint of one ideally uninvolved in any such premature rush to take sides.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT likewise of all ethical. L. Only thus could he have any hope of refuting that prevalent liberal-pluralist 16 . values or presuppositions. politics. correction and logical refinement – if it is to serve as an adequate vehicle for thought and not create all sorts of conceptual confusion. Austin and other analytically approved variants to Heideggerian hermeneutics. and also – as I have said – that between thinkers who counsel a wise acceptance of the guidance to be had from ordinary language and thinkers (Badiou among them) who consider this a counsel of passive acquiescence in the kind of tenacious ‘common-sense’ illusion that such an outlook is prone to encourage.5 Indeed. and which holds on the contrary that ‘ordinary language’ stands in need of analysis – of revision. ‘strong’ textualists and other purveyors of latter-day sophistical fashion – places truth firmly at the centre of all his work. is the cultural-relativist upshot of any philosophy that holds truth in some given subject-domain to be specifiable only in terms that would meet with the agreement – or at any rate the sympathetic understanding – of those who share the same language-game or belong to the same communal form of life. Such. his work not only cuts clean across the supposed great rift between the ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ modes of philosophizing but also engages deeply with issues that have divided the analytic community. post-structuralism and the mélange of these and other (often ill-assorted) ideas that makes up the discourse of postmodernism. These include the debate between realists and anti-realists of various stripe. Whence Badiou’s chief aim in Being and Event: to put the contrary case with maximum emphasis across the whole range of disciplines where this doctrine has left its mark and to do so. especially with regard to philosophy of mathematics. Thus he stands very squarely and vigorously opposed to the linguistic turn in whatever guise from Wittgenstein. ethics or art. J.4 Badiou is far more in sympathy with the other main branch that goes back to the founding figures Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell. after all. whether as concerns the physical sciences. anthropological or even scientific enquiry. historical. postmodernists. in a way that – contra the relativists. moreover. Moreover he rejects it on ethicopolitical as well as on ‘purely’ philosophical grounds since here too it tends to produce an ideologically conformist outlook or an uncritical willingness to fall in with orthodox beliefs.

first.OVERVIEW OF THEMES creed to the effect. Much of his attention in Being and Event will be devoted to offering a detailed diagnosis of how this situation has come about and. more constructively. xii). authoritarian or neo-imperialist mindset. etc’ (p. politics. conversely. For Badiou. in his own acidulous words. it is they – the cultural-linguistic relativists and adepts of this fashionable turn against truth – who have opened the way to a situation where values such as freedom. intuitive or ideological belief. More specifically. art and love – where relativism has exerted its most pernicious influence. kinds or distinctive modes of existence – and on his account our only means of access to it is by way of mathematics or of set theory as the formal science whose vocation it is to explore that domain insofar as it lies within the compass of thought or conceptualization. at least as defined by majority opinion on the so-called ‘cultural left’. a set of proposals for turning it around through the renewed engagement with questions that have either languished unasked or received confused or inadequate answers. that all sexual practices were forms of love. the book will raise those questions in each of the four principal contexts – science. That is to say. must be the main point of reference for any enquiry that would seek to go beyond the deliverances of commonsense. In his Preface Badiou merely canvasses these themes with a view to later development but they are here laid out with exceptional concision and clarity. in their being. according to Badiou. it is unlikely to go down well with those for whom any talk of truth – let alone any talk of universally applicable standards by which certain cultures or sub-cultures might be found decidedly wanting – must be the product of a deeply conservative. This is the domain of ontology – of beings in their various forms. than pure indifferent multiplicities’. Thus he gives us to understand. that every production of the imaginary was art. that is. ‘that all cultures were of the same value. that ‘situations are nothing more. that all communities generated values. This passage will give some idea of the extent to which Badiou’s thinking goes against the current grain. It will do so by placing them in another context which. democracy and justice can be so far corrupted by false or mendacious usage as to signify just the opposite of what they could (and should) properly mean. made up of strictly indistinguishable elements which cannot be specified or told apart in terms of any particular features – such 17 .

they are certainly indifferent to differences’ (p. legitimately matters to subjects’ (p. sui generis or privileged claim to attention. first. discourse 18 . occupation. science. These are the exemplary ‘militants of truth’ whose company includes ‘the political militant working for the emancipation of humanity in its entirety’ along with ‘the artist-creator. art and love. Nor will this appear just a piece of ingenious paradox-mongering if one grasps the logic of Badiou’s consequent claim that ‘[c]ultural relativism cannot go beyond the trivial statement that different situations exist’. Thus ‘[i]t is pointless to search amongst differences for anything that might play a normative role. among the differences. that is precisely what this Preface sets out in summary style and what the book then proceeds to demonstrate by way of a highly structured. social status. logical and conceptual resources at its disposal and. but also intrinsically subject-involving insofar as their discovery. It is a safe bet that this latter set of claims would be received by most analytic philosophers with responses ranging from wry disdain to bewilderment or sheer incredulity.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT as those invoked by cultural relativists – that would constitute a unique. That is. they would most likely find something absurd in the very idea that a single project of thought – even (or especially) one grounded in a settheoretically derived formal ontology – might have something significant to say about topics so diverse or downright ill-assorted as politics. xii). [since] if truths exist. xii). and for this very reason ‘does not tell us anything about what. in coming from a philosophic standpoint deeply informed not only by those developments but also by certain decisive advances (not merely shifts of paradigm. From which it follows. However. that truths are universal insofar as they concern every subject quite apart from his or her class. in having far more powerful and refined mathematical. Where his approach differs crucially from theirs is. gender. the scientist who opens up a new theoretical field or the lover whose world is enchanted’ (xiii). secondly. ethnic identity. further development and promulgation are the business of certain (no matter how few or how many) committed individuals. cultural background and so forth. second. tightly reasoned and intricately cross-referenced process of argument sometimes reminiscent of the manner of reasoning more geometrico – ‘in the geometrical manner’ – that so appealed to rationalist philosophers of the seventeenth century.

(1) that ‘Heidegger is the last universally recognizable philosopher’.OVERVIEW OF THEMES or language-game) in each of its principal subject-domains. with the advent of post-Cantorian set theory and the drastic transformation which this wrought in our ways of thinking about the infinite and its role – contra previous beliefs – in various kinds of operationally valid or formally specifiable procedure. from the natural sciences to politics. and (3) that there is a new. Thus Badiou goes on to specify more precisely how the relevant discoveries have come about and how they bear on his project. interspersed with (usually much shorter) periods when the problems turn out to shake the foundations and require some far-reaching overhaul. So it is that certain breakthrough discoveries come to exercise the jointly attractive and repulsive force that ranges other thinkers – those who live in their immediate wake – most emphatically for or against the project of following through or drawing out their further consequences. However. They constitute advances in a sense closely analogous to the sense in which mathematics can be shown to have made progress. that is to say. There are three aspects of its ‘current global state’ which he takes to be indicative of philosophy’s relationship to those other disciplines of thought that require its help in order fully to recognize their own vocation yet which philosophy needs to bear constantly in mind if it is not to become narrowly self-occupied. he argues. (2) that the most crucial developments in mathematics. ‘post-Cartesian’ 19 . Such is most strikingly the case. or periodic irruptions of the radically new into states of relative epistemic calm. it can also be seen to apply in those other fields of thought. social and human sciences. logic and the formal sciences must be credited to the line of thinkers that runs from the Vienna Circle of the 1920s to present-day analytic (largely Anglophone) philosophy and that has ‘succeeded in conserving the figure of scientific rationality as a paradigm for thought’. where Badiou finds evidence of a similar pattern of punctuated equilibrium. and art. in Badiou’s succinct formulation. Among these latter are the various kinds of truth (again with their model instance in the realm of mathematics) that have forced a radical re-thinking of what previously counted as knowledge with regard to the natural. These are. through periods of relative stability when the foundations of the subject seem secure and any problems look resolvable without major disruption.

Freud and Lacan. Badiou is himself very far from simply or directly endorsing Heidegger’s depth-hermeneutic-ontological approach to what he (Badiou) continues to regard as distinctively philosophic questions whereas Heidegger views the whole tradition of philosophy from Plato down as the perpetuation of that fateful error whose name is ‘Western metaphysics’. or that a serious. Each proposition here would bear a great deal of commentary. 1). a belief that those issues might somehow relate to developments in psychoanalysis or the fortunes of Marxist political thought. Yet it is worth noting that some members of the Vienna Circle.7 However. Otto Neurath chief among them. were actively involved in the inter-war movement for progressive reform in their country and appear to have seen a very close connection between what they hoped to achieve politically (a clear-eyed analysis of communal needs and the interests of social justice) and what they counted most important philosophically (that thought should aspire to the highest degree of conceptual or logico-semantic precision).8 Both aspects of their programme played a part in the antipathy towards Heidegger which often carried distinct political overtones (well before his public embrace of the National Socialist cause) along with that allergic response to Heidegger’s depth-hermeneutic or etymopoeic 20 . is complicated by clinical or militant operations which go beyond transmissible discourse’ (p. his strong reservations on this score – along with his equally strong misgivings with regard to Heidegger’s vatic elevation of poetry above all others modes of language or thought – are scarcely such as to placate his analytically minded opponents. 1 which will come as a surprise to those many analytic philosophers who follow Rudolf Carnap and his Vienna Circle colleagues in regarding Heidegger as (hopefully) the last word in irrationalist bewitchment by language. as we shall see. even more credibility-stretching. For them it will be nothing short of unthinkable that proposition (2) might plausibly consort with propositions (1) and (3).6 In fact. and whose ‘regime of interpretation. not least No.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT conception of the subject now emerging whose source must be traced to a certain range of ‘non-philosophical practices’ such as psychoanalysis and politics. marked by the names of Marx and Lenin. philosophically informed engagement with issues in mathematics and logic might be compatible with a genuine respect for Heidegger’s work and.

it will be held that the mathematico-logical revolution of Frege-Cantor sets new orientations for thought’ (p.10 Yet he will also have a good deal to say about the limits and the dangers of Heidegger’s thought. Hölderlin chief among them. Indeed. Badiou will have much to say (and much that is acutely perceptive) not only about Heidegger’s writings on poetry but also about those particular poets. conceptual or plain-prose reasoning. 2).OVERVIEW OF THEMES way with words that prompted Carnap’s famous essay title ‘The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language’. Most basic is the problem of grasping what he could possibly mean by invoking standards of objective 21 . it will be maintained that philosophy as such can only be re-assigned on the basis of the ontological question’ (p. over-ambitious and hence philosophically misconceived project. Thus ‘along with analytic philosophy. repressed or forgotten by the discourse of post-Hellenic philosophical reason. 2). That is to say. Badiou goes nothing like so far in rejecting the Heideggerian turn towards poetry – and away from mathematics or the physical sciences – as the source of a privileged access to truths that have long been concealed. above all – here very much in accord with the analytic line of argument from Carnap down – as concerns its desire to elevate just those aspects or dimensions of poetic language that are taken as ‘ontologically’ prior to other modes of discourse. Badiou differs sharply with the mainstream analytic view that Heidegger’s way of framing this question – his distinction between Being and beings. among them mathematics. who stand out for Heidegger as exemplary ‘shepherds of Being’ or conveyors of a truth inherently beyond reach of any logical. Thus. a merely verbal confusion brought about by failing to apply certain nowadays basic logico-semantic distinctions. ‘along with Heidegger. or at least to hesitate before claiming that he belongs much more to the ‘analytic’ line of descent. or the ontological and the ontic – is just another species of ‘bewitchment by language’. It is here that analytic philosophers are likely to find the greatest problems with making sense of Badiou’s (by their lights) inordinately large-scale. On the contrary. the fact that he takes Heidegger seriously to the point of devoting some close and intensive commentary to various aspects of Heideggerian thought is one reason to count Badiou among the company of ‘continental’ philosophers.9 To be sure.

‘It is no longer’. in Husserl and Sartre)’. marks the point of transition whereby ‘the very nature of the base of mathematical reality reveals itself. ‘the founding subject. as does the character of the decision of through which establishes it’ (p. to bring mathematical truth within the compass of proof. 3). However. We are henceforth installed within a ‘split’ – a non-coincidence between what knowledge has attained and what thinking is able to conceive – which. cleaved. according to Badiou. Rather. Thus it is wrong to conclude that Badiou is out to undermine the objectivity of mathematics or.11 Indeed nothing could be further from his aim since he devotes a good deal of hard-pressed argument to attacking 22 . On the other hand. this response presupposes an idea of subjectivity that lags far behind what he takes to be the stage arrived at by current.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT truth and of ontological enquiry as constitutively aimed towards such truth while none the less adopting a criterion of ‘fidelity’ – of authentic dedication to that purpose – which seems to invite a subjective. a-substantial. whose theme runs from Descartes to Hegel and which remains legible in Marx and Freud (in fact. ‘[t]he contemporary Subject is void. psychoanalytically but also mathematically and scientifically informed conceptions of how the subject stands with regard to matters of truth. baffled or just plain appalled by the ‘continental’ tendency to mix up issues of factual truth or logical validity with issues of ethics or politics. and irreflexive’. like anti-realists or intuitionists in the ‘analytic’ camp. ascertainment or human knowability-inprinciple. such that ‘one can only suppose its existence in the context of certain processes whose conditions are rigorous’ (p. there is a near century-long tradition of analytic philosophers professing to find themselves puzzled. as Badiou makes very clear. centered and reflexive. that ‘decision of thought’ must have reference to a drastically altered conception of the subject that is far removed from any existentialist or phenomenological conception of the human individual as a locus of purely autonomous or self-willed choice between various. on the one hand we are living through a ‘third epoch’ of science’ which has superseded both the ancient Greek inauguration of ‘demonstrative mathematics’ and the Galilean breakthrough that ‘mathematized the discourse of physics’. 3). even existentialist notion of good-faith commitment. After all. he writes. more or less live or mathematically viable options. Thus.

rather than poetry. Thus. Moreover. which defines. no matter how radical departure onto new tracks of thought. p. the genealogy of the discourse on being – and the reflection on its possible essence – in [the mathematicians] Cantor. For on Badiou’s account – taking its lead from Plato. the “classic” domain of its objects’ (BE. the physical or even certain branches of the social and human sciences – can be thought of as epistemically constrained. Thus Heidegger is right. Trakl.OVERVIEW OF THEMES any version of the claim that truth – whether in the formal. in this as in many other respects – it is to the discourse of mathematics. so far as Badiou is concerned. with the advent of modern set theory. ‘it is not in the enigma and the poetic fragment that the origin may be interpreted’ but rather in ‘the mathematico-philosophical nexus . in so far as it is a matter of being qua being. . until Kant. 10). in directions strictly inconceivable to Kant and onto ground strictly inaccessible to those working within that ‘classic’ ontological paradigm. that thinking has been obliged periodically to turn in order to regain its ontological bearings and renew its creative-exploratory powers. and may therefore run ahead of any presently existing proof-procedure. contra the anti-realists. . In which case ‘philosophy must designate. However. and Cohen rather than in [the poets] Hölderlin. This is how he is able to incorporate a range of otherwise diverse. or as subject to the scope and limits of human knowledge. heterogeneous and indeed (to an analytic way of thinking) strictly irreconcilable commitments. in naming ancient Greece as the inaugural site of that discourse on being and therefore as the source – and a constant point of reference – for every subsequent. Badiou looks to developments in set theory from Cantor down as a striking instance of the way in which thought may register what cannot as yet be discerned as an item of clear or distinct knowledge. and Celan’ (p. its domain has now been extended. among them his realist yet subject-involving approach to mathematics and his high regard for Heidegger as a thinker who reopens long-neglected questions in the sphere of fundamental ontology along with his sharply limiting judgement on Heidegger’s over-promotion of language (especially poetic language) as a path to authentic truth. 10).12 For what henceforth offers itself to thought is the prospect of an ontological enquiry that is restricted neither to the limits of unaided human intuition – limits already 23 . Gödel.

Indeed. exclusion.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT surpassed through the passage to Copernican–Galilean astronomy and decisively transcended through developments such as non-Euclidean geometry or Einsteinian Relativity – nor even to the bounds of what is knowable according to our current best methods of conceptual or empirical investigation. For there is a crucial distinction – one that he shares with some analytic defenders of realism in philosophy of science – between knowledge and 24 . 13). to the degree that what is sayable – and said – of being qua being does not in any manner arise from the discourse of philosophy’ (p. so to speak. excess. Badiou even goes so far as to say that philosophy is ‘originally separated from ontology’. Among the benefits that this will bring (and here again Badiou has Plato’s example very much in mind) is the help it offers towards countering the claims of sophistry. To this extent philosophy has no choice. but to take its lead from those signal developments in the most advanced quarters of mathematical thought that have opened up new possibilities in this regard. relativism or the ‘strong’ programme in sociology of knowledge. their most powerful and farreaching discoveries with respect to the various orders of inclusion. not – he hastens to add – because the object of ontological enquiry is merely chimerical or non-existent ‘as a vain “critical” knowledge would have us believe’ but rather because ‘it exists fully. or no intellectually reputable choice. then – as Plato required of all students signing up for his Academy – they will need to go to school with the mathematicians and not suppose (as philosophers have all too often been prone to do) that they are capable of excogitating such truths through some purely a priori process of thought. Thus. if philosophers wish to contribute usefully to this enterprise. that is. belonging. right off the bat whether through the kinds of metaphysical system-building that rationalists such as Leibniz have typically attempted or else (like Heidegger) through a mode of poetico-philosophical brooding on themes of their choice. ‘inconsistent’ versus ‘consistent’ multiplicity and so forth. Such enquiry will take as its object-domain the most advanced researches of ‘working mathematicians’. membership.13 So philosophers will surely be self-deluded if they think that they can ‘do’ fundamental ontology. Yet Badiou is equally insistent that mathematicians are unwise to ignore what philosophers have to say when it comes to drawing out the wider implications of work in that specialist domain.

As we shall see. 13). 16). once unbound from the being of the working mathematician. Thus. or between whatever can be brought to the stage of explicit understanding. then mathematicians also need reminding that ‘the ontological dignity of heir research. In the same 25 . it is up to philosophy to explain how and why all the major developments in set theory from Cantor to the present ‘resonate well beyond their technical validity. Thus. ‘the new theses on being qua being are indeed nothing other than the new theories. allowing such a measure of conscious or reflective awareness. this assumption is way off the mark in Badiou’s case – since he manifestly knows a great deal and communicates that knowledge to impressive effect – even if it has some force when applied to the sorts of mathematically humdrum set-piece example that typify a good deal of analytic work in this field. although not one of equiprimordiality. statement or articulate theory and whatever in the course of mathematical thought may open a way to such knowledge while itself neither requiring nor. and to other ends’ (p. and the new theorems to which working mathematicians – “ontologists without knowing so” – devote themselves. which has confined them up till now to the academic arena of the high specialists’ (p.OVERVIEW OF THEMES truth. MATHEMATICS AND THE SUBJECT No doubt there is a certain touchiness or prickliness about such remarks. it is also important to grasp that the relationship between mathematics and philosophy as Badiou conceives it. And again. as suggested by those insistent italics and by Badiou’s somewhat irritable comments elsewhere about the fact that ‘working mathematicians’ tend to dismiss what philosophers say on the assumption that they just don’t know enough about mathematics. 14). if philosophers need reminding of the ontological priority of truth over knowledge. according to other rules. but this lack of knowledge is the key to their truth’ (p.14 However. does grant philosophy a strictly indispensable role in giving articulate form and expression to those wider. perhaps. does not exclude. despite being constrained to blindness with respect to itself. and therefore (in this sense at least) of mathematics over philosophy. their becoming interested in what is happening in metaontology. 2. TRUTH. ‘meta-ontological’ truths that would otherwise go unspoken since mathematicians – naturally enough – tend to fight shy of pursuing them.

that they involve certain ‘generic procedures’ in a sense that derives from set theory. They are privileged.15 This is not for one moment to suggest that Badiou is in any way ‘ontologizing’ the social and human sciences. because they each pose the antinomy of being and event in such a complex. one of Badiou’s most prominent mathematical sources.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT way philosophy is best placed to show how a mathematically informed ontology can offer guidance in regions far removed from any such high specialism. and thirdly. secondly. politics. art and love – which on the one hand provide philosophy with its strictly indispensable ‘conditions’ of engaged or purposive thinking while on the other they depend on it precisely for this sense of their own standing vis-à-vis the dualism of being and event. or – as might appear from what I have said so far – proposing that they henceforth be conceived on the model of a thoroughly mathematized natural science that would leave no room for choice. ‘Why single out these four “conditions” in particular. given the great number of possible alternative candidates?’ Badiou would. firstly. I think. and more specifically from the work of Paul Cohen. political and personal (or inter-personal) lives. distinctive and challenging way as to drive his principal thesis home with unmistakable force. 26 . On the contrary. For it is just Badiou’s point – one that will again strike many philosophers as involving a massive category-mistake or a wildly promiscuous conflation of disparate realms – that those epochal developments in set theory must properly entail a radical revision of existing concepts not only with regard to mathematics. whatever his (often profound) disagreements with them. agency or ethical commitment. the formal. politics and art have this much in common. in the four chief areas of knowledge and experience – science. that is. because they are the central and defining realities of human existence. logic and the formal and physical sciences but also as concerns every aspect of our social. To the obvious question. Thus science. respond with three answers in ascending order of specificity or importance to his own project. because they have already been subject to some highly perceptive and refined elaboration by thinkers whom Badiou holds in great esteem. his whole point in making such a cardinal theme of the being/event dichotomy is to highlight the extent to which major developments in all of these spheres.

Even so – as he is equally keen to stress. philosophy or one of its fourfold conditioning modes of knowledge or experience is that which enables thought to attain a presentiment or anticipatory awareness of whatever currently lies beyond reach of formal (demonstrative) proof or ascertainment on widely accredited grounds. but that which detains in its multiple-being all the common traits of the collective in question: in this sense. which. 27 . movement or tendency but also the couple that typically forms the erotic or love relationship. once again with primary reference to the set-theoretical domain – its emergence may later be discerned as having been prefigured (albeit indiscernibly so at the time) in the paradoxes. here. artist. A ‘generic procedure’ in mathematics. Hence the following statement. What happens in art.OVERVIEW OF THEMES physical. social and human sciences alike come about through a break with existing modes of thought and the advent of a new dispensation that could not previously have been known. in science. as such. so Badiou contends. 17) The ‘collective’. in true (rare) politics. or unresolved dilemmas that were kept from coming too clearly into view or from wreaking serious conceptual harm by the then-prevalent ideas of what counted as adequate proof or consistent reasoning. and in love (if it exists). that procedure can be specified with adequate logical and existential precision only by way of a close and detailed reference to those set-theoretical concepts that occupy his main focus of attention in Being and Event. nor an ineffable singularity. Moreover. one that must appear excessively cryptic at this stage but which captures a number of essential points about Badiou’s project and which may perhaps resonate with aspects of my later. is the coming to light of an indiscernible of the times. group. is neither a known or recognized multiple. and even – insofar as they must figure in any adequate account of these matters – the singular individual (whether scientist. faction. it is the truth of the collective’s being. must be understood to include not only those comparatively numerous multiples that constitute a social or political class. recognized or brought within range of adequate conceptualization. logical aporias. (p. more detailed treatment of these themes.

There is a similar conflict between Badiou’s deep attachment to the idea that human beings can and do sometimes make their own history in ways that involve a substantial degree of active. though not ‘ineffable’. purpose-deflecting forces of ‘counter-finality’ and the ‘practico-inert’. there is a clear conflict of aims between any project. according to which the ‘autonomous’ subject is merely a figment of the imaginary. concepts of order.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT political activist or lover) whose very singularity.17 After all. In this latter case the subject may be the locus – more aptly. or political commitments and a conception. presents a powerful challenge to received modes of thought. transformative praxis on the part of collective agents and the Althusserian (or ‘structuralistMarxist’) emphasis on the extent to which agents are always already constructed – or ‘interpellated’ – by existing socio-economic. reflective ego is merely a plaything of the Freudian unconscious to which it stands as the tip of a vast and largely submerged iceberg. like Lacan’s. which stakes its claim on the subject’s fidelity to the task of testing or bearing out certain scientific truth-claims. In which case the subject has to be conceived as more active. elisions or aporias that characterize some presently existing discourse. mathematical theorems. or collective representations. engaged. cultural and ideological formations. committed and (to this extent) autonomous than was ever allowed by those – the structuralists and post-structuralists – with whom Badiou is very often engaged in an overt or implicit running dialogue.18 Hence Badiou’s fidelity to Sartre (the later Sartre of the Critique of Dialectical Reason) very much against the fashionable tide on account of his conserving this central role for human collective agency despite – what Sartre also acknowledges – the opposed. artistic practices. like Badiou’s. despite – as we shall see – his frequent use of Lacanian concepts. just as the conscious. the bearer or vector – of that which intrinsically eludes the grasp of any larger collective since its import or truth-content will emerge only at a later stage and through a more developed understanding of the symptomatic gaps. self-willed.19 Yet nobody who has read very far into Being and Event could suppose that Badiou subscribes to any version of the liberal-humanist creed 28 .16 Indeed this is one major point on which his thinking diverges sharply from the kind of linguistic-constructivist (and hence determinist) position implied by Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Thus. 29 . Therefore. ‘[a] subject is manifested locally [and] is solely supported by a generic procedure. Rather it is the locus of a strictly indispensable appeal to that which alone makes possible any advance beyond the confines of accredited knowledge or consensus beliefs but which cannot be conceived as somehow existing in a realm quite apart from those specific and exemplary modes of understanding that make up its enabling conditions. amorous. there is no subject save the artistic. 17). This is why the subject. It explains his clear determination to break out of that false dilemma and develop an alternative conception of the subject that prevents it from getting a hold. with a typecast ‘liberal-humanist’ ideology serving as a handy target for post-structuralist. according to Badiou. fidelity and resourcefulness in some given (e. creativity or strength of political purpose.g. intelligence. nor again (as it is for liberals) the last guarantee of human freedom against such coercive or conformist pressures. What ultimately constitutes the subject is its involvement with a project in one of those domains such that the project in a certain sense ‘takes them over’ but also depends absolutely for its furtherance – its carrying-forward through various kinds of experiment. political or artistic) cause and yet preclude any recourse to that notion of the subject – periodically resurgent among philosophers from Descartes to Husserl and beyond – as a purely self-sufficient or autonomous locus of thought and purposive agency.OVERVIEW OF THEMES that deploys a high-toned rhetoric of individual freedom. scientific. autonomy and so forth very often as a means of effectively averting attention from exactly those antithetical forces that Sartre so tellingly describes. scientific. postmodernist or other such sceptical lines of attack while the latter fall just as handily into the former’s polemical sights. for Badiou. authentic selfhood. This is why he comes out strongly against both of those present-day intellectual orthodoxies that are often seen (and which see themselves) as politically and culturally poles apart but which in fact stand in a relationship of mutually sustaining pseudo-opposition. stricto sensu. his approach will offer adequate scope for the exercise of human commitment. proof-procedure. is neither (as in post-structuralist theory) an empty place-holder or purely linguistic-discursive construct. artistic practice or political activity – on the subject’s commitment but also on his or her inventiveness. rights. That is to say. or political’ (p.

realists and anti-realists or objectivists and constructivists. At any rate there is prima facie much to be said for an approach. that is to say. however. a ‘meta-ontological or philosophical thesis’ which Badiou takes to be ‘necessitated by the current cumulative state of mathematics (after Cantor. it is one that has given rise to a great many problems with regard to epistemology and philosophy of science. 15). even politically disastrous directions if it becomes too closely ‘sutured’ to any one of its fourfold conditions. that aims to cut through this proliferating thicket of debates by grounding its case in ontology. hermeneutics or interpretation-theory but rather in mathematics. Gödel and Cohen. Gödel and Cohen) and philosophy (after Heidegger)’(p. First is his identification of ‘philosophy’ with ‘meta-ontology’.21 30 . as Badiou duly notes. rather than epistemology. like Badiou’s. namely that ‘mathematics is ontology’. For the moment.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT The link between the subject and truth is one that goes back. in Badiou’s judgement. Second is the fact that Heidegger figures here – and throughout the book – as a thinker of great importance even though. However. via Descartes to Plato but which assumes its characteristically modern form in the line of epistemo-critical thinking that begins with Descartes and receives its most elaborate treatment in Kant. one who mislocated the nature and source of that depth-ontological renewal which he took to be the sole hope for authentic thinking in an age given over to rampant technology and the rule of instrumental reason. let me just make twoclarificatory points in brief. with a second-order discourse whose role is to elucidate those truths with regard to the structure of being discovered by mathematical enquiry. and by grounding its ontology not (as with Heidegger) in language. as shown by the interminable disputes between rationalists and empiricists. logic and the formal sciences.20 Indeed one reason for Badiou’s holding philosophy to this strictly ancillary role vis-à-vis mathematics – while also (and with equal emphasis) asserting its distinctive vocation and relative autonomy – is his acute awareness (with Heidegger’s example vividly before him) of the way that philosophical thinking may be led in dangerous. Hence the central thesis of Being and Event. I shall of course have more to say later on about the specific bearing on Badiou’s project of those developments in mathematical thought signalled by the names Cantor.

rather than the commonalities. Lyotard’s postmodernist celebration of ‘first-order natural pragmatic narratives’ as opposed to those obsolete ‘grand narratives’ of truth. an inertly un-philosophical (rather than a bracingly anti-philosophical) doctrine according to 31 . cultural background. language and especially poetry. or sexual/ gender orientation. he argues that this emphasis on difference along with its sundry cognate terms (alterity. progress.22 On the contrary. Thus he comes out strongly against any version of the argument – at present almost de rigueur across wide swathes of ‘radical’ thinking in cultural theory – that justice can best be served or human welfare most effectively promoted through a maximal respect for the differences. Rorty’s debunking view of philosophy as just another more or less inventive or stylistically resourceful ‘kind of writing’. heterogeneity. these latter conceived in mathematical terms since mathematics alone measures up to that demand of universal truth or validity that can act as a defence against the kinds of parochial (though quasi-universal) claim that Heidegger advanced on behalf of German culture.OVERVIEW OF THEMES So there are large issues at stake when Badiou puts his case that philosophy’s engagement with those conditions should be undertaken always on the basis of a prior engagement with ontological questions. incommensurability and so forth) very often betokens not so much a respect for the diversity of human values and beliefs but an absence of genuine. social class membership. that is. Badiou rejects this whole line of thinking as just another minor update on age-old sophistical themes. In philosophical terms this cult of difference translates most directly into Wittgensteinian talk of multiple ‘language-games’ or cultural ‘forms of life’. that is. otherness. enlightenment and so on. one’s own included. linguistic provenance. reasoned and principled respect for any of them. between people of various ethnic affiliation. and Levinas’s notion of a strict regard for the absolute otherness (or radical alterity) of the other person as that which constitutes the basis of any ethics meriting the name. By insisting that philosophy not lose sight of this ‘metaontological’ role – that it defer to the achievements and expound the implications of set-theoretical enquiry – Badiou also seeks to ensure that philosophy should honour its responsibility to interests transcending the merely local or partisan.

More precisely.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT which truth is either to be thought of as relative to some given cultural life form or else. not to be thought of unless on condition of the subject’s renouncing any claim to pursue it through the exercise of his or her own. such significant stages of advance in this or other kindred fields can be shown to result from a farreaching shift in the order of relationship between being and event. From which it follows – on Badiou’s account – that events of this momentous character will also produce a radical change in the domain of the subject. after Levinas. one that at first gives rise to a profoundly destabilizing effect and then brings about a new ontological dispensation or working grasp of that relationship. cultural-linguistic) concerns. that is to say.23 What the Introduction thus makes clear is the fact that Badiou stands firmly apart from all those movements in recent French or French-influenced philosophy and critical theory that have shared the twofold aim of knocking truth off its pedestal and demoting the subject – the Cartesian-Kantian ‘subject-presumed-to-know’ – to a strictly subservient role in relation to that which exceeds its utmost powers of rational. epistemic or critical reflective grasp. This is why he can claim. in the sense that they will here be radically redefined through a conception of the truth-event – the discovery of hitherto unthought or unsuspected ontological resources – that finds its model in the methods and procedures of mathematical reasoning. that his project in Being and Event ‘is organized around two affiliated and essentially new concepts. Thus the subject exists only in relation to certain epochal events whose import can itself be known only in retrospect – in light of 32 . ‘New’. 15). On the other hand. merely ‘egological’ capacities of thought. as shown by his requirement that philosophy acknowledge the prior claim of ontological over epistemological (and. paradoxically enough. this latter construed not so much (or not at all) in phenomenological or first-person experiential terms but rather as the locus wherein those events must be thought to occur and to exert their transformative power. Badiou is far from embracing any notion of the subject as privileged locus or source of truth. along with his insistence that mathematics is the sole adequate basis or starting-point for any ontological enquiry. those of truth and subject’ (p. yet more emphatically.

and thence to a renovated concept of truth that would also and inseparably carry along with it a renovated concept of the subject. So it is that ‘being can be supplemented’. or that ‘the existence of a truth’ can be thought of as ‘suspended from the occurrence of an event’. 17).OVERVIEW OF THEMES developments that will bear out its truth through subsequent stages or more advanced procedures of investigation – and whose truth-content has to do either with mathematics. contradictions. 33 . aporias or inconsistencies within some existing state of knowledge can later – from a more advanced stage of understanding – be seen to have marked precisely those symptomatic stress-points where knowledge fell short of a truth beyond its best powers of discernment or conceptual grasp. Hence what he takes to be philosophy’s chief and quintessentially motivating task: to conceive the possibility of thinking beyond the limits of whatever is presented as the limiting condition of thought in some given disciplinary domain. or the process whereby certain paradoxes. his chief reason for taking this expository route via such relatively technical areas of set theory and philosophy of mathematics is that it offers not just a suggestive analogy but a close and even (so Badiou would claim) a precise correspondence with the way that major advances are achieved in other fields of endeavour. On his account this requires that we return via the path of philosophical reflection to a reengagement with the central issues of ontology (for which read: issues raised by the development of set-theoretical enquiry from Frege and Cantor to Cohen). logic and the formal sciences or else with one of the four conditions that jointly compose its enabling element. Again. willing and acting subject of liberal-humanist ideology. Yet it is equally vital to Badiou’s entire project that the subject be conceived in its evental aspect as always potentially surpassing or exceeding the bounds of any in-place belief system or conceptual scheme. one whose implications will be far from clear at the outset since ‘the event is only decided as such in the retroaction of an intervention’ (p. namely that of ‘forcing’. It is here that Badiou first introduces another of Cohen’s set-theoretical concepts. To this extent Badiou belongs to the company of those French thinkers in the wake of phenomenology and existentialism who have cast a sceptical or dissident eye on any claims advanced on behalf of the autonomous thinking.

Badiou writes. of the place in which they proceed’ (p. because. whose vector was mathematics. most informed and informative sources through those gaps in the current ‘encyclopedia’ of knowledge that reveal the existence of missing (‘indeterminate’) items precisely on account of its not living up to the promise of truly encyclopaedic completeness. mathematical. conveying as it does Badiou’s equally cardinal claim that the greatest innovation of 34 . scientific. Hence his description of Being and Event as a book ‘designed to broadcast that an intellectual revolution took place at the beginning of the sixties. For the moment let me note how it phrases his cardinal distinction between truth and knowledge as a matter of those exploratory (e. the multiple-essence. Of course this sentence would bear a good deal of analytical unpacking since it encapsulates much of the argument that Badiou will go on to expound and refine over the following large tract of closely reasoned. intensive and sharply focused project of enquiry. 16). We should also bear in mind his identification of ‘common-being’ with ‘multiple-essence’.g. they manifest the common-being. often somewhat tentative or stumbling formulation. in occupying the gaps of available encyclopedias. 17). political or artistic) procedures that may be thought of – metaphorically but aptly enough – as tracking what is unknown even to the best.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT This is how Badiou can think of ontology in realist terms as involving the progressive exploration of territory that is ‘there’ to be explored – since by no means (as anti-realists would have it) created in or through that very process – and yet as always open to startling new discoveries which themselves require a great deal of thinking-through for a good while after their first. yet whose repercussions extend throughout the entirety of possible thought’ (p. ‘In the category of the generic’. ‘I propose a contemporary thinking of these procedures which shows that they are simultaneously indeterminate and complete. densely allusive. That revolution he sees as having resulted from Cohen’s development of set theory to the point where it finally provided philosophy with the formal resources to explain how knowledge could be thought to fall short of truth – or truth to run ahead of knowledge – in such a way that this discrepancy supplied the very driving force or incentive required to motivate a long-term. intricately cross-referenced text.

Among them was the absolute pre-eminence of mathematics as an intellectual discipline. Badiou nevertheless belongs very firmly on this side of the deep division that is commonly supposed to exist between thinkers of a Platonist and thinkers of an Aristotelian intellectual temperament. theories. logico-semantic mode. rhetoricians and cultural relativists is one that had its first airing in the dialogues of Plato where it typically came up in conjunction with other main themes of Badiou’s work. and (above all) a royal road to the discovery of truths that. no dominant ordering or version of the ‘count-as-one’) can ever fully contain or comprehend the ‘inconsistent multiplicity’ that always pre-exists and to that extent exceeds or eludes such a count. or testing theorems and conjectures for any logical anomaly that might arise in the course of those procedures. in turn. and which starts out from a sustained engagement with the dialectics of the one and the many as treated in Plato’s later writings. hypotheses or conjectures. a training ground for philosophers. acquired a priori status or the character of seeming self-evident to reason yet which often had to be arrived at through a lengthy process of constructing hypotheses.OVERVIEW OF THEMES set theory – and the yardstick of its various advances from Cantor to Cohen – is its formal demonstration of the fact that no ‘consistent multiplicity’ (i. 35 . devising proof-procedures. mainland-European) thought but also with that strain of anti-realist thinking that is a prominent feature of mainstream analytic philosophy of language.e. this puts him very much at odds not only with a swathe of linguistically or hermeneutically oriented movements within recent continental (i. whether in the Wittgensteinian or the more ‘technical’. pursuing long sequences of hypothetico-deductive argument. Despite (as we shall see) his express reservations about being labelled a mathematical Platonist.e. once discovered.25 So we can now turn to Part I of Being and Event which takes the form of six ‘Meditations’ on mathematical/ontological themes. For it is this central claim that enables and motivates his appeal to mathematics as the basis of ontology and to ontology.24 The issue of philosophy versus the sophists. As I have said. as the basis for whatever we can justifiably assert concerning the truth-conditions for our various truth-apt statements.

what do you take to be Badiou’s most distinctive or far-reaching proposals with regard to philosophy’s role vis-à-vis mathematics and politics? Why does Badiou take such a strong line against the recent ‘linguistic turn’ across various branches of philosophy and the social or human sciences? 36 .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Discussion points On the basis of your reading so far.

or the issue – central to every aspect of Platonist metaphysics. The one and the many: Plato to Deleuze Plato’s dialogue Parmenides is one of those problematic works – ‘problematic’ at least for scholars and interpreters who wish to extract some fairly straightforward or unambiguous item of doctrine – where Platonism (or the collection of ideas generally given that name) finds itself exposed to some difficult questions which place it under considerable strain. one that fails to reach any decisive or definitive conclusion not through some weakness. this is a thoroughly aporetic dialogue. BEING: MULTIPLE AND VOID. unchanging and altogether beyond the realm of transient sensory experience which could not be grasped intellectually without giving rise to all manner of logical inconsistency. Thus the famous paradoxes of time and motion devised by Parmenides’ disciple Zeno were designed to make the case for a purely monistic and rationalist conception of being in relation to thought that would escape those paradoxes by denying the reality of time and change. That is to say. conversely. these latter conceived as mere illusions 37 . Those complications have to do with the one and the many. . dialectical wrong turn or argumentative path not taken but rather through inherent complications in its subjectmatter that would have to wait more than two millennia before mathematicians and logicians came up with the conceptual means to handle them. 23). The former position was adopted most strongly by Plato’s precursor Parmenides who taught that truth and reality must be thought of as timeless. .1 For Badiou. introduce us to the singular joy of never seeing the moment of conclusion arrive’ (p. PLATO/CANTOR 1. ontology and epistemology – as to whether the one must be thought to have priority over the many or the many over the one. this is a work whose ‘revolving doors .CHAPTER 3 READING THE TEXT PART I.

or of that which can always be subsumed without remainder under some unifying concept as opposed to that which exceeds or eludes any such all-comprehending application of the dominant count-as-one. as Badiou notes. or genuine knowledge with its grounding in logos (or the exercise of reason) as opposed to mere opinion or consensus belief. This ontological distinction was carried across into the Platonist dichotomy of epistε mε and doxa. Thus for Leibniz. ‘what is not a being is not a being’. on the contrary.2 For Badiou. More recently it has found expression in W. V. this is just a fixed preconception that has typified much philosophical 38 . Such is Leibniz’s cardinal precept concerning the ‘identity of indiscernibles’ and also its complementary adjunct with regard to the ‘indiscernibility of identicals’. suppressed or finessed by thinkers in Plato’s wake. This is why he insists on reopening those questions from Plato that can now be seen. equated with the realm of sensory impressions on account of their shared impermanence or chronic liability to change. Thus Badiou follows Plato’s example in making mathematics the basis of ontology. either as a matter of explicit doctrinal adherence or else as an inbuilt assumption prerequisite to other main dimensions of their thought. and this Parmenidean/Platonic issue of the one and the many a privileged means of access to the questions thus posed for philosophical thought. on the contrary. to belong among the most potentially fruitful topics but also to the problems most frequently ignored. ontology the starting point of all genuinely truth-seeking enquiry. since – ontologically speaking – the condition of existence for any given object is precisely that set of individuating features or attributes that mark it out as that particular. and it remains an item of shared (if often unspoken) belief across some otherwise large divergences of view in present-day philosophic debate. it is far from evident that this issue has been settled – philosophically resolved – in favour of the one over the many. Many philosophers from Plato down have taken something akin to this position. Quine’s pithy saying ‘no entity without identity’. as a result of recent mathematical advances. selfsame object and no other.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT brought about by our habitual over-reliance on the supposed ‘evidence’ of the senses. Chief among them is the question whether being can be grasped in unitary terms as that which underlies and brings intelligible form to the passing sensory show or whether.

READING THE TEXT thinking from Plato down but which cannot be sustained against the various objections that rise against it. However. What Plato glimpsed under pressure from the kinds of quandary. Russell and (especially) Cantor – been brought to a stage where their true implications are at last coming into view. compose a major part of that project. the problems emerged very clearly as soon as the obvious question arose as to how the one – the supposedly transcendent and all-embracing principle of unity – could manifest itself to human understanding except in and through the realm of ‘presentation’ which was also (inescapably) the realm where thought encountered multiplicity in all its forms. art and love – which. However.e. The desired upshot – in line with the doctrine set out in Plato’s middle-period writings – was to vindicate his claim for the existence of suprasensory forms or essences that would have their being above and beyond the transient flux of perceptual experience and thereby perform this imperative unifying function. that is. For it is Badiou’s claim that the issues first aired in these ancient Greek disputes are those which continued to exert a powerful hold on the thinking of philosophers over the next two millennia and have now – since the pioneering work in the foundations of set theory by thinkers such as Frege. Hence Badiou’s fascination with the game – the ingenious. as we have seen. the mathematics-based formal core) of his entire philosophical project but also provides him with a highly effective point of entry to those various ‘conditioning’ fields of thought – from science to politics. or as just a piece of idle scholastic paradox-spinning. Chief among these is the absolute priority of the multiple over the one. with whatever intrinsically exceeds or disrupts its homogenizing drive. Hence the logical come-uppance delivered to that Parmenidean-Platonist hankering for the one through its encounter with inconsistent multiplicity. it not only goes to the heart (i. dilemma or conceptual impasse encountered in these late dialogues was the impossibility of thinking such issues through to a conclusion on his own metaphysically favoured terms. This rendition of Badiou’s central theme may strike some readers as excessively wire-drawn. conceptually resourceful but also consequential and serious game – played out between Plato and his interlocutors. a priority visible in Plato’s Parmenides where reasoning runs up against the aporetic limit or the threatening collapse into 39 . inventive.

that ‘[t]he count-as-one is no more than the system of conditions through which the multiple can be recognized as multiple’ (p. and whose legacy Badiou will trace in Being and Event as it surfaces repeatedly to complicate the thinking of (among others) Aristotle. Leibniz. Descartes. There is no one. Indeed this dialogue can be seen to mark the point at which Platonist thought turns against its own earlier. In other words. no doubt more vertiginous but also (as Badiou will proceed to demonstrate) philosophically more fertile ground. Spinoza and Hegel. In which case. What mathematical developments since Cantor have at last achieved is a genuine working grasp of those issues that proved so vexatious for Parmenides and Plato. This is the stage to which thinking attains when it first proposes as a serious candidate for philosophical acceptance the statement that ‘being is not’. that is to say. 29). whereas the latter must be thought of as itself pre-existing. distinctly Parmenidean commitments and begins – in however tentative and selfresisting a fashion – to venture onto different. or (as will later become more clearly expressible with the advent of modern set theory) that the multiple is that which always and everywhere exceeds the grasp of any unifying function or any mode of knowledge premised on this or that application of the dominant count-as-one. and secondly. Badiou 40 . Thus the one can now be treated as the product of a certain formal operation. The former is defined by Badiou as that which results from some preceding count or formal operation. Hence the two main theses which Badiou takes as ‘prerequisites for any possible ontology’: first that ‘[t]he multiple from which ontology makes up its situation is composed solely of multiplicities. surpassing and eluding the count-as-one yet also – since of course that operation must have something to operate on – as providing its necessary starting point or precondition. a procedure of counting or grouping that imposes some order on an otherwise inchoate since open-ended multiplicity but which is always – and for just that reason – exposed to the potentially disturbing effect of that which finds no place in the existing conceptual domain since it exists as a ‘supernumerary’ element excluded from the count-as-one. Another way of putting this is to draw a distinction between ‘consistent’ and ‘inconsistent’ multiplicity.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT logical inconsistency of any attempt to prove the contrary case. Pascal. every multiple is a multiple of multiples’.

and consistency afterwards’ (p. ‘[s]tructure is what obliges us to consider. there is the older and more characteristic philosophical temptation that consists in flatly asserting the claim for ontology as a discipline aimed towards matters of absolute. constructivist or neopragmatist) according to which it makes no sense to suppose the existence of truths beyond those that fall within range of our present epistemic. ‘is established in the distribution of the count-as-one. both provoking and reacting to such sceptical-relativist ideas. If the greatest single problem for ontology is that thrown up in the course of Plato’s Parmenides and repeatedly in various guises thereafter then the greatest temptation is that which involves ‘removing the obstacle by posing that ontology is not actually a situation’ (p. 25). 26). cognitive. via retroaction. objective truth and just as flatly denying that it ought to be concerned with ‘situations’ or conjunctures of the kind that Badiou constantly invokes. inconsistency before. 25). before once again turning out to possess elements or subsets that cannot be reduced to any such principle of order. On the one hand is the lure of that sophistical approach (post-structuralist. that is. In its absence. postmodernist. that presentation is a multiple (inconsistent) and what authorizes us. to compose the terms of the presentation as units of a multiple (consistent)’ (p. Wittgensteinian. certain specifiable stages in the process whereby inconsistent multiplicity is rendered consistent by this or that formal means. Badiou on the contrary describes it as the chief ‘wager’ of his book that ontological issues cannot be 41 .READING THE TEXT argues. Thus a ‘situation’. via anticipation. conceptual or – what this is usually taken to entail – linguistic-expressive capacity. he writes. hermeneutic. On the other. So it is – through this constantly evolving dialectic of containment and uncontainable excess – that thought is empowered to transgress and surpass the limits laid down by any regnant paradigm or merely de facto consensus of belief. thought will most likely yield to one or other of the two great opposing temptations that Badiou finds endemic across a whole range of present-day disciplines. is defined in essentially liminal or transitive terms as a ‘structured presentation’ which partakes of both consistent and inconsistent multiplicities. ‘This duality’. we shall have to re-conceive ontology on the model of – or as identical with – certain specific situations. as Badiou understands it. And again.

‘[o]ne would thus count it [the multiple] as one and being would be lost again’. totally implicit . Second – apparently in conflict with this – is the precept that ontology has to do with questions of truth. . this entails that there cannot be a concept of the multiple.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT treated in all their specificity. First is that ontology. Hence Badiou’s third and most crucial claim: that what accounts 42 . Moreover. at least if by ‘concept’ is meant a clearly defined – necessary and sufficient – set of conditions for what the term properly denotes. For the moment there are three main points that we should note by way of preliminary orientation. 29). as Badiou conceives it. has always to be treated by way of its relation to those various specific ‘situations’ or conjunctures of thought which determine the scope and limits of knowledge at any given time. . After all. ‘the prescription is . Badiou will have a great deal more to say – and with closer reference to specific episodes in that development – regarding this notable progress in its powers of conceptual-ontological grasp and the way that they spring from a repeated encounter with the limits of present understanding linked to an anticipatory sense of what as yet lies beyond reach of any adequate formal or conceptual statement. . for set-theoretical purposes. insofar as being is equated by Badiou with whatever eludes our best-present powers of cognitive grasp precisely on account of its having no place in the conceptual order laid down by the currently prevailing count-as-one. yet there is no defined concept of the multiple to be encountered anywhere’ (p. This is why. rather than knowledge. it operates such that it is only ever a matter of pure multiples. All the same – what is perhaps the most difficult aspect of Badiou’s thinking for anyone new to his work – it is in consequence of just this ultimate elusiveness or resistance to conceptual definition that set theory has displayed such a striking capacity for advancing through and beyond (and by means of) the various problems and paradoxes thrown up in the course of its development to date. and hence that it is a gross confusion (albeit one endemic to many present-day movements of philosophic thought) to suppose that ontological issues could ever be settled or even usefully addressed through any kind of context-relative or historically indexed approach. complexity and depth except by taking adequate account of how they emerge in given situations and how they respond more or less inventively to various conjunctural problems or dilemmas. .

like Gilles Deleuze. with whom Badiou has taken issue on just these grounds. Wittgensteinians. Just how this occurs – or how it can possibly be thought to occur – is Badiou’s theme in later parts of Being and Event where he takes up Cohen’s set-theoretical ideas of forcing and the generic as between them offering a means to explain what would otherwise constitute a strictly unresolvable paradox. political and cultural change. one that derives its chief inspiration from the differential calculus and ‘intensive’ (qualitative) rather than ‘extensive’ (discrete and quantitative) multiplicities. and which thus defines itself squarely against any formal or axiomatic conception of truth. formally adequate) proof.3 At this stage he makes the point by explaining how the axiomatic-deductive method in mathematics. however limited state of knowledge is the development of certain formal operations through which those limits show up symptomatically by acting as constraints on the quest for a more advanced. Those thinkers would include the aforementioned company of postmodernists.READING THE TEXT for the capacity of thought to transcend any current. conceptually adequate mode of understanding. It is also what sets him implacably at odds with a great many present-day thinkers for whom such a claim on behalf of truth – let alone on behalf of mathematics as the royal road to truth – would betray nothing more than a quaint attachment to thoroughly antiquated ways of thought. post-structuralists. logic and the formal sciences can indeed posit truths and anticipate the kinds of procedure required to establish those truths without as yet having actually arrived at any such procedure or laid it out as a valid (i. neo-pragmatists and suchlike adepts of the ‘linguistic turn’ alongside other more highly esteemed antagonists.5 Moreover.e.4 Deleuze stands out – and receives by far the most detailed and respectful of the many critiques that Badiou has devoted to philosophical sparring partners – by reason of his having emphatically espoused an ‘open’ rather than a ‘closed’ ontology. as becomes very clear in Badiou’s protracted engagement with 43 . His adherence to the axiomatic method – to a conception of truth as attainable solely by way of certain logically rigorous formal procedures – is a prominent feature of Badiou’s thinking with respect not only to mathematics but in each of those otherwise diverse fields where he takes the dialectic of being and event to constitute the driving force of scientific.

6 Conversely. Moreover. Badiou’s disagreement with Deleuze over issues concerning mathematical ontology and the rival claims of extensive versus intensive (or axiomatic versus differential) modes of thought and. This latter. on the other. social and human sciences and even – as Badiou would be quick to affirm – matters of an urgently political or ethical character. this difference as regards relatively technical issues in the philosophy of mathematics has wider repercussions for their respective views concerning questions in the natural. whether in terms of intellectual commitment to a 44 . So there is a close connection between.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Deleuze. well-publicized difference of views no doubt has its roots in their respective histories of political involvement before and after the watershed events of May 1968. ‘molecular’) forms of activist engagement and his broadly anarchistic idea of ‘desiring-production’ as the locus of those disruptive energies that alone have the potential to break down existing structures of power and control. formal procedures. However. For it is his contention that in each case the interests of truth are best served by adherence to certain rigorously specified operative principles. it also has much to do with Deleuze’s almost visceral mistrust of large-scale ‘molar’ (as opposed to small-scale. scientific hypotheses. These latter may be axioms. it is Badiou’s deep-laid conviction that in politics as in other. it demands that one follows them through with the utmost fidelity and rigour. political initiatives or the kinds of constraint upon future conduct brought about by the demands of fidelity to some prior commitment undertaken with a view to its unpredictable yet none the less looked-for since partly anticipated outcome. his disagreement concerning the need for concerted and organized action in the socio-political sphere. or to stake large claims on some future event which thereby shapes one’s every act and decision even though that event is by no means certain – even (as things look at present) unlikely – to transpire. on the one hand. more obviously formal disciplines of thought there is no prospect of genuine advance or possibility of truly innovative thinking except by way of rigorous procedures that should always themselves be subject to likewise rigorous assessment at every stage. Closely allied to this is the willingness to venture far-reaching hypotheses that decide the whole course of one’s investigative work but for which as yet there exists no adequately formalized proof-procedure. research programmes.

Paul. even passionately opposed in various respects while none the less finding in them just the kinds of adversary with whom he can most productively engage. So it is not hard to see why Badiou should have singled out Deleuze as one of those exemplary figures – along with (among others) Aristotle. St. It alone avoids having to make a one out of the multiple. to do so off their own bat. It comes out in what Badiou has to say about the need for an axiomatic-deductive approach to mathematics and the formal sciences in virtue of its singular capacity to pass beyond the limits of intuitive grasp or presently existing knowledge. It is precisely the signal merit of such axiomatic-deductive thought that it allows enquiry to proceed along paths that are clearly marked out or rigorously formalized – where individual terms have a strictly specified ‘compositional’ role as defined by their place within the overall structure – while avoiding the kinds of premature appeal to some existing state of knowledge or stock of intuitions that would block any prospect of significant further advance. physical or human sciences or in terms of a long-term political project entered into and sustained with unyielding commitment against whatever circumstantial odds. devise proof-procedures for unproven theorems or conjectures. Spinoza and Heidegger – to whose thinking he is sharply. and thereby – when these work out according to that sense of anticipatory grasp – discover new stretches of mathematical or ontological terrain. Leibniz. ‘[i]t is clear that only an axiom system can structure a situation in which what is presented is presentation.READING THE TEXT detailed and demanding programme of research in the formal. Pascal. The latter pair of terms Badiou would consider a pseudo-dichotomy – a distinction without a real difference – since for him mathematical discoveries are also and inseparably stages of advance into so-far unexplored ontological regions. leaving the latter as what is 45 . Thus again. vaguely analogical relation to issues of political theory and practice. among most working mathematicians. Indeed it is one of philosophy’s primary tasks to expound and clarify these ontological advances and thus make up for the marked unwillingness. I have taken this slight detour from the path of strict exegetical conduct so as to explain (for maybe sceptical readers) how issues in such technical or specialized fields as advanced set theory and philosophy of mathematics can bear something more than a suggestive.

Here again he is referring to that basic set-theoretical precept according to which the one (i.e. For ‘[t]he One is not presented. This section is headed by the Parmenidean epigraph – ‘If the one is not. No doubt some explanation is required as to what Badiou means by the rather odd claim that ‘what is presented is presentation’. 519). 30). and so forth – that must be taken to precede and moreover to constitute the very condition of possibility for any such operation. ‘something’ in this context taken to denominate the as-yet open or undefined content of any presentation in general. Parmenides and Socrates – although their voices are mostly unmarked. logical. it results. and furthermore that it is ‘reciprocal with “inconsistent multiplicity”’ since the latter likewise exceeds and eludes any adequate specification. With all this in mind we are now better placed to see just how high are the stakes when Badiou returns to Plato in Meditation Two and stages a further dialectical encounter which in fact involves four disputants – himself. In other words – Badiou’s own. This is because it specifies only the bare fact of something’s having been presented. from the useful glossary of technical terms appended to Being and Event – presentation is itself the ‘primitive word of metaontology (or of philosophy)’ (p. 519). results from an certain operation brought to bear on the otherwise open multiplicity – the endless regress of multiples whose terms are themselves multiples whose terms are themselves multiples.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT implicit in the regulated consequences through which it manifests itself as multiple’ (p. on the contrary. propositional or other such formally specified content. Plato. nothing is’ – but goes on to turn that dictum around from its manifest sense (that everything must be one because otherwise all would be confused in a multiplicity of fleeting appearances) to what Badiou derives from it by way of set-theoretical reasoning 46 . it is only at the stage of the count – in whatever onto-mathematically determined form – that inconsistent multiplicity (presentation as such) is confined or reduced to the realm of definite numerical. thus making the multiple consist’ (p. first in the series of integers or natural numbers) is in no sense a primitive term but. rather than some determinate content as given by this or that specific application of the count-as-one. In other words. This is also to say that ‘[p]resentation is multiplebeing such as it is effectively deployed’.

31). It possesses a quality of intense and hardpressed adversarial reasoning that is carried across with no diminution to Badiou’s meticulously reasoned and attentive but also shrewdly transformative reading of the text. anterior to any one-effect.READING THE TEXT (that since any such ontology founded on the one will break down through the logical contradictions exposed in Plato’s dialogue therefore it is the nothing that must constitute the starting point of any viable ontology). therefore. dense text. For the sceptical reader still seeking evidence of Badiou’s philosophical acumen or power of sustained and concentrated argument there is no better evidence than that contained in this brief but pregnant chapter. Thus his aim is to show – very much against the grain of Parmenides’ (and also. In short. the multiple in-consists in the presentation of a multiple of multiples without any foundational stopping point’ (p. in a magnificent. 33). is a Plato who enunciates truths that contravene his own express metaphysical commitments and one such truth in particular: that ‘in the absence of any being of the one. the Platonic dialogue ‘is consecrated to an “exercise” of pure thought proposed by the elderly Parmenides to the young Socrates’ (p. Plato’s) intent – how any attempt to state a doctrine of being premised on the absolute priority of the one will end up despite and against its purpose by implicitly affirming a doctrine of the multiple as prior to the count-as-one. 33). which is to say. is evidently inconsistent multiplicity. ‘In-consists’ is one of those neologisms – in this case the making of an intransitive verb from the adjective ‘inconsistent’ – that may strike some readers as overly self-indulgent but which in fact serve very well to communicate a technical (in this case set-theoretical) concept. As he notes. or to any structure’ (p. more ambiguously. We shall soon see enough of its further consequences – not least with regard to those political issues of inclusion. Thus its point is to capture not only the state of ‘inconsistent multiplicity’ which Badiou opposes to the order of ‘consistent’ multiples that result from 47 . ‘[w]hat Plato is endeavoring to think here. pure presentation. exclusion and representation that are rarely absent even from Plato’s more arcane metaphysical debates – to recognize just how much is at stake when Badiou presses this ancient dialectic of the one and the many to the point of aporia and ultimate inversion of the Parmenidean doctrine. What emerges from this reading.

Plato is scarcely 48 . social and political nature. Here again there is a close and unmistakable connection between what Badiou has to say in this formal (set-theoretical) register and what he has to say on topics of an ethical. exceptions and other problematical instances that find no place in the count. detailed and respectful attention on their own terms while also very clearly signalling the points where his thought diverges from theirs and the various respects in which later developments – most crucially. dialectical and inconclusive or aporetic treatment. to unfold its implications witha high degree of formal rigour as well as extraordinary speculative sweep. for Badiou. After all. As we shall see later on. It is therefore natural that Being and Event should set out by engaging with Plato’s Parmenides as the text wherein – through its prior engagement with Parmenides himself – these questions receive their earliest and (from Badiou’s point of view) their ideally complex. discrepancies. Nothing could be further from his practice of critical commentary than the tone of somewhat pitying fondness that often creeps into such writings in the ‘rationalreconstructive’ mode. Not that Badiou is out to fault Plato on grounds of mere fallacious reasoning or – as so often when analytic philosophers write about thinkers of the past – on grounds of his unfortunately not having had the benefit of those more advanced logical or conceptual resources enjoyed by anyone nowadays approaching the same sorts of problem. the structures and procedures involved in an adequately theorized social-political ontology are identical to those that emerge from an ontologically adequate account of developments in set theory. Indeed to put it like this is to understate and misrepresent his claim since. the advent of set theory – have pointed a way beyond the obstacles they once faced. moreover.7 With Plato as with the many other thinkers discussed in Being and Event Badiou inclines more towards the ‘continental’ way of according those precursors serious. it is precisely through the non-coincidence between belonging and inclusion – a disparity expressible with greatest precision in set-theoretical terms but one with far-reaching implications as regards those other subjectdomains – that Badiou is able to stake this claim and.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT some particular mode of presentation or product of the countas-one but also the process or activity whereby any such consistent multiple is subject to the kind of potentially destabilizing force exerted by the various anomalies.

uncritical. ‘If the one is not. whether in his detailed reconstructions of the process by which conceptual advances come about in mathematics and the formal sciences or in his singling out just those thinkers – and just those aspects of their work – that most strikingly exemplify that claim. nothing is’ can be left to stand wholly unaltered and yet. That is to say. All the same Badiou is very far from rejecting that conception of philosophy as wedded to the virtues of conceptual clarity and distinctness. philosophical and social progress that placed chief emphasis on the power of reason to think its way through and beyond the limits of common sense. is due not so much to some corrigible lapse of reasoning on his part but rather to the inherent difficulty – even the downright impossibility – of clearly and distinctly conceiving any such thing.8 Its influence is everywhere apparent in Badiou’s thought. be construed as follows: ‘if the one is not. parochial. and which thus looks far beyond its own temporal. Plato’s statement. Hence his strong attachment to the seventeenthcentury rationalists (despite many and various disagreements with them) insofar as they adhered to a conception of scientific. what occurs in the place of “the many” is the pure name of the void. 35). Thus the upshot of Plato’s exceptionally hard-pressed dialogue is to show Socrates – as seldom happens. insofar as it alone subsists as being’ (p. If read in this way – on a qualified principle of charity that maximizes rational content while also (quite compatibly) making full allowance for explicable error – then Parmenides can be seen as a work that implicitly foregrounds its own dilemmas or moments of unresolved conceptual strain. intellectual and cultural horizons. though always (when it 49 .READING THE TEXT at fault if his failure (more like: his dogged refusal) to accept the priority of the many over the one. in consequence of such a reading. one with deep roots in the French philosophical tradition – going back to Descartes – and carried on by twentieth-century thinkers such as Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem. or of inconsistent over consistent multiplicity. in certain respects. intuitive. Hence also his approach to Plato as a thinker more productively understood through a critical-diagnostic reading that treats him as at least partially accountable to later and. more advanced procedures of thought. passively imbibed or other such customary habits of belief.

the former transliterating (or translating. Thus sets are defined as products of the count-as-one. such as would underwrite the Platonist appeal to that realm of transcendent forms. the classificatory procedure that consists in grouping together a certain range 50 . ultimately truth-preserving state of union. among them the change of sense that certain crucial words undergo as a result of their being caught up in a process of immanent self-examination or conceptual auto-critique that leads them beyond their established (and no doubt authorially ′ intended) semantic range. They include the pair πληθος and ′ πολλα . for all his contrary intent. ideas or essences which constitutes the sole guarantee of truth and knowledge against the evershifting. Cantor: ‘theory of the pure multiple’ Badiou goes on to develop these themes from Plato in the context of modern set theory and what he proclaims as its radically transformative or innovative impact on our basic ontological conceptions. This ironic twist emerges in various ways. that is. 2. and hence the necessity (not merely the possibility) of gathering the plethoric multiplicity into some higher. cannot help but demonstrate the con′ ceptual impossibility of thinking πληθος as a fullness or plenitude of being. whereas the latter signifies ‘the many’ and has achieved – aptly enough from Badiou’s viewpoint – a rather less ‘properly’ naturalized status through the phrase ‘hoi polloi’. inclusion and exclusion among numbers or other entities that are taken as forming a unit of assessment for some given purpose. illusory character of sensory-perceptual experience. His point (here summarizing rather brutally) is that Plato. What the unfolding logic of the dialogue constrains him to acknowledge – albeit despite himself – is the opposite consequence that flows from his failure to think through ′ ′ the required opposition between πληθος and πολλα with sufficient clarity or logical rigour to sustain his professed ontological commitment to the absolute priority of the one over the many.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT does) to highly revealing effect – in the role of a thinker caught very much on the hop by the unforeseen dialectical consequences of his own stated position. since it has fully entered the English language) as ‘plethora’. ‘the common people’ or ‘the plebs’. Set theory has to do with relationships of membership. What Plato clearly wishes to maintain – and states as such – is the intrinsic and natural pre-eminenceof the one over the many.

nor are its elements objects.READING THE TEXT of such entities and treating them as co-members of a single assemblage whatever their otherwise diverse natures or properties. He reinforces this point by then describing the process of increasingly advanced and rigorous formalization whereby set 51 . . and moreover that the intervening post-Cantorian sequence of advances – which his book sets forth in some detail – were potentially contained within Cantor’s inaugural insight. was born. if so minded. in an extreme disparity between the solidity of its reasoning and the precariousness of its central concept’ (p. of the object. p. as Badiou notes. that ‘[a] great theory . Indeed. and that of intuition. And so it came about. (p. one can pick out a good few passages elsewhere in Being and Event where Badiou himself can be seen to indulge the same forbidden mode of talk. his purpose is to drive home the point that set theory has now progressed to a stage where it is (or should be) no longer necessary to fall back upon such notions. it was a point not fully taken by Cantor when he first enounced his ‘theory of the pure multiple’ and defined it as follows: ‘By set what is understood is the grouping into a totality of quite distinct objects of our intuition or of our thought’ (cited. 38). ‘Without exaggeration’. Cantor assembles in this definition every single concept whose decomposition is brought about by set theory: the concept of totality. truth to tell. Ironically enough. Badiou responds. BE. . as is customary. the majority of such attempts to be found in reference works and introductory texts. What makes up a set is not a totalization. nor can one possess the slightest intuition of each supposed element of a modestly large set. 38). nor may distinctions be made in some infinite collections of sets (without a special axiom). The latter point is crucial in mathematical terms but also for Badiou’s socio-political thinking since it allows the set theorist – or anyone who has truly absorbed its implications – to ignore any merely contingent or localized differences between such entities and accord them strictly equal status as regards their membership of any given set. 38) Of course this series of objections would also disqualify my own attempt at a brief definition as given above and along with it. of distinction. Badiou writes. However.

Above all. and not in terms of any qualifying attributes or distinctive features that mark them out as fit candidates according to this or that (e. the very confidence initially displayed by Frege and Russell in the power of their logical language (technically speaking: that of the first-order quantified predicate calculus) to offer a complete and perfectly consistent formalization of the settheoretical domain was itself a sure sign of the project’s being headed for just such an obstacle somewhere along the way. would continue to advance through repeatedly coming up against limits to its present (very often intuitive) and pointers to its future (more conceptually adequate) state of understanding. once launched on this investigative path. then this was yet another indication that mathematical thinking. ‘What was thought of as an “intuition of objects” was recast such that it could only be thought of as the extension of a concept. socio-political order. Hence his objection not only to the claim that intuition might yield valid insights or conceptual progress (since intuition is most often just the name applied to preconceived habits of belief) but also to that narrowly logicist 52 . itself expressed in a partially (or indeed completely. that is. what Badiou seeks to dispel – not only for the benefit of relatively uninformed readers but also in riposte to some philosophers of mathematics who take a contrary view – is the idea of intuition as having any role to play in set-theoretical reasoning. or of a property. 39). one that defines the conditions for membership solely and strictly with reference to the set of those entities (whatever their nature) that fall within the relevant domain.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT theory was progressively uncoupled from all such naïve or restrictive appeals to a domain of distinct objects and likewise distinct thoughts or intuitions concerning them. Here he is in agreement with the majority of analytic philosophers who likewise adopt an extensionalist rather than intensionalist approach.g. If the latter project ran into problems with Russell’s discovery of certain paradoxes at the conceptual heart of set theory. In effect. intuitive) criterion. It is precisely this recurrent gesture of containment – this move to control and delimit the scope of enquiry through various techniques of always premature ‘totalization’ – that Badiou regards as having posed a chief obstacle to progress by evading the radical challenge that set theory presents to every existing ontological or. indeed. as in the work of Frege and Russell) formalized language’ (p.

That claim encountered its first major setback when Russell showed – by purely logical means – that set theory was intrinsically prone to generate just such problems. and which therefore cannot be regarded as something pathological or (as Russell and Frege supposed) in need of surgical excision. To this extent it is an inbuilt feature of set-theoretical thought. that the Frege-Russell project was predestined to run aground on those paradoxes that sprang to view as soon as it encountered its limit-point condition in that realm of the ‘pure multiple’ – or that formally unrestricted set-theoretical domain – which required that statements of the relevant class be open to the test of self-reflexive application. I should offer some further detail at this stage since the episode in question is among the most crucial for Badiou’s understanding of set theory and of the complex relationship between genesis and structure that has characterized its history to date. as Badiou points out. Frege. Badiou thinks. in fact turns up – and quite acceptably so – in each and every possible specification of a set.READING THE TEXT idea that the exploratory scope of set theory might be circumscribed by a purely formal programme whose terms are specifiable in advance and which therefore pre-emptively restricts any future developments to what is conceivable at present. and so on for any range of similar instances (p. 40). it does take on such a negative. so far from being forced or extraordinary. despite their somewhat contrived appearance such paradoxes all derive from a basic formula (that of the set which is not a member of itself) which. So it was. However. The great promise of set-theory as envisaged by Cantor. subversive or system-threatening aspect when its implications are followed through in the context of an ultra-logicist programme which 53 .9 Yet. Russell and its other early proponents was that of reducing mathematics to a purely logical or axiomatic-deductive structure of entailment relations that would leave no room for anomaly or paradox. namely the kinds of self-reflexive. one that arises whenever it is a question of asserting ‘the constitutive power of language over beingmultiple’. self-predicative or auto-referential paradox that resulted from its dealing with formulas such as ‘the set of all sets that are not members of themselves’ or ‘he who shaves the barber in a town where the barber shaves every man except those who shave themselves’. Thus ‘it is obvious that the set of whole numbers is not itself a whole number’.

e. those belonging to the first-order language of direct or material-mode assertion. Russell thought. and so on up through successive stages of increasingly abstract formal (i. Their impact was intensified by various related developments. then and now. Rather they could best be averted by a ‘Theory of Types’ which distinguished clearly between various orders or levels of statement. since ever more precisely codified conception of validity or truth.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT identifies truth with formal validity and validity.10 In other words. could set theory – as a crucial component of present-day developments in logic and mathematics – be kept on its path towards an ever more secure. those that referred to such first-order statements from a higher logical level. one could have either truth as matter of rigorous logical procedure or consistency (‘completeness’) as a matter of intra-systemic coherence but surely not both unless by some manoeuvre. Nevertheless set theory survived these and other challenges through the effort of various thinkers to provide some method of formal restatement in axiomatic terms that would keep the paradoxes 54 . the set-theoretical paradoxes have remained a spur to philosophic thought and a potent source of speculative ideas both within mathematics and across a range of other disciplines ever since Russell first discovered them. meta-linguistic) specification. including – most notably – Go˝del’s undecidability-proof to the effect that any formal system sufficiently complex to generate the axioms of elementary arithmetic or first-order logic would necessarily include or entail at least one statement the truth or validity of which could not be proved within the system itself. like Russell’s. Russell’s answer was to make it a stipulative rule that statements in formal languages such as those of mathematics or the logical calculus should not be self-referring in a way that gave rise to difficulties of this sort. in effect. Only thus. in turn. that is. In that context the acceptable face of self-reference – its ubiquitous and therefore unobjectionable presence – undergoes a distinct change of expression and becomes. Still his purported ‘solution’ to these problems struck many. as objectionably ad hoc and as having more to do with interests of pragmatic or methodological convenience than with principles self-evident to reason. that looked suspiciously like a mere device for saving logico-mathematical appearances. with the classical ideals of consistency and total closure under logical entailment. the un-doer of that whole optimistic logicist project. Indeed.

whether in its mathematical. Thus although they ‘went on to weaken mathematical certainty and provoke a crisis which it would be wrong to imagine over [since] it involves the very essence of mathematics’. strictly logical end point. Theology makes its re-entry to the otherwise radically de-theologized (since de-transcendentalized) realm of set theory as a result of Cantor’s retrograde tendency to equate absolute being ‘not with the (consistent) presentation of the multiple’. namely the upshot of his own discovery when relieved of its inherited metaphysical baggage and pressed to its ultimate. Such was the incipient realization. Badiou’s work is notable for not losing sight of the set-theoretical paradoxes – indeed. Badiou sees an effort to ‘force a way through’ this looming impasse by resorting to quasimystical. gathering together and numbering any multiple whatsoever’ (p. but rather with ‘the transcendence through which a divine infinity in-consists. philosophic or (what effectively subtends both of these) its crypto-theological aspect. nevertheless – he asserts – the widespread acceptance of Russell’s pseudo-solution meant that the problem with this logicist project ‘was pragmatically abandoned rather than victoriously resolved’ (p. 55 . for placing them squarely at the centre of its philosophic interests – while regarding them more as an incentive to thought or a spur to renewed intellectual-creative activity than as an obstacle that has to be ignored or set aside if further progress is to be made. As for Cantor. thereby opening up (in his famous phrase) a ‘mathematicians’ paradise’. even theologically inspired notions of absolute infinity as opposed to the realm of mathematically specifiable transfinite numbers which he himself had discovered. that any resultant (set-theoretically derived) concept of ‘being’ would resist or elude the best efforts of systematic statement in terms compatible with that whole tradition of thought. 38).READING THE TEXT safely out of view or at least prevent them from doing real harm. as one. as well as to every mathematics-based development in the physical and even (in certain contexts) the social and human sciences. 42). already legible though not fully acknowledged in Cantor’s work. During the past century it has become absolutely central to every branch of pure and applied mathematics. On the other hand Badiou is more than willing to credit Cantor with having grasped more vividly than any of his fellow pioneers what also drove him to seek refuge in such ‘ontotheological’ notions.

