UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CLII 2011, 7:00 p.m.

March 7,

Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (London and New York: Verso, 2002). Translated by Peter Hallward. This translation first published 2001; original French edition published 1993.
[Thesis. The ethics advanced by the contemporary era is nihilistic; in order to save ethics, it must be defined as an "ethic of particular truths." This is the ethics that protects against terror, betrayal, and disaster (but "radical Evil" does not, according to Badiou, exist).] Translator's Introduction [2001]. Badiou distinguishes a realm of knowledge, which is always "structured in dominance," and a realm of truth, which through a subjective procedure evades this domination by an "event" that breaks with the ordinary situation in the domains of art, love, science, or politics; ethics has to do with fidelity to this event (vii-xvi). The relation of his approach to Lacan and Kant (xvi-xxi). Badiou's ethics is "so fundamentally at odds with the view that generally prevails in the Anglo-American academy as to be almost unreadable" (xxi-xxii). Badiou abandons contemporary ethics' focus on otherness (xxi-xxx). Some questions for Badiou (xxx-xxxv). Notes on the Translation. Badiou's language is unproblematic (xlix-li). Preface to the English Edition. This book was provoked by the "'ethical' delirium" of the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War (liii-lv). Ideologically, the ex-Maoist Badiou regrets nothing; he favors dissolving NATO and the International Criminal Court (lv). From the theoretical point of view, this is an unfinished work (lv-lviii). Introduction. By taking issue with contemporary discourse on ethics, this book proposes a completely different understanding of ethics (1-3). Ch. 1: Does Man Exist? The ideology of the rights of man is based on natural rights; it is reactionary and out-of-date (4-5). I. The death of Man? The philosophy of the 1960s was the opposite of indifferent to humanity (5-7). II. The foundations of the ethic of human rights. These foundations, which are based on Kant and pretend to be self-evident, are in fact unsustainable (8-10). III. Man: Living animal or immortal singularity? This ethics is founded on the idea of man "as a victim" (10). In reality, the worst ordeals demonstrate man's capacity to affirm himself as something "other than a mortal being" (12; 10-12). The ideology of man as victim is a mask of power (12-13). This ideology also makes of collective action a source of evil (13-15). It does not take into account "singular situations" (15-16). IV. Some principles. Three theses: 1. Man defines himself positively. 2. Evil is founded on the refusal of positive action. 3. There are only situations. "There is no ethics in general" (16). Ch. 2: Does the Other Exist? It is Lévinas who gave priority to the other (18). I. Ethics according to Lévinas. Summary of Lévinas (18-20). II. The 'ethics of difference.' Multiculturalism derives from this philosophy (20). III. From the Other to the AltogetherOther. But Lévinas's reasoning on the Same and the Other is illogical (21-23). IV. Ethics as decomposed [décomposée] religion. It is a "pious discourse without piety," as we see by the fact that "the self-declared apostles of ethics . . . are clearly horrified by any vigorously sustained difference (23; 24, emphasis in original; 23-24). V. Return to the Same. We must abandon this entire approach in order to return to the question of the Same. VI. 'Cultural' differences and culturalism. A sort of tourist colonialism underlies the present passion for other cultures, but these differences are of "no interest for thought" (26; 26-27). VII. From the Same to truths. Truths by definition are the same for all: this should be the basis of ethics. But "ethics does not exist. There is only the "ethic-of (of politics, of love, of science, of art) . . . it is impossible to speak of one Ethics" (28, emphasis in original; 27-28). Ch. 3: Ethics as a Figure of Nihilism. The contemporary world cannot "strive for a Good" (30). I. Ethics as the servant of necessity. Badiou denounces contemporary politics as at the service of Capital (30-34). II. Ethics as the 'Western' mastery of death. Ethics is nihilistic in its negativity (34-35). III. Bio-ethics. Euthanasia as an exemplary case (35-38). But "every definition of Man based on happiness is nihilist" (37). IV. Ethical nihilism between conservatism and the death drive. Since "our societies are without a future that can be presented as universal," ethics alternates between conservatism and "a murderous desire" (38). We must instead affirm the "possibility of the impossible," as in "every loving encounter, every scientific re-foundation, every artistic invention and every sequence of emancipatory politics" (39).

