The World’s Greatest Living Philosopher

7f909aa175cebcb99660197685bca9f0by Robert Nola The French Philosophe Alain Badiou gave a lecture at Auckland University in December 2014 entitled “À la recherche du réel perdu: In search of the lost real.” The full talk is on YouTube [1].

We are lucky to present here extracts from the diary which he kept while in New Zealand and which make comments on his talk.

Day 1. In Paradise in search of the lost real! Mon Dieu! Here I am in New Zealand. It is Paradise as we say in France! And it must be since here they think that I am the world’s greatest living philosopher. Which I am of course, c’est vrai! Will my world-wide search for the “lost real” end with its discovery here in Paradise? The economic always hides the real making it lost. Here as elsewhere the “real” is thoroughly confounded with the economic. Though I must admit when I tripped over a gutter this morning, the gutter seemed real enough and not just a bit of the economic.

I also say that all knowledge has been progressively reduced to the economic. Yes, all! Protesting physicists, chemists and biologists do not get my point; even their knowledge of the stars, chemicals and bugs they investigate are nothing more than reductions to the economic. How do we get hold of the lost real? One way is through the scandals with which we are surrounded. Scandals reveal a small bit of the lost real. With the scandal we touch the real. It is the real of the real. But there is paradox here in that not only are scandals real but what they reveal about the previously lost is also real. Is this a real paradox? But if I am in Paradise there cannot be scandals! If so, it is not likely I will touch the real here. Unless, of course, I am not in Paradise! My French logic is quite precise here. So I will have to check what my travel brochures say about scandals in the paradise of New Zealand. As we will see the large audience at my talk to nod in agreement.

Day 2. The real and the possibility of the impossible In my talk today I took my audience back to the beginning of philosophy in our search for the lost real. I asked them: What is the real? Here I quote my French colleague Jacques Lacan who says: “the real is the impasse of formalization.” This is really obscure! But if we were to clarify it people might easily see through it and raise objections. So do not clarify it! Instead let me illustrate with an equally obscure example from arithmetic.

In arithmetic there are formal rules for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and the like. Also there is no final number because we must be free to calculate whatever numbers we like. So the sequence of numbers must have no end. Without the idea of an infinite sequence we cannot have the freedom of calculation. But arithmetic does not accept infinite numbers; calculation always leads to finite numbers. So the real of numbers within the formalization of arithmetic must always be finite. But there remains something that is really real — an inexistent infinity that cannot be captured by the formalization. So the formalization is useless concerning the lost real; it requires something that it cannot formalize. This shows that the infinite is the point of the impasse of our calculation which must remain finite. A vindication of Lacan! Do you grasp this? Our French logic is impeccable, n’est-ce pas? French logic is always right; if you disagree with it you do not understand it.

Yet there are many critics who say that my account of arithmetic is riddled with fallacies and that I do not know what I am talking about. In contrast the audience of sociologists in Paradise were much more polite and accepting and agreed with my French logic. Lacan’s insight can be generalized. For any formalization, or set of rules, or framework concerning any matter or system of human thought, of which arithmetic is just one example, there is always an impasse to something else on which it relies but which cannot be expressed in the formalization. My work always depends on a principle of French Philosophy of maximizing obscurity: never say clearly what you can say much more obscurely. Being obscure can make you famous and give you lots of interpreters. If one is clear, no one cares. Given this principle we put Lacan’s insight in another way. What is made possible in the formalization depends on what is impossible in the formalization. Now maximize obscurity and say: the possible is made so by the real of the impossible. Voilà! The impossible makes the possible! This is the delicious dialectic of the possible and the impossible. It is the beauty of French philosophy that it makes the totally obscure dialectic as clear as crystal. Merde!

Day 3. The lost real can never be found? Yesterday’s talk is now on YouTube. This is my last Day in Paradise, yet the “lost real” has yet to be made fully real, or else it remains in Paradise lost. Yesterday’s example from arithmetic is trivial compared to other ways in which the possible is made possible by the impossible. Lacan’s insight also applies to the cinema, or Marxism, capitalism, politics, or anything. But in general when we are in any formalization, or play any human game, we must suppose the possibility of the impossible.