‘Cantor’s thought wavers’. he writes. in his estimation. between onto-theology – for which the absolute is thought as a supreme infinite being. Leibniz. deeper. and yet more thought-provoking challenge to the enterprise in hand. He views the history of advances in mathematical knowledge as having most often come about through a process whereby various sorts of problem or paradox eventually gave rise to some new concept or agreed-upon way of proceeding which in turn – when its consequences became clear – could be seen to involve a further. achieve that rank. and that appears in varied forms whenever he engages with strong precursors such as Aristotle. as the main source of conceptual leverage or (at risk of sounding too Hegelian) the dialectical motor of Badiou’s entire project. ‘consistent’ and ‘inconsistent’. in which consistency provides a theory of inconsistency. Thus there are certain aspects of their thinking that he finds problematic. for Badiou’s purposes. It is well worth quoting another lengthy passage from his commentary on Cantor since it captures precisely what Badiou so values about those few select thinkers who. and thus. is not. Descartes. quite simply. thus as trans-mathematical. 42) What this passage displays most clearly – in his own way of thinking as well as in those aspects of Cantor’s thought that he finds exemplary despite their downright contradictory character – is the constant interplay of two terms. (p. the most intellectually heroic example of a thinking whose special virtue it is to confront the maximum challenge to its powers of rigorous development – a challenge as much internal or self-generated as brought to bear by external opposition – and thereby gain all the greater strength to overcome its own residual attachments and resistances. Spinoza and Hegel. as a form of the one so radical that no multiple can consist therein – and mathematical ontology. innumerable.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT In this respect Cantor stands out as the most striking and. If again this sounds decidedly 56 . unacceptable or retrograde while none the less considering their work to possess just this same selfresistant or – at their most impressive moments – self-transcending quality. It is the same pattern that we have seen emerging in Badiou’s dialectical encounter with Plato. in that what proves an obstacle to it (paradoxical multiplicity) is its point of impossibility.

That is to say – contra a good many Wittgensteinians. one of the philosophic traits that lifts his work well clear of post-structuralist.READING THE TEXT Hegelian then the impression is not entirely wide of the mark although it does demand qualification in ways that will emerge later on. postmodernist and other recent Francophile movements of thought is Badiou’s unwavering commitment to the existence of language-independent or culture-transcendent truths and his equally strong rejection of the claim that this is in any sense a sign of dogmatism or entrenched doctrinal adherence. Nevertheless. where set theory is at issue ‘axiomatization is not an artifice of exposition. intuitionists. 43). conventionalists or anti-realists – what is at stake in that process is not just a matter of finding some more convenient since compactly expressible means of formal presentation for concepts that might otherwise (and perhaps better) have been expressed in something less drastically divergent from the norms of natural or ‘ordinary’ language. Indeed.11 Badiou makes this point most concisely in the context of describing those advances in the formal development (or axiomatization) of set theory that were carried through by postCantorian thinkers such as Zermelo and Fraenkel. At any rate Badiou is absolutely firm in his belief that although knowledge must be held distinct from truth – since truth might always transcend the utmost limits of human knowability – nevertheless knowledge is attainable. it is only by affirming that commitment and hence by conceding the possibility of error in even our most deeply held theories. truth-claims or items of belief that we are saved from equating truth tout court with what counts as such for ourselves and fellow members of our own (whether specialized or culture-wide) community. but an intrinsic necessity’ (p. as he is keen to impress upon the reader. the devisers of that particular version – the ZF system – that he adopts mainly on grounds of conceptual economy and ease of expository treatment. On the contrary. Rather it is the very possibility of thinking beyond that tenacious since intuitively deep-laid and linguistically ingrained mindset which – if not subject to constant rectification and critique through just such axiomaticdeductive procedures of thought – will persist in presenting us 57 . albeit with the strict fallibilist proviso that all and any present claims in that regard might conceivably be subject to future revision or outright disconfirmation. neo-pragmatists.

44). the signs α and β are variables from the same list. The purpose of adopting this austere approach is to avoid the constant temptation (as witness Cantor’s ‘theological’ turn) of regressing to a more intuitively manageable concept of set theory which continues.12 By the same token he stands just as squarely opposed to those latter-day ‘sophists’ – as distinct from the more intellectually reputable since dialectically challenging company of ‘anti-philosophers’ – who take refuge in just such sources of false assurance or just such appeals to the delusory idea of a wisdom vested in ‘ordinary language’ and its associated customary ‘forms-of-life’. His preference for ZF over rival systems has to do precisely with its pressing as far as possible in this direction. avoiding all forms of premature conceptual (or ontological) commitment. That is to say. even the deeply Spinoza-influenced Marxist theoretician Louis Althusser – who stake their projects on the capacity of thought to transcend the deliverances of mere intuition or received (linguistically ensconced) doctrine. in the classical manner. multiples. on the ZF system it is easier to conceive how thinking can dispense with the intuitively selfevident distinction between ‘individual’ objects and groups of objects. Thus ‘[w]hen I write “α belongs to β. and thereby faithfully pursuing what Badiou sees as the path of thought laid out for set-theoretical enquiry. represented by the symbol ∈ – and excluding all reference to other properties that would bring such otiose commitments along with them.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT with ‘common-sense’ ideas and pseudo-solutions to misconceived problems. This it does by allowing just one relation between terms – that of belonging. so Badiou maintains. Leibniz and Spinoza to its latter-day progeny among both mainstream analytic philosophers who continue the basic Frege-Russell programme and also those French thinkers – Bachelard. than in the context of developments in set theory and the problems faced by philosophy of mathematics to the extent that it strives to account for those developments in conceptually adequate terms. and can be substituted for by specifically indistinguishable terms’ (p. to distinguish between objects. Here again Badiou stands four-square with the rationalist tradition of thought from Descartes. or particular (discrete) sets and assemblages composed 58 . α ∈ β. Canguilhem. multiples of multiples and so forth. Nowhere is the fallacy of this way of thinking more clearly shown up.

with a grain of salt. Moreover it leaves no room for what seems – on a more conservative or intuitive account – the self-evident truth that logically there must be a distinction between elements and the sets to which those elements belong or in terms of which they are specified as elements. in a uniform manner. the presentation of “something” as indexed to the multiple’ (p. This remark is best read as conveying a certain sympathy. What set theory most notably – and to some thinkers most disturbingly – conjures up is the prospect of a bad infinity or a multiple that is not composed of so many fixed or definable units but must rather be thought of as a ‘uniformly pure multiplicity’ without any clearly specifiable constituent parts. Here Badiou offers the suggestion that ‘[i]f one admits. Quine’s famous formula “to be is to be the value of a variable”.READING THE TEXT of multiple sets under some higher level grouping principle. ‘[t]he sign ∈. 44). In other words. ontologically and logically speaking. Indeed it is at just this point that set theory in its more developed forms departs from the ‘naïve’ or still intuitable stage at which Cantor remained through his supposition that to think of sets was necessarily to think of them as entities that differed. determines. Badiou is by no means averse to the formal rigour or the extreme ontological austerity of Quine’s approach. on Badiou’s part. accordant as it is with his own professed aims of giving logic precedence in all matters of ontological enquiry and moreover restricting such enquiry to what can be said – consistently maintained – on the basis of a disciplined investigation into the various set-theoretically thinkable modes of being. from the elements that made them up. one can conclude that the ZF system postulates that there is only one type of presentation of being: the multiple’ (p. with the ‘austere desert landscapes’ that Quine famously preferred to the lush vegetation of more ample or profligate ontologies. 44). unbeing of any one. That is to say.13 However. However he is sharply at odds with Quine in just about every other respect. including his commitment to a rationalist conception of ontology that could scarcely 59 . the ‘grain of salt’ serves to indicate – distinctly in tension with that – a clear sense of just how restrictive is Quine’s echt-analytic desire to prohibit any reckless ontological ventures beyond the safe (‘scientifically’ validated) ground of a quantified first-order predicate logic coupled with a radically empiricist conception of epistemic warrant.

in this idea of what is suppressed or marginalized by any determinate (e. ‘Language’ here presumably includes not only those varieties of natural language to which. ‘Zermelo’s axiom system subordinates the induction of a multiple by language to the existence. It is just this idea of a constant dialectical tension intrinsic to the very nature of thought – rather than of problems that crop up periodically and that have to be resolved before thinking can once again proceed along its appointed path – that Badiou finds most compellingly enacted in the sequence of set-theoretical advances from Cantor down. Equally un-Quinean – and likewise reflecting his distinctly ‘continental’ angle of vision – is Badiou’s conception of progress in the formal (as well as in certain branches of the physical) sciences as typically powered by conflicts. In formal terms. He makes the point with reference to Zermelo’s principle – a main component of the ZF system – that ‘a property only determines a multiple under the supposition that there is already a presented multiple’ (p. Here again. prior to that induction. at certain crucial junctures. Badiou accords no authority in such matters but also those formal or regimented languages – like that which he shares with Quine. anomalies or moments of productive friction between the drive for consistency and that which will always elude or subvert any fully consistent methodology or set of results. of an initial multiple’ (p. that is. assistive or enabling (though also a strictly indispensable) role. as we have seen. ‘democratic’) instance of the count-as-one. For they will always result from the suppression of – and therefore. any imputed feature or attribute pertaining to some given member of some given set and on the basis of which their membership is taken to depend must itself suppose a pre-existent multiplicity subject to no such selective constraint and therefore – by definition – more numerous or inclusive. the language of the first-order quantified predicate calculus – whose very consistency is such as to ensure that they can serve only in a strictly heuristic. be subject to disruption by – an inconsistent multiplicity that cannot be fully grasped or encompassed but only more-or-less drastically reduced to order by any application of the count-as-one.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT be further from Quine’s outlook of radical empiricism.g. 60 . we may glimpse some of the political or socio-critical implications that Badiou will go on to draw from his set-theoretical elaborations. 45). That is to say. 45).

Leibniz. Descartes. Hence. 48) This distinction between ‘what the theory presents’ and ‘presentation’ in another (ontologically prior) sense of the term takes us to the heart of Badiou’s political as well as his ‘purely’ mathematical and formal-philosophical thinking. alone. the whole problem of the subtractive suture of set theory to being qua being. is the totality 61 . It has to do with the essentially ‘subtractive’ character of ontological enquiry and the impossibility that thinking should ever fully coincide with the contents of thought as given by intuition. on the other hand. according to Badiou. the result of its own excess. What the term ‘presentation’ signifies. Language – which provides for separations and compositions – cannot. Spinoza and Hegel who – albeit in radically different ways – bore witness to the limits of a positive ontology through their failure to express or consistently articulate the conditions under which it might be achieved. institute the existence of the pure multiple. formal and natural-scientific but also – by more than suggestive analogy – political and socio-cultural) that decide what shall count as a member or constituent of some given set. group or class. by language. The exceptions are those very few thinkers – Plato (if unwillingly) and certain set-theoreticians among them – who pressed the dialectic of being and non-being to its logical conclusion and also those philosophers such as Aristotle.READING THE TEXT What occurs at such moments is an especially forceful demonstration of the truth that applies always and everywhere in matters of ontological import but which is mostly concealed – repressed or glossed over – by philosophic doctrines or ‘commonsense’ ideas premised on the plenitude or the positivity of being. (p. it cannot ensure that what the theory presents is indeed presentation. It is a problem that language cannot avoid. duly acknowledged place in those various prevailing systems (mathematical. or by any supposedly consistent apparatus of formal concepts that fails (or programmatically declines) to make allowance for that which might always elude its foregone systematic grasp. This is why such truths are visible only in the fissures. contradictions and aporias that mark the great majority of texts in the Western philosophical canon. and to which it leads us by foundering upon its paradoxical dissolution. ‘What the theory presents’ is what finds an accredited.

52). as ‘recognition62 . within the ambit of those disciplines most readily amenable to set-theoretic formalization – can thinking resist the otherwise inevitable tendency to recognize only those elements that make up some known or acknowledged situation and hence to ignore whatever eludes. believe or take ourselves to know concerning it. recognize. Thus ‘[n]othing is presentable in a situation otherwise than under the effect of structure. that is.e. nevertheless ‘inconsistency as pure multiple is solely the presupposition that prior to the count the one is not’ (p. is that the one is always the result of some such counting operation brought to bear in the act or through the process of transforming an inconsistent into a consistent multiplicity. thus reverses the inaugural axiom of our entire procedure. However – and this claim is absolutely central to what I shall describe as Badiou’s realist ontology. seized in its immanence. escapes or exceeds the prevalent count-as-one. under the form of the one and its composition in consistent multiplicities’ (p. or deciding which elements shall count as members and which be consigned to the limbo of non-belonging. At the same time this central truth of ontology – the truth of its essentially subtractive character – is concealed from most enquirers simply through the fact that by very definition those excluded elements cannot figure within the count-asone or be perceived as integral or constituent parts of any existent situation. 52). it is just because the first of these claims can be shown to hold – shown (that is) through Badiou’s elaborate working-through of the set-theoretical paradoxes – that the second claim also goes through. Or rather. Hence Badiou’s central thesis in the formal (i. whether or not that potential is realized by their actually being so treated. From which it follows that only within the discourse of mathematics and the formal sciences – that is. This conception of truth as always potentially surpassing our best attainable state of knowledge – in the jargon. It states that the one is and that the pure multiple – inconsistency – is not’ (p. to repeat. the ontological and set-theoretical) domain: that even though ‘inconsistency is not actually presented as such since all presentation is under the law of the count’. 52). His point. although he might well have certain misgivings about that description – the truth of such a situation is in no way dependent on what we may perceive.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT of those elements that offer themselves as potential candidates for membership. ‘Any situation.

‘[i]nside the situation there is no graspable inconsistency which would be subtracted from the count and thus a-structured’ (p. What is also required in order for this to occur is a reversal. Thus ‘[i]n a non-ontological (thus nonmathematical) situation. The ‘wavering towards inconsistency’ is something that Badiou detects across a wide range of philosophical texts where the overriding drive for system and method – or (in Heidegger’s case) for access to a realm of ontologically authentic Being beyond the merely ontic or quotidian – is allowed to subdue any countervailing sense of that which would otherwise resist such appropriation. 53). 52). logically articulated 63 . the multiple is possible only insofar as it is explicitly ordered by the law according to the one of the count’. to some extent at least. insofar as thinkers in other disciplines acquire the conceptual resources made available by developments in post-Cantorian set theory and thus come to grasp the basic point: that if the one is what results from some previous operation. This applies especially to programmatic thinkers such as Spinoza and Leibniz whose ruling premise is that truth must be expressible in terms of a consistent. whatever his differences with them in other regards.READING THE TEXT transcendent’ or ‘epistemically unconstrained’ – is one that unites Badiou with many realists in the analytic camp. However this restriction may be lifted. Indeed it is precisely in the need for such an operation – the inability of thought to achieve a proper sense of conceptual purchase except on condition of reducing inconsistent to consistent multiplicity – that the ‘something’ in question most strongly manifests itself as preceding and exceeding the count-as-one. then ‘of necessity “something” of the multiple does not absolutely coincide with the result’ (p. namely that such thinking be conducted very largely in terms of consistent multiplicity or structured situations so as to gain sufficient purchase on its various object-domains. of the imperative that governs most thinking at most times in most areas of thought. however short lived.14 Moreover it is one in the absence of which his project would utterly founder since it would lack any means to explain how thought can advance through the process of discovering – rather than inventing – those anomalies and conflicts that previously passed unnoticed but which then at a certain point emerged clearly to view and set the conditions in place for re-thinking the issue at hand. And again.

although he is strongly drawn to works of this kind (grand efforts in the system-building vein like Spinoza’s Ethics or Leibniz’s Monadology) while looking out for all the tell-tale points at which their more ambitious or programmatic claims can be seen to break down on recalcitrant details and twists of argumentation. of the many from the one. In his Spinoza commentary. 3. and of sexual difference from a prior state of hermaphrodite dual gender. At this point Plato is led or obliged by the logic of his argument to introduce a term that seems to involve the familiar – if endlessly debated – notion of causation but under a guise (that of ‘errancy’) that marks it out as no normal or familiar case of the kind.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT system of propositions that admits of no internal gaps. Nevertheless. their projects encounter just the kind of resistance from internal anomalies – most often from unresolved conflicts between the large-scale (purported) logical structure of their argument and its detailed working-out – which is only to be expected given his claim concerning the ultimate prevalence of inconsistent over consistent multiplicity. Rather he is intrigued by what Plato – in the opening paragraph of Timaeus – refers to as the ‘errant cause’ and invokes as part of his attempt to explain how the cosmos originally came into being through a combination of chance. later on. and hence the ubiquitous (no matter how elusive) remainder or reminder of the ‘supernumerary’ element that haunts all systematic discourse. necessity and the working-out of a rational scheme or underlying principle of order that would somehow reconcile the warring claims of freewill and determinism.15 Badiou’s interest here is not so much in Plato’s ‘great cosmological construction’. Badiou will locate this ‘wandering’ and strictly ‘unpresentable’ 64 . discrepancies or other such faults and which thus stands proof against criticism or indeed – by implication – against any further progress beyond its self-achieved stage of advance. of phenomenal appearances from that which underlies and makes possible those appearances. Plato and the unpresentable One striking example that Badiou adduces is Plato’s strange and in many ways untypical dialogue Timaeus where he advances a highly speculative piece of metaphysical argument – with distinct echoes of Anaximander and the pre-Socratic thinkers – concerning the emergence of order from chaos. as Badiou will endeavour to show.

cultural or linguistic grounds since the main reason for their being so placed is their imputed lack of those (supposed) identifying features that are taken to mark out members in good legal. insofar as it marks what is superfluous and redundant but also. ethnic. proves stubbornly resistant to a rational accounting on systemcompatible terms. What thought thus encounters in its dealing with these texts is the ‘void’ to which Badiou makes constant reference in his writing on set-theoretical matters and also – via the series of closely argued connections that I have sketched out briefly above – his thinking in the socio-political sphere. which would distinguish it as one within a differentiating count’ (p. freedom. However. 57). Thus. like the Platonic ‘errant cause’. qualifying) features that might otherwise – on the opposite (intensionalist) account – play a crucial part in deciding issues of set-theoretical membership. All the more must this apply to the non-members or to those excluded from the count on whatever legal. For Badiou. inadequate to the system’s needs – in the Spinozist notion of ‘infinite modes’ which. ‘[i]f the void is thematized. properties or distinguishing (i. or cultural-linguistic standing. Thus the void is that which cannot be conceived except in subtractive terms. there is nothing so politically and ethically 65 . it must be according to the presentation of its errancy. or as a ‘non-one’ that eludes the count insofar as it both precedes the operation by which ‘inconsistent’ is converted to ‘consistent’ multiplicity and remains as a kind of internal exile or – in Badiou’s striking analogy – a (non-)member of the (non-)collectivity of sans-papiers whose absence from any official tally or electoral roll renders them publicly invisible.READING THE TEXT (since thoroughly anomalous) point of excess – or rather of lack. for that reason.e.16 So there is a political as well as mathematical question involved when Badiou puts the case for a strictly extensionalist approach that would take absolutely no stock of any attributes. participant democracy. and not in regard to some singularity. necessarily full. social inclusion and universal human rights that – at least in the present-day French and similar contexts – forms the constant refrain of governments and political parties from mainstream left to mainstream right. ethnic. this is not to deny that they may yet exert a considerable power of resistance and disruption through their standing as blatant exceptions or counter-examples to the much-touted rhetoric of equality.

66 . thus yielding an excess of subsets over set that grows exponentially with the size of the original set right up to the multiple orders of infinity where of course it surpasses the utmost powers of any finite enumerative reckoning.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT retrograde – indeed so potentially lethal – as a version of the count that looks to such ‘singular’ (though type-indicative) features as a means of sorting those that belong from those that belong outside or elsewhere. The obverse of this is of course the implication that what is required – ethically or politically – in order to promote the interests of justice in an unjust society is a stronger. This implication Badiou takes to be already contained in Cantor’s Theorem – the starting point of all set theory – according to which the power set (i. part/ member and inconsistent/consistent multiplicity) along with the relevant formal procedures whereby they might serve to demonstrate the disparity between any given situation and what that situation holds in the way of unrecognized. of the various set-theoretical concepts (especially the opposed pairs of inclusion/belonging. which results from an excess-ofone’ (p. numerical value) than the set itself. a dysfunction of the count is required. the set of all subsets) of any given set has a greater cardinality (i. unacknowledged or ‘uncounted’ parts. suchas he provides in Being and Event. 56). refined and elaborate modes of set-theoretical investigation. theoretically informed grasp of what is wrong with any thinking premised on ideas of identity or difference as intrinsic to the individuals or specific relationships concerned.e. This is why he can say – at risk of being charged by analytic philosophers with flouting the fact/value distinction or claiming to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ – that ‘for the void to become localizable at the level of presentation.17 Paradoxically enough it is the knowledge of this shortfall in the present capacity of thought to encompass such truths or to bring them within the scope of attainable knowledge that Badiou sees as driving the constant quest for more powerful.e. In which case those interests could be further advanced through an increased understanding. and thus for a certain type of intra-situational assumption of being qua being to occur. Thus the latter will include not only all its members counted one-by-one but also the various combinations (subsets) into which those members may be placed. Nor indeed should this claim seem so very paradoxical if one considers the copious evidence from every branch of the formal.

rather than language. Hence Badiou’s claim. in formal terms. the proven capacity of set-theoretical reasoning to overcome its various challenges or setbacks to date has resulted from its perfect indifference to any question of what makes up the multiples (and multiples of multiples) that fall within its formal domain. On the contrary. Among them – and most sharply limiting – is that idea of the relevant criteria for set-theoretical inclusion or exclusion which takes this to be crucially a matter of the possession or non-possession of certain distinctive or qualifying features. in Being and Event. as the basis on which to construct his critical ontology and also his account of those fourfold other subject-domains 67 . post-colonial discourse or gender studies) that have lately captured the high ground in critical and cultural theory. that the history of advances in set theory exemplifies this process to uniquely impressive and convincing effect since it shows how such advances can come about through the process whereby thinking transcends those obstacles that are constantly placed in its path through its residual attachment to limiting conceptions of its own investigative scope. they result from a grasp of possible or likely future development that cannot amount to knowledge – since it cannot so far be specified with adequate precision – yet the prospect of which is logically entailed by certain gaps. and – by the same token – his firm rejection of those various strains of ‘radical’ difference-thinking (whether in epistemology. ‘the attribute “to-be-a-multiple” transcends the particular multiples which are elements of a given multiple’ (p. defects or discrepancies in the present state of understanding. real or imputed. That is to say. At some risk of simplification one could say that this is the direct equivalent. In short. ethics. politics. Which is also to say – with fairly obvious relevance to the social and political dimension of Badiou’s thought – that any issue concerning the status of elements will have nothing to do with their intrinsic natures. of Badiou’s strongly universalist stance in matters of ethics and politics.READING THE TEXT natural and human sciences that new discoveries are most often sparked by some increasingly acute sense of presumptive anomaly.18 Indeed it is the main reason for his choice of mathematics. 65). but solely with their set-theoretical relation to the multiples that include or exclude them as members and the multiples or elements which they in turn include or exclude.

or representable as fixing the ultimate scope and limits of truth or intelligibility mathematics on the contrary allows – indeed requires – that we surpass those limits and conceive what may extend that scope beyond anything yet achieved or remotely envisaged. This it does through the presence of those various anomalies. This is its unique capacity for grasping the ‘subtractive’ dimension of being. Indeed. Thus it figures to Badiou’s way of thinking – though also in set-theoretical discourse generally – as that which grounds the entire project (since all those other sets are built up successively by a process of recursive extrapolation from the null set) yet that which by very definition eludes the grasp of any definite. However. But there is also something peculiar to the nature of mathematical (more specifically of settheoretical) thinking that reinforces the decisive advantage it enjoys over language as a source of ontological advances and a spur to new insights in those other subject-domains. involved in all forms of negative existential statement. describable. the ‘axiom of the void set’ according to which ‘there exists a set that has no elements’. Badiou is enough of a Hegelian – and ipso facto enough of an anti-Kantian – to take 68 . For of course any notion of ‘existence’ here is one that needs qualifying to the point of near-withdrawal since it runs flat up against the seeming contradiction. Moreover it is another basic axiom that the void (or null) set is necessarily a member – an integral or constitutive member – of every other set whatsoever. one that is strictly ‘unpresentable’ in terms of any given ontology or particular instance of the dominant count-as-one. familiar from Plato’s Parmenides. positive or clearly intuitable order of conceptualization. that is. Badiou claims that this elusiveness can be seen to complicate a good many of the statements put forth by the proponents of set theory. as we have seen.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT which can be conceptualized only in relation to that ontology even if their major occurrences belong to an order of ‘events’ that inherently eludes the grasp of any pre-existent ontological scheme. Where language – or the normative appeal to language – enjoins us to accept what is presently sayable. including the above-cited (pretty much canonical) formulation to the effect that ‘there exists a set which has no elements’. conflicts or unresolved dilemmas that will always exist so long as mathematics remains a live and intrinsically a problem-solving activity of thought.

namely its encounter with the various crises periodically induced by whatever is excluded from its zone of operations yet continues to exert an unsettling and hence a potentially transformative power. the immanent driving force of all further advances. as Badiou phrases it. so to speak. Above all such advances have come about through the increasing centrality of that which Badiou designates the ‘subtractive’ dimension of mathematical thought. refinements and discoveries. It is at just this point. Badiou is well aware that such ideas can very easily be misconstrued or tendentiously deployed in the service of quasi-mystical or negative-theological claims. Which is also to say. 67). deploying this term in the technically precise sense proposed by Cohen – is the absolute and principled impossibility of drawing that intuitively selfevident and yet. logically insupportable distinction. According to his alternative dialectical conception it is at just such points of seeming deadlock or aporia that thought typically turns that situation to advantage and achieves the leap to a terra incognita or whole new tract of hitherto unexplored but henceforth richly fertile terrain. or failures of logical coherence which signal the advent of a crisis in knowledge but also – and solely on that condition – the prospect of new discovery. Such was the effect of those early developments in set theory that led via an ironic repetition of the paradoxes first aired in Plato’s Parmenides to a recognition of the null set as both the founding concept and. find expression through Cantor as well as in the much-quoted statements 69 . in more positive terms. What we are thereby obliged to think – conceptually ‘forced’. in this context. The former have their chief source in the ancient Greek precedent of Pythagorean numerological doctrine – itself a strong influence on Platonist metaphysics and epistemology – whereas the latter.READING THE TEXT this not as a disabling dilemma or a sign that thought is overstepping its appointed bounds but rather as a spur to thinking through and beyond what constitutes an impasse only on such a static conception of the scope and limits of reason. as we have seen. that what we are thereby enabled to conceive is the possibility that thinking can advance through a grasp of non-intuitive (even strongly counterintuitive) truths that are manifest precisely in those conflicts. inconsistencies. according to Badiou. conceptual tensions. that ‘the subtractive character of being causes the intuitive distinction between elements and sets to break down’ (p.

in Badiou’s terminology – only by an act of pure designation or ostension. or even (what passes for) conceptual or a priori self-evidence. all sets whatsoever) in which it is included as a member or in which it is included as a member.19 In Pascal likewise. Its uniqueness makes it a ‘proper name’ in the sense that. Badiou is a resolutely secular thinker though one who takes pretty much for granted the present-day obsolescence of the monotheistic religions – at least for the purposes of serious (truth-based or truth-oriented) philosophical. Nevertheless their sense of the numinous and feelings of awe in this regard were justified at least insofar as they recognized. understandably. Hebrew or Greek) ideas of cultural-linguistic belonging.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT of a good few other mathematicians and scientists. All the same. 69).g. unlike all other set-theoretical entities. to a certain mystique of ineffability that brought it within the rarefied ambit of negative-theological thought. If those early mathematicians ‘had to shelter their own audacity behind the character of a forgotten language’ then this was in one sense an irrational regression to theological or mystical ideas that had no legitimate place in mathematical thought. he discovers the paradigm case of an ‘anti-philosopher’ whose commitment to the precept that reason should always give way before the dictates of religious faith 70 . he does find something exemplary for his own purposes in the figure of a religious ‘militant’ such as St. commonsense-intuitive. as we shall see. properties or status with regard to other sets (that is. This gave rise. the power of thought when it learns to proceed through the via negativa of a quest for truth that renounces any positive grounding in the supposed warrant of sensory-perceptual. Badiou addresses this (to him) highly suspect tendency in one of the more cryptic paragraphs of Being and Event where he seeks to clarify the truly ‘remarkable conclusion’ arrived at by this stage: that ‘it is because the one is not that the void is unique’ (p. moral and cultural debate – rather than stoking the fires by adopting a high-profile atheist stance. it can be picked out or specified – ‘marked’. Paul. one whose crusading zeal (whatever its far from benign historical and cultural consequences) marked not only an irruptive event of the first magnitude but also – accordant with Badiou’s staunchly universalist precepts – a belief in the character of truth as transcending all merely national (e. however ‘dully’. rather than by some identifying list of its attributes.

that we should seek to make sense of Badiou’s above-cited statement to the effect that any rigorous reflection on the void as it figures in the progress of mathematical thought will reveal such thought as ‘liminal to language’ in ways that are analogous (though crucially not identical) to the pseudo-logic of negative theology. an effect of structure’ (p. Always involves a covert appeal to that which supposedly (if indescribably) sustains or underlies the various predicates that fail to capture its essence. nor of the composed multiple. provoke and ultimately vindicate philosophy’s universalist claims. which is not. for Badiou. in the kinship between mathematics and a supra-cultural conception of political justice. which is never anything but a result of the count. Yet.20 This was a doctrine – on essentially metaphysical grounds – that continued to enjoy the 71 . Pascal’s work – in mathematics and logic but also in its ethical and even its existentialtheological aspect – is much better viewed in light of its power to challenge. 212–22). For it is here. That the latter is indeed a pseudo-logic and shown up as such by contrast with the history of demonstrable gains or advances in the field of mathematical enquiry is explained. and can therefore ‘neither be a matter of the one. What is required in order to remove that obstacle is a strictly axiomatic truth-procedure which ‘cannot propose anything in particular’. according to Badiou. Plenum and void: why Aristotle hated a vacuum It is at this stage in the unfolding of his argument that Badiou turns to Aristotle as one of those thinkers with whom he is profoundly at odds in relation to some basic metaphysical and ontological commitments but whose thinking he typically treats as a challenge to be met so far as possible on shared argumentative ground rather than dismissed out of hand. 4. The main point at issue is Aristotle’s denial that there could possibly exist any such thing as a void or vacuum in nature.READING THE TEXT would appear to be drastically at odds with his own thinking (pp. by the fact that negative theology. Thus it represents a falling-back into that ‘presentifying’ mode of thought – that deep-laid set of ontological assumptions premised on the positive rather than the negative or subtractive nature of being – which had for so long acted as an obstacle to thought in the realm of mathematics and the formal sciences. 66).

That is to say. nothing could be further from Badiou’s absolute and principled insistence on the essentially subtractive nature of ontology – the primacy of that which eludes specification in positive (‘presentifying’) terms – than the Aristotelian doctrine that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’. no merely ‘artificial’ creation of a void.21 Badiou’s aim is not so much to adjudicate in this quarrel (which has surely been settled on physical-scientific terms) but to shift the whole ground of debate and define what precisely Aristotle meant when he wrote of the non-existence of the void as a matter of metaphysically ordained or a priori demonstrable truth. or that talk of the void must involve either scientific absurdity or logical self-contradiction. to uphold Aristotle’s claim against the massive. rather than a conflict between scientific method and a legacy of outworn metaphysical baggage. After all. 71). Badiou writes. to a very imperfect or partial degree owing to the drastic limitations of available technology – could possibly count as refuting the Aristotelian doctrine. and which began to lose ground only with the rise of early modern science and its rejection of scholastic dogma in favour of experimental methods that involved (in this case) the construction of increasingly effective vacuum pumps. ‘the void is not an experimental difference but rather an ontological category. Badiou’s point here is not. strictly unignorable weight of accumulated physical-scientific evidence nor indeed – as should be obvious by now – to defend it as a matter of prior metaphysical or ontological commitment. ‘For the Greek’. In recent years this received view has itself been subject to challenge from ‘strong’ sociologists of knowledge who reject the idea of scientific progress as a piece of self-serving mythology and who view the issue of experimental physics versus Aristotelian doctrine – or (in the classic encounter of this kind) of the seventeenth-century physicist Robert Boyle versus the philosopher Thomas Hobbes – as a case of two conflicting ideologies. on his own admission.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT authority of something like holy writ throughout the medieval and renaissance periods in European thought. based as that doctrine was on a quite different order of purely ex hypothesi speculative reasoning that brooked no such empirical counter-evidence. However this is to commit something like a 72 . such as Boyle was much later to achieve – albeit. of course. a supposition relative to what naturally proliferates as figures of being’ (p.

That is. because such is the Aristotelian definition of the void’ (p. He is drawing quite explicitly on Heidegger’s reading of Aristotle here. according to its own opening forth. can none the less be seen to have certain implications that are strikingly germane to much of what Badiou has to say on his three main topics of the void. 72). and this is indeed – so far as I recall – the most markedly Heideggerian passage of commentary anywhere in Badiou’s work. and so can neither be cast into doubt nor established via the effects of an experiment’ (p. “a place where nothing is” to occur. ‘the artificial [i. in Aristotle’s thinking as Badiou understands it. Thus if Aristotle’s theses have not been refuted on their own metaphysical ground by subsequent advances in physical-scientific understanding then this is not because.e. any refutation of Aristotle’s doctrine at the level of ontological enquiry here in question – as distinct from the physical-scientific level where its claims can no longer stand up – will have to go by way of a critical engagement with the underlying logic or ontologic of Aristotelian physics. although sharply opposed to his own. infinity and the event. On the contrary. experimental] production of a void is not an adequate response to the question of whether nature allows. what most engages Badiou’s interest is Aristotle’s axiomatic mode of reasoning from first principles which. the physical sciences (like philosophy) have long been mortgaged to a technocratic will-to-power and an epochal oblivion of Being but rather because Aristotle’s reasoning places him in the company of those – Badiou included – ‘for whom the void is in truth the name of being. 71).READING THE TEXT basic category-mistake since. long-forgotten source and the concealed ontological ground of all those merely ontical beings that science has taken for its object-domain. It will therefore not be required to take sides on the kind of issue nowadays engaged between realists who suppose Boyle to have got it right – or at least to have been very much on the right scientific track – in asserting the possibility of a vacuum and those on the opposite (strong-sociological or cultural-constructivist) wing who consider Boyle’s claim and Hobbes’s denial of it to be strictly on a par as regards their truthcontent since each was the product of a certain ideological or 73 . as Heidegger would have it. All the same it is not so purely echt-Heideggerian as to conjure a depth-hermeneutic realm of metaphysically unencumbered Being that would constitute both the primordial.

or again that ‘there is no ratio in which the void is exceeded by bodies. in their place. that is. an irruption of inconsistency. This is why. as Badiou cautions. we should not be ‘led astray’ by physics ‘in the modern sense’. It can only be conceived in terms of a potentially subversive or destabilizing threat to the entire onto-metaphysico-epistemological structure of thought that constitutes Aristotelian philosophy in its various specific regions of enquiry. un-measure (since it likewise prevents any meaningful comparison between different dimensions. this is not – or not primarily – where his interests lie. Thus in Aristotle’s case it is a consequence of his basic premise that to entertain a notion of the void as anything other than a sheer impossibility or affront to rational thought is ipso facto to invite all the massive conceptual. such that neither does movement [in the void]’. metaphysically grounded opposition to any idea of the void as existing in nature or as having any legitimate place in the conceptual apparatus of the various physical or human sciences was in fact the result of his perceiving very clearly where such thinking led and the kinds of paradox to which it would surely give rise.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT socio-cultural mindset. which propagates – metaphysically – within the situation at infinite speed’ (p. In which case – he concludes – ‘the void is incompatible with the slow order in which every situation re-ensures. the multiples that it presents’. However. When Aristotle says that ‘the void bears no ratio to the full. 75). and above all infinity (by reason of its forcing thought to confront that intrinsically disturbing since – for Aristotle and even for Cantor – inherently excessive or paradox-inducing idea). velocities. Badiou would scarcely take issue with the content of these 74 . by the otherwise spectacular self-evidence of past and presently continuing progress in the physical sciences. For the record. or other such quantitative attributes). just as there is no ratio between the nothing and number’. What Aristotle is asking us to think is something quite different: namely. Chief among them are the problems of spatio-temporal indifference (since the void admits of no distinctions in this regard). that ‘every reference to the void produces an excess over the count-as-one. one can state with a fair degree of assurance that Badiou would lean strongly in the former (scientific-realist and rationalist) direction. metaphysical and ontological problems that come in its train. Rather he seeks to demonstrate that Aristotle’s staunch.

Indeed it is one of his leading claims that philosophy should know its proper place not only in the sense of accepting a strictly ancillary role vis-à-vis the ground-breaking ontological work of mathematics but also in the more positive sense of maintaining its crucial measure of autonomy vis-à-vis those various enabling ‘conditions’ which might otherwise compromise its critical independence or intellectual integrity. as will emerge more explicitly in Part VIII of Being and Event when he turns to Freudian–Lacanian themes. Moreover it enables us to read the works of earlier thinkers – among them (most importantly for Badiou) Plato. Aristotle.READING THE TEXT statements – bearing out as they do his own central theses with regard to the subtractive nature of ontology – but only with Aristotle’s belief that they constitute a case by reductio ad absurdum against the possibility of a void. Hegel and Heidegger – in such a way as to locate the various symptomatic tensions. That rapprochement came about very largely through the 75 . That we can grasp this distinction now where Aristotle couldn’t. Spinoza. rather than a conceptual impossibility tout court. above all with regard to infinity and transfinite mathematics. conflicts and blind-spots of unexamined presupposition that mark their discourse where it touches on themes that involve some dealing with those problematic topoi and is thus forced up against its own conceptual limits. 74) – but takes it to demonstrate just the opposite of Aristotle’s intended point. the ensemble of these remarks is entirely coherent’ (p. All the same. namely that the impossibility in question is that of adequately conceiving the void in terms of a ‘presentifying’ metaphysics and ontology. Rousseau. Leibniz. Thus he fully endorses the reasoning behind this Aristotelian doctrine – ‘to my mind. is mainly the result of our coming at the issue from a standpoint informed by set-theoretical concepts and techniques. I should make it clear – lest anything I have said give rise to the contrary impression – that Badiou is as far as possible from implying that his approach to these thinkers could fairly be described as a ‘psychoanalysis of philosophy’. Badiou’s practice of symptomatic reading is one that has much in common with the kinds of critical-philosophic discourse that resulted from the structuralist-inspired rapprochement between Marxism and psychoanalysis from the mid-1960s on. despite being carried so far towards it by the rigour and consistency of his own logic.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT intensive theoretical labours of Louis Althusser. Paul and Pascal. science. This is why he is so drawn to thinkers. like St. techniques and 76 . hold good without regard to any such (now) extraneous facts about their psycho-biographical genesis.22 Indeed this is one striking example of what Badiou means by the fidelity to certain truth-procedures (whether in mathematics. the genealogy of set-theoretical concepts.24 His approach differs from theirs mainly in the much greater weight he attaches to questions of historical development – that is. logical. inductive.23 Not that Badiou would subscribe unreservedly to the distinction – commonly advanced or assumed among analytic philosophers of science – between ‘context of discovery’ and ‘context of justification’. politics or art) where the upshot – the prospect of their being carried through to a successful conclusion – may be highly uncertain. ethnic or other such restrictive boundary. yet where the stakes are sufficiently high to warrant that kind of long-term commitment. with whom he would appear to have little in common politically. and it is thus worth noting that Badiou – despite his express opposition to the linguistic turn in its structuralist as well as its Wittgensteinian and other forms – is among the very few major present-day thinkers who have retained at least a qualified allegiance to the Althusserian project. ethically or philosophically. or the various circumstances under which some discovery may have come about and the various standards of empirical. should the project at last be vindicated. cultural. even subject at times to severe or calamitous setbacks. once established. What they share is the distinctive coupling of a well-nigh existentialist conception of truth as a matter of authentic individual dedication to the project in hand with a strongly universalist claim to the effect that. then its truth or validity conditions will apply across every kind of social. political. This conjunction of seemingly opposite doctrines will appear less strained or downright contradictory if one reflects on the way that mathematical discoveries – such as Andrew Wiles’s celebrated recent proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem after more than three centuries of intensive effort by numerous dedicated individuals – may well involve personal commitment on a quite heroic scale of mental and physical endurance and yet. predictive or causal-explanatory justification that led to its widespread acceptance in the scientific community.

READING THE TEXT proof-procedures – and also. and so forth. and those other chief fields of human endeavour where the demands of rigorous and consequent thought go along with the demand for unswerving fidelity or single-minded commitment. or mere possibility. would utterly wreck his entire conception of the cosmic and natural order of things. it is why he comes out in such firm opposition to the idea that truth in any of those subject-areas might properly be thought of as ‘relative to’ or ‘constructed by’ the various languages. cultural communities. discourses. his greater emphasis on how such discoveries can be shown to have occurred through certain highly specific procedures of thought on the part of certain mathematicians confronted with certain. requiring as it does the highest degree of dedication to a given truth-procedure. This is not to place Badiou in the company of those above-mentioned ‘strong’ sociologists who would insist that the principle of ‘parity of esteem’ be carried so far that we refrain from judgement as regards the (notional) truth of the issue between Boyle and Hobbes and instead seek an explanation for both of their conflicting views in the particular socio-cultural-political context wherein those views took rise. Rather – and contrary to any such flat-out relativist approach – what Badiou wants us to see is that when Aristotle asserted the non-existence of the void with such (as it turned out) misplaced confidence and vigour he did so for reasons that had nothing to do with empirical or experimental proof and everything to do with his clear understanding that its existence. more-or-less specialized (e.g. We are now better placed to take stock of his comments concerning Aristotelian physics (or metaphysics) and the mistake of supposing that Aristotle’s denial of the void has been – or could in principle be – refuted by modern science. mathematical) ‘forms of life’. That Aristotle got it wrong in physical-scientific terms Badiou would not for one moment deny. likewise specific problems or obstacles to progress. which supposedly constitute the ultimate horizon of intelligibility for those who inhabit them. On the one hand this is why he can cross disciplinary boundaries so as to stress the closely analogous relationship between cutting-edge work in mathematics. consistent with that. That his denial of the void on metaphysical grounds was also an error – and one with negative repercussions for the history of thought right down to Hobbes and beyond – is 77 . On the other hand.

75). In short. natural-scientific and even – by close analogy – ethico-political precepts. or project of discovery – politics included – where the issue can be stated with conceptual precision in terms of belonging. What they threatened and what Aristotle needed to keep very firmly at bay was also what Badiou sees as the liberating effect of set-theoretical thought not only in mathematics and the formal sciences but in every discipline. ontological and epistemological (not to mention ethical and political) assumptions comes up against the kind of aporetic challenge that would shake that structure to its very foundations if allowed to proliferate throughout its various regions in the way that Badiou describes. that is. That is to say. field of research. hence the movement which is supposed therein does not have a thinkable nature. from Badiou’s meditations on a thinker with whom he feels a strong (if qualified) intellectual kinship to his diagnostic reading of a thinker with whose central claims he is profoundly at odds yet whose reasoning he finds both consequent and all the more revealing for its blind-spots of questionable presupposition. Aristotle’s logically precise and philosophically acute (though scientifically fallacious) arguments against the existence of a vacuum bear witness to his grasp of just how destructive were the implications of the contrary thesis with regard to his own cosmological. So far our voyage of commentary through Being and Event has taken us from Plato to Aristotle. possessing no reason on the basis of which its comparison to other movements could be assured’ (p. given his own ontological commitments. Having ‘placed’ his thought in relation to theirs and having used the resultant threesided comparison as a means to draw out some of Badiou’s most important and distinctive themes we can now proceed to engage 78 . membership and the count-as-one along with their negative (exclusionary) counterparts. the point at which its whole co-implicated structure of metaphysical. It is here that Aristotle’s thinking encounters its own ‘point of impossibility’. inclusion.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT likewise a conclusion that Badiou could scarcely wish to challenge. ‘[t]he void is in-numerable. However. this is just his point: that what Aristotle grasped was the range of (to him) deeply disturbing or downright absurd consequences that would follow necessarily from any proposition asserting the actual or possible existence of a void. metaphysical.

ontology and political thought as Badiou conceives them? PART II. What none the less gives this part its strong sense of a developing and tightly structured argument is Badiou’s constant circling back to the relationship between being and event. social and human sciences. In other words it carries forward the discussion that began with his intensely dialectical staging of the difference between Platonist and Aristotelian ontologies 79 . value priority or gender orientation. among cultural and critical theorists.READING THE TEXT more directly with the intricate sequence of mathematical and other arguments that constitute Part II of Being and Event. STATE OF THE SITUATION. engaging with a past thinker – in this case Spinoza – whose contrasting claims can be seen to throw his own into sharper relief. tradition. WHOLE/PARTS OR ∈/⊂?’ 1. I shall therefore focus on the salient themes – in particular the set-theoretical concepts along with their emergent political implications – and also offer some background commentary on Badiou’s project in the wider context of presentday philosophical (including Anglo-American analytic) thought. or the domain of ontology (with its basis in mathematics) and the domain of events (taken as denoting whatever exceeds the bounds of any preexistent ontology and establishes new terms for the conduct of future investigation). Are you persuaded by his arguments in support of this position What exactly is the relationship between mathematics. Meditation Seven is entitled ‘The Point of Excess’ and takes us directly to the heart of Badiou’s mathematically based conception of ontology as applied to issues in the formal. physical. BEING: EXCESS. ONE/MULTIPLE. Discussion points Badiou’s strong universalist stance in ethics and politics goes sharply against the present-day emphasis. belonging and the count-as-one In the four Meditations that make up Part II Badiou sets out some basic set-theoretical concepts and procedures before explaining their wider (extra-mathematical) pertinence and then. typically. on the need to show maximum possible respect for differences of creed. Inclusion. cultural background.

In the other case (the case ⊂). Badiou says. contradictory or suchlike problematic relations) that constitute both an obstacle to thought and the means by which thinking typically achieves its most decisive stages of advance. ontological distinction. 82). . prescribed by being itself’ (p. step by step. . the former indicating that ‘a multiple is counted as an element in the presentation of another multiple’. ‘[i]n one case (the case ∈). So it is with the dualism of belonging and inclusion which. oblique or analogical) bearing on matters outside that realm. although these should not be taken to mark any further. 82). the great orientations of thought. the entire thought of quantity and .2 For clarity’s sake Badiou uses the term ‘element’ to signify belonging and ‘subset’ to signify inclusion. the multiple falls under the count-as-one which is the other multiple. constituent multiples) of β and β is thus defined as itself a subset of α and yet – as Cantor showed with respect to the different ‘sizes’ of infinity – a subset that must be thought of as equinumerous with α or as capable of having its members paired off one-for-one with the members of α. anomalous. His principal concern – here and throughout Being and Event – is to show how such seemingly abstract considerations in the realm of pure mathematics can have a direct (not merely suggestive. more specifically. That is to say. whereas the latter signifies ‘that a multiple is a sub-multiple of another multiple’ (p. every element presented by the first multiple is also presented by the second’ (p. Thus ∈ is the ‘unique foundational sign of set theory’ since it establishes the possibility of all those relations (among them inconsistent. the latter should be thought of as ‘representing’ all the subsets included in a given ‘state of 80 . as concerns the relation of belonging it is here a matter of some multiple α that forms an element of some other multiple β such that α is ‘presented’ by the count-as-one or the existing ‘situation’ as prescribed or dictated by β. conversely. ‘directs. In the case of inclusion.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT and that was all along rehearsed – though now more explicitly – in relation to developments in post-Cantorian set theory. And again. If the former (in Badiou’s clearly specified terminology) ‘presents’ certain elements as ‘belonging’ to a given ‘situation’ while others are thereby excluded from it.1 Most fundamental here are the relations of belonging (symbolized ∈) and of inclusion (symbolized ⊂). that is. multiple α is taken to include all the subsets (i. 81).e.

This can also be phrased in terms of the rift between structure and metastructure. self-evident or intuitive terms. as involving no such selective membership conditions. or again (in Badiou’s chosen terminology) between the elements of a set and its numerically ‘larger’ multiple of subsets. be thought of as larger or smaller in any such straightforward. However. or consistent multiplicity (as presented by the dominant count-as-one) and inconsistent multiplicity (as re-presented by all those supposedly non-belonging but none the less included subsets). namely that ‘if a set α exists (is presented) then there also exists the set of all its subsets’. Above all. it has to do with that breakdown in the order of commonsense-intuitive mathematical grasp signalled by the discovery of the power-set axiom.READING THE TEXT the situation’. the situation and the state of the situation. It is precisely through the constant possibility of a rift. as we shall see shortly. it follows from the power-set axiom that in a different. mathematically definable sense the subsets of any given multiple will be larger (numerically greater) than the multiple itself and that when this axiom is extended to the 81 . that is to say. a mismatch or breakdown of structural reciprocity between these two basic conditions of belonging and inclusion that there also emerges the potential for significant change – for revolutions of thought or theoretically informed practice – in the various spheres to which Badiou applies his dialectic of being and event. a set whose numerical value must clearly exceed that of set α by an order of magnitude that increases exponentially with the size of set α itself and which generates multiple orders of infinity as soon as mathematics goes transfinite in the wake of Cantor’s revolution. That those quote-marks are required around the term ‘larger’ is one consequence of Cantor’s showing that seemingly different ‘sizes’ of infinite set – like ‘all the integers’ and ‘all the even integers’ – could be counted off one-for-one against each other without limit and could not. therefore. This means that the restrictive conditions on belonging which defined the membership of α must now be lifted or redefined so as to acknowledge the existence of β – the power-set of α – whose numerical value far exceeds anything admissible under those same restrictive conditions. What the power-set axiom requires us to think is the effect of that strictly ubiquitous ‘point of excess’ that will always signal the existence of a gap between belonging and inclusion.

[since] inclusion is in irremediable excess of belonging’ (p. On his account. In other words. ‘no multiple is capable of forming-a-one out of everything it includes . predicted or allowed for in accordance 82 . or power of ontological grasp – that Badiou is able to draw these distinctions and to specify what counts as a genuine event in each of those subject-domains. It is here – at this point where the resources of ontology are pressed to the limit and beyond – that philosophy finds itself equipped or compelled to conceive of the event as an ‘ultra-one’ or as a strictly ‘supernumerary’ item vis-à-vis the existing order of things. an occurrence whose advent marks a decisive break with that order. . It never belongs to the latter’ (ibid. And again.). management in place of politics. predictive capacity. . ‘which leads to a real impasse: it is literally impossible to assign a “measure” to this superiority in size. he writes. ‘the included subset made up of all the ordinary elements of a set constitutes a definitive point of excess over the set in question. 84).BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT realm of the infinite (or transfinite) it goes beyond the utmost scope of calculation. technique in place of science and sex in place of love. Moreover. Hence the need to distinguish ‘situation’ from ‘state of the situation’. revolution in politics and passion in love. Badiou terms this the ‘theorem of the point of excess’ and regards it as occupying a central place not only in the structure. that is. ‘This is a crucial theorem’. according to Badiou: culture in place of art. Such would prototypically be instances of – in the proper as distinct from the debased or everyday usage of these terms – invention in science. history and genesis of set theory but also in his own elaborations of a set-theoretically based ontology with far-reaching philosophic. the latter taken to include all those subsets whose number – by this theorem – absolutely exceeds that of the elements which belong to the situation according to the prevalent count-as-one. 85). creation in art. the “passage” to the set of subsets is an operation in absolute excess of the situation itself’ (p. it is chiefly on the strength of his set-theoretical elaborations – his formal rendering of the process whereby truthevents come about in excess of any prior reckoning. So despite his extreme care to distinguish the evental and the ontological (since the former is here defined as that which cannot possibly be deduced. political and ethical consequences.3 Each of these has its negative counterpart.

inventive and truth-disclosing activity of thought that cannot be reduced either (following Wittgenstein) to a mere assemblage of vacuous since purely self-confirming logical tautologies nor again (following Heidegger) to a mere expression of the techno-scientific-metaphysical will-to-power over nature and humankind alike. Heidegger. contra Wittgenstein and Heidegger. that ‘mathematics thinks’ insofar as it involves a creative. One can therefore see why he lays such stress on the claim. Russell. Plato and Aristotle.4 Indeed one fascinating aspect of Badiou’s work is the way he pursues a selective exegetical path among the many thinkers – from Parmenides. clarifies and draws out the consequences (some of them decidedly extra-mathematical) of any results thus obtained. scientific and ethical import – that no instance of the count-as-one. Badiou follows his ‘technical’ rendition of the case as concerns set theory and its formal structure with a sentence that effectively re-states that case in a register whose normative modality seems to waver between laying down the necessary (non-negotiable) terms and 83 . Most crucial here is the power-set axiom since it establishes the principle – the point of departure not only for Badiou’s mathematically based critical ontology but also for his thinking on matters of political. More precisely. to Frege. In each case his basic argument is that we can and should read these thinkers differently in light of the epochal advance brought about by Cantor’s inaugural discoveries in set theory and their subsequent development by mathematicians and some (very few) academic or professional philosophers.READING THE TEXT with some pre-existent state of knowledge or conceptual scheme) still there is a clear sense in which Badiou’s whole project rests on ontological foundations and indeed requires them just in order to make that same distinction. what he sees as philosophy’s proper task is not that of making ontological discoveries or exploring new ontological regions on its own account – since this is a role best left to the mathematicians – but rather that of pursuing a ‘meta-ontological’ enquiry that expounds. could ever contain (or purport to represent) those endlessly proliferating subsets of multiples revealed by a grasp of that axiom. Wittgenstein and others – against whose projects he measures his own with varying degrees of perceived affinity or (very often in the same thinker) perceived differences of view. via Descartes and Pascal. whatever its claim to universal inclusivity.

he writes. or act upon those terms and conditions. from Cantor down.5 In brief. it belongs to the domain of mathematical truth where the issue of fidelity has nothing to do with ethics or the moral virtues and everything to do with domain-specific requirements such as consistency. That is to say. logical explicitness and so forth. perseverance. That Badiou has the utmost regard for those 84 . That requirement clearly derives its imperative force from the various formal demonstrations. rigour. Not that I would wish to place Badiou in the company of those who have argued for a virtue-based epistemology with its roots in the tradition of ethical thought descending from Aristotle and taken up lately by philosophers in quest of some alternative to the current range of often sharply conflicting (e. of how set theory achieves its most signal advances by a procedure of thinking through-and-beyond the various obstacles – mostly of a commonsense-intuitive kind. 85). However it also belongs to that other dimension where the term ‘fidelity’ does have a strong ethical toning and where issues of truth cannot be held entirely apart from matters of truthfulness or intellectual virtue. and a well-developed capacity for self-criticism.g. ‘one is required to think the gap between simple presentation and this species of re-presentation which is the count-asone of subsets’ (p. like that initially provoked by the power-set axiom – which have risen against it. These would typically range from epistemic virtues like perceptual acuity or sensory-intuitive ‘feel’ for the physical items or properties under investigation to epistemologically salient aspects of intellectual character such as dedication. deontological versus consequentialist) views. ‘Once this is admitted’. To this extent it is normative in the sense that it prescribes what properly counts as a correct or valid application of the formal procedure concerned. open-mindedness. this is an approach that envisages no possible solution to the ‘problem of knowledge’ in its various forms except by instancing the sorts of jointly moral and cognitive-investigative qualities. dispositions or intellectual traits that best. respect. respect for the evidence. most reliably conduce to the advancement of human understanding. demonstrative force. willingness to test even one’s most cherished or firmly held beliefs against that evidence.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT conditions for any adequate address to these matters and presenting something like an ethical injunction to observe.

or issues of the kind: ‘is statement x true or justified according to the strictest standards of evidence or of formal (e. For it is no great distance from this invocation of the intellectual virtues (however carefully or strongly specified) to the idea that any such appeal is reliant on the existence of a certain socially accepted or culture-specific conception of just what constitutes a virtuous epistemic practice. All the same readers should not be tempted to skip since there is. The next pair of Meditations. both of whom sacrificed their lives as members of the French Resistance – whose actions and work can be seen to have manifested them in the highest degree. Eight and Nine.READING THE TEXT virtues is clear enough from his writing about certain exemplary figures – such as the mathematicians Jean Cavaillès and Albert Lautman. Still they cannot be run together or this distinction effectively collapsed – as advised by some proponents of a virtue-based epistemology – without consequently opening the way to all manner of sceptical. as those titles suggest.. truth-conducive or knowledge-promoting virtues?’. bear the somewhat forbidding titles ‘The State. substantive ethical and socio-political as well as ‘purely’ philosophic content in this formal demonstration of his central claim as concerns set theory and its implications for the various domains of applied ontological enquiry.6 All the same he is very careful not to confuse truth with truthfulness. or Metastructure. singularity. Indeed they should if possible be read at a sitting since they run to just 18 pages in all and between them offer the clearest account in Being and Event of how the three main dimensions of Badiou’s work (crudely put: the mathematics. in set theory and other domains. the ontology and the politics) should rather 85 . That these two conditions may often be satisfied by the same statement – since the latter is defined as one that should predictably give rise to the former – is everywhere implicit in Badiou’s account of those particular discoveries or stages of advance. and the Typology of Being (normality.g. socialconstructivist or cultural-relativist ideas. that have typically occurred through a combination of rigorous thinking with the courage to defend them against the weight of established doctrine or commonsense-intuitive belief. excrescence)’ and ‘The State of the Historical-Social Situation’. set-theoretical) procedure?’ with issues of the kind: ‘has statement x been arrived at by someone (or some community of like-minded enquirers) possessed of all the relevant.

in turn. he promises. on the face of it highly ‘abstract’ set-theoretical axioms and proof-procedures. strictly indivisible project. Badiou is among the most committed – that is to say. ‘subset’. in Meditation Nine when the focus switches more explicitly to politics and when these so far ‘metaphoric’ connections or suggestive cross-domain analogies acquire a more detailed working-out in conceptual-analytic terms. His point is that this involves a ‘second count’. or ‘that by means of which the structure of a situation is. ‘state’. ‘state of the situation’. logical or set-theoretical systems – whereby the first count is subject to a duplicate reckoning 86 . The link is accomplished chiefly through that same technical coinage. Not that we should take this relevance-claim as adequately borne out just because there can be shown to exist an analogical relation between on the one hand set-theoretical terms such as ‘class’. ‘metastructure’. counted as one’. which Badiou variously defines as ‘count-of-the-count’. the least ‘repentant’ or shiftily backsliding – Marxist intellectuals of our time.7 His response to this vexed question of the relationship between theory and practice is remarkable chiefly for the fact that it pushes the dualism to what looks like a point of extreme – even irreconcilable – antinomy yet does so precisely in order to expose that falsehood and thereby make his case for the practical-political relevance (indeed the indispensability) of certain. which is to say the one of the one-effect itself’ (p. ‘part’. that is. or ‘count’ and on the other hand identical or kindred terms that typically figure in the lexicon of political theory and the thinking of those whose primary aim is to transform or undermine existing structures of privilege and power. practically engaged yet also theoretically informed pursuit of specific political goals. After all.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT be seen as so many aspects of a single. ‘inclusion’. 95). ‘belonging’. This affinity will be explained. a further operation – of the kind that has its place in all formal. and it has always been a central Marxist thesis that any genuine project of political emancipation must achieve the overcoming of this false dualism through an active. ‘member’. Badiou enters this cautionary note – albeit in a muted way – when he remarks during Meditation Eight that it is ‘due to a metaphorical affinity with politics’ that he will henceforth deploy the phrase state of the situation to signify ‘that by means of which the structure of a situation – of any structured presentation whatsoever – is counted as one.

94). or so as to ensure that nothing has gone uncounted by the prior operation.8 It is also. such stability – or the appearance thereof – is maintained only through the constant suppression. or of that which submits to the count-as-one over that which eludes or exceeds its calculative grasp. in torsion. turns out to pose a strictly inescapable challenge to that very claim. meta-structural concept in order to legitimize its claims or any 87 .READING THE TEXT so as to confirm its consistency and comprehensive grasp. To this extent. ‘concrete analysis converges with the philosophical theme’ since in both cases the thesis can be verified. for the entire duration of its exercise. or holding at bay of those anomalous instances that would otherwise mark the irruption of inconsistent multiplicity. and to unceasingly bring the one into being within the un-encounterable danger of the void’ (p. a project of applied natural-scientific research. he claims. upon closer inspection. whether through a process of formal (mathematical or logical) analysis. as should be evident from what has gone before. to vouch that its effects. By this means it seeks to guarantee ‘that there is no possibility of that disaster of presentation ever occurring which would be the presentational occurrence. However. Such – one may fairly deduce – is the perceived or the generally dominant effect of this second-order count during periods of relative stability in various domains such as Kuhnian ‘normal’ (as opposed to ‘revolutionary’) science. what ensures the seeming predominance of ‘consistent’ over ‘inconsistent’ multiplicity. For this shows (despite Russell’s purported ‘solution’ to the set-theoretical paradoxes) how precarious is any structure that resorts to some higher level. or social existence when subject to no urgent or strongly disruptive forces of political unrest. disavowal. are complete. 94). These latter can always be shown to involve the duplication of a firstorder count that establishes the terms of belonging or membership by a second-order count – a re-presentation – which purports to secure the former’s status as a valid (since all-encompassing and non-exclusionary) compte rendu but which in fact. in set-theoretical terms. or mathematics when it settles to working through the implications of some previous major advance. of the structure’s own void’ (p. or a study of social and political structures along with their inherently problematic modes of self-legitimation. Thus ‘the structure of the count is reduplicated in order to verify itself.

of that which is included in 88 . That is to say. subject. as happens in mathematics and the formal sciences when some paradox achieves seeming resolution through stipulative fiat or pragmatic adjustment but then crops up at a later stage to yet more disruptive (but also.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT situation whose state – as defined above – depends upon this doubling of the count so as to confirm its all-inclusive character or representative power. one-for-one correspondence between belonging and inclusion. the count-as-one may succeed in excluding or discounting anomalous instances and thereby imposing what appears a perfectly consistent order wherein there exists a perfect. State. Any appearance of stability thereby achieved is one that perforce suppresses certain salient truths about its own production. by pursuing the logic of those set-theoretical terms and operations that bring out the constant disruptive or destabilizing effect of inconsistent upon consistent multiplicity. as Badiou is keen to stress. 95). members and parts. among them the truth that ‘a structure is precisely not a term of the situation’. which is that there is oneness’ (p. representation So when we reach the end of Meditation Eight Badiou has placed before us a developed terminology and a set of clearly marked conceptual distinctions that promise a means of accomplishing the passage – the impossible passage. that it cannot itself be counted. He has done so. integrity or other such classical imperatives) and the countervailing drive to discover new ways of overcoming some present obstacle to thought. It is through the series of encounters with this strictly unavoidable though often suppressed or ignored non-correspondence between the orders of belonging and inclusion – along with their various cognates – that thinking has typically found itself propelled into new and productive regions of enquiry. However it does so only at the cost of giving rise to inconsistencies elsewhere. Moreover this has always involved the irruption of a seemingly negative factor – ‘the void. to repeat. and that therefore ‘a structure exhausts itself in its effect. or presentation and representation. 2. revelatory or knowledge-transformative) effect. and the risk it represents for structure’ – which motivates both the reactive drive for order (for consistency. as some would have it – from issues within mathematics and the formal sciences to issues in the socio-political domain.

. 101) that ‘in ontology. as the close affinity between Aristotle and Marx in certain crucial respects. Badiou’s usage of the term ‘state’ at this point of his exposition – in particular his claim (p. While this still has primary reference to certain regulative precepts in the discourse of mathematics (in Kuhnian terms. 101). ontological.10 Chief among them is Aristotle’s clear recognition that any dealing the state might have with those under its jurisdiction is not a matter of relating to individuals. problem-solving or non-revolutionary work) it can scarcely be read without evoking a whole range of analogous political situations. immigrant. despite his above-mentioned caveat regarding its ‘metaphoric’ character. to persons. political and scientific concepts – stands squarely opposed to his own (since in various ways committed to denying the existence or possibility of the void) yet for just that reason throws the relevant issues into sharp relief. So likewise with Badiou’s summary remark. along with other recent commentators.9 These themes are developed more fully in Meditation Nine. and of all those uncounted parts of a certain situation upon the count-as-one that purports to represent its every last element.e.READING THE TEXT any given multiple upon that which is taken as belonging to it. those which characterize periods of ‘normal’. Its purpose is to specify more exactly – by way of adequate conceptualization rather than suggestive analogy – the order of relationship involved. again towards the close of Meditation Eight. set-theoretical sense. or even to ‘subjects’ in a sense of that 89 . ethical. Badiou makes that case with respect to what he sees. where in effect (although without declaring as much) he withdraws the cautionary note and allows that these points of cross-reference between mathematics and politics are indeed something more than merely metaphorical. that – according to the terms and conditions of membership laid down by an existing state – ‘inclusion must not arise on the basis of any other principle of counting than that of belonging’ (p. As so often it is Aristotle who provides Badiou with his opening example of a thinker whose basic orientation – whose entire apparatus of metaphysical. the state’s “anti-void” functions are not guaranteed’ – is sure to evoke its social-political as well as its up-to-now predominantly technical. Among them – most emphatically – is that of the displaced. Thus. i. socially excluded and disenfranchised minorities whose cause Badiou has taken up through his involvement with various extra-parliamentary activist groups.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT term connoting the possession of particular traits beyond their generic (structural) placement as ‘subject to’ the power and authority of the state. and – in the technical sense of these terms current among logicians and philosophers of language – an extensional rather than intensional approach to issues of sense and reference. Spinoza. qualities or attributes) that marks them out as rightfully falling under the term in question. reflective selfhood is in fact a mere epiphenomenon of discourse. or developed through critical engagement with. an extensionalist conception of 90 . a wide range of philosophical precursors from Plato and Aristotle to Pascal. Above all it is the set-theoretical requirement that thought should be concerned with universal rather than particular. Husserl and Heidegger. This emphasis on the generic as opposed to the specific (i. More directly. it shows his continued allegiance to certain aspects of Althusserian ‘structuralist’ Marxism. in particular Althusser’s conception of the subject as ‘interpellated’ by the ruling ideology or as always. a ‘plaything’ of the unconscious whose ubiquitous workings (like those of ideology in Althusser’s account) are there to be glimpsed – but never truly or fully comprehended – in the verbal exchange between analyst and analysand.11 Rather – at its most fundamental – it has to be conceived in terms of precisely such an undifferentiating structural relationship maintained across and despite all distinctions between one and another individual. That is. it reflects his likewise continued commitment to the central claims of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Marx.12 Also. to which it applies or extends and not by anything specific about those objects (their distinctive properties. Hegel. structural or combinatorial rather than discrete. Rousseau. as we shall see later on. what is most decisive here is the example of mathematics and its demands upon the conduct of disciplined enquiry both within and beyond the formal sciences. On this account the operative sense of a term is fixed entirely by the range of those objects.13 However. Badiou subscribes to Lacan’s cardinal and again broadly structuralist idea that the ego as supposed locus of identity or conscious. That is to say.e. inescapably caught up in those structures of ‘imaginary’ misrecognition that grant it the illusory sense of individual subjecthood. experiential or existential) aspects of the relation – or quasi-relation – between ‘subject’ and state is one that Badiou has taken from. whether physical or abstract.

Here it is worth noting a certain calculated ambiguity about Badiou’s usage of those two key terms ‘inclusion’ and ‘belonging’. It is on this basis that he is able to mount what most analytic philosophers would think an exorbitantly far-fetched claim. while the advocates of intensionalism more often incline towards an anti-realist position whereby truth becomes a matter of epistemic warrant and there is no making sense of the claim that there exist such objective truth-makers beyond our furthest powers of proof or ascertainment.READING THE TEXT sets and their membership conditions is one that rigorously excludes any thought of whatever might otherwise be taken to distinguish potential or candidate members. and thus to determine which items qualify for inclusion. that is. Thus the advocates of extensionalism mostly espouse a realist principle according to which set-theoretic statements or theorems have their truth-value fixed by the way things stand in mathematical reality. subsets. his mathematically derived and ethico-politically strengthened conviction that these interests can best be served – or the claims of justice best advanced – only by a radically egalitarian and universalist outlook opposed to any form of identity politics. gender-based. namely those of belonging and inclusion. There has been much debate among mathematicians as regards these rival approaches. as I have said. Whence. it would seem. or cultural-linguistic) as having a significant role to play in such matters. to derive from certain axioms and theorems of set theory not only a generalized social ontology but also a conception of political justice grounded in the clear-cut distinction between two set-theoretical concepts. members and so forth. On the one hand it is a thesis basic to his political-activist project – in the simplest terms. a strictly nondifferentiating ontology of sets. that is. this excess of inclusion over 91 .14 Badiou adopts an extensionalist. or any notion of difference (whether ethnic. In which case. that of ‘counting those who aren’t counted’ – that the multiplicity of elements or parts included within a given multiple may far exceed the multiplicity of members taken as ‘properly’ belonging to it or accorded the rights (along with the concomitant responsibilities) of full participant status. which leaves no room for any kind of qualitative distinction and which therefore conceives their various orders of relationship in purely numerical terms. parts. national. elements.

Thus ‘[t]he “voter”. it is rather the part that the separated structure of the State re-presents. in its claim to respect each and every person who figures in the dominant. class or socio-cultural position – as equally ‘belonging’ to the all-inclusive. for example. 92 . they can most aptly serve to demonstrate the kinds and degrees of democratic deficit – or political disenfranchisement – that typify the workings of ‘liberal democracy’. democratically constituted body politic. axioms and procedures that he lays out for detailed inspection in Being and Event. given the notorious adaptability of mathematical (or pseudomathematical) techniques to all manner of politically or ideologically loaded persuasive ends. supposedly comprehensive count-as-one – whatever their rank. is not the subject John Doe. That is.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT belonging is the axiom of set theory most strongly conducive to the interests of a radical-emancipatory politics that would push so far as possible towards ensuring that the status of belonging was extended to all those included – though as yet not acknowledged to enjoy such status – within some given socio-political situation. according to its own one. whether US-style or in various forms throughout Western Europe and the ex-Soviet bloc. it might be said. On the other hand it is clear from Badiou’s formulations as cited above that inclusion is also the principle of reckoning which the State applies in its false claim to treat everyone on equal terms. Nor is this surprising. There is a certain tension in his thinking here – even a sense of conceptual strain – between ‘inclusion’ as that which offers a merely formal or abstract (hence delusive) notion of equality and as that which affords a powerful means to conceptualize and thereby think a way beyond the drastic shortfall in every hitherto existent version of liberal or social democracy. that is. However it is precisely against such abuses – so Badiou maintains – that one can muster the unique probative force of those set-theoretical concepts. 107). that is. Thus his point about the State’s obsessive concern with inclusion is that this goes along not only with a systematic disregard for issues of belonging (or of how individuals relate to their conditions of socio-political existence) but also with a narrowed and bureaucratic sense – brought about by rigid application of the count-as-one – of what inclusion properly signifies. it is the set whose sole element is John Doe and not the multiple whose immediate-one is “John Doe”’ (p.

of the multiple whose one they have received – the State is not concerned. including inflicted death. most often by instancing the rich profusion of previously unthought-of entities that mathematicians have discovered by dint of their jointly conceptual and imaginative powers. despite the protestations and declarations to the contrary. 107–8) It is characteristic of Badiou’s thought that the passage should convey such a clear sense of moral and political passion – of mixed anger and sadness at the cost in terms of human wellbeing of such avowedly inclusive but in fact highly selective or exclusionary practices – while none the less making its point through a mode of argument deriving from certain. decidedly abstract set-theoretical procedures. . . to this atom of constraint which constitutes the possibility of every other type of constraint.15 At the same time he is keen to insist – against any kindred notion of mathematics as inherently remote from political concerns or the interests of social justice – that one very effective way to bring home the wrongs inflicted by unjust or oppressive (even if self-styled ‘democratic’) regimes is to deploy the conceptual resources of set theory as a means of clearly specified and logically precise articulation. this widely held idea (at least among arts-and-humanities types) of mathematical discourse as a realm of soulless abstractions devoid of human or creative content is one that Badiou has rejected with great energy and eloquence.READING THE TEXT The individual is always – patiently or impatiently – subject to this elementary coercion. Such is the ultimate and ineluctable depth of its separation. it is always evident that in the end. On the other hand. they offer the strongest purchase for an account of how presently existing forms of pseudo-democratic governance operate to ensure the belonging of all and only those members or subjects in good standing who qualify according to the count-as-one. Any consistent subset is immediately counted and considered by the State. because it is matter for representation. when it is a matter of people’s lives – which is to say. However. for better or worse. That is. . (pp. What set theory makes possible is a formalized reckoning with just that excess of inclusion over acknowledged or recognized belonging – or of uncounted subsets over any count according to presently accepted rules and conventions – which constitutes 93 . as it might seem.

then such a claim finds support in the proven capacity of formal reasoning to ‘mobilize the singular multiples against the normal multiples by arguing that excrescence is intolerable’ (p. 109) What is striking here is Badiou’s ability to move straight across with such consummate ease – though without the least sense of tricksy semantics or conceptual legerdemain – between a register of set-theoretical ‘abstractions’ and a language of engagement with directly political or social-activist concerns. An ‘excrescence’ is defined. Nor should it be thought that this is an overly. After all. or again – what amounts to the same 94 .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the basis. More specifically. rather than to any evasive strategy or vaguely analogical habit of thinking on his part. in this context. peaceful or violent’. whatever the mode of that assault might be. (p. ‘an assault against the State. by very definition. 110). the life-hopes and the very survival of so many people across such a range of real-world oppressive situations. which is to say they explicitly declare their non-tolerance of the one of such ‘parts’. of a properly motivated challenge to the socio-political status quo. even inhumanly ‘abstract’ approach to issues that can have so decisive a bearing on the welfare. as a term that is ‘represented by’ the state of some given situation while not ‘presented in’ the situation itself. when an emblem of their void wanders about – generally. it is not for nothing that governments. as Badiou pointedly remarks. in theory and principle. thus proclaiming that the function of the State is to number inclusions such that consistent belongings be preserved. it has to do with his singular gift for locating just those erstwhile stresspoints yet also (and for just that reason) points of subsequent radical advance within the history of set-theoretical thought which lend themselves to re-statement in political terms. an inconsistent or rioting crowd – prohibit ‘gatherings of more than three people’. If politics is always. That he is able to do so against all manner of likely objections – including various analytic updates on the fact/value dichotomy or the supposed logical impossibility of deriving a normative-evaluative ‘ought’ from a purely constative ‘is’ – should be put down to Badiou’s highly focused and concentrated sequence of arguments up to this point.