Ch. 4: The Ethic of Truths. Badiou tries to find a way to "preserve this word ethics" (40). I. Being, event, truth, subject. There is no ethics in general because there is no "abstract Subject" (40). "There is only a particular kind of animal" in particular circumstances "of a truth" (41; 40-41). The particular subject is created by a fidelity to an event that he chooses (41-42). "I shall call 'truth' (a truth) the real process of a fidelity to an event" (42). This subject is not the psychological subject (43-44). II. Formal definition of the ethic of a truth. The "ethic of a truth" is "that which lends consistency to the presence of some-one in the composition of the subject induced by the process of this truth" (44). Commentary, with reference to Lacan (44-48). III. The experience of ethical 'consistency.' Two examples: 1) "ethical consistency manifests itself as disinterested interest" (49; 48-50); 2) every truth is opposed to opinions, which are "representations without truth, the anarchic debris of circulating knowledge" (50; 50-52). IV. Asceticism? Ethics is "literally asocial," but perhaps not necessarily ascetic (54; 53-56). Ch. 5: The Problem of Evil. Must we refuse the validity of the notion of Evil? (58). A. Life, truths, and the Good. We cannot define evil through a general analysis of "what is harmful to Man" (58). Evil has to be thought "from the starting point of the Good" (60; 59-61). B. On the existence of Evil. Badiou rejects identifying the Holocaust with a "radical Evil," which according to him does not exist (61-66). But "Evil exists" (66). The ethic of truths is what "tries to ward off the Evil that every singular truth makes possible" (67). C. Return to the event, fidelity and truth. Evil has three names: terror (to imagine that an event represents a complete situation); betrayal (to fail to be faithful); disaster (to identify a truth with total power (71; 67-71). D. Outline of a theory of Evil. 1. Simulacrum and terror. Nazism interpreted philosophically (72-77). 2. Betrayal. The defeat of the ethic of a truth is different from simple renunciation (78-80). 3. The unnameable. "Every absolutization of the power of a truth organizes an Evil" (85; 80-87). Conclusion. Summary of the argument (90-91). Appendix: Politics and Philosophy: An Interview with Alain Badiou [1998]. Since the end of the 1970s, Badiou has been practicing "politics without a party" (95-98). "For us this means, concretely: don't stand for election, don't vote, don't expect anything from any political party" (99). L'Organisation Politique, publishing La Distance politique, is very small (100-01). Marx's analysis of capital stands (105). Cuba (106-07). Politics and culture; négritude, "Jew," "Christian" (107-19). Platonism (119-20). Lacan (121-22). Religion (122-24). Philosophy as

experience (124-27). Mathematics (127-30). "I am a materialist" (130; 130-31). "I accept absolutely that man is an animal and, in a certain sense, nothing else" (133; 133-35). Badiou is revising his concept of relationship (135-38). The status of truth (138-42). Bibliography. 18 pp. Index. 4 pp. About the Author. Alain Badiou teaches philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris.] [Additional information. Alain Badiou was born in Rabat, Morocco, on Jan. 17, 1937. Son of a math teacher active in the Resistance who was mayor of Toulouse from 1944 to 1958, Alain Badiou was first in his class at the École Normale Supérieure in 1960 and taught philosophy in Rheims, first in a lycée and then in the university. A left Socialist, he embraced Maoism in 1969. He contributed to the development of Paris-VIII (Vincennes, later Saint-Denis) for thirty years. In 1999 he became a professor at the École Normale Supérieure; he is currently emeritus at that prestigious institution. He has also taught at the Collège international de philosophie, founded in 1983 by Jacques Derrida and others. He now teaches at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. — His work is marked by the influence of Louis Althusser (1918-1990). Badiou maintains an ontology based on mathematics (set theory), identifies phenomenology with logic, and arrives at the conclusion that nothing belongs to the self. As he maintains that the concept of the event depends on such self-belonging, the event does not exist. — In politics, he is unapologetic about his engagement with Communism; while denouncing its excesses, he also denounces liberal democracy as a tool of capitalist propaganda; on this point and many others, he is ferociously criticized, with some going so far as to accuse him of anti-Semitism. Others maintain that his philosophy is so abstract and elitist that it is nothing but a chic form of radicalism incapable of really affecting power or social life. — Yet he insists that philosophy should address itself to the problems of its time and denies the existence of eternal problems. Badiou rejects postmodernism and his politics, finally, is a sort of faithfulness to the historic cause of a revolutionary quest for egalitarian justice: in this sense he is an heir of Jean-Paul Sartre. "Badiou's philosophy has been characterized as a mixture of Plato's belief in absolute truth and Sartre's emphasis on personal decision and action," said Jennifer Wallace in 2006 in the Times Higher Education Supplement. His recent books (Le siècle [2005]; De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom ? [2007]) have sold well. He is perhaps the living French philosopher the best

known abroad. — Badiou has also written two novels and four plays.]

[Critique. A work stimulating more for the critique it makes of the "nihilism" of contemporary ethics than for its solutions, for these remain sketchy and undeveloped.]

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