We are in the real of something, we touch the real, when we affirm the possibility of something that is impossible. Is there a problem here? I have said that when we are in some formalization with its possibilities then there is something impossible in the formalization, the real, which makes possible the possibilities of the formalization. But what about this first real? Can we not talk of it and have a formalization of it? If we suppose a second formalization to be able to talk about the first real, then this second formalization will in turn suppose a further second real that underpins its possibilities. And so on. It looks as if the real is like a sequence of Russian dolls inside one another and we have no guarantee that we will stop at the final real doll — the dolls go on and on. Is this not impeccable French logic?

So the search for the real is hopeless; we will never find it. Not even here in Paradise! But I did not tell my audience this. Otherwise the university would not have paid my trip here — the economic of the real trip. My little scandal in Paradise! But they do think that I am the world’s greatest living philosopher! That is not a lost real but a real real!


Robert Nola is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Auckland. His interests span philosophy of science, metaphysics (including naturalism), epistemology, selected areas in social and historical studies of science, atheism, and science and religion. He feels extremely lucky to have been present at Alain Badiou’s lecture.

[1] À la recherche du réel perdu: In search of the lost real, by Alain Badiou.


104 thoughts on “The World’s Greatest Living Philosopher

  1. Hi Marko: Concerning your

    “(4) I cannot find any place in the video where Badiou mentions set theory…..discussing these things is completely misleading.”

    I’d accept that somewhat, at any rate as a criticism of me; AFAIK the only other set reference here is Nola’s quote from his French philosopher’s email communication.

    However, surely a matter which has played an absolutely central role in Badiou’s philosophy is of some interest in discussing this, especially here, hence my “somewhat” above.

    Here is a review which is rather sympathetic to Badiou on this, though I find the sympathy quite unconvincing, except for learning that the (non-pure mathematician) reviewer really seems to have learned what has happened in the last century in mathematical logic, whether or not Badiou has, i.e. whether one is dealing with charlatanism or with dereliction, via reliance on scholarly sounding babble.

    From its first paragraph:

    “Alain Badiou relies on technical systems of mathematical logic as a foundation for philosophical exploration. ……….While Badiou’s set-theoretic interpretations are not typical of those found in Berkeley or Princeton, the overall strategy is nonetheless ‘analytic.’ Hence one’s response to Number and Numbers, and a similar earlier book, Being and Event……”

    I think Nola makes clear that his satire was more in the service of criticizing a gross waste of effort and money on the part of his institution’s sociology department (or whoever it was). And trying to argue with what seems to be (a) meaningless verbiage, mixed with (b) obvious truths about overemphasis on material spending in our society, is like wrestling with a giant greasy opponent. So satire, however unwelcome by some, is perhaps the best remaining option.

    I cannot resist adding that as a pretty old guy myself, I cannot sympathize with those who complain that the satire is like physically attacking a feeble old man. If he is ready to accept a trip to give an academic talk, he is surely ready to defend himself on any of his public pronouncements.

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  2. Robert Nola: “Why satire? On hearing the talk by Badiou I thought that it would be too difficult to give an argued response to all his claims that I found objectionable.”

    Thanks for the article and the link. If “the greatest living philosopher” is a part of reason for your satire, your article helped me to find a true greatest living philosopher.

    Getting right once, a coincidence. Getting right twice, it can still be a good luck. Getting right three times, someone must know about something. In Badiou’s lecture, he got them right three times.

    Badiou: “Will my world-wide search for the “lost real” end with …? The economic always hides the real making it lost.”

    “Economic” has two parts.
    P1: it is a ‘Operating” system which deals markets and money.

    P2: it is a “Value” system which gives out verdicts on the “truth/false” value.