Thus ‘excrescence’ takes its place as another key term – alongside ‘void’. discovery in science. ‘democratic’ warrant from the count-as-one and its fallacious claim to represent a consistent multiplicity of free and equal subjects. Hence Badiou’s sceptical – some would say cynical – attitude concerning the prospects for genuine as opposed to merely cosmetic change through any ‘democratically’ sanctioned parliamentary means or any process that exists under present conditions in the United States or countries belonging to the (so-called) European ‘community’. It is therefore a locus of maximal challenge to the structures of State-accredited authority and power that in turn derive their appearance of legitimate. its concern to explicate the structures and modalities of being conceived not in static but dynamic or constantly self-transformative terms. Hence also. ‘event’ and ‘evental site’ – in the range of set-theoretically derived concepts whereby Badiou seeks to understand and explain how it is possible for something radically new to occur (whether a great advance in mathematics. or episode of major political change) despite and against all the odds of received belief or entrenched socio-political power. All the same such despair of the State’s ever being brought to let go of its established powers 95 . his passionate conviction that alternative means can be found whereby to circumvent. and on the other hand its orientation towards an idea of the event as involving a more drastic (and wholly unpredictable) break with whatever may seem to have led up to it from a subsequent or post-evental viewpoint. that is. outflank or break through what he cites as the phenomenon despairingly noted by Lenin and other revolutionary thinkers.READING THE TEXT thing – as ‘included in’ that same situation while not recognizedly ‘belonging to’ it for social-political-administrative purposes. What is uniquely capable of breaking through this ideological façade is the sudden irruption of those same ‘excrescences’ or stubbornly resistant. For this is the point at which his project hinges between its ontological orientation. that is. hence ‘intolerable’ instances of failure (or refusal) to be counted as belonging to some given self-image of the fully democratic since all-inclusive body politic. conversely. rather than – as emerges through Badiou’s analysis – an inconsistent multiplicity that in truth subtends and belies that false appearance. namely the ‘obscene persistence’ of the State despite the best efforts of those ranged against it.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT and prerogatives should by no means be thought to entail a similar despair with regard to the existence of other. If granted recognition even in this outcast role as ‘excrescences’ or not-to-be-tolerated others they would be strongly placed to expose both the arbitrary. according to Badiou’s central thesis. his monist ontology (i. 111). discounting or (at the limit) forcibly suppressing those whose very marginality or social invisibility gives them the countervailing power which comes of their excluded. or for that which intervenes – in 96 . a political activist is a patient watchman of the void instructed by the event. following directly from this. Spinoza: foreclosing the void We can now proceed to Meditation Ten. for it is only when grappling with the event that the State blinds itself to its own mastery’ (p. The problem is sharpened by Spinoza’s dedication to a range of (for his time) singularly radical proto-enlightenment projects – undertakings of an ethical. on formally specifiable grounds. Thus it offers a focus for the book’s central question: what role or what room can be found for the ‘event’ vis-à-vis the order of ‘being’. The power of the State is exercised – and perpetuated – only on condition of ignoring. yet which he thinks wholly incompatible with those three primary components of the Spinozist worldview. where the argument takes another of its periodic excursions through an episode in the history of philosophy – like his previous engagements with Plato and Aristotle – with special relevance to Badiou’s project.e. his conception of mind and nature as simply two ‘attributes’ of the self-same substance) and. ‘Rather than a warrior beneath the walls of the State. unjust nature of the State’s claim to power and the weakness of that claim when subject to challenge on ethico-juridical and indeed. as Badiou sees it – between three chief aspects of Spinoza’s thinking: his rationalist metaphysics. socio-political and speculative philosophic nature – to which Badiou is strongly drawn as a matter of shared intellectual and practical commitment. ‘Spinoza’. extra-parliamentary or non-State-involving means by which to bring about that desirable upshot. In this case its relevance has to do with the relation – the highly problematical relation. 3. his outlook of strict determinism with regard to the springs of human thought and action. anomalous and hence potentially subversive or destabilizing presence.

in the Ethics. Like Spinoza. that is. and hence as subject to regulative norms that are not just those of customary practice or communal warrant.16 This is why he is fond of quoting Spinoza’s peremptory rationalist dictum ‘ideam enim veram habemus’ (‘For we have a true idea’). rather than the other way around. representing as it does a well-nigh scandalous affront not only to these schools of thought but also to thinkers of just about every epistemological persuasion from Kant to the present. hermeneutic. Badiou thinks of language – at any rate in certain disciplines such as philosophy – as properly aspiring to the highest degree of conceptual-semantic clarity and precision. Thus Badiou has no time for those varieties of pragmatist. post-structuralist. postmodernist. and therefore that truth (insofar as we can possibly know it) must be construed in language-dependent or languagerelative terms. knowledge-conducive deployment of language is that it measure up to the requirement of truth. propositions. but unlike many philosophers nowadays. axioms.18 In this respect – as in others – he takes a view sharply opposed to that of his erstwhile colleague and intellectual sparring-partner 97 . in a Euclidean fashion that purports to arrive at its conclusions through a process of rigorous deductive reasoning along with the full logico-mathematical apparatus of definitions. to lay out his arguments more geometrico. corollaries and scholia.READING THE TEXT however unpredictable or unintended a manner – to disrupt and transform some existing situation? Another shared precept that brings Badiou very much into Spinoza’s philosophic orbit is the conviction – flat contrary to much present-day thought – that language need not (and should not) be considered the primary concern or the condition sine qua non of philosophical understanding.17 It is Badiou’s principled and passionately held conviction that truth can always exceed or transcend our present-best powers of knowledge and must therefore be thought to set the standard for whatever we can rightly (or intelligibly) say about it. Thus Badiou is one of the few present-day commentators who take seriously Spinoza’s attempt. From which it follows – contra the above-mentioned schools of thought – that the criterion for what should count as an adequate. anti-realist or ‘post-analytic’ approach whose chief common feature – despite their otherwise large divergences of view – is the claim that language in some sense goes all the way down.

along with the extent to which Spinoza’s passions. on the other. the order of events as that which inherently eludes any such account and which sets new standards – new fidelity conditions – for the exercise of thought in its other. Badiou’s entire philosophic project involves precisely this cardinal distinction between. On the contrary. anomalous passages and other such crucial (though often disregarded) junctures in the Ethics where the supposedly seamless progression from stage to stage in its structure of argument is interrupted by moments of a strikingly different.20 Badiou’s reading gains credence from this salient fact. highly charged emotive or passionate character. intensely affective dimension of Spinoza’s life and work. Indeed. especially in the scholia. on the one hand. for example. both positive and negative. or to overlook the signs of a restless. political. Not that Badiou is in the least inclined to ignore this ‘other’ Spinoza. Spinoza famously broke off his work on the Ethics in order to write the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and thereby intervene. to the best of his powers. in the crisis of conflicting religious as well as political allegiances which at that time threatened to overthrow the Dutch Free Republic.19 On Deleuze’s account all that creaky Spinozist scaffolding should best be ignored and the Ethics be read not for its (pseudo-)demonstrative logical structure but rather for the moments of passional intensity and highly charged personal reflection that erupt at various points of the text. the order of being as revealed or discovered through enquiry into the set-theoretical foundations of ontology and. unruly. no less than Deleuze. desirous physical being that Deleuze places very much at stagecentre. On the other 98 . rejects any reading that would focus solely on its logical (or quasi-geometrico-deductive) structure at the cost of downplaying – or ignoring – that other. it is crucial to his own thinking that Spinoza’s resolutely monist ontology – his conception of mind and body or thought and matter as two ‘attributes’ of the self-same substance – should be prey to just such uncontrollable intrusions not only from the realm of passional experience but also from the world of contingent historical and socio-political events. After all. artistic and ethical spheres.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Gilles Deleuze. his reading makes much of those stresspoints. were so often evoked by his intense participation in this struggle to preserve the hard-won freedoms of thought and speech. Thus Badiou.

Spinoza thus stands as a test-case and notable precursor for the two major theses that between them motivate Badiou’s philosophical project. with an intelligence keenly and deeply aware of its temporal (e. what is conspicuously missing from both interpretations – and what Badiou sets out to provide – is an adequate account of how the method of reasoning more geometrico relates to Spinoza’s treatment of the passions (positive and 99 . cultural-historical and sociopolitical) involvements. What Badiou finds so intriguing about Spinoza is precisely this unique combination of a mind fixed upon truths that are taken to hold sub specie aeternitatis.21 On the other were those. imaginary or ideological belief.READING THE TEXT hand – against Deleuze – he holds that we shall underrate the ethical and political as well as the philosophic force of Spinoza’s thought if we treat its geometrico-deductive mode of presentation as just a handy formal device or a means of achieving maximum rhetorical and argumentative effect.g. each of these drastically opposed readings is able to claim a good measure of exegetical warrant through the direct appeal to certain strongly supportive passages in Spinoza’s text. libidinal economy or ‘deterritorialised’ energy-flows. deceptive. or as always potentially transcending the compass of time-bound human cognition. psychoanalytic and other kinds of informative hindsight – concerning mathematics as the basis of all ontology and the event as that which redefines our intellectual and ethico-political responsibilities vis-à-vis some thereafter strictly binding (since truth-pursuant) obligation. Marxist. His thinking prefigures what Badiou has to say – with the advantage of set-theoretical.23 However. In this respect he manages to straddle the two major camps of recent French Spinoza interpretation. who reacted strongly against this idea (as much with regard to issues in present-day politics as to issues in Spinoza scholarship) and who swung right across to the opposite extreme of a reading that emphasized the philosophically exorbitant character of Spinoza’s thought and its affinity with such notions as desiring-production.22 As I have shown elsewhere. including Deleuze. On the one side were those – like Althusser and the early Balibar – who recruited him to the cause of a ‘structuralist’ or critical-rationalist Marxism conceived very much in the Spinozist manner of a quest for truth and knowledge ideally unclouded by the effects of false.

However – and this is where Badiou parts company with Deleuze – we shall be in no position to appreciate the strength or intensity of Spinoza’s political passions and convictions unless we are willing to measure them against the demonstrative force of his reasoning more geometrico and not treat the latter as a mere excrescence or a misconceived attempt to achieve scientific credibility for some otherwise highly dubious premises and conclusions.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT negative) along with his response to the pressures and prospects of historical-political life. is what Badiou most importantly aims to provide: an account of how philosophy might reconcile the claims of conceptual rigour. that very largely ignores both the affective dimension and the circumstantial details of Spinoza’s conjoint life-and-thought. To be sure. theory and practice. reason as that which aspires to a timeless (prototypically mathematical) order of truth and reason as subject to practical constraints when required to adapt itself to changing historical and socio-political conditions. his account of how ‘confused’ or ‘imaginary’ ideas should properly give way to their ‘adequate’. clear and distinct (since rigorously theorized) replacements. was above all concerned to understand the relations between truth and knowledge. like Badiou. And again.24 Yet as Althusser’s critics have been quick to point out it is hard to extract any convincing account of political agency or motivation from his high-structuralist account of how subjects are passively interpellated by – or recruited to – this or that prevailing ideological formation. there is a strong case to be made for viewing Spinoza as a thinker far ahead of his time and one who moreover managed to elaborate a proto-Marxist theory of truth. subjectivity and ideological misrecognition. we shall fail to grasp an important aspect of that reasoning – namely its role as both a critical check upon those passions and a motivating source for them – if we adopt a ultra-rationalist position. that is. as likewise in his reading of Spinoza. This he achieved – so Althusser maintains – through his distinction between the ‘first’ and ‘second’ kinds of knowledge. like Althusser’s. whether 100 .25 What is lacking in his general approach to these matters. clarity and precision with an openness to the contingency and unpredictability of real-world events. Thus Spinoza is a central figure in Badiou’s genealogy of modern thought since he.

politics. philosophical. subtends and surpasses any unity imposed upon it by various operations of the ‘count-as-one’. even contemptuous.26 It is also why he rejects any version. Hence also the lesson for those who might be tempted to dismiss Badiou’s writing on set-theoretical themes as at best a somewhat fanciful diversion and at worst a display of gratuitous expertise in a discipline utterly remote from his home-ground interests. focused as it often is either on narrowly technical or on hyper-inflated issues – such as the seemingly endless debate around rule-following – that (in his view) merely trivialize the subject and deflect thinking from other. of the Frege-Russell logicist programme that would seek to derive all the basic truths of mathematics from a handful of set-theoretical axioms and strictly deductive procedures of proof and demonstration. of much that passes for philosophy of mathematics in the recent analytic tradition.e. acting or living in accordance with that same standard. This is why he is so critical. They would be wrong about this for a number of reasons. philosophically as well as mathematically more challenging paths. beings and events. that is. artistic or personal (especially amorous) spheres.28 So likewise with the two ‘attributes’ of mind and body which 101 . Hence the prominent position of Spinoza as an elective precursor to Badiou’s philosophical project. undifferentiated order of being (interchangeably ‘God’ or ‘nature’) that contains or subsumes all its various ‘modes’ of objects. no matter how qualified. ethics.READING THE TEXT in the ethical. despite the extreme contrast between Spinoza’s radical monism and Badiou’s commitment to an equally radical conception of inconsistent multiplicity as that which precedes. among them – as I have said – the high sophistication and conceptual range of Badiou’s mathematical thought and the extent to which his ontological (i. For it is just Badiou’s point that they constitute the chief enabling ‘conditions’ for a project that would keep its sights firmly fixed on the standard of truth while none the less taking adequate account of those various kinds of event that can always intervene in such a way as radically to redefine what qualifies as thinking. aesthetics and psychoanalysis. political.27 It is here that Badiou’s thinking comes closest to Spinoza even though he rejects the Spinozist idea of a single. set-theoretical) concerns intersect with his treatment of those other themes.

philosophy and the various ‘conditions’ that constitute philosophy’s means of access to truth.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Spinoza conceives – in company with some present-day physicalist or central-state-materialist philosophers of mind – as merely epiphenomenal. that is to say.30 I shall not here attempt an adjudication of the issue between Badiou and Deleuze except to say that it reflects their very different views with respect to crucial topics in the history of philosophy from Plato down and – most crucially of all – the relationship between mathematics. If there is one point at least on which they agree it is the strict impossibility of thinking the multiple without reference to the count-as-one as that which seeks. that is. construed in a nonstandard way according to which – contra the sceptics.29 So it is not surprising that Badiou – whose ontology starts out from the notion of infinitely multiple infinities constrained by the stipulative count-as-one in its various forms – should make a point of staking his distance from Spinoza as the philosopher most committed to a radically monistic or anti-dualist.32 What saves this conception from the much-touted Platonist ‘dilemma’ of objective truth versus humanly attainable knowledge is 102 . despite his overt celebration of difference. anti-Cartesian metaphysics of mind and world. and moreover to the Spinozist claim – on the face of it one with radically monist implications – that ‘the order of things’ and the ‘order of ideas’ are in fact one and the same order under different descriptions or aspects. heterogeneity or multiple and endlessly proliferating ‘lines of flight’. to comprehend the multiple and thereby get a purchase on what would otherwise exceed its utmost capacities of rational grasp. albeit vainly. as products of our humanly limited powers of apprehension. antirealists and conventionalists – there is simply no distinguishing the object-domain of mathematical entities and truths from the various procedures or acts of thought whereby they are brought within range of discovery or formal-demonstrative proof. it was Badiou who caused considerable upset among the followers of Deleuze by claiming that the latter – especially in his thinking about issues in mathematics – betrayed all the symptoms of a covert attachment to the ultimate univocity of being and truth. After all.31 This follows from his acceptance of mathematical Platonism. Thus despite his rejection of Spinoza’s monist ontology Badiou can subscribe unreservedly to the Spinozist dictum ‘For we have a true idea’.

READING THE TEXT Badiou’s refusal (with good Platonist warrant) to allow any such gap to open up in the first place. Here as elsewhere – for instance in his commentaries on Spinoza and Hegel – Badiou’s is essentially a diagnostic reading which aims to draw out those symptomatic moments of recalcitrant. This is why. and to in-distinguish between belonging and inclusion’ (p. It is in the restless movement between these poles that mathematics exhibits both its own capacity for creative self-renewal and the extent to which its various formal procedures bear upon other fields of human experience. itself manifested in the various ‘modes’ whose seeming multiplicity belies their true nature as so many aspects or phenomenal appearances thereof. that is. 113). resistant or non-assimilable sense that signal the presence of a counter-logic at odds with the thinker’s overt professions of intent. political and ethical spheres as well as in realms – such as the formal and physical 103 . as we have seen. knowledge and enquiry. Such is the result of Spinoza’s radically monist conception when consistently applied to issues in the social. to assign the one-effect directly to the state.33 For there is an obvious conflict between the central claim of Spinozist ethics. Badiou takes his cue in matters ontological from those passages in Plato’s Sophist and Parmenides where Socrates most directly confronts the aporias of the one and the many. Thus ‘Spinoza represents the most radical attempt ever in ontology to identify structure and metastructure. and where thinking sets out on the long and tortuous path that will eventually lead to the paradoxes of classical set theory and the various attempts (by Russell and others) to resolve or at any rate defuse those paradoxes. along with his equally firm insistence on the way that mathematics – as our paradigm case of truth-oriented thought – typically achieves its most signal advances through a constant dialectic of problem-creating and problem-resolving initiatives. that true freedom lies in the acceptance of an all-encompassing (even if in large part humanly unknowable) order of necessity and Badiou’s great care to distinguish the realms of being and event. Above all it is Spinoza who provokes this ambivalent response since Badiou is strongly drawn to certain aspects of Spinozist thought – chief among them his axiomatic-deductive style of reasoning more geometrico – while none the less rejecting his radically monist conception of mind and nature as two ‘attributes’ of the self-same substance.

freedom and necessity) that would otherwise lack any possible means of reconciliation. and therefore that Badiou will need to demonstrate some flaw – some logical inconsistency or failure to meet its own conceptual requirements – in the Spinozist system of thought. deus sive natura – whereby freedom would achieve its true meaning as the knowledge or acceptance of necessity. This involves an intensive critical engagement with the whole apparatus of Spinozist thought and. mind and body. whose metastructural or divine closure should ensure that it remains in-existent and unthinkable. It is here that Spinoza’s monist doctrine (deus sive natura) can be seen to come up against its limit: that is. or (sometimes) as an unlooked-for result of contingent factors that find no place in the kindsof neatly tailored account that typify the ‘official’ histories of those disciplines. this latter having its legitimate place only in the Spinozist discourse on that which in essence – or by very definition – transcends or exceeds any such limiting conception. That is to say. essence and accident. is well and truly named and placed by Spinoza under the concept of infinite mode’ (p. Sufficient to say that he shows this idea of ‘infinite modes’ to bear the full weight of Spinoza’s problematical (indeed strictly unthinkable since logically selfcontradictory) doctrine and reveal where that doctrine runs up against the need to acknowledge what it cannot accept in keeping with its own governing precepts. His argument here is extremely compressed and resistant to any kind of summary account. despite. its strenuous though (as Badiou thinks) its inherently self-refuting attempt to encompass the transcendence of all those vexing antinomies through a radically monist conception – ‘god or nature’. 113). This he does by focusing on the notion of ‘infinite mode’ which Spinoza introduces as a means of bridging those various dualisms (god and nature. ‘the necessity of having to invoke a void term. the definition of mode as that which pertains to a vast though finite variety of objects presented under either their physical (bodily) or mental (intellectual) attributes cannot possibly be reconciled with talk of the infinite. in particular. ‘it is clear that [Spinoza’s] is the philosophy par excellence which forecloses the void ’. In short. infinite and finite.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT sciences – where it fails to account for the creative-transformative power of human intellect and also for the way that such advances are achieved against. Thus Spinoza’s strategy is doomed to fail and ‘the void. whose name without a testifiable 104 .

A ‘subject’. values and commitments come up against the sheerly contingent character of real-world circumstance.34 From this standpoint it is possible to see ‘that the infinite mode is where Spinoza designates. metastructure and structure.e. 120).READING THE TEXT referent (‘infinite mode’) inscribes errancy in the deductive chain’ (p. the ‘great lesson’ of Spinoza’s thought can be expressed in the following terms: ‘even if. Or again. any means of making allowance – for the evental dimension wherein human purposes. that is. you attempt to annul excess and reduce it to a unity of the presentative axis.e. not in the fideist mode of commentary that would simply report and endorse his ideas but rather through the kind of ‘symptomatic’ approach that Spinoza himself (much to the horror of his piously orthodox contemporaries) applied in his reading of scriptural texts. Thus it is hard to conceive how Spinoza’s purported derivation of ethics from ontology – entailing his idea of ‘freedom’ as in truth nothing other than the wise acceptance of an all-embracing necessity – could possibly be reconciled with Badiou’s demand for a clear and principled distinction between the realms of being and event. Here it is worth noting that Badiou reads Spinoza very much on Spinozist terms. via the position of a supreme count-as-one which fuses the state of a situation and the situation (i. 120). 105 . ontological) domain is that which Spinoza went some way towards charting through his insistence on the discipline of argument more geometrico and hence his historically precocious understanding – one that would not be fully borne out until the advent of modern set theory – that mathematics provides the sole adequate basis for a critical ontology able to account for our knowledge of the growth of knowledge across the formal. despite himself – and thus with the highest unconscious awareness of his task – the point (excluded everywhere by him) at which one can no longer avoid the supposition of a subject’ (p. 113). that is. or inclusion and belonging). you will not be able to avoid the errancy of the void’ (p. However what Spinoza’s system crucially lacked was any allowance – on its own terms. The former (i. in the precise sense specified by Badiou: one whose existence is predicated on or synonymous with the project that commands their utmost fidelity and which thus defines their very condition of subjecthood. physical and social-scientific domains.

inclusion and belonging? PART III. Althusser’s structural-Marxist understanding of ideological interpellation. cultural-historical and – increasingly from this point on – mathematical ground. of receptive openness to truths vouchsafed by poets whose language (especially the German language through its supposed 106 . This claim was the basis of Heidegger’s late ‘turn’ towards an outlook that placed less emphasis on the idea of resolutely facing-up to the call of Being and counselled in stead a mood of Gelassenheit. not to say giddying amount of philosophic.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Spinoza is here being read through a present-day critical optic that incorporates the Freudian–Lacanian concept of ‘imaginary’ misrecognition. It begins with a section entitled ‘Nature: Poem or Matheme?’ in which Badiou reflects at greater length on a topic first raised in his Introduction. but not under conditions or in circumstances of their own choosing. the void. HEIDEGGER/GALILEO 1. Spinoza’s thought is thereby revealed as remarkably prescient to the extent that he can now be seen to have discovered – often (if not always) at a high level of conscious reflection – so much that has gone into those critical protocols now brought to bear upon his work. BEING: NATURE AND INFINITY. Yet. he sets out to contest Heidegger’s claim for the role of poetry (rather than mathematics or the physical sciences) as having marked the inaugural moment – indeed the very condition of emergence – for ancient Greek thought and all that followed in its cultural-historical wake. The Greek inauguration: poetry or mathematics? Part III of Being and Event contains Meditations Eleven to Fifteen and covers a large. the situation. Discussion points What do you find most striking or revealing about Badiou’s conception of the human subject and its role in relation to issues of truth and knowledge? How do you understand Badiou’s closely connected claims with regard to the state. far from emerging in any way diminished. That is. and Marx’s well-known claim to the effect that human beings can indeed make their own history. namely the issue between poetry and mathematics as claimants to the title of ‘first philosophy’.

Moreover – and it is here that Badiou most emphatically takes leave of Heidegger – such thinking would go furthest towards restoring the kind of receptive or responsive awareness that might yet save us from the depredations of a technocratic reason with its joint source in the genealogy of Western post-Socratic philosophic rationalism and post-Galilean.2 Chief among them is the drastically reduced. For Heidegger.4 This diagnosis can only strike Badiou as a gross distortion of intellectual history brought about partly by an under-valuation of the disciplined yet none the less creative activity of thought manifest in mathematics and partly by a basic misconception of poetry’s past and continuing role in that history. or retrieving from oblivion truths that had once been known to the soul but then overlaid (as the story goes in its more mystical Pythagorean.READING THE TEXT deep affinity with the ancient Greek) was still capable of bearing witness to that otherwise long-forgotten source. a term that translates literally as ‘unforgetting’. more authentically revealing since primordial dimension of truth that the Greeks – especially certain of the pre-Socratics – invoked in the name of aletheia.3 What they share is a failure to allow for that further. along with an ear and mind sufficiently attuned to the ways in which poetic language may communicate beyond any level of meaning that might be accessed by conceptual analysis or plainprose paraphrase. and thereafter undergoes a succession of modifications and refinements which on Heidegger’s account do nothing to redeem those defects. For Badiou. that finds its next major statement in Aristotle’s theory of truth as homoiosis or correspondence.1 Hence the depth-hermeneutic approach whereby Heidegger claims to think his way back through and beyond the various accretions of ‘Western metaphysics’ from Plato and Aristotle down to Husserl. deeper. neo-Platonic or proto-Wordsworthian guise) by false or distracting appearances. this failure is redeemable only through a deconstruction (Aubbau or ‘unbuilding’) of the various inherited concepts that have held philosophy in thrall. it is just another version of the old logicalpositivist doctrine that accepted as genuinely meaningful only that class of empirically vacuous statements (or tautologies) 107 . one may conjecture. that is. denatured and inadequate conception of truth that starts out with Plato’s idealist doctrine of transcendent forms or ideas. mathematics-based physical science.

as philosophy’s sole source of guidance and therefore of poetry (along with other such ‘emotive’ or merely ‘metaphysical’ modes of expression) as lacking any properly assignable truth-value. In this respect Badiou stands firmly opposed to those philosophers. at least on Heidegger’s idiosyncratic understanding of just what an adequate response to poetry involves or requires.6 Above all he is determined to show – as against the former mistaken supposition – that mathematics has creative resources in plenty as well as the conceptual or demonstrative rigour whereby to bear out Plato’s claim for its status as first philosophy. who go so far as to deny that mathematics involves ‘thinking’ in any proper sense of the term. For Badiou. any sense that would not confuse thinking with mere calculation. is commensurate with a complete forgetting with regard to ′ what is detained in the Greek word φυ στς’ (p.7 Thus he rejects the echt-Heideggerian idea that those poetic resonances. physical or formal.5 Thus Heidegger’s disdain for mathematics and the physical sciences – no matter how disguised by his talk of their predestined emergence from the epoch of Western metaphysics – can be seen as just the mirror-image of that positivist disdain for any kind of discourse (including poetry) which failed to meet either requirement. especially in the aftermath of the Galilean rupture. the Greek inauguration of philosophy – of a thinking turned towards its future potential for truth rather than turned back towards a deeply conservative mystique of origins – is one that has to do first and foremost with mathematics and not with poetry. Badiou is just as far from sharing Heidegger’s hostile attitude towards the sciences as he is from sharing this positivist idea of the sciences. conversely. ‘nature’. once strongly conveyed and ′ still distantly audible in the Greek word φυ στς. ‘the word “nature”. If Plato’s dereliction (as Heidegger views it) consists 108 . among them Heidegger and Wittgenstein. that is. For Heidegger. mechanical reasoning or rule-governed formal procedure. were effectively occluded in its translation to the Latin natura and thereafter – increasingly so – in the history of usage through which that primordial theme was subject to treatment in conceptual or mathematico-scientific terms. 123).BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT whose truth was self-evident purely in virtue of their logical form and that other class of statements whose truth or untruth could be established by observation or empirical warrant.

a sequence of intellectually liberating events that became possible only through that mathematically inspired break with a language given over to metaphor. As we shall see. that Badiou conceives as pointing back to the ancient Greek instauration of a thinking that decisively breaks with the doxa of received opinion or commonsense belief and thereby launches both its own and other kindred since truth-oriented projects of enquiry.READING THE TEXT in his having chosen wrongly ‘at the ambivalent frontiers of the Greek destiny of being’ and having proposed ‘an interpretation ′ ′ ′′ of φυ στς as ι δ εα ’ – that is. rather than poetry. or human understanding at some given (historically defined) stage of advance and whatever. a false impression that might be left by these remarks about Heidegger but which can scarcely survive a reading of his commentaries on Hölderlin and Mallarmé later in Being and Event. political. Rather it is to give mathematics its due as the matrix or generative source of any ontology that would seek to conceptualize the precise order of relationship between knowledge and truth. Thus. what is truly unique about that ancient Greek event – what constitutes its properly evental status – is the breaking-through to an order of thought that renounces 109 . contra Heidegger. scientific or ethical fidelity. For Badiou.8 In so far as that role is occupied by any one discipline it is mathematics. by eluding its grasp at that time. To repeat. it is not at all Badiou’s intention to devalue poetry vis-à-vis mathematics. image and poetic reverie. science. On the other hand he takes issue with the later-Heideggerian notion of poetic language as the sole or uniquely privileged vehicle of truth. of the depth-ontological and poetic as the merely abstract or conceptual – then Badiou reads this episode and its subsequent (post-Galilean) history as. mathematics and other such products of the Western drive for conceptual mastery. Badiou rejects the depth-hermeneutical idea of language – or our well-attuned harkening to language – as the locus of authentic or primordial truths that were later concealed by the fateful turn towards technology. acts asa spur to subsequent progress. on the contrary. poetry (especially that of Mallarmé) has pride of place within Badiou’s conception of art as one of those enabling ‘conditions’ that allow us to grasp the history of truth as progressively revealed through a sequence of worldtransformative events which set new terms for artistic.

priority or emphasis (for instance. can thereafter be seen to have competed for dominance within that line of descent. It is this aspect of its ‘mathematico-ideal’ as distinct from its ‘poetico-natural’ dimension that Badiou considers to have marked the great leap forward in ancient Greek thinking. with regard to the authority of ‘ordinary language’ as opposed to the claims of conceptual analysis) that divide Anglophone philosophers along clearly marked lines but which must appear somewhat parochial or intra-mural if viewed in this larger perspective. by means as yet unspecified. submits the lack. welcomes – in poetry – appearing as the coming-to-presence of being’. whereas ‘[t]he other. based on nature in its original Greek sense. mind/nature. By going back to that inaugural moment when the two great ‘orientations’ first emerged we can perceive more clearly how the ‘[o]ne. that is. Maoist connotations then one needs to think again about what he has to say concerning the relation between mathematics and politics. For it is just Badiou’s point – one with particular resonance and force in the context of this engagement with Heidegger – that from 110 . Hence the two chief orientations which. or the scope and limits of present understanding as revealed by the proleptic power of thought to perceive not only certain unresolved problems in its present state but also the prospect.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the desire for some long-lost plenitude of being or ‘originary link between being and appearance’. based on the Idea in its Platonic sense. the subtraction of all presence. and thus disjoins being from appearing. whether directly – as in recurrent bouts of the perennial ‘two cultures’ controversy – or in various displaced or surrogate forms. according to Badiou. essence from existence’ (p. such as might lead thinking back to the condition it once enjoyed before the emergence of all those vexing antinomies (subject/object. What then becomes possible – through recognition of the void that opens up (much to Heidegger’s regret) between being and appearance – is a sharpened since mathematically grounded sense of the kindred distinction between knowledge and truth. And if that phrase ‘great leap forward’ might be felt to have irrelevant or downright unwelcome political. reason/ intuition and so forth) that took firm hold on the discourse of Western post-Hellenic culture. 125). Among the latter would be counted those differences of interest. of eventually overcoming them. to the matheme.


Parmenides and Plato, via Leibniz and Spinoza, to developments in the wake of Cantorian set theory there has always been a close if often occluded or disavowed relationship between mathematics (along with the various philosophic doctrines espoused in its name) and issues of political power, justice, equality and representation. This is why Badiou places such great emphasis on the sheer originality and cultural uniqueness of that Greek mathematical breakthrough, as compared with the poetic inauguration which – as he says – occurred across a much wider (e.g. Indian, Chinese and Egyptian) range of national-cultural contexts. Of course it may well be objected that these cultures also contributed their share to the development of mathematics, along with some notable advances in the field achieved by thinkers from the Arab world or the tradition of Islamic scholarship. However it is Badiou’s more particular thesis that the Greeks played a crucial role in discovering those two most essential components of modern mathematical thought, namely the axiomatic-deductive mode of reasoning and the willingness – as shown in their very different ways by Parmenides, Plato and Aristotle – to reckon with the kinds of paradoxical challenge thrown up by any rigorous or sustained address to the question of non-being. Thus ‘[t]he Greeks did not invent the poem. Rather, they interrupted the poem with the matheme. In doing so, in the exercise of deduction, which is fidelity to being such as named by the void, the Greeks opened up the infinite possibility of an ontological text’ (p. 126). Or again, they severed the thought of being from its ‘poetic enchainment to natural appearing’, and thereby replaced the idea of presence – that which ‘demands an initiatory return’ – with an idea of ‘the subtractive, the void-multiple, which commands a transmissible thinking’ (p. 126). ‘Transmissible’, that is, in the sense of having founded and opened up a potentially endless sequence of discoveries, each of them building on what went before while also – as Badiou makes clear – pointing forward to further such signal advances through a sense of problems that have yet to be confronted or conceptual anomalies yet to be resolved. As he more evocatively (even poetically) puts it: ‘[t]he poem entrusts itself nostalgically to nature solely because it was once interrupted by the matheme, and the “being” whose presence it pursues is solely the impossible filling in of the void, such


that, amidst the arcana of the pure multiple, mathematics indefinitely discerns therein what can, in truth, be subtractively pronounced of being itself’ (pp. 126–7). What is at stake here beyond the issue of priority between these rival ideas of the ancient Greek inception is the claim – central to Badiou’s entire project – that from Parmenides to Cantor and thence to more recent developments there has always existed this power of mathematics, whether zealously pursued or strongly resisted, to explore new realms of ontological possibility and hence to raise questions of a far-reaching kind with respect to other regions of thought, among them that of politics. Thus it is chiefly a matter of those various set-theoretically specified concepts – of membership, inclusion, belonging, the void, the situation, the state of the situation, the evental site, inconsistent versus consistent multiplicity and so forth – that permit the elaboration of a social and political ontology with resources to explain both the status quo ante of any existent order and the stress points within that same order where there is the greatest likelihood of its coming under pressure from elements excluded by the count-as-one. That is to say, the possibility that first emerged in those ancient Greek debates and which came to fruition with Cantor was that of working out a full-scale, formalized ‘typology of the multiple’ that allowed for the valid, that is, the precise, non-abusive and more than merely metaphoric extrapolation from pure mathematics to the socio-political domain. What emerges very clearly at this point is the contrast that Badiou perceives between a Heideggerian ‘poetico-natural’ ontology, a conception of authentic being and truth turned back towards some long-lost primordial source, and on the other hand a ‘mathematico-ideal’ conception turned towards the possibility of future advance, whether in terms of mathematical discovery or socio-political progress. Where the latter stands to gain from Badiou’s set-theoretical approach is through the purchase this offers for a formalized, that is, conceptually precise and logically articulated treatment of the relationship between actually existing forms of (so-called) social democracy and the form it might take should certain discrepancies – those shown up to striking effect by analysis along such lines – be subject to the kind of rectification envisaged by its more progressive or radical-egalitarian reformers.9


Thus, here as in the case of mathematics, it is the sense of such hitherto contained or unrecognized but now clearly emergent problems that provides both the chief incentive for further progress and also – paradoxical as this might seem – the means of grasping in advance that a solution lies within range of possible achievement even though (necessarily) without as yet the means to encompass or achieve it. As I have mentioned already and will explain in more detail later on, Badiou’s main line of response to this (as he considers it) false dilemma or pseudo-paradox is to invoke the set-theoretical concepts of ‘forcing’ and the ‘generic’, both developed by the mathematician Paul Cohen and both having to do with this question of how – by what conceivable stretch of intellect or imagination – thought can leap so far ahead of itself as somehow to grasp what it cannot yet know, prove or ascertain.10 That the claim should make sense and should indeed be shown to constitute the sole basis on which to account for the advancement of mathematical knowledge to date is absolutely essential to Badiou’s case not only with respect to intra-mathematical issues of truth, knowledge and warrant but also as regards the pertinence of those issues to matters of a larger (at any rate wider) human socio-political concern. Moreover, it is a claim that has lately been disputed – treated as strictly unintelligible, even nonsensical – by anti-realist philosophers of mathematics and logic who maintain that it involves the absurd (since self-contradictory) idea of our somehow knowing things unknown, or asserting the existence of truths for which we confess to having no sufficient evidential, demonstrative or probative grounds.11 In which case, so these thinkers conclude, we had better replace objectivist truth-talk with more sensibly modest or moderate talk of ‘warranted assertibility’, and thereby accept the anti-realist thesis that truth (on whichever preferred understanding) is always ‘epistemically constrained’, that is to say, restricted to the scope and limits of what we are able to know. Thus realism should be seen not only as a lost cause, philosophically speaking, but also as having created a great many needless and intractable problems since by conceiving truth in objectivist or mind-independent terms it effectively denies (like sceptics down the ages) that we could ever get to know anything. The most frequent realist rejoinder to arguments of this sort is to point out the crucial difference between claiming to know


that there are things we don’t know – the contrary of which (that we now know absolutely everything) is after all pretty implausible – and claiming to know just what it is we don’t know, that is, the specific nature and content of those truths that presently elude our epistemic grasp.12 This in turn means respecting the distinction – and (as realists would have it) the order of priority – between ontological and epistemological issues, or questions of the type ‘What exists? What are its objective properties, attributes, causal dispositions, etc.?’ and questions of the type ‘What can we know concerning such matters and how do we come to know it?’. As should hardly need saying by now, this distinction is basic to Badiou’s thought with its squarely ontological focus on the various (e.g. physical and abstract) modes of being and the equally various ways and means by which human enquiry is – sometimes, not always – able to cognize or comprehend them. Only thus, so he argues, can we hope to explain the process or indeed the very possibility of advancement in the powers of human cognitive, conceptual or explanatory grasp in and beyond the realm of mathematics and the physical sciences. This goes along with Badiou’s countervailing (yet by no means contradictory) insistence that we also take account of that evental domain – the irreducibly contingent situation or context wherein such discoveries come about – which intrinsically resists assimilation to any pre-established or consistent ontology. It is here that he most emphatically takes leave of Heidegger’s depth-ontological hermeneutic broodings, devoted as they are to a ‘poetico-natural’ conception of thought as having once existed – and potentially as once again coming to exist – in a state of union or harmony with nature. Such is the echt-Heideggerian demand that thinking aspire to that ‘self-homogeneous self-presentation’ that fully guarantees – which cannot but guarantee – the unimpeded communion of subject and object, mind and nature, discursive thought and sensuous intuition. However this wished-for state (this illusion, according to Badiou) must be seen as dearly bought if it entails the abandonment of any claim that thinking might transcend or surpass the limits of whatever presently constitutes its ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ condition. For if ‘nature never internally contradicts itself’ – if it is the name for that which just cannot give rise to discrepancies, anomalies, paradoxes or other such temporarily


arresting yet ultimately progress-inducing problems – then the kind of ‘normality’ that goes along with any such naturalizing ground of appeal is one that can also be seen to foreclose any prospect of intellectual, ethical or socio-political advance. ‘Schematically’ Badiou writes, if N is the situation in question, every element of N is also a sub-multiple of N. In ontology, this will be written as: when one has n ∈ N (belonging), one also has n ⊂ N (inclusion). In turn, the multiple n is also a natural situation, in that if n’ ∈ n, then equally n’ ⊂ n. We can see that a natural multiple counts as one normal multiples, which themselves count as one normal multiples. This normal stability ensures the homogeneity of natural multiples. (p. 128) That is to say, the upshot of any such attempt to naturalize (or normalize) the multiplicity of being is a failure – or (in political terms) a programmatic refusal – to recognize those various internal contradictions that emerge most clearly at ‘evental sites’ where normality is exposed to maximum strain and which thus prefigure some imminent crisis or breakdown in the presently existing order. Moreover it is at just these critical junctures that thought may discern the possibility of moving beyond its current state of impasse by application of new-found conceptual resources discovered or devised precisely in response to that same predicament.
2. Hölderlin: poetry, nature, history

This is why there is such a marked difference of emphasis, tone and level of engagement between Badiou’s two main passages of literary commentary in Being and Event, namely the sections (pp. 191–8 and 255–61) on Mallarmé and Hölderlin. I trust that it will not be too disruptive if I jump ahead briefly at this point since the passages in question are, I think, best treated in the present context of discussion. In the latter case he is writing about a poet whose dominant themes – of homeland, nature, the genius loci, the spiritual affinity of latter-day German with ancient Greek culture, and language as a kind of dwelling-place or native habitat – are such as understandably exerted a powerful philosophic and imaginative hold upon Heidegger but which


strike nothing like so resonant a chord with Badiou.13 Thus his reading takes the form of a sometimes strongly evocative yet also, for the most part, a critically detached and even diagnostic meditation on the political perils as well as the poetic allure of a creative vision so deeply grounded in this heady confluence of ‘poetico-natural’ values and beliefs.14 With Mallarmé, on the other hand, Badiou is very much in his element since here the poetry is itself preoccupied – both thematically and by formal implication – with that whole intricate complex of ideas around chance and necessity, being and event or the emergence of the radically new from pre-existent modes of thought, whether these take the form of discoveries in mathematics or truly significant ‘breakthrough’ developments in the creative arts. What sets these poets apart – and what accounts for Badiou’s equally intense but very differently angled engagement with both – is the contrast between, on the one hand, a poetics deeply wedded to the notion of a privileged (i.e. geographically specified yet quasi-universal or world-historical) relation between ancient Greek and modern German culture and, on the other, a poetics that explores regions of thought more often considered the domain of mathematicians, logicians or analytically minded philosophers of language. With regard to Hölderlin Badiou starts out by acknowledging that ‘any exegesis [of this poet] is henceforth dependent on that of Heidegger’ (p. 255).15 However he then proceeds to qualify and even implicitly revoke that declaration through a reading more alert to the dangers of cultural-aesthetic nationalism than anything to be found in Heidegger’s depth-ontological but – in certain crucial and symptomatic ways – insufficiently critical commentaries. ‘On occasion’, Badiou writes, ‘Hölderlin is quite close to a prophetic conception of this bond, and thereby exposed to the danger of imagining that Germany fulfils the Greek promise’ (p. 259). His poetry is saved or at any rate protected from this danger by its constant feel for the distance – the gulf of historical-cultural ethos – between what he perceives as the ‘Asiatic’ (i.e. what Nietzsche would later identify as the violent, irrational, frenzied, Dionysian) ethos of Greek tragic drama and its German reception under different, highly responsive yet radically transformed conditions of interpretative uptake.16 I shall not here offer a detailed commentary on Badiou’s complex, thematically rich and – in itself – intensely poetic meditation on

singularities. able to discern fractures. in contrast to the dominant approach in Being and Event. held by fidelity to the other event.17 The reason. Among them – not least – is the longrunning controversy as to just what kind or depth of elective affinity might exist between Hölderlin’s invocation of the gods in 117 . to share the fruits of the earth. On this interpretation the poet is envisaged as an ‘intervener’. in the name that he bestows upon it. 261) This is a remarkable passage by any philosophic or literarycritical standard but especially in view of the sensitive issues that Badiou is here handling. the on-the-edge-of-the-void. I think.READING THE TEXT Hölderlin’s treatment of these powerfully evocative (as well as politically ambivalent) themes. Badiou writes. for its dwelling almost exclusively by way of extended paraphrase on matters of thematic content and paying little or no regard to formal or structural considerations. its crookedness. protected against the prophetic temptation. ‘Such’. which makes the vacillation of the law possible. one who essays a ‘second fidelity’ by abandoning himself to ‘the present of the storm’. is that Badiou is here trying to navigate a difficult path between the opposed temptations of a Heideggerian giving-way to the mystique of origins that identifies ‘authentic’ thought with the return to some ultimate source or culturallinguistically privileged means of access to being. its dysfunction. and on the other hand a critique of such notions that would go so far in a sceptical direction as to leave poetry largely bereft of its expressive or evocative power. Sufficient to say that his writing on Hölderlin stands out. against the canonical arrogance. This tension emerges most strikingly in the last few sentences of his Hölderlin commentary where Badiou can be seen steering away from the Heideggerian hermeneutic depths towards a re-statement of the poet’s main themes in a more ‘philosophical’ or conceptually mediated key. confident in the event. but also. but also. though strictly on condition of ‘abolishing himself in the void’ and naming the wished-for cataclysmic event – the ‘return of the gods’ – only at a certain protective distance of historical and finely judged poetic reserve. but also. is ‘the intervener’: one who knows that he is required to be faithful: able to frequent the site. (p.

subjunctively qualified character and their remoteness from any political programme that would carry such thinking – such a powerful combination of ‘poetico-natural’ and ‘national-aestheticist’ themes – right through to its ultimate. again with hindsight. so to speak. The equivalent of this in terms of literary criticism (more exactly: in terms of philosophy’s engagement with poetry through its own distinctive mode of textual exegesis) is a step back from the direct endorsement of certain 118 . it was Heidegger who travelled precisely that route and whose wholesale endorsement of the Nazi cause during the 1930s – as well as his failure (or refusal) thereafter to issue anything like an express repudiation or apology – offers the single most striking cautionary lesson in this regard. After all.18 What Badiou is here doing with extraordinary subtlety and tact is deploying a mixture of sensitive paraphrase. very much on the cards. This is. potentially disastrous political conclusion.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the context of German national destiny and later assertions of that same destiny in an altogether darker. to repeat. more brutally assertive key. thematic commentary and deft allusion to his set-theoretically derived idea of the event (or ‘singularity’) as that which issues from a void in the order of being.19 So one can best read Badiou’s exceptionally subtle and finetuned Hölderlin commentary not as a revisionist interpretation designed to head off any idea of the poet’s having offered cultural sustenance to the ideology of National Socialism but rather as a reading altogether more responsive to matters of nuance and thematic implication that pass unnoticed through Heidegger’s desire to enlist the poetry in service of his own philosophico-political themes and imperatives. one of the examples that Badiou has most vividly in mind when he writes about the risks of serious compromise that philosophy always runs when it allows itself to become too closely ‘sutured’ to one or other of those four conditions – in Heidegger’s case politics – towards which it should properly exhibit a certain degree of critical reserve. more ideologically troublesome nationalist themes. and which thus marks the locus – the ‘evental site’ – where such a strictly unpredictable occurrence may none the less with hindsight appear to have been. Thus Badiou’s reading is one that lays maximum stress on their tentative. This in turn goes along with a marked shift of emphasis in relation to Hölderlin’s more overtly expressed and.

like those between poetry and the genius loci or language and its native ground. locations. that is. It is not surprising. that his commentary focuses on ‘Un coup de dés’ (‘A cast of dice . it is one 119 . . philosophically speaking. Not that Badiou merely uses the poem as a springboard for developing his thoughts on these topics or a handy source of metaphors. . native language and poetic authenticity – is also what enables it (when read with sufficient attentiveness and tact) to hold out against Heidegger’s mode of pre-emptive thematic exegesis. temporal conjunctures and so forth. So it is. no doubt) an unfolding ‘solar drama’ of determinate roles. prohibits any frequentation of the site in the assurance of a straight path’. .READING THE TEXT presumptive natural bonds. On the contrary. unpredictable and unprepared-for occurrences that none the less take their place in what appears (retroactively. images and suchlike analogical (‘poetic’) devices whereby to put across some otherwise demandingly complex and abstract ideas. that ‘[t]his evental unbinding . founded upon the storm. . on his account. What saves Hölderlin’s poetry from being drawn into a deeper. Germany will accomplish its being in a second fidelity. Mallarmé’s most ‘philosophical’ poem and one quite explicitly concerned with just those themes and concerns that so preoccupy Badiou in Being and Event. since this is a poet whose characteristic themes and preoccupations – as well as the various formal devices through which they are typically expressed or conveyed – are strikingly close to his own. Hence Badiou’s claim with regard to the intense but also the deeply ambivalent ethos of Hölderlin’s poetry: that ‘whilst Greece accomplishes its being in the excellence of form because its native site is Asiatic and furious. because its site is that of the golden fields.21 Thus he begins by citing a pointedly relevant line – ‘or was the event brought about in view of every null result?’ – and goes on to offer a technically impressive but also a powerfully evocative account of how the poem stages or enacts (rather than describes or represents) a series of strictly evental. which might otherwise exert just such a powerfully distorting effect. trajectories.20 With Mallarmé it is clear that Badiou is much more on home ground. 260). ’). more ideologically laden complicity with any potent mystique of origins – any thinking that asserts some kind of rooted natural affinity between national locale. therefore. of the restrained Occident’ (p.

Thus Mallarmé figures as the writer who. if fleetingly. This is a reading that resists the allure exerted on the one hand by an over-regard for those supposedly primordial truths-of-Being beyond the grasp of mere analytic reason and on the other by a corresponding under-valuation of any approach that would seriously challenge the received idea of that ‘ancient quarrel’ between philosophy and poetry that Plato was already treating as a cultural truism. However it soon becomes clear from his reading of Mallarmé that this is a mistaken understanding of Badiou’s ‘either-or’ question since it ignores the fact that he phrases that question in pointedly interrogative form. along with Rilke and other German poets – on poetry’s pre-eminent claim to attention as the chief source of that ancient-Greek ‘inauguration’ that is still. rather. then at least to the extent that it can offer a working example (as opposed to a merely suggestive illustration) of how thinking fares at the point of encounter with that which exceeds any power of straightforward intuitive grasp. Thus he is as far as could be from endorsing the sorts of argument put forward by detractors of poetry from Plato to the logical positivists. is the standing possibility of a different. the fact that this appears to pose a choice between mutually exclusive or sharply polarized modes of thought can be explained in large part by Heidegger’s insistence – calling Hölderlin to witness.22 What Badiou seeks to emphasize. and heightened (hence seductive and dangerous) states of emotion. including philosophy 120 . more than any other. On this view the very nature of poetry – or of the mind-set most readily responsive to poetry – is such as to place it intrinsically at odds with every form of genuine truth-seeking enterprise. if not in the same way or with the same degree of formal-conceptual rigour as in mathematics. refuses to be categorized according to the terms – ‘Nature: poem or matheme?’ – put forward by Badiou in the earlier section bearing that title. imaginary (or just plain make-believe) worlds. for all of which reasons it should either be banned – Plato’s preferred option – or at least put firmly in its place. that is.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT of his leading precepts that ‘poetry thinks’. essentially non-Heideggerian or non-hermeneutically oriented way of reading poetry. our sole means of access to truths long since covered up by the accretions of ‘Western metaphysics’. As we have seen. the idea that poetry trades in fictions (or falsehoods).

anthropology. what this involves – and here Badiou takes Mallarmé as a prime exemplar – is a break with the idea of poetic intuition as a source of creative or imaginative truths surpassing those of plain-prose reason.READING THE TEXT and (above all) mathematics. diversity and truly creative potential of mathematics and also against those in the analytic camp who exhibit a kindred blindness with respect to the kind of conceptual rigour and logical precision that poetry is able to exhibit. Above all. In this respect Badiou belongs squarely to the company of recent French thinkers in various fields – among them philosophy of science.23 These developments have ranged from Husserl’s phenomenological re-working of Cartesian themes. For Badiou. Thus he takes it that thinking is something quite distinct not only from intuition – since advances in thought. Hence Badiou’s likewise twofold polemic: against literary critics or theorists who fail to appreciate the richness. he maintains. It is vital. linguistics and psychoanalysis – who have rejected any version of Descartes’ appeal to the cogito – the conscious and self-conscious subject – as an anchor-point of certain knowledge and a citadel against sceptical doubt. that the difference between them not be collapsed in some vaguely postmodernist mélange of sundry ‘discourses’ from which truth has been summarily expelled in the name of an all-encompassing. and hence a recognition that poetic thinking may well achieve an order of formal or logical complexity raised to the highest power. such thinking results from a twofold misapprehension whereby it is supposed that poetry doesn’t think – at least in any sense of ‘thinking’ that would count with those (like mathematicians and philosophers) for whom that activity defines their vocational raison d’être – and moreover that values such as ‘creativity’ and ‘inventiveness’ have only a limited role to play in the discourse of the formal or physical sciences. epistemology. all-homogenizing ‘textuality’ but rather that they each be respected as raising its own distinctive kinds of truth-claim. especially in the physical sciences. via Heidegger’s wholesale ‘depth-ontological’ critique of Western post-Hellenic (especially 121 . so often involve the exposure of errors brought about by the presumed self-evidence of sensecertainty – but also from consciousness insofar as it is supposed to be the element within which thinking proceeds or the precondition of any thought whatsoever.

Mallarmé’s preoccupations do have a topical-thematic character insofar as they are explicitly named. one that for Heidegger in turn takes its bearings from a depth-hermeneutic meditation on the life-world or experiential contexts wherein consciousness discovers its primordial sources of meaning and truth. the multiple and the count-as-one – clearly the kinds of subject-matter closest to his own interests – while avoiding any kind of commentary (as in Heidegger’s exegeses of Hölderlin) that would make them the focus of an existential brooding on the forms of awareness most deeply bound up with our situated modes of being-in-the-world. Mallarmé: poem as event In Mallarmé Badiou finds a poetry that treats of ‘topics’ or ‘themes’ such as chance. event. from Lacan in particular but also from Sartre and Althusser – improbably enough. that is. structure and properties of being) must go by way of a reflection on human consciousness. HusserlianHeideggerian claim that any thinking directed towards issues of ontology (or questions with regard to the nature. structure. necessity. beyond 122 .25 It is fair to say that Badiou takes something of crucial significance for his own project from each of the above-mentioned sources.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Cartesian) epistemology.24 They were followed and pressed yet further by the structuralist and post-structuralist turn towards forms of theoretical anti-humanism – such as Althusserian structural Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis – which found (or at any rate purported to find) absolutely no room for what they saw as the residual elements of Cartesian subject-centred epistemology in those earlier movements of thought. it is his rejection of the basic phenomenological. to Sartre’s existentialist notion of consciousness as ‘for-itself’ rather than ‘in-itself’.26 3. mentioned or referred to in the poem and. as that which always already ‘transcends’ any presently ascribable state or condition of its own being. That is to say. as I have said. among them Husserl and Heidegger. However what comes across most strikingly in the section on Mallarmé is Badiou’s way of distancing his project from theirs with varying degrees of emphasis even while implicitly acknowledging those debts. Above all. given the deep-laid differences of philosophic outlook between these two – and even from those with whom he is himself sharply at odds in sundry ways.

as an imaginative mise-en-scène of precisely those ideas about being and event – or ontology and that which intrinsically exceeds any power of ontological specification – that stand very much at the philosophic heart of his own work. 191). symbolic or likewise analogical) readings but in the sense that they will have to start out from an awareness of what is actually. If ‘[a] poem by Mallarmé always fixes the place of an aleatory event’. represents or narrates. and if that event must necessarily ‘be interpreted on the basis of the traces it leaves behind’. The extraordinary way that his reading of Mallarmè combines literal citation with deft paraphrase. dialectically productive exchange. insofar as they provide a structural – even narrative – dimension to the otherwise obscurely related sequence of episodes that constitute Un coup de dés. through a subtle registration of the way that various imagined events impact upon the very process of thought – not (to repeat) the state of consciousness – that it seemingly describes. thematic analysis and philosophic commentary is perhaps 123 . The meaning is ‘univocal’ not – I take it – in the sense that a reading along these lines must properly close off any possibility of figural (e. more importantly. but rather in a mode that invites comparison with certain distinctly mathematical procedures. then this is because ‘the meaning (univocal) of the text depends on what is declared to have happened there’ (p. At this point the notion of a straightforward contest between ‘Poem or Matheme?’ as rival claimants to truth gives way to the proposal that we conceive their relationship in terms that are less sharply polarized though still – as Badiou is careful to maintain – sufficiently distinct for the purpose of continued. moreover. Thus it might be said that Badiou reads the poem allegorically. bears out his contention that poetry thinks not so much in the Heideggerian depth-hermeneutic mode.READING THE TEXT that. Yet the poem must also be thought of in performative terms as enacting or directly presenting that sequence and as doing so. metaphoric. However this claim would need to be qualified by a due recognition that Mallarmé’s poem both anticipates much of what Badiou will have to say concerning set-theoretical matters and also.g. textual exegesis. rather than their ‘stream of consciousness’. momentarily going on at the level of those textual events – including the titular ‘cast of dice’ – that punctuate the poet’s and the reader’s trains of thought.

he writes. beliefsystems or conceptual schemes that pre-existed the discovery in question. political. it is given to us to bet. there is no other vigilance than that of becoming. marginal or problematic instances that occur at certain localized stress points of the dominant count-as-one to the evental realm properly so-called where that count no longer succeeds in exerting such a dominant role. which ‘hovers above the gulf’. natural-scientific. there is no logically or rationally guaranteed passage from the realm of ontological (ultimately set-theoretical) thinking where events can be conceived only as anomalous. 198) That is to say. from the standpoint of situations.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT best captured by the following passage where Badiou picks up certain salient motifs from the poem and allows them to resonate with aspects of his set-theoretically based ontology. social and political practices as well as (more clearly) in the formal and physical sciences. (BE. and the salvatory guarantee of its non-being. ‘Allows them’. to legislate without law in respect to this existence. frameworks. and the star. both the feather. ‘If the event is erratic’. and if. p. Given that undecidability is a rational attribute of the event. Thus his commentary moves from the famous opening line of the poem – ‘A cast of the dice will never abolish chance’ – to a reflection on what this should be taken to imply for our prospects of advancement across the whole range of ethical. 124 . as much through the anxiety of hesitation as through the courage of the outside-place. one cannot decide whether it exists or not. ‘up high perhaps’. So it is – in Badiou’s submission – that the most significant breakthrough moments in the history of mathematical. ethical and artistic thought can be shown to have resulted from just such a rupture with established or accredited modes of conceptual grasp. that is. that is. paradigms. For there is simply no explaining significant advances in any of these fields by reference to in-place theories. rather than anything more programmatic or pre-emptive: what is involved here is a reading practice that follows this poem through the various imagined but none the less decisive episodes that periodically (yet unpredictably) intervene to change the course of its thinking on the relationship between being and event.

after all. To be sure. dramatic and unprepared-for conversion experience that would appear to preclude anything like a judgement arrived at on adequate evidential grounds or on the basis of a rational decision-procedure. fideist or (for those who have registered his firmly secular and atheist standpoint) Sartrean-existentialist standpoint. Nevertheless such a reading would perforce ignore his strong countervailing emphasis on the need for conceptual rigour in grasping what he reads in Mallarmé’s poem. to the inaugural event in whose name they are undertaken. this should not be taken for some kind of downright decisionist creed to the effect that any genuinely self. In which case there could be no means of distinguishing. one can see why some commentators have drawn this conclusion from Badiou’s account of the way that commitments of that order come about through just the kind of sudden. so far as Badiou is concerned.or worldtransformative commitment – whether in the realms of ethics. politics or scientific enquiry – can be undertaken only on the strength of a radically (and rationally) under-motivated choice between strictly incommensurable options. that is. an instance of false revelation or a strong yet delusory assurance of truth 125 . St. say. self-exonerating sphere. or lack thereof. is his view of St. Paul as a ‘militant for truth’ whose revelation on the road to Damascus set the terms and conditions for what henceforth counted as a way of life and a teaching faithful to just that revelatory event. Such. Were it not for this distinctly non-decisionist aspect of his work – the room it allows for a post-evental analysis of reasons. Paul’s or Pascal’s exemplary fidelity to what is all the same. or a standard of truth to one’s innermost convictions that treated them as simply not accountable beyond that self-enclosed and hence self-justifying.READING THE TEXT However. interests and consequences – it would of course be open to the damaging charge that ‘fidelity’ amounted to no more than a variant of Heideggerian ‘authenticity’. the aporetic yet strictly required (since logico-mathematically based) conjuncture of necessity and chance and also the fact that choices or decisions are likewise subject to rigorous constraints as regards their fidelity. motives.27 This idea – that the Pauline experience is in some sense a paradigm case of what occurs in episodes of radical theory-change across the whole gamut of naturalscientific and ‘humanities’ disciplines – is one that can easily give rise to suspicions that Badiou is espousing a decisionist.

decisions or commitments involve the readiness to stake one’s life on fidelity to that which so far as consciousness goes surpasses any presently available evidence or justificatory grounds with his belief that such criteria crucially apply not just as a matter of subsequent (post-evental) understanding but also as concerns the processes of thought. reflective or present-to-mind cogitation. semantic. at whatever preconscious level. It is also what emerges in his reading of Mallarmé’s poem through the interplay of various elements – thematic. science. given that the essence of the event is to be undecidable with regard to its belonging to the situation.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT from other cases – whether in mathematics. it is just his point against the whole tradition of Cartesian philosophizing down to Husserl that thinking and consciousness are so far from synonymous that certain kinds of thought (among them some of the most advanced. syntactic and (as Badiou is at pains to bring out) quasi-mathematical in character – which between them capture precisely the way that such thinking tends to elude the best powers of phenomenological (i. deliberative thought even if – in the nature of some such events – this would scarcely be a matter of conscious. After all. creative or intellectually far-reaching) may in fact exclude the very possibility of conscious grasp in the process of their first elaboration. in turn. structural. an event whose content is the eventness of the event (and this is clearly the cast of dice thrown ‘in eternal circumstances’) cannot. as we have seen.e. Since the master 126 . he writes. ethics. have any other form than that of indecision. In ‘Un coup de dés’. politics or art – where fidelity is defined not only in terms of authentic dedication to the task in hand but also in terms of its validity or truth as gauged by other (likewise regional or discipline-specific) standards. This is how Badiou is able to square his claim that such acts. on which they are based or from which they result. selffocused and supposedly lucid) reflection. So it is important not to mistake Badiou’s stress on the sheerly unpredictable character of events and their transformative impact on the lives and beliefs of those whom they most powerfully affect for a decisionist outlook that would leave no room for the exercise of rational.

As a result (so it is said) he tends to read through the text for its philosophic yield and thereby to ignore – or at any rate downplay – those formal. being the active. that is.28 There is an element of truth in this charge if his readings of Hölderlin and Mallarmé are measured against the high-formalist (or structuralist) demand that nothing be said with regard to matters of ‘content’ or ‘theme’ until the reader has taken full account of everything that should properly engage her interest at the level of linguistic or formal device where literature stakes its chief claim to our attention.(or anti-) phenomenological stance and his set-theoretically inspired thinking about issues of necessity and chance.29 No doubt they are motivated largely by a range of concerns – chief among them mathematics and politics – which tend to exert a strong influence in that direction. stylistic or thematically ‘redundant’ aspects that inherently resist such treatment.READING THE TEXT must produce the absolute event (the one. so the event can always exceed or transcend any limit fixed by present conceptions of the count-as-one. effective. Mallarmé says. whether on the home-ground terrain of mathematics or in those various kindred realms – including philosophy and its fourfold ‘conditions’ – where the movement of transcendence can likewise be discerned. formal and ultimately logico-mathematical character that Badiou is able to enlist Mallarmé for his own philosophic purposes. p. (BE. which will abolish chance. Just as thought is always capable of venturing beyond the bounds of what is presently accessible to conscious or self-conscious reflection. or ontology and that which intrinsically exceeds any power of ontological specification. he must suspend this production from a hesitation which is itself absolute. and which indicates that the event is that multiple in respect to which we can neither know nor observe whether it belongs to the situation of its site. 193) Here we see the connection between Badiou’s post. concept of the ‘there is’). being and event. It is by allowing his commentary to replicate this movement and ply back and forth between thematic exposition and statements of a highly abstract. to ensure that Badiou’s 127 . I hesitate to put it this way because the complaint has been raised by some otherwise well-disposed literary theorists that Badiou is overly prone to look sharp for motifs that lend themselves readily to such an illustrative role.

Versions of infinity: Galileo to Cantor We can now go on – or rather back a little way. the infinite multiplicity of multiples (or subsets within sets) that will always at some point give rise to paradox no matter how adroitly the problem is managed by formal ‘solutions’ (such as Russell’s Theory of Types) that in truth come down to a pragmatic doctrine of convenience. 145). most productively engage with literary texts. these sections have to do with the impact on thought of a settheoretical conception of the infinite.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT interest will be focused on just those thematic (though sometimes also formal or structural) aspects of the text in hand that most readily conduce to such a purpose. since Hölderlin and Mallarmé involved us in a fast-forward episode – and take a close look at Meditations Twelve to Fourteen where Badiou comments further on the revolution in thinking across a great range of disciplines which he sees as having been brought about by the advent of post-Cantorian set theory. His most insistent point throughout this portion of Being and Event is that ‘[t]here is no infra-mathematical concept of infinity. only vague images of the “very large”’ (p. that is to say. whose choice of these particular poets for detailed analysis) reflects his commitment to a certain view of how philosophy can best. 4. Since it is here that Being and Event takes another more sustained. physical and social ontology it is time to lay out the set-theoretical sources and structure of Badiou’s thinking in a somewhat more detailed (though still necessarily simplified) form. besides that. acuity and powers of conceptual grasp whose approach to poetry (and. Meditation Twelve takes up at the point where we left our orderly manner of proceeding – with the question ‘Nature: poem or matheme?’ – and presses it further by taking as its theme ‘The Ontological Schema of Natural Multiples and the Non-Existence of Nature’. intensive and demanding turn towards mathematics as its basis for a generalized formal. However this is really no more than to say that he is a reader of exceptional insight. Thus if thinkers (whether mathematicians or philosophers) evoked the idea of infinity before the advent of Cantor’s set-theoretical revolution then they did so either with a view to denouncing that idea as the source of insoluble and best-avoided paradoxes or – more approvingly but no less confusedly – by way of gesturing towards 128 . More specifically.

also abolishes the unicity of infinity’. that is. Badiou’s point here is that there is and will always remain something distinctly counter-intuitive about the notion that an infinite set (such as that of the natural or counting numbers) might include a ‘smaller’ subset (such as that of the even numbers) and yet the two of them somehow be capable of having their elements paired off one-by-one. 145–6). Or again – rather like visual illusions where we ‘know’ that our senses are being deceived yet continue to be taken in at a sensory-perceptual level – there is resistance to accepting the idea that the power-set of any given infinite set. despite the whole range of impressive advances – by thinkers from Cantor to Cohen – that have made it possible at least to formulate that question in mathematically intelligible terms.READING THE TEXT some ineffable realm beyond the furthest bounds of rational thought. Thus if thinkers all the way from Aristotle to Hegel denied the very possibility of a ‘completed’ or ‘positive’ infinite – if they deemed it an outright affront to reason insofar as it engendered all manner of paradox or (as they supposed) unresolvable aporia – then undoubtedly they had good commonsense-intuitive warrant. since ‘what it proposes is the vertigo of an infinity of infinities indistinguishable within their common opposition to the finite’ (pp. It is only with the advent of Cantor’s revolution that it becomes possible to think in such terms without giving way to that sense of vertigo. the question ‘What is an infinite multiplicity?’ is one that ‘has not yet been entirely dealt with today’.30 Moreover. or to conceive how those various orders or ‘sizes’ of infinity must none the less be counted numerically equal as regards their single most salient defining characteristic. even though they were wrong as a 129 . besides abolishing the one-infinite. There is the same periodically recurrent sense of strain whenever set theory achieves some further significant stage of advance despite and against sizeable odds of conceptual or intuitive resistance. so he maintains. the sum-total of all those subsets included within it must likewise allow for this procedure even though intuition tells us that it must be reckoned far (indeed infinitely) greater than the set itself. and therefore that ‘[t]he ontologization of infinity. Such is Badiou’s main point at this stage: that there are ‘infinite multiples which can be differentiated from each other to infinity’.

most reliably knowledge-promoting or truth-conducive effect then this can only be a matter of such natural convergence on that which lends itself. naturally enough. second. marks the 130 . Since ‘an ordinal is thus a multiple of multiples which are themselves ordinals’. that is. This is also why he claims – again as it might seem absurdly – that ‘nature does not exist’. 133). to human cognitive or intellectual grasp. Mathematically speaking. in which case there is a strictly transitive relation between them and ‘everything which belongs to it is also included in it’ (p. In this respect it involves the collapse of that crucial distinction between belonging and inclusion which. Hence his leading theme in this section: that wherever the appeal to nature is pressed hardest or assumed to carry greatest intuitive weight one is likely to find a deep-laid resistance to precisely the kind of challenge represented by a thinking beyond the furthest limits of currently accredited truth. It is just this kind of emptily circular or self-confirmatory mindset that Badiou sets out to challenge by bringing its claims – its presumptive self-evidence – flat up against the range of conceptual resources available to thinkers who have followed the development and absorbed the implications of modern set theory. there is a perfectly natural (though not for that reason valid or rationally justified) assumption that when reason is exercised to optimal. because it is the very concept of Nature’ (p. for Badiou.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT matter of objective or mathematically demonstrable truth. third and so on – that ideas of nature and the natural can be felt to exert their strongest and thus their most actively misleading force. it is in the realm of the ordinals – the ‘placing’ numbers: first. 133). This follows from the basic principle (of which Badiou offers a brief formal proof ‘just for fun’) that every multiple belonging to an ordinal will itself also be an ordinal. we are entitled to deduce that ‘[t]his concept literally provides the backbone of all ontology. at least in any sense of ‘exist’ that would measure up remotely to the set-theoretical conception of being in its infinitely multiple (and multiply infinite) modes of existence. Badiou’s point here is that the claims of intuitive self-evidence have very often gone along with the appeal to nature as a joint guarantee of those underlying laws – or at any rate constant conjunctions – that are taken to supply the needful link between processes of thought and physical events. That is to say.

properties or features of the natural world. conversely. the fact that they exist in a strictly homogeneous order of relationship one with another. for Badiou. but decidedly no further. discrepant or unaccountable. fictionalist. it is the presupposed ‘homogeneity of nature’ that lends the ordinals their character of absolute. as lying forever beyond our utmost powers of cognitive grasp. invariant conformability to type and also. conventionalist. ontologically determinate state of affairs comes up against that which exceeds its grasp and can hence register only as anomalous. is such as to give them a unique degree of ontological purchase on certain aspects.READING THE TEXT crisis-point where established structures of whatever kind – from the mathematical and natural-scientific to the socio-political and cultural – come most visibly under strain. Where the limiting condition comes in is once again with Badiou’s insistence on distinguishing sharply between the realms of being and event. it is the means whereby thinking can legitimately claim to comprehend those regions of natural (including natural-scientific) reality that would otherwise have to be considered. in Kantian fashion. that aspect of their character which renders nature sufficiently consistent – or homogeneous – for the purposes of rational thought.31 To this extent. Thus the nature of the ordinals.32 Rather. the distinction falls between ontology (which thereby regains its status as first philosophy) and the realm of events where the writ of previous ontological commitments ceases to run even though – or just because – it is here alone that such commitments undergo their most decisive challenges and transformations. constructivist or intuitionist thought is the thesis that certain eminent features of the mathematical domain – such as the transitivity of ordinals – provide the only adequate basis or starting-point for any ontological enquiry. Thus he utterly repudiates Kant’s famous turn – his self-ascribed ‘Copernican revolution’ – from ontology to epistemology. However it is also such as to preclude their having any role in the transformative process whereby some existing. or ontology and that which eludes or transcends any mode of ontological specification. What Badiou thus asserts against the massed schools of formalist. along with the phenomenal/noumenal dualism and all the subsequent (as Badiou thinks them) confused and misbegotten philosophical endeavours to which that dualism has given rise. In other words. 131 .

133). civic. For if one takes it that ‘Nature belongs to itself’ – if the conception of nature is precisely that of a realm wherein consistency rules to the effect of excluding or discounting whatever fails so to belong – then one will also take his point that this idea of the natural is prone to certain kinds of abusive extrapolation. That is. ‘If you say that a multiple is an ordinal – a transitive set of transitive sets – this is an absolute determination. or some strictly supernumerary element arrive to exert its force at just the critical point – or evental site – where this state comes up against the void in the form of that which finds no proper or legitimate place in the dominant count-as-one. throughout the entirety of natural multiples. find their prototypical manifestation in the sequence of ordinals conceived as corresponding to the structure of ‘natural’ reality.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT That such events can never be predicted or allowed for in advance – that they always arrive with the shock of the new – is precisely what places them beyond the reach of any going ontological scheme. can hence be defined as that which imposes limits on the range and scope of what is counted fit for presentation (as opposed to what presents itself without being recognized as such) under this or that prevalent conceptual. ‘Natural consistency – to speak like Heidegger – is the “holding sway”. It is also what sets them in a realm quite apart from that of the ‘natural multiples’ or those which. socio-political or ethnic community from a notion of the properly or naturally belonging-together with its ultimate source. indifferent to the situation in which the multiple is presented’ (p. it excludes the very possibility that some event might intervene to disrupt and transform the existing situation. So there are. or the natural. in a refusal of thought to stretch itself around the kinds of challenge presented by whatever exceeds or transcends its naturalized (intuitive) powers of conceptual grasp. according to Badiou. on his account. 134). some large and politically as well as philosophically crucial issues bound up with the question of how thought is able to negotiate this fraught passage from finite to infinite orders of reckoning. Nature. Among them is that which more-or-less surreptitiously derives a notion of cultural. One is the issue that Galileo bequeathed to the modern physical sciences when he famously 132 . so Badiou maintains. juridical or socio-political order. of the original Idea of multiple-presentation that is belonging’ (p.

Thus it is clear that when Badiou cites Galileo’s dictum it is neither with a view to denying the pre-eminence of mathematics as a means of intellectual advancement in and beyond its own specialist sphere nor with the aim of turning it around so as to maintain that such advances are restricted to the scope and limits of what is linguistically expressible (hence conceptually achievable) at this or that time. by closing Meditation Twelve with a section entitled ‘Nature Does Not Exist’ and by asserting in the course of it that ‘nature has no sayable being’. For it is just this naturalizing tendency of ‘natural’ language that Badiou regards as having always exerted – nowadays (alas) with the encouragement and blessing of large sections of the intellectual community – a conformist or downright soporific influence whose source is the idea that thought cannot possibly (intelligibly) claim to break with the informing values and beliefs of its own cultural community. involving as it does an unqualified commitment to the twin precepts (1) that truth always might and often does transcend the limits of present knowledge. Wittgensteinian or strongsociological – that would reverse the terms of this statement and assert that mathematical and scientific truths must themselves be conceived as dependent upon. As should hardly need saying by now. truth-conducive 133 . constructivist. is the single-most effective and powerful means of detecting. so far from being in any sense beholden to natural language. and (2) that knowledge – especially mathematical knowledge – can itself go beyond what is capable of being expressed in any natural or even any formally refined or regimented language. he is absolutely firm in maintaining that the language of mathematics. postmodernist.READING THE TEXT declared that the book of nature was ‘written in the language of mathematics’. So it will scarcely be supposed that. Such notions are altogether alien to Badiou’s thought. Badiou is very far from adopting the fashionable line – whether antirealist. Badiou means to say that modern (post-Galilean) science has all along been subject to a false or delusory idea of its own truth-telling.33 On the contrary. or as intelligible only in the context of. opposing and potentially transcending the kinds of commonsense-intuitive illusion fostered by any such bottom-line linguistic ground of appeal. conventions or ‘forms of life’. some given natural ‘language’ and its associated range of background beliefs.

. despite its designation of God as infinite. he writes. ontologically farther-reaching since thoroughly secularized mode of set-theoretic thought. What most clearly marks the border between these domains – the point of transition to a set-theoretical (hence operative) concept of infinity – is a drastic change in the presuppositions governing the conduct of enquiry not only in logic. . At this stage. does not immediately and radically rupture with Greek finitism’ (p. then that basic Galilean assumption cannot outlive the classical paradigm where the infinite figured only in a virtual or limit-point role and not – as it would after Cantor – in that of a well-defined and fully operational if still. Thus. It is in this sense. . if ‘the set of all the ordinals .e. defines. and could not be admitted as existent within the frame of ontology . the ontological substructure of nature’. such as the ‘natural’ order of relationship between number and the structures of physical reality. . Henceforth it will have to make do without certain (as they once seemed) solid and reliable props. paradoxical or counter-intuitive concept. 142). set-theoretical) developments have moved decisively beyond what Galileo conceived as the natural order of relationship between mathematics and the physical world. with every new advance. that ‘Christian monotheism. Badiou remarks that Christianity has always been closely tied up with ideas of the infinite. And again. Badiou writes. There are only some natural beings’ (p. mathematics and the formal sciences but also in other disciplines of thought ranging from physics to theology. With regard to the latter. ‘sizes’ or cardinalities thereof it finds itself on radically new conceptual ground. in the framework of the Ideas of the multiple. ‘a new theorem of ontology declares that such a set [that of the ordinals] is not compatible with the axioms of the multiple. where thinking goes beyond the idea of a limit-point ordinal to conceive the existence not only of a positive (genuine) infinity but of multiple orders. . while at the same time – and for just that reason – enjoying a massively extended scope of ontological-investigative thought. That is to say. if ‘the infinite God of medieval 134 . though an infinite conceived in terms that precluded – and came under powerful challenge from – the other.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT or at any rate truth-approximative power. 140). Still his reference to Galileo on the ‘book of nature’ does carry a certain force of limiting judgement insofar as it points to the specific respect in which modern (i.

as Badiou says. 143). 143). This is why. 143). and by the same token to redeploy all these newfound ontological resources in a project of thought that has chiefly to do with mathematics and the natural sciences. Indeed one could say – although Badiou doesn’t put it in quite these terms – that there exists a precisely inverse relation between the process of conceptual boundary-marking by which theology has sought to tame the otherwise exorbitant resources of infinity and the opening-up of new. if you like. When this conception finally enters the scene it has two decisive effects: to decouple the infinite (i. 143). qua being. post-Cantorian conception.READING THE TEXT Christianity is. [he] also had to change proofs as to the existence of God’ (p. 143). the infinitely multiple orders of infinity) once and for all from any such metaphysical or supra-mundane grounding. 135 . since the reasoned observation of the latter furnishes us with proof of His existence’ (p. ever more expansive ontological terrain that has come about through the advent of set theory. ‘we should note that when [Descartes] was on the point of recognizing the infinity of created Nature itself. Thus ‘[t]he thesis of the infinity of being is necessarily post-Christian. ‘[t]he effective infinity of being cannot be recognized according to the unique metaphysical punctuality of the substantial infinity of a supreme being’ (p. Even so. post-Galilean’ (p. On the one hand. Descartes had to abandon the idea of God as ‘immobile supreme mover’ whose being was defined in contradistinction to the changeable. timebound. It is also why the set-theoretical revolution in thinking about these issues could take place – or be carried through to a stage beyond Cantor’s residual craving for some kind of crypto-theological warrant – only with the advent of a thoroughly secularized conception of infinity. finite realm of merely natural or physical existence and in stead resorted to a mode of argument that placed God in a transcendental realm altogether outside and beyond such modes of analogical thinking. or.e. under the effect of the Galileo event. ‘the radicality of any thesis on the infinite does not – paradoxically – concern God but rather Nature’ (p. essentially finite’ then surely this is why ‘there is no unbridgeable abyss between Him and created Nature. That is. And moreover. he suggests. this religiously inspired conception of the infinite remained tied to a restrictive ontology that still closed off any prospect of advance towards the modern.

After all. then it is still possible to conceive this universe as an accomplishment of the being-existent of the one’ (p. given both its dubious theological associations and the insoluble (or so it seemed at that time) mathematical and philosophic problems to which it gave rise. like Pascal. Indeed Badiou makes just this point later on (in Meditation Twenty-six) when he remarks that Galileo.34 Also there is the prominent strain in French philosophy and history of science that takes a lead from Alexander Koyré’s widely influential account of Galileo as the thinker who. how much more subversive of established beliefs – scientific as well as theological – would be any thought of the infinite that went beyond that metaphysically governed conception to raise the possibility of multiple infinities or an infinite multiplicity. more than anyone. since the series of natural numbers was infinite and the series of even number likewise infinite – since they could be placed in a one-for-one correspondence 136 . 144). albeit obscurely. then it has none the less worked strongly upon thinkers from Plato down who have had only partial success in avoiding its powerful.35 However Badiou’s point is neither to deny Galileo’s centrality to the history of early modern science nor to reject that particular claim when properly understood. So far from devaluing the Galilean achievement this also allows us to see that he recognized. seductive as well as threatening force. Thus: ‘[i]f the infinity of Nature solely designates the infinity of the world or the “infinite universe” in which Koyré saw the modern rupture.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT These two propositions fly so directly in the face of widespread modern philosophical and scientific-historical belief that they clearly require further comment here. Or again. opened the way to a conception of the universe as – in a certain sense – infinite or unbounded. there is a strong supposition (which Badiou would himself scarcely wish to deny) that Galileo stood up with considerable courage for the heliocentric hypothesis – whatever his short-term accommodating tactics when confronted with the threat of religious persecution – and that his stated refusal to have any truck with talk of the infinite was perfectly understandable. If it is true to say – as Badiou does in this Galilean context – that the question ‘has not yet been entirely dealt with today’. was acutely aware of such logic-wrenching paradoxes as the fact that ‘adding’ some finite quantity to an infinite quantity makes no numerical or quantitative difference to the latter.

Since the infinite multiple stands by definition 137 . from which follows the necessity ‘that it be presented “elsewhere”. or that the scandal of the infinite – of a part that must somehow be conceived as equal to the whole – could in fact serve as its very definition or distinguishing mark. In the case of the infinite multiple – involving as it does just such a movement-beyond – ‘the rule will not present this multiple. to grapple with the paradoxes of infinity. When confronted with that dilemma. thus requiring that such ‘evental’ innovations occur very often despite or against their discoverers’ intent. metaphysically constrained habits of belief and thereby assume more radical forms than anything consciously or willingly envisaged by its various proponents. consistent. Galileo ‘quite wisely concluded . once it takes hold. What transpires at such moments is something that cannot be accounted for by any appeal to rules. has an inbuilt tendency to break through the limits imposed upon it by established.READING THE TEXT ad infinitum – then it would seem (clean against the witness not only of commonsense-intuitive but also of a strongly held logical conviction) that the two series must be equinumerous. At every stage – so Badiou maintains – there is a double and contradictory movement whereby the emergence of new. However Badiou’s point here is to stress the dialectical process of thought by which the idea of infinity. . since it is by failing to completely traverse it that the rule qualifies it as infinite’. research-programmes or established procedures since it consists precisely in the movement beyond what had hitherto specified a valid. methods. . as the place of the rule’s impotence’ (p. This verdict would be countermanded only with Cantor’s realization that the paradox could be turned into a concept. more radically challenging conceptions goes along with the inertial force of received ideas. or that infinite totalities were not quantities’ (p. Badiou acknowledges. 266). We have seen already how Cantor exhibited a reluctance to press right through with the implications of his own discovery and a proneness to fall back into more secure. Thus the history of set-theoretical enquiry is one that carries on that same dialectic of co-implicated insight and blindness which had marked earlier attempts. 147). that the notions of “more” and “less” were not pertinent to infinity. in his case cryptotheological modes of thought so as to keep those implications at least temporarily at bay. knowledge-conducive or scientifically acceptable way of conducting enquiry. from Aristotle down.

‘the multiple subtracted from the rule. ontologically modest modes of thought which eschew the risks but also the rewards of engaging such issues at the limits of current mathematical or mathematico-philosophical grasp. would interrupt its exercise. challenging and often problematical cases for discussion and the analytic fondness for five-fingerexercise instances (such as that of elementary addition or continuing the sequence ‘n + 2’) which may be thought to throw up interesting issues about truth. 147). logic and the formal sciences tends to focus on a handful of topics – like the rule-following ‘paradox’ or the question whether truth in mathematics can be thought of as potentially transcending the limits of human epistemic grasp – which are likelier to engage the interest of philosophers than that of working mathematicians. one aspect of Badiou’s work that has probably antagonized those few analytical philosophers willing to give it a glance is his somewhat disdainful attitude towards those ‘minor’. just as the mathematicians he most admires stand out from the rest on account of their intellectual creativity and speculative 138 . Rule-following and the axiom of choice Clearly there is a sense which Badiou’s way of raising this issue brings his thought within reach of the Wittgenstein-inspired debate around rule-following that has generated a vast bulk of commentary among analytic philosophers over the past three decades. 5.37 Moreover this difference is reflected in the sharp contrast between Badiou’s choice of complex. Hence his very different approach to the rule-following issue. if reached by the rule. Indeed. such a rule could neither produce nor encompass such a multiple. This ‘other’ of finite reckoning is thus. knowledge and sceptical doubt but which hardly require any great stretch of mathematical intelligence or (even less) intellectual creativity. everything short of infinity – therefore. according to Badiou. unadventurous.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT on the far side of that domain traversed by any rule with application to numbers or quantities up to and including the limit-ordinal – that is to say. again by definition.36 However his approach contrasts sharply with theirs insofar as analytic philosophy of mathematics. one that stands in marked contrast to the set-piece agenda and the narrowly professionalized ethos of mainstream analytic philosophy. and it is also what. It is clearly in the position of limit for the rule’ (p.

a commitment to explore possibilities of thought beyond those restricted. in its basic form. limit-point notions of the infinite. yet is none the less strictly indispensable since it provides set theory with its basic working concept of well-orderedness. To which his response – borne out by the detailed working-through of some crucial axiomaticdeductive chains of argument and proof-procedures – is that this requires a choice or decision on the thinker’s part. where ‘[b]y “means” we understand methods via which infinity would occur within the thinkable without the mediation of the one’ (p. In essence it is the question ‘What are the means of thought for rendering effective the thesis “there exists an infinity of presentation”?’. it involves a willingness to leave the safe ground of calculable method or reliable procedure and venture into regions of conceptual terra incognita that offer scant purchase for well-established forms of valid reasoning. Badiou writes. that issue has to do with a ‘dialectic of the “already” and the “still-more”’. ‘is the ontological scheme of intervention (+) but without the event 139 . 146). as Badiou is at pains to show. What the axiom entails. It plays a crucial role in Badiou’s thought for two main reasons: that it is ‘illegal’ in the sense of not being provable by any rigorous formal procedure. On the contrary.READING THE TEXT range. a dialectic that has taken in all the most significant episodes in Western thinking about the one and the many from Plato down. is that for any given set α there exists another set β which includes a single representative from each element or subset of α. or ontology and that which exceeds the grasp of any consistent ontological account.38 All the same this stress on the element of choice – on the fact that even the most rigorous and consequent formal procedures will at some point require an optative rather than a strictly requisite formal operation – should not for one moment be confused with any kind of irrationalist or (in the usual sense of that term) decisionist approach to these matters. let alone for intuitive grounds of the sort that have long been rendered suspect by the progress of mathematical thought. Thus it captures precisely what he seeks to reveal as the radical dichotomy of being and event. As he sees it. it is only by means of some highly complex and demanding formal-demonstrative procedures that mathematicians arrived at the point of formulating the ‘axiom of choice’ in such a way as to specify this ultimate limit to the compass of deductive or strict probative warrant. ‘This axiom’. That is to say.


(+); it is the being of in tervention which is at stake, not its act’ (p. 500). In keeping with his subtractive conception it marks a point of conflict, conceptual tension or inconsistency within the presently existing ontological schema, and hence perhaps the site of some imminent transformative event though only as a matter of so-far unactualized and therefore as yet unspecific or conceptually indeterminate possibility.39 Badiou remarks that the axiom was – and remains – unacceptable or highly problematic to some on account of its seeming to admit an element of irrationality at the heart of mathematical thought. However, this is more a sign of their conservative (if quite understandable) desire to preserve the claims of objectivity and truth, classically conceived, than of their actually applying or maintaining such superior standards in the face of some threatened collapse. For it is just Badiou’s point in working through these issues that the axiom of choice emerged by way of response to foundational problems in the edifice of modern mathematics and logic which imposed themselves with the strictest necessity and not (as regards the requirement to decide one way or the other) as itself a matter of choice. This is mainly because there turned out to be certain basic assumptions – chief among them that which supposed the real numbers to be well-ordered – that were taken as axioms only on the strength of their seeming self-evidence to reason and their absolute indispensability to other, likewise (though derivatively) taken-for-granted truths. Thus the axiom of choice is an exemplary case of what Badiou puts forward as the single most decisive criterion of truth in mathematics and elsewhere. To repeat, it is the procedure by which an initial venturing beyond the domain of presently attainable knowledge – in this sense only, a ‘leap of faith’ – is later borne out or its validity confirmed by the extent of its truth-conferring potential or knowledge-conducive power. No doubt it will be said – with some justice – that Badiou’s emphasis on the axiom of choice and its implications for our thinking about the nature of mathematical truth has much to do with other leading themes of his work. Chief among them is his focus on the epochal event, whether in mathematics, politics, the physical sciences or the arts as that which likewise eludes any means of prior specification or any possible technique for predicting its future occurrence. Along with this goes Badiou’s distinctive idea of fidelity as an attribute manifest in the conduct of those – whether


mathematicians, political activists, creative artists, philosophers or others – who qualify as ‘militants for truth’ in virtue of their willingness to stake all on a commitment to that which exceeds their own or anyone’s else present-best powers of proof or ascertainment. On both counts he might be expected to show a special interest in and attraction to the idea that elements of choice or decision have a strictly ineliminable role to play in even the most rigorously formalized areas of mathematical thought. Indeed it provides an answer – albeit a mathematically as well as philosophically heterodox answer – to this necessity of finding some means of articulation between the otherwise totally disjunct realms of being and event, or that which belongs to the order of received (ontologically established) truths and that which can only figure as anomalous or strictly off-limits by any such standard. Hence the sharpness of Badiou’s focus on the movement or decisive moment of thought that led from a variety of vague, ill-defined or approximative notions of infinity to one that for the first time – in Cantor’s work – managed to produce a specification of the infinite that allowed for its taking-up into the history of operative (i.e. truth-apt) rather than merely suggestive mathematical concepts. Meditation Fourteen continues with the process of demonstrating how that concept underwent a succession of refinements, elaborations and radical re-statements which brought about its passage from the thesis ‘God is infinite’, to ‘nature is infinite’ and thence to the thesis ‘there exist infinitely multiple orders of infinity’. This involves a fair amount of detailed exegetical treatment aimed towards establishing the sequence of increasingly venturesome hypotheses leading on to increasingly rigorous proof-procedures by means of which that passage was accomplished. Thus the sequence moves – in brief – from the notion of infinity as an endless series of successor ordinals to the idea of a limit-ordinal marking the inception of whatever lies beyond that series, and from there to a full-fledged (set-theoretical) grasp of the infinite as that to which the finite stands as a special or limiting case, rather than the other way around. The first of these moves occurs with the recognition of a ‘qualitative discontinuity in the homogeneous substructure of natural multiples’, that is, the conceptual rupture that occurs when thought comes up against the classical paradoxes concerning the one and the many discovered by philosophers and mathematicians from ancient Greek times to the present. At this


stage it becomes possible to stake a ‘wager of infinity’, a speculative venture that exceeds any presently available method of proof but which none the less sets terms in advance for what will in due course come to offer the basis for just such a proof, largely or wholly in consequence of just such a wager. Where the discontinuity appears is through the fact that successor ordinals are ‘determined on the basis of the unique ordinal which they succeed’, whereas limit ordinals, ‘being the very place of succession, can only be indicated beyond a “finished” sequence – though unfinishable according to the rule – of ordinals previously passed through’ (p. 155). I don’t have space for an adequate account of the reasoning (much of it symbolically notated for the sake of formal concision) by which Badiou leads us up to this point, let alone for a sizable digression – rewarding though that might be – on how his address to the rule-following issue might let some fresh intellectual air into current analytic debate.40 Sufficient to say that these densely argued pages of his book proceed through a kind of via negativa, or by gradually homing in on the post-Cantorian concept of infinity by working through those earlier ideas that can each be shown to have encountered its limit at a certain stage in the ongoing process of elaboration and critique. Thus the statement ‘there exists a limit ordinal’ is the second most basic axiom (or existential assertion) that can be shown to constitute a point of departure for all further mathematical thought. The first and most fundamental – to repeat – is that which asserts the existence of the void as the non-one that inhabits every count-as-one, or the point of ‘subtraction’ from any such count that marks the ‘wandering’ elements presented but not represented within it, and hence its failure to secure a correspondence between belonging and inclusion. The concept of the limit ordinal follows through a simple procedure of recursive reasoning whereby thought envisages the possibility of an ‘endless repetition’, or a ‘still-one-more’, which none the less leads – as the next stage in this dialectical progress – to ‘the recognition of a place which is also a beyond’. Here again Badiou invokes Mallarmé as the poet who most strikingly managed to convey this intersection of the finite and that which thinking is driven to conceive as surpassing the finite without, in the process, annulling or negating its limits. So the concept of the limit ordinal is one of those signal stages in the development of mathematical thought that can be seen to fall


short of its ultimate aim as revealed by the subsequent course of discovery – that is, with the advent of a set-theoretically defined concept of infinity – and yet to have performed (and still to perform, for anyone thinking their way through these issues) a decisive role in that development. For it is precisely through bumping up against the problems, puzzles and perplexities engendered by some partial state of knowledge – some limited advance which goes just so far as to expose them – that thinking is impelled to press further along the dialectical path thereby opened up. Thus at this stage ‘we have not yet defined infinity’, at least in any sense remotely adequate to its present-day set-theoretical usage. Indeed it is just that sense of a shortfall or state of impasse in our present-best powers of conceptual grasp which itself gives rise to a movement of thought onto new and as yet unmapped mathematical terrain. A limit ordinal exists; that much is given. Even so, we cannot make the concept of infinity and that of a limit ordinal coincide; consequently, nor can we identify the concept of finitude with that of a successor ordinal. If α is a limit ordinal, then S(α), its successor, is ‘larger’ than it, since α ∈ S(α). This finite successor – if we pose the equation successor = finite – would therefore be larger than its infinite predecessor – if we pose that limit = infinite – however, this is unacceptable for thought, and it suppresses the irreversibility of the ‘passage to infinity’. (p. 157) From here on the course of Badiou’s exposition takes him through the various stages by which the old supposition (that infinity should figure as a deeply problematic and suspect addendum to the normal resources of a finite mathematics) gave way to its opposite (that the finite was in truth just a vanishingly small sub-region of the worlds upon worlds of conceptual space opened up to thought by an operative grasp of the infinite).
6. Hegel: how not to think about the infinite

At this point Badiou takes another strategically placed excursion through the work of a thinker whose ideas have enough in common with his own but are also sufficiently at variance with them to create a rewarding dialectical encounter. With Hegel it is a question of philosophic reasoning pressed up against the limit of its own conceptual resources in the attempt to think its way


through and beyond the aporias engendered by reflection on the infinite. What adds to the interest, even (for Badiou) the peculiar piquancy of Hegel’s case is the fact that this thinker went out of his way to devalue or disparage mathematics as a discipline capable of finding out only such trivial since merely formal and content-less truths as belonged to its own, narrowly technical sphere.41 Thus mathematics was, he thought, intrinsically devoid of that world-disclosive and humanly revealing dimension that philosophy was able to provide through its grand-scale phenomenological project of thinking-back into the whole vast succession of world-historical creeds, cultures, political systems, intellectual developments and artistic forms or genres. On Hegel’s account this was owing to the abstract or purely ratiocinative nature of mathematical thought, that is to say, its taking place in a realm at the greatest possible remove from those vivid actualities of human experience – all the way from ‘primitive sense-certainty’ to the highest forms of artistic expression or philosophical articulation – that made up the well-stocked narrative vista of his Phenomenology of Mind.42 In short, Hegel offers a striking case-in-point of that deep-laid prejudice that Badiou is always quick to denounce: the idea of mathematics as a ‘dry’ subject or a discipline inherently deficient in the kinds of creative or inventive resourcefulness that characterize the arts or humanities. Indeed, some of Badiou’s most eloquent passages have to do with the sheer proliferation of axioms, theorems, hypotheses, conjectures and suchlike ventures into new-found land – along with the equally innovative proof-procedures that were later devised by way of securing the conceptual terrain thereby opened up – that constitutes the history of mathematics, especially in Cantor’s wake. So one can see well enough why Badiou should be intrigued by the chapter of Hegel’s Science of Logic devoted to the theme of ‘quantitative infinity’, and especially by the passage – taking the form of a ‘gigantic “remark”’ – wherein Hegel ‘proposes to establish that mathematics, in comparison to the concept, represents a state of thought which is “defective in and for-itself ”, and that its “procedure is non-scientific”’ (p. 161). The term ‘concept’ – in Hegel’s philosophic parlance – should be taken to signify not just (as per its commonplace usage) an intellectual, mental or ideational component with its duly assigned place in some system of intelligible


thoughts or representations but rather a momentarily captured phase in that complex, dynamic, constantly evolving relationship of subject and object whose progress to date is his central theme in the Phenomenology and elsewhere. Moreover it is in and through the agency of the concept, thus understood, that Hegel claims to demonstrate the various dialectically interlinked stages that consciousness must be supposed to have achieved en route to its final destination of Absolute Knowledge. Thus by excluding mathematics – especially where it touches on the theme of infinite quantity – from the realm of the concept Hegel would appear to have two purposes in mind. One is to keep its more threatening, that is, conceptually non-subsumable aspects at bay while the other is to ensure that philosophy is kept safely ensconced within a sphere of constant dialectical selfovercoming where the history of Mind can be written from the standpoint of an all-encompassing retrospect.43 This requires that it be passed in synoptic review as having moved through successively identifiable stages of primitive sense-certainty (or un-self-consciousness), dawning self-knowledge, deepening selfconsciousness, emergent self-division and prospective reconciliation between subject and object or mind and reality when the self will at last make good its claim to transcend all such vexing antinomies. Hence Badiou’s assertion that Hegel ‘does not cease to inscribe in-difference toward the Other’, and that the annulment of difference – for which read also ‘multiplicity’ and ‘positive infinity’ – within Hegel’s system is always achieved by making sure in advance that consciousness will have the dialectical resources to amortize any residue of that which resists such recuperative treatment. ‘All of Hegel’, he writes, ‘can be found in the following: the “still-more” is immanent to the “already”: everything that is, is already “still-more”’ (p. 162). And again, ‘Hegel, with a special genius, set out to co-engender the finite and the infinite on the basis of the point of being alone. Infinity becomes an internal reason of the finite itself, a simple attribute of experience in general, because it is a consequence of the regime of the one . . . . Being has to be infinite’ (pp. 163–4). Thus a chief consequence of Hegel’s refusal to accord mathematics the dignity of conceptual thought – that is, his confinement of it to the realm of mere formal or mechanical technique – is the way that his system is able to deflect or simply not register anything

so Badiou argues. in the process of self-assured dialectical 146 . That is to say. the outcome is to make it inconceivable. More specifically. To be sure. this claim is undermined by the fact that Hegel’s notion of the ‘good’ infinity not only bears a curiously close resemblance to the ‘bad’.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT that might place an obstacle in the way of its preordained dialectical progress.44 Such a ‘boring’ conception of infinity is just what Hegel purports to overcome – or dialectically transcend – through the calling of thought to a ‘higher duty’. 164). However. in the case of the bad infinity. if the ‘bad infinity is bad due to the very same thing which makes it good in Hegelian terms’. then surely one has to conclude that the good infinity likewise suffers from that ‘limited or finite’ character which. that the Other come forth’ (p. by the still-more of this already that is determinateness’ (p. namely that ‘it does not break the ontological immanence of the one’. less self-assured or restrictive conception when he famously refers to the ‘bad infinity’ that thought engenders when subject to a ‘law of repetition’ which merely involves the reiterated instancing of ‘n + 1’ or some kindred formula applied in the absence of any determinate or specified halting-point. ‘originates in its being solely defined locally. local to global. Thus in truth there is a sense – one that Hegel’s text does its best to suppress but which emerges to view through a symptomatic reading of the kind here essayed by Badiou – in which the ‘bad infinity’ can be seen to subvert the claims advanced on behalf of its ‘good’ counterpart. In other words the supposedly decisive passage from bad to good. but also counts as ‘good’ on his own submission for precisely that reason. quantity to quality or finite to (properly) infinite is a passage that must rather be seen to ‘impose a disjunctive decision in which the being of the one will falter’. From a certain point of view – that expressly taken by Hegel and his fideist interpreters – it is fair to say that ‘[t]he Hegelian artifice is at its apogee here’. in terms of that system. that infinity could ever confront thinking with a real (as opposed to merely notional or temporary) challenge to its sovereign re-integrative power. 165). in short. Hegel himself seems in quest of a more radical. that it remains within the compass of a dialectical schema that is always guaranteed (by its own lights) to restore the sovereignty of reason. or that ‘the law of repetition be globally affirmed. a requirement that ‘the passing-beyond be passed beyond’.

that where such enquiry is pursued beyond 147 . What Hegel attempts is a form of dialectical Aufhebung – a process of conflict-resolution combined with the movement of transcendence to a higher. of the infinite properly conceived as by the very definition exceeding every limit imposed by the dominant count-as-one. or the quantitative into the qualitative mode of infinity. From another. 170). more advanced stage of understanding – that would finally transform the bad into the good. that is. No matter how ‘heroic’ the attempt. more sceptical or critical viewpoint it is at just this point that the Hegelian system breaks down on its failure to contain. 169). ‘it is interrupted de facto by the exteriority itself of the pure multiple’ (p. Thus Hegel is a prime example of the need. to read the cardinal works of philosophy in such a way as to balance respect for their argumentative purpose with a critical focus on those symptomatic passages that reveal the presence of conceptual strains unacknowledged by the text as likewise by its more fideist or orthodox commentators. ‘In wishing to maintain the continuity of the dialectic right through the very chicanes of the pure multiple. following from this. Among them is the truth that mathematics takes priority in matters of ontological enquiry and. that is.READING THE TEXT sublation by which that passage from lower to higher is purportedly achieved. subsume or comprehend that which belongs to the realm of sheer multiplicity. Hegel is constrained by the logic of his own argument – as soon as it touches on the deeply problematic and paradox-engendering topic of infinity – to bear involuntary witness to certain truths that find no place in his express philosophical creed. Hegel cannot rejoin infinity’ (p. Hegel ‘fails to intervene on number’ insofar as his conception of the good (qualitative) infinite can count as such. as an infinity in any meaningful or contentful sense of the term only on condition of its making a surreptitious appeal to that ‘still-more’ or ‘n + 1’ conception that typifies the bad infinite. Badiou concludes. as Badiou sees it. and to make the entirety proceed from the point of being alone. according to Badiou. Hegel’s highly spiritualized or sublimated idea of transcendence achieved through the qualitative overcoming of merely quantitative notions is itself overcome – shown up as a false or delusory idea – by the power of a rigorous conception of the infinite to break all the bounds imposed by this or that version (no matter how dialectically elastic) of the count-as-one. However.

religious. that is. ‘In quality. It is between the poles of this double aporia – this condition of a thinking brought up against the limit of its own conceptual resources – that Badiou locates the ‘real’ of Hegel’s philosophy. 168). and does so moreover with the purpose of resisting some of Hegel’s more coercive claims. These interpreters – often taking a lead from Georges Bataille – have focused chiefly on the Phenomenology of Mind with a view to subverting its more systematic (or authoritarian) claims and stressing those recalcitrant details. philosophical and so forth – could ever be subject to the kind of large-scale teleological or ‘totalizing’ grasp that would interpret its every last episode in terms of some quasi-providential unfolding of the Idea in its various world-historical manifestations. In quantity. what is repeated is that the other be that interior which has to cross its limit. cultural. dialectical or synthesizing grasp to the limit and beyond.45 Such readings typically reject any notion that history in its manifold aspects – political. least of all from a ‘meta-narrative’ perspective of 148 . contingent. what is repeated is that the same be that exterior which has to proliferate’ (p. As against that notion Hegel’s postmodern exegetes stress the way that history mocks any claim to reveal its ultimate intelligibility by throwing up a constant succession of random. to present a strongrevisionist or heterodox reading of Hegel’s work.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the stage of naïve or intuitive self-evidence then it cannot but engage with issues (like that of the infinite in its non-dialecticallysubsumable form) that challenge its very foundations. However it should also be said that he is far from endorsing any version of the facile postmodernist creed that offers nothing in place of those lost certitudes except a doleful or jubilant (according to taste) declaration that history has come to an end or no longer makes any kind of sense. artistic. Badiou may be said to belong to their company up to a point insofar as he likewise reads against the grain of Hegel’s explicit or professed intent. in various ways. unpredictable events which tax the best efforts of conceptual. implications or narrative events which cannot be straightforwardly subsumed under Hegel’s grand dialectical schema. the point of encounter with that which resists its utmost powers of dialectical assimilation. Badiou’s can thus be seen as the most recent in a series of French engagements with Hegel over the past six decades or so that have all purported.

Thus ‘[o]n the basis of the very same premises as Hegel. among them Louis Althusser and Pierre Macherey. issues concerning the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ infinite – rather than the opening onto questions of language (of hermeneutics. the aspect of Hegel’s thinking that alone gives adequate conceptual purchase for a critique of this kind is the opening onto issues in the realm of mathematics – that is to say.48 What Badiou retains from the structuralist ‘moment’ in French thought is its adherence to certain clearly formulated precepts of what Althusser termed (with a Marxist inflection) the domain of ‘theoretical practice’ together with its basically rationalist conviction – in sharp contract to current postmodernist ideas – that such practice cannot do without the 149 .47 Along with this – and from the same. eludes or obstructs a given project of thought while also in some sense representing its sole object or motivating interest.READING THE TEXT the sort exemplified by Hegel. broadly structuralist intellectual stable – goes that concept of the ‘real’ for which Badiou is mainly indebted to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. and which he puts to work (in his reading of Hegel and elsewhere) as a shorthand reference to whatever exceeds. 169).46 Where Badiou takes leave of these thinkers is chiefly by insisting that any attempt to go beyond Hegel must first have gone through the dialectical stages of his thought with the degree of tenacity and critical rigour required to understand where its limits occur and why they emerge at those particular points in its unfolding. Only by engaging Hegel through his treatment of such highly sensitive since always potentially system-disruptive topics can one hope to reveal those instructive stress-points through a ‘symptomatic’ reading of the sort that Badiou no doubt learned from an earlier generation of anti-Hegelian Marxist theoreticians. narrative or representation) such as tend to preoccupy Hegel’s postmodernist or all-out revisionist interpreters. Moreover. one must recognize that the repetition of the One in number cannot arise from the interiority of the negative’ (p. What the approach via mathematics achieves is an especial clarity of focus on just those crucial argumentative turns and resultant stress-points in Hegel’s system – like his notion of the mind’s ‘interiorizing’ power as a means of warding off any threat from the realm of unbridled numerical proliferation – that are merely ‘reinterpreted’ and rendered innocuous by the language-first account.

That is to say. and his decision to do so by ‘mak[ing] the entirety proceed from the point of being alone’ – can be seen to ‘make its return in the text itself’ as a symptomatic tension that no amount of conceptual finessing can resolve or assuage. quality and quantity. Thus despite its appeal to the Saussurean paradigm of language (la langue). is that fragile verbal footbridge thrown from one side to the other: “infinity”’ (p. This passage makes clear the distance between Badiou’s critical-rationalist conception of philosophy’s legitimate role and any version of the doctrine – whether Wittgensteinian. but tends rather to strengthen their hold through its own failure – or resolute refusal – to adopt a more critical or analytic stance. poststructuralist or Heideggerian-hermeneutic – which would confine that role to the provision of constant reminders à propos the 150 . as a model for the conduct of enquiry in manifold disciplines besides that of linguistics itself there is still a clear sense in which structuralism held out against the subsequent slide into a poststructuralist notion of language. Where it registers most pointedly is in the ‘split between two dialectics. its main task is to question and criticize false or unwarranted beliefs. 170). analogical or suasive power of language. so similar that the only thing which frees us from having to fathom the abyss of their twinhood.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT virtues of conceptual rigour and a due regard for the claims of system and method. discourse or textuality as going ‘all the way down’. synchronically conceived. and thus discover the paradox of their non-kindred nature. even (or especially) where these result from certain presuppositions ingrained in our habitual thinking through the suggestive. On the contrary. This opposition emerges to striking effect in his commentary on Hegel where Badiou notes how the ‘disjoining decision’ – Hegel’s wish to ‘maintain the continuity of the dialectic right through the very chicanes of the pure multiple’. it is a crucial tenet of Badiou’s undertaking – one which reveals the formative influence of certain structuralist as well as deeper-laid rationalist precepts – that thought is not passively or unresistingly subject to language as its ultimate horizon of intelligibility. Here again. one can see why Badiou comes out so emphatically against that strain of Wittgensteinian ‘ordinary-language’ philosophy that purports to release us from the various puzzles and perplexities induced through our proneness to ‘bewitchment by language’.

is that cardinal distinction between nature and the non-natural or 151 . History. as in earlier passages. those of mathematics and poetry? Is he justified in drawing this sharp distinction or does it result largely from his own preconceived set of philosophic and historical-cultural-political priorities? What is the relationship. and despite Part IV bearing the title ‘The Event: History and Ultra-One’. would regard not only as a forced relationship but as the sign of an egregious category-mistake or failure to respect the proper distinction between utterly disparate realms. Discussion points Why do you think Badiou makes such a cardinal point of contrasting the two ancient Greek ‘inaugurations’. analytic philosophers especially.READING THE TEXT ubiquity of language. along with the error of supposing that thought might exert a corrective or emancipatory effect despite and against the powers of linguistic bewitchment. belonging and membership. It brings us to a stage in the unfolding argument of Being and Event where Badiou has laid out his main philosophical and (most importantly) his chief mathematical terms of reference. he purports to move by a logical (not merely analogical) procedure of thought from the realm of mathematics to that of the various social and political structures that involve similarly diverse – though here always partial – modes of inclusion. between the way that various thinkers (from Aristotle to Hegel) have shied away from any conception of ‘positive infinity’ in the realm of mathematics and their attachment to a more-or-less conservative view of the social and political order? PART IV. His starting point. politics. evental site Part IV starts out by offering a precise specification of the terms for what many philosophers. as Badiou sees it. and can now move on to a consideration of how these bear on issues in the wider historical and socio-political domain. there is still some way to go in the exposition of set-theoretical themes before that bearing is made sufficiently clear for Badiou’s purpose. THE EVENT: HISTORY AND ULTRA-ONE 1. All the same. That is to say.

‘what are initially opposed to normal multiplicities (which are presented and represented) are singular multiplicities. They are multiples which belong to the situation without being included in the latter. for his purposes. 175). albeit briefly at this stage. among them being those between normal and abnormal. socio-political states. 174). how research into the causes and course of such events will typically show them to have taken rise within a site – a complex or overdetermined conjuncture of social and political circumstance – whereby they are placed ‘on the edge of the void’ and can be seen to constitute a multiple ‘made up exclusively of non-presented multiples’ (p. Indeed they are questions that are bound to arise in any domain – here following Hegel – where it is a matter of breaking with intuitive sense-certainty and exploring the capacity of reason to discover as-yet unknown and hitherto unknowable regions of conceptual space. situations. which are presented but not represented. In answer to the question ‘What is the abnormal?’ Badiou writes. that is. evental) occurrences and whatever can be annexed without remainder to the naturalized or normalized domain of the prevalent count-as-one – that Badiou mounts his case for a radical re-thinking of history and politics.e. At this stage. representation and presentation. there develops an exceptional – indeed wholly unique – state of affairs which has the effect of 152 . or element and subset. absolutely crucial and (as I have here sought to demonstrate) logically consequent series of proposals. as in the early phases of the French or Soviet Revolutions. It is on this basis – by proposing a rigorous distinction between the domain of strictly ‘singular’ (i. or – in Badiou’s pointedly innovative phrase – ‘states of the situation’.1 The dualism of the natural and anti-natural finds a number of parallels at this point of Badiou’s argument. they are elements but not subsets’ (p. Although these distinctions don’t map precisely or perfectly onto one another they do capture his general point: that a set-theoretically based ontology taking full advantage of recent (post-Cantorian) progress in the field has a fair claim to articulate the logic and the salient structural features of those other. From which he derives some highly contentious but. Thus he goes on to explain. member and part. belonging and inclusion.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT anti-natural which Badiou takes as the definitive mark of a thinking addressed to decisive questions in both domains.

what captures his attention is the way that such localized stress-points can intensify to the point where they take on a globally disruptive or full-scale system-subverting character. relieved only by periods of downright indifference to other people’s needs or desires. on Badiou’s account. It is during those exceptional (since up to now regrettably short-lived) periods of group agency inspired and directed by a shared sense of moral-political purpose that there also emerges the distinctive possibility of true revolutionary praxis. Above all.2 This group then succeeds. His thinking here has a good deal in common with Sartre’s more detailed description. more directly political writings. of how certain extreme pressures of circumstance (i. in the Critique of Dialectical Reason. that is.e. of looming catastrophe or legitimation-crisis among those who up to now formed the dominant class-fraction or ideological bloc.3 All the same it is a constant if muted refrain to his many remarks – especially in this present sequence of Meditations – about the emergence of singularities. of political acts and interventions likewise undertaken with a clear-eyed collective grasp of their aims and likely consequences. or evental sites and their power of resistance to established (de facto ‘legitimate’) socio-political structures and modes of representation. in formal disciplines such as mathematics and logic. Badiou has less to say on this topic in Being and Event than in some of his other. 153 . at least for a while. which Sartre takes to be marked chiefly by mutual hostility or reciprocal mistrust. in overcoming the usual state of human social relations. of social injustice and political exclusion) will sometimes – through the impact of some crucial triggering event – create the requisite conditions of emergence for a pre-revolutionary ‘group-in-fusion’. included and excluded.READING THE TEXT reversing or inverting the normal relation between centre and margin. ‘excrescences’. those who ‘count’ in sociopolitical terms and those whose presence (or whose bare existence) counts for nothing. What then occurs. whetherin the context of political situations. is a process of intensive and collective mobilization brought about by the emergent sense of common purpose among such hitherto excluded elements. or any field which typically moves through protracted phases of ‘normal’ development interspersed by shorter periods of pre-revolutionary crisis and consequent paradigm-change. together with a corresponding sense of breakdown.

After all. ‘as is shown . undergo a state normalization’ (p.e. he sees as providing a necessary focus or rallying point for the various dedicated groups – of whatever kind – that form in their historical wake. somewhat in contrast to these. However this is no more than a due recognition that events – and the sites from which they take rise – may undergo a great variety of subsequent fortunes. .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT However there are three main features that distinguish Badiou’s account of such episodes from the widely influential treatment to be found in Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Here again he is in agreement with Sartre. is Badiou’s clear-eyed recognition of the forces that have always been ranged against any such threatening mobilization of the socially excluded or politically oppressed. conversion experiences. commitments. . holdings-out against political pressure or orthodox scientific belief. In Badiou. that is. The second is the far greater stress he lays on those exemplary figures (or ‘militants’) whose life histories. in the end. some of which conserve and carry forward their progressive or liberating impulse while 154 . often brutal reverse. the process receives a less dramatic but equally sober description according to which it is ‘one of the profound characteristics of singularities’ that ‘they can always be normalized’. and so forth. This diagnosis goes along with Sartre’s description of that effect of ‘counter-finality’ that likewise tends to thwart even the best-laid revolutionary plans and which again most typically takes the form of an ironic. the often obstructive force of material circumstance and also the cumulative after-effects of past actions that have been deflected from and turned back against the agents’ original aim. in particular with those passages of Sartre’s Critique which analyse the way that praxis comes up against the thwarting and distorting effects of the ‘practico-inert’. any evental site can.4 One is of course that Badiou seeks to theorize the conditions of possibility for the occurrence of such transformative events through a set-theoretical investigation of the points at which some existing (whether social or scientific) ontology comes under paradigm-breaking strain from unexpected developments within or outside its home territory. or of inaugural events – such as those that spark a revolution – that they can always be drawn back into the ambit of non-singular (i. discoveries. The third. by socio-political history. 176). historically assimilated and politically no longer threatening) occurrences.

. Thus such an instance or condition of being-multiple may be said to ‘exist’ owing solely to the absence or determinate lack of some element whose presence would so radically subvert or transfigure the existing situation as to re-define the very terms of inclusion. Indeed. contra Heidegger. in the set-theoretically derived sense that Badiou assigns to this crucially loading-bearing neologism.READING THE TEXT others bring about a reversion to the status quo ante or a restraining effect that cancels or negates that impulse. This is why Badiou is so intent on maintaining the categorical distinction between on the one hand such basically normalizing concepts as nature. that is. it is just this aspect of contingency with respect to both their conditions of emergence and their likewise contingent (or non-preordained) legacy of positive or negative effects that most emphatically marks out genuine events from other episodes that might be counted ‘world-historical’ on a more conventional estimate. too normal. Moreover. 177). nature buries inconsistency and turns away from the void. Thus the appeal to some ideological surrogate or substitute for nature often serves as a means of deflecting. Thus ‘[i]t is solely in the point of history. socially normalized) concepts and categories that thought is deprived of its critical edge and rendered compliant with the dictates of received political wisdom. presentation and singularity. containing or (at the limit) forcibly suppressing whatever might challenge the established order of things. the representative precariousness of evental sites. ‘Compact excess of presence and the count. Here again. one can see the close affinity between Badiou’s thought and that phase of classic high structuralism – typified by Roland Barthes’ Mythologies – which 155 . Nature is too global.e. that it will be revealed. consistency. membership and belonging. . to open up the evental convocation of its being’ (p. on the other. or from the state’ (p. it is through the habit of reverting to ‘natural’ (i. 177). that being-multiple inconsists’ (p. 177). It is what he means by saying that ‘historicity is presentation at the punctual limits of its being’ and that. being ‘comes forth’ only ‘by way of historical localization . ‘Inconsists’. via the chance of a supplement. because something is subtracted from representation. representation and the ‘state’ conceived in onto-mathematical or onto-political terms and. taken as defining the realms of history and politics. such intrinsically resistant or inassimilable terms as event.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT aimed to contest the ideological self-images of the age by revealing how purely cultural constructions of meaning.7 Such times he labels ‘Thermidorean’ with reference to that month in the French Revolutionary Calendar when power and initiative slipped from the hands of the radical vanguard and events started to take a regressive or increasingly counter-revolutionary turn. in the Critique. If this notion already has its place reserved in the grand panorama of Hegel’s Phenomenology – a place somewhere in the regions of ‘unhappy consciousness’ and ‘romantic irony’ – then it is also very firmly located by Badiou in the zone of those regressive movements of thought that typically emerge at times of political setback or perceived defeat. of ‘totalization without a totalizer’ can best be seen in the light of this desire (as it were) to eat one’s dialectical cake but not swallow it whole. It is also why he insists that ‘historicity is a local criterion’ rather than claiming any large-scale. 177). thereby placing them in direct contrast to ‘the intrinsic stability of natural situations’ (p. Thus Sartre’s idea. Since then it has been applied in various similar contexts. or hang onto the useful sense-yielding kernel in Hegel’s thought while rejecting its more grandiose or universalist claims. encompassing or teleological significance such as Hegel notoriously took it to possess and more recent thinkers – Sartre among them – have mostly denied but very often been tempted to smuggle back under a range of more modest-sounding substitute terms. among them the post-structuralist revolt against structuralist ideas of system and method in the name of a henceforth infinitized play of subversive ‘signifying practice’.6 Badiou’s work stands in marked contrast to this and other reactive trends. as when Trotsky lambasted the ‘Thermidorean’ disaster of Stalin’s ascent to power in the 156 .5 It is for this reason chiefly that Badiou defines ‘historical’ situations as those in which ‘at least one evental site occurs’. culture-transcendent truths. value and belief were passed off as altogether natural or as belonging to an order of timeless. Indeed. that same ambivalence can be seen in yet more flagrantly self-compromising form when postmodernist gurus such as JeanFrançois Lyotard pronounce an end to the epoch of modernist ‘grand narratives – including that of Hegel – while delivering themselves of just such a narrative (and one with very definite designs on the reader) concerning that supposed epochal event. as Badiou would be quick to point out.

READING THE TEXT Soviet Union. then this can most aptly be expressed in mathematical terms to the effect that ‘one (at least) of the multiples that the situation counts and presents is a site. indeed a defining aspect of historical events that any verdicts purportedly derived from those events and couched in the ‘end-of-ideology’ mode are not merely premature but grossly misconceived. as the positive counterpart to that.9 They result from a failure to grasp the fact that the political significance of certain events cannot be evaluated simply as a function of their shortterm or even their long-term impact on the course of history to date. The same goes for modish schools of thought like post-structuralism and postmodernism which likewise bear witness to a widespread sense of disillusion with any form of philosophic or theoretical commitment that would lay claim to real – as opposed to merely notional – world-transformative power. Thus in reproaching the Nouveaux Philosophes and other such fashionable. physical and social sciences and the point of demarcation where events can be thought to exceed any limit hitherto established with respect to those ontological domains. in the privileged role it accords to mathematics as a means to establish both the groundwork of an ontology for the formal. For those events may turn out to possess a hitherto unrecognized potential. grass-roots as well as intellectual radicalism in post-1968 French society and culture. that is. 177). media-savvy intellectuals for having betrayed their calling he sees them very much as willing apologists for a Thermidorean political culture that has sold its revolutionary birthright for a mess of state-sponsored liberal-democratic pottage. an exemplary character that has so far counted for nothing with the arbiters of political ‘realism’ but which might yet serve as a motivating force or a uniquely powerful source of inspiration to those embarked upon later projects 157 .8 Where Badiou’s thought departs most sharply from theirs is in its steadfast rejection of the linguistic turn in whatever guise and. From which it follows also – as against those of a postmodernThermidorean or suchlike politically jaded persuasion – that contingency is so much an integral. which is to say it is such that none of its proper elements (the multiples from which it forms a one-multiple) are presented in the situation’ (p. or when Badiou puts it to use in describing the retreat from genuine. Thus if historicity is defined only by ‘local’ or contextspecific criteria.

flash up from the vantagepoint of later situations and acquire an altogether new significance. is always in some respects yet to be decided. And conversely. Thus Badiou has no truck with the claim of those postmodern historiographers – sceptics.10 Still less would he subscribe to the strong-revisionist/constructivist claim that past events are always and inevitably products of the interests. that is. so to speak. there are certain ‘great’ events according to the standard (i. That is.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT of revolutionary suggests how thinking might combine a due respect for the requirements of objective historical truth with a due sense of how historical events can. linguistic or wholesale narrative turn – there is absolutely no question of his lending support to the idea that interpretation goes ‘all the way down’. priorities or kinds of ideological parti pris brought to them by present-day historians. After all. a site is only “evental” insofar as it is retroactively qualified as such by the occurrence of an event’ (p. non-dogmatic yet none the less rigorously formalized ontology can offer invaluable guidance here.e. ‘strong’ textualists or anti-realists – who press too far (or in the wrong direction) with the idea that past events are endlessly open to the winds of ideological change. he returns to this theme of how mathematics as the basis of a critical. All the same – and this is where the distance opens up between Badiou’s mathematically based approach and any version of the hermeneutic. ‘[i]t is always possible that no event actually occur’ since ‘[s]trictly speaking. constructivists. For if the character of events is precisely such as to elude the cognizance of those who in some sense inhabit or live through them – if the question of an event’s ‘belonging to the situation of its site is undecidable from the 158 . Indeed it is at this point. like that of the event itself. orthodox-historical or mainstream-political) account that may well turn out to have been nothing like so significant in the light of as-yet unpredictable changes in the course of future history. 179). that ‘I touch upon the bedrock of my entire edifice’. ‘The Matheme of the Event’ and ‘Being’s Prohibition of the Event’. relativists. Badiou remarks.11 Rather it is a question of those highly specific but multiply overdetermined varieties of possible outcome that follow in the wake of any major (or potentially major) historical event and whose significance. In Meditations Seventeen and Eighteen.

one would think. 182). if they really merit that title. 182). and hence that ‘no presentable multiple responds to the call of such a name’ (p. ‘if the event belongs to the situation – if it is presented therein – it is not. on the contrary. Thus there seems to be a strictly unresolvable – and so. most acutely perceptive observers of the scene. those of free-will versus determinism or rational autonomy versus the claim of an all-embracing necessitarian creed. if ‘the signifier of an event is necessarily supernumerary to its site’. It should be clear that this is no merely abstract or worked-up artificial dilemma but. a thoroughly disabling – paradox about Badiou’s idea of the event as that which transpires altogether beyond the domain of specifiable being and which hence disqualifies any contemporaneous attempt to state the conditions for truly judging some candidate occurrence to pass the test for properly evental as distinct from pseudo-evental status. On the one hand. Or again. that the void (or absolute negation of determinate being) is all that remains after this terminal demise of ontology. if one accepts the contrary hypothesis – that ‘the event does not belong to the situation’ – then it follows that ‘nothing has taken place except the place’. For Badiou. remain always open to revaluation with the advent of new political conjunctures or 159 . on the edge of the void’ (p. then just as clearly the situation of which that site forms a problematic (though perhaps as yet inconspicuous) part will be far from yielding its political significance or its latent revolutionary potential to even the shrewdest. a problem that touches the deepest and most persistently intractable of all philosophic problems. 181) – then clearly the philosopher of Being and Event will have his work cut out trying to explain how such events can none the less require and elicit fidelity.READING THE TEXT standpoint of the situation itself’ (p. itself. these issues pose themselves chiefly in the form of a genuine (on its own terms inescapable) dilemma between acknowledging that which calls for recognition as having occurred – and which thus exerts a claim on our respect for truth in historical matters – and acknowledging how far such past events. On the other hand. Such would be the case either of a pseudo-event that in truth had little or no valid claim to such momentous import or of a potentially genuine event that had been deprived of the capacity to motivate further such events by its subjection to a mode of ‘normalizing’ uptake or interpretation.

or ‘ultra-one’. it is not in the situation. At any rate Badiou insists on the need to make judgements concerning both the truth of historical claims and the relative significance. sometimes of a highly heterodox sort. that would somehow exist so far beyond the space of judgement. not least with respect to the French Revolution. results or repercussions. It is the danger. to the void itself’ (p. And of course this danger is all the more acute for someone of Badiou’s political persuasion at a time when historical revisionism of a mostly right-wing character has gained considerable ground among French historians. given the infinity of presented and non-presented facts. . that nothing of the sort ever took place’ (p. he remarks. For instance. and it ruptures the site’s being ‘on-the-edge-of-the-void’ by interposing itself . 182). Representing history: truth and event As I have said. he maintains that certain episodes commonly thought of as major.12 Thus it no doubt strikes him as yet another instance of that widespread and ideologically suspect linguistic-discursive-narrative-textualist-hermeneutic turn that has lately exerted such an untoward effect on thinking in various disciplines. you will have no difficulty in demonstrating. that ‘if you start posing that the “French Revolution” is purely and simply a word. 182). Thus. of the events concerning which those claims are made. and its power of nomination is solely addressed. if it is addressed to anything. or. even epochal events – such as the collapse of Soviet-type communism in 1989–91 or the 2001 attack on the 160 . politically speaking. . 2. Nor is he at all averse to making such judgements. If the first conception tends always to normalize the event – to bring it safely back within the ambit of familiar or ideologically received modes of thought – then the second risks treating the event as a singularity. ‘[e]ither the event is in the situation. .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT unexpected turns in their own after-history of outcomes. historical comparison or conceptual representation as to lose all substantive political content. Badiou is very much alive to the worrisome possibility that something like this – a fully fledged nominalist conception of linguistic reference allied to a fully fledged postmodernist outlook in matters political and ethical – might be read into his own idea of the event as existing on the very edge of the void and hence as inherently resistant to any kind of clearcut specification. in one of his more tortuous formulations.

14 Rather it is subject to manifold restrictions on the capacity of thought to attain such a state. it has to do with Badiou’s anti-Cartesian outlook and his consequent belief that knowledge and the consciousness of possessing that knowledge – let alone the self-conscious awareness of being thus conscious of possessing it – are quite distinct states.13 That is to say. Hence Badiou’s emphatic rejection of that whole approach and his insistence that the only way to put philosophy back on its rational. Such is the lesson driven home with particular force by the fact that epistemology from Descartes down – including the lengthy and complicated chapter that runs from Kant to debates within analytic philosophy – can be seen to have run aground over and again on the same old problems thrown up by the mistaken Cartesian quest for an order of knowledge present to mind in the form of ‘clear and distinct ideas’. constructive and (above all) its scientifically and politically progressive feet is to 161 . whether through the influence of causal factors in the acquisition of knowledge that elude conscious grasp. apodictically self-evident mental grasp. the sometimes perfectly reasonable claim to benefit from the wisdom of hindsight or to learn from past errors of judgement. In this regard he is fully in agreement with analytic philosophers like Timothy Williamson who have likewise sought to resolve some of the problems bequeathed by Cartesian epistemology by denying that knowledge either need or typically could be a matter of lucid. or through the numerous items of ‘standing’ as distinct from ‘occurrent’ belief that we are simply not aware of unless the issue happens to arise. conditions or capacities which need not (and very often do not) go together. after all. more historically and politically informed understanding of how those events transpired. This is not just a matter of what is.READING THE TEXT Twin Towers in New York – should instead be viewed as the dramatic yet in many ways perfectly intelligible (if not predictable) outcome of developments already in train. perspicuous. More specifically. politicians and ideologues ignore at their peril between the sorts of response that ‘naturally’ or instinctively follow in the wake of certain (on the face of it) world-transformative events and the sorts of response that may later turn out to be justified in light of a deeper. there is a sharp and necessary distinction which historians. through the inability to grasp all the logical implications of our various firmly held convictions.

To this extent. the importance he attaches to Lacan’s claim that the ego is so far from being master in its own house that in truth it is little more than a plaything or dupe of the ubiquitous unconscious. maybe impossible to formulate clearly or bring to the level of conscious reflection. This demotion (or radical relocation) of epistemic privilege applies just as much to political and ethical judgements as to judgements of truth or validity with respect to statements. For Badiou. Thus agents living and making commitments under pressure of complex and turbulent events – like scientific thinkers assessing rival theories at times of pre-revolutionary crisis in the state of received knowledge – may very well act or reason in accordance with likewise immensely complex processes of thought which they would find it hard. subjective or conscious 162 . as we shall see later on. Naturally enough these approaches also tend to play down – even to deny – the need for any specification of ‘internal’. reason or humanly attainable truth that goes by way of an appeal either to the lucid realm of self-conscious ideas. theories or hypotheses in the formal and the physical sciences. In both cases – albeit in different ways – one has to recognize not only the errant or misleading nature of many commonsenseintuitive beliefs but also the extent to which knowledge may surpass the deliverances of conscious (no matter how lucid or perspicuous) thought.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT address those basic ontological issues that have been demoted from this eminent role first by the epistemological ‘way of ideas’ in its varied empiricist or rationalist showings and then by the equally multiform ‘linguistic turn’. as regards the scientific issue. this need to draw sharp limits to the scope of conscious and especially of reflective or self-consciously accessible thought is further reinforced by the lessons of psychoanalysis as relayed via Jacques Lacan’s broadly structuralist account of the central Freudian concepts.15 What then becomes apparent is the foredoomed character of any quest to vindicate the claims of knowledge. concepts or representations or else to the tribunal of language (and our supposedly perspicuous grasp of language) as a substitute means of assurance. Badiou is very much in accord with that prominent strain in present-day epistemology which takes external or causal factors to play a large role in reference-fixing and hence in deciding the truth-value of our various candidate (truth-apt) statements.16 Hence.

ethical and practical-political concern that would surely strike most analytic philosophers as involving a gross conflation of disparate domains. especially Leibniz and Spinoza. What is remarkable about his project – and sets it yet further apart from that other tradition – is its way of combining this formal orientation with an emphasis on matters of historical. as finding their paradigm or ultimate test-case in mathematics and the formal sciences. social. it is only by pressing as far as possible with a rigorous deduction of ontological concepts and categories from the resources made available by modern set theory that we are able to specify with due precision both the limits of ontology as a discipline of thought and the character of that which exceeds those limits. However this is just his point. predominantly rationalist rather than empiricist philosophic tradition and therefore treats them like his great rationalist precursors. Rather it is to make the case that what goes on at such decisive moments – whether in the sciences (formal and physical) or in the ethico-political sphere – is very often subject to a complex.17 At any rate there is wide agreement nowadays that purebred internalism just doesn’t work – that it gives rise to strictly insoluble problems – and that the kinds of discovery procedure that typify scientific thought at its most resourceful and creative are such as to require a complicated process of inference to the best. most adequate explanation which cannot be apodictically accessible at the time to those directly involved. Thus his point is not to rule against offering historico-political verdicts of any sort.READING THE TEXT states whose presence or absence decides what should count as knowledge in this or that particular case. nor to claim in decisionist fashion that they can only be avowed or maintained in good faith through a rationally under-motivated choice to endorse the subsequently binding character of this or that signal event. namely the event as an ‘ultra-one’ that by very definition cannot be brought under any such concepts or categories. Badiou comes at these issues from a different. For on Badiou’s account. eccentric or downright perverse to conjoin mathematical with political concerns in this way. largely tacit but none the less 163 . that once we shift from epistemology and philosophy of language as our two main foci of attention to ontology as that which should rightfully hold such a privileged position then it will no longer seem mistaken.18 To be sure.

modes of reasoning whereby certain statements (minor premises) about some given situation. For Badiou. should most fittingly be taken to conclude not in a further statement but in a suitable. On the other hand – or perhaps for that very reason – it is always possible for certain historical events to gain a special salience (or equally to lose it) in consequence of later developments or episodes which cast a new light on its longer term implications. what none the less unites Badiou with Aristotle and sets them both very firmly against that tradition is the priority that both thinkers assign to ontological rather than epistemological questions. Badiou’s thinking is far closer to Aristotle in this regard than to the whole post-Cartesian tradition of epistemologically oriented philosophy that gave rise. Thus despite their significant points of difference. So Badiou is very far from adopting any version of the sceptical. These latter are the kind that Aristotle counted as the proper outcome of ‘practical syllogisms’. along with a statement of principle (major premise) relevant to that same situation. that is. typically postmodernist idea of history as always a 164 . as noted above. relativist. and hence their refusal to draw such an ethically and politically disabling conclusion. appropriate or rationally deducible action. Indeed he could hardly be more emphatic in his rejection of that whole epistemological-linguistic-narrative turn and the various fashionable ‘endof-history’ or ‘end-of-ideology’ slogans to which it has given rise. an event – in the highly specific sense that he ascribes to the term – has a claim on the ethico-political allegiance as well as the truth-seeking motivation of those to whom it figures as something more than an interpretative Rorschach blot. among many other dead-end dilemmas. ‘strong’-constructivist or generic postmodernist stance according to which the ‘truth’ of historical events is always a product of interpretation.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT rational process of evaluative judgement that may issue either in the form of revised (or radically changed) beliefs and convictions or in the form of demonstrative acts. retrieving or retaining such salience and that other. Clearly it is a very fine line that Badiou attempts to draw between this idea of fidelity or truth to the witness of historical events as a condition of their acquiring. to Hume’s flat statement of the impossibility of logically deriving an ethical ‘ought’ from a factual or constative ‘is’. and hence nothing more than the import they acquire in response to present-day interests and priorities.

HÖLDERLIN/DEDUCTION 1. That is to say. landmark advances. necessarily full. which would distinguish it as one within a differentiating count. as he remarks (p. And so to Part V of Being and Event where he undertakes to meet that demand through a series of six Meditations under the title ‘The Event: Intervention and Fidelity’.READING THE TEXT ‘history of the present’ wherein events are viewed as mere figments of our own narrative or fictive contriving. Pascal: mathematics. PASCAL/CHOICE. miracles and ‘infinite thought’ Here Badiou follows his usual practice of developing some central philosophic themes – event. if Badiou is to make good his claim to repudiate postmodernsceptical relativist ideas about history while establishing this (for him) vitally important link between truth and truthfulness then he has some more detailed explaining to do. belonging. intervention and the supernumerary – while also devoting some 165 . triggering episodes. What is required at this stage in the argument is a further and tighter specification of the means by which events might be singled out as just that class (more precisely: that unclassifiable assemblage) of historical episodes that can be seen to have belonged to no existing space of social-political possibility and thus to have required an exceptional degree of ‘militant’ fidelity on the part of their early protagonists. inclusion. THE EVENT: INTERVENTION AND FIDELITY.’ How would you set about explaining or interpreting this cryptic statement on the basis of what you have read so far? How should we understand Badiou’s anti-Cartesian assertion that thinking can proceed – and does very often proceed at its moments of greatest creativity or most decisive intellectual advance – without going by way of the conscious or self-conscious mind? PART V. and not in regard to some singularity. stages of development. even in the case of so momentous an occurrence as the French Revolution one can patiently list its social origins. 180). signal reverses. Discussion points Badiou writes: ‘If the void is thematized. situation. symptoms of decline and so forth – whatever stands out in that immediate context as most significant or representative – and yet say nothing of decisive import as regards its true historical import. background conditions. it must be according to the presentation of its errancy.19 After all.

moralist. rejection or a wish to have done with such pointless concerns and. on the other. conflictual yet productive relationship – that between reason and faith – which finds one of its most striking expressions in St. the seventeenthcentury mathematician. aphorist and speculative thinker whose extraordinary range of interests has created considerable problems for – and divisions among – his commentators. Rather it is to emphasize his point with regard to an age-old. philosophic and (not least) religious grounds. political. theologian. latter-day ‘sophists’ such as Wittgenstein and Richard Rorty whose attitude to philosophy is mainly one of indifference. Paul’s (albeit for the most part mutually baffling) exchanges with the Greek philosophers and which has since then re-surfaced in manifold forms wherever there is a question of reason encountering some real or presumptive limit to its proper scope. on the one hand. ‘anti-philosophers’ who brace themselves against the philosophic challenge and against whom philosophy is likewise compelled to test its own claims as a putative discourse of reason and truth. provoking the philosopher who will 166 . In this case the figure concerned is Blaise Pascal. the one a thinker for whom (purportedly at least) everything proceeded from the application of rational methods and decision-procedures.3 His intention is not for one moment to endorse Pascal’s doctrinal stance or the claim that reason should know its proper limits and thereby make room for that existential foray into the realm of supra-rational paradox and inward. revealed or spiritual truth.1 That he figures so importantly in Being and Event is a striking example of the way that Badiou is able to discover revealing affinities or terms for comparison even in thinkers with whom one would expect him to be sharply at odds on ethical. In this context it is worth recalling the distinction Badiou draws between.4 Thus the ‘anti-philosopher’ – unlike the sophist – is perpetually engaged in a process of essaying that limit. the other a believer for whom his own achievements in mathematics.2 Badiou makes the point by contrasting Descartes and Pascal. logic and natural science were as nothing compared with the leap of faith – the supposed abandonment of all such rational criteria – that opened the way to authentic religious belief.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT detailed analytic commentary to an earlier thinker whose work may be shown to have prefigured certain aspects of his own.

who (as we have seen) continued to hold out for a ‘virtual’ conception of the infinite that would render it compatible with Christian belief – insofar as it surpassed the finite character of human intellectual or calculative grasp – even while he was laying the foundations for a thoroughly secularized transfinite conception that would render the existence of God an otiose hypothesis. as for instance with Cantor. Of course there is a risk of serious misunderstanding at this point.READING THE TEXT typically resist any such claim. but also – most importantly as Badiou sees it – showing how the powers of reason may themselves be refined and extended precisely through the challenge from a sharply opposed though at times strangely intimate quarter. And so we come back to the question posed at the end of my last chapter: what is it that marks out the genuine event as a singular and – in its own time and place – unclassifiable occurrence which none the less exerts (or is capable of exerting) a likewise singular demand for allegiance among those who are responsive to it? Badiou cites Lacan’s cryptic remark to the effect that ‘if no religion were true. 212).5 What Badiou finds exemplary about Pascal is not so much the doctrinal content of his Christian faith but rather his having staked everything on that hypothesis as one that could be verified only through some future. Indeed this conflict may sometimes exist within the work of a single thinker. was the religion that came closest to the question of truth’ (p. and that relating to truth is not a matter of contemplation – or immobile knowledge – but of intervention’ (p. as yet inconceivable event that would retroactively confer a determinate truth-value on those hitherto strictly undecidable conjectures. He goes on to gloss this saying very much in his own terms. 212). Christianity. given Badiou’s clear attraction to just those elements in Pascal’s thought that will probably strike a non-believer as most open to question on moral as well as on philosophic grounds. and in a way that shows why Pascal figures so importantly here. nevertheless. Thus. Thus it might seem that he is adopting something like the doctrine of ‘eschatological verificationism’ advanced by some theologians as a counter to the logical-positivist claim that the only meaningful statements were those that were either verifiable/ 167 . ‘in Christianity and in it alone it is said that the essence of truth supposes the evental ultra-one.

the natural sciences or politics – as requiring an attitude of future-oriented openness to that which may always turn out to have surpassed our best current means of proof or ascertainment.6 To this the theologians sometimes respond that the postulates of Christian faith are such as will eventually be verified or falsified although under evidential conditions that at present cannot be clearly envisaged or specified with great accuracy. a theological position that goes so far beyond anything that counts (on empirically or logically adequate grounds) as proof. knowledge or evidence. a realist ontology (Badiou’s) that locates the truth-makers for truth-apt but as-yet unverified conjectures or hypotheses in a realm of future discovery that is strictly intra-mundane even if it extends to abstract entities such as numbers. sets and classes and. On the contrary. That is to say. there is nothing in the least eschatological about Badiou’s conception of truth – be it in mathematics. not least on account of his taking St. on the other. For that content has everything to do with real developments. and nothing whatsoever to do with hypotheses that by their very nature – pace the above-mentioned theologians – lie beyond the utmost reach of verification. socio-political. Again there is a risk. whether of a natural-scientific.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT falsifiable through methods of empirical (e.g. Paul as an exemplary character in this regard. that Badiou will be interpreted as some kind of crypto-theological or (perhaps more to the point) crypto-Kierkegaardian thinker whose professions of religious 168 . scientific) testing or else self-evidently true (hence tautologous and empirically vacuous) in virtue of their logical form.7 However there is all the difference in the world – so to speak – between. It is important to be clear about this since it bears on one objection that is sometimes raised to Badiou’s closely related ideas of the event as that which disrupts any given situation and of the subject as existing – indeed as quite literally brought into being – through his or her ‘militant’ fidelity to the event. or formal-conceptual kind. and also – as follows necessarily from this – in a proleptic relationship to later events whereby its truth-content will be further revealed or progressively unfolded. what distinguishes the genuine (epochal) event from the run of more-or-less significant occurrences or happenings is the fact of its standing in a certain retroactively transformative relationship to previous episodes by which it was obscurely pre-figured. on the one hand.

at least as regards its moral. materialist ontology – one that most emphatically leaves no room for the Christian God or any other deity – and also his insistence on the absolute necessity of thinking things through with the maximum degree of conceptual and logical rigour.11 What then emerges is a way of conceiving Christianity as something like a figural or even allegorical substitute for that which could not be expressed more directly owing to the pressures of doctrinal adherence or social-political prudence. omnipotent and omni-benevolent deity since even if the chances of his actually existing are close to zero still we are better off believing in him than not since the prospect of eternal salvation is infinitely better than the prospect of eternal damnation.9 It strikes me that nobody who has read very far into Badiou’s work could suppose him to have any sympathy with this line of argument. p.READING THE TEXT unbelief are not to be taken at face value. that it diminishes the concept of infinity’ (BE. ‘[a]ll the parameters of the doctrine of the event are disposed within Christianity: amidst. religious and (not least) its socio-political implications. the remains of an ontology of presence – with respect to which I have shown. 212). in particular. his purported proof on probabilistic grounds that we had better place our faith in an omniscient. From this point of view he would doubtless be in sympathy with atheists-on-principle like Mill and Russell who have offered the best. that is. After all. however. Thus. intellectually and morally most decisive answer to Pascal: that there is a plain obligation not to acquiesce in any holy paradox that requires belief in an executive god whose supposed attributes (as listed above) cannot be reconciled one with another or jointly with the facts of human experience. however ‘negative’.10 On the other hand Badiou is enough of a ‘continental’ rationalist to judge that there is much to be learned from a thinker like Pascal if one takes due stock of his great mathematical advances and translates his other (theological) statements into ethico-political terms. namely his commitment to a thoroughly secularized.8 Thus he might be understood as endorsing something very like Pascal’s famous wager. it goes clean against two main precepts of Badiou’s work. This latter qualification is crucial since it sets Badiou’s argument firmly apart from any strain of theological thought. that would conserve some remnant of divine being beyond all the multiplied denials that God could ever be defined 169 . in Pascal’s conception.