    Badiou’s above statement is all about the P2, nothing to do with the P1. “Lose Real” denotes that there was a REAL before the lost. The REAL of Nature is a real with or without human. Yet, this true real got lost in the human grandiose big head, the “economic value judgment”. All the commenters and you (Nola) reading his “economic” as P1 is a misread. After all, the lost real can never truly lost, as it is eternal and will definitely see the grandiose big head rotten away soon enough, always.

    Robert Nola: “…in the section that dealt with the formalization of arithmetic – but even that was deeply flawed … (and no commentator has really tried to deal with this).”

    Did you read my previous comment? If did, why making this statement? While some commenters (mathematicians?) did state that Badiou’s set theory example was wrong, but they (mathematicians) are wrong. After all, the mathematics is not yet a complete system; that is, all mathematicians are not knowing the final mathematics. Their opinion on this issue is simply wrong. Badiou is not a mathematics and not knows the final mathematics. But, his example is correct, by luck or by intuition. It will be a big job to argue this in math at this moment. I will take a top-down approach for now. If Badiou get the FINAL THEORY right, his intuition is also right.

    Badiou has address two most important issues of all, with “mutual immanence”:
    I1, what is the beginning of the beginning?

    I2, how to catch the last turtle?

    Nola: “… in some obscure way the impossible seems to make the possible within the framework.”

    No, “mutual immanence” has nothing to do with the obscurity.

    Non-existence is the base of all existence. If this is just a philosophic statement, it will be a nonsense. But, when it becomes a BASE for the equation for calculating the nature constants, it is no longer an obscurity. More, next.


  3. Continuing from my previous comment.

    {delta P x delta S >= ħ} can be read as complementary or as mutual immanence. By reading it as complementarity, Copenhagen interpretation (CI) has led to the conclusion of ‘superposition’ which becomes an unresolvable issue. In fact, when the deepest physics (equations) is read with complementary, it results unresolvable issues, such as the black-hole-firewall issue and the entanglement, etc. On the other hand, when those physics equations are read as mutually immanent, all nature constants can be calculated (see ).

    M1, The impossibility is the BASE of all possibilities.

    M2, The non-existence is the BASE of all existences.

    M3, The non-knowable is the BASE OF all knowable.

    M4, The timeless is the BASE of the arrow of time, giving rise to the Alpha equation.

    M5, The immutability is the BASE of the immutable universe, giving rise to the STRUCTURE of this universe (G-string, see ).

    M6, The Yonder is the BASE of Event Horizon (EH). This gives rise to F (yonder) = ħ/ (delta S x delta T), then there is { ħ = delta P x delta S}, see .

    If the above ‘mutual immanence’ sentences are only philosophical or metaphysical statements, they can be argued with tongue in cheeks, without an end, without a conclusion. But, No, each of these sentences can be translated into physics EQUATIONs. The links above have showed some of those equations. Yet, the most important one is M4.

    The Alpha equation was calculated with two PURE number {64, 48} only, as the Weinberg Angle is also calculated with these numbers ONLY.

    I have showed that Standard Model did give a HINT about the number {48}, the 48 fermions. But, {64} is much more DOMINANT number than {48} in the Alpha equation. How does this {64} come about? I know exactly the HOW. There are only two ways to get this {64}.

    One, from pure math: the uncountable infinity transforms into a concrete OBJECT (not number); this {64} governs this transformation. This is discussed in detail in the book “Linguistics manifesto”, and thus I will not repeat it here.

    Two, from M4: this is available in many of my blogs articles.

    If anyone does not know the calculation of these numbers {64, 48}, he has no base to argue the foundation issue {the pop of this physics universe and the pop of the mathematics universe}. Before one knows how to transform the uncountable infinity into a concrete object, he will not know how to get this {64}. Without knowing this {64}, one does not truly know the math universe. Thus, any mathematician who argues that Badiou’s example {infinities is the BASE of all finite numbers} is wrong is wrong.

    Badiou does not know how to calculate this {64, 48} neither. But, he got them right twice {real is LOST, real is mutual immanence}, by luck or by intuition. His third right, …


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