It also serves to make his point. ironically. his conviction that ‘the heart had reasons of which reason knew nothing’. absolutely insist upon justifying Christianity by what would appear to be its weakest point for post-Galilean rationality. metaphysical or onto-theological modes of thought. once again. religious and (purportedly) supra-rational idea of infinity that still left its mark on Cantor’s more backward-looking pronouncements. the rational content of Pascal’s avowedly anti-rationalist (Christian-fideist) thought is the idea that any decisive advance toward truth will be ‘decisive’ not only in the sense that it marks a clear stage of progress in the growth of human knowledge but also in the sense that it bears witness to a choice and thereafter to a deep-laid intellectual and/or ethical commitment on the part of its early advocates and subsequent upholders. or that logic was a poor thing in comparison to the promise of redemption – no matter how groundless in rational or probabilistic terms – held out by Christian belief. For it was only through faith – and moreover through faith in the occurrence of miracles as that which stretched rational credence to the limit and beyond – that Christian belief could possibly be justified. So if his thought still retains its ‘disconcerting’ or ‘provocative’ power even today then it has to do with the vexing question of ‘why does this open-minded scientist. logic-based. witnessed or defended against the encroachments of a new mathematico-natural-scientific rationality to which. this entirely modern mind. Such was Pascal’s motive in declaring the futility of all endeavours to prove the existence or define the attributes of God through scholastic. that the operative concept of infinity that entered the discourse of mathematics with Cantor had nothing in common with that earlier ‘romantic’. on Badiou’s account. mystical.12 Where Pascal stands apart from that strain of thought – despite his seeming dedication to it as a matter of overt faith – is in virtue of his having pressed further than anyone up to that time in striving to think the paradoxical relationship between the exercise of reason conceived as subject to the limits of human understanding and the requirements of faith conceived as inherently surpassing or transcending those limits. Thus. Pascal himself was a leading contributor. This is why Badiou finds something altogether exemplary in Pascal’s famous ‘leap of faith’.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT or conceptualized in humanly available terms. the 170 . that is. that is.

‘In a spectacular reversal of the orientation of antiquity. For it is Badiou’s main purpose in this section to demonstrate that. 220). a selfprofessed ‘libertine’ and materialist disciple of Epicurus. once again. However. ‘Pascal thus simultaneously thinks natural infinity. one whose very character is always ‘to be in excess of proof’ and which therefore serves – to Pascal’s fideist way of thinking – as a failsafe guarantee of God’s ‘not being reducible to this pure object of knowledge with which the deist satisfies himself’ (p. or mere ‘correctness’ and truth – is capable of valid interpretation solely on its self-avowed. Pascal’s professed aim of subjugating reason to the claims of faith is placed in doubt – despite and against his intent – by a precocious grasp of certain mathematical truths that went far beyond what had yet been discovered. it would be wrong to conclude either that Badiou’s reading of Pascal itself has certain fideist or crypto-theological undertones. 171 . Lucretius and Gassendi. is the name of whatever transcends or eludes definition according to the norms of some existing situation. Christian-theological terms. In this sense it is ‘the emblem of the pure event as resource of truth’.READING THE TEXT doctrine of miracles?’ (p. to embrace the truths of revealed religion? Badiou’s answer is quite straightforward: that ‘miracle’ for Pascal. And again. or indeed that Pascal’s treatment of these issues – the radical disjunction he proposes between reason and faith. Moreover. proved or even conjectured at the time. like ‘chance’ for Mallarmé. on the contrary. state of knowledge. it is not so much this aspect of existential dread that Badiou has in mind but rather Pascal’s having been the first thinker to explore what might be the consequences (mathematical and scientific as well as theological) of adopting a perspective whereby the finite became a special case or limiting instance of the infinite. he clearly states that it is the finite which results – an imaginary cut-out in which man reassures himself – and that it is the infinite which structures presentation’ (p. what ‘madness’ – or perverse desire to maximize the odds against his own persuasive success – could have led Pascal to make faith in miracles the basis of his efforts to convert a fictive partner in dialogue. rather than the other way around. 216). If his thoughts about the infinite are known to most people mainly through his famous confession of terror when confronting the ‘eternal silence of the infinite spaces’. 215). conceptual scheme or received ontological framework.

that is. ‘consecrate the best of themselves’) is not just an instance of gross confusion between ‘context of discovery’ and ‘context of justification’. that its origin is found in the event.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the “unfixable” relativity of the finite.13 That is to say.14 This would be the error – currently widespread among constructivists’. This he achieves. a mathematical or scientific breakthrough or even a subjectively life-transformative episode – acquires the kind of paradigmatic force that thereafter compels the choice between fidelity and rejection. 222). more rarely. moreover. This in turn has to do with what Badiou defines as the axiological dimension of Pascal’s project. descriptivists. Thus ‘beyond Christianity. proof or ascertainment – in order to conceive how such formal procedures can sometimes produce decisive advances and. incompatible with or compromised by his insistence on the prior claim of faith over reason. a revolution in moral or political thought. his ‘formal doctrine of intervention’ whereby the event – whether Christ’s birth and death. and the will to draw out its dialectic and to propose to humans that they consecrate the best of themselves to the essential’ (p. and the multiple-hierarchy of orders of infinity’ (p. Rather it depends crucially on that claim – on the idea that truth might always transcend the utmost capacities of present-best knowledge. Here again it needs stressing – as against the objection that is likely to be raised by analytic philosophers – that Badiou’s use of a voluntarist language (‘assurance’. cultural relativists and ‘strong’ sociologists of knowledge – which in effect makes a full-scale programme of refusing to distinguish whatever belongs to the subjective sphere of motivational psychology and whatever pertains to the normative dimension wherein scientific and other truth-claims are held 172 . 220). through a mode of thought that combines the utmost degree of formal and conceptual precision with a willingness – indeed. ‘will’. full-scale revolutions in thought. a religiously motivated compulsion – to pursue the antinomies of speculative reason (those inherent liabilities of human thought that Kant would later place under strict rules of confinement) to the point where they acquire an altogether new creative-productive power. the rigour of his thinking about issues of mathematics and logic should not be conceived as opposed to. what is at stake here is the militant apparatus of truth: the assurance that it is in the interpretative intervention that it finds its support.

settheoretically based) ontology offers the closest approach to truth within some existing. Thus Badiou shares with mainstream analytic philosophers the belief that there is a vital distinction to be drawn between truth and truthfulness.e. theorems. or that which pertains to the correctness of statements. conjectures and so on. a spur to more advanced investigative work. through their legacy of unresolved problems. the strength of purpose or depth of commitment exhibited by those for whom it is a matter of overriding concern. truth as what transpires through the occurrence of a signal or epochal event. and that which pertains to the motivating interests. currently most advanced state of knowledge still there is always an appeal open to speculative claims whose truth-content can be fixed – or whose truth-value can be borne out – only through the work of thinkers or ‘militants’ committed to just that presently unfinished task. On the other hand. or how the latter becomes void of substantive (genuinely rational) content if decoupled from any reconstructive account of the processes of thought by which those who have pursued various kinds of truth have typically set about bringing them to light and defending them against sceptical attack. to repeat. Such. propositions. and truth as the product of a human intervention with its 173 . he parts company with them in allowing far greater weight – in scientificphilosophical as well as psycho-biographical or socio-culturalhistorical terms – to the way that certain decisive interventions (those that have demonstrably changed the course of history) can be shown to have involved a fidelity to previous events which provided both an example or paradigm of how such thinking should proceed and. Meditations TwentyTwo to Twenty-Four can best be read as a sequence of reflections on the nature of this complex relationship between truth as that which in some sense precedes and awaits discovery.15 Instead it is a question of acknowledging how difficult it is to disentangle the distinct yet closely imbricated concepts of truthfulness and truth.READING THE TEXT accountable to the strictest standards of rational accountability. is the central thesis of Being and Event: that while a mathematically informed (i.16 This is another way of saying that Badiou is one of the few philosophers not merely to face both ways across the analytic/ continental divide as need or inclination dictate but rather to situate his thinking on alternative ground beyond that stereotypical binary conception.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT source in some historically specific project of thought. 224) Thus the axiom has to be presupposed – has itself to be ‘chosen’ or decided upon as a matter of basic commitment – if mathematicians wish to maintain the integrity. one can ‘choose’ an element from each of the multiples which make up a multiple. say. in rational-choice theory) but rather a decision in the radical sense of staking one’s entire project on the validity of certain other axioms or theorems without which that project would collapse even though they themselves lack any adequate proof. as can be seen from the role that this axiom plays in Badiou’s way of accomplishing the passage from issues in set-theory and the formal sciences to issues of a chiefly political import. more ethically charged or existentially laden overtones.17 2. They begin with his treatment of the Axiom of Choice (see discussion above). and one can ‘gather together’ these chosen elements: the multiple obtained in such a manner is consistent. Here we should recall his insistence that the axiom is a strictly formal requirement – a conceptual necessity if various well-entrenched truths of mathematics and logic are to stay in place – and is therefore not to be confused with other meanings of the word ‘choice’ that carry more subjective. which is to say it exists. In other words. it posits that given a multiple of multiples there exists a multiple composed of a ‘representative’ of each non-void multiple whose presentation is assured by the first multiple. he writes. ‘State of the Situation’ Hence Badiou’s central hypothesis in this connection. that ‘within ontology. the axiom of choice formalizes the predicates of intervention’ (p. Fidelity. ‘In its final form’. To this extent it might just as well be said that in truth they have no choice in this matter since refusing to ‘decide’ for acceptance of the axiom and 174 . All the same those other meanings are not altogether ruled off-bounds. taken by Badiou as the single most striking instance of a truth about the nature of mathematical reasoning that requires not so much a decision-procedure (of the kind typically involved. rationality or logical coherence of the set-theoretical project. choice. (p. 227).

After all. parts and members.READING THE TEXT thereby renouncing the various other. For these can then be seen to mark the location of evental sites where an existing order first comes up against ‘supernumerary’ elements that resist assimilation to the count-as-one and thereby reveal a disparity between inclusion and belonging. by default. exceeds or transcends some existing (ontologically defined) state of affairs. the intervention. 228). since without it – without the power of thought to intervene and bring about decisive advances in the scope of human ontological 175 . thereby naming. for Badiou. So what the axiom of choice brings out most sharply is the non-finality of any such order and the fact that thinking always has the option of locating certain emergent stress points in its presently accepted ontological scheme or range of commitments. even definitional truth that ontology cannot have anything to do with the event since the event has to do with whatever eludes. between halting at this stage of advance in its ontological enquiries and going on to discover further possibilities along with as-yet unrecognized problems. We have seen already that he considers it a basic. this is a false way of posing the issue since it is precisely where formal reasoning achieves its greatest measure of consistency – the maximal degree of coherence between what is consistently thinkable and what is taken to exist – that thought is confronted with a further choice. it is a leading precept of Badiou’s thought that inconsistent multiplicity is logically. However. or presentation and representation. dilemmas and obstacles. that is. . the non-one of the intervention’ (p. mathematically and ontologically prior to consistent multiplicity and that the latter maintains its seeming pre-eminence – its role as self-evident source of rationality and order – only by means of the count-as-one and its various surrogate functions. What made it threatening to received views of good mathematical practice at the time was the fact that it found room for those other indispensable axioms but ‘only at the price of endangering the one . Badiou thinks this to be the main reason why the axiom of choice generated such a great deal of controversy among mathematicians during the early years of the twentieth century. mathematically indispensable axioms and theorems that depend on it would amount to a vote of no confidence in their own enterprise. . However this cannot be the case with regard to that other transformative occurrence.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT grasp – there could simply be no possibility of change and we should find ourselves once again confronting those paradoxes of the One and the Many that Badiou explored in his opening sections on Parmenides and Plato. any notion that thought might be up against an obstacle that cannot be resolved by recourse to various local adjustments. 228). unsettle. 228). it is a matter of that which provokes and challenges the forces typically massed against any such truly revolutionary idea. and thereby transform an existing situation – that ontological enquiry can ever achieve real progress as distinct from merely throwing up minor innovations within the limits of existing thought. For it is just Badiou’s reiterated point that such standing guarantees of correctness – whether intuitive or 176 . though retaining its character as a product of formal necessity rather than some kind of existential dilemma. So it is that the axiom of choice. Above all. because its stakes were those of admitting a being of intervention. Thus ‘intervention’ is the name for whatever marks the entry of a power of thought which goes beyond the limits of present-best knowledge or currently available proof procedures and which postulates truth-apt theorems or conjectures whose truth-conditions have yet to be formulated. that is. So it is only in this way – through that which intervenes to disrupt. small-scale revisions or suchlike accommodating pragmatist tactics but which requires that it face the challenge head-on and thus undergo some much farther-reaching transformative process. none the less comes to figure as an issue within the discourse of mathematics which itself demands a choice – a decisive commitment – one way or the other. ‘[t]here could be no better indication of the discernment in which all the zeal of fidelity is realized: the discernment of the effects of the supernumerary multiple whose belonging to the situation has been decided by an intervention’ (p. According to Badiou. something that no known procedure or intuition justified’ (p. It is here that Badiou makes some of his strongest claims concerning what I think is best described as the precise structural homology (not just the vaguely analogical grounds for comparison) between conceptual revolutions in the formal or physical sciences and revolutions in the socio-political sphere. Thus ‘[t]he conflict between mathematicians at the beginning of the [twentieth] century was clearly – in the wider sense – a political conflict.

the decisive intervention comes about through fidelity to some previous event which in turn enables those who come after – who inherit the privilege and responsibility of thinking its consequences through – to fulfil what had so far remained within the realm of prefigured yet unactualized possibility. in this context. might be understood as referring to ‘a capacity. And again he states that ‘the most profound lesson delivered by the axiom of choice is therefore that it is on the basis of the couple of the undecidable event and the interventional decision that time and historical novelty result’ (p. Again Badiou is anxious to avoid any risk that the term ‘fidelity’. 229). That is to say. So it is wrong – getting things 177 . 233). All the same his desire to head off any imputation of conceptual slackness in this regard goes along with a countervailing (though by no means contradictory) stress on the extent to which issues of choice and commitment in mathematics. Hence his care to explain – and demonstrate – that the axiom of choice followed by the strictest logical or formal necessity from the need to conserve certain highly specific and deeply entrenched set-theoretical precepts that would otherwise have to be abandoned. a subjective quality. or what properly belongs to the subordinate realm of psycho-biographico-historico-cultural enquiry and what properly belongs to the other (rational-normative) dimension of truth and knowledge. To construe it like this would of course be to play straight into the hands of those who police the boundary between ‘context of discovery’ and ‘context of justification’. or a virtue’ (p. To be sure. 229). logic and the formal sciences find a more than vaguely suggestive analogue in the realms of ethics and politics.18 However he concludes that ‘this ethics cannot dissimulate the abruptness of the intervention on intervention that is formalized by the existence of a function of choice’ (p.READING THE TEXT rule-governed – are always and of their very nature restricted to that which conforms with existing (whether commonsense or formally prescribed) criteria. there were various attempts to defuse this crisis by presenting the axiom as a sensible since crisis-averting response to problems that could then be contained without inflicting any damage beyond the recourse to a precept which in truth involved nothing more than a due allowance for the role of human judgement at certain points in the process of mathematical reasoning.


exactly back-to-front – if one concludes that the main effect of Badiou’s determination to establish this structural link between such disparate domains is to give us the worst of both worlds, that is, to undermine any semblance of formal or logical rigour in his work on mathematics while effectively reducing his professions of ethico-political commitment to a level of merely abstract, formal or procedural (pseudo-)choice. Indeed, as I have said, this is the issue at the heart of his long-running quarrel with Deleuze over what he sees as the latter’s retreat into an inchoate philosophy of flux, infinitized difference, intensive as opposed to extensive multiplicities and so forth.19 According to Badiou this results from Deleuze’s failure – or unfortunate refusal – to grasp the demanding yet liberating insights afforded by a set-theoretical approach that respects the requirements of conceptual rigour even (or especially) when venturing into speculative regions of thought beyond the scope of present-best knowledge or formal provability. In both contexts – mathematics and politics – he offers more than enough in the way of formal-demonstrative reasoning or historico-political documentation to rebut any claim that his assertion of the strong conceptual relation between them is just the upshot of promiscuous discipline-jumping or vaguely analogical thinking. Thus it is not at all a case of Badiou’s work in mathematics and philosophy of the formal sciences being compromised or rendered intellectually suspect by association with ‘softer’ disciplines like history, politics or (God forbid!) cultural studies. Rather it is a question of the latter being spurred to more careful, precise and adequately theorized efforts of self-critical reflection by exposure to the kinds of reasoning developed in those other disciplinary domains. So when Badiou invites us (p. 234) to think of rival or conflicting versions of ‘fidelity’ in terms of Stalin versus Trotsky on the one hand or of mathematical intuitionists versus axiomaticdeductive practitioners of set theory on the other he is not going out on a wildly speculative limb. What gives that claim philosophical substance and credibility is that he then goes on to specify the terms – the set-theoretical terms – in which this comparison can be worked through and applied so as to distinguish varying (dogmatic or critical, orthodox or heterodox, ‘statist’ or dissident, repressive or liberating) modes of fidelity to some given event.


‘That a multiple, α, is counted by the state essentially signifies that every multiple β which belongs to it is, itself, presented in the situation, and that as such α is a part of the situation: it is included in the latter’ (p. 236). Situations like this – whether in mathematics or in politics – are situations that effectively debar any challenge to the status quo ante by ruling that, quite simply, there is no possible disparity between the orders of belonging and inclusion, since to be included just is to be a member in good standing accordant with the terms and conditions laid down by this or that dominant count-as-one. Hence the very pointed contrast that Badiou draws with situations wherein there does exist a definite potential – or structural opening – for the emergence of just such a disparity between what is presented and what is represented in or by them at any given time. It is here, at the ‘evental site’ marked out by its extreme marginality or downright exclusion from the realm of acknowledged (whether mathematical, scientific, political or artistic) possibility, that one is likeliest to find those irruptions of the radically new or unforeseen to which Badiou applies the terms ‘event’ or ‘ultra-one’. In which case, he reasons, the surest sign of fidelity to such decisive or transformative episodes is the fact that it truly ‘discerns the connection of presented multiples to a particular multiple, the event, which is circulated within the situation via its illegal name’ (p. 236). The name is ‘illegal’ just insofar as it is de facto deprived of legitimate status by its counting for nothing under the prevalent membership conditions that would close (or, more accurately, render invisible) the gap between belonging and inclusion, or presentation and representation. In order to formalize this relation of fidelity Badiou assigns to it the operator , mostly used in the context of modal logic – the branch of logic concerned with matters of necessity and possibility – to indicate that ‘it is necessary that’ or ‘from which it follows necessarily’, as distinct from the operator ◊, signifying ‘it is possible that’ or ‘from which it possibly follows’.20 For analytically minded modal logicians the main use of this distinction is to clarify issues in metaphysics and ontology, among them issues with regard to causal explanation where it serves to construct counterfactual possible-world scenarios and provide a relevant contrast-class by which to identify the operative causal factors.21 The argument is typically framed as a question in


subjunctive-conditional terms: would some particular real-world event actually have occurred had some specific antecedent event (or conjunction of such events) not occurred and thereby set in train the relevant sequence of concatenated causes and effects? It is by means of such thought-experimental excursions into alternative (i.e. non-actual) possible worlds – way things might conceivably have been without any infraction of physical laws or other such domain-specific constraints – that scientists, historians and thinkers across a wide range of disciplines attempt to specify what must have been the one or more salient causal factors in any given case. Thus the kinds of reasoning that find their formalized expression in the terms, structure and symbolic apparatus of modal logic are also those that play a prominent role in our everyday and more specialized modes of causal-explanatory thought. Where Badiou’s deployment of the necessity-operator departs from this analytically standard usage is in assigning it to contexts where the necessity in question has to do not only with the objective truth or validity of some given statement, hypothesis, theory, conjecture, and so on, but also with the question of just how far its adherents persevered in asserting or bearing witness to its truth against whatever odds of entrenched opposition or apparent contra-indication. Fidelity of this sort is apt to manifest itself in the form of intransigent resistance to prevailing norms of what counts as a legitimate claim, that is, what purports to minimize (or annul) the ontological gap between belonging and inclusion. In Badiou’s words [a] typology of fidelities would be attached to precisely such proximity. Its rule would be the following: the closer a fidelity comes, via its operator , to the ontological connections – belonging and inclusion, presentation and representation, ∈ and ⊂ – the more statist it is. It is quite certain that positing that a multiple is only connected to an event if it belongs to it is the height of statist redundancy. For in all strictness the event is the sole presented multiple which belongs to the event within the situation: ex = ex. If the connection of fidelity, , is identical to belonging, ∈, what follows is that the unique result of the fidelity is that part of the situation which is the singleton of the event. (p. 237)


So there is another, altogether less strenuous or ethically and intellectually demanding mode of ‘fidelity’ which consists in just a slavish endorsement of things as they are, whether this takes the form of a Hegelian assertion that ‘the rational is the real’, a Leibnizian assertion that necessarily we live in the ‘best of all possible worlds’, a Wittgensteinian notion of ‘language-games’ or cultural ‘forms of life’ as the bottom line of justification, or a pragmatist claim that truth just is what’s currently and contingently ‘good in the way of belief’. Despite its appearance of tolerant pluralism this would be a ‘dogmatic fidelity’, one that ‘separates nothing’ and ‘admits no negative atoms’ (p. 237). Thus it blocks any move to question its legitimate status by adverting to the gap between belonging and inclusion that marks the existence of anomalies or unresolved problems in the formal and physical sciences, or likewise of inequities, exclusions, classbased or ethnic divisions, and other such sources of injustice or oppression in the ethico-political sphere. However it is always possible that the tension thus created will itself give rise to a resistant or strongly countervailing force that leaves no room for any such thoroughly ‘statist’ conception of the body politic. In that case fidelity amounts to a ‘counter-state’, one that takes up the task of ‘organiz[ing], within the situation, another legitimacy of inclusion’, or of ‘build[ing], according to the infinite becoming of the finite and provisional results, a kind of other situation’ (p. 238). This would be the upshot of an altogether different mode of allegiance, a commitment to keep faith not with some currently prevailing idea of what counts (or doesn’t count) in a given situation – whether a state of knowledge or state of sociopolitical affairs – but rather with the event as that which intervenes to challenge and transform any such received mode of thought. In Meditation Twenty-Four (‘Deduction as Operator of Ontological Fidelity’) Badiou makes a similar point with regard to the role of subjectivity vis-à-vis truth, but here by remarking on the singular richness, creativity and scope of mathematical thought as compared with the notably restricted range of those logical ‘rules’ that constitute its basic principles or framework of operative concepts. Indeed he sets them out in a half-page of summary statements (p. 242) covering the logical signs for negation (∼), implication (→) and the universal quantifier (∀), along with the


three most elementary principles, modus ponens (if p → q, and p, then necessarily q), modus tollens (if p → q, and ∼q, then necessarily ∼p) and generalization (if A is true with respect to any particular instance of variable α then this follows of necessity from the fact that A is true for any and every instance of α).22 Of course modern, post-Fregean symbolic logic has vastly more notational and conceptual resources than this at its disposal, even if confined – as by lovers of ‘austere desert landscapes’ like Quine – to the apparatus of the first-order predicate calculus.23 However Badiou’s point is to emphasize the remarkable contrast between this extreme poverty (or so it would appear) at the level of basic terms, structures or modes of canonically valid logical argument and the extraordinary range or creativity of which mathematics is somehow capable while none the less respecting the rules and constraints of that same logical regimen. Thus ‘it is, after all, in conformity with the ontological essence of this universe that the difficulty of fidelity lies in its exercise and not in its criterion’ (p. 243; Badiou’s italics). That is to say, he rejects the Wittgensteinian (and nowadays more widely held ‘analytic’) idea that truth consists in a manifest conformity to certain agreed-upon criteria of correct or communally sanctioned reasoning whose terms and conditions are effectively settled in advance since they belong to a practice outside of which there could be no such normative standards.24 Rather, on Badiou’s account, although ‘tactics . . . are rigid and almost skeletal’, nevertheless ‘[t]he entire art lies in the general organization, in demonstrative strategy’ (p. 243). It is for this reason that ‘great mathematicians often step right over the detail and – visionaries of the event – head straight for the general conceptual apparatus, leaving the calculations to the disciples’ (p. 243). As I have said, it is among the most impressive features of Being and Event that the work very pointedly offers in itself what it seeks to convey about the character of modern mathematics, that is, the combination of a rare capacity for far-reaching speculative thought with a keen attentiveness to matters of formal or demonstrative reasoning. Indeed it is precisely this conjunction of attributes – often taken as mutually exclusive and as marking the respective proprietary domains of ‘continental’ and ‘analytic’ philosophy – that Badiou, on the contrary, takes to constitute


the hallmark of all genuinely ground-breaking achievements in mathematics and the formal sciences. Thus, ‘[j]ust as the strict writing of ontology, founded on the sign of belonging alone, is merely the law in which a forgetful fecundity takes flight, so logical formalism and its two operators of faithful connection – modus ponens and generalization – rapidly make way for procedures of identification and inference whose range and consequences are vast’ (p. 244). Among the chief means or most prolific sources of this exponential growth in mathematical knowledge is the method of reasoning by reductio ad absurdum which takes a proposition, a theorem or hypothesis and derives from it a logically entailed consequence whose patent falsehood (or absurdity) is sufficient to constitute a downright refutation.25 Badiou makes a strong and principled case for the absolute indispensability of such reasoning, and it is a case that merits further attention since it goes clean against one prominent trend in recent analytic philosophy of mathematics. This is anti-realism of the ‘technical’ sort whose most noted exponent is Michael Dummett and which holds, in brief, that truth cannot possibly exceed the limits of proof, ascertainment or demonstrative warrant since to assert otherwise – to claim (in typically realist fashion) that we know that there exist unknown or even for us unknowable truths – is to fall into manifest self-contradiction or plain nonsense.26 In which case, so anti-realists conclude, we should accept that warranted assertibility (not truth) is what mathematicians, along with enquirers in every other field, should properly and, so to speak, realistically set out to achieve. Since Badiou goes on at this stage to rehearse some of his most important mathematical precepts in the context of debates around precisely that issue I shall here do likewise, albeit necessarily in somewhat simplified and summary form.
3. Logic and truth: against anti-realism

Fundamental to these debates is the question whether truthvalues are objective – ‘verification-transcendent’, in the jargon – or whether they are ‘epistemically constrained’ and thus have no existence beyond the scope and limits of our present-best (or maybe our best-attainable) knowledge. If this latter is the case, as anti-realists believe, then it follows that there must be a great range (what Dummett calls the ‘disputed class’) of well-formed

that which holds a double negative to cancel out and thus constitute a positive. among them that it undercuts a mode of reasoning much practised by mathematicians and logicians. This principle has to be abandoned since there is no longer any place reserved for those objective truthvalues that the realist regards as having nothing to do with our present or even our future-best-possible state of knowledge. That is to say. a demonstration that the falsehood concerned has one or more patent absurdities among its logical entailments or among the range of further statements to which one is committed (whether knowingly or not) by asserting its truth. However – as Badiou is quick to note – there are other very sizeable costs to be paid for this act of renunciation. and therefore one that forms a crucial resource in the realist’s conceptual armoury. anti-realism of this kind entails a rejection of the precept of classical logic known as ‘excluded middle’ and often expressed by the Latin phrase tertium non datur. rather than ‘anti-realist’. the logically disastrous – consequence that it must also renounce the principle of double-negation-elimination. Anti-realism has to make do without this resource since its rejection of excluded middle has the extra – according to Badiou. This often takes the form of a reductio ad absurdum. Among mathematicians – as likewise for a philosopher of mathematics like Dummett – the label more usually affixed to approaches that renounce bivalent truth/falsehood and reject the rule of doublenegation-elimination is ‘intuitionist’. However they can both be seen to figure in much the same role and to generate much the same range of arguments and counter-arguments.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT and seemingly truth-apt yet in fact undecidable statements or propositions whose truth-value we cannot assign since they lie beyond reach of proof or verification. that is. Badiou offers the following succinct account of the main issue at stake. ‘there is no third or midway option between the twin poles of truth and falsehood’. but rather as making our statements objectively true or false quite apart from any such humanly indexed epistemological issue. and which must therefore be reckoned as neither-true-nor-false or as belonging to a third (indeterminate) category where the true/false dichotomy has no purchase. as well as by thinkers across a wide range of disciplines where (on the classical or realist view) the truth of some given statement can be deduced by showing that its contrary is false. 184 .27 For this is the principle on which all reductio-type arguments are based.

from the supplementary hypothesis ∼A [not-A]. a little extra is necessary – for example. its strictly nonsensical) demand that truth should exceed the bounds of knowability. reasoning via the absurd does not permit one to conclude beyond the truth of ∼∼A. the substitution of the proposition A for the proposition ∼∼A is absolutely legitimate. the implication ∼∼A → A – which the intuitionists refuse without fail. which is a proposition of the situation quite distinct from A. However this is no more than tosay that any really decisive intervention in the realm of ontological enquiry is sure to come up against strong resistance fromthe commonsenseintuitive or orthodox. (p. that is. Here two regimes of fidelity bifurcate: in itself. for an intuitionist it is not. 249) Despite its appearance of even-handedness. To conclude in the deducibility of A. In classical logic. one has only to place this passage in the context of Badiou’s approach to issues of truth and knowledge as conceived through the being/event dichotomy in order to see how strongly he sides with the realist (and. although one that is so markedly at odds with so much of our everyday experience as well as more specialized modes of investigative thought that ‘ontology is simultaneously vulnerable in this point to the empiricist and to the speculative critique’ (p. the utmost limits of formal proof or epistemic grasp. neo-pragmatist. one is tempted to say. then the negation of the negation of A is deducible. it is not guaranteed that the event prescribes the criterion of connection. So it was – by venturing theorems or hypotheses beyond current norms of intelligibility – that pioneering thinkers from Galileo to Cantor and Cohen have succeeded in ‘turning a paradox into a concept’. For them. Thus he takes it that the ‘strict equivalence of A and ∼∼A’ is a principle ‘linked to what is at stake in mathematics. Its dependence on excluded middle and the various conceptual resources bound up with the maintenanceof that principle renders ontology a prime target for anti-realist thinkers – whether of a logicosemantic (Dummettian). not just the anti-anti-realist) position. I deduce a proposition which is incoherent with regard to some other proposition that has already been established. being-qua-being’. social-constructivist. or using obstacles as springboards for inventive 185 . 248). Wittgensteinian or other such persuasion – who can point to what they take as its inordinate (indeed. conventionally right-thinking quarter.READING THE TEXT If. this is compatible with the abstract theory of fidelity.

Where the former places him squarely at odds with Wittgenstein the latter flags up both his distance from Kant or any notion of synthetic a priori mathematical truths and also his rejection of intuitionist (or antirealist) approaches to issues in philosophy of mathematics. Thus because the set theory doctrine of the multiple does not define the multiple it does not have to run the gauntlet of the intuition of the whole and its parts. . . present and past – in maintaining the absolute and principled independence of mathematical thought from any conditions having to do with the scope and limits of linguistic-symbolic expression or the verdicts of intuitive judgement. . (p. . . . in which these authors had concluded in the impossibility of infinite number’ (p.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT and transformative thought.28 This follows directly from their precept that truth cannot possibly be thought to exceed the scope of warranted assertibility. . There is a subversion herein of the old intuition of quantity. to think of inconsistent (rather than consistent) multiplicity as that which underlies and may always turn out to exceed or disrupt any unifying order thereby imposed. it is possible for what is included (like square numbers in whole numbers) to be as ‘numerous’ as that in which it is included. and the ruin of that intuition. without blinking an eye. that given that it is a matter of infinite multiples. We will allow. This is why Badiou takes a strong line against the intuitionists’ refusal to endorse the logical axioms of bivalence or excluded middle. in which case any statement of this type that we venture to assert cannot be rendered true or false by the way things stand in mathematical reality quite aside from the issue 186 . 267). that subsumed by the couple whole/parts: this subversion completes the innovation of thought. that is. and moreover. So it was likewise that Cantor ‘had the brilliant idea of treating positively the remarks of Galileo and Pascal . their claim that for certain mathematical statements – those belonging to Dummett’s ‘disputed class’ of formally unproven theorems. Hence the decisive set-theoretical advance whereby it became possible to think of the one not as the foundation or precondition of all mathematical reasoning but rather as a product of the count-as-one. hypotheses or conjectures – these classical axioms simply don’t apply. 267) So Badiou is very firm – as against many adversaries. .

Badiou is quite clear that the axiom – and along with it the force of reductio-type or apagogic arguments – can readily be made to seem artificial and unconvincing by the standards of everyday commonsense thought. dialectical logic with substantive rather than abstract or merely formal content. Thus it is merely self-evident. Indeed. 250). such principles of deductive reasoning are a sine qua non of mathematical thought and cannot be abandoned without. Moreover.READING THE TEXT as to whether we are now – or shall ever be – suitably placed to decide either way.29 As we have seen. the conclusiveness of reasoning via the absurd’ (p. that our access to that truth is always and ineluctably constrained by our various perceptual. when combined with their rejection of another classical axiom – that of double-negationelimination – this leads to the anti-realist verdict that unproven conjectures are neither true nor false to the best of our attainable knowledge and hence neither true nor false sans phrase. .30 However Badiou comes back most emphatically against that whole range of arguments – as likewise against the intuitionist refusal to countenance those classical axioms – by claiming that mathematics simply cannot do without such resources unless at the cost of triviality or (contra Hegel) giving up any claim to engage with matters of real-world ontological concern. that is. or so they would claim. vicious regress. ‘it is on the basis of the ontological vocation of mathematics that one can infer the legitimacy of the equivalence between affirmation and double negation . by consequence. . renouncing any claim to be concerned with discovering truths of mathematics rather than convenient working fictions or handy techniques for avoiding trouble. and. to Hegel’s grand 187 . As regards the reference to Hegel here – more specifically. For Badiou. vacuity. they have to deny the validity of any argument which purports to derive its demonstrative force from precisely that axiom. that is. consistently with this. in the process. circularity and so forth. Thus it might seem wide open to the kinds of objection mounted not only by empiricists like Hume but also by a speculative thinker like Hegel who sought to overcome the charges of tautology. conversely. to establish the truth of some given hypothesis by establishing the falsehood (or absurdity) of its negation. cognitive or conceptual capacities and cannot be thought of (in objectivist or realist terms) as always potentially transcending or eluding our present-best state of knowledge. through a different.

on the other hand. and it is quite possible that you will have to search blindly. of an adventurous peregrination 188 . quasiprovidential place in the record of past triumphs – that makes mathematics such a paradigm case of the always evolving but never resolved dialectic of being and event.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT dialectical system and its claim to subsume or transcend all such instances of determinate negation – I must refer readers back to Meditation Fifteen and my all-too-brief commentary on it. Among the most fruitful modes of such deduction is the procedure of reductio ad absurdum which – as we have seen – requires the principle of double-negation elimination. ‘is due less to its [mathematics’] employment of double negation than to its strategic quality. of an assurance and a prudence internal to order. Thus. The impossibility of closure. What chiefly needs stressing in the present context is Badiou’s absolute conviction that fidelity to the truth-procedure set in train by some particular transformative event in the history of thought is what separates the genuine quest for discoveries beyond the present most advanced state of knowledge from the routine pursuit of near-at-hand solutions to familiar types of problem. Badiou declares that ‘[t]he goal of the exercise is indistinct. elaborate and resourceful truth-procedures that will at length bring such a method to light. contrary to much present-day thinking in philosophy of mathematics. On the contrary. before a contradiction turns up from which the truth of the proposition A can be inferred’ (p 251). on the one hand. It is precisely the unpredictable or non-formalizable character of these discoveries – at least until they take their appointed. Badiou writes. Not that this constitutes a failsafe method or problem-resolution technique that can always be deployed through some rule-governed usage of reductio-type arguments. Insofar as intuitionist or anti-realist conceptions deprive mathematical reasoning of this vital resource – deny it the power of deriving truths from the demonstrable falsehood of their contraries – these conceptions fail to offer any remotely adequate account of how mathematics has managed to achieve such impressive (and surely undeniable) advances. and. which consists. Badiou takes his stand fairly and squarely on the capacity of reason to postulate truths that exceed any currently available means of formal-demonstrative proof yet which none the less lie within range of its speculative grasp and its power to devise more refined. for a long time.

We now move to Part VI of Being and Event (Meditations TwentySix to Thirty) where Badiou continues to elaborate his account of being as pure multiple. QUANTITY AND KNOWLEDGE. THE DISCERNIBLE (OR CONSTRUCTIBLE): LEIBNIZ/GÖDEL 1. 251). They hold out the prospect of explaining how truth can be conceived as running ahead of some 189 .READING THE TEXT through disorder’ (p. Discussion points What connection do you see between Badiou’s development of set-theoretical themes and his idea of ‘fidelity’ as applied to various contexts of intellectual. predictable and (in Badiou’s sense) non-eventful sequence of cumulative progress throughout its development to date. a joint and inseparable movement of thought – between the strength of commitment that typifies a faithful adherence to certain imperative truth-procedures and the openness to new (perhaps highly disconcerting) challenges along the way. political and artistic endeavour? Why does Badiou come out so forcefully against intuitionist or anti-realist approaches to mathematics and philosophy of mathematics? PART VI. literary theory or some other branch of the human or social sciences. More specifically. what is seen to mark that history when treated from a standpoint (like Badiou’s) conversant with its problems and complexities is a constant alternation – more precisely. In contrast. along with what he takes to be its far-reaching implications for every discipline of thought where the foremost concern is (or ought to be) that of the relationship between being and event. it will take us into regions of set-theoretical enquiry that are the home ground for mathematicians and logicians but terra incognita for most of those who come to Badiou with their interest primed by an involvement in cultural studies. all of which bear directly on the issue of just how advances may be thought to come about in the formal (as well as the physical) sciences. Otherwise of course the history of mathematical thought would have exhibited a far more steady. Reckoning with the infinite: on the limits of naturalism We have seen that Badiou introduces a number of related settheoretical concepts.

lest readers note the anomaly. Among them are the concepts of the void. the generic. despite his conspicuous appearance in the title above. intuitionist or constructivist doctrine. the social or the human sciences – at just those times when the reign of ‘consistent multiplicity’ gives way to the irruption of an ‘inconsistent’ (i. excrescences or ‘supernumerary’ elements – that the situation comes under strain or confronts an as yet scarcely discernible challenge from that which it contains yet cannot properly accommodate. that I propose to hold over my discussion of Gödel until Chapter Nine where it fits more readily with other central themes. So (to recapitulate): the void is that which is included in every situation or every set-theoretical ensemble yet the presence (or determinate absence) of which can be felt to exert a destabilizing pressure only at moments of challenge or threat to the dominant count-as-one. the evental site and the supernumerary. What enables those elements to acquire such power is their existing as supernumerary parts of a situation whose total state – including its various constituent sub-sets – must always be reckoned as greatly in excess of whatever is recognized as belonging to it by current membership criteria. the ultra-one. It achieves its maximum impact or power to transform the status quo ante – whether in the formal. The generic (from Cohen) is that which derives from some anomalous even though. that the discourse of mathematics – that is to say. in the wider context of Badiou’s work. to begin with. of fundamental ontology as he conceives it – provides the meeting point for all those concerns and involvements that have occupied his thinking over the past three 190 . indiscernible element in this or that given situation – one that doesn’t figure or qualify for membership according to the count-as-one – yet which turns out to possess just that kind of long-range transformative or paradigm-shifting power. the natural. anomalous and crisis-inducing) multiplicity.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT current state of knowledge while not losing touch so completely with the powers and capacities of human reason as to conjure up the threat of epistemological scepticism or – as a putative escaperoute from it – the fallback appeal to various kinds of anti-realist. It is here – with the emergence of anomalies. It is here also. I should mention.e. the indiscernible. which between them can be seen as laying the groundwork of Badiou’s ontology and his account of what exceeds any power of ontological reckoning.

Badiou is absolutely insistent on the point that we are not then faced with any version of the false dilemma so eagerly touted by some occupants of the ‘nothing works’ camp in philosophy of mathematics.1 Anti-realism in this form is plainly untenable. void. Hence what I think will be the growing conviction – for anyone who reads Being and Event with sufficient attentiveness – that in this field especially sceptical doubt of the kind professed by some philosophers can only be the product of a failure to engage with the activity of real mathematical thought as distinct from reflecting on the nature of that activity from a disengaged standpoint. he thinks. or the idea that we can either have objective. situation versus state-of-the-situation and so forth enables him to make the crucial link between issues in mathematics and issues of political power. Moreover. since there is just too much evidence that genuine discoveries have been made (like those of Cantor concerning the infinite) which cannot be explained or rendered intelligible unless on the assumption that they have to do with an expanding knowledge of that which may always potentially elude or transcend our best powers of epistemic grasp. What makes his project altogether unique in contemporary terms is its cleaving to truth as an indispensable standard across these diverse regions of enquiry and yet – consistently with that – its stress on the irruptive or unpredictable nature of those epochal events that impose new demands of fidelity on subjects who have known or experienced their impact. event. the generic. To recapitulate briefly: this came of their seeing (like Galileo) no sense to the claim that one infinite quantity was greater or larger than another. understanding or best judgement and on the other to those various procedures whereby the dedicated subject affirms his or her commitment to the truth in question. agency and representation. this allows for the extension of those same heuristic concepts to a range of other fields – including certain aspects of the arts and the natural sciences – where he shows them to apply with equal pertinence and force. Here again it is a question of doing justice on the one hand to truth-conditions or validity claims that transcend any merely de facto state of knowledge. recognition-transcendent truth or humanly attainable knowledge but – on pain of manifest selfcontradiction – surely not both. consistent versus inconsistent multiplicity. Thus the entire conceptual ensemble of count-as-one. while none 191 . evental site.READING THE TEXT decades.

Moreover those italics for the word ‘exists’ are clearly intended to carry the force of an assertion to the realist effect that what is at stake here. on any workable definition. be it infinite. for Galileo to adopt the logical-conceptual line of least resistance and declare ‘that the notions of “more” and “less” were not pertinent to infinity. in this talk of ‘correspondence’. It is 192 . Badiou concedes. or that infinite totalities were not quantities’ (p. allow for comparison in (what else?) quantitative terms. Indeed it was Galileo’s decision not to take this further step – his choice of remaining true to certain very strong and (at that time) scientifically productive intuitions rather than launching into strange and knowledge-threatening seas of thought – that can now be seen to have provoked Cantor’s decisive break with that entire antecedent tradition. All it took for the break to be accomplished was Cantor’s (again as it now seems) predictable realization that there existed a one-for-one correspondence between every whole number n and its square n2. a Cantorian convention. that ‘it is possible for what is included (like square numbers in whole numbers) to be “as numerous” as that in which it is included’ (p. 267). contrary to all the evidence of intuitive judgement. ‘This concept of term for term “correspondence” between a multiple. Faced with such a dilemma it was only ‘sensible’. Thus the ground has been prepared for Badiou’s conception of mathematics as the key to ontological enquiry and of ontology as pointing the way – through a grasp of its operative scope and limits – to a sense of how truth can coherently be thought of (contra the intuitionists and anti-realists) as always potentially exceeding the compass of present-best knowledge. 268). All that remained – though it took three centuries for mathematics to arrive at this point – was for Cantor to take the (as it now seems) inevitable step of reversing this dictum. and maintaining. and another multiple provides the key to a procedure of comparison: two multiples will be said to be as numerous (or. ‘turning a paradox into a concept’. of the same power as each other) if there exists such a correspondence’ (p. 266). and so on for all the relations or ratios of inclusion which turned out to require that thinking go drastically against what appeared self-evident by commonsense-intuitive standards.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the less holding that infinites were (in some albeit anomalous sense) to be counted as quantities and that quantities must. is precisely the question that anti-realists consider ill-formed or beyond hope of any adequate answer.

timeless. An ordinal. namely that of where the emphasis should fall between the claims of objective. Hence Badiou’s pointed reminder that ‘the concept of quantity is thus referred to that of existence. and which indeed gives that book both its title and its single most prominent theme. time and change. uncounted or likewise disordering elements. that is. In which case the question arises as to just which modes. or in just what sense Badiou is here invoking a term like ‘existence’ which notoriously lends itself to all manner of logico-semantic confusion or cross-purpose argument. Thus it brings us up against the issue that has divided philosophers from the pre-Socratics down. uneven and culture-specific even though truth-oriented process of investigation.READING THE TEXT the question as to how we should best conceive the relationship between on the one hand mathematical entities. dimensions or domains of ontological enquiry might be involved. anomalous. as is appropriate given the ontological vocation of set theory’ (p. where ‘natural’ denominates that which is taken to exist (or subsist) in a realm of plenary being quite apart from the vicissitudes of history. theorems. recall. If there is a sense in which ‘nature measures 193 . structures. That is to say – and here we reach the heart of Badiou’s concerns in this section – it can also be defined as the schema that embraces all natural multiples. At Meditation Twenty-Six (‘The Concept of Quantity and the Impasse of Ontology’) he commences a series of tightly reasoned and mathematically based reflections on the impact of Cantor’s discovery that there exist different ‘sizes’ (cardinalities) of the infinite that are capable of being ordered. In other words it is the issue that Badiou takes up from a great range of philosophical perspectives in Being and Event. is defined as a set whose elements are all transitive and which therefore exhibits a consistency. statements or hypotheses and on the other hand that to which they are taken – by the realist at any rate – as properly referring or applying. absolute or verification-transcendent truth and the claims of human knowledge as a time-bound. 268). compared and variously reckoned with even though – or just because – they stand on a scale that intrinsically transcends the kinds of reckoning involved in calculations of a finite or ordinal-based character. a property of well-orderedness or perfect correspondence between belonging and inclusion that is taken to require – or to permit – no intervention of disruptive.

269–70). and that ‘[t]here is no “size” which is such that one cannot find an example of it amongst the natural multiples’ (p. 270). this should not be taken to entail a concession to what analytic philosophers often call ‘bald naturalism’.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT being’ (p. desiring or acting subject – is always so placed as potentially to break with its previous (or present) state of existence. affirmative emotions against their ‘negative’. willing. 194 . Such. that is. even if ‘every multiple can be referred to natural presentation. processes or causes and effects. reactive counterparts. is the strongly determinist aspect of Spinoza’s thinking that Badiou is keen to disavow. From which it follows both that ‘the “class” formed out of those multiples which have the same quantity will always contain at least one ordinal’. the aspect that makes such a sharp contrast with the Spinozist stress – which he is just as keen to endorse – on promoting the ‘positive’. purport or range of pertinent answers. Thus naturalism of that sort cannot find room for the exercise of cognitive. Hence his pointed reminder at this stage that ‘not every presentation is natural’ and that ‘historical multiples exist’. this is no more than a straightforward consequence of the theorem – ‘one of ontology’s crucial statements’ – that ‘every multiple has the same power as at least one ordinal’. in particular with respect to its number or quantity’ (pp. quasi-spiritualist or – to steal a nice term from Richard Harland – ‘superstructuralist’ thought Badiou is at one with those analytic philosophers who diagnose a chronic normative deficit or lack of adequate rational resources in any such hard-line naturalist creed. as he quickly goes on to remark. thinking.3 More than that (and here Badiou remains true to Sartrean as well as Cantorian precedent): it forecloses every possible mode of transcendence whereby the subject – the knowing. However. However. the kind of thinking which takes it as selfevident – even if at present and perhaps for all time beyond human demonstrative reach – that the question ‘What exists?’ can always be re-phrased ‘What exists as a matter of natural or physical fact?’ without the least change to its sense. 271). then it is not – most emphatically – because every last dimension of being (or existence) is or would be exhausted by a thorough compte rendu of that which pertains to the realm of natural objects. as we have seen.2 For despite his firm and explicit commitment to a materialist ontology for the physical and social sciences as against all varieties of idealist.

like his own. This other mode of transcendence finds its model. ‘[t]hese ordinals can be perfectly defined: they possess the property of tolerating no one-to-one correspondence with any of the ordinals which precede them’. Such an ordinal. 270). they will be termed cardinals’ (p. What it amounts to in ontological terms is the statement of a major set-theoretic precept concerning infinite quantities. perfectly consistent or commensurable terms. After all. seeking to render that history intelligible. ethical. that new order is capable of formal treatment and hence of reckonings with ‘intrinsic size’ which are just as precise – albeit in accordance with a different. will render it impossible ‘for there to exist a one-toone correspondence between it and an ordinal smaller than it’ since it will ‘mark the frontier at which a new order of intrinsic size commences’ (p. Yet it is also a matter of that same internal dialectic or process of advancement through self-interrogation and immanent critique which Badiou finds perpetually at work in mathematics as likewise in any project of enquiry or activist commitment that requires such a faithful yet critical following-through of its inaugural challenge. so to speak. All the same this is no vague gesture towards some utterly untravelled or unknowable domain since.READING THE TEXT intellectual. as Cantor was the first to demonstrate. ratiocinative. from outside the existing state of knowledge or prevailing state of affairs – ‘singularities’ that typically first show up at some ‘evental site’ whose marginal location excludes it from the dominant count-as-one – and thereafter exert an inescapable claim on the fidelity of those who have registered the force of their rupture with previous modes of thought. that this provides 195 . which is why ‘[a]s frontiers of power. as we have seen. Badiou reminds us. 270). This property (that of being a cardinal) can itself be formalized as follows: ‘Card (α) ↔ ‘α is an ordinal and there is no one-to-one correspondence between α and an ordinal β such that β ∈ α’. in the process whereby mathematical thought came upon those special kinds of ordinal that marked the critical point of transition to a realm beyond anything conceivable in finite. that is. creative or socio-political powers which he takes to characterize the history of every significant human enterprise and hence to form an essential part of any project. This is partly a matter of events which arrive. that is. more elusive standard of precision – as those concerning the normal or commonplace range of ordinals.

For what results from applying the ‘diagonal’ technique – as opposed to a straightforwardly ‘vertical’ pairing-off between set and subsets – is proof that there also exists an element δ that is neither internal nor external to f. clearly. Hence the theorem that bears his name: that which holds the cardinality of any given set to be exceeded by the cardinality of its various subsets or component parts. 275) as a pair of reductio-type arguments which demonstrate first the contradictory outcome of asserting that δ is f-internal and second the contradictory outcome of asserting that δ is f-external. that β might always turn out to be just that anomalous or uncounted element that is either undecidably placed in this regard or capable of being shown to exist outside and beyond the utmost powers of reckoning or ‘legal’ inclusion exerted by the prevalent count. Badiou presents the formal proof (top of p. the technique of logically proving this to be the case through a demonstration that there is not and could not be a oneto-one correspondence between α and p(α) – the set and its parts or subsets – since the latter will include at least one element β that does not belong to f(β) where f is defined as that (supposed but in fact impossible) condition of one-to-one correspondence. or the conclusion that it is strictly impossible to establish that putative one-to-one correlation between a set and its subsets or parts. From which it follows. Hence also Cantor’s development of the formal procedure known as ‘diagonalization’. But if such an element can be shown to exist then of course this entails the non-existence of f. to repeat. that is. 273). moreover. Cantor’s great advance was to establish the existence of just such differently sized infinite quantities and.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT a scale of measurement – a class of limit-point markers – for comparison between their relative ‘sizes’ or cardinalities. multiples. the argument goes through: that element β may likewise not be included in the set which supposedly includes all those elements. that fall under the superordinate count-as-one. subsets and so on. the fact of their existing at every point on a scale that runs continuously all the way ‘from the empty multiple (which numbers nothing) to an unlimited series of infinite cardinals. In which case. In this way the method of ‘diagonal’ reasoning invented by Cantor is able to reveal ‘a “one-more” (or a remainder) of a procedure which is 196 . which number quantitatively distinct infinite multiples’ (p.

comprehends or exhaustively counts those parts but also the extent to which any given ‘situation’ is numerically exceeded by the ‘state of the situation’. For. Indeed Badiou pauses at this stage to reflect on just how substantive or potentially far-reaching those results may be. What they show is not only the excess of parts over that which supposedly contains. Moreover. 274). this often goes along with the claim that proofs by reductio cannot work since they require the validity of a rule in classical logic – that of double-negation elimination – which in turn rests on the principle of bivalence. In that case Badiou’s above-summarized argument with regard to the excess of parts or subsets over any given set would have to be counted invalid since it purports to do just what those thinkers rule out as an abusive overextension of our cognitive. intuitionist or anti-realist idea that the domain of mathematical truth is co-extensive with that of mathematical knowledge or provability. as we have seen. this mode of proof by drawing out the logical contradictions produced if one adopts the opposite premise is itself ‘typical of everything in ontology which is related to the problem of excess. of “not-being-according-to-such-an-instance-ofthe-one”’ (p.READING THE TEXT supposedly exhaustive. by the greater multiplicity of multiples that turns out to exist within it when subject to a second-order analysis in set-theoretical terms. thus ruining the latter’s pretension’ (p. In other words it is a form of reasoning that banks heavily on the power of thought to achieve genuine discoveries or arrive at knowledge-expanding as well as logically valid conclusions on the basis of certain formal arguments that none the less have decisive implications beyond the purely formal domain. So one can see why he took such pains in Meditation Twenty-Four (‘Deduction as Operator of Ontological Fidelity’) to repudiate the constructivist. 274). All the more so with infinite quantities that offer the prospect of a likewise infinite increase in the size of that 197 . that all well-formed or truth-apt statements are either true or false. rational or epistemic powers. that is. Thus it would claim to produce substantive results by a via negativa that entails the existence of objective truth-values for certain statements – those belonging to Dummett’s ‘disputed class’ – which are taken to lack such a value (or not to be candidates for truth or falsehood) since they cannot be proved or ascertained by any method acceptable on constructivist or intuitionist terms.

epistemic warrant or the scope and limits of humanly attainable knowledge. Thus Badiou concludes that it is only by way of a decisive and unforeseeable intervention that the excess is temporarily held within check and the discrepancy annulled or at least prevented from coming too plainly into view. Not that Badiou is locating the anomaly in the mindset. . that all it can do is oscillate between overestimation and underestimation’ (p. estimate by “how much” its state exceeds it’ (p. natural.4 On the contrary. heterodox or critical mindset that refuses to endorse such received views through its sharper perception of what they habitually ignore or conceal. Badiou leaves the reader in no doubt that when he makes this claim concerning the excess of the state of the situation over the situation – and when he says that this ‘problem of excess’ marks every branch of ontology whether in the formal. intuitionists or anti-realists who see no possible room for truth in the discourse of mathematics except on condition that it is so re-defined as to equate with provability. Rather one has to recognize the fact that in such circumstances action is not so much a hostage to fortune as a wager – at any rate in no sense a pure calculation – and that ‘of this wager it is known . 278).BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT disparity which opens up between the situation and the state of the situation. . other than by an arbitrary decision. Nor does it bring him out in agreement with those constructivists. conflictually motivated – subjects. social or the human sciences – then he intends it as a matter of objective truth that pertains to the way things veridically stand. However he is also very clear that such anomalies can be brought to light only through an act of discovery that requires the utmost dedication and strength of purpose on the part of its inaugural thinker. one cannot. 278). Yet it is also the case that this suppressed anomaly – this structural imbalance or lack of common measure between ‘situation’ and ‘state of the situation’ – will exist as a potential destabilizing force wherever the interests of maintaining the status quo ante come into conflict with those of a dissident. or making the conflict out to be a product of ideological tensions that can be thought to exist only insofar as they register with suitably attuned – that is to say. 198 . Thus ‘however exact the quantitative knowledge of a situation may be. rather than the way they are thought or believed to stand according to our presentbest or future-best-possible state of knowledge.

named for the mathematician W. To this extent ‘[a]ction receives a warning from ontology: that it endeavours in vain when it attempts precisely to calculate the state of the situation in which its resources are disposed’ (p. This is not to say (far from it) that to act or decide on some particular course of action must always be a matter of passing beyond any maxims. logic and the formal sciences and also those other subject-areas where he takes the theorem to possess a comparable power and scope of application. and yet quite impossible to predict when or where that event will occur. To Badiou. and also an evental site where its effects are likeliest to show up. 278). and hence the inadequacy of any approach – like that of mathematical anti-realism – which treats them as two quite distinct ontological domains. this represents an object-lesson in the soundness of that basically Marxist conception that maintains the dialectical inter-involvement of subject and object in the process of knowledge-acquisition. This is why there will always be a deficit or shortfall of knowledge concerning the extent and the precise location of those points where the countas-one – the ‘situation’ insofar as it is recognized in accordance with the dominant mode of reckoning – comes up against that which surpasses its powers of computation or pre-assured conceptual grasp. reasons or kindred justificatory 199 . even – or especially – where these involve an encounter with obstacles that tax its resources to the limit and beyond. principles. Thus it may well be possible to know for sure (perhaps by reading Badiou on set theory and its ontological import) that in any situation there is bound to be some such point of excess. B.READING THE TEXT Moreover. Easton – in terms that emphasize its strongly realist (truth-based) character as concerns both those abstract entities that figure in the discourse of mathematics. it demands a comparable measure of commitment among those later ‘militants of truth’ whose fidelity becomes the sole guarantee that its further implications will continue to be worked through.5 For on the latter conception there appears such a sharp and immoveable wedge between objective truth and attainable knowledge that the issue becomes a downright dilemma and relinquishing truth comes to seem by far the lesser of two privations.6 Badiou puts his case concerning the theorem of the point of excess – ‘Easton’s Theorem’.

At this limit.7 For we shall otherwise have no conceptual or critical purchase on those specific instances where the excess of parts over wholes. as likewise against that Deleuzean strain of radical difference-thinking that purports to dissolve such ‘molar’ oppositions into ‘molecular’ or ‘deterritorialized’ energy-flows – is the absolute necessity that thinking preserve the sharpest. there is one crucial difference between Badiou’s conception of fidelity as an intellectual as well as ethical virtue and the kind of decisionist approach that would place any genuinely ethical choice or commitment beyond the furthest bounds of rational thought or argued justification. that is. The difference lies in his showing that the limit of ontology – the point where it gives way to recognition of the event as that which potentially subverts all received or established modes of ontological reasoning – is one that can be reached only by way of just such a rigorous. Badiou suggests. there is no contradiction or flat conflict but rather a highly productive tension between what pertains to the formal. the sphere of subjective commitment or will to push through with the relevant proof procedures and the testing of further derivative hypotheses. attach great importance to the way that major advances in mathematics and other disciplines must always involve a decisive break with received modes of thought. logical or scientific ‘context of justification’ and what pertains to the ‘context of discovery’. that is. most decisive and rigorous awareness of how that dualism structures the relationship between truth and the various processes of human knowledge-acquisition. inclusion over belonging.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT grounds and staking one’s claim to right conduct on a leap of faith – or an ethical commitment – that wholly transcends any such rule-based and to that extent strictly non-ethical mode of reasoning. However. axiomatic-deductive procedure. It is a tricky point for any commentator on Badiou since he does. What he seeks to maintain – against any quasiHegelian overcoming of the object/subject divide. the state of the situation 200 . Such a break can come about only through belief in some as-yet unproven conjecture which thereafter – until proved or admitted to the range of well-founded theorems – depends for its continued upholding on the ‘militant’ or fideist commitment of those for whom its truth and its pursuit into hitherto unexplored regions of thought are likewise matters of intense personal dedication. subsets over sets. after all. as should be clear by now.

These latter are tied in closely with his set-theoretical enquiries in a passage that links the Greek inauguration of certain still very active concerns in the formal sciences to the likewise Greek inception of themes – those at the heart of tragic drama in its classical mode – that still find a resonance and even a direct structural analogue in present-day politics and social ethics. structures. For it is definitely.READING THE TEXT over the situation and so forth. will be open in being’ (p. ontology and multiple-excess Meditations Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight – ‘Ontological Destiny of Orientation in Thought’ and ‘Constructivist Thought and the Knowledge of Being’ – go on to explore the implications of this for mathematics and all those other regions of enquiry to which mathematics stands as a privileged source of insights or conceptual advancement. the historical law of thought whose cause resides in a point at which being is no longer exactly sayable. 281). The passage in question is worth citing at length since it brings together so many of Badiou’s leading preoccupations in a concise and perspicuous way. is such as to require the most meticulous degree of analytical precision. socio-political and artistic spheres. restrictive or ‘re-territorializing’ modes of thought. in the desire that is thought. What they chiefly seek to establish is the claim that ‘it is for ever that this provocation to the concept. proposed its subjective channeling via the immediately political discourse to a new symbolic order of justice. from mathematics and logic to issues in the ethical. Aeschylus . this un-relation between presentation and representation. . Hence – to repeat – Badiou’s espousal of set theory with its well-defined terms. a question of 201 . The argument is pursued at various levels and in various contexts of investigation.8 2. arises in each of three great endeavors to remedy this excess which the Greek tragedians quite rightly made into the major determinant of what happens to the human creature. logical relations and range of operative concepts as opposed to Deleuze’s express preference for those regions of mathematical thought – like the differential calculus – that may be held to resist such (as Deleuze would claim) strictly regimented and hence inherently coercive. Dissatisfaction. . Orientations: mathematics.

The joint invention of mathematics and the ‘deliberative form’ of the State leads. that is. discrepancy. thinkers of the first persuasion have sought (like Leibniz with his law of the identity of indiscernibles) to contain or prevent the emergence of any such excess by decreeing that all differences are marked. Rather this passage. to the observation that the saying of Being would hardly make any sense if one did not immediately draw from the affairs of the City and historical events whatever is necessary to provide also for the needs of ‘that-which-is-not-being’. that one must respond to the challenge of being by politics is another Greek inspiration which still reigns over us. Thereafter. lack of proportion or strictly unpredictable (‘errant’) excess that haunted the discourses of mathematics. that what cannot be distinguished in and through such a mark cannot ipso facto be different. art and love) which he takes jointly to constitute the realm of practical engagement whereby philosophy is enabled to pursue its primary vocation. amidst this astonishing people. politics. through its reference to the ‘desire that is thought’. have the last word in 202 . and hence that language – or the discourse that articulates all known terms or available means of distinction – must. (p. quite literally. according to Badiou. 282) I should emphasize that Badiou is not merely drawing certain suggestive analogies between those fourfold ‘conditions’ (science. politics. ethics and – in its distinctively ancient-Greek form – tragic drama. Thus its pointed grammatical ambiguity (to paraphrase: ‘that specific kind of desire that takes the form of rational-discursive thought’ or ‘that kind of desire that has been subject to thought and thus achieved greater self-knowledge’) may be seen as reinforcing his case with regard to the close relationship between love – whether eros or agape – and philosophical reflection from Plato’s Symposium to Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the innumerable injustices of the State: moreover. The ‘three great endeavors’ referred to in the above-quoted passage all have their source in that inaugural perception of a mismatch. exploring the scope and limits of ontology vis-à-vis those conditions. gives the first clear indication in Being and Event of how the fourth element might stand in relation to the other three which have so far received much more detailed attention. ontology.

As might be expected Badiou sees small hope of progress in this direction. sort. logical or suchlike regimented thought. 283). ‘[l]anguage assumes the role of a law of being insofar as it will hold as identical whatever it cannot distinguish’ (p. When faced with the coercive and implacable demand that we should constantly sift. will become adequate to the situation again’ (p. or accepted ideas of just what constitutes a proper (legitimate or socially warranted) mode of political activity. whether as regards mathematics and the natural sciences (where it offers only the notional prospect of a wholesale ‘liberation’ from all those standards of rational and purposive thought that would make such a freedom worth having) or as regards politics.READING THE TEXT matters of ontology. ethics and the arts (where it would likewise amount to a merely gestural since wholly indiscriminate break with everything that constitutes a challenge to human creative. 283). 283). one hopes. The second ‘great endeavor’ would appear to be that which has found voice in those thinkers of the flux – from Heraclitus to Deleuze – who have argued or polemicized against what they consider the tyranny of concepts and the life-denying force exerted by abstract. responsive and adaptive powers). classify and draw ever more sharply categorical yet also minutely detailed distinctions the only adequate response – so these thinkers maintain 203 . and hence – in effect – to a veto on the sorts of strictly unpredictable (since ground-breaking) advance singled out by Badiou. would amount to a requirement that thinking remain within the limits set by received modes of reasoning or established proof-procedures. To this way of thinking ‘the excess of the state is only unthinkable because the discernment of parts is required’ (p. whether as concerns the nature and scope of sound mathematical reasoning. This in turn serves to ward off recognition of whatever might threaten to subvert the existing status quo. if carried through consistently. the currently prevailing paradigm of scientific method. ‘Thereby reduced to counting only those parts that are commonly nameable. In mathematics this doctrine. In politics likewise it would ultimately signal a failure or refusal to conceive of possibilities beyond those that found expression in some pre-existent discourse of values and beliefs. the state. or again – as Wittgensteinians and suchlike latter-day ‘sophists’ would have it – some communally sanctioned language-game or cultural ‘form of life’. For these thinkers.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT – is one that refuses to go along with it and in stead elects to celebrate the endlessly proliferating play of differences. aspects or features of some given situation that would otherwise (and normally) escape notice or fail to register according to the prevalent count-as-one. the undifferentiated and the multiply-similar’ (p. and that any authentic thought must first forge for itself the means to apprehend the indeterminate. set-theoretically based approach is in the latter’s holding out for the values – ethico-socio-political as well as logico-mathematico-scientific – of analytical precision and conceptual clarity. endless. ‘Within this orientation’. intensities and ‘de-territorializing’ flows. which brings forth in thought the manifold parts that cannot be named as separate from the crowd of those which – in the myopic eyes of language – are absolutely identical to them’ (p. a realm of absolute. He is thus squarely at odds with any approach whose chief effort is to ‘dispose of a matheme of the indiscernible. Such thinking may very well task itself to analyse. is a demonstration that it is the latter which make up the essential of the field in which the state operates. Here we see. via a doctrine of indiscernibles. 283). ‘What is proposed this time. ‘the mystery of excess will not be reduced but rejoined’ (p. briefly stated. as against the 204 . the main gist of Badiou’s case against Deleuze and his reason for insisting – contra the vogue of difference-thinking in its multiform modes and guises – that the precondition for any genuinely radical or transformative project of thought is that it exercise a maximum power of discernment with respect to those details. 283). describe and even to ‘interrogate’ the forms and structures of representation but only ‘on the side of what it numbers without ever discerning: parts without borders. Where the crucial difference lies between this and his own. random conglomerates’. The result of such thinking is to multiply differences to a merely notional point of infinity where they blur into something like Hegel’s famous night in which all cows are black. Rather it serves only to obscure the sources of error and falsehood with respect to mathematical and scientific knowledge. 283). undifferentiated difference which offers no kind of conceptual purchase and hence no possibility of change through a process of rational evaluation and critique. or the sources of oppression. inequality and exclusion with respect to the social and political spheres. Badiou remarks. injustice.

That is. What this principally involves is the attempt ‘to fix a stopping point to errancy by the thought of a multiple whose extension is such that it organizes everything which precedes it. the procedure here takes the form of positing so ‘gigantic’ an infinity that thought would be enabled to exceed or transcend and thereby (supposedly) contain any such ‘errant’ quantity as might otherwise elude its best efforts of conceptual grasp.READING THE TEXT strong yet spurious appeal of a rhetoric of difference which finally collapses into just the sort of thinking that it claims and strives to avoid. 284). I should make it clear that Badiou’s account of these three endeavours (or ‘orientations’) is not designed to represent them as a sequence of increasingly adequate. procedural or calculative reckoning. complex. like the first endeavour. by ‘reinforcing rules and prohibiting the indiscernible’. While fully alert to those manifold kinds and degrees of ‘unmeasure’ that mark all received (scientifically or socio-politically dominant) modes of being this conception stakes its claim on the standing possibility that thought might achieve such closure through an idea of that which by definition transcends any limit assignable to it by existing powers of rational. he is at pains to insist that each corresponds to a certain aspect or dimension of ontology 205 . analytically precise or conceptually powerful resources in the quest for clarity concerning ontological issues. but rather ‘directly from above’ by asserting the existence of ‘transcendent multiplicities’ that can then serve as limit-point notions whereby to ‘unveil the very law of multiple-excess’ and hence offer the prospect (paradoxically enough) of a ‘vertiginous closure to thought’ (p. and therefore sets the representative multiple in its place. the state bound to a situation’ (p. ‘the grand cardinals approximate the virtual being required by theologies’. 283). and thence to an operative rather than merely notional conception of infinity. That is to say. This it would seek to achieve not. Rather. or play their role in attempts to place a limit on the otherwise truly ‘vertiginous’ spawning of infinite quantities by reasoning – like Cantor – in terms that overtly or covertly invoke some substitute for the God whose being is definable only by negation. The third ‘great endeavor’ is basically that which we have seen most clearly exemplified in Badiou’s treatment of the stage at which mathematical thought makes the passage from limitordinals to large cardinals.

So far is he. According to Badiou this path of enquiry has been ‘discernible 206 . by itself. any orientation in thought. Thus ‘[m]athematical ontology does not constitute.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT since each ‘implies that a certain type of being is intelligible’ (p. if not (in the nature of the case) a fully adequate concept. What Badiou is here determined to show is the element of strictly uncontainable excess that afflicts any effort to conserve thought within a smoothly functioning economy where difference can either be annulled by absorption back into the realm of identity-thinking or extended to the point of a purely notional ‘infinity’ where in effect this becomes just a substitute term for the God of negative theology. And if this sounds rather like Hegel writing from the standpoint of Absolute Knowledge then the imputation is valid insofar as Badiou is undoubtedly entering some large claims for the truth-content of the viewpoint thus attained but false insofar as he situates that content in a realm where certain strictly formal operations are unpredictably subject to the kind of disruptive. a development absolutely central to every aspect of Badiou’s own endeavour. potentially transformative event that resists any form of dialectical subsumption or phenomenological uptake. or could be. of that which had hitherto eluded its furthest powers of rational grasp. Hence the fourth and final ‘orientation’. 284). Still these three modes of thought altogether represent what he considers a threshold point in the process of conceptual and ontological advancement whereby set theory – having itself passed through and beyond them – can now bid fair to locate their most salient stages of transformation to date. 284). one that is able to take thinking beyond that point and to offer a working idea. present or future development in the sphere of set theory since mathematics plays the role of provider with regard to their various conceptual requirements and not the role of judge or arbiter concerning their respective claims to truth. indeed. from the suggestion of any such ranking order in point of ontological grasp that he considers the second orientation – despite what I have here described as its distinctly Deleuzean character – as also including among its most notable advances Cohen’s concept of the generic. Moreover none of them is. but it must be compatible with all of them: it must propose and discern the multiple-being which they have need of’ (p. rendered invalid through the confrontation with some past.

because it is in the undecidable occurrence of a supernumerary non-being that every truth-procedure originates’ (p. and which thus force a radical re-thinking of that supposition along with a grasp of hitherto unglimpsed possibilities. It is here – in this exposition of the ‘fourth way’ – that Badiou offers one of his clearest statements concerning the need for ontology. metameta-language and so forth. with Russell chiefly in mind – that would seek to maintain the logical consistency of set theory (and to hold any looming paradoxes firmly at bay) by decreeing a strict separation of realms between language. 285). unless at the cost of producing a closed and immobile ontology (like that of Parmenides and. that is. by its nature. that is. in which case ‘[t]here is no need to be horrified by an un-binding of being. for a mathematically based exploration of being in its various modes but also the need for ontology to recognize that which by very definition exceeds its conceptual grasp. somewhat like the set-theoretical technique of diagonalization invented by Cantor. tended towards a conception of being that would leave no room for the disruptive impact of whatever lies beyond its (supposedly) consistent and all-encompassing grasp. What therefore sets this orientation apart from the others – and at odds with them in certain crucial respects – is its challenge not only to such extreme versions of the monist ontological creed but also to ontology itself insofar as that project has always. This is where Badiou most decisively parts company with other writers on the theme of general ontology. meta-language. one assumes. among them Dale Jacquette in 207 . at least on one interpretation. It is best conceived as ‘transversal to the three others’ since. it allows thought to achieve a decisive advance by showing how certain formal procedures generate results that fail to square with some foregone (often intuitive or commonsensically ‘self-evident’) supposition. 284). Thus ‘[i]ts hypothesis consists in saying that one can only render justice to injustice from the angle of the event and intervention’. purely analytic or formalized approach – here. For of course it is Badiou’s leading claim that such consistency is in truth not to be had. Thus the fourth orientation is that which locates the ‘truth of the ontological impasse’ beyond the domain of ontology itself and beyond any ‘metaontological’. Spinoza) which excludes any possibility of change.READING THE TEXT from Marx onwards’ and was ‘grasped from another perspective in Freud’ (p.

yet whose choice of a phenomenological starting-point – an appeal to the subject. As Jacquette pointedly puts it. rather than – as Heidegger would have it – their ultimate non-objective source in the modalities of human perception. ‘[w]here can so much information about being qua being as Heidegger discovers possibly come from if it has not been surreptitiously smuggled into the assumption that phenomenology is the only method of ontology?’. One is his opting. an approach that defines its operative terms.11 Badiou and Jacquette are likewise agreed in drawing a sharp distinction between general ontology (that which seeks to limn the structures of reality aside from all distinctions of particular domain) and those local or regional ontologies that have to respect such distinctions if they are not to lose touch with their own specific standards of truth or objectivity. for a strictly extensionalist rather than intensionalist approach to set-theoretical issues. in effect. mathematical or logical nature but also – as we have seen – by Badiou’s conviction that it has a crucial bearing on issues of political. This choice is motivated not only by considerations of a relatively technical.9 For both of them Heidegger stands out as a thinker of great originality and insight.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT a recent book that in certain respects steers a similar course to his own. unlike Jacquette. experience and (above all) temporal awareness. albeit redefined in (supposedly) post-humanist or non-anthropomorphic terms – was a wrong turn and. The other main point where his thinking diverges from Jacquette’s is with regard to the latter’s guiding assumption that general ontology should or must 208 . an abandonment of anything that warrants that description. sexual and ethnic equality. social. one who did much to revive the fortunes and shape the development of modern ontological enquiry. formal. that is.10 If the term ‘ontology’ is to have any proper or distinctive meaning then it has to signify a mode of investigation that aims to establish the objective. concepts or functions in a purely numerical or quantitative way – as entities referred to without any kind of qualitative distinction between them – and which thus programmatically avoids the introduction of preconceived evaluative judgements or priority rankings. However they are at odds on two major points that can be seen to set Badiou’s project decidedly apart from most conceptions of the aim and scope of ontological enquiry. mind-independent structures of reality (whether physical or abstract).

This goes along with Jacquette’s programmatic commitment (again placing him at odds with Badiou) to the thesis that ‘combinations’. present or future. properties and attributes which between them constitute the actual world. there is nothing to commend such topic-neutrality or lack of ontic specification and indeed every reason to suppose that. rather than sets. it serves mainly as a pretext for deflecting attention from substantive issues in the formal as well as the 209 . valid and logically consistent statements – in such a way as must of necessity be the case with respect to the actual world. Thus Jacquette suggests that ‘the word “world” [should be] restricted to the unique maximally consistent proposition set associated with the actual world’. as distinct from those other possible worlds that may exhibit such consistency in some degree but which fall short of it in certain decisive respects. ‘[t]he concept of a combination is schematic for reference to any logically possible selection of logically possible properties.12 Such a usage would have the wholly beneficial effect – he believes – of maintaining a firm ontological line between reality (i. throughout the entirety of this as opposed to some alternative conceivable universe) and the various near-by or remote quasi-‘worlds’ that can be shown to be submaximally consistent and hence – ex hypothesi – defective in point of actuality. on the other hand. while as regards ‘submaximally consistent proposition sets’ we should do better to speak of ‘near worlds’ or ‘world-like structures’. the sum-total of objects. whether past. are the best linguistic-conceptual currency in which to conduct ontological discussion since they are strictly neutral as concerns content or subject matter and hence ideally suited to the purposes of a general ontology which then provides the basis and starting point for more specialized regional enquiries.e. in keeping with the choice of an intensionalist rather than extensionalist ontology. or of objects defined in terms of properties combined with properties’.13 For Badiou. events and properties both abstract and physical. since after all that world must itself be thought to cohere as a total ensemble of how things stand and moreover to contain everything that fixes the truth-value of those statements. On this account. Their non-actuality is precisely a function of their failing to cohere – to yield an exhaustive range of true.READING THE TEXT have to do with a maximally consistent combination of objects.

‘[u]nlike sets. with existent (whether physical or abstract) objects and properties thereof – rather than hobnobbing with the kinds of non-entity for which set theory not only finds room but reserves a privileged since systemgrounding or edifice-supporting place. language and the plenitude of being With Meditation Thirty Leibniz makes his entry as one of those strong precursors who exemplify a particular. the exclusion of this possibility speaks strongly in favour of a combination-based rather than set-theoretical approach. that is. which include the possibility of a null set containing no members whatsoever. for Badiou it would betray a shying away from the transformative potential – the openness to unpredictable events or encounters with that which eludes its calculative grasp – that thinking gains by adopting the latter rather than the former. clearly marked and crucial stage in this perpetual dialectic of containment and excess. in Jacquette’s words. Thus. for him.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT physical and social sciences.15 For Badiou this is not – as it is for Leibniz – primarily a matter of human ignorance vis-à-vis the total chain of concatenated causes and effects or a product of our limited powers of rational grasp as compared with those of an omniscient knower for whom ex hypothesi nothing would be contingent since everything would occupy its rightful place in the pre-established order of things. Leibniz: logic. That suspicion would no doubt be reinforced by Jacquette’s taking it as further good reason to substitute talk of ‘combinations’ for set-theoretical talk that the former has to do only with entities – that is. What emerges here is the difference between Badiou’s and Leibniz’s way of conceiving the being/event dichotomy. or that which preserves and that which periodically unsettles and disrupts established conceptions of truth. Rather. metaphysical or logical laws. 3.14 Whereas. there can be no null combinations’. It is in consequence of just such disruptive encounters with the limits of self-assured reckoning – limits that have often shown up through a failure to accommodate those crisis-inducing irruptions of the void – that mathematics has periodically been jolted into new and intensely productive tracks of thought. it is a question of 210 . the question – central to both their projects – of how and why contingency should have any place in what would seem (from the ontological viewpoint) an exceptionless order of necessity governed by causal.

in the sense that Leibniz’s four best-known rationalist principles – those of non-contradiction. that is. Where they come into contact is not through some Leibnizian God’s-eye perspective wherein that distinction would fall away and the notion of contingent matters of fact – as opposed to necessary truths of reason – at last be revealed as merely a product of our time-bound perceptual. Hence Badiou’s major thesis: that ‘Leibniz is able to demonstrate the most implacable inventive freedom once he has guaranteed the surest and most controlled ontological foundation – the one which completely accomplishes. epistemic or other such creaturely limits. sufficient reason. images and metaphors that lead into unexplored regions of thought far beyond the system’s programmatic remit. ‘Constructivist’. After all. All the same what most attracts him to Leibniz – as likewise to Spinoza – is the intriguing combination of a systematic doctrine that he firmly rejects with a speculative brilliance that he finds both congenial and productive of numerous otherwise unachievable insights. according to Badiou. this goes along with a remarkable. Of course the doctrine must strike Badiou as downright unacceptable on account of its commitment to a thoroughgoing metaphysical-determinist creed which leaves no room for events sub specie aeternitatis except insofar as their apparent contingency results from our ignorance concerning their causal antecedents or place in the overall rational scheme of things. the identity of 211 . 315). down to the last detail. cognitive.READING THE TEXT necessities that come into being only as a consequence of certain events – certain epochal changes or discoveries – whose extraordinary nature is precisely a matter of their having been prepared or their advent guaranteed by no such providential scheme. knowledge and experience that provide the essential enabling ‘conditions’ for philosophic thought. as he then proceeds to argue. Badiou’s entire project rests on the distinction between mathematics as fundamental ontology (and therefore as philosophy’s primary source of guidance in such matters) and those various kinds of historically located thought. On the contrary. However. it is through the always unfolding and strictly openended dialectic between those two dimensions that philosophy discovers its true vocation as a creative as well as a rigorous and disciplined mode of enquiry. the constructivist orientation’ (p. well-nigh baroque profusion of ideas.

16 That these latter are so closely intertwined or conflated in Leibnizian metaphysics is one main reason why his system offers such a consummate example of constructivist thought in its drive to preclude – to render strictly unthinkable – whatever might otherwise exceed its conceptual power. over everything that has its properly assignable place in the great concatenated chain of logical-rational-causal necessity. if everything went perfectly to plan. The second main reason is that this comes down to a matter of nomination insofar as Leibniz’s two identity-laws can be seen to rest on a jointly ontological and linguistic-representational thesis whereby it is assumed that all relevant distinctions (i. semantic imprecision. metaphorical licence.if it means an event whose sense would have to be wagered’ (p.17 Not that Badiou is by any means predisposed against an idea – that of the ‘ideal and transparent language that Leibniz worked on from the age of twenty’ – which after all has much in common with his own allegiance to a formal (mathematics-based) ontology and his principled rejection of the ‘linguistic turn’ in its various Wittgensteinian. . that is. Thus ‘[w]hat Leibniz absolutely rejects is chance . . have the effect of excluding any possible departure from its immanent laws of structure. logical. and is so fundamentally at odds with Leibniz 212 . 316). post-structuralist or neo-pragmatist modes. hermeneutic. No doubt this claim could be made good only in the case of a formal. However what crucially distinguishes his from Leibniz’s formalist conception is the fact that Leibniz adopts this approach by way of securing – or appearing to secure – an absolute dominion for the dictates of logic over the realm of ontology and for the rule of ontology. truly discernible difference between entities) will find adequate expression in language. Here one can see why Badiou is so drawn to Pascal despite sharing nothing of the latter’s theological or existentialistfideist convictions. in turn. all those that latch onto some genuine. objectively existent.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT indiscernibles and the indiscernibility of identicals – between them constitute the logical-metaphysical framework of a monist ontology that would indeed. symbolic or algebraic language – such as Leibniz (like Frege and others after him) hoped to construct – that would leave no room for vagueness. or logical consequence. syntactic ambiguity or other such ills to which natural languages are (naturally) prone. causality.e.

it is only through the sharply restricted nature of human knowledge and understanding that we count some truths (e. This follows directly from the cardinal Leibnizian precept according to which the domain of possible beings or potential existents is entirely determined by those four basic principles of logic mentioned above. along with his theodicy and also his doctrine of reality as composed of innumerable windowless monads whose lack of direct communication one with another is made up for by God’s having set them in a state of preordained perfect harmony. chief among them that of non-contradiction. as Leibniz conceives it. Besides. conjunctures. this conviction has its ultimate grounding in the God of Leibnizian metaphysics and ontology whose office it is to stand guarantor that this is the ‘best of all possible worlds’ since it is just that unique and particular world among the myriad that God might have made which supposedly exhibits the greatest plenitude of being and the highest attainable perfection of properties or attributes. For. those of a historical or circumstantial character) as belonging to the realm of contingent or might-have-been-otherwise factual record. causal relations and so forth that don’t imply some logical contradiction – even if way out among their furthest and to us unknown entailments – then ‘being-possible is subordinate to pure logic’. those of mathematics and logic) as holding good by necessity and others (e.18 Moreover it is precisely on account of his constructivist approach – his presumption that this ultimate. Leibniz maintains. properties.g. For if indeed reality contains all and only those objects.g. logically articulated structure of being can and must find expression in a likewise perfect (since constructed-toorder) language – that Leibniz is able to project his entire metaphysical worldview.READING THE TEXT despite his (on the face of it) far greater depth of intellectual kinship with Leibniz’s rationalist metaphysics and his idea of mathematics and logic as limning the ultimate structures of reality. can be circumscribed and thought in the absolute constructed legitimacy of their being’ (p. In which case. So one can see well enough why Badiou should feel compelled to take Leibniz on as one of those leading adversaries whose very closeness to his own way of thinking in certain respects is such 213 . and the multiple infinity of multiples from which it is composed. 316). ‘[a] multiple.

effective contingency. the necessity of its being just so in order to satisfy the rationalist demand that it not be put down to mere contingency or chance. intellectually productive. cosmological and theological outlook – wherein all things have their appointed place and where nothing could possibly be otherwise because every last object. the singularity or the ultra-one and was hence perceived as the greatest threat to this otherwise ideal plenitude of causal-logical space. this would mean that language – even (or especially) the perfected formal language of Leibniz’s dream – was unable to attach different names to them. Neither God nor nature (insofar as they are distinct) could possibly countenance any such senseless and irrational duplication since it would then require that the two entities be treated differently in some respect. a difference that – in view of their strict indiscernibility – must lack rational justification. and hence that thought was utterly unable to tell them apart. Which is also to say that this plenum is so devised – or this continuum so 214 . Thus it is clear why Leibniz should have invested so much intellectual energy and ingenuity in constructing a logico-metaphysical scheme that sought to close off any points of entry for whatever carried the disruptive force of the void. If the principles hold good then there is simply no room for any localized emergence of the void or for any incursion of that which signals a gap – precisely an indiscernible element according to the dominant count-as-one – in what purports to be a seamless continuum of causal and logical necessity. as this Meditation shows. 318). Thus a great deal depends on those other two principles – the identity of indiscernibles and the indiscernibility of identicals – since they articulate Leibniz’s grounds for maintaining a plenist ontology or metaphysical schema that excludes any possible irruption of just those continuity-shattering events that play so central a role in Badiou’s thinking.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT as to make their divergences all the more provocative and. that is. . “superfluous” in the sense of Sartre’s Nausea’ (p. In which case. ‘this pure “two” would introduce nothingness into being. . property or event is subject to the principle of sufficient reason. he reasons. metaphysical. It would be supernumerary with regard to the axioms. Granted that two indiscernible yet somehow separate or numerically non-identical beings existed. What divides them at root is Leibniz’s espousal of a totally integrated worldview – a jointly ontological. .

READING THE TEXT constructed – as to ensure in advance that no event can possibly occur within it. p.19 For Badiou. ‘deterritorialized’ energy-flows and so forth. Leibniz cautions. Rather than risk the occurrence of that catastrophe Leibniz sets about building up the ontological. ‘desiring-production’. the continuous or the smoothly differential over the discrete. metaphysical and conceptual-linguistic resources that would fend it off by securing their own exceptionless and indissoluble unity. a resistant or criticalsymptomatic reading of Leibniz’s work then there emerges a sub-text of logical implications markedly at odds with its overt 215 . in socio-political and ethical) terms. it is primarily for similar reasons that Badiou takes issue with Deleuze’s appeal to those branches of mathematics – such as the differential calculus – that allow him (albeit with some benefit of metaphoric licence) to privilege his own favoured ontology of fluxes. cited by Badiou. intensities. . 319). Were it not for that absolute plenitude of being then there would always be the chance of some ‘hiatus’ occurring in the order of things. conversely. . The consequence. at least no ‘event’ in the specific or qualitative sense that Badiou has now defined at considerable length in mathematical (as well as. more sketchily. would be to ‘overturn the great principle of sufficient reason. the sharply defined or clearly quantified. that is. As we have seen. Such would be the double catastrophe for thought should the void turn out to exist (or ‘inexist’) and the formal language thereby be revealed as perforce unable to discern the indiscernible and hence as inadequate to its proper task of clear and distinct nomination. and . it is the greatest virtue of set theory taken as the leading-edge development in modern mathematical thought that it permits an otherwise unattainable degree of conceptual precision in the marking-off of quantities one from another. and hence in the locating of precisely those points – as arrived at by Cantor and subsequent thinkers – where ‘paradox turns into concept’ and thereby opens up entire new regions of exploration and discovery. This he does by way of mathematics but with the emphasis on those branches of it that privilege the gradual. oblige us to have recourse to miracles or to pure chance in the explanation of phenomena’ (Leibniz. Moreover it is Badiou’s contention that if one essaysa non-fideist. some break in the chain of concatenated cause and effect or ubiquitous logical interconnection.

Badiou doesn’t hesitate to link this with ‘what is weak and conciliatory in Leibniz’s political and moral conclusions’. and even with those aspects of his personal life and public (diplomatic) career that may be seen to evince the same tendency. in Leibniz’s monadology. What brings the internal tension out to most telling effect is the presence. This reading cuts across the grain of his project to construct an ontology of pre-harmonized but non-inter-communicating monads that would each contain or reflect that entire system within itself and hence perfectly instantiate the order of God’s maximally rational. consistent and self-sufficient creation. the subject as putative bearer of truth – who is summoned into being by and through the very act of assuming that project as its own. To this extent the Leibnizian system is no more exempt than any other from dependence on those who either manage to initiate a project through their creative or inventive genius. this role is here reduced to an absolute minimum – indeed. it is that very attempt to minimize the subject’s role to vanishing-point that betrays both the ideologically driven nature of his project and – since it cannot be carried through without remainder – the fact that any such attempt will at some point founder on the subject’s reemergence. albeit (as here) in a reduced or attenuated form. to near-total passivity – by Leibniz’s desire to construct a system wherein the overriding requirements of logical consistency and all-encompassing (if largely notional) causal-explanatory scope are such as to render the subject little more than a ghost in the machine. With Leibniz. All the same – as elsewhere when he makes connections between work and life in the case of other thinkers such as Pascal. or else succeed in carrying that project forward through their commitment and fidelity to it. of a constantly implied yet occluded role for the subject – that is. However.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT content or express doctrinal creed. Rather it results from a clear-eyed recognition of how such character-traits or motivating interests play a role in the biographical-culturalhistorical-political ‘context of discovery’ even though they have no legitimate place in the intellectual-scientific-philosophical ‘context of justification’. Hegel and Heidegger – this is no mere recourse to anecdotal tidbits as a substitute for genuine critical engagement. ‘What we should see in this is the instance of the subject such 216 . Spinoza.

323). of which we know that it is not the presented multiple. such as is summoned. a maximalist ontology and a wholly consistent rationalist or logicist account of how things hung together from a God’s-eye (omniscient) viewpoint. 323). elusive and split. . It is therefore impossible to admire Leibniz for the ‘audacity and far-sightedness of his mathematical and speculative intellect’ while discounting those aspects that cannot but conduce to a sharply diminished sense of the potential for radical change brought about in large part by the active intervention of engaged and committed subjects.READING THE TEXT that constructivist thought meets its limit in being unable to exceed it . Such is the formal impasse of Leibnizian ontology and metaphysics as Badiou understands it. but its representation by the state’ (p. for example – failing the veritable subject – in parliamentary elections: the singleton. and such – by implication – the impasse faced by any politics that might (improbably enough) take lessons from Leibniz’s doctrines. 217 . in Badiou’s assessment. the subject whose concept is proposed in the end is not the subject. Thus ‘[w]hatever genius may be manifested in unfolding the constructible figure of an order. or perhaps (more plausibly) have ideological interests or commitments of its own that lead to a similar conclusion. developed or conserved without the involvement of ‘militant’ subjects devoted to precisely that end. a subject required by the absence of the event. Such is the standard by which. no matter how intense or singleminded their devotion. Here again one notes the clear echo of Badiou’s commentary on Pascal and his insistence that truth cannot be discovered. which is capable of wagering on the truth’ (p. even if this order be of being itself. What prevented Leibniz from acknowledging this possibility was his no doubt variously motivated need to make good the case for a plenist metaphysics. 323). . Leibniz must be judged to have erred with respect to the social and political as well as the ‘purely’ philosophical dimension of his thinking. Such is always the case even though he is equally at pains to insist – as against any purely fideist or echt-Pascalian interpretation – that truth may always in principle surpass or transcend the grasp of any subject. by the impossibility of intervention’ (p. Thus ‘[i]t is difficult to not recognize therein the singleton.

only to shy away from its full (and to him likewise deeply troubling) implications through the recourse to a notion of language – of an adequately formalized and disambiguated language – as providing the necessary means whereby to avert any threat to his system and its all-embracing metaphysical claims.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Thus. conceptual and logical tensions. Discussion points What exactly is meant by the ‘state of the situation’. among them Leibniz. he was led by his extraordinary gift for inventive or creative-anticipatory thought to the point of grasping that same central issue in set-theoretical ontology that so vexed Cantor two centuries later. with whose leading metaphysical.’ What is the bearing of this claim on Badiou’s philosophico-political project in Being and Event? 218 . ‘is to have anchored his constructivist orientation in what is actually the origin of any orientation of thought: the problem of the continuum’ (p. according to Badiou. Badiou writes. ontological or political commitments he is often profoundly at odds? ‘Action receives a warning from ontology: that it endeavours in vain when it attempts precisely to calculate the state of the situation in which its resources are disposed. there is indeed a truth to be deciphered in Leibniz’s texts. as Badiou deploys that phrase? How does it relate on the one hand to his utilization of set-theoretical concepts and on the other to his activist political concerns? Why does Badiou dedicate such a deal of close analytical attention to philosophers. it consists in his strongly denied or unacknowledged – one might say even repressed – need to fall back upon a certain notion of the indiscernible even while striving to assert its non-existence or rational unthinkability. As should be clear by now. 320). ‘One of Leibniz’s great strengths’. That is to say. It is at this stage of Being and Event – having taken Leibniz as his single most striking instance of a thinker impressively ahead of his time with respect to such issues – that Badiou turns his full attention to developments in the wake of Cantor’s inaugural discovery. one that runs directly counter to his overt or express argumentative design and is therefore legible only through the kind of symptomatic reading that allows for the emergence of just such thematic.

according to Badiou. The key to the problem is the mode in which the procedure of fidelity traverses existent knowledge. starting at the supernumerary point which is the name of the event. What chiefly occupies Badiou’s interest in Part VII is the question why this should be the case and then. (p. Forcing. why very often these are just the problems that subsequently prove most productive of fresh insight and major advance. a post-evental fidelity. a fixed state of knowledge.READING THE TEXT PART VII. in more positive terms. Leibniz most notable among them. J. ‘What this amounts to’ he writes. COHEN 1.1 Both analogies go strongly against the constructivist/anti-realist conception of mathematical ‘truth’ as co-extensive with – since 219 . [i]s thinking the relation – which is rather a non-relation – between. on the one hand. of a thinking that is so far ahead of its time as to encounter problems that as yet elude any clear or overt formulation. Since ‘everything is at stake’. 327) This idea of a faithfully enacted truth-procedure ‘traversing’ the body of knowledge – or what passes for knowledge at some given time – would seem to derive partly from Cantor’s ‘diagonal’ proof technique as applied to set-theoretical conjectures. the generic and subtractive ontology We have now seen several instances. THE GENERIC: INDISCERNIBLE AND TRUTH – THE EVENT: P. while also sufficiently of its own time as to resist even acknowledging their presence. and on the other hand. However it also appears to owe something to the less well-defined but none the less crucial realist idea of discoveries in mathematics and the formal sciences as involving an exploration of unknown conceptual terrain and discovery of salient landmarks that pre-existed the explorers’ arrival and are in no way dependent for their being or location on the explorers’ having come across them. or what I term below the encyclopaedia of the situation. It is by way of getting a preliminary hold on this question that he introduces the distinction between truth and knowledge as he proposes to deploy it throughout the remainder of Being and Event. ‘in the thought of the truth/knowledge couple’ it is worth citing him on this topic as a prelude to further commentary.

and which consists in ‘the capacity to discern multiples within the situation which possess this or that property’ (p. It is through the process of constantly confronting discrepancies.3 Hence Badiou’s invocation of recent developments in set theory which offer an account of just how it is that problems engendered by a present-best state of knowledge can often pass unnoticed and yet be seen later to have given rise to tensions which then proved a spur to some signal advance in the powers of mathematical thought. proof-procedures and so forth. so the realist will argue. the existence of truths that supposedly surpass one’s utmost range of epistemic. On the one hand there is a ‘language of the situation’. This latter is conceived as enabling the knower to exercise an infallible (by its own lights) power of ‘discernment’ which picks out all and only those properties – those (again by its own lights) most conspicuous and salient 220 . a state of knowledge that finds perfectly adequate expression in and through that language. cognitive or rational-demonstrative grasp. some new and hitherto strictly inconceivable advance. that is to say. What chiefly characterizes such thinking is a perfect correspondence of the ‘rule of knowledge’ with ‘a criterion of exact nomination’. techniques. structure and conceptual implications are as yet unknown. in consequence. anomalies or whatever doesn’t ‘count’ according to the dominant count-as-one that mathematics – like politics in this regard – most often finds itself forced to acknowledge some previously unrecognized problem and. that constitute the means and (very largely) the substance of this or that state of accepted mathematical knowledge.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT entirely created by – those methods. or has some adequate ground for asserting. This is where Badiou locates the productive tension – sometimes the outright conflict of aims – between a thinking that remains within certain pre-defined limits and therefore has to repress or ignore the existence of such problems in its own constitution and a thinking that ventures beyond those limits through fidelity to a new project whose exact nature.2 Where this idea lacks credibility. exclusions. However the constructivist will then come back and demand how it could possibly make sense to claim that one knows. 328). is in its failure to explain how advances in knowledge could ever occur were it not for the capacity of thought to conceive truth as always potentially distinct from – or in advance of – what presently counts as such.

the generic and indiscernibility.READING THE TEXT properties – that determine which multiples should be taken to possess some ‘nameable characteristic’ in common and therefore to exhibit ‘the connection between language and presented or presentable realities’ (p. knowledge or demonstrative reasoning and raise issues that would not be posed in an adequate or fully articulate conceptual form until the occurrence of just such a future advance. 328). nor again 221 . as Badiou stresses. Indeed it is just this fact of non-belonging – of exceeding and thereby (potentially) transforming the situation wherein it has so far gone unrecognized – that sets such occurrences apart from the run of ‘events’ in the commonplace. of near-synonymy. it is an ‘encyclopaedic’ conception which assimilates truth to knowledge and knowledge in turn to that which can be fully. that is. considered as the foundation of all knowledge to come’ (p. and (as supposed by the projectors of a perfectly logical language) transparently represented. conventional or (as Badiou considers it) falsely levelling sense of that term. ethical or other discourses which claim to articulate the truth of their respective domains. scientific. political. This is why Badiou adopts a negative or privative terminology by way of describing how progress is achieved not so much through a patient Baconian accumulation of knowledge. all of them derived from the work of Paul Cohen and each of them explained with great care and precision in this part of the book. In short. It is precisely the indiscernible element – that which eludes the count-as-one in any given situation – that will always mark the critical point at which knowledge encounters its limit and where thinking confronts the possibility of moving decisively beyond it. the truth of its being.4 Moreover. they are closely related to the point of being inter-definable. This is why he devotes some of the most intricately argued sections of Being and Event to the question of how it might be possible for thought to run ahead of its present-best capacities of proof. comprehensively. ‘The term “generic” positively designates that what does not allow itself to be discerned is in reality the general truth of a situation. 327). Most important here are his closely related concepts of forcing. On the other hand there is that which intrinsically escapes or eludes such classification since it has to do with those singular events that find no place within the range of currently accredited mathematical.

‘[t]he discernible is veridical. on a more advanced reckoning. but rather through the singular capacity of thought to grasp what is absent or lacking in a situation and thereby most effectively orient and motivate its own future projects. and hence subject to the ‘forcing’ effect of that which eludes its comprehension at present yet none the less exerts a transformative pressure on its current methods. constructivist. 339).g. political or creativeartistic thought from those which assume that epochal aspect only in a short-term. be assignable 222 . and maintains that such events typically result from the power of thought to ‘indiscern’ (i. It is through the exercise of this subtractive power that thought becomes open to a sharpened sense of yetto-be-resolved problems or aporias in the currently prevailing state of knowledge. or those that involve some genuine advance in the resources of mathematical. It is on this basis that Badiou develops a number of important distinctions. 327). Thus he puts the case for a ‘subtractive’ ontology as that which alone makes room for the occurrence of genuine events. to perceive as lacking or nonexistent) the completeness or consistency of a given situation.5 ‘“Indiscernible” implies a negation. It is here that Badiou introduces his Cohen-derived conception of the ‘generic’ as that which distinguishes authentic from pseudo-events. techniques and procedures. scientific.e.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT (following Kuhn) through drastic but rationally under-motivated switches of allegiance. Thus the term ‘generic’ applies to certain conceptually recalcitrant yet ultimately truth-conducive theorems or conjectures whose effect is to stimulate enquiries or open up paths of thought that would otherwise – according to alternative (e. But the indiscernible alone is true. among them those between the veridical and the true and – as mentioned above – the discernible and the indiscernible. That is to say. intuitionist or instrumentalist) philosophies – have absolutely no place in mathematical or other kinds of rigorous and disciplined thinking. because only a faithful generic procedure aims at the one of situational being’ (p. Thus. There is no truth apart from the generic. parochial or ideologically driven perspective. which nevertheless retains this essential point: a truth is always that which makes a hole in knowledge’ (p. what sets the ‘veridical’ apart from the ‘true’ is also what distinguishes the as yet indiscernible elements of truth in some given situation from everything that would.

as ineluctably subject to those same human. error or the limits of presently attainable knowledge. With regard to mathematics. more developed stage of 223 .READING THE TEXT to ignorance. that is to say. for that matter. to the natural sciences.6 Thus Badiou operates a point-for-point reversal of the argument by which philosophers of an anti-realist or constructivist persuasion have started out by conceiving truth as co-extensive with the scope and limits of attainable knowledge. received or conventionally sanctioned items of knowledge that falsely lay claim to a positive character grounded in the plenitude of being. all-too-human cognitive limits. 331). politics and art what distinguishes the authentic event is its capacity to point beyond any presently established evidential or probative grounds and to signal the truth of that which will – at a later. and then moved on – with Wittgenstein’s blessing – to conceive knowledge itself as co-extensive with the scope and limits of linguistic representation. This is the reason. or its distinctive property of taking away from that range of accepted. It is also why he comes out firmly opposed to the ‘linguistic turn’ in its manifold forms and guises except where – as in the line of analytical descent from thinkers like Frege and Russell – it holds language accountable to standards of logical consistency and truth that may well involve (contra Wittgenstein and other exponents of the ‘language-first’ approach) a willingness to claim that everyday usage sometimes stands in need of corrective analysis or clarification. communal or epistemic nature that would leave us at a loss to explain how it might at once transcend those restrictions and yet lie within the bounds of conceivability.7 This is why he is so implacably opposed to any notion of truth as subject to constraints of a linguistic. the ideal consistency of rational thought and the notion of an ultimate (if asymptotic) convergence between knower and known. and also why ‘it can rightfully be held to be linguistically familiar’. politics. This is why Badiou takes so strongly against any approach to mathematics – or. psychoanalysis or any other discipline of thought – that endorses the anti-realist idea of truth as epistemically constrained. in which case ‘[t]he totality of these discernments constitutes an encyclopaedic determinant’ (p. namely that ‘a finite set of presented multiples can always be enumerated’. Hence his insistence on the subtractive dimension of truth. the natural sciences. ‘why the world is full’. he suggests.

333). it is conclusively shown that the sub-sets of any given set will always exceed the cardinality of the set itself.e. a technique – as so often in the history of set-theoretical enquiry – whereby what once presented itself as an insoluble dilemma or paradox can henceforth be turned into a fully operative concept. as he says. What marks off the true from the (merely) veridical is precisely its resulting from a procedure of thought which confronts that challenge and strives to transform it into a means of surpassing its own present limits. and moreover that the disproportion will exceed any calculable limit where it is a question of infinite or transfinite sets. conjectures or hypotheses whose truthvalue could not be known at the earlier time. However the transformation cannot be achieved by a purely formal. Thus the concept of ‘forcing’. that is. This is why. to repeat. This 224 . as Badiou understands it. and again. self-generated challenge to its power of numerical containment or comprehension. ‘[a] truth (if it exists) must be an infinite part of the situation. and hence that any product of the count-as-one will always potentially run up against this kind of internal. takes rise from some of the most basic conditions of all set-theoretical enquiry. that the multiple is ontologically prior.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT understanding – turn out to have provided sufficient warrant for certain truth-apt theorems. accredited or ‘encyclopaedic’) ideas of veridical knowledge is the precondition for any such advance. because for every finite part one can always say that it has already been discerned and classified by knowledge’ (p. So it is that Badiou introduces Cohen’s concept of ‘forcing’ as a means to explain how such as-yet unknown (even presently unknowable) truths may none the less play a crucial transformative role in some existing state of knowledge through the fact of their marking a gap – a definite lack or a falling-short of adequate demonstrative grasp – with respect to that current stage of epistemic advance. quasi-mechanical or algorithmic procedure that would somehow function of its own accord quite apart from the commitment of those dedicated subjects whose willingness to break with received (i. For Badiou this truth finds its classic exemplification in the power-set axiom whereby. It involves the triple premise – derived (as we have seen) from ancient Greek as well as from modern mathematical thought – that the One is a product of conceptual imposition. ‘the true only has a chance of being distinguished from the veridical when it is infinite’.

.g.READING THE TEXT should not be taken as in any sense opening the door to some kind of unbridled subjectivist. It is therefore strongly opposed to all those constructivist or anti-realist schools of thought according to which truth must be thought of as always in some sense epistemically constrained. he deduces. The requirement will thus be that the one-multiple of a truth – the result of true judgements – must be indiscernible and unclassifiable for the encyclopaedia. the integers with the even numbers). between truth and knowledge. logic. the domain of received.e. truth-tracking) procedure. . and which moreover turns out to have been in accordance with a valid (i. 333). it will involve the kind of radical transformation – the leap of thought that typically converts paradox into concept. he writes. Badiou stresses the point that what constitutes ‘fidelity’ in such matters. In many ways – as regards its detailed exposition of developments in the field from Cantor down – Badiou’s is an orthodox. ‘is an ontological differentiation between the true and the veridical. This condition founds the difference between the true and the veridical in being’ (p. rational inference. is the fact of its engaging with a project that involves some one or more truth-apt conjectures or hypotheses. Cohen chief among them. psychologistic or – least of all – intuitionist/constructivist approach. ‘What we are looking for’.8 Above all it has to be distinguished from the veridical. it will have to be an infinite truth in the sense first specified by Cantor and thereafter developed to progressively higher levels of formal power. accredited or taken-for-granted belief. In other words. In which case. or what sets a faithful procedure apart from the numerous alternatives at any given time. . whether by the limits of language. even text-book account of the relevant intra-mathematical issues. or some standing impasse into the source of some startling new advance – which Cantor achieved when he defined an infinite set as one whose members could be paired off with the members of one of its own sub-sets (e. precision and refinement by the various set theorists whose work Badiou passes in review. that is. since the latter – etymologically. present-best knowledge or available proofprocedures. Where he does break ranks with the majority of mathematicians – as likewise with mainstream philosophic thinking – is in two main 225 . that which is ‘true-to-say’ – belongs to a realm of knowledge in Badiou’s heterodox (nonfactive) sense of that term.

Here also it is a matter of grasping both the scope and the limits of a set-theoretically based ontology. he offers a detailed account of how events – whether mathematical. Its precise location in that liminal 226 . Yet despite this drastic disjunction. conjectures verified (or falsified) and so forth – rather than on the side of those truly evental or breakthrough advances which up until their very moment of occurrence could not have been predicted by even the best-informed and most expert practitioners.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT respects. as Badiou conceives it. social. That is to say. his stress on the capacity of thought to ‘indiscern’ whatever it is about some given state of knowledge. The first has to do with Badiou’s emphatically ‘subtractive’ ontology. historical and even artistic) orders of event that Badiou sees as no less susceptible to treatment in these terms. unacknowledged or denied recognition on account of its failing to meet the membership criteria laid down by the existing ‘encyclopaedic’ state of knowledge. that is. situation or dominant count-as-one that marks the potential point of entry (or the probable locus of irruption) for that which is at present excluded. one of them basically formal or procedural (though with a range of wider implications). political. methods familiarized.e. On the contrary. it belongs very much on the side of accredited knowledge – of what has already entered the repertoire of items known. theorems proven. its strictly indispensable character as a means of grasping how thought proceeds in the exploration of new conceptual terrain but also its inherently restricted nature as that which is able to account for such discoveries only with rational benefit of hindsight or (very literally) after the event. between the ontological and evental domains there is absolutely no question of events being shunted off into some realm of ultimate mystery where logic and reason should properly fear to tread. The second – closely connected with this – has to do with his very different take on the question as to how such seemingly ‘abstract’ concerns can possibly claim any kind of real-world descriptive or explanatory purchase. natural-scientific. historico-political or cultural-artistic – typically transpire at an ‘evental site’ which occupies a marginal space vis-à-vis the main body of established truths at some given time. that is to say. the other basically ‘applied’ or practical (though depending directly on that same formal commitment). not only with respect to the natural sciences but also as concerns those other (i.

by the absence of certain results. values. associations or elements of knowledge imported from outside the formal-procedural domain. to be more exact. and which is therefore ‘subtracted from knowledge’ or present only as ‘indiscernible of the situation’ (338). which resists being named or ‘discerned’ by the language of any given situation. Such. which necessarily pertains to each and every part of each and every situation. methods or proof procedures that would counterfactually serve to resolve those anomalies. Moreover – and crucially – it is distinguished from other parts (or multiples) by the fact that it uniquely ‘possesses the “properties” of any part whatsoever’. was his main reason for adopting a strictly extensional rather than intensional approach to set-theoretical semantics and ontology: that this made it possible to focus on their purely mathematical and logical aspects (i.READING THE TEXT domain is decided by the localized presence of certain especially sharp and pressing anomalies or. transitivity. 338). we should recall. ‘because. which finds no place in the current ‘encyclopaedia’. that of being. 339). the generic is that which figures nowhere in the count-as-one. However Badiou’s main point – and the nub of his case for the politically as well as mathematically crucial role of the generic part – is that this universally shared because minimal property of ‘mere’ being is just what provides the basic orientation for any project of thought that would seek to go beyond received ideas of legal membership or proper belonging. all one can say is that its elements are’ (p. On the other hand ‘[t]he fact that the procedure is generic entails the non-coincidence of this part with anything classified by an encyclopaedic determinant’ (p. relations of inclusion. has no distinctive properties of its own that would place it in any way apart but rather just the one generic property. ‘It is rightfully called generic’. That is. if one wishes to qualify it. consistent versus inconsistent multiplicity and so forth) quite apart from – and indeed in steadfast opposition to – any assignment of differential content to the various parts and multiples concerned. that is to say. In brief.e. cardinality. It is here that Cohen’s concept of the ‘generic’ comes in as a means of explaining how this might transpire. his specification of its generic character along with his 227 . belonging. For this latter (intensional) approach would expose the procedures of set-theoretical reasoning to all manner of ‘encyclopaedic’ meanings. Badiou remarks.

this latter defined in a reductively sociological or economicdeterminist fashion. classes. situation and post-evental truth The obverse can just as clearly be seen in Badiou’s diagnosis of what gave rise to certain errors. of a false equation between certain privileged terms in their own lexicon and certain presupposed groups.9 Such is also the great central wager of Badiou’s project in Being and Event: the conjecture – staked on his commitment to provide a full-scale working vindication of its truth across the widest possible range of issues and precursor texts – that the formal resources of set theory are the best. that is to say. 2. indeed sole adequate means of accounting not only for the possibility of progress in the formal sciences but also for any prospect of advance in the sociopolitical sphere. However they might recall Roland Barthes’ on the face of it perversely paradoxical claim that ‘a little formalism turns one away from history. distinctive psychological traits and so forth. formed an infinite class’. Subject. Some readers may find it remarkable (not to say incredible) that Badiou should claim any kind of socio-historico-political relevance for a doctrine so strongly wedded to the virtues of formal rigour and conceptual precision. so that ‘it was not the 228 . social fractions. but went on (mistakenly) to count ‘the working class’ as ‘the class of workers’. distortions. in terms of pure multiples. ‘Vulgar’ Marxism claimed (reasonably enough) that ‘truth was historically deployed on the basis of revolutionary events by the working class’. deformations or (as he would surely not hesitate to say) certain downright betrayals of that same prospect through the failure to pursue such inaugural insights or discoveries with sufficient dedication and conceptual rigour. To Badiou’s way of thinking – informed as it is by his set-theoretically derived concepts as well as by a radically egalitarian politics – it is clear that ‘“the workers”. In the case of ‘vulgar’ Marxist and likewise of ‘vulgar’ Freudian thought the error was one of premature identification or reified reference. but a lot brings one back to it’.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT strictly extensional treatment of set-theoretical terms is the means whereby Badiou seeks to ensure that no extraneous considerations – or elements of foregone (presumptive) knowledge deriving from that same encyclopaedia – can exert a restrictive or distorting influence on the truth-procedure concerned.

334).e. the acid test of May 1968 – and its limited perspective showed up as a failure to grasp that specific evental conjuncture. the elusive passages and detours of the signifierin the interaction between analyst and analysand. Indeed this offers a particularly striking case-in-point of the way in which a ‘truth-procedure’ initially takes rise from some decisive intervention or inaugural 229 . The result was to leave Marxism (i.READING THE TEXT sum total of empirical workers that was at stake’ (p. Lateron – in his concluding Meditation Thirty-Seven – Badiou will enter certain reservations regarding Lacan’s much-heralded turn to language (the Saussurean or structuralist conception of language) as a putative means of bringing greater precision not only to the reading of Freud’s texts but also to the ‘talking cure’ itself.10 Still there can be no doubt concerning the extent of Badiou’s intellectual indebtedness to Lacan and. the “adult genital complex”’ (p. and thereby ‘assigning truth to everything which was connected to a stable class. the depth and intensity of allegiance that marks his engagement – however critical at times – with the legacy of Lacan’s thought. reductive and conceptually hidebound version of Marxism) devoid of resources when it came to the test – for Badiou. Thus. one supposes. then that outcome has directly and chiefly to do with the movement’s ‘claim[ing] to form a section of psychological knowledge’. this doctrinaire. historically and strategically as well as in ‘purely’ philosophic terms – by failing to grasp that vital point about the ‘infinite class’ that might always turn out to be signified by any such term. 334). Thus Marxism ran into error – politically. moreover. In the case of psychoanalysis likewise it was the cooption of Freud’s inaugural project by a socially conformist school of thought – American ego-psychology – that blocked its capacity to open up a range of liberating insights far beyond even the founder’s powers of speculative anticipation. It is at this point – by way of exemplary contrast – that Badiou invokes Lacanian psychoanalysis as a radically different and (as he construes it) more authentic understanding of the Freudian discovery. one that holds out to the limit against such perversions of its true import. if ‘today this Freudianism looks like a state corpse’. or (what amounts to the same thing) the impossibility of assigning it any determinate ‘empirical’ content without thereby placing a restrictive and unjustified quota on those who would count as belonging to that class. that is.

albeit unevenly. unrecognized dilemmas. and therefore that ‘it is in no way “concerned” by that event’ (p. where the fact of that positive connection is symbolized by x(+) while its contradictory – the absence or the failing-to-hold of any such connection – appears. Above all what he finds manifested. or that which belongs to the ‘encyclopaedia’ of presently accepted lore and that which can be made out only through a critical-diagnostic or ‘symptomatic’ mode of engagement which seeks to locate the gaps. that it ‘has no relation whatsoever with the name of the event’. the indiscernible and ‘forcing’. conserved. this involves the capacity of thought 230 . Crucial here is the hypothesis that ‘a truth groups together all the terms of the situation that are positively connected to the event’. rational or other such cognitive purchase on truths that ex hypothesi transcend the utmost bounds of present cognizability? Badiou sets out to answer this question in the remainder of Part VII through a sequence of closely argued and. intensely demanding sections devoted for the most part to what he takes as Cohen’s truly epochal discoveries within and beyond the strictly mathematical realm. as likewise in Cohen’s conception of how mathematical advances come about through a truth-procedure involving the generic. aporias. Moreover. one can also project forward and adopt the future-anterior (or ‘will-have-been’) perspective which plays such a central role in Badiou’s thinking. in the theory and practice of Freudian–Lacanian psychoanalysis is that process whereby a subject is literally brought into being through some such inaugural event and thus enabled to discern what Badiou takes as the founding distinction of every authentic revolution in thought or in practice. non-sequiturs. This is – to repeat – the dichotomy between knowledge and truth. In brief. conceptual. developed. which bear witness to whatever eludes or exceeds that state of knowledge. Of the latter one can say with full assurance that it ‘does no more than repeat the pre-evental situation’. suppressed premises. at times. naturally enough. epistemic. refined. logical equivocations and so forth. extended and subject to various (on occasion strongly dissenting or heterodox) further interventions on the part of its faithful – yet by no means dogmatic or overly devoted – legatees. empirical.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT event and is then maintained. contradictions. Yet the question remains: how could anyone possibly get the least degree of intuitive. as x(−). 335).

Thus. with regard to the fidelity. theorem. conversely. and solely mark the repetition of the preevental order of the situation’. ‘[i]t will not enter into the newmultiple that is a post-evental truth. that 231 . it turns out to have no connection to the supernumerary name’ (p. in the case of an x(-) term. this becomes the question as to how his capital distinction between truth and knowledge can be upheld despite its apparently confronting just such powerful objections. as anti-realists are fond of pointing out. 336). discovery. And again. since. What is so difficult to grasp about all this. or breakthrough that can be shown to have resulted from precisely that sequence of previous developments.READING THE TEXT to exceed the limits of presently attainable knowledge or proof through a grasp of those operative truth-conditions that will or necessarily would have been satisfied if this or that statement. or (very often) a further such event whose effect is to pose some yet more complex and demanding challenge. is the sense in which truth can possibly (non-contradictorily) be conceived as somehow latent within a given situation or state of knowledge and yet as surpassing the utmost powers of any available proof-procedure or investigative method. how is it that the probative upshot of some given hypothesis. or conjecture is eventually to count as proven or valid. 335). the fact that it has maintained such fidelity – in however critical or dissident a fashion – ensures its link with any future advance. For an x(+) term. conjecture or prediction can turn out to validate not only the first (perhaps highly tentative) formulation of it but also the subsequent labours of those who strove – with great tenacity but without success – to discover or devise a fully adequate proof ? For Badiou. the x(+) terms must be thought of as belonging by very definition to a valid procedure that started out from the occurrence of a genuine (truth-conducive or truthoriented) event and the end-point of which will be something in the order of a decisive formal proof. Thus ‘[o]ur problem is finally the following: on what condition can one be sure that the set of terms of the situation which are positively connected to the event is in no manner already classified within the encyclopaedia of the situation?’ (p. This amounts to a reverse-order statement of the same problem that anti-realists routinely adduce against realists. a momentous advance in the scope and reach of that procedure. Where ‘[t]he x(−) terms remain indifferent.

or explaining how events which exceed the limits of conceptual specification can none the less effect a decisive change in the state of mathematical knowledge. moreover. This latter is then subject to further testing. Where Badiou markedly raises the stakes is in maintaining not only. with the realist. if true. Furthermore any gaps.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT is. that if they didn’t then there could be no making sense of mathematical knowledge. Here again his claim rests crucially on Cohen’s set-theoretical advance and on what Badiou takes (in this respect breaking with the more cautious or restrained approach of Cohen and the majority of mathematicians) to be its wholly justified extrapolation to the realm of speculative ontology. inconsistencies or contradictions in some given state of knowledge may force the invention (in a somewhat archaic but aptly ambiguous sense of that word: the creative devising but also the discovery) of a new working hypothesis. At this stage we shall have to run ahead of ourselves and glean some relevant passages from Meditation Thirty-Six – ‘Forcing: From 232 . the supposedly knock-down argument that counts it nonsensical to posit the existence of objective (hence recognitiontranscendent. Thus any rendition of Cohen’s thesis must be couched in the future-anterior tense and also in the conditional or subjunctive mode since it has to do with what cannot yet be formally proved or verified while none the less following by the strictest necessity from certain other propositions which. refinement and elaboration until the stage when its validity – if and when confirmed – will retroactively endorse whatever led up to it in the way of conjectural (though none the less rigorous and faithful) truth-procedures. discovery or progress but also – the single-most distinctive thesis of Being and Event – that they do indeed possess that decisive power of retroactive intervention with regard to what can now be seen as having constituted a faithful or truth-oriented mode of enquiry. hence strictly unknowable) truths. Above all it is the idea of ‘forcing’ that played an indispensable role in enabling Badiou to think his way through and beyond the dilemma (or the pseudo-dilemma. will be recognized as lending decisive support to the given hypothesis or theorem. that such truths exist and. as he came to think it) that is commonly supposed to result from affirming the existence of recognition-transcendent truths. Cohen’s thesis therefore offers Badiou a means of sharpening his own distinction between being and event.

is always defined relative to a certain specific project of enquiry. maintains and – transcendentally speaking – forms the condition of possibility for all human thought. its vocation and indeed its very sense of identity in and through that same definitive project. ‘[f]oreclosed from ontology. attachments. Kantian. Cartesian.READING THE TEXT the Indiscernible to the Undecidable’ – since despite Badiou’s deferring this discussion until later in the book it is. That he is able to formulate such claims without manifest selfcontradiction – or without pressing paradox beyond the furthest stretch of credibility – is largely owing to Badiou’s heterodox conception of the subject and his likewise singular deployment of set-theoretical topoi such as the generic. Hegelian or Husserlian) modes of thought that equate subjectivity. 429). as I have said. . the subject is here conceived as the locus of certain commitments. priorities. on Badiou’s account. a concept most readily understood in conjunction with his likewise Cohen-derived notions of the generic’ and the ‘indiscernible’. welldefined context – to constitute their very identity or mode of existence. . Thus the subject. That is. the indiscernible and ‘forcing’. for Badiou. What this conjunction of terms makes possible is a radical break with all previous (e. with that which somehow underlies.g. any one of which may properly be said – in some particular. Thus. In its place Badiou posits his theory of the subject not – I should repeat – in a place-holder role or as a mere by-product of some given post-evental truthprocedure but rather as summoned. research agendas or projects and so forth. 407). inspired. borne along and sustained by the commitment to a truth that has already received its initial (hypothetical or tentative) statement but has not yet been brought to the final stage of proof or formal validation. It is precisely here that the subject makes its entry since. the subject can best be defined as ‘that which decides an undecidable from the standpoint of an indiscernible . the event returns in the mode according to which the undecidable can only be decided therein by forcing veracity from the standpoint of the indiscernible’ (p. or that which forces a veracity. or as discovering its purpose. supports. Moreover – and it is here that his thought has such far-reaching implications for the realist/ 233 . upholds. knowledge and experience. true to the word’s etymological origins. hypotheses. according to the suspense of a truth’ (p. convoked.

not the subject itself’ (p. or – again – between the dominant count-as-one and those multiples which (as in the power-set axiom) exceed. Thus the phrase ‘inhabitant of the situation’ in the above-quoted passage should not be taken at face value but rather as ‘a metaphor’. she is capable of thinking that the belonging of such a condition to a generic description is equivalent to the veracity of such a statement within that extension’ (p. perhaps indispensable role in forwarding the process of investigation that will eventually bring it to light. 411). surpass or intrinsically elude its grasp. interests. 234 . In other words. nor indeed to any concept in good ontological standing since ‘ontology thinks the law of the subject. and so of the extension. along with his own more speculative (ontologically-oriented) understanding of them: namely. more advanced stage on the path to truth.e. the subject ‘inhabits’ a situation just to the extent that she registers what Badiou defines as the discrepancy between it and the ‘state of the situation’. 411). or belonging and inclusion.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT anti-realist debate – those involved in it may not (in fact very often cannot possibly) have knowledge of the truth or its means of ascertainment despite their significant. including most (i. intellectual incentives and so forth – should register that lack at some level of consciousness and thereby be enabled to think their way through to a further. truth may indeed run ahead of achieved or presently achievable knowledge not only in the purely objectivist (Platonist) sense that creates such epistemological problems – since it opens up that seemingly unbridgeable gulf that anti-realists are wont to exploit – but also insofar as the truth-knowledge gap may itself be inscribed as a symptomatic absence or determinate lack in the present state of understanding. This is what Badiou calls the ‘capital result’ of Cohen’s mathematical researches. one that ‘does not correspond to any mathematical concept’. so Badiou cautions. non-Lacanian) versions of psychoanalysis. No doubt this requires that a subject – a thinker with some quite specific range of motives. that ‘although an inhabitant of the situation does not know anything of the indiscernible. That is to say. However. formative influences. From which it follows that the ‘subject of truth’. we should not be misled into supposing that the ‘subject’ here invoked in the context of mathematics is the same ‘subject’ that routinely figures in the discourses of the human and social sciences.

nevertheless it can discern – more precisely. discovery or progressive emergence of truth though not in any sense that could possibly set it apart from or over against those procedures that constitute the methodology of the formal sciences. contra anti-realists. aporias. should be thought of always according to its role in the furtherance of just those projects or enquiries that most strongly define its ‘militant’ vocation. nor can ontology formalize the concept of the subject’ (p. in the process. and the way in which. On the other hand this somewhat rarefied conception doesn’t go so far as to render the subject a merely nominal entity or a product of purely formal definition with no power of active intervention beyond what is programmed in advance throughout the stages of some given truth-procedure. Such is the ‘capital’ philosophic breakthrough that Badiou attributes to Cohen. stress-points. indicate those points where ontology encounters the event and the subject as absolute limits on its power of comprehension. So on Badiou’s account there is room – indeed a strictly indispensable role – for the subject as involved in the production. 235 .READING THE TEXT as distinct from the subject in the commonplace acceptance of that term. the potential for future discovery latent in existing (however limited) states of knowledge. truth can and must be conceived as transcending or surpassing those same limits. 410). It is here that Cohen’s concept of ‘forcing’ goes furthest towards resolving certain crucial issues not only in mathematics. ‘Just as it cannot support the concept of truth (for lack of the event). On the other hand it also shows that a ‘subtractive’ ontology is the only one capable – for reasons we have seen – of doing justice to the scope and reach of mathematical thought. 410). ‘indiscern’ – those gaps. intrusions of the void or irruptions of inconsistent multiplicity that signal the encounter between ontology and that which exceeds its grasp. albeit – as he fully concedes – without the latter’s having grasped or been willing to acknowledge its full implications. fissures. Thus if the subject cannot pretend to ‘contradict’ the ontology (or prevalent ‘regime of being’) that defines the conditions under which it exists and exerts its powers of understanding. What Cohen’s work shows is that the ‘existence of the subject is compatible with ontology’. thus in effect ‘ruin[ing] any pretension on the part of the subject to declare itself “contradictory” to the general regime of being’ (p. Still it is able to investigate the scope of its own conceptual resources and.

410). can be said to have its founding or inaugural moment in and through its recruitment to a truth-procedure which itself started out from some preceding notable event and which thus sets the terms for whatever he or she is able to achieve in the way of new discovery. Thus ‘[e]verything of the Subject which is its 236 . some ratiocinative power or mode of active intellectual engagement that is able to register those gaps. In so far as the event is intrinsically ‘foreclosed from ontology’. So it is that the subject. social. Yet this forcing must itself be conceived as requiring the involvement of a subject whose office it is – quite aside from all the usual. What he offers is (on the face of it) a purely formal and procedural statement of how ‘it is possible. its occurrence must be thought of ‘in the mode according to which the undecidable can only be decided therein by forcing veracity from the standpoint of the indiscernible’ (p. This is also why his two leading concepts of ‘subject’ and ‘event’ are so closely bound up one with another. for example. resources and procedures which bring that structure to light.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT epistemology and philosophy of the natural sciences but also in those social-science and humanities disciplines where there has lately developed a deep-laid suspicion of any appeal to the human subject as locus. Their relationship is absolutely central to Badiou’s case for set theory as a guide to ontology and for ontology as the discipline of thought that limns both the structure of abstract or physical reality and the investigative methods. psychological or personal accoutrements of subjectivity – to press beyond a currently existing state of knowledge through maximal commitment to the truth of that which at present can be specified only in a tentative. on Badiou’s understanding. 429). and moreover to deploy them as a means of advancing beyond that stage in the continuing quest for truth. absences or problematic loci in the body of current ‘encyclopaedic’ knowledge. to determine under what conditions such or such a statement is veridical in the generic extension obtained by the addition of an indiscernible part of the situation’ (p. not only in thematic or semanticassociative terms but also as a matter of logical necessity if his argument is to have any force. Yet it is just Badiou’s point – and his reason for devising that odd but very apposite negative verb ‘to indiscern’ – that there must be something more. conjectural or strictly hypothetical form. in a quasi-complete fundamental situation. source or guarantor of truth.

the event and the indiscernible. 429). Rather. a jointure that. the mathematicians were thoroughly inspired to blindly circumscribe under the name of forcing’ (p. Leibniz and Spinoza.READING THE TEXT being – but a Subject is not its being – can be identified in its trace at the jointure of the indiscernible and the undecidable. methodical or conceptually explicit way. We should pause a while over that parenthetical clause in the above-cited passage which cautions that ‘a Subject is not its being’. 237 . cannot be assimilated without remainder to any accomplished or even provisionally stabilized ontology since the latter is precisely that which would deny any room for such (on its own terms) random. event and the subject as a site where those otherwise exclusive domains can be seen to intersect. Moreover it is just on account of their both inhabiting this marginal zone beyond reach of ontological specification that event and subject can each exert a pressure at the stress-points that emerge in received ‘encyclopaedic’ modes of knowledge so as to expose what is missing from – or occluded by – any such prevalent consensus. unaccountable or strictly aleatory occurrences. 429). a backhanded compliment to mathematicians such as Cantor and Cohen. the Subject must be capable of being’ (p. before going on to define its role in relation to forcing. Subject and event are likewise marginalized vis-à-vis the project of a classical ontology based on the premise that being should be thought of as maximally consistent or as lending itself to the kinds of all-embracing descriptive-explanatory treatment attempted in their different ways by Aristotle. What I take this to mean is that it. like the event. Rather that task is left to the philosopher since she is the one whose vocation it is – in virtue of her wider involvement with disciplines or areas of knowledge and experience beyond that specialized sphere – to articulate the precise order of relationship between being. which belongs to “that-which-is-notbeing-qua-being”. it is a comment perfectly in line with Badiou’s aforementioned belief that while thinkers like these at the leading edge of mathematical research are engaged in a procedure with decisive implications for ontology and other extra-mathematical branches of enquiry they cannot – or should not – be expected to draw out those implications in an overt. Its sense is somewhat clarified when Badiou further remarks that ‘despite it depending on the event. without a doubt. This is not. despite appearances.

of pre-acquaintance with Badiou’s closely related thoughts about ‘Forcing: Truth and the Subject’. art. requires a ‘subtractive’ conception of being if it is ever to achieve any progress beyond the naïve self-evidence of commonsense-intuitive ‘knowledge’. is always directly related to and even – he would argue – engendered by some specific project of thought. Thus it is very much a matter of gains and losses. What that earlier section is principally concerned to explain is just how a purely formal truth-procedure can somehow be thought of as surpassing or transcending the current most advanced state of knowledge in some given discipline or context of enquiry. 340). offer the subject its sole possibility of entering that intimate relationship to truth which constitutes its primary vocation. truths subtracted from knowledge which are only counted by the state in the anonymity of their being’ (p. in any philosophically accountable sense of that term. or at any rate a philosophically informed view of their own proceedings. or even – one 238 .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Having briefly swerved from the straight and narrow by jumping forward to a later section of Being and Event we can now revert to Part VII (‘The Generic: Indiscernible and Truth) with the advantage. along with the need for philosophy as a point of reference for any other discipline that seeks to orient itself in relation to the interests of truth. enquiry. Rather it is a mark – at best a willing acknowledgment – of philosophy’s strictly ancillary role vis-à-vis mathematics or any mathematically based project of ontological enquiry. according to Badiou. hopefully. Both claims depend entirely for their credibility on Badiou’s having convincingly shown how ‘the subject’. While the focus in Part VIII is on the subject as the agent whereby such breakthroughs are achieved – albeit the ‘subject’ in a somewhat formal or attenuated sense remote from its commonplace usage – Part VII approaches the issue from a standpoint more concerned to articulate those strictly formal procedures which. That they need philosophy. artistic creativity or politically motivated action. Just as ontology. so ‘love. taking its lead from mathematics. Here again he looks to Cantor for a model instance of how thinking should proceed in such matters. is not (Badiou stresses) a signal of its standing in some privileged position as dispenser of truth or arbiter of knowledge across the whole range of human investigative practices. science and politics generate – infinitely – truths concerning situations.

341). but would rather induce its seekers to locate those symptomatic points of conflict. artistic or ethical autonomy with a due sense of its own capacity to speak the kinds of truth that define their very being yet for which they cannot find any adequate means of conceptualtheoretical articulation without philosophy’s assistance. political. Indeed Badiou makes a point of remarking. that even the most gifted and ground-breaking mathematicians have very often either been prone (like Cantor) to derive ill-founded theological or quasi-mystical implications from their work. scientific and artistic terms. This is a truth that would not be confined to the limiting terms of some particular given situation. or else (like Cohen) deeply resistant to any idea that their discoveries might have wider ontological or extra-mathematical bearings. practitioners. That is to say. even self-effacing attitude with regard to the achievements of mathematicians and – albeit somewhat less emphatically – thinkers. those that make room for a fidelity whose mark is the setting of its sights on an ‘infinite’ truth in Badiou’s carefully defined sense of that term.READING THE TEXT might somewhat cynically say – of a trade-off between philosophy’s demotion at the hands of mathematics where truth is directly in question and its promotion to a higher ranking discourse whenever it is the case that mathematical truth has need of philosophy’s mediating offices in order to achieve adequate formulation in ontological and. What draws these otherwise diverse projects together is their shared capacity for participation in certain types of generic procedure. creators and activists in other fields. in political. 239 . This helps to explain the puzzling conjunction in Being and Event of an extreme (some might think arrogant) confidence with regard to that work’s philosophical significance with a modest. excess. it is obliged to combine a due respect for their claims to scientific. here and elsewhere. And if philosophy has to adopt this double-edged relation to mathematics then it is similarly placed with regard to those other disciplines or topic-domains that make up its enabling ‘conditions’ of existence. Cohen’s discovery)’. nevertheless that signal advance has been achieved ‘without the mathematicians – absorbed as they are by the forgetting of the destiny of their discipline due to the technical necessity of its deployment – knowing how to name what was happening there’ (p. beyond that. Thus although ‘the question of the being of truth has only been resolved at a de jure level quite recently (in 1963.

deficiency. What most often brings this about is the act or process of ‘indiscernment’ whereby thought is enabled – pace anti-realists and intuitionists – to exceed the present-best capacities of knowledge or formal-demonstrative proof and to do so. hitherto unlooked-for and potentially ground-breaking advances. genre or mode of representation forced up against and striving to pass beyond its inherited limits – which. 343). through a grasp (albeit a not fully conscious or deliberative grasp) of the particular gap. but by what they indiscern therein’ (p. moreover.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT anomaly. the indiscernible. And it is not in mathematics. Schoenberg and Malevich. music and the visual arts this finds a close equivalent in that sense of formal or expressive strain – of an existing language. style. conceptual shortfall or other such impediment that has hitherto stood in the way of any such advance. However. the way in which ‘a faithful generic procedure renders the indiscernible immanent’. creative and political-activist endeavour that are likewise central to Badiou’s project. for Badiou. the generic procedure and the passage to infinity – that between them constitute a veritable programme for re-conceiving the always problematical relationship between agency and structure. or the process whereby the most significant advances and momentous discoveries result from a suddenly sharpened perception of whatever is lacking in some given situation or marked in its absence by various symptoms of logical or conceptual tension. To this extent they share the essentially subtractive character of mathematical thought. it is in the socio-political sphere above all that he explores the implications of a mode of thought that would adopt this subtractive conception of truth and deploy it as the basis for a series of kindred ideas – notably those of the event. lack. 240 . In the case of poetry. Thus ‘art. or – in Marx’s phrase – what human beings make of their history and those conditions ‘not of their own choosing’ under which they confront that task. aporia or (at present) irresolvable tension that indicate precisely where thought can get a purchase for further. technique. not by what they discern. science and politics do change the world. but also in those strictly autonomous yet strongly analogous realms of intellectual. can be seen to mark the works of (among others) Mallarmé. logic and the formal sciences alone that this effect can be observed (even if they provide some of the most striking examples).

a procedure that shows the necessity of thinking this to have been the case even if there exists no empirical or other evidence for it.11 If this description suggests that Badiou is here slipping into a more Heideggerian mindset then the impression is mistaken since it is just his point that Rousseau’s way of raising these questions – a way that has often provoked deep suspicion as well as fascination and puzzlement among his commentators – is at the furthest remove from Heidegger’s intensely conservative hearkening-back to a time when mind and world.READING THE TEXT 3. Marx and the others whom Badiou selects for extended commentary is the fact that he not only thinks about politics from this or that standpoint (philosophical. as well as a high degree of theoretical refinement. moreover. Spinoza. Rousseau’s Social Contract: subject. and Rousseau’s references to Greece or Rome merely form the classical ornament of that temporal absence’ (p. subject and object. legal. 344). treated in a way that poses them with striking urgency and force. ‘[t]he social pact is not a historically provable fact.12 On the contrary. Of course the same point has often been made – usually by way of criticism or downright rejection – with regard to Hobbes. or the thought-of-being and being itself had not yet been rudely put asunder by the history of Western metaphysics from Socrates down. Thus ‘[Rousseau’s] method is to set aside all the facts and thereby establish a foundation for the operations of thought’ (p. Spinoza. And again. Leibniz. desires and interests to a General Will that would henceforth be taken at once to include and transcend them? – he does so not with any heavy investment in the historical (factual) truth of that hypothesis but rather by way of a thought experiment or. citizen. 345). Hegel. Aristotle. general will It is with just these issues in mind that Badiou now turns to JeanJacques Rousseau as the thinker in whose work he finds them strikingly prefigured and. constitutional and so forth) but purports to think the very nature of politics as a matter of its basic ontological standing vis-à-vis the various possible modes and structures of human being-in-the-world. Locke and other advocates of the contractualist 241 . as Badiou understands it. What makes Rousseau’s Social Contract stand out in this way and merit its place alongside Plato. when Rousseau puts his central question concerning the putative origins of the social contract – how was it that people first consented to surrender their individual needs. ethical.

the strictly contingent. indeed (although he doesn’t quite say so) to the point where it becomes something more like a formal demonstration or an axiomatic-deductive procedure designed to establish the truth of some candidate theorem.13 However it is Badiou’s claim that Rousseau presses this mode of reasoning very much further. along with it. In effect this stakes a claim for Rousseau as having exercised the kind of critical vigilance or power of conceptual-analytic thought that saves him from falling into any such perilous. It is this aspect of Rousseau’s thought that has provoked the most serious misgivings among his commentators since it strikes some of them as coming dangerously close to a conception of politics based on the idea of ‘the people’ – that is. strongly nationalist and potentially 242 . Badiou does little to allay those misgivings when he writes that ‘Rousseau’s goal is to examine the conceptual prerequisites of politics. to think the being of politics’ insofar as ‘[t]he truth of that being resides in “the act by which a people is a people”’ (p. hence unpredictable and non-deducible) character of that which brings about the inception of a new political order and. All the same one should note – lest this create a thoroughly false impression – how any ominous. namely in his stress on the evental (i. However there is one decisive respect in which Rousseau stands apart from that way of thinking.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT approach to issues of social and political justice right down to modern theorists such as John Rawls or Thomas Scanlon. Here the reader might well think that there is a gross inconsistency between Badiou’s apparent admiration for Rousseau on this account and his express opposition to other thinkers – Leibniz and Spinoza among them – on account of their having constructed a system of thought that presumed to accommodate every last item of knowledge within its vastly overweening metaphysical-rationalist purview. even Heideggerian echoes in the last couple of phrases here are markedly offset by what he says with regard to Rousseau’s project of examining ‘the conceptual prerequisites of politics’. the General Will as embodying – in principle at least – the collective wishes of a people united in their readiness to see individual interests give way to those of the henceforth sovereign community.e. 34). some particular people defined in ethnic or culturallinguistic terms – as privileged bearers of a national destiny vouchsafed or entrusted to them and them alone.

‘If Rousseau for ever establishes the modern concept of politics. to articulate itself around a generic (indiscernible) subset of the collective body’ (p. 345). ‘[m]an is not a political animal: the chance of politics is a supernatural event’ (p. development. the Social Contract is too intelligent and self-critical a text to have its ultimate sense and logic dictated by that nexus of themes and preoccupations – among them the notion of an idealized primitive (or ‘natural’) community as yet untouched by all the bad accoutrements of ‘civilized’ social life – that are prominent elsewhere in Rousseau’s writing. The effect is to prevent any possible foreclosure of the body politic around some privileged marker of belonging or membership-condition that would constitute at best the basis of an unjust. a wager. Here more than anywhere one can see how Badiou’s counterposed themes of being and event relate to his re-thinking of political theory as involving a perpetual critique of just this tendency – most clearly and disastrously visible in Heidegger’s ringing endorsement of National Socialism – to conceive politics and history in terms that are borrowed (at whatever metaphorical stretch) from natural processes of organic growth. least of all by its predestined arrival as the end-point of some quasi-natural evolution. it is because he posits. and at worst the notional justification for racist or ethnically 243 . and not in a structure supported within being’ (p.READING THE TEXT totalitarian way of thinking. culture. Thus. of course. so Badiou maintains. that politics is a procedure which originates in an event. That is. or a willingness to stake everything on the faithful adherence to a truthprocedure – a course of action along with all its strictly incalculable implications and consequences – whose outcome is by no means guaranteed in advance. or decline. not in any sense that would invoke divine or transcendent intervention but rather in the sense that it springs from a choice. divided and exclusive social order. geographically and historically located life-form. contra Aristotle. Hence Badiou’s insistence on the point that Rousseau is as far as possible from thinking of politics as a ‘natural’ expression or manifestation of some particular. language or distinctive mode of being-in-the-world that would most likely take the shape of a nation-state or equivalent (however notional) entity. is the fact that here ‘[he] clearly designates the necessity. 345). ‘Supernatural’. in the most radical fashion. 346). for any true politics.14 What accounts for this acuity.

the non-discriminatory treatment) of each and every term within the various formal operations concerned.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT driven campaigns of violence. namely the event as ‘ultra-one’ or as inhabiting 244 . So it is that the general will (to this extent a near-synonym of the ‘generic’) must be thought of as intrinsically ‘tied to the indiscernible’.e. on the other. is a ‘split’ within the person or the (so-called) ‘individual’ such that – in consequence of the ‘event-contract’ – they will each take on a double role as ‘subject’ and ‘citizen’. on the contrary. since it cannot take persons or goods into consideration’ (p. social institutions. . as opposed to assigning different meanings or values and thus contravening the generic demand for a principle of strict equality. or – to spell out once again the political import of this settheoretical precept – insofar as it contains parts that don’t legally qualify as members since excluded by the count-as-one. it is just this egalitarian priority that leads Badiou to hail Rousseau’s thinking – despite and against its supposedly ‘totalitarian’ character – as having marked not only a decisive break with all previous (e. . This.g. and political procedures and. was Badiou’s reason for adopting an extensionalist rather than intensionalist construal of settheoretical discourse: that it served to ensure the equality (i. Hobbesian and Lockean) forms of contractualist theory but also the equally decisive turn towards a social ontology open to that which inherently eludes its grasp. This ensures that there will always exist a disparity or non-coincidence between. the former defined primarily in terms of ‘his or her subjection to the laws of the state’. This is because. [t]his evidently results in the general will being intrinsically egalitarian. the body politic as represented by some given. by very definition. Moreover. presumptively legitimate (since communally sanctioned) structure of laws. . while the latter signifies ‘his or her participation in the sovereignty of general will’ (p. it leaves room for the existence of that which cannot be discerned or duly acknowledged within the currently prevailing situation. on the one hand. we should recall. yet which none the less stakes its claim to recognition – to acceptance as a member in good standing – on the bare fact of its inclusion quite aside from all qualifying attributes or predicates. So likewise the ‘[g]eneral will never considers an individual nor a particular action . 346). 347). What Rousseau envisages. the body politic insofar as it includes what doesn’t belong.

‘It is not a matter’. (p. Badiou rather tetchily remarks. ‘of knowing whether a statement originates from good or bad politics. 347) It is owing to just this aspect of his thought – an aspect (so Badiou asserts) that has been ignored. It is because general will indiscerns its object and excludes it from the encyclopaedias of knowledge that it is ordained to equality. albeit imperfectly. obscured or unwittingly passed over by most of his commentators – that Rousseau stands as a truly revolutionary thinker.READING THE TEXT a zone of the excessive or anomalous beyond ontological specification. This is why – in flat contrast to most interpretations of the Social Contract. it refers back to the evental character of political creation. Thus. What cannot in principle be so derived – since it belongs by definition to the realm of that which exceeds or eludes the grasp of any ontology – is also (as we have seen) what constitutes the limit of achieved mathematical knowledge and at the same time points beyond it to those presently uncharted or unchartable regions that confront knowledge with the gaps or lacunae in its own current state of advance. As for this indiscernible. albeit one whose texts have been grievously misread on both hands of the left-right divide as conventionally (party-politically) understood. whether admiring or otherwise – Badiou sees fit to praise Rousseau as a thinker who has managed to ‘formalize’ the discourse of political theory to the point where it becomes capable of statement in a mode that derives much (not all) of its conceptual apparatus from the resources of set theory. On his account politics – in any valid or meaningful sense of that word – takes 245 . from the left or the right. [t]he most remarkable thing about the Social Contract is that it establishes an intimate connection between politics and equality by an articulated recourse to an evental foundation and a procedure of the indiscernible. 349).15 Hence Badiou’s claim that Rousseau here achieves. a conception of politics that brings together the idea of a democracy more radically egalitarian than anything hitherto achieved with the conception of a politics that would find its model of progress in the formal rather than the social or human sciences. but of whether it is or is not political’ (p.

in fact. ‘[Rousseau’s] distinction between power (transmissible) and will (unrepresentable) is very profound. That this is not. 347).’ (p. Still Badiou needs to press his objection to the ‘totalitarian’ reading of Rousseau. more disturbing to the presently existent status quo) than could ever be reckoned with on terms deriving from the count-as-one or the dominant system of representation. representations. or modes of ideological containment that typically masquerade as ‘politics’ under presently existing conditions. It frees politics from the state. The will is enabled to bring this about through the space that it perpetually opens up for something other and more (i.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT rise from a disruption to the normal functioning of all those discourses.e. worse still. It resides entirely in the “collective being” of its citizen-militants. What makes all the difference is Rousseau’s concept of the will not as an expression or implementation of power – even a power that we are to think of as somehow vested in the people by common assent or through popular identification with it – but rather as that which eludes and resists its otherwise ubiquitous workings. politically as well as philosophically load-bearing concepts and commitments. to recommend – a collective tyranny that enslaves each and every ‘willing’ subject in the name of a communal good supposedly transcending their individual rights and interests. In order to grasp how this can come about despite such conditions one has to read the Social Contract with an eye to that so-far neglected dimension of Rousseau’s argument that lends itself to formal re-statement in terms (notably those of the generic and the indiscernible) that bring with them a much higher degree of conceptual clarity and rigour. As a procedure faithful to the eventcontract. an adequate or accurate reading of the Social Contract is a case that Badiou argues with great emphasis and which involves some of his own most crucial. politics cannot tolerate delegation or representation. This is what Badiou has in mind when he equates Rousseau’s political radicalism with his having pushed so far towards a clear-headed treatment of these issues that could itself be treated – no doubt with benefit of political and social-scientific as well as set-theoretical hindsight – in formal (or at any rate 246 . that would charge him with having made of the general will a conceptual instrument whereby to theorize – and. systems of knowledge. whether from left or right. ‘democratic’ procedures.

‘forced’ and ‘momentous’. indetermination. It is also what he sees as marking the scope and limits of social ontology. unresolved paradox or formal undecidability – when the sole possible outcome for thought is a commitment to one or other of the those options which (to adopt William James’s criteria) present themselves as ‘live’. It reaches the critical point when there erupts a no-longer-negotiable conflict between those various components of the current political conjuncture (belonging and inclusion.16 Such is the stage. there often comes a point where knowledge runs up against an obstacle to progress or a check to its powers of conceptual grasp. situation and state of the situation.17 What they miss is the crucial distinction – one that Badiou claims to capture more precisely in set-theoretical terms – between arbitrary decrees and justifiable laws. This is why critics of Rousseau get him wrong when they take the Social Contract to propose an extreme and especially dangerous form of what John Stuart Mill would later call the ‘tyranny of the majority’. That check is encountered not only by those in the original ‘context of discovery’ when some decisive or epochal event was in the offing but also by those looking back upon it from a ‘post-evental’ standpoint and seeking to account for its occurrence in an adequate or rationally comprehensible way. Thus there is always a stage of potential ‘impasse’ – a moment of suspense. sets and sub-sets. in Badiou’s reading of Rousseau. or the furthest extent to which thought can legitimately go with such a project of formal enquiry.READING THE TEXT quasi-formal and conceptually rigorous) terms. The disparity in question exists to some degree in all societies at all times but on occasion assumes so acute a form as to constitute a breakdown in the normal modes of ideological containment. the count-as-one and the excess of what goes uncounted) that Badiou sets out in settheoretical terms but which always – through an order of necessity announced by the axiom of choice – point beyond any such purely formal reckoning. members and parts. where a cleft opens up – both in logicalconceptual and factual-historical terms – between the dominant structures of power (‘popular’ power included) at any given time and the general will insofar as it expresses or embodies a collective interest at odds with those structures. aporia. dilemma. For in this context. or enactments given force by some ‘particular’ 247 . as in mathematics and the natural sciences.

since its truth lies beyond any state of knowledge attainable at the time when it first showed up as a potential for change far out on the horizon of thought and will only become knowable as such from a retrospective standpoint achieved through fidelity to the truth-event in question. It is in this sense that the general will is ‘qualified by indiscernibility’. What is altogether lacking from such pseudo-political procedures is the standing possibility of that impasse that is always apt to emerge when the general will comes into conflict with the social-institutional status quo. its subtraction from any encyclopaedic determinant’ (p. ‘If it was determined by an explicit statement of the situation.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT will and enactments of the general will that derive their legitimate (non-coercive) authority from their implicitly referring to that which transcends the dictates of brute power. 353). where such analogies are at best misleading and at worst apt to furnish an excuse or rationale for ‘totalitarian’ thinking. when it is a question of decisions which relate the people to itself. that is. Badiou writes. It is the same with critics of Badiou – as he is quick to point out – who commit a similar fallacy when they think to convict him of importing mathematical (or quasi-mathematical) modes of thought into a realm. that of politics or political theory. ‘the impasse remains in its entirety when politics is at stake. Those critics have simply ignored his insistence on the gap that exists – more at certain times than others. 352). or to the exercise of power through channels of state-sanctioned and legally administered authority. It is this decisive shift to a different register of thought – one marked by an openness to multiplicities or modes of inclusion ruled out by earlier concepts of well-orderedness – which enables political theory to accomplish something closely analogous to the advance that occurred in mathematics with Cantor’s revolution. but always to some degree – between what counts and what could or should count as a constituent part of the presumptive totality in question. if truth were restricted – as anti-realists and intuitionists would have it – to the well-defined compass of 248 . and which engage the generic nature of the procedure. In mathematics and the natural sciences likewise. ‘On the other hand’. It is why Badiou very often deploys the term ‘politics’ in a distinctive or qualitative sense that sets it off from whatever pertains to the merely ‘governmental’. politics would have a canonical form’ (p.

and not with the truth-conditions that decide whether or not any such project will at length turn out to have been on the right track. Yet Badiou is quite clear that this has to do with the motivating energies. 353). scientifically crucial or politically transformative episodes of change since the idea of progress first took hold and came to define what should count as genuine (not merely random or rationally under-motivated) change. 249 . constitutional or organizational. can adequately express’ (p. In other words – to repeat – he is by no means rejecting the ‘two contexts’ principle. provable theorems. verifiable (or falsifiable) conjectures and so on. However it would be altogether wrong to suppose that the term ‘aleatoric’ should here be taken as referring to a realm of purely chance occurrences or as collapsing any remnant of the standard analytical distinction between context of discovery and context of justification. then quite simply there would be no possibility of progress since no making sense of the basic claim that thought has advanced and may yet advance further precisely on account of the gap that might always turn out to exist between present-best knowledge and objective truth. That gap is the space within which – according to Badiou – there can be seen to have transpired all the most decisive. Thus ‘[g]eneric truth suspended from an event. since beyond that limit any instance of progress which now appears rationally intelligible must at the time have required a great investment of fidelity to various strictly hypothetical or speculative theses. To be sure. that is. even if the context of discovery acquires a more prominent role through Badiou’s stress on the under-determination of rational theory choice or the extent to which political decisions and commitments are likewise undertaken in the absence of fully adequate justificatory grounds. and its form is aleatoric. Yet as regards the context of discovery it is still his leading claim that the methods and procedures of logical thought can only have gone so far. 353). the generic truth-procedure ‘is supported uniquely by the zeal of citizen-militants.READING THE TEXT knowable results. for it is solely an index of existence and not a knowledgeable nomination’ (p. passions and commitment of those whose unswerving dedication to the task is required in order to carry such projects through. whose fidelity generates an infinite truth that no form. it is part of the situation which is subtracted from established language.

353). But his answer clearly raises further issues concerning both the means by which thought might be expected to transcend that limit to the radicalism of Rousseau’s Social Contract and the claim. that have always placed firm limits on the scope for any genuine. its own proper end.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT It is mainly on this account that he credits Rousseau as the thinker whose peculiar ‘genius’ it was ‘to have abstractly circumscribed the nature of politics as generic procedure’ (p. namely. logic and the formal sciences. What set certain limits to this notable advance – so Badiou concedes – was Rousseau’s continuing engagement with a ‘classical approach’ that took the issue of sovereignty as a central theme. as Badiou understands it. is the question: ‘what is it that distinguishes. So it was that Rousseau retreated to the posture of ‘consider[ing] – albeit with paradoxical precautions – that the majority of suffrages was ultimately the empirical form of this legitimacy’ (p. Thus Rousseau’s legacy to modern thought. This Meditation closes with the outline of an answer to that question. that this might be accomplished through a procedure analogous to (even identical with) those practised in mathematics. Rousseau had the sagacity to grasp the formal as well as the urgently political necessity of respecting those crucial distinctions between power and right. 354). the general and the particular wills. for itself. from king-in-parliament to the various current modes of ‘social-democratic’ thinking. and which thereby foreclosed any further thinking-through of those radical implications that would otherwise have followed (or been seen to follow) by the strictest logical necessity. Making good this claim will be Badiou’s enterprise 250 . 353). decree and law. In so doing he effectively left room for that whole range of more-or-less restrictive compromise formations. on the presentable surface of the situation. in the mode of what is being produced as true statements – though forever un-known – by the capacity of a collective will’ (p. so central to Badiou’s entire project. the political procedure?’ (p. that is. 353). that ‘[p]olitics is. or again – in Badiou’s terminology – between the state with its power (and de facto right) to determine what belongs or doesn’t belong according to the authorized count-asone and whatever in the present ‘state of the situation’ indiscernibly yet none the less decisively marks the disparity between inclusion and belonging. properly inclusive exercise of popular will.

generic extension I trust – on the basis of my commentary up to this point – that the reader will have some idea of what is involved in this formal procedure. failures of representation. disturbing and thought-provocative force upon those of a sufficiently open-minded or receptive disposition even though their residual attachment to prevailing norms of epistemic warrant prevents that awareness from attaining adequate expression as a matter of conscious or articulate grasp. paradoxes of self-reference and the like – which are presently unknown or unrecognized yet none the less real and potentially open to discovery through some future advance that is already implicit. mathematical and political. 355). that have been the main focus of his interest so far and give them a more theoretically precise or rigorously formalized treatment. That is. Badiou proclaims. 4. This in turn requires that Badiou demonstrate how the indiscernible can exist within some given situation and exert a singularly powerful. Cohen’s strategy’ and ‘The Existence of the Indiscernible: the power of names’. or – what amounts to almost (not quite) the same thing – for thought to surpass the limits of consciousness. ‘The Matheme of the Indiscernible: P. Thus the task of these two Meditations is to gather up the themes. J. lacunae. latent or prefigured in the current ‘state of the situation’. conceptual defects. it is presented despite being subtracted from knowledge’ (p. His main purpose here is to explain in formal but practically relevant terms how it might (indeed must) be possible for truth to surpass the limits of knowledge. Truth beyond knowledge: indiscernibility. absences.READING THE TEXT inthe two remaining Meditations of Part VII. since it had the effect of ‘authoriz[ing] the existence of the result-multiple of the 251 . it is a logical proof of the claim that there exist certain ‘quasi-complete situations’ that are marked by certain anomalous features – gaps. we are here working once again with a ‘subtractive’ ontology. Cohen’s set-theoretical advance made this possible. one that delimits the realm of substantive or plenary being in order to emphasize the strictly evental (hence ontologically fugitive) character of truth. Briefly put. What Badiou wishes to formalize in these sections of Being and Event is the precise sense in which ‘[t]he generic and indiscernible multiple is in situation.

Badiou writes. one that at this stage intrinsically eludes nomination or specification (since of course its properties are unknown) and therefore has to be baptised by a ‘supplementary letter’ which as yet has no assignable referent. for the advent of truths that as yet lie beyond the compass of achieved (or achievable) knowledge yet can even so be felt to exert a power of orientation that draws its directive capacity from those very defects in our present state of understanding. albeit on rare occasions. the first elusive sign of that which exceeds the cognitive grasp of any pre-established or existent ontology. ‘we will define a procedure for the approximation of a supposed indiscernible multiple’. Cohen-derived notation this multiple is signified by G (for generic). ‘Inside this fundamental situation’. In the standard. tensions. we shall need to ‘install ourselves in a multiple which is very rich in properties (it “reflects” a significant part of general ontology) yet very poor in quantity (it is denumerable’) (p. via these concepts of the generic and indiscernible. it is the ‘ontological transcription of the supernumerary nomination of the event’. His point is that this ‘extra signifier’ stands in for whatever is unknown or unknowable – whatever is not presented in the current situation – although its absence is such as to register by way of the disturbances. whereas in Badiou’s preferred symbolism it is rendered – ‘due to a predilection whose origin I will leave the reader to determine’ – by the female marker .In order to bring this about. and aporias which it induces rather than existing merely in a privative or negative mode. 356). despite it being indiscernible within the situation in which it is inscribed’.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT generic procedure suspended from the event. or – to adopt a phrase from Lacan and thus look forward to Badiou’s Part VIII Meditations on ‘Truth and the Subject’ – the ‘hole in being’ through which there may emerge. In other words. That is to say. this choice is such as to maximize the content or the ontological range and grasp of any such speculative venture onto thought-experimental ground while at the same time keeping that venture within conceptually manageable bounds by restricting its order of multiplicity to the minimum required for investigation of the properties concerned. Badiou continues. He then goes on to explain at greater length – in 30 pages of densely argued and highly demanding exposition – how thought can make room. So this project quite literally has its work cut out in advance: that of exploring what 252 .

READING THE TEXT will necessarily have been the case with regard to the truth-procedure in question granted the generic (indiscernible) status of the multiple taken to provide that procedure with its as-yet unknown warrant or justification. in this particular context of debate. how could we be in a position to assert the existence of truths that generically transcend the utmost bounds of present knowledge or formal provability? Nor will these objectors be much impressed by his claim that such truths are somehow latent or implicit in the very gaps that structure the relation between knowledge and ignorance in our present state of understanding. it is a mainstay of anti-realist arguments that objectivist realism inherits all the problems of a purebred Platonist metaphysics insofar as it places truth in a realm of absolute ideal objectivity to which 253 . After all. so to speak. in absentia through their disturbing or anomaly-inducing effect on the discourse of present knowledge. What should then emerge is that the multiple (‘very rich in properties’ but ‘very poor in quantity’) from which this speculative venture started out will itself supply the elements that make up the ‘substance-multiple of the indiscernible’. After all. avowedly Platonist) line. a constituent veritably included within it even though not verifiably belonging to it by any proof procedure or mode of knowledge currently at our disposal. This second line of argument is likely to perplex even those in the mainstream analytic community who would count themselves realists according to the usual definition. since the latter will constitute a part of the former. that is. quite simply. that is. However it is Badiou’s contention that one cannot have the one without the other since. subscribers to the first (objectivist or. For that claim rests in turn on Badiou’s central thesis – one that goes clean against the anti-realist grain – concerning not only the recognition-transcendent character of certain truths in the formal sciences but also the capacity of thought to register such truths. there is no making sense of any version of the Platonistobjectivist case that doesn’t find room for the capacity of mind to outrun its existent cognitive limits in grasping the possibility of truths that themselves require just such a stretch in its powers of exploratory-investigative thought. they will say. Badiou is quite aware that this will strike many readers – especially those of an anti-realist or intuitionist persuasion – as implausible to the point of downright perversity.

of Gödel’s famous incompleteness-theorem to the effect that any formal system rich enough to generate the axioms of (say) elementary arithmetic or the first-order predicate calculus in logic will of necessity contain at least one axiom that is not provable in terms of the system itself. For that reading would ignore not only his insistence on the intra-worldly character of even the most (apparently) abstruse or abstract mathematical researches but also his commitment to giving an account of mathematical discoveries.e. All the same it would be highly misleading – for reasons that Badiou is careful to explain – if one pushed this analogy too far and presumed to capture his ‘philosophy’ of mathematics (a phrase that he likewise very forcefully abjures) in Gödelian or purebred Platonist terms. to grasp its truth or demonstrative warrant) if its purport was precisely to deny that any formal proof could be carried through to decisive or probative effect?19 Only by supposing the existence of a faculty able to transcend the commonplace limits of such reasoning could thought lay claim to a grasp of truths – including paradoxical truths like that of Gödel’s theorem – that yielded to no available means of formal or purely axiomatic-deductive reasoning.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT per definiens we mere human knowers cannot possibly have access by way of any epistemic or cognitive route at our creaturely disposal.18 Gödel himself took this as a strong vindication of mathematical Platonism since – as he argued – how else could one account for the mind’s capacity to follow the proof of that theorem (i. at this point. Hence his invocation. for its capacity to outrun the scope of present-best knowledge through a grasp of those symptomatic gaps or aporias that mark its formal incompleteness) can be seen as closely analogous to Gödel’s case for mathematical Platonism.20 Thus there is clearly a sense in which Badiou’s strong claims for the truth-tracking power of mathematical thought (i.e. advances or stages of progressive knowledge-acquisition in such a way as to respect both their genesis or historically specific conditions of emergence and their structure as that which intrinsically 254 . What Badiou is thus seeking to explain – through a process of argument none the less rigorous for its partly speculative character – is how this much-exploited gap between truth and knowledge can be seen as a source of dialectical tension and thereby a means of otherwise unattainable advances in mathematics and other disciplines.

To this extent at least Badiou agrees with those philosophers who take mathematical knowledge to entail something more – to require a far greater depth of jointly conceptualanalytic and creative-exploratory involvement – than could ever be accounted for in the quasi-behaviourist terms that have characterized so much discussion of this topic in the wake of Wittgenstein’s provocative but highly misleading remarks about ‘following a rule’. he is just as firmly opposed to any line of thought within philosophy of mathematics that would adopt a phenomenological (Husserlian) perspective according to which mathematical truths are conceived as ‘absolute ideal objectivities’ that must ultimately depend – for their discovery.21 On the other hand. mathematically engaged understanding of how those thinkers typically responded when they first became aware of certain problems or anomalies which as yet lacked any adequate means of formal articulation. that is. discovery 255 .READING THE TEXT transcends any specification in such terms. Moreover. it would ignore his repeated point that advances of the kind exemplified in the work of set theorists from Cantor to Cohen can only be explained through a grasp of those particular thought-processes whereby a range of truths that had hitherto eluded the best efforts of enquiry were at length brought within the compass of attainable knowledge or formal proof.23 What is most distinctive about Badiou’s approach is its managing to find sufficient room for the subject as actively and indispensably involved in every such valid truth-procedure. This in turn demands an active. while at the same time managing to steer well clear of subjectivism in any. And what enables him to situate his thinking squarely on ground that has not been trodden into ruts by adherents of either party is Badiou’s way of redefining the subject such that its very conditions of existence – those under which it embarks upon its own sui generis projects of enquiry. as I have said.22 Still less would he subscribe to any version of the psychologistic or subjectivist approach that Husserl was so anxious to disavow as a result of Frege’s having mistakenly laid that charge at his door. no matter how conceptually refined or phenomenologically sophisticated a form. transmission and subsequent repeated ‘reactivation’ – on those human (albeit transcendental) structures of thought that alone give access to them. let alone any adequate treatment that would ‘turn paradox into concept’.

e. inventiveness.. So much would appear self-evident in commonplace epistemological as well as metaphysical and even. Yet. This is a situation that can then be referred to as the ‘generic extension of S’ [symbolized S( )] since it has to be thought of as somehow implicit in the earlier. 375). conscious) epistemic or cognitive grasp. as a result of which ‘we would have a new situation to which would belong’ (p. less advanced situation and hence as potentially intelligible to the denizens of that situation even though beyond their powers of fully achieved (i. we have to do here with a radically heterodox conception of the subject which conserves its powers of rationality. So it is not so much a question – as in many postmodernist or post-structuralist debates on this topic – of ‘what is left of the subject?’ but rather a more exactly framed question concerning the subject’s role in taking thought beyond some limit-point of paradox or impasse to a more advanced stage where those obstacles at last fall away and open up hitherto unforeseen prospects along with further. decision-making and ethical commitment yet treats them as attributes of this or that specific undertaking which in turn provides the subject with his or her sense of purposive selfhood or identity.. namely that it posits a capacity of thought to transcend or surpass the scope of its own currently most advanced state of knowledge. to give a detailed and meticulously reasoned formal account of how such advances in knowledge – or abridgements of the gap between knowledge and truth – may best be understood to have come about. What it involves is the thought-experimental ploy of ‘adding [i. in Meditation ThirtyFour. otherwise it would be unintelligible for an inhabitant of S’. it might be thought. agency. 375).e. 256 . in which case ‘[h]ow can any sense be made of this extension of S via a production that brings forth the belonging of the indiscernible which S includes?’ (p.e. as yet unpredictable challenges. That is to say. it is not the case that the indiscernible belongs to the multiple S]’. Badiou goes on. as Badiou continues. the indiscernible element] to the fundamental situation S’.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT or creative exploration – are specifiable precisely in terms drawn from those various disciplinary contexts. Of course there is something deeply problematical about any such claim. on his own reckoning ‘~( ∈ S) [i. Thus ‘[t]he extreme difficulty of the question lies in this “addition” having to be made with the resources of S. straightforwardly logical terms.

That she possesses the concept of genericity. Badiou’s chief concern here is to think his way through and beyond the dilemma of objective truth versus humanly attainable knowledge that has hobbled so many branches of philosophy – especially philosophy of mathematics and science – during the past century and more. designates such a thing within it’ (p. so as to be able to name in S the hypothetical elements of its extension by the indiscernible. Since from her point of view the generic extension is purely ‘void’. he writes. 375). However there is plainly a limit to the reach of this hypothetical (i. 375). indexed to a truth-procedure that has yet to be assigned any definite content this yields no self-contradictory entailment of the type instanced above. proposed as it is from the epistemic standpoint of one who commands. that of the ‘ontologist’. is sufficient to ensure that she will grasp not only the in-principle possibility of such truths but also – what Badiou is here seeking to demonstrate – their existence within situation S as the indiscernible yet none the less active source of those various anomalies. which exists in S. This shortfall is made up. ‘The solution’. who is conceived 257 . simply paraphrased. that is. even if in this maximally abstract or non-content-specific form. but its language. explicit and formally developed version of the familiar realist case: that only by supposing the existence of objective. as yet. only-later-if-at-all-to-be-verified) claim. then this name. ‘consists in modifying and enriching not the situation itself. no claim (such as would immediately draw the fire of anti-realists) that we can somehow get to know truths that exceed the compass of our best knowledge. paradoxical entailments. that do fall within the scope of present knowability. Thus the argument offers a strengthened because more detailed. that is. dilemmas.READING THE TEXT In short.e. is the idea that a reasoner situated in S and possessing only the resources available within that same situation will none the less be able to assert with good warrant: ‘If there exists a generic extension. and so forth. on Badiou’s submission. only such an indirect or purely conjectural access to truth. verification-transcendent truths can we account for advancements in knowledge or produce a viable concept of progress with respect to any field of enquiry. What this amounts to. by introducing a second standpoint. thus anticipating – without presupposition of existence – the properties of the extension’ (p.

BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT as looking back upon situation S from the perspective of a more advanced state of knowledge wherein those erstwhile indiscernible truths will have come clearly to view. Badiou suggests. but the ontological status of these inferences will be entirely different: faith in transcendence for one (because is ‘outside the world’). the ontologist will realize the hypothesis. which are solely articles of faith for an inhabitant of S. the referents of the names. will be real terms. in mathematics and other fields.24 What Badiou claims to show by a different though closely related procedure is how progress may plausibly be thought to come about. ‘From the outside’. this indiscernible element can still leave its mark on situation S (or the present context of enquiry) in ways that may decisively affect the given situation even if their true import will not become clear until the occurrence of that very advance whose prospect – whether imminent or more remote – they can then be seen to have signalled. The logic of the development will be the same for whoever inhabits S and for us. For him. 258 . Moreover. because he knows that a generic set exists. 375–6) This fiction (more precisely: this thought-experiment or exploratory hypothesis) concerning the ‘ontologist’ blessed with benefit of hindsight is one that may well strike the reader as somewhat fanciful or far-fetched. position of being for the other. At which point we proceed to the final part of Being and Event where we shall find Badiou’s most sustained and focused engagement with the question of the subject in relation to issues of knowledge and truth. along with their role in producing the various symptomatic strains and tensions that bore oblique witness to what once lay beyond the bounds of attainable knowledge. However it goes no further out on a speculative limb than those analytic thinkers who deploy (for instance) the idea of an ‘omniscient interpreter’ by way of addressing various issues in epistemology and philosophy of language. through an anticipatory and hence conjectural yet none the less truth-conducive grasp of that which eludes any currently available method of proof or demonstration. (pp.

Meditation Thirty-Four brought us up against a further set-theoretically induced (and Gödel-reinforced) aporia whereby ‘[t]he coherency of ontology – the virtue of its deductive fidelity – is in excess of what can be demonstrated by ontology’ (p. that Badiou is now able to focus attention on the topic that has really been his guiding thread and motivating interest all along. having pressed ontology to the point of exposing its inherent limits. indiscernment and the impasse of being It is at this late stage. logic and the formal sciences have need of such a theory if they are seeking to account for their own history of advances to date and. 360). Which is also to say that ‘what is at stake here is a torsion which is constitutive of the subject: the law of a fidelity is not faithfully discernible’ (p. Yet it is by way of truth-procedures whose characterizing mark is that of unswerving fidelity to the project in hand that thought can turn this deficit to advantage by acknowledging that which leads enquiry beyond any outlook of settled adherence to received. as well as everything that Badiou has shown with regard to the chronically paradox-prone yet also paradox-driven development of set theory – is his claim that even mathematics. namely the ‘theory of the subject’ as that which alone offers the means to understand how thought is on occasion able to surpass and redefine those limits. 360). The upshot – again with Gödel’s results in mind.READING THE TEXT Discussion points What do you take Badiou to mean by his (to say the least) heterodox definition of the subject as ‘that which decides an undecidable from the standpoint of the indiscernible’? What are Badiou’s main reasons for holding not only that truth might always exceed the compass of present-best knowledge but also – paradoxically – that our grasp of truth can sometimes outrun the limits of conscious or reflective understanding? Do you find those reasons cogent or persuasive? PART VIII. orthodox or quasi-foundational (ontologically secure) modes of understanding. what this reveals concerning the complex dialectical relationship between structure and genesis. Truth. BEYOND LACAN 1. Since truth must be conceived as always potentially 259 . FORCING: TRUTH AND THE SUBJECT. more specifically.

so likewise the subject – as seeker.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT surpassing the limits of any given state of knowledge. depth-ontologists. So it is that Badiou embarks upon Part VIII with the forthright statement: ‘I term subject any local configuration of a generic procedure from which a truth is supported’ (p. or the a priori self-evidence of transcendental subjecthood. and hence the need to envisage the existence of truths that lie beyond its epistemic grasp.e. Rather it is the name – and Badiou is a resolute nominalist in this respect at least – for whatever goes beyond those conceptions of subjectivity that equate it with the deliverances of sensory experience. phenomenologists. it is that of designating presentation as such’. empiricists. 391). and Badiou claims to have established ‘that the part of a situation constituted by the true-assemblage of a generic procedure does not fall under the law of the count of the situation’) nor a void point (since ‘the proper name of being. or the likewise self-evident though more worldly (i. in broadly Kantian terms. has little in common with any understanding of the term bequeathed by thinkers in any of the main philosophic lines of descent whether rationalists. in Badiou’s usage. as the site or locus of a union achieved between the manifold of sensory experience and the synthesizing power of a mind that somehow bridges the stark dichotomy of intuition and concept. Thus his usage of ‘subject’ marks Badiou’s distance not only from those who have sought to uphold that concept. which stems from an evental ultra-one qualified by a supernumerary name. in whatever 260 . What should have become clear by now is that ‘subject’. conveyor or faithful ‘militant’ of truth – must always be accorded a central role in the process by which knowledge encounters the limits of whatever it is presently able to discern. and a-subjective’) (p. Above all Badiou is concerned to decouple his thinking from any notion of the subject defined. For ‘if the word “experience” has any meaning. 391).1 A subject is neither a substance (since ‘if the word substance has any meaning it is that of designating a multiple counted as one in a situation’. whereas – on Badiou’s account – ‘a generic procedure. more perceptually or physically rooted) subject evoked by the procedures of phenomenological reflection. is inhuman. does not coincide in any way with presentation’ (p. 391). hermeneutic adepts or even those (Foucauldians and post-structuralists) who purport to have theorized their way far beyond such delusory humanist notions. the void. discoverer.

framework. Thus ‘subjectivization is that through which a truth is possible. Wittgensteinian. into that which at length acquires the status of proven or accredited knowledge. 393). that is. comprehending or accessing truth in such a way as to attain what Spinoza – in classical rationalist style – defined as ‘adequate ideas’. poststructuralist. via the event of its first (unrecognized) occurrence. by its failure to recognize the existence or latency within it of one or more as-yet indiscernible (since knowledge-transcendent) truths to a more advanced state whereby those truths would enter the domain of fully achieved or operative concepts. For him. concepts that exhibited a perfect grasp of the 261 . but also from the presently large company of sceptics who have sought to reveal it as in truth nothing more than an ideological fig-leaf or alibi. If language is taken as the basis.2 This latter line of thought is one that could only strike him as yet another variant of that same ‘linguistic turn’ across the social. What they cannot explain is how thought could ever accomplish the passage from a state of knowledge defined by its partial character. When coupled with his other chief items of conceptual innovation it opens up a space of inventive possibility within which thinking is able to conceive how truths may emerge through just such a process of transforming the indiscernible. This is not to say that the subject is capable of knowing. human and even certain branches of the natural sciences to which he has been firmly opposed on account of its strong if covert idealist leanings as well as the strain of linguistic determinism implicit in much of this thinking. It is this irreducibly subjective dimension of truth – one that is oriented more towards the ethical idea of ‘truthfulness to’ – which Badiou takes as having an essential part to play in any adequate account of our knowledge of the growth of knowledge. [since] it turns the event towards the truth of the situation for which the event is an event’ (p. such ideas – whether of a structuralist. horizon or ground of subjectivity – according to some particular version of the thesis – then it leaves no room for those truth-procedures which lend themselves to formal specification after that advance has come about but which involve something more in the original ‘context of discovery’ than could ever be captured by any such strictly ex post facto reckoning. that is. Foucauldian or Heideggerian depth-hermeneutic provenance – are deficient to the point of self-refutation.READING THE TEXT philosophic guise.

historically informed and properly formalized account of how such advances could have come about. or rather encounter. to find itself repeatedly brought up against aporias which force it to confront and surpass its pre-existent limits – that Badiou is best able to articulate his case for the knowledgetranscendent character of truth and hence the need to reformulate our notion of the subject in keeping with this principle. For if truth is indeed. Rather he is deploying that term in just the sense and with just the range of specific (if paradoxically mind-stretching) conceptual resources that it first acquired through Cantor’s set-theoretical revolution and which thereafter proved intensely productive of advances in mathematics. and the way in which set-theoretical conceptions of the infinite from Cantor to Cohen have typically shown that capacity at work to the utmost paradoxical or mind-stretching effect. Thus ‘the subject. and the truth is infinite’. which realizes a truth. And again. being internal to the situation. 396). In which case there is a clear structural homology between the surplus of truth over knowledge. because the subject is finite. Indeed it is precisely on this account – through this tendency of thought. This also goes to reinforce Badiou’s claim about the gross insufficiency of language – or any doctrine that purports to maintain the priority of language vis-à-vis thought – when it comes to offering an adequate. or what the subject is able to know from his or her particular. ‘Because the subject is a local configuration of the procedure. an ‘un-presented part of 262 . when engaging with the infinite. terms or multiples presented (counted as one) in that situation’. is nevertheless incommensurable with the latter. it is clear that the truth is indiscernible “for him” – the truth is global’ (p.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT object (physical or abstract) to which they referred. according to Badiou. while conversely ‘a truth is an unpresented part of the situation’ (p. ‘a subject. can only know.3 For there is always. as Badiou asserts. that is. logic and other fields. By now we should be under no illusion that Badiou is here speaking loosely or gesturing towards some ineffable notion of the infinite. situated standpoint and what they would (counterfactually) know from that mythical god’s-eye perspective wherein the truth/knowledge distinction would be finally annulled. a disparity or lack of adequation between subject and truth. 396). the excess of the subject’s capacity for thought over that which presently gives itself to being known. a philosophically cogent.

Badiou sees the two fallacies as closely. with the over-valuation of language serving to lend greater credence or plausibility to the overemphasis on human knowledge as the arbiter of truth for all practical (humanly relevant) purposes. then ‘the subject cannot make a language out of anything except combinations of the supernumerary name of the event and the language of the situation’.READING THE TEXT the situation’. political theory. in fact.4 As we have seen. On the other hand he is very far from dismissing that whole range of developments in philosophy. However. What this amounts to. is a formal refutation not only of the various linguistic-constructivist doctrines cited above but also of any philosophical approach to the formal sciences which takes the anti-realist/intuitionist line of equating truth tout court with epistemic warrant. his work bears the deep imprint of two of those nominally ‘structuralist’ thinkers – the Marxist theoretician Louis Althusser and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan – both of whom placed language (or a certain theoretically elaborated model of language) at the heart of their respective projects and each of whom did much to propagate the claim that thought was ultimately subject to – rather than merely mediated by – certain deep-laid linguistic or discursive structures of representation. linguistically defined role within social discourse. 396). psychoanalysis and other branches of the social and human sciences that arose very largely from the French ‘re-discovery’ of Saussurean semio-linguistics in the 1960s and 1970s. what sets these projects 263 . even inseparably bound up together. All of which might seem to place them squarely within the constructivist camp and hence squarely at odds with everything that Badiou urges against that whole school of thought. Althusser similarly draws on Saussure – and on Lacan’s psychoanalytic re-working of Saussure – for his own account of how subjects are ‘interpellated’ by some dominant ideology and thus recruited to its service through a structural logic analogous to that which assigns them their proper. or which counts the idea of verification-transcendent truth a world well lost for the sake of attainable knowledge. and it is therefore ‘in no way guaranteed that this language will suffice for the discernment of a truth [that is] indiscernible for the resources of the language of the situation alone’ (p.5 Thus where Lacan draws on Saussurean concepts and terms for his basic topological account of the unconscious as very literally structured ‘like a language’.

6 But the crucial point remains: that both Lacan and Althusser explicitly (indeed emphatically) make allowance for an ontological domain of the real. precisely because the latter’s entire being resides in supporting the realization of truth. . The subject is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness of the true’. With these last two denials Badiou can be seen to situate his thinking on the often fiercely contested ground between philosophy and psychoanalysis. never fully accessible reality. No doubt it is hard – as many commentators will attest – to assign any definite locus or conceptual import to Lacan’s in itself highly elusive notion of ‘the real’. He can take them on board without compromise since for him. which must be thought of as lying outside and beyond the realm of subjective representation. uptake or epistemic grasp of the knowing subject. So there is nothing inconsistent about Badiou’s having recourse to certain elements of structuralist thinking – more specifically.7 By denying that the subject has conscious knowledge of truth he might seem to be siding with that strain of anti-philosophic (more specifically anti-Cartesian) thought 264 . the subject falls short of supporting the latter’s global sum’ (pp. and just as hard to see how Althusser’s immensely complex (some would say scholastically overwrought) ‘materialist’ theory could be said to escape the oft-repeated charge of conceptual-linguistic idealism. . ground to which Freud and Lacan in particular were anxious to stake their own territorial claims. and especially (though not exclusively) with reference to the formal sciences. as likewise for Althusser and Lacan. eludes or exceeds the structures of imaginary or ideological misrecognition whereby the subject lives out his/her relation to an always fugitive. 396–7). albeit very differently defined in each case. ‘[e]very truth is transcendent to the subject.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT decisively apart from the wider turn towards language or discourse as the bottom-line of enquiry is the commitment. it is an error (and the source of much confusion in various fields of enquiry) to suppose that truth or reality are in any way dependent on the comprehension. Moreover. in Althusser and Lacan alike. Thus ‘[b]eing the local moment of the truth. . knowledge and truth – despite his principled rejection of the language-first doctrine in its wholesale form. the structuralist theory of the subject in relation to issues of ideology. to the existence of that which stubbornly resists.

READING THE TEXT that is so prominent a feature of Lacan’s work. useful. in some respects indispensable but not – as Lacan would doubtless claim – uniquely privileged discourse. about this notion of ‘formalizing’ the subject – producing a theory that would account precisely for its mode of intervention in this or that specific truth-procedure – we should none the less be willing at least to entertain it as a means of entry 265 .8 If Lacan drew attention to its problems in an especially striking way – as with his famously riddling re-formulation of the cogito: ‘where I think “I think. 410). if pressed to its conclusion. Rather it involves a post-Cartesian concept of the subject – such as a great many French thinkers during the past century have sought to provide – which conserves the preeminence of critical reason against its manifold present-day detractors but works to detach it from the notion of transparent first-person epistemic access that has proved a chronic liability from Descartes down. If there is something odd. Meditation Thirty-Six (‘Forcing: From the Indiscernible to the Undecidable’) starts out from the central thesis of Being and Event. that is just where I am not’ – still Badiou holds out against any too complete. to received ways of thought. nor can ontology formalize the concept of the subject’ (p. For it is crucial to his project that truth should be conceived as always potentially eluding the compass of consciously accessible or self-aware knowledge but also as requiring an active and intensely focused activity of thought which cannot plausibly be located at the level of any unconscious (or even preconscious) process. dogmatic or reductive assimilation of the subject to a notion of the Freudian unconscious that.9 It is at this stage that Badiou undertakes his most detailed commentary on Cohen’s development of set-theoretical discourse through the closely interlinked concepts of ‘forcing’. the ‘generic’ and the ‘indiscernible’ which between them achieve – on his submission – a notable advance not only in the field of mathematics but also (inseparably from that) in our thinking about the subject. Yet by following up with his denial of the claim that the subject has ‘unconscious’ knowledge of the true Badiou effectively puts psychoanalysis in its place as a relevant. and one that Badiou takes as sufficiently established by this stage: that ‘[j]ust as it cannot support the concept of truth (for lack of the event). therefore I am”. would leave no room for rational thought or rationally-motivated agency.

Nothing could be further from Badiou’s insistence on the radical disjunction between being and event. necessarily conform to the scope and limits of that pre-existent domain. After all. is that ‘the existence of a subject is compatible with ontology’. What enables this to occur is the existence of certain validity conditions that are known to our imaginary friend the External Ontologist whose facilitating role I described in my commentary on Part VII. hypotheses or candidates for truth and the later situation – albeit unknowable 266 . 410). Thus the subject may indeed be ‘compatible with’ or not ‘contradictory to’ the ‘general regime of being’. For it is just his point with respect to Cohen that the concept of forcing captures exactly that paradoxical juncture of truth as what obtains quite independently of human understanding or epistemic grasp and truth as what transpires through a certain. at the time. a wholly unpredictable and hence revelatory force. However this is clearly not to suggest that the subject be conceived as existing within the ontological domain in such a way that its various thoughts. political or artisticcreative thought. as he would say. so far as possible to ‘formalize’) the process by which this inherent disparity on occasion gives rise to some epochal event in the history of mathematical. thus ‘ruin[ing] any pretension on the part of the subject to declare itself “contradictory” to the general regime of being’ (p.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT to Badiou’s otherwise thoroughly alien conceptual domain. truth-procedures. investigative projects. commitments. his main purpose in Being and Event is precisely to explain (or. actions. historically dated event which in turn comes about only on condition of its being the result of some humanly instituted practice of enquiry. yet must none the less be thought of – if Badiou’s central claim is to make any sense – as existing always in a state of potential conflict or tension relative to that regime. Those conditions form the link – recognizable only in the wake of some such crucial event – between the earlier situation wherein they are taken to ‘control’ what should count among the range of yet-to-be-validated theorems. according to Badiou. scientific. What Cohen demonstrates. and so forth. along with his thesis – the chief claim advanced in this final part of the book – that it is solely through the subject’s capacity to think through and beyond those limits that an event (in the sense of that term here in question) can occur with what seems.

11 This was the question – in brief – as to whether there existed an infinite set with cardinality (or ‘size’) between that of the integers.13 Hence what Badiou calls the ‘absolutely capital’ result of Cohen’s discovery for mathematics. that of the integers. although regarded with suspicion by some philosophers. that there could not be any such intermediate set. to which Gödel then added a formal proof that Cantor’s hypothesis could be accommodated without producing any contradictions within the currently accepted (Zermelo-Fraenkel) axioms of set theory. Thus the joint upshot of Gödel’s and Cohen’s proofs was to show that the validity or otherwise of Cantor’s hypothesis could not be decided by any self-sufficient or formally adequate proofprocedure but was crucially dependent on the system of axioms (e. Cantor hypothesized. (To repeat. Cohen’s contribution – which. as we have seen.e. and c signifies the continuum of real numbers then according to Cantor’s hypothesis ℵ1 = c (i. if ℵo (Aleph-null) signifies the ‘smallest’ order of infinity. Badiou makes absolutely central to his own project of thought – was to offer a formal demonstration that the continuum hypothesis could be rejected without giving rise to any recalcitrant or logically unacceptable result. has all the same been made to do useful work by others. without being able to prove. that the hypothesis is false and that there can (indeed must) exist one or more such classes of infinite number between the order of integers and the order of reals. this device of appealing to a kind of super-knowledgeable party or ‘omniscient interpreter’ is one that. the whole or counting numbers and that of the ‘larger’ infinity of real numbers which intuitively marked the next distinct range of numerical values or discrete order of magnitude. across a range of subject-domains. ‘nothing in between’). that is.12 In the standard notation. Nevertheless mathematicians are mostly convinced. Zermelo-Fraenkel) deployed in any given case. as was Gödel. Donald Davidson among them.10) Such reasoning finds its clearest exemplification in Cohen’s book Set Theory and the Continuum Hypothesis where he puts it to work in treating one of the great unresolved problems that dogged Cantor during his later years.READING THE TEXT in advance to anyone bar the Ontologist – where they count among those whose truth has been established by procedures belonging to the generic extension. logic and – not least – for his own work on the scope and limits of a formalized ontology which. 267 .g.

As we have seen. the axiom is both well-formed and consistent with such a large body of established set-theoretical lore as to render it a fit candidate for objective truth or falsity whatever the limits of our knowledge in that regard. as a paradigm case of how thinking may be drawn into new and productive regions of enquiry through its orientation towards certain truths that elude its present-best or even.14 This is why it is often discussed in conjunction with the Axiom of Choice (quick reminder: ‘given a set. there exists a set composed exactly of a representative of each of the [non-void] elements of the initial set’. at the limit. and despite his express reservations on the 268 . along with the continuum hypothesis. faute de mieux acceptance and outright rejection – it is the anti-realists.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT reveals the essentially disjunct relation or lack of any ultimate common measure between the two realms of being and event. post-Cohen interventions that have kept the continuum hypothesis in play as one that can be known to possess an objective truth-value (true or false) even though the issue cannot be resolved either way for lack of any clinching. Badiou’s point is that the Cohen result will be seen to possess just such exemplary force if taken together with Cantor’s and Gödel’s arguments and with various later.15 To a realist (or Platonist) way of thinking. 499). this is another main component of set-theoretical thought whose validity is unproven – or its truth-value strictly unknown – even though it has been subject to a great deal of formal elaboration and is taken as an axiom in good standing by most (not all) present-day mathematicians and philosophers. formally adequate proof or disproof. Here it is worth noting that of the three main options available to set theorists regarding the Axiom of Choice – unqualified acceptance. its utmost achievable powers of conscious or deliberative grasp. Its significance has to do mainly with its showing to powerful effect how a formal (axiomatic-deductive) truth-procedure may none the less leave room for that crucial element of choice that distinguishes a faithful following-through of those further. Once again. conversely. as-yet unknowable consequences that may at length turn out to furnish its probative warrant. For Badiou it figures. p. constructivists or intuitionists who most often adopt option three since their outlook precludes any notion that the axiom might be objectively true or false quite aside from our happening not to possess the requisite means of proof.

Thus the next portion of Being and Event (pp. Badiou is a veritable sticker for the strictest. ‘A Subject alone possesses the power of indiscernment’. Badiou can be seen to align himself squarely with the realist camp insofar as he locates the chief spur to mathematical creativity. reveal those hitherto unperceived signs of conceptual strain. to the point of establishing its formal validity or its claim to have passed from the realm of conjecture to that of veridical statement. and on the other those that involve an irreducible reference to some particular knower in some particular.e. its unrecognized yet somehow latent and subliminally marked) existence in the earlier situation and which then lead on. inventiveness and progress in precisely that ever-present possibility of a gap between knowledge and truth. she finds herself taken up by the demand of fidelity to a truth-event whose further exploration or progressive unfolding it is thenceforth her task to pursue.READING THE TEXT point. since the truth-event can only occur through the ‘impasse of being’ brought about by this capitalized Subject whose role it is to intervene decisively at some crucial juncture. there is no validity – according to Badiou – in that deeply entrenched system of binary oppositions that draws a categorical line between objective and subjective orders of truth-claim. more or less knowledge-conducive context. or on the one hand those whose conditions can be specified in purely formal or empirical terms. most demanding standards of specialist competence in those fields (whether mathematics and the formal sciences or 269 . That is to say. and thereby become the agent of a forced but none the less subjectively willed since rationally motivated transformation. 412–16) is devoted to a detailed and formalized account of those conditions under which the subject – again in Badiou’s highly distinctive sense of that term – quite literally comes into being with the advent of a previously indiscernible truth that now exists within the bounds of conceptual possibility and. of potential proof. one for whom the highest philosophical as well as more broadly cultural good would be a full-scale collapse or abandonment of all such hopelessly outmoded and irksome distinctions. via the generic extension.16 On the contrary. Not that he is for one moment recommending the kind of post-disciplinary utopia envisaged by a thinker like Richard Rorty. beyond that. This involves procedures that begin from the stage of its ‘indiscerned’ (i. as must be clear to any reader who has come this far with Being and Event. At such a moment.

Thus he rejects the very terms in which this question has typically been posed since the nineteenth-century parcelling-out of territorial claims between the Geisteswissenschaften and Naturwissenschaften. or the human and natural sciences. Heidegger. is one that he broaches mainly by way of psychoanalysis and. love. with a view to treating the latter on terms laid down by the former. like Rorty and other proponents of the full-strength hermeneutic turn. Marx (not the subject of a named section but a constant point of reference) and Rousseau. For Badiou. as we have seen. Nor. The third subject. Descartes and Lacan: the subject at stake That his approach to issues in the philosophy of mathematics and logic lives up to this self-imposed requirement will I hope have become evident enough in the course of my commentary so far. Mallarmé. depth-hermeneutic or strong-descriptivist thinking that would count such notions just a throwback to old. is he in any way attracted to those currently widespread strains of linguistic-constructivist. Hegel.17 As readers may have noticed – perhaps after having their interest piqued by some early passing mentions – it has figured only peripherally so 270 . The first two categories (politics and art) have here received a fair amount of detailed attention through my account of what Badiou has to say about thinkers and poets – a distinction that he would surely reject out of hand – such as Aristotle. Hölderlin. mathematical. However he does so not. more specifically. But I should also want to claim that it is borne out. albeit more controversially.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT the exegesis of challenging poetic texts) where such expertise is called for. academically hidebound habits of thought. by those sections of Being and Event where Badiou extends these formal concerns into regions of enquiry (chief among them politics. art and love) that he considers no less demanding of treatment with the utmost conceptual precision. erotic. through Lacan’s often riddling and opaque meditations on amorous. but – quite the opposite – in order to insist that conceptual rigour has its necessary place on both sides of that notional divide. this whole debate is just a ping-pong match between two equally misconceived notions of where (if anywhere) the requirements of formal or epistemic rigour leave off and those of subjective fidelity or hermeneutic tact should be thought to begin. 2. hermeneutic and structural-linguistic themes.

autonomous. rationally administered and consciously opento-view house. that is to say. his putative rejection of any idea that the cogito (first-person-singular thinking subject) might have some real.18 Thus Lacan evokes passionate responses pro and contra to a degree unusual even by the standards of the strife-ridden ‘community’ of psychoanalysis. other than delusory role to play in our understanding of what properly constitutes a truth-procedure. One point on which he seeks to rectify a commonplace error concerning Lacan is the latter’s supposed out-and-out repudiation of Descartes. shall I/the ego be’) not as an injunction that the conscious mind should reclaim territory once occupied by the unconscious but rather as stating that the unconscious will always turn out to hold undisputed sway in those regions where the conscious mind self-deludingly thinks to impose its rule.19 271 . self-conscious subject of Descartes’ wishful imagining is played completely off the field. soll ich werden’ (‘where it/the id was. To be sure. and that when Lacan speaks – in response to such claims – of the ‘tyranny’ exerted by an academic discourse of clear and distinct ideas he is really just putting on a charlatan’s display for the dubious benefit of credulous readers. which concludes our (in every sense) eventful odyssey through this remarkable work. Nor has there been any shortage of opponents convinced that all this is merely a charade. the effect of Lacan’s prose with its constant veering between the labyrinthine and the cryptic – as well as his intensely (even obsessively) close-focused reading of certain passages in Freud – is often to suggest that he is out to create such thickets of oblique or devious signification that the rational. conversely. Indeed his claims have been fiercely contested both within that community and among representatives of other disciplines (philosophy included) by whom they have often been denounced as nothing more than a species of rhetorical imposture. Lacan has indeed shown that the subject (at any rate the subject conceived in Cartesian. Kantian or Husserlian terms) has undergone a radical ‘decentering’ or displacement in the wake of Freud’s great discovery. To them there is no question but that he is right in interpreting Freud’s remark ‘wo es war. and can henceforth no longer be thought of as master in its own. For his disciples.READING THE TEXT far but comes very much into its own in Meditation ThirtySeven. ‘Descartes/Lacan’.

via dislocation. . All the same Badiou makes sure to place a large distance between his own faithful yet critical approach to Lacan’s thought and the kinds of unquestioning doctrinal adherence – oddly coupled with far-out relativist.20 Thus he opens this Meditation with a pointed reminder that ‘the Lacanian directive of a return to Freud was originally doubled: he says . is not an option but an inescapable necessity even – or especially – for those. This is not merely to say that any idea stands to benefit from having some contrary idea to rub up against. who aim to reveal how much of the unconscious ‘primary process’ is lost or disfigured in the course of its re-working into consciously accessible/expressible guise. constructivist or anti-realist postures – that have characterized the uptake of Lacanian psychoanalysis among post-structuralists and others for whom it has often served as a handy means of mounting their assault on the claims and prerogatives of reason. ‘What localizes the subject’. self-knowing subject that has caused such a deal of trouble for subsequent epistemology and philosophy of mind then it should none the less be clear how deep is the kinship – albeit the fraught and antagonistic kinship – between Lacanian psychoanalysis and that which it so strenuously seeks to repudiate. beliefs or ideologies. 431). or the exercise of rational thought. and at which he subverts. like Lacan. In fact it is on just this latter point. that is. transparent. Badiou writes. the latter’s pure coincidence with self. Rather it is to make the more substantive claim that reason. ‘is the point at which Freud can only be understood within the heritage of the Cartesian gesture. its reflexive transparency’ (p. For if Lacan can be read – and not without strong textual warrant – as recommending (indeed mandating) a break with that Cartesian idea of the autonomous. “the directive of a return to Descartes would not be superfluous”’ (p. expression or representation that Badiou takes issue not only with 272 . . or that progress comes about – in Hegelian fashion – through a constantly evolving and self-transformative dialectic of opposed concepts.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT It will be clear from what I have said so far that Badiou would repudiate any such charge with a forceful affirmation of his own belief that Lacan is most decidedly one of those thinkers who have left so deep and consequential a mark on the present-day human sciences as to make this situation wholly understandable. 431). the priority granted to issues of language.

and (3) that this language can best be conceived after Saussure as a system of differences or purely contrastive relations ‘without positive terms’. (2) that the unconscious is structured as a language. some intuitionists and certainly all those who have gone along with the linguistic turn whether in its post-structuralist or its Wittgensteinian form. Badiou could scarcely rest content with the three main Lacanian proposals: (1) that reason is no more than a helpless ‘plaything’ of the unconscious. After all. It is therefore quite understandable that Badiou’s reading of Descartes should resist the somewhat facile pronouncements of those on both sides of the ‘analytic’/‘continental’ split who have announced an end to the Cartesian regime of ‘clear and distinct ideas’. One point that needs stressing here is that the Descartes whom Badiou wishes to defend – or at least partially to vindicate – against those adversary legions is not so much the Descartes of the solitary. constructivists. albeit one that would be fiercely disputed by anti-realists. along with its subject-centred epistemology and its failure to acknowledge the prior claims of language.READING THE TEXT the line most often adopted by Lacan’s post-structuralist followers but also with certain prominent aspects of Lacan’s own work. community and culture. mathematician. Thus it also consorts naturally enough with Badiou’s strong leaning in that direction and his focus on developments in set theory as a test-case example of the kind. This argument is likeliest to gain assent when applied to the domain of mathematics. like them. Taken together they go flat against everything that Badiou most emphatically maintains concerning the precedence of thought over language. finds problematic to the point of nonsensicality) but Descartes the logician.21 This is 273 . self-grounding cogito (a notion that he. logic and the formal sciences where it chimes with the widely held view – borne out by various items of expert testimony – that some of the most notable achievements have come about through processes far removed from any verbal or quasi-verbal train of reasoning. scientist and author of the Discourse on Method and Rules for the Direction of the Mind rather than the much better-known Meditations. or – more precisely – the shortfall of any ‘language-first’ approach when it comes to explaining how thought can accomplish the kinds of inventive or creative as well as formal or conceptual advance that require a decisive break with existing (linguistically or culturally entrenched) modes of thought.

is not immanent. and on the other so as to save Lacan from those who (most of them) would heartily endorse his critique of the Cartesian ‘subjectpresumed-to-know’ but regard him as having made the case in a thoroughly obscurantist and ineffectual way. because ‘Lacan signals that he “does not misrecognize” that the conscious certitude of existence. If we read Descartes aright. 432). to mount a kind of double rescue-operation. indeed distinctly Sartrean-existentialist import to the term ‘transcendent’. Badiou puts it with untypical caginess when he writes that ‘one is not obliged to read into this a complete rupture with Descartes’.e. To be sure. defining it in direct opposition to the ‘immanent’ and taking it to entail that ‘the subject cannot coincide with the line of identification proposed to it by this [i. none the less makes room for Badiou’s cardinal distinction between consciousness and thought. but rather transcendent’ (p.22 Thus Descartes effectively pre-empts and deflects the charge of having thought to derive a substantive. despite his deep investment in that first-person privileged epistemology. Where Badiou characteristically claims to outgo or overleap the Kantian position is by giving a more radical. and hardly lacking for passages that tend to support the opposite (i. then we shall see that he already anticipates Kant’s well-known criticisms of him – in the section of the First Critique entitled ‘Paralogisms of Pure Reason’ – for having supposedly confused the transcendental and experiential dimensions of subjectivity. Descartes himself offers the grounds for rejecting that delusive appeal to the cogito as ultimate bulwark against sceptical doubt and replacing it with the kinds of axiomatic truth-procedure that involve no such appeal since their validity conditions are entirely independent of recognition. psychologically specified conception of the subject from that which in truth affords no more than an abstract (hence empirically vacuous) account of the transcendentally deduced conditions of possibility for subject-hood. acceptance or ratification by the knowing or self-conscious subject. the operation is by no means straightforward since Lacan’s texts are hardly clear and distinct on the point. phenomenological or 274 .BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT a thinker who. at the centre of the cogito. So one can see why he goes to such lengths. cogito-based. That is. downright anti-Cartesian) interpretation. this suggests.e. in this closing Meditation. on the one hand in order to save Descartes from the obloquy heaped upon him by those who ignore that crucial distinction between consciousness and thought.

‘Taking a short cut through what can be inferred as common to Descartes.23 In short. It would thus offer a more positive outcome to the impasse proclaimed by those.READING THE TEXT consciousness-indexed] certitude’ (p. to Lacan. more principled change of course which likewise starts out from the assumed obsolescence of a certain way of philosophizing – one with the conscious and knowing 275 . 432). it is important for Badiou at this late stage of Being and Event to clarify not only his stance vis-à-vis Descartes and the non-coincidence or cleft between consciousness and thought but also what he sees – in closely related terms – as the best. and to what I am proposing here – which ultimately concerns the status of truth as generic hole in knowledge – I would say that the debate bears upon the localization of the void’ (p. Rorty would have us simply drop that entire misbegotten enterprise and henceforth take the linguistic turn towards a view of philosophy as just another.24 Badiou proposes a different. What Badiou is here proposing is a radical shift away from the sorts of Descartes-inspired debate in epistemology that have focused on the problem of knowledge as a matter of somehow outflanking the demon of sceptical doubt by discovering indubitable grounds of certainty within the consciously (as well as self-consciously) thinking subject. strictly nonprivileged voice in the ongoing cultural conversation. and more akin to those modes of thought – whether in mathematics or in certain (especially Lacanian) discourses of psychoanalytic theory – which raise significant questions with regard to the cogito as a privileged means of such access. procedural and scientifically oriented methods of enquiry. cognitive or justificatory warrant. 432). most productive way to inhabit that contested zone (more so than ever in the wake of Lacan’s provocative intervention) between philosophy and psychoanalysis. like Rorty. The result of that shift would be to redirect attention from what philosophers have found so endlessly intriguing and problematical about Descartes’ epistemological project towards the relationship – likewise problematic in various ways but not unresolvably or hopelessly so – between his logical. who find nothing more than a sad delusion and a squandering of intellectual energies in the post-Cartesian idea of knowledge as standing in need of epistemic. In reading Descartes we have to do with a conception of mind that is less dependent than traditionally supposed on the myth of first-person epistemic access.

. but also gives it a primary and strictly indispensable role in the discovery of mathematical and scientific truths. form of science’ (p. self-committing or ‘faithful’ subject – than could ever be available to those who adopt the idea of subjectivity as just a product (some would say delusory figment) of language or discourse. This means that Badiou can retain a much stronger. Where Lacan takes his conceptual bearings from a structural-linguistic (i.e. that is. His purpose in this final Meditation – one that in a sense gathers up all the main lines of argument in Being and Event – is to make the case that we misread Descartes if we fail to see that he is thinking primarily in a mathematical (indeed in what might be called a proto-set-theoretical) mode and only secondarily in terms of the cogito with all its otiose metaphysical baggage. ‘What still attaches Lacan . and the pursuit of radically progressive or transformative political aims beyond anything acknowledged by current consensual. more adequate conception of the subject – the enquiring. not linguistics or philosophy of language. wholly transmissible. with the crucial difference that Badiou’s case goes by way of a more demanding and rigorous process of demonstrative argument. the production of genuinely original or creative-exploratory artworks. . and thus avoids the sorts of facile misinterpretation to which Lacan has been subject by post-structuralists and others. Only such a subject allows itself to be sutured within the logical.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT subject at the heart of its epistemological concerns – but which takes this as a reason to examine and reformulate those concerns rather than as a pretext for giving them up altogether. Thus he not only leaves room for a substantive or more-than-nominal concept of the subject. 432). as the renovating source for a discipline of thought that would sustain the project of truth-seeking enquiry that he traces from its Greek origins to the present while none the less acknowledging the various objections that have risen against it and seeking to provide an alternative approach that squarely addresses those objections. This is why Badiou stakes his claim for mathematics. to the Cartesian epoch of science is the thought that the subject must be maintained in the pure void of its subtraction if one wishes to save truth. willing. What stands clear to view as a result of Badiou’s critique is the close connection – not to call it ‘complicity’ – between 276 . Saussurean) model Badiou takes his from mathematics. liberal-democratic norms.

of diverting philosophers’ attention from strictly unanswerable questions about the nature of objective. that is. where the former (but emphatically not the latter) involves and requires some reference to language or to communally shared means of expression. Such is also the relationship. reason and judgement. judgement and that ‘encyclopaedic’ dimension wherein can be found whatever belongs to the realm of received or epistemically secure since well-established veridical opinion.25 For Badiou. Hence Badiou’s distinction between ‘veracity’ and ‘truth’. This is also his reason for rejecting that entire chapter of developments opened up by Kant’s self-proclaimed ‘Copernican revolution’. mind-independent reality to questions that inherently lay within the bounds of human cognizance since they concerned what we could establish with respect to the mind’s a priori capacities and powers of understanding. the idea that philosophy could be rescued from its age-old sceptical dilemmas only through a radical switch of focus from ontological to epistemological issues. or the idea (taken up by these latter-day schools of thought) that truth must always conform to the scope and limits of human knowledge. as he conceives it. Kant believed.26 277 . consciousness.READING THE TEXT the linguistic turn and this resort to a conception of truth and justice based on currently prevailing ideas of the relevant standards or criteria. there is nothing to commend this Kantian recourse to the subject conceived as a shifting alliance of diverse ‘faculties’ which somehow co-exist under the terms laid down by the conditions of possibility for its own unknowable (transcendentally deduced but purely noumenal hence empirically/psychologically vacuous) selfhood. It provides both a rehabilitation of truth – a concept that is sharply defined and developed in context-specific terms across a range of disciplines or topic-areas – and a rehabilitation of the subject as locus of a truth that might always surpass both its own conscious grasp and the limits of currently available knowledge. reason and intelligibility. between language. Such a change would have the wholly beneficial outcome. conversely. Thus Badiou sides firmly with Plato in opposition to the Protagorean-relativist doctrine that ‘man is the measure’. It would be hard to over-state the extent and significance of this decisive break with a linguistically based (whether post-structuralist or Wittgensteinian) conception of thought.

and therefore as that which enables every act or instance of empirical knowledge. invent. discover. and one that he develops with direct reference to the various specific truth-procedures that arise from specific events – advances or discoveries – in likewise specific contexts of enquiry. To Badiou’s way of thinking this is merely the altogether bad result of Kant’s retreat from ontology to epistemology. Rather we should seek – with greater formal precision – to define its role and its strictly sui generis effects as that which eludes any form of ontological specification since it intervenes to create. as we have seen. as well as providing – under a different dispensation of the faculties – the basis of practical reason (ethics) and aesthetic appreciation. and thence to the idea (with untoward consequences for so many present-day thinkers) that truth must be conceived in terms of humanly attainable knowledge and knowledge in terms of those various types or modalities of judgement that between them establish its scope and limits. devise. His response.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Least of all can he accept the role that Kant assigns to ‘judgement’ as the crucial mediating power between sensuous intuitions and concepts of understanding. Moreover it would have the same transformative effect with regard to philosophy’s longstanding and frequently baffled attempt to arrive at some conception of the human subject that is neither abstract to the point of irrelevance nor ‘subjective’ in that philosophically pejorative sense of the term which ranges from ‘personal’ to ‘ill-disciplined’ or ‘downright whimsical’. faithfully sustain or further develop a truth-procedure whose beginning cannot know its end but whose end – from what he here terms a ‘future anterior’ perspective – will constitute its ultimate justification. Thus Badiou’s proposed new inauguration is one that would restore ontology to its rightful place and thereby mark a signal advance in philosophy’s conceptual resources as applied to areas of investigation beyond the strict remit of mathematics. is to reassert the claims of ontology as first philosophy and also to insist that the subject not be thought of in this Kantian fashion as the locus of various disparate yet somehow mysteriously unified and cooperative powers. Moreover he is equally insistent that subjects come into existence only through some such domainspecific event and its transformative effect both on their own 278 . What Badiou sets out to achieve in Being and Event is just such a working conception. logic and the formal sciences.

That is to say. discipline. Although Badiou is at odds with Descartes – emphatically so – as regards the latter’s notion of the subject as able to achieve apodictic knowledge through transparent or privileged first-person epistemic access he is none the less keen to reclaim what he considers its kernel of truth or validity from those who have rejected it out of hand. psychological and experiential terms. or focus of investigation’. In the one case this has tended to obscure how Descartes. goes far towards conceiving the subject (sense 1) as intrinsically bound up with those procedures. his main reason for ending the book with this seemingly improbable conjunction of Descartes and Lacan is that both thinkers have been exposed to a widespread and tenacious misreading. in his writings other than the Meditations. human being. but also as a matter of everyday parlance where it signifies something more broadly encompassing in personal. methods or protocols of thought that constitute its chief points of engagement with the subject (sense 2) to which it dedicates the best of its truth-seeking endeavours. individual. and (2) ‘subject = theme. first-person locus of identity’ and so on. Thus there is little in common between Badiou’s usage of ‘subject’ and the way this word is deployed not only in a relatively specialized sense by philosophers from Kant to Husserl.READING THE TEXT lives (insofar as those lives are thereafter dedicated to following out its as-yet unperceived consequences) and on the future development of the discipline concerned. In fact – and here we touch the paradoxical heart of his argument – one would have to go back beyond Kant to Descartes in order to find a formulation that poses the relevant issues (as Badiou sees them) with comparable clarity and force. and the version of Descartes that has come down (from his own time 279 . topic.27 What this enables him to claim – without any Heideggerian straining after obscure or downright fake etymologies – is that subjects (sense 1) can best be thought of as acquiring their salient profiles or chief individuating features from the subjects (sense 2) wherein they have made some decisive intervention. In effect Badiou is pointing back to a stage before there occurred certain complex semantic shifts whereby its meanings separated out into (1) ‘subject = person. the Cartesian subject-presumed-to-know. In the other case it has likewise had the effect of disguising how close – almost symbiotic – is the relation of mutual dependence between Lacan’s psychoanalytically inspired challenge to that bugbear entity.

Thus the juxtaposition of two such. So Badiou’s purpose in yoking them together is not to deny the very real problems that Lacan poses for any orthodox Cartesian (privileged-access epistemic) approach but rather to demonstrate how a reading of Descartes via Lacan – and of Lacan via Descartes – can bring out the extent of this reciprocal interinvolvement. It shows how Lacan’s drive to revoke the privilege of reason by placing it under the sway of the ubiquitous Freudian–Lacanian unconscious comes up against that strictly inescapable need for the recourse to rational procedures of thought. on the face of it. resourceful or inventive to be sustained very largely 280 . What emerges from this joint demonstration is the insufficiency of any approach that either treats knowledge (and consciousness thereof) as the criterion of reason and truth or else goes so far in an echt-Lacanian direction as to make some show of rejecting reason and truth along with the traditionally privileged claims of knowledge and consciousness. At the same time it reveals how Descartes’ appeal to the autonomous cogito as presumptive anchor-point of mind and world encounters its limit in that which eludes the supposedly transparent and self-grounding character of conscious reflection. This concerns the remarkable yet well-documented capacity of reason to transcend the limits of conscious. That this can only be a show – that it cannot consistently avow such a goal and yet profess to argue its case in a logical. reflective or epistemically accessible thought while yet remaining subject to the dictates of a truth-procedure that acts as both a stimulus and check to its ventures beyond the confines of received knowledge or accepted method. coherent. rationally cogent way – should not be taken as a flat repudiation of Lacan’s (seemingly) anti-Cartesian stance. Where Badiou departs most markedly from Lacan is in attaching no special importance to language and in supposing thought at its most rigorous. Rather it should serve as a reminder first of that ‘other’ Descartes whose rationalist precepts are not so closely tied to the cogito and secondly of Lacan’s own highly formalized and far from ‘irrationalist’ understanding of the unconscious and its structural – even systematic –workings.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT to the present) as exactly what is needed in order for these contrary doctrines to establish their claim. starkly antithetical thinkers offers a means whereby Badiou can re-affirm the central thesis of Being and Event.


without dependence on the structures of linguistic meaning or representation. This is why Badiou sees Lacan as belonging very much to the Cartesian line of descent, despite all his vigorous protestations to contrary effect and despite the drastically disruptive or destabilizing effect that his thinking brings to bear on all conceptions of the sovereign or autonomous subject, from Descartes down to Kant, Husserl and the proponents of psychoanalysis in its corrupted (especially American ego-psychological) guise. What kept him tied to a tradition of thought that his work had otherwise so powerfully challenged was its subscription to a variant of the language-first thesis with its source in Saussurean linguistics. That thesis can be seen to have continued, in a different register, the kind of representationalist doctrine exemplified by the earlier ‘way of ideas’ that had formed such a largely unquestioned staple of rationalist and empiricist philosophies alike.28 It is this long-established but fallacious paradigm that Badiou considers to have been instrumental in bringing about the twofold inversion of priorities whereby epistemology displaced ontology as the prime focus of enquiry and was itself then displaced by the notion of language as marking the ultimate horizon of knowledge and truth. So Lacanian psychoanalysis has both a backward and a forward-looking aspect, on the one hand remaining partially in thrall to a modern, ‘linguistified’ variant of the old Cartesian way of ideas while on the other – through its formal, often mathematical modes of articulation – marking the imminent point of transition to a new, altogether more adequate paradigm. ‘What is at stake’, Badiou writes, ‘is an opening on to a history of truth which is at last completely disconnected from what Lacan, with genius, termed exactitude or adequation, but which his gesture, overly soldered to language alone, allowed to subsist as the inverse of the true’ (p. 433). Thus the formalism, the recourse to symbolic logic, and the intermittent quest for conceptual rigour – however suspect to his many antagonists – were sufficient to offset the strain of linguistic idealism that characterized Lacan’s work though not to enable a decisive break with that whole structuralist or nascent post-structuralist way of thinking. What might have pointed a way forward from this impasse in his thinking was a more sustained engagement with just those developments in recent mathematics which offered the sole adequate means


of understanding how thought could surpass the limits of in-place (epistemically accredited or linguistically transmissible) knowledge. Hence Lacan’s place of honour as the last of those highly select maîtres à penser who have figured at various crucial junctures throughout Being and Event. This is chiefly on account of his standing, like John the Baptist, at the threshold of that epochal shift in the configuration of thought that Badiou identifies with the advent of a set-theoretically inspired return to ontology – rather than epistemology or philosophy of language – as the discipline best (or solely) equipped to underwrite and comprehend such advances. One result of adopting the ‘ontologyfirst’ standpoint is to lend renewed credence to talk of advances or progress and not require that it always come surrounded by a host of visible or invisible quote-marks. For this entails the two main realist/objectivist precepts (1) that truth may always surpass the limits of attainable knowledge, and (2) that knowledge may always transcend whatever finds adequate expression in this or that currently accepted communal language. Moreover, as concerns the formal sciences, it follows from Badiou’s settheoretical account (3) that the defects – the fallings-short of truth – in the state of knowledge at any given time are such as might conceivably be brought to light through a more advanced grasp of the latent tensions, contradictions or aporias that were hitherto more-or-less successfully concealed from view. So it is, on the last page of this final Meditation, that Badiou looks back to the book’s Introduction after a long and immensely complex process of argument and claims to have offered demonstrative proof (nothing less) for what was there set forth in prospective or promissory terms. Thus he hopes to have shown how ‘[i]t is possible to re-interrogate the entire history of philosophy, from its Greek origins on, according to the hypothesis of a mathematical regulation of the ontological question’, in which case ‘[o]ne would then see a continuity and a periodicity quite different from that deployed by Heidegger’ (p. 435). To which one might add: a conception of truth-seeking enquiry across every main area of human intellectual, scientific, political and artistic endeavour quite different from – and venturesome beyond – anything essayed in a single work of philosophy since Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. I would hope, in the course of this detailed commentary, to have offered good reason for counting Badiou fully


justified in his statements of vaulting ambition at the outset and his equally elevated sense of achievement at the close. In coming years it is likely that Being and Event will be taken up by an increasing number of well-prepared readers with a deepened grasp of its philosophic challenge, its mathematical complexities and its force of political commitment allied to an ethical standpoint none the less demanding for his overt suspicion of ethics as a discourse most often enlisted in the service of dubious or downright repugnant political ends.29 This will help to overcome the resistance engendered by its singular power to disturb and unsettle orthodox habits of thought, whether those of an expressly conservative character or those – more typically, given Badiou’s ‘natural’ readership – that combine a radical-seeming post-structuralist or ‘strong’ linguisticconstructivist rhetoric with a failure to think through its less than radical (indeed its markedly conservative) implications. By that time Being and Event may well have acquired, and deservedly so, the evental status of a major and transformative episode in the history of thought that Badiou accords to those select few figures whose decisive interventions he can fairly claim to have carried forward through his own mathematically informed re-thinking of issues central to every discipline where truth is fundamentally in question.
Discussion points

How do you understand the complex relationship of Badiou’s thought to Lacanian psychoanalysis and, via Lacan, to Descartes’ subject-centred epistemology or ‘project of pure enquiry’? Given the centrality of mathematics to Badiou’s project and, more generally, the formal-abstract cast of his thinking one might expect him to share the suspicion or downright hostility that many analytic philosophers have expressed towards the claims of psychoanalysis. Why is this so strikingly not the case? Would you say that Badiou has now fulfilled his promise, at the outset of Being and Event, that this would be not only a significant work but a transformative event in the history of modern thought? If so, what exactly is the nature of that transformation and which are the disciplines, subject-domains or areas of wider (e.g. social and political) concern where you would expect its impact to be most keenly and deeply felt?




Badiou has been a notably productive writer, more than ever in recent years, so this will be a highly selective bibliography and very much tailored to the likely needs of those who are approaching his work for the first time by way of this introductory guide. It contains items chosen on the following grounds: 1. that they bear importantly on themes and ideas developed in Being and Event; 2. that they are central to his project as a whole; 3. that they throw a revealing light on some aspect of his work that I have not been able to treat adequately or discuss at all owing to restrictions of length. Fortunately there are two online bibliographies that between them offer an impressively detailed survey of Badiou’s work and commentaries on it up to the end of 2006 and 2007, respectively. The first is by Alan Ashton and appeared in the journal Cosmos and History [ article/viewFile/124/73]. This has helped me greatly in hunting out some otherwise fugitive details, and I am grateful to author, editor(s) and publisher for providing such an excellent resource. The second is available from a website dedicated mainly to debates around the work of Jacques Lacan, and therefore has a strongly psychoanalytic slant in its coverage [ bibliographyb.htm]. The ready availability of both has enabled me to focus here on just those items that will be of most use to non-specialists. Works of a more general character (e.g. on topics in philosophy of mathematics, logic, epistemology, ontology, political theory, psychoanalysis and so on) are covered where appropriate in the chapter endnotes, so I have excluded any such references so as to avoid duplication. All in all readers should find sufficient guidance to the best and most accessible sources for pursuing their engagement with Badiou’s thought to a further, more ambitious level.


Manifesto for Philosophy (trans.) Norman Madarasz (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999). Deleuze: The Clamor of Being (trans.) Louise Burchill (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000). Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (trans.) Peter Hallward (London: Verso, 2001). Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy (trans. and ed.) Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens (London: Continuum, 2003). Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (trans.) Ray Brassier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). Theoretical Writings (trans.) Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2004). Handbook of Inaesthetics (trans.) Alberto Toscano (Stanford U.P., 2005). Metapolitics (trans.) Jason Barker (London: Verso, 2005). Briefings on Existence: A Short Treatise on Transitory Ontology (trans.) Norman Madarasz (New York: State University of New York Press, 2006). The Century (trans.) Alberto Toscano (London: Polity Press, 2007). The Concept of Model: An Introduction to the Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics (trans.) Zachary Luke Fraser and Tzuchien Tho (Victoria:, 2007). Polemics (trans.) Steven Corcoran (London: Verso, 2007). The Meaning of Sarkozy (trans.) David Fernbach (London: Verso, 2008). Number and Numbers (trans.) Robin MacKay (London: Polity Press, 2008). Logics of Worlds (trans.) Alberto Toscano (London: Continuum, forthcoming 2009). Theory of the Subject (trans.) Bruno Bosteels (forthcoming, London: Continuum, 2009).

‘On a Finally Objectless Subject’, (trans.) Bruce Fink, in Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor and Jean- Luc Nancy (eds), Who Comes After the Subject? (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 24–32. ‘Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque’, (trans.) Thelma Sowley, in Constantin Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski (eds), Deleuze and the Theatre of Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 51–69. ‘Philosophy and Politics’, (trans.) Thelma Sowley, Radical Philosophy (July/August1999), pp. 29–32. ‘Metaphysics and the Critique of Metaphysics’, (trans.) Alberto Toscano, Pli: Warwick Journal of Philosophy, No. 10 (2000), pp. 174–90.



‘On a Contemporary Usage of Frege’, (trans.) Sam Gillespie and Justin Clemens, Umbr(a) 2000, pp. 99–115. ‘The Ethic of Truths: Construction and Potency’, (trans.) Selma Sowley, Pli: Warwick Journal of Philosophy, No. 12 (2001), pp. 245–55. ‘Who is Nietzsche?’, (trans.) Alberto Toscano, Pli: Warwick Journal of Philosophy, No. 11 (2001), pp. 1–10. ‘Logic of the Site’, (trans.) Steve Corcoran and Bruno Bosteels, Diacritics, Vol. 33, No. 3 (2003), pp. 141–50. ‘Some Replies to a Demanding Friend’, (trans.) Peter Hallward, in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (London: Continuum, 2004), pp. 232–7. ‘The Adventure of French Philosophy’, New Left Review, No. 35 (2005), pp. 67–77. ‘Democratic Materialism and the Materialist Dialectic’, Radical Philosophy, No. 130 (2005), pp. 20–4. ‘Lacan and the pre-Socratics’, (ed.) Slavoj Zizek, in Lacan: The Silent Partners (London: Verso, 2006), pp. 7–16.

Ashton, Paul, A. J. Bartlett and Justin Clemens (eds), The Praxis of Alain Badiou (Victoria: Re.Press, 2006). Balibar, Etienne, ‘The History of Truth: Alain Badiou in French Philosophy’, in Hallward (ed.) (2004), pp. 21–38. Barker, Jason, Alain Badiou: A Critical Introduction (London: Pluto Press, 2002). Bensaid, Daniel, ‘Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event’, in Hallward (ed.) (2004), pp. 94–105. Bosteels, Bruno, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism? (Parts I and 2)’, Pli: Warwick Journal of Philosophy, No. 12 (2001), pp. 200–29 and No. 13 (2002), pp. 173–208. Bosteels, Bruno, ‘On the Subject of the Dialectic’, in Hallward (ed.), (2004), pp. 150–64. Bosteels, Bruno, ‘Can Change Be Thought? A Dialogue with Alain Badiou’, in Riera (ed.) (2005), pp. 237–61. Brassier, Ray, ‘Nihil Unbound: Remarks on Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capitalism’, in Hallward (ed.) (2004), pp. 50–8. Brassier, Ray, ‘Badiou’s Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 10, No. 2 (2005), pp. 135–50. Clemens, Justin, ‘Platonic Meditations’, Pli: Warwick Journal of Philosophy, No. 11 (2001), pp. 200–29. Clemens, Justin, The Romanticism of Contemporary Theory: Institution, Aesthetics, Nihilism (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003). Copjec, Joan, ‘Gai Savoir Sera: The Science of Love and the Insolence of Chance’, in Riera (ed.) (2005), pp. 119–35.


‘Can Universalism Still Be Radical? Alain Badiou’s Politics of Truth’. Radical Philosophy. Simon. ‘Uncategorical Imperatives: Adorno. pp.) (2004). pp. de Beistegui. pp. No. Gillespie. 202–7. Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (London: Continuum. in Riera (ed. Diacritics. 100 (2000).. 3 (December 2001). Radical Philosophy. Luitzen Brouwer and the Kripkean Analyses of Forcing and the Heyting Calculus’. in Hallward (ed. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities. Simon. Constellations. Laclau. 1. Miguel. James D. The Mathematics of Novelty: Badiou’s Minimalist Metaphysics (Victoria: re. Ernesto. Alain Badiou: Live Theory (London: Continuum. Desanti. 33–7. Vol. Hallward. ‘Demanding Approval: On the Ethics of Alain Badiou’. Terry. No. 120–37. No. Gillespie.) (2005). in Riera (ed. 6–13. 94–133. No. Polygraph. 287 . 155–60. 106–19. Peter. Vol. 2003). 9 (2001). 111 (2002). Vol. 2004). ‘What Remains of Fidelity after Serious Thought’. Jean-Jacques. 3/4 (2002). in Hallward (ed. Nos. 4 (2005). pp. ‘An Ethics of Militant Engagement’. No.). in Hallward (ed. 45–58. 36.FURTHER READING Critchley. in Hallward (ed. New Left Review. pp. and Deleuze’. Nos. Vol. Düttmann. Badiou and the Ethical Turn’. Nick. Peter. 215–35. Sam. Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 335–52. Dews. Peter (ed. Peter. pp. pp. Vol. No. Vol. 2008). ‘Cantor. 59–66. 11–25. Ingram. Fraser. Kaufman. ‘Depending on Inconsistency: Badiou’s Answer to the “Guiding Question of All Contemporary Philosophy’”.) (2004). Dews. 12. Critchley. pp. pp. Hallward. Lacan. Beckett. 561–73. 6. 5–30. ‘On the Ethics of Alain Badiou’. Alexander Garcia. 2008). 93 (1999). Jean Toussaint. 63–77.) (2004). 17 (2005). Oliver. Vol. No. Peter. Eleanor. ‘Beyond Being: Badiou’s Doctrine of Truth’. ‘Placing the Void: Badiou on Spinoza’. pp. 3 (2004). 16–27.) (2004). Zachary Luke. Eagleton. Hallward. Même Combat: The Philosophy of Alain Badiou’.) (2005). pp. ‘States of Grace: The Excess of the Demand in Badiou’s Ethics of Truths’. Hewlett. Radical Philosophy. Vol. pp. Feltham. Gillespie. 12. ‘The Law of the Subject: Alain Badiou. ‘Engagement and Transcendence: The Militant Philosophy of Alain Badiou’. ‘Subjects and Truths’. 1–2 (2006). Communication and Cognition. Sam. ‘Why the Family Is Beautiful (Lacan against Badiou)’. pp. Sam. pp. 135–51. Cosmos and History. pp. pp. 1–2 (2003). Mao. Heidegger. Leçercle. Modern and Contemporary France. ‘Some Remarks on the Intrinsic Ontology of Alain Badiou’. ‘The Ontological Dispute: Badiou. 32.

‘The Provocations of Alain Badiou’. Slavoj. Nos. Jean-Luc. Smith. Riera. Slavoj. 138–49. ‘Introduction: The Philosophy of Alain Badiou’. pp. Philosophical Frontiers. pp. Culture and Society. Smith. 17 (2005). ‘The Mallarmé of Alain Badiou’. Todd. Carsten. Vol. Pierre. Vol. 1 (January to June 2008). Strathausen. pp. South Atlantic Quarterly. Noys. pp. Vol. pp.) (2004).) (2004). 109–15. 1 (2003). 97. 275–93. Nos. ‘The Cantorian Revolution: Alain Badiou on the philosophy of set theory’. Norris. Vol.) (2005). pp.) (2004). ‘Philosophy without Conditions’. Matthew. 199–223. in Hallward (ed. 3–4 (2004). pp. 134–58. B. in Riera (ed. 218–31. 2007). in Hallward (ed. Juliet Flower. ‘Psychoanalysis in Post-Marxism: The Case of Alain Badiou’. Slavoj. Smith. pp. Vol. 17 (2005). 123–32. Inaesthetics. 189–217. in Riera (ed. Nos. 17 (2005). ‘From the State to the World? Badiou and AntiCapitalism’. Norman. pp. No. Macherey. 36. MacCannell.) (2004).. ‘Alain Badiou: Philosophical Outlaw’. 411–49.BADIOU’S BEING AND EVENT Leçercle. Žižek. 3 (2003).) (2004). Nancy. pp. pp. Norris. 67–76. ‘Badiou and Deleuze on the Ontology of Mathematics’. Toscano. Benjamin. 41–91. Polygraph. in Hallward (ed. ‘The Limits of The Subject in Badiou’s Being and Event’. Daniel W. Christopher. ‘The Badiou-Event’. 77–93. 137–84. No. 19 (2008). pp. Polygraph. in Hallward (ed. Southern Journal of Philosophy. Toscano.. 1–2 (2003). Vol. ‘Some Versions of Platonism: Mathematics and Ontology According to Badiou’. pp. Alain Badiou: Philosophy and its Conditions (New York: State University of New York Press. Communication and Cognition. Rancière. pp. No. 41. ‘Communism as Separation’. ‘From Purification to Subtraction: Badiou and the Real’. Communication and Cognition. Anti-Aesthetics’. Jacques. 20. 39–49. pp. in Riera (ed. Alberto. No. Alberto. ‘Badiou and Deleuze on the One and the Many’. No. ‘Mathematics and the Theory of Multiplicities: Badiou and Deleuze Revisited’. May.). No. pp.) (2004). Mathematics and the Claim of Reason’. 208–17. ‘Aesthetics.) (2005). Brian A. 235–61. Christopher. pp.) (2004). 2 (1998). ‘Alain Badiou: Truth. in Hallward (ed. 165–81. in Hallward (ed. Jean-Jacques.. Cosmos and History. Vol. in Hallward (ed. Daniel W. 1–9. 23–43. Mount. 37. 3. ‘Is There a Politics of Subtraction? Badiou versus Lacan’. Gabriel (ed. Madison. pp. 288 . ‘On Alain Badiou’s Treatment of Category Theory in View of a Transitory Ontology’. Madarasz.) (2005). 1–26. pp. pp. No. ‘Badiou’s Poetics’. Theory. Polygraph. Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy. Žižek. pp. Wilkens. 1–2 (2006). 103–19. 1. Žižek. Vol.

1993). CONTEXT 1 Alain Badiou.) G. also Christopher Norris. in Theoretical Writings. Set Theory and the Continuum Hypothesis (New York: W. Contingency. see Badiou. Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (London: Allen & Unwin. 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Set Theory and its Philosophy: A Critical Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Metapolitics. 1996). and Century. 2002). 10 Paul J. Cohen. 1983). 2005). M. For Badiou’s decidedly adverse view of much of this work. Polemics.).).NOTES 1. 2004). Realism and Truth. Sections 201–92 passim. E. 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell. On the vastly overworked topic of rule-following see Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Philosophy of Mathematics (Oxford: Oxford University Press. cit. Hart (ed. Anscombe (op. 1992). Philosophical Investigations (trans. Alexander Miller and Crispin Wright (eds). 1951). M. Saul Kripke. Philosophy of Language and the Challenge to Scientific Realism (London: Routledge. 6 See for instance Paul Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam (eds). Benjamin. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. see Michael Potter. A Companion to Kant (Oxford: Blackwell.). 2004). 4 See for instance Michael Devitt.) Oliver Feltham (London: Continuum. 1982). 9 Bertrand Russell. see Graham Bird (ed. Paul Guyer (ed. All subsequent references to works of Badiou other than Being and Event will be given by title only since full publication details may be found in Chapter 4. What’s Wrong with Postmodernism? (Brighton: Harvester.). 5 See especially Ludwig Wittgenstein. Being and Event (trans. A. The Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Essays. Philosophical Investigations (trans. 1990) and The Truth About Postmodernism (Oxford: Blackwell. 3 See especially Richard Rorty. 2 For further discussion. 1992). Chadwick and Clive Cazeaux (eds). E. 289 .) G. 8 For a clear and highly relevant survey. Immanuel Kant: Critical Assessments 4 vols (London: Routledge. 7 For some highly illuminating discussion. ‘Further Reading’. Rule-following and Meaning (Chesham: Acumen. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition (Oxford: Blackwell. see ‘Ontology is Mathematics’. 1966). The Cambridge Companion to Kant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. also W. Ruth F. 1930). Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1986) and Norris. 2006). D. 1989). All further references throughout this book will be given parenthetically by BE and page number in the text.

3 For a useful sampling. 1959). Philosophy of Science and Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell. H.) Anscombe and G. and trans. 1978). 2004). 1969). Being and Time (trans. 2. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. Lola Fleck and Thomas Uebel. 6 See especially Rudolf Carnap. Poetry. 2004). 8 Nancy Cartwright. 13 For further argument in support of this claim. 12 See especially the various remarks to this effect in Badiou. 9 See Note 6. and Response-dependence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 4 See especially Ludwig Wittgenstein. A Parting of the Ways: Carnap. 10 Heidegger. 1953) and OnCertainty (ed. see Norris. Elements of Intuitionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press.) G. Against Relativism: Philosophy of Science. in Language. also – for some fascinating background history – Michael Friedman. ‘Change. 2 For further discussion of these various developments. 1971). ‘The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language’.). pp. Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill. Anti-realism. 290 . Jordi Kat. 1970) and Kant on History (ed.) L. 2000). see Christopher Norris. 11 See especially Michael Dummett. 227–66. Conservation and Crisis-Management in the Discourse of Analytic Philosophy’. Political Writings (ed. see Richard Rorty (ed. M. Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. The Linguistic Turn (Chicago.). 7 Martin Heidegger. von Wright (Blackwell. 1980). Logic and Epistemology: A Modal-realist Approach (Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan.NOTES 11 For an account of these developments. Otto Neurath: Science Between Philosophy and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ‘Ontology is Mathematics’ (Note 6).). Philosophical Investigations (trans.) Hans Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ayer (ed.W. 1977) and Truth and Other Enigmas (London: Duckworth. Truth Matters: Realism. The Linguistic Turn (op. see Norris. in A. IL: University of Chicago Press. 1967). 60–81. 1963). 1996). J. also – for a critical review of these developments – Norris. 2002).) A. E. 1997) and Philosophy of Language and the Challenge to Scientific Realism (London: Routledge. Against Relativism: Deconstruction. pp. OVERVIEW OF THEMES 1 See especially Immanuel Kant. Deconstruction and Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell. 5 See Rorty (ed. Language and Thought (trans.) John Mcquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell. Cassirer and Heidegger (Chicago: Open Court. Logical Positivism (New York: Free Press.). 2004). 1997) and Philosophy of Language and the Challenge to Scientific Realism (London: Routledge. cit.

Kenneth J.. 25 For a strikingly heterodox view. The Social Construction of What? (Cambridge.NOTES 12 For a detailed study. Set Theory and the Continuum Hypothesis (New York: W. Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton.) A. Note 6. Lacan (London: Fontana. Robert Young (ed. 23 Immanuel Levinas. 1981). NJ: Princeton University Press. Critical Practice (London: Methuen. David Bloor. 15 Paul J. Benjamin. Lingis (Pittsburgh.) W. 291 .P. Aristotle and Other Platonists (Ithaca. 2000). The Linguistic Turn (op.) A.) A. 1976) and Vol. 16 For some informative accounts. 2007). Superstructuralism: The Philosophy of Structuralism and Post-structuralism (London: Routledge. Mark Poster. 2006). Richard Harland. 1991). see Catherine Belsey. also Heidegger.). see J. cit. A. The Question Concerning Technology. 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.) and Philosophy of Language and the Challenge to Scientific Realism (London: Routledge.P. 1. IL: University of Chicago Press. 2005). The Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context (Chicago. PA: Duquesne University Press. Norris. 22 See for instance Iris Marion Young. Realities and Relationships: Soundings in Social Construction (Harvard. 20 See Notes 7 and 10. Against Relativism (op. Re-thinking Expertise (Chicago. 24 See Note 11. also (for an excellent short introduction) Malcolm Bowie. Sheridan-Smith (London: New Left Books.. Theory of Practical Ensembles (trans. Cohen. 1994). Gerson. The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap: To the Finland Station (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1977). 21 For further discussion see Richard Wolin (ed. 2004). U. 1991).). Vol. 1981). A Critique of Dialectical Reason. from a range of perspectives. 17 See especially Jacques Lacan.) Ben Brewster (London: New Left Books. 1969). For Marx (trans. Truth and the Ethics of Criticism (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Knowledge and Social Imagery. Gergen. 1990). Sheridan-Smith’ (London: Tavistock. Alberto Coffa. 1991). Althusser: The Detour of Theory (London: Verso. 2 (trans. 1987). also Gregory Elliott.). 1991). see Lloyd P. U. NY: Cornell University Press. 19 Jean-Paul Sartre. 1991).) Quintin Hoare (London: Verso. also Rorty (ed. ‘Context’. Ecrits: A Selection (trans. 14 See for instance entries for Chapter 1. 1966). MA: Harvard University Press. 1990). and Other Essays (trans. 13 These issues receive a good critical airing in Ian Hacking. The Heidegger Controversy (New York: Columbia University Press. Untying the Text: A Post-structuralist Reader (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1977). cit. Totality and Infinity (trans. 1994). See also. also – for a critical review of such thinking across various disciplines – Norris. Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row. 18 See for instance Louis Althusser. Harry Collins and Robert Evans. 1969).).

) Paul Patton (Athlone. 1938). 2004). 8 See Gaston Bachelard. Jarrett Leplin (ed. 1994). Quine. J. On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems (trans. Berkeley. 11 For further arguments to this effect. also Michael Potter. 1984). Fraenkel. The New Scientific Spirit (trans. 1939) and John A. Gill and Paul Ryan (Indianapolis: Hackett. 1984). 1969). Christopher Norris. A History of Western Philosophy (London: Allen & Unwin. Palmer. Realism and Truth. V. Plato’s Reception of Parmenides (Oxford: Clarendon Press.) Robert Hurley. Aronson. 3 Paul J. 1990) and Difference and Repetition (trans. 1969). also Bertrand Russell. see Stathis Psillos. Elements of Set Theory. Spinoza. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (trans. Harré and E. 1962). Cohen. Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (London: Allen & Unwin. 9 See Note 3.). 2002). Waterston (New York: Orion Press. 1986). 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell. 1996). The Logic of Sense (trans. 4 Badiou. Cornford. 1973) for a main source of Badiou’s thinking about issues of set-theoretical ontology. Locke. p. Being: multiple and void. 2001). 6 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. 2 W. Vols 1 and 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press. La formation de l’esprit scientifique (Paris: Vrin. 23. Hume. 2004).) B. R. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. M.NOTES 3. also – for some highly illuminating commentary on these issues of interpretation – Jonathan Bennett.) Arthur Goldhammer (Boston: Beacon Press. 1984). Set Theory and its Philosophy: A Critical Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press. rev. 1930). 292 . 10 Kurt Gödel. and introduction) Cornford (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1999). 1961). Language. 5 See Gilles Deleuze. Leibniz. See Abraham A. See also F.) G.) Mark Lester (London: Athlone Press. edn (Amsterdam: North-Holland. Plato/Cantor 1 Plato.) Mary L. Logic and Epistemology: A Modal-Realist Approach (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Learning from Six Philosophers: Descartes. Michael Devitt. 1966). Plato and Parmenides: Parmenides’ Way of Truth and Plato’s Parmenides (trans. Benjamin. 2004). 1994). Meltzer (New York: Basic Books. Parmenides (trans. READING THE TEXT Part I. Scientific Realism (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.A. 7 See especially Bertrand Russell. Mark Seem and Helen Lane (London: Continuum. C. Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New York: Columbia University Press. Set Theory and the Continuum Hypothesis (New York: W. See also Mary Tiles. Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth (London: Routledge. The Philosophy of No (trans. Realism Rescued: How Scientific Progress is Possible (London: Duckworth. Way. Bachelard: Science and Objectivity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell. ‘On What There Is’. 1985). 1990).) Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press.). Malcolm Schofield and Richard Sorabji (London: Duckworth. 1938). 1997). MA: Harvard University Press.) Brewster (New Left Books. 19 Badiou. in From a Logical Point of View. 1974). also Articles on Aristotle. Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes. Science (eds) Jonathan Barnes. see A. Boyle and the Experimental Life (Princeton. Bar-Hillel. 2002). 17 For further discussion. Part II. Being: excess. Physics (trans. ‘Why Strong Sociologists Abhor a Vacuum: Shapin and Schaffer on the Boyle/Hobbes controversy’. Lee (Harmondsworth: Penguin.) M. Fraenkel and R. also Althusser and Etienne Balibar.) Desmond E. Polemics. 293 . 1–19. Metapolitics. 2000). and trans. Multiculture (eds) Scott Lash and Mike Featherstone (London: Sage. Moore. 23 Simon Singh. Science and Prediction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. NJ: Princeton University Press.) Ben Brewster (London: New Left Books: 1976). state of the situation. see Hans Reichenbach. The Infinite (London: Routledge. pp. one/multiple. For Marx (op. and Century. 2002). NJ: Princeton University Press. 265–94. also Norris. Patrick Suppes. 1996). 1972). 1991). 24 For the classic exposition of this ‘two contexts’ approach.) and Essays in Self-criticism (trans. Fermat’s Last Theorem: The Story of a Riddle that Confounded the World’s Greatest Minds for 358 Years (London: Fourth Estate. also Recognition and Difference: Politics. also Norris. whole/parts or ∈/⊂? 1 See A. 1975). Foundations of Set Theory (Amsterdam: North-Holland. 14 See Note 11. R. 22 See Althusser. also Reason and Necessity: Essays on Plato’s Timaeus (ed. 15 Plato. in Against Relativism: Philosophy of Science. 18 See for instance Iris Marion Young. Axiomatic Set Theory (New York: Courier Dover. 13 See Quine. 1. Feminism. Set Theory and its Philosophy (op. Reading Capital (trans. Theory and the Politics of Difference (Oxford: Blackwell. 1961). 16 See especially Badiou. Deconstruction and Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell. Identity. Timaeus and Critias (ed. Chris Weedon. Vol. 1970). W. cit. 21 Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer. 1999). Wright (London: Duckworth. 1997). 20 Aristotle. 2000) and Potter. cit. Azriel Levy. pp. A. 2nd edn (Cambridge. Basic Set Theory (New York: Dover. 1958).NOTES 12 See Note 8. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism.

6 See Badiou. 8 Thomas S. 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Infinite Thought.) Knowledge. B. Richard Rorty (ed. in ‘Lenin and Philosophy’ and Other Essays (trans. Georg Cantor: His Mathematics and Philosophy of the Infinite (Princeton. H. 1977). 1953) and On Certainty. 17 For some useful discussion of this focal shift from the ‘way of ideas’ to the ‘way of words’ (or from epistemology to philosophy of language). ‘Ontology is Mathematics’ (op. 1962). ‘Ontology is Mathematics’ (op.NOTES 2 See also Joseph Warren Dauben. 1967).) Ben Brewster (London: Allen Lane. NJ: Princeton University Press. 15 See especially Badiou. Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1988). The Hermeneutics Reader (Oxford: Blackwell. and trans. and Duty: Essays On Epistemic Justification. 3 See various texts and passages to this effect in Badiou. Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives from Ethics and Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10 See for instance C. see also Althusser. M. see Dale Jacquette (ed. cit. Truth. 7 See especially Badiou. NH: University Press of New England. pp.) William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row. Section One of Theoretical Writings.) Ben Brewster (London: New Left Books.). Philosophical Investigations (trans. 1970). 2002). 1975). Zagzebski (eds). 2002). and Century. also Polemics.) Alan Sheridan-Smith (London: Tavistock. NJ: Princeton University Press.) Edwin Curley (Princeton.). 3–93. Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language: A Concise Anthology (New York: Broadview Press.).). 14 For further discussion. 1985). Philosophy of Logic: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell. 18 Spinoza. Epistemic Responsibility (Hanover. 294 . see the essays collected in ‘Ontology is Mathematics’. 1987).). in The Collected Writings of Spinoza (trans. 16 See for instance Kurt Mueller-Vollmer (ed. 11 For a closely though not precisely analogous argument. see Louis Althusser. 1990). Responsibility. M. Ethics. ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ and Other Essays (trans. Metapolitics. Handbook of Inaesthetics. MacPherson.). Kuhn. 12 Ibid. 1971). Metapolitics and Century. 1969). M. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. see Lorraine Code. 13 Jacques Lacan. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (Oxford: Oxford University Press. The Linguistic Turn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 9 See entries under Note 7. DePaul and L. Ecrits: a selection (trans. (ed. see Ian Hacking. von Wright (Oxford: Blackwell. cit. For Badiou’s most explicit and powerful critique of such ideas.) G. ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation’. 2002). Robert Stainton (ed. also Martin Heidegger.) Anscombe and G. Steup (ed. and Virtue (Oxford University Press. 127–86. 5 For relevant discussion. 4 See especially Ludwig Wittgenstein. pp. 1969). E. For Marx (trans. 2000). 1977).

Heidegger/Galileo 1 See especially Martin Heidegger. in Essays in Self-criticism (London: New Left Books. cit. Ethics (op. also Norris. 20 See Etienne Balibar. The Rise and Fall of Structural Marxism (London: New Left Books. 1987). 1998). cit. 29 For a classic statement of the hard-line case. 101–61. 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pierre Macherey.) Ben Brewster (op.) Warren Montag. see D. 1970).) Ted Stolze (Verso.) Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books. Spinoza and Politics (London: Verso. Churchland. Spinoza and Politics (London: Verso. and Vol. 1987).) Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1984) and Gregory Elliott. in Theoretical Writings. Part III. For Marx (trans. 1968).) David Krell and Frank Capuzzi (Harper & Row. The Adventures of Immanence (Princeton. 25 See for instance Ted Benton. 24 Spinoza. 26 See Note 15.) Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row. along with the various references to Spinoza in Deleuze and Félix Guattari. also Early Greek Thinking (trans. 32 Badiou. cit. A Thousand Plateaus (Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 1992). Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory (op. 2. 30 See Note 19.). 1975) and Heidegger: Basic Writings (ed.).) Krell (Harper & Row. (trans. Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and The Making of Modernity. 27 See especially Badiou. also Gilles Deleuze. NY: Princeton University Press. cit.) Brewster (New Left Books. 1989). 2) (trans. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (trans. Althusser: The Detour of Theory (London: Verso. cit. also Paul M. 1976). cit. 1. 21 See for instance Louis Althusser. 22 See Note 19. Ethics (op.). 1979). 1988).) and ‘Elements of Self-criticism’. Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell. Armstrong. Ethics (op. 33 Spinoza. Spinoza and Other Heretics. cit. 2002). Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jonathan Israel. cit. 31 Spinoza. A Materialist Theory of the Mind (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. Vol. Being: nature and infinity. 1971). 23 Christopher Norris. Poetry.) Martin Joughin (New York: Zone Books. ‘Ontology is Mathematics’ (op.). Balibar. Yirmiyahu Yovel. Ethics (op. ‘Ontology is Mathematics’ (op. Reading Capital (trans.). 81–93. 1991). 1998). pp. M. 34 See Note 20. In a Materialist Way: Selected Essays (ed. pp.NOTES 19 See Badiou.). 1977). Vol. Althusser and Etienne Balibar. Language and Thought (trans. The Marrano of Reason. ‘Spinoza’s Closed Ontology’. Badiou.). 295 . 28 Spinoza. 1988) and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (trans.

4 See for instance Heidegger. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. See Richards. Trench & Trubner. J. 1924). 2002). also Norris. also De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom? 10 Paul Cohen. 1978). 9 See especially Badiou. that is. 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell. 13 See Notes 1 and 2.). Set Theory and the Continuum Hypothesis (New York: Addison-Wesley. 11 Michael Dummett. Theoretical Writings. 8 See Note 1. see Michael Devitt. in What’s Wrong With Postmodernism: Critical Theory and the Ends of Philosophy (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf. tried to make the best of this situation by embracing the idea of poetry as an ‘emotive’. 296 . 5 For further discussion. Realism and Truth. Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (ed. 15 Heidegger. M. 222–83. A. Polemics. Heidegger. 1972). 16 Friedrich Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music (trans. 1993). cit. 1980).) G. among them I. ‘The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking’ and ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (see Note 4).) William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row. Logical Positivism (New York: Free Press. 1966). 1987). Truth Matters: Realism. NY: State University of New York Press. Wittgenstein on the Foundations of Mathematics (London: Duckworth. Paul. 2005).). 12 For further discussion of these issues. Rees and G. 6 Some literary critics. E. de Man and the Ends of Philosophy’. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. MA: Harvard University Press. Principles of Literary Criticism (London: Kegan. Truth and Other Enigmas (London: Duckworth. 1956). R. ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ and Other Essays (trans. H.) John Mcquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell. in Time and Being (trans. 3 For a useful historical-comparative account of these various conceptions. 1958).) Philip Barnard and Cheryl Lester (Albany. see A. 14 See also Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. ‘Settling Accounts: Heidegger. Being and Time (trans. Poetry. Language and Thought (op. strictly non-cognitive or non-truth-apt mode of discourse. (ed. Ayer (ed. 1993).NOTES 2 Martin Heidegger. Philosophical Investigations (trans. Neil Tennant. Anti-realism and Logic (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Anti-realism and Response-dependence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.) Michael Tanner (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1954). pp. The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism (trans. 1977) and ‘The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking’.) Joan Stambaugh (Harper & Row. Richards. also Christopher Norris. Crispin Wright. Truth in Philosophy (Cambridge.) Shaun Whiteside. and The Century. also – for a strongly opposed line of argument – Christopher Norris. 1986). 1988). 1990). E. see Barry Allen. 7 See especially Ludwig Wittgenstein.) G. Epistemology: Key Concepts in Philosophy (London: Continuum. von Wright. 1980).

The Heidegger Case: On Philosophy and Politics (Philadelphia. 2003). 1982). 1992). See also Stéphane Mallarmé. Mallarmé and the Art of Being Difficult. 297 . For further detailed commentary. Bachelard: Science and Objectivity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 29 For the most extreme statement of this high-formalist view. 28 See Note 17. see Veronica Forrest-Thompson. 2008). On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press. co. The New Scientific Spirit (Boston: Beacon Press. 1988). 26 For a comparable critique of Heidegger’s depth-hermeneutic and phenomenologically grounded approach to these questions. see Paul de Man. the poet’s original preface. Kline which includes an introduction. 2001). Ideology and Rationality in the History of the Life Sciences (trans. see Graham Dunstan Martin. Goldhammer (Cambridge. in Peter Hallward (ed. 1978). 18 See Notes 13 and 14. pp. 2nd edn (London: Methuen. ‘Badiou’s Poetics’. Descartes to Derrida: An Introduction to European Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell. 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. MA: MIT also Rockmore. This may be accessed at [http://www. and a complete French text. 246–66. 1983). also Mary Tiles. 27 Badiou. pp.) A. see Peter Sedgwick. PA: Temple University Press.) Alan Sheridan-Smith (London: Tavistock. 1984). in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. ‘Heidegger’s Exegeses of Hölderlin’. 20 For an argument to somewhat similar effect.). Truth and Poetry: Some Notes Toward a Philosophy of Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.) M. Ecrits: a selection (trans. 24 For a useful survey of these developments in a broad intellectualhistorical context.tonykline. 1975). Language. 1984). 2008). 22 For a wide-ranging and highly perceptive survey of the field. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. For Marx (trans. Poetic Artifice: A Theory of Twentieth-century Poetry (Manchester: Manchester University Press. S. 25 See especially Louis Althusser. 1977). 23 See for instance Gaston Bachelard. 25–47. Le rationalisme appliqué (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. 19 Tom Rockmore and Joseph Margolis (eds). 1969) and Jacques Lacan. 1949).) Ben Brewster (London: Allen Lane.NOTES 17 See for instance Jean-Jacques Leçercle. Think Again: Alan Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (London: Continuum. Selected Poetry and Prose (ed. Georges Canguilhem. see Dale Jacquette. Ontology (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. see Malcolm Bowie. A. freely downloadable English translation of Mallarmé’s ‘Un coup de dés’ by A. 2004).htm]. 21 By far the most convenient source is the online. Caws (New York: New Directions.

1982). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (trans. cit. ‘Philosophy of Mathematics’. 42 Hegel.) Ted Stolze (London: Verso. Hegel.NOTES 30 For an exceptionally acute and wide-ranging commentary on the history of thinking about the infinite. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Rule-following and Meaning (Chesham: Acumen. Gemerchak. Moore. Saul Kripke.) Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press. cit. Philosophical Investigations (op. 1984). 2001). 298 . Zermelo’s Axiom of Choice: Its Origins. 33 See especially Badiou. see Ludwig Wittgenstein. Alexandre Kojève. W. 37 Badiou makes this point with great argumentative as well as polemical force in the sequence of essays entitled ‘Ontology is Mathematics’.). 2002). In a Materialist Way: Selected Essays (ed. The Infinite (London: Routledge. Infinity (op. 44 For more detailed discussion see Moore. 1959). Development and Influence (Berlin & New York: Springer Verlag. Miller (London: Allen & Unwin. see JeanFrançois Lyotard. 45 Stuart Barnett (ed.) N. 35 See Alexandre Koyré. 36 On the rule following issue. Sections 201–92 passim. 1987). The Infinite (op. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition (Oxford: Blackwell. 41 G. The Sunday of the Negative: Reading Bataille Reading Hegel (Albany.) Waren Montag. The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap: To the Vienna Station (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.). 1964).) A. 39 For a detailed discussion. Hegel After Derrida (London: Routledge. Moore. 3–93.). Phenomenology of Mind (trans. 46 For the best-known and most widely influential instance. From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (New York: Harper & Row. Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan. also Pierre Macherey. NY: State University of New York]. Section One of Theoretical Writings. cit. 1998).). 31 For a first-rate online survey of these various schools of thought together with a useful selective bibliography. Alberto Coffa. 32 Immanuel Kant. F. 43 Ibid. 38 For a detailed survey of this history of thought. pp. see Gregory H. 34 See Moore. Science of Logic (trans. 2003). see J. 1969). (trans. V. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (New York: Basic Books. 1958). 40 See Note 36. 47 See Note 25. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy [http://plato. 1991). Critique of Pure Reason (trans. W. Alexander Miller and Crispin Wright (eds). 1982). 48 See Note 25. Christopher M. see Leon Horsten. see A.stanford. Manifesto for Philosophy and Theoretical Essays. V. 1998).) A.

). 1987). F. 7 See for instance Badiou.). A Critique of Dialectical Reason. 1972). see Daniel Bell.) Elborg Forster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Hermeneutics Reader (Oxford: Blackwell. 1960). Mythologies (trans. despite their otherwise large differences of philosophic idiom and orientation. Interpreting the French Revolution (trans. 46–7. 3 See especially Badiou. W. The event: history and ultra-one 1 G. 11 See for instance – for a range of views – Keith Jenkins (ed. also ‘Philosophy and Politics’ and ‘Ontology and Politics: An Interview with Alain Badiou’. Theory of Practical Ensembles (trans. Phenomenology of Mind (trans. A Critical Dictionary of the French Revolution (trans. 12 See for instance François Furet. Knowledge and its Limits (Oxford: Oxford University Press. in Infinite Thought. contra anti-realists like Dummett.) Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge.). Metapolitics and The Century. Robert Stainton (ed. 1988). Sheridan-Smith (London: New Left Books. V. and moreover that certain conditions may be specified for the kinds of 299 . 1970). 2 (trans.). Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language: A Concise Anthology (New York: Broadview Press. 1976) and Vol. 4 Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hegel. 9 For an early example of the kind. 1989). 1968).) Annette Lavers (London: Paladin. 69–78 and 169–94. 1. Kuhn.) A. Manifesto for Philosophy. pp. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (trans. 2006). pp. also – more recently – Francis Fukuyama. Infinite Thought. I should say that Williamson arrives at these questions – in particular the issue between realists and anti-realists concerningthe(non-)existenceor(in)conceivabilityof unknown/unknowable truths – from a standpoint notably akin to Badiou’s.) Quintin Hoare (London: Verso. how we can indeed make sense – logically and epistemologically speaking – of the claim that such truths may be known to exist. 1984). The Postmodern History Reader (London: Routledge. 10 See Kurt Mueller-Vollmer (ed. IL: Free Press. 1997). 14 Timothy Williamson.) A. 1967). The Linguistic Turn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 5 Roland Barthes. Richard Rorty (ed.) Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 1992). Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Metapolitics and Polemics. The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties (Glencoe. also De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom? 8 Badiou. 2000). Thus Williamson similarly sets out to show. MA: Harvard University Press. Vol.NOTES Part IV. 2000). 6 Jean-François Lyotard. 2 Jean-Paul Sartre. 13 Badiou. The End of History and the Last Man (London: Hamish Hamilton. Furet and Mona Ozouf (eds).

Manifesto for Philosophy. 4 See also Badiou. and of the Principal Philosophical Questions Discussed in his Writing (London: Longmans. 1995). 300–01). we cannot know that which we cannot know. bivalent or non-intuitionist) approach to mathematics. Why I am Not a Christian. directly. Logical Positivism (New York: Free Press. Hilary Kornblith (ed. Epistemology: Internalism and Externalism (Oxford: Blackwell.) A. and Other Essays on Religion and 300 . we do not have to find both sides of the limit knowable. in Theoretical Writings. see A. Pensées (op. Note 10. ‘Philosophy and Mathematics: Infinity and the End of Romanticism’. Faith and Knowledge (London: Macmillan. A New Philosophy of History (London: Reaktion. 1958). Williamson is fully in agreement with Badiou on these two major points. Pensées and Other Writings (ed. Hölderlin/deduction 1 For a representative selection. Pascal/choice. reflectively or occurrently present to mind. See Note 11. Ayer (ed. Jacques Lacan. And conversely. Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.) Alan Sheridan-Smith (London: Tavistock. ‘Once we acknowledge that the domain [that of unknowability] is non-empty. See in particular Alvin Goldman. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. we can know or excogitate a great many things that we are not consciously aware of in the Cartesian sense of having them transparently. 1967). Mill. 21–38. 10 See for instance J. cit. Pathways to Knowledge: Private and Public (Oxford: Oxford University Press. downloadable from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at [http://plato. 9 See Alan Hajek’s excellent discussion of Pascal’s Wager. In order to be able to set a limit to knowledge. 1977). 1975). An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy. logic and the formal sciences. also Ian Hacking. pp. 2 Badiou.). 5 See Badiou. Ecrits: A Selection (trans. Part V. we can explore more effectively its extent. also Frank Ankersmit and Hans Kellner (eds). Manifesto for Philosophy. though by the same token. 3 Pascal. 6 For a sampling of]. The event: intervention and fidelity.e. Although. 8 Badiou. 2002).). see Blaise Pascal. 2001).). S. we can know that we cannot know something’ (pp. and H. Green & Dyer. Levi (Oxford: World Classics. trivially. stanford. 7 See for instance John Hick. 1999). J.NOTES 15 16 17 18 19 advance in our powers of epistemic or cognitive grasp that would (even if at an impossible stretch for our present best state of understanding) bring them within reach. as likewise in adopting a ‘classical’ (i. 1878) and Bertrand Russell.

Michael Dummett.). Stephen P. W. Copi and Carl Cohen. W. MA: Harvard University Press. E. Moore. see E. This distinction was first formulated by Hans Reichenbach in his book Experience and Prediction (Chicago. 1957). The Infinite (London: Routledge. Truth and Other Enigmas (London: Duckworth. see G.). Mind. Necessity and Natural Kinds (Ithaca. For some illuminating commentary. Truth and Truthfulness (Princeton. See Nicholas Hammond (ed. 1964). M. 2000). For further discussion. Nelson. For a lucid survey.) Paul Edwards (London: Allen & Unwin. Truth Matters: Realism. see Christopher Norris. Newton-Smith. V. Schwartz (ed. 1938). On this topic see especially Bernard Williams. 2003) and Robert J. 4th edn (London: Chapman & Hall. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being See Note 26. 1978) and Elements of Intuitionism. 1997) and Philosophy of Language and the Challenge to Scientific Realism (London: Routledge. p.) G. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. Quine. G. For a useful discussion. 1982). Moore. Philosophical Investigations (trans. and Response-Dependence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2005). Philosophy of Logic. Zerlemo’s Axiom of Choice: Its Origins. 1982). MA: Harvard University Press. 1981). H. 48ff. 1986). Naming. see Anthony Weston. 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Badiou. Language and Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. IL: University of Chicago Press. 1985). see especially Irving M. 2004). Hilary Putnam. Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan.NOTES 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Related Subjects (ed. Introduction to Logic (New York: PrenticeHall. A Handbook for Arguments (Indianapolis. also – for a more concise exposition – W. 2001). Hughes and M. See Saul Kripke. Development and Influence (New York: Springer Verlag. 301 . NY: Cornell University Press. 1953). A New Introduction to Modal Logic (London: Routledge. 1975). Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. Immanuel Kant. For a thorough treatment of these topics. 2001). H. IN: Hackett. 1975). Logic: An Introductory Course (London: Routledge. Against Relativism: Philosophy of Science. Ludwig Wittgenstein. Pascal: Adversary and Advocate (Cambridge. 2004). Introduction to Mathematical Logic. 2nd edn (Cambridge. The Cambridge Companion to Pascal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. also – for a dissenting view – Norris. 1997). NJ: Princeton University Press. 1996). Deconstruction and Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell. Naming and Necessity (Oxford: Blackwell. 2002). Critique of Pure Reason (trans. see A.) N. Anti-Realism. Cresswell. For further argument to this effect. Mendelson.

4 See Note 1. 1 (trans.). 6 See Notes 1 and 4. also W. 2002). 2004). 10 Martin Heidegger. Part VI. Meaning and Truth (Oxford: Blackwell. in Peter Hallward (ed. 1994).) William Wallace (Oxford: Clarendon Press. also Michael Dummett. 2 For more on ‘bald naturalism’. Anti-Oedipus (op. also Todd May. pp. p. 14 Ibid. 1987). Hegel. pp. 302 . Vol. Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Quantity and knowledge. 29. p.) Peter. 42. 11 Jacquette.) Paul Patton (London: Continuum. Ontology (op. 272–94. D. Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell. 13 Ibid. p. 1992).). The Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Essays. Section One of Theoretical Writings. Badiou. Superstructuralism: The Philosophy of Structuralism and Post-structuralism (London: Methuen. see John McDowell. 79. 5 See especially the essays collected in Badiou.NOTES 29 For further discussion. 12 Ibid. see Crispin Wright. The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings (trans. Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ‘Badiou and Deleuze on the One and the Many’. 67–76. Hegel’s Logic (trans. and ed. p.) Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Realism. 9 Dale Jacquette. Difference and Repetition (trans.). MA: Harvard University Press. Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy (London: Continuum. 30 G. 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1962). 1983). Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. 2000) and Truth and Other Enigmas (London: Duckworth. W. 1978). Mind and World (Cambridge. Ontology (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press. 1996). The Philosophy of Mathematics (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Matter and Method (Cambridge University Press. 1996) and Hilary Putnam. 3–93. cit. Mcquarrie and E. Mathematics. F. ‘What Numbers Could Not Be’. 3 Richard Harland. The AntiOedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 8 Deleuze and Guattari.) J. The discernible (or constructible): Leibniz/Gödel 1 See especially Paul Benacerraf. 1975). 45. 7 See Gilles Deleuze. W. 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press. in Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam (eds). 1987) and Truth and Objectivity (Cambridge. 2004). cit. New Essays on Human Understanding (trans.) Robert Latta (Oxford: Oxford University Press. MA: Harvard University Press. ‘Ontology is Mathematics’. Elements of Intuitionism. pp. Hart (ed. 1975). Leibniz. Being and Time (trans. 15 See G. 1987).).

1966).T. Monadology (op. W. 10 Jacques Lacan. 1972).). Truth and Objectivity (Cambridge. Conceptual Notation and Related Articles (trans. 1978). 1989). in Theoretical Writings. 112. The Logical Basis of Metaphysics (London: Duckworth.) J. The Taming of the True (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 2 See Michael Dummett. in Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam (eds). Tozer (London: Wordsworth Classics. 97–160. 303 .) Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis. Philosophical Essays (trans. 2002). 8 See Notes 2 and 7. 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell. The Social Contract from Hobbes to Rawls (London: Routledge. pp. 1998).) Alan Sheridan-Smith (London: Tavistock. cit. 1962). also Dummett. See Gottlob Frege.NOTES 16 17 18 19 1925). 1967). The Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Essays. also – from a range of more-or-less qualified anti-realist standpoints – Crispin Wright. 1999). 2002).I. The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Contemporary Philosophical Method (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 4 Paul J. The generic: indiscernible and truth – the event: P. Mythologies (trans. 11 Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 13 For further discussion see David Boucher and Paul Kelly (eds). 272–94. MA: Harvard University Press. and ed. ‘What Numbers Could Not Be’. Cohen. Realistic Rationalism (Cambridge.). See Note 15. See Leibniz. 1983). Bynum (Oxford: Clarendon Press. MA: M. 1972). Part VII. Realism and Truth. 3 See for instance Michael Devitt. The Social Contract (trans. pp. 1998). 12 Martin Heidegger. Norris. 1991) and The Seas of Language (Oxford: Clarendon Press.A. Katz. Set Theory and the Continuum Hypothesis (New York: W. Anti-realism and Response-dependence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. See Note 7. 1986). Neil Tennant. J. Stathis Psillos. IN: Hackett. H.) Annette Lavers (London: Jonathan Cape.) T. 9 Roland Barthes. 1992). 1993). 5 Badiou. Press.) John Mcquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell. Cohen 1 See especially Jerrold J. Being and Time (trans. Truth Matters: Realism. 1977). 7 See Note 2. Paul Benacerraf. 6 See for instance Richard Rorty (ed. 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ‘The Subtraction of Truth’. Benjamin. Truth and Other Enigmas (London: Duckworth. 1994). Écrits: A Selection (trans. Scientific Realism: How Science Tracks Truth (London: Routledge.

) B.) J. 1992). Part VIII. 1991).) Edwin Curley (London: Penguin. also Gerald F. ‘Review of Dr. Justificatory Liberalism: An Essay on Epistemology and Political Theory (New York: Oxford University Press. 1996).) Gertrude Himmelfarb (Harmondsworth: Penguin. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 1992). Of Grammatology (trans. W. Philosophy of Mathematics (op. 1991). Mind. 470–85. cit. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell. 20 See also Roger Penrose. 1982). 1996). pp. Husserl’s Philosophy of Arithmetic’. Realistic Rationalism (op. Ethics (trans.) E. Philosophical Investigations (trans. The Subject of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Saul Kripke. Beyond Lacan 1 See for instance Anthony J. 1962). 19 See especially Kurt Gödel. 17 John Stuart Mill. Cadava.) G. 23 Gottlob Frege. 22 See especially Edmund Husserl. Spivak (Baltimore.). 2 vols (trans. Alexander Miller and Crispin Wright (eds). 18 Kurt Gödel. ‘What Is Cantor’s Continuum Problem?’. Logical Investigations. On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems (trans. P. also Jerrold J.NOTES 14 For a reading of Rousseau that is comparable in certain respects. 2 See Note 1.-L. Nancy (eds). 1976). On Liberty (ed. 1956). pp. Paul Smith.). Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell. 304 . 15 See Note 13. 81 (July 1972). Sections 201–92 passim. C. M. 199–214. cit. 321–37. N. Connor and J. E. see Ludwig Wittgenstein. Meltzer (New York: Basic Books. also Christopher Norris. Kluge. see Jacques Derrida. The Emperor’s New Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 24 See for instance Donald Davidson. in Benacerraf and Putnam (eds). 1985). E. Forcing: truth and the subject. 16 William James. (trans. 21 On this hugely overworked topic. The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York: Dover. 3 Baruch Spinoza. 1953). 2002).) G. 1984). Cascardi. Discerning the Subject (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. also – for a vigorous literary-theoretical take on this topic – Sean Burke. in Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon Press. Katz. Gaus. 1988). Rule-following and Meaning (Chesham: Acumen. What Comes After the Subject? (London: Routledge. 1990). ‘The Method of Truth in Metaphysics’. 1970). The Death and Return of the Author (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition (Oxford: Blackwell. Vol. Finlay (New York: Humanities Press. E.

Jech. The Genealogy of Psychoanalysis (trans. 13 For further discussion see J. ‘Believing the Axioms. Nos. 112–47. 6 See especially E. The Language of the Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis (trans. Uncritical Theory: Postmodernism. Descartes to Derrida: An Introduction to European Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell. 305 . see François Dosse. 5 See especially Jacques Lacan. Benjamin. 14 See J.). ‘The Insistence of the Letter’ (op. 19 See for instance Raymond Tallis. R. 2nd edn (London: Merlin. 2 (1988).) Anthony Wilden (Baltimore. Ecrits (trans. The Seminar XX. Lacan in Contexts (London: Verso. 1973). Relativism. 1966). P. French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Consistency of the Continuum-Hypothesis (Princeton. NJ: Princeton University Press. (trans. 2001). 36/7 (1966). in Labyrinth of Thought: The History of Set Theory and its Role in Modern Mathematics (Basel: Birkhäuser. cit. and Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. I’.A.) Bruce Fink (New York: Norton. pp.) Douglas Brick (Stanford. 1977). pp. ‘The Notion of Cardinality and the Continuum Hypothesis’. also Lacan.) Alan Sheridan (New York: W. 2001). 53. 1991). 1988). 481–511. Vol. 7 See Michel Henry. Lucas. Thompson. 1940). in Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon Press. CA: Stanford University Press. 10 Donald Davidson. Set Theory and the Continuum Hypothesis (New York: W. Not Saussure: A Critique of PostSaussurean Literary Theory (Basingstoke: Macmillan. 17 See Notes 5 and 9. 1998). see Peter Sedgwick. The Poverty of Theory. 1977) and Louis Althusser. The Axiom of Choice (New York: Dover. 199–214. 11 Paul Cohen. pp. see Christopher Norris. pp. (trans. (trans.W. 9 Lacan.) Deborah Glassman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. the Limits of Love and Knowledge (ed. For Marx (trans. 1968). The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (ed. 1988). Journal of Symbolic Logic. ‘The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious’. 18 Lacan.) Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock. 1997). 2004).) Miller. 12 Kurt Gödel.) Ben Brewster (Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1993) and David Macey. ‘The Method of Truth in Metaphysics’. 2000) and Penelope Maddy. The Conceptual Roots of Mathematics (London: Routledge. 1969). 1999). 171–214. Encore: On Feminine Sexuality. 20 On post-structuralism and its relativist/constructivist/anti-realist excesses.) Jacques Ehrmann. 8 For a good synoptic treatment. 15 For further discussion see Thomas J. Norton. Yale French Studies. No. Baltimore. MD: Johns Hopkins Press. 1984). 2 vols (trans. The Seminar XI. also Gary Gutting. History of Structuralism.) Jacques-Alain Miller. 16 See especially Richard Rorty. Objectivity.NOTES 4 For a commanding overview. Ferreiros.

Critique of Pure Reason (op. 153–80. See René Descartes. See especially Badiou. 1984). 1992) and Reclaiming Truth: Contribution to a Critique of Cultural Relativism (Lawrence and Wishart. Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan.).). E.) Peter Geach and G. cit. 1996). 306 . ‘Rules for the Direction of the Mind’ in Descartes: Philosophical Writings (trans. 1948). Division II of Part II. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. M. see Gilles Deleuze. For more on this semantic history. 1964). rev. edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press.) Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: Athlone Press. 1954). Immanuel Kant. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (op.) Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick (New York: Noonday Press. 1980). Rorty. cit.) N. Kant.NOTES 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Intellectuals and The Gulf War (London: Lawrence and Wishart. 1975). also Ian Hacking. Book II. 1985). For a perceptive commentary on this system of ‘rotating chairmanship’ between the various Kantian faculties. Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties (trans. See Rorty. Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Anscombe (London: Thomas Nelson. Critique of Pure Reason (trans. Ethics. see Raymond Williams. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Oxford: Blackwell. ‘Transcendental Doctrine of Elements’. pp. See especially Jean-Paul Sartre. The Transcendence of the Ego (trans. See Chapter I.

Georg 5. 167–72 citizenship 244 cogito 271. 79–88. 90. L. 191. 243 arts 2. Georges 148 being 8–9. 254 axiomatic truth-procedure 71 axiom of choice 138–43. 89–90.INDEX absolute infinity 55 absolute knowledge (Hegel) 145. Gaston 49. 113. 132. 109. 63. 180. 164. Louis 58. 99. 167. 11. 206 activist engagement 44 agency 28–30 Althusser. 210 belonging 48. 267 cardinals 195. 58 bad infinity 146. 174–83. 219. 64. 58 Cantor. 276. 136–7. 185. 203 astronomy 24 atheism 169 Austin. 205 Carnap. 149. Jean 84 change 37–9 chaos. 196. 161. 100. 237–8. 106. 183–90. 27. 35. 225. 37–9. 45. 174–83. 223. 77 breakthrough discoveries 19–20 Canguilhem. 73. 103. 111. 21–2. 225. 149 Barthes. 268 Bachelard. 91. Roland 155–6 Bataille. 155. 193. 3. 34. 71–9. 181 bivalence 186 Boyle. 107. 66 cardinality 196. 202. Georges 49. Rudolf 20–1 causal explanations 179 causation 64 Cavaillès. 186. 266–7 vs. 83–4. 26. 61. order from 64 choice. 19. 73. 198–9 anti-Cartesian metaphysics 102 anti-humanism 121–2 anti-philosophers 58. 112. axiom of 138–43. 192. 15. 200. 231 Aristotle 61. 16 authenticity 125 autonomy 29 axiomatic-deductive reasoning 43. 32–3. 39. 195–7. 78. 92. 182 Anaximander 64 ancient Greece 23 culture of 115–16 drama 201–2 philosophy 106–15 anomalies 190. 129. 280 307 . 267–8 Cantor’s theorem 50–64. 58. 79–80. 273–4. 268 Christianity 134. 166–7 anti-realism 22–3. J. 128–9. Robert 72. beings 21 concept of 55 impasse of 269 subtractive character 68 being/event dichotomy 26–7. 263–4 Althusserian structural Marxism 121–2 analytic philosophy 12.

275 conscious subject 121 conscious thought 162 consistency 155 consistent multiplicity 40–1. 109 Descartes. 202 dualisms 86. 88. 177. 164 308 . 22. 145. 154. 99–100. 211 discovery. 219 difference 18. context of 76–7. 60–2. Michael 183. Paul 6. 79–89. 200. 265–8 Cold War propaganda 14–15 collectives and collectivity 27–8 combinations 210 commonalities 31 common-being 34–5 consciousness 126. 121. 211 diagonalization (Cantor) 196–7. 31. 251–2. 96. 35. 49. 89 disputed class (Dummett) 197 double-negation-elimination 184. 112–14. 112. 187 doxa 38 drama 116. 26. 50. 164 end-of-ideology thesis 157. 175. 81. 178. 68. 200–1. 104 false 1–2 natural/non-natural 152 phenomenal/noumenal 131 Dummett. 67. 161. 201. 33. 277 cosmos. 21. 261 disenfranchisement and social injustice 7–8. 172. 223. 199–200. 177. 201. 177. 16–17. 203 depth-hermeneutic approach 20–1. 51. 175. 47–8. 62–5. 18 cultural theory 31. 66. 48. 46. Gilles 43–5. 166. 156 crypto-theology 135 cultural-aesthetic nationalism 116 cultural construction 155–6 cultural left 17 cultural relativism 15. 207. 200. 225. 270–83 determinism 28. 97–8. 224–6 counterintuitive truths 69 counter-state 181 count-of-the-count 86 critical theory 32. 172. 227 constructivism 41. René 30. 113. W. 104. 216. 281 Einsteinian Relativity 24 empiricism 60 end-of-history thesis 157. 147. 197 Dutch Free Republic 98 Easton. 216. creation of 64 count-as-one 40–2. 216 continental philosophy 12. 102. 173–4. 222. 47.INDEX Cohen. 58. 101–2. 67 culture-transcendent truths 57 Davidson. 159. 186. 91 differential calculus 43. B. 78. 67 Critique of Dialectical Reason (Sartre) 153. 94. 182 contingency 210–11 continuum hypothesis 268 Copernican-Galilean astronomy 24 Copernican revolution 131. 230–6. 199 Easton’s Theorem 199 ego 162 ego-psychology 229. 61. Donald 267 deductive reasoning 187 Deleuze. 69. 15. 225 containment 52 context of discovery 76. 261 context of justification 76. 135. 215 discernibles 222 discoveries 19–20. 92–3. 221. 190.

190. 41. George Wilhelm Friedrich 61. 155. 200. 181. 185. Martin 19–21. 167. theorem of the point of 81 excluded middle 184. 177–82. 187 Heidegger. 135. 29 German culture 116 God 134. Kurt 54–5. 140. 242 generic. 149 French Resistance 84 French Revolution 152. 211 historical 164 past 158–9 poem as 122–7 situations and 159. 232–5. 121–2. 233. 213–14 Gödel. 159.INDEX epistεmε 38 epistemically constrained truth-values 183–4 epistemology 10. 161–4. 136. 164. 67 excrescences 94–6. 106–8. 160. Sigmund 20. 187 exclusion 50. 133. 165 Freud. 242–3 heliocentric hypothesis 135 hermeneutics 3. 129. 192 general ontology 208–9 general will 241. 65. 254. 201. 11. 258 epochal events 156. 179. 265 generic extension 256–7. Gottlob 16. 226 event(s) 9. 168 truth and 160–5 unpredictability of 125–6 excess. 30. 136. 190. 269 generic procedure 27. 79–80. 96. 202 Greek philosophy 106–15 group-in-fusion (Sartre) 153 Harland. 272 Freudianism 229 Galileo 132. 49. 135. 103. 153. the (Cohen) 43. 160. 53. 181. 193 existentialism 33 extensionalist approach (set theory) 52. 156. 158–9 being and 32–3. 114. 266 epochal 156. 58. 109. 118–19. 267–8 grand narratives 156 Greek drama 116. 236–8. 211 errancy 64 eschatological verificationism 167 ethical judgements 162 ethics 67. 191. 156. 203 Ethics (Spinoza) 97–8 evental site 118. 39. 271. 23. 169–71. 199. 125. 143–52. 113. 206. 208. 203 Fraenkel. 43. 206. 84–5. 104–5 free will 159 ‘free-world’ liberalism 14–15 Frege. 94 faith 166–8. 160. 190 existence 38. 141. 195. 113. 191. 221–7. 259. 219–24. 169–70 falsehood 184–5 Fermat’s Last Theorem 76 fidelity 84. 90–1 fact/value distinction 66. 116. Abraham 57 freedom 29. 73. 225 finitism 134 first-order statements 54 forcing 33–4. 30–1. 270 historical judgements 163–4 historical revisionism 160 historical situations 156 309 . 52. 265–6 formal languages 60–1 forms of life (Wittgenstein) 31. 68. 101 French philosophy 32. 177. Richard 194 Hegel.

15. 87. 169–70 ‘sizes’ of 193 supra-rational idea of 170 infinite modes 104–5 infinite sets 81. 261–2 Koyré. 55. 198. 214. 115–21 homogeneity of nature 131 human agency 28–30 human rights 15 Hume. 230–2. 155. 142 Hegel on 143–51 of nature 135–7 paradoxes of 136 positive 145 quantitative 144 religious belief and 167. 227 indiscernibility 219–27. Edmund (and phenomenology) 106–7. 265 indiscernment 269 individual 92 infinite/infinity 5. David 187 Husserl. 52. 192. 192 incompleteness theorem (Gödel) 254 inconsistency 47–8. 46–9. 220. 251–8. 66. 131. 192. 40–1. Immanuel 1. far-reaching 44 identicals. 232–3. 197. 66. 78. 99. 77–8. 23. context of 76 Kant. 175. 102. 183. 121 intuitionists 22–3 intuition of objects 52 Jacquette. 212. 103. 245. 277–8 knowledge 161–2 absolute (Hegel) 145. 24–5. 62. 233–4. 206 acquisition of 199–200. 251–9 indiscernibles 38. 190. Thomas 154 310 . 172. 30. 219–28. 112–14. Thomas 72. 204. 255 hypotheses. 149 concept of 128–37. 133. 91. 214 identity of indiscernibles 38 identity politics 91 imaginary misrecognition 105 impasse of being 269 inclusion 48. 50. 62–4. 202 consciousness and 161 generic procedure for 27 humanly attainable 278 limits of 23 mathematical 56–7. 121–2. 241 Hölderlin. 74. 57. 192. 255 present-best state of 187. 220–8 problem of 84 transcendence of current 43 truth and 8–9. 62. 190. 183–9. Alexander 136 Kuhn. 87–8 inconsistent multiplicity 39. 251–9 advances in 56–7. 60.INDEX history 151–60 of the present 164 representing 160–5 Hobbes. 79–89. indiscernibility of 212. 210 justification. 81. Friedrich 21. 23. 205–6 absolute 55 axiom of choice and 138–43 ‘bad’ 146. 129–30. 92. Dale 208–9. 267 multiple orders of 5 subsets of 5 internalism 162–3 intrinsic size 195 intuition 51. 34. 180–1. 113.

272. 63. 60. 270–83 Lacanian psychoanalysis 28. 43. 20. 15–16. 52. 101 poetry and 106–15. 35. 31. 133. John 241 logic 212 anti-realism and 183–9 modal 179–80 logical language 52. 132–3 ordinary 3. 30. 120 politics and 7–8. 149–50. Stéphane 109. 110. 98–9. Albert 84 leap of faith 170. Pierre 149 Mallarmé. 122. 210–12 logical rules 181 logico-semantic distinctions 21 logos 38 love 2. 92 liberal-humanism 29 liberalism. 202. 30–1.INDEX Lacan. 229. 155 meta-narrative 148 meta-ontological truths 25. 219–20 mathematics 4–5. 109 of the situation 220 truth and 97 language-first approach 3–4. 150 philosophy of 163. 68. priority of over the one 49. 190–1 Hegel on 144–51 history of 144 language of 132–3 philosophy and 24–6. 149. Vladimir 20. 38. 192. 89 Marxism 75. Karl 15. 27. 67. 38–49. 261 literary criticism 118 Locke. 119–27. ‘free-world’ 14–15 liberal pluralism 16–17 life-forms 15–16. Jean-François 31. 197. 58. 200 Leibniz. 156 Macherey. 23. 50 Marx. 200. 95 les évènements 15 Levinas. 78. 232–3. 99. 263–5. 230 axiomatic-deductive approach to 45 as basis of ontological inquiry 10. Gottfried 24. 26. 203 limit ordinal 142–3 linguistic constructivism 28 linguistic philosophy 3–4 linguistic turn 3–4. 182. 113. 211 discourse of 23. 212. 199. 181. 281 language 10. 68. 90. 223. 110. 122. Emmanuel 31 liberal democracy 7. 67. 183. 9. 162. 56–7. 89. 32. 162. 90. 23. 58. 115–16. 157. 203 advances in 19. 258 poetic 21. 31. 60. 255 mathematical thought. 203. 85. 270 Lyotard. 67–8. 181. 94. Jacques 20. 58. 83 311 . 210–18 Lenin. 181. 163. 273 language-games (Wittgenstein) 15–16. 203 language-independent truths 57 Lautman. 220. 187. 228–9 mathematical knowledge 56–7. 64. subtractive dimension of 69 mathematical truth 22–3. 223. 61. 229–30. 262–3 depth-hermeneutical idea of 109 formal 60–1 logical 210–12 of mathematics 132–3 natural 57–8. 142 many. 112 pre-eminence of 35 membership (set theory’) 50–1. 245. 100.

103. of multiples 128–37 of multiples 197. 154. 30. 194 priority of over the one 39–40. 208 non-belonging 221 non-contradiction 212 non-Euclidean geometry 24 non-intuitive truths 69 non-natural 151–2 normality 114. 111. 115. 62–4. 49 theory of the pure 50–64 typology of the 112 multiplicity 35. 213 natural 131–2. 269 ontological advances 45 ontological inquiry 23–4 mathematics as basis of 10. 115 Nouveaux Philosophes 157 null set 68 objective truth 21–2. 40–1. 192–3. 114. Otto 20 Nietzsche. 46. inconsistent 39. 194 natural numbers 136 natural sciences 19. from chaos 64 312 . 257 objectivist realism 253–4 object/subject dialectic 199. 191. 86 militants of truth 10. 33–4. 38–49. 260 Mill. 83 metaphysical determinism 211 metaphysics 20. 193. John Stuart 169. 104. 187. 251 oppressed minorities 7–8 order. 163. 41–3. 31. 31. 192. 18. 83 monist 96. 30. 62 ontology 2. 30. 140. 217. 32. 213 nationalism 116–18 National Socialism 118. 125. 107. 60. 104. 247 mobilization 153. 168. 243 naturalism 189–201 natural language 57–8. 243 necessitarianism 159 necessity-operator (modal logic) 180 negative theology 71. 212 open 43 philosophy and 24–5 prerequisites for 40 realist 62 social-political 48 subtractive 72. 79–80. 132–3 natural multiples 131–2. 103. 203 natural situations 156 nature 108. non-natural 151–2 Nazis 243 Nazism 118. 30. 141 vs. 46 consistent vs. 155 homogeneity of 131 infinity of 134–5. 199. 8–11. 39. 98. 175. 98–9. 46–9. 206–7 general 208–9 limit of 200 meta-ontology 25. 87. 40. 197. 206 neopragmatism 41 Neurath. 182. 46. 200. 211 subtractive character of 61. 102. 212 monotheism 134 multiple(s) 67–8 comparison of 192–3 concept of the 42 indiscernibility of 251–2 multiplicity of 128–37. 132.INDEX meta-ontology 25. 120 metastructure 81. 106. 96. 81. Friedrich 116 non-being 61. 98. 136. 227 infinite. 193. 190. 17. 222–8. 67–8. 154 modal logic 179–80 monist ontology 96. 60.

148 philosophy Badiou’s view of 2–5. 41. 150 orientations 201–10 paradox into concept 255 Parmenides (Plato) 37–41. 203 mathematics and 7–8. 264–5. 121. 202. 68. 141–2. 122. 7. 106–7. 129 practical syllogisms 164 presentation 45–6. 258 linguistic 3–4 mathematics and 24–6. 23 of Hölderlin 115–22 of Mallarmé 115. 56. 61. 272. 35. 89. 27. 35. 112 rethinking of 151–60 Rousseau on 241–51 positive infinity 145 post-Cantorian set theory 19–20. 58. 28. 156. 157 power set 66. 77. 24. 277 Parmenides 37–41. 217 past events 158. 165–74. 195 ordinary language 3. 138.INDEX ordinals 130–1. 21. 76. 121. 134 Plato 23. W. 110. 145. 69 Pascal. Blaise 70–1. 26. 48. 44. 229–30. mobilization of 154 political philosophy Kant’s 15 set theory and 7–8 political realism 157–8 political representation 7 political theory 45 politics 2. 61. 28. 159 phenomenal/noumenal dualism 131 phenomenology 33 Phenomenology of Mind (Hegel) 144. 271. 83. 163 political justice 71 politically oppressed. 30. 128 post-evental truth 228–40 postmodernism 3. 11–12. 254 pluralism 181 poetic intuition 121 poetry 20. 120 point of impossibility 78 political disenfranchisement 92 political emancipation 86 political judgements 162. 102. 46–9. 81. 15. 21. 182 first 106–15 of language 163. 101 meta-ontological role of 30–1 ontology and 24–5 psychoanalysis of 75 relationship to other disciplines 19–20 task of 33 physics 74. 110. 19. 84. 33 continental 2. 68–9 Timaeus 64 Platonism 37. 24–5. 59–60 313 . 94. 47. 162. 131. 46–9. V. 122–7 mathematics and 106–15. 38. 30–1. 281 psychoanalysis of philosophy 75 pure multiple 53 Pythagorean numerology 69 quantitative infinity 144 quantity 193 Quine. 12. 120. 155. 41 post-structuralism 3. 201 primitive terms 46 pseudo-dichotomy 45 psychoanalysis 20. 102. 67.

145. 195. 105 paradoxes in 52–5 philosophy and 12 political philosophy and 7–8 post-Cantorian 19. 52. 214 Saussure. 51. 269. 103–5 recognition-transcendent truth 62–3 reductio ad absurdum 183. 274. 228–40 events and 159.INDEX radical empiricism 60 radicalism 157 rational autonomy 159 rationalist metaphysics 96 rationalists 49. 145 senses. 166. 100. 267 singularities 8. 183–9 history of 136 self-conscious subject 121. 42. 259 advances in 57. 42. 166–70 religious belief 166–70 representation 88. 101. 65 Sartre. 53. 31. 153. 129 subsets of 128. Jean-Jacques 241–51 rule-following (Wittgenstein) 138–43 rules 137. John 242 realist ontology 62 reason 49. 156–9. 206. 267 membership in 50. 45. 129 transitive sets 131–2 void 68 without elements 68 set theory 5–7. 16. Richard 3–4. 201 revolutionary praxis 153 revolutions 153–4. 275 self-consciousness 161 selfhood 90 self-referring expressions 6. 153. 214 situations 8. 58 rational reconstruction (philosophy/history of ideas) 48 Rawls. 27. 122. 117. 200. 55. 181 Russell. 111. 166–7. 186. 211. Jean-Paul 28. 54. Thomas 242 science 2. 202 advances in 72. 154. 52. 207. 254 deductive 187 more geometrico 97. 128 ZF system 57–60. 176 rights 29 Rorty. 39. 81. 60. Ferdinand de 263 Scanlon. 178. 24 religion 70. 155. 65 null 68 power set 81. 168 314 . 121. 215 reasoning axiomatic-deductive 43. 99. 154. 48 challenge of 52–3 impact of 83 modern 50–2. 23. 201. 93. 67 advent of 9. 54 semio-linguistics 263 sense 90 sense-certainty 144. 41. 80. 26. 270. 83. 275 Rousseau. 81. 128. evidence of the 38 September 11. 26. 169 Russian Revolution 152–3 sans-papiers 7. Bertrand 6. 188 reference 90 regime of interpretation 20 relativism 17. 156. combinations 210 elements of 81 infinite 5. 184. 129. 214. 2001 160 sets vs. 87.

242 social ontology 7. 203 Soviet Union 156. 251 sufficient reason. 86. 190–1 ‘superstructuralism’ 194 supra-sensory forms (Plato) 39 ‘talking cure’ (psychoanalysis) 229 theology 55. 48 societal change 8 socio-political sphere 65 Socrates 49–50. 194. 57. 206 theorem of the point of excess 81–2 theory of the pure multiple 50–64 theory of the subject 259–70 Theory of Types’ (Russell) 54. 160 Spinoza. Joseph 156. 80. 155 state of the situation 8. 79. 278 conscious 121 link between truth and 30–1 relationship between event and 33 role of 244 theory of the 259–70 truth and 234–5. 129 subtractive ontology 72. 92. 128 Thermidorean political culture 157 Timaeus (Plato) 64 time 37–8 totalization 51 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Spinoza) 98 transcendence 194–5. 251 St. 175. 156. 81. 200. 219–28. 66. 264 structure 81 Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn) 154 concept of 260. 234. 163. 166. 205 transfinite numbers 5.INDEX Social Contract (Rousseau) 241–51 social democracy 112 social justice 7. 125. 77 structuralism 28. 61. 24–5. 178 truth absolute 193 attainment of 43 axiomatic conception of 43 concept of 107 culture-transcendent 57 epistemically constrained 113. 251–8. 261 stability 87–8 Stalin. Leon 156. 261–2 subjectivity 22. 121–2. 181–2 subject/object dialectic 199. 55 transformative thought 201–10 transitive sets 131–2 transmissible thinking 111 Trotsky. 241–2. 269 subject of truth 234–5 subjects 89 subsets 66. 214 supernumerary elements 40. 23. 197–201. 102. Baruch 58. 90. 99. 178 state 88. 211. 192. 62. 168 strong programme (sociology of knowledge) 15. Paul 70. 34. 95–6. 103 sophistry 24 sophists 58. 76. 149–50. 166. 72. 8. 230–2. 134–5 negative 71. principle of (Leibniz) 212. 89–90. 222–8. 99. 128. 261–2 315 . 63. 96–106. 93. 183–9. 183–4 event and 160–5 falsehood and 184–5 knowledge and 8–9. 24. 64.

267 316 . 110. 259. 199. infinite 136 unknown. 173. 261 truth-procedures 11. 31 universe. 271. 31. 272 ‘Un coup de dés’ (Mallarmé) 119. 150–1. 266 veracity 277 veridical. 91 universal truths 18. 163. 214–15 void set 68 Western metaphysics 20. truthfulness 173 universal 18. 166. 102. 120 Wiles. 18. 188–9. 88. 106. 154. 265. 263. 70 verification-transcendent 183 193 truth-event 32.INDEX truth (Cont’d) language and 97 language-first approach to 3–4 language-independent 57 link between subject and 30–1 mathematical 22–3. 269 truthfulness 84–5. 25 world-transformative events 161 Zeno 38 Zermelo. 190. Ernst 57 Zermelo’s principle 60 ZF system 57–60. 179. Ludwig 3. 76. 214 unconscious 162. 268. the 113 un-measure 74 vacuum. 261. 70. 41. 167. 260 non-intuitive 69 objective 21–2. 15–16. Timothy 161 Wittgenstein. 265. 232. 181. concept of 222. 168. 85 void 65–6. impossibility of (Aristotle) 71–9 validity 54. 140. 190. 224 verification-transcendent truth-values 183 193 Vienna Circle 19. 125. 278–81 ‘two cultures’ controversy 110 tyranny of the majority 247 ultra-one 160. 4. 71–9. 182. 257 ontological enquiry and 10–11 ontology and 42–3 post-evental 228–40 subject and 234–5. 31. 122–126 undecidability-proof (Gödel) 54 United States 95 unity 39–40 universalism 67. 107. 219–20 meta-ontological 25 militants of 10. 20 virtue-based epistemology 84. 108. 217. 261–2 subjectivity and 180–1 vs. Andrew 76 Williamson. 271. 223 working mathematicians 24.